Mormon Heretic’s blog post this week, Comparing Correlation with the Supreme Court, inspired me to find out, or try to find, exactly what the manuals and LDS leaders say about teaching lessons from the church-provided lesson manuals. A survey of the manuals and talks as well as the Sunday School website will lead one to the following conclusion:
It’s not that clear. Surprised? I didn’t think so.
It depends on how you interpret what has been taught on the subject by the General Authorities, what the lesson manual actually say, how your local leaders interpret all of it and what the Spirit tells you to do. It also depends on whether you follow the examples of the GAs themselves when they are called upon to teach the Church in General Conference and other meetings. Oh, and what the scriptures say.
What General Authorities Say
The most oft quoted passage found in some of the lesson manuals themselves is one from Elder M. Russell Ballard:
“Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching out for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them. If teachers feel a need to use some good supplemental resources beyond the scriptures and manuals in presenting a lesson, they should first consider the use of the Church magazines” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1983, 93; or Ensign, May 1983, 68).
Now, as I read this passage, I read that it is important to consider the scriptures and lesson manuals first and study them BEFORE reaching out for extra materials and, if you do wish to use supplemental materials, church magazines if the first place to look. Good advice, really.
I could not find any specific comments by General Authorities that said directly to always use only the scriptures and the lesson materials and “Church-approved sources.” Instead, I found quotes such as this:
“Because we need the Holy Ghost, we must be cautious and careful not to go beyond teaching true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. His confirmation is invited by our avoiding speculation or personal interpretation. That can be hard to do. You love the person you are trying to influence. He or she may have ignored the doctrine they have been taught. It is tempting to try something new or sensational. But we invite the Holy Ghost as our companion when we are careful to teach only true doctrine. One of the surest ways to avoid even getting near false doctrine is to choose to be simple in our teaching. Safety is gained by that simplicity, and little is lost.” Henry B. Eyring, “The Power of Teaching Doctrine,” Ensign, May 1999, 73
“Teaching by the Spirit is the Lord’s way. How do we do this? First, we must keep the commandments, especially the commandment to keep our thoughts and actions clean. Second, we must prepare. Third, we must desire to be led and be willing to be led by the Spirit.” Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Liahona, May 1999, 15
The following, taught by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast in 2007 (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Teaching and Learning in the Church,” Liahona, Jun 2007, 56–73) on Teaching summarizes what the Brethren really teach about Teaching in the Church:
The Gift of Teaching
1. Ask, seek, and knock spiritually.
2. Teach from the scriptures.
3. Teach by and with the Spirit.
4. Help the learner assume responsibility for learning.
What the Lesson Manuals Say
The introductions in the Church lesson manuals are not consistent in the area of what materials to use. They all say basically the same thing as the 5 points above. But here are some specific passages from some of them on the subject of extra materials:
“Be judicious in your use of commentaries and other nonscriptural sources of information. Class members should be taught to seek knowledge and inspiration from the scriptures and the words of the latter-day prophets. “Helps for the Teacher,” Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, v” Same as in the New Testament manual
“This manual is a tool to help you teach the doctrines of the gospel from the scriptures. It has been written for youth and adult Gospel Doctrine classes and is to be used every four years. Additional references and commentaries should not be necessary to teach the lessons.” “Helps for the Teacher,” Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999),v
“It is not necessary or recommended that members purchase additional commentaries or reference texts to support the material in the text. Members are encouraged to turn to the scriptures that have been suggested for further study of the doctrine. “Introduction,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, v” and the other “Teachings of Presidents” books.
And, finally, in the only manual to specifically prohibit the use of any outside materials other than Church magazines, we find this:
“If you have been called to teach a quorum or class using this book, do not substitute outside materials, however interesting they may be. Stay true to the scriptures and the words in the book. As appropriate, use personal experiences and articles from Church magazines to supplement the lessons.” “Introduction,” Gospel Principles, (2009), 1–3″
But even this only says do not substitute, not “never use.” The lessons in the Gospel Principles manual are very short, but in general, I would agree that a discussion of basic gospel principles probably does not need additional sources.
How our Local Leaders Interpret It
You are going to get a wide range of guidance on this issue. All the way from, “only teach from the manuals, scriptures and church magazines” to “we trust you to follow the Spirit and do what is right.” And everything in between.
What the Spirit Tells You to Do
In all the materials, a key component to being a successful teacher is to pray, seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost and Follow the Spirit in your teaching. Seems to me that is good advice and one cannot go wrong but adhering to this principle. It may not always get you out of a jam with a local leader, but ultimately, if we are true to this principle, we can feel comfortable with ourselves and what we’ve decided to do.
Examples of the GAs When They Teach
It is not unusual for General Authorities to use extra materials when they teach church members. In my mind, this is a good example to follow. While they mainly quote from the scriptures and latter-day prophets, they also use outside materials occasionally. President Monson is fond of quoting from Broadway shows, for example. And the Brethren frequently quote C.S. Lewis, a prominent non-LDS Christian writer. And they will also slip in a scripture verse used from a translation other than the King James Version. But, you will not hear them quoting from speculative sources. This can also be our guide in the use of outside materials.
What the Scriptures Say
“Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” (Exodus 4:12)
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23)
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” (Hebrews 5:12)
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21)
My conclusion is this. We are to pray, seek the Spirit and prepare using the scriptures and the materials we are given. If we feel it necessary to use a quote or a commentary from another source in order to enhance the lesson, we should use it. Our desire is to help the student more fully understand the lesson being taught. If we feel we can accomplish that with another piece of material, all the better. Not to go overboard with the extra materials, but to enhance the discussion.