We as a church canonized our book of scripture, The Doctrine and Covenants (“D&C”), on August 17th, 1835. The original version of the D&C included 7 lectures which eventually would be termed “The Lectures on Faith”. These lectures touched on a variety of topics, but the most noteworthy among them was discussing the nature, character, and attributes of God and were designed to be a large part of the theological training school in Kirtland called “The School of the Prophets”. For a long time the Lectures on Faith were considered the “Doctrine” while the sections were considered the “Covenants”.
These lectures were reprinted in the 1844 and 1864 versions of the D&C, however they were removed in the 1897. I have asked around as to why they were removed, and I was told that they represented a theology that was now very outdated, so it made sense to remove them from the D&C. I was satisfied with that answer, however, I wanted to know by what authority they were removed.
World Conference Resolution (“WCR”) #1080 reformatted the D&C on April 7th, 1970. It formally canonized or decanonized D&C sections which were previously not properly canonized (namely sections 107, 108A, 109, 110, 113, and 123), and placed these sections into a “Historical Appendix”. The D&C then received an appendectomy exactly 20 years later with WCR #1215. I thought perhaps something similar happened with the Lectures on Faith, so I decided to do some research in the historical WCRs. Thankfully the schismatic group, Restoration Branches, has digitized all WCRs from 1852‑1915.
The first RLDS edition of the D&C came out in 1864, and the lectures were removed in the 1897 edition, which means the decision had to take place between these two dates. The WCRs between these dates span #54 – #442, but there is nothing within these that explicitly mentions the removal of the Lectures on Faith. This surprises me, because many of the resolutions from this time specify things like canonization (#216, #427, #428) and section 113 being uninspired (#402). The closest thing I could find to an authorization was #54, which is vague at best.
I did some more research and found that Community of Christ reprinted the Lectures on faith in 1952, and that Israel A. Smith wrote the preface for it. I had hoped that my answer would be there, and was eventually able to track down a copy of this preface, but again hit a roadblock as to by what authority they were removed from the D&C. Smith seemed to indicate that he didn’t consider them canonical scripture when he said:
“In reprinting these Lectures we do so for their historical value mainly and do not present them with any thought that the church has ever expressly or specifically or by implication endorsed everything in them.”
While disheartening, I didn’t give up looking for the answer. I asked a couple of friends if they by chance knew where I might be able to find the answer, and they all recommended I get a copy of church historian Richard P. Howard’s book “Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development”. When my family asked me what I wanted for Christmas, this book was on the short list, and since he is wonderful, my grandfather got it for me! As soon as I got it I immediately turned to the part of the book which may have held my answer. This is what I was greeted with on page 176:
I was actually kinda shocked that the answer wasn’t there, since this is literally the book documenting the changes to our scriptures.
On January 18th, 2022 John Hamer, a well-respected Seventy, historian, and pastor in Community of Christ, gave a lecture over YouTube and did a Q&A at the end. I asked him if he knew of any resources, and he responded here. John noted that he presumed that they were removed through a WCR, but assumed that I had already looked, so suggested that we look look in Richard Howard’s book.
The next day I reached out to John and thanked him for answering my question, confirmed that I had already checked WCRs, and also showed him the image shown above. He was a little surprised and asked if I had checked Dale E. Luffman’s D&C commentary, which I had and the answer still eluded us. I noted that I hadn’t checked F. Henry Edwards’s D&C commentary, so John went and checked and all it noted was that it “seem fairly clear why they were removed”, which still doesn’t answer by what authority they were removed.
John recommended that I download some old Heralds, which is the church’s magazine which has been in continuous publication practically since its inception, particularly the years 1895 and 1896, and do word searched based on keywords. Luckily the website Latter Day Truth has digitized these years. I decided to look at 1895, 1896, and 1897.
In all of 1895, I could only find one reference to the Lectures on Faith, and they were quoted as if they were scripture and rightfully belonged in the D&C.
I was able to find this Conference Report from April 10th, 1896:
“A resolution stating that the Lectures on Faith are no part of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants was laid on the table.”
The only other mentions from the Saints’ Herald in 1896 I could find were quoting the Lectures on Faith in March and June.
The 1897 version of the D&C was announced on August 4th, 1897 with this following article in the Saints Herald:
I hoped the advertisement which is referenced here might have held answers. This was the advertisement, which advertised the new D&C edition in the Herald for the the rest of the year:
While it does say the Lectures on Faith were “omitted”, it very clearly does not mention that they were formally decanonized.
John Hamer also suggested I look to see if there were any complaints that were given to the publication board or the First Presidency. At this point, that is the last remaining avenue I can think of which might hold the answers.
A little help from my friends
At this point in my search for answers, I decided that I should type everything out that I’ve found and ask around if anyone has any leads.
Mike Tatum suggested that I look in The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Volume 5. I happened to have a copy of this volume, and I found this topic discussed on page 342, paragraph 2, seems to reference the same resolution as reported in the Saints Herald on April 10th, 1896, but with not much more detail.
