Elder D. Todd Christofferson has pointed out that the gospel was originally taught in families. The organization of the church came later:
Beginning with Adam, the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and the essential ordinances of salvation, such as baptism, were administered through a family-based priesthood order. As societies grew more complex than simply extended families, God also called other prophets, messengers, and teachers. In Moses’s time, we read of a more formal structure, including elders, priests, and judges. In Book of Mormon history, Alma established a church with priests and teachers (“Why the Church,” General Conference, October 2015).
The Book of Mormon follows that pattern:
- The book opens with a family. The prophet Lehi teaches the gospel to his children while they travel in the wilderness and after they arrive in the promised land. (See, for example, 1 Nephi 8, 1 Nephi 10, 2 Nephi 1-4).
- After Lehi’s death, Nephi consecrates his brothers Jacob and Joseph as “priests and teachers” (2 Nephi 5:26, Jacob 1:18).
- When King Benjamin calls his people together near the end of his life, they listen to him as families (Mosiah 2:5-6). After they receive a remission of their sins and enter a covenant with God, he records their names and he appoints “priests to teach the people, that thereby they might hear and know the commandments of God, and to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made” (Mosiah 6:3). Then, the people return to their homes with their families.
- Many years later, when Alma baptizes a large number of people at the waters of Mormon, he organizes them into a church. Everyone who is baptized becomes a member of the church, and he ordains priests—one for every 50 members—to preach to them (Mosiah 18:17-18). But he warns the people to be careful: “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14).
- After Alma’s people arrive in Zarahemla, King Mosiah authorizes him to “establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla” and to “ordain priests and teachers over every church” (Mosiah 25:19). He also learns how to establish reasonable boundaries on church membership (Mosiah 26). But the most miraculous experience occurs when he prays on behalf of his own wayward son. In response to his prayers, God sent an angel to call his son to repentance (Mosiah 27:14).
- When the Savior visited the American continent, he gave twelve men authority to baptize (3 Nephi 11:18-22). He also instructed them to minister to the people and to be their servants (3 Nephi 12:1). But at the end of the first day, He instructed the people to go home and ponder His words (3 Nephi 17:3). He also taught them to pray individually, in their families, and as a group. They were to meet together often, and they were not to turn away anyone who wanted to join them (3 Nephi 19:18-22).
As I’ve pondered these stories today, I’ve learned the following principles:
- The home is the most important place to teach the gospel. Even when we are organized into a church, God expects us to teach, pray for, and bless our own children.
- The church is an extension of the family. Our church congregations strive to mirror the love and support that exists in good families.
- The church exists to strengthen families in their divinely appointed responsibilities. The church cannot replace the influence of a strong family, but it can bring individuals and families closer to the Savior and help them establish strong families.
Today, I will take seriously my spiritual leadership in my home. I will be grateful for the ways the church strengthens my family. And I will do my part to establish a house of faith where family members can grow closer to God and to one another.