I'm kicking off a new category, Church History, for posts related to the new year's Sunday School curriculum, and have renamed the old category as "Book of Mormon." I will also summarize some random notes I have on a self-designed introductory lesson entitled "Ten Reasons to Study Church History" to motivate the less interested. In no particular order, here are ten reasons, some of which are illustrated with quotes from Pres. Hinckley's Teachings book (Deseret, 1997).
TEN REASONS TO STUDY CHURCH HISTORY
1. Beginnings - A working knowledge of the early years of Mormon History is needed to understand the historical faith claims of the Church and is the foundation of what might be called the Mormon sense of identity.
2. Scriptures - Mormon scriptures (the Book of Mormon, the writings in the Pearl of Great Price, and the D&C itself) were all given to the world during the early years of Church History.
3. Temples - These central elements of Mormon geography and doctrine began in the early years, with the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples.
4. Celebrations - Mormons have a holiday, July 24. The two annual conference dates, one centered on April 6 (the anniversary of the founding of the Church) and the other in October, are reverent festivals of sorts. Surprisingly, the key Joseph Smith dates, December 23 (birthday) and June 22 (death) are noted but not formally observed. Pres. Hinckley noted, "I am one who believes in celebrations. I am one who believes in commemorating great events of the past. When we do so we bring to life, as it were, men and women of history who did significant things . . ." (Teachings, p. 103-04).
5. Roots - Given the role of historical truth claims in the LDS message, a greater familiarity with Church History is a way of putting down "roots of faith." Pres. Hinckley, who often uses LDS history events to make points in his addresses, notes: "Every member of the Church ought to have some understanding of, and familiarity with, the history of this tremendous movement. Without such understanding, it is difficult to sink the roots of faith deep enough that the tree will not topple when false winds of doctrine blow. No man can really appreciate Joseph Smith without reading his history" (Teachings, p. 104).
6. Gratitude - For the sacrifices those who came before rendered in order to build up the Church as an institution.
7. Pioneers - I'm not especially fond of the word, but the whole "pioneer epic" is a chapter from Mormon history that generally garners praise and admiration from all observers and is not generally subject to the disputes that plague the earlier period. California played a surprisingly large role in the pioneer efforts -- Mormons in the Mormon Battalion reached San Diego months before Brigham led the first company into the Salt Lake Valley, other Mormons of that group made their way to what is now Los Angeles, and a ship-borne group of East Coast LDS sailed into what is now San Francisco, also in 1847. California could have been "the place."
8. Missionaries - Converts saved the Church. So many early Saints left the Church over various events or developments that if there hadn't been a steady stream of new Mormons from conversions in the East and in England, Mormonism might have shrunk into a rather obscure sect. Conversions were the result of missionaries, and it is stunning to realize how many men took off to preach for months or years at a time during the early period. The preaching of the Twelve in England during the Nauvoo period is, perhaps, the most striking example, but LDS missionaries also travelled to Canada, Palestine, and the Pacific Islands, as well as all regions of the young United States.
9. Brigham Young - Got his hands on a Book of Mormon in 1830; after roughtly two years (a slow and deliberate conversion) he joined the Church.
10. David O. McKay - He saw the first three-quarters of LDS history in the 20th century, and was in The Big Chair during the fifties and sixties. As Pres. McKay's teachings are covered in this years Priesthood/RS manual, it's worth noting Pres. Hinckley's observations:
President David O. McKay was a tall and handsome man, physically robust, he loved the contest, his mind was scintillating and his wit delightful (Teachings, p. 523). . . . He was a giant among men, inpressive in appearance and noble in character, a true prince. As I worked under his direction on a number of projects, I constantly marveled . . ." (Teachings, p. 524).