There is, however, an interesting contradiction between the history book and the contemporary article. The contemporary article seems to trying to specify that the Lectures on Faith were part of the D&C and the resolution was to remove them, while the history book, which was written 72 years after the fact, implies that this resolution was to formally make them a part of the D&C. This brings up more questions regarding their canonical state and which source could be considered more reliable.
Mike Tatum also suggested I check “The Story of the Church” by Inez Smith Davis. Luckily the Restoration Branches have a digital version available online for free. Unfortunately, the only reference to the Lectures on Faith in this book was a quotation from the preface of the 1835 D&C.
My friend Twila Rose Hidy Rider is quite the history aficionado, and I reached out to her in hopes that she could help me track down a lead. She was able to confirm again that there was a resolution that was proposed regarding the Lectures on Faith at the 1896 conference through the periodical called “Zion’s Ensign”, dated April 18, 1896:
However, this edition never followed up on what the result of this resolution was. Again, I am inclined to believe that this resolution was not passed.
Twila was also able to find that there were no mention of the Lectures on Faith in the Saints Herald index cards, which is amazing because in my research I have found them referenced quite a few times. Regardless, she was able to find this Herald article from Israel A. Smith from June 22nd, 1952, which I believe is the most conclusive answer that exists:
Israel A. Smith’s argument seems to be that they were never included in the vote for canonization on August 17th, 1835, but he fails to give definitive proof that this is the case and relies upon a certain interpretation of events to support his conclusion. The waters are muddied even further by him extensively relying upon a section of the D&C which we formally decided itself wasn’t properly canonized.
I thought it was interesting that Israel A. Smith again jumped into the fray on this topic, so I decided to do some keyword searches in the years leading up to and proceeding 1953. I was shocked when I found this from the Herald article written by Israel A. Smith dated May 5th, 1952 (pages 3 & 22):
The highlighted part on page 22 is the first instance I’ve found regarding what the content of that 1896 resolution entailed. According to Israel A. Smith, the proposed understanding was that the Lectures on Faith “were first omitted from the book on the edition of 1897 on the theory that only revelations should have place in it.” While Israel A. Smith was 20 years old in 1896 and likely saw this happen first hand, this statement does come 56 years after the fact, which makes it less reliable than a contemporary account.
On February 9th, 2022 by friend Vickie Thatcher very generously sent me a nearly-complete set of the History of the RLDS church as well as Volumes 1-5 of Restoration Studies. I thumbed through them and in Volume 3 of Restoration Studies there is an essay entitled “Canonization in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” by Don H. Compier. I was shocked to find that he actually provided an answer:
The answer seemed to be on page 295 of the Herald of 1878. That was surprisingly early; I had assumed that if they were removed, they had been removed in 1896 or 1897, not 1878!
Sure enough, though, I turned to that page and found a familiar World Conference Resolution, #215, which was passed on September 13, 1878, and in full reads:
“That this body, representing the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, recognize the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the revelations of God contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all other revelations which have been or shall be revealed through God’s appointed prophet, which have been or may be hereafter accepted by the church as the standard of authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising or which may arise in this Church of Christ.“
Embarrassingly, I have read this WCR many times. Its in the 2019-enforced WCR document and I even included it in a sermon I gave recently. Somehow I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together that this was used to decanonize the Lectures on Faith, which don’t claim to be revelations.
Summary of Findings
- The Lectures on Faith were included in the first 3 editions of the D&C.
- The Lectures on Faith were decanonized on September 13, 1878 with WCR #215. However, in so doing it also decanonized sections 99 (The Minutes of the Organization of the High Council of Kirtland), 111 (Statement on Marriage and Government), and 112 (Declaration on Governments and Laws in General), and specifically canonized D&C 107 (The Book of the Law of the Lord), 109 (The First Letter to the Saints of Nauvoo), 110 (The Second Letter to the Saints of Nauvoo) which talked about baptism for the dead.
- On April 10th, 1896 there was a proposed conference resolution to determine if the Lectures on Faith should be printed with the D&C or not, but it never passed.
- On August 4th, 1897 the new edition of the D&C was announced, and the Lectures on Faith were omitted from them without explanation, but it was mentioned that they will be published in a separate pamphlet.
- In 1952 a pamphlet with the lectures were published, and concurrently around that time President Israel A. Smith gave his opinion that they were never included on the vote for canonization, but relied on sources which themselves weren’t properly canonized. Israel A. Smith’s line of thought became the most popular, and influenced lines of thought regarding their canonical status. However, many people before and after his opinion was made known continued to cite the Lectures on Faith as if they were scripture.
- On April 7, 1970 with WCR #1080 we formally specified that sections 99, 111, and 112 are canonical scripture while 107, 109, and 110 are not canonical scripture.
The Lectures on Faith were properly decanonized with World Conference Resolution #215 on September 13, 1878.