Seth, a regular on this blog, asked an important question. He asked: “Imagine you are an active Mormon (or at least try for a moment). Imagine you had to rank Mormon sources of teaching and doctrine on a numbered scale. How would you rank the following:
*Accepted Mormon scriptures – the “Standard Works”
*Statements by Joseph Smith on doctrinal matters
*Statements by Brigham Young on doctrinal matters
*Statements made by current or recent Prophets and Apostles in General Conference, or in the Ensign
*Explanations made in books published by General Authorities. Statements made by official Church organs (such as the Church website, or press room)
*Statements included in currently used manuals or lesson materials.”
This is an important question because if there is an agreed-upon answer then that establishes common ground for discussion. In my experience, however, both Mormons and Christians don’t agree on the relative importance of the things listed. This results in ever-increasing frustration for all involved as everybody, it seems, cites different authorities. Sometimes it even appears as if the same person will cite different authorities at different times to suit his purpose. This switching of authorities, whether real or perceived, creates not only frustration but also suspicion.
What I find perplexing about all this is that it seems to me that the LDS Church has spoken clearly about this very question. One of its basis tenets is the idea of ongoing revelation. I have lost count of the number of LDS members who have talked to me about their benefit of having a living prophet who can receive revelation for the current day. This is a universally accepted idea. At least I have never seen or heard of a LDS member not sustaining the current living prophet.
Building on this teaching of ongoing revelation, the LDS church has published numerous statements like the following. These are all taken from the official church manual, Teachings of the Living Prophet.
“The most important prophet, so far as you and I are concerned, is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us.” Ezra Taft Benson, P. 13
“The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.” P. 15
“The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” P. 15
“The prophet does not have to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture. P. 16
“The most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece. That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications.” P. 19
“President Ezra Taft Benson counseled the Saints to ‘beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always takes precedence.’” P. 20
“It is the latest word from God that must be heeded, in preference to any former revelation, however true. The same God ways do thus and so today, can repeal that commandment tomorrow, without being changeable or inconsistent.” P. 20
“Today the Lord is revealing his will to all the inhabitants of the earth, and to members of the Church in particular, on the issues of this our day through the living prophets, with the First Presidency at the head. What they say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here in person. This is the rock foundation of Mormonism.” P. 25 (My emphasis)
There are other similar quotes from other current and official manuals. These are not taken from obscure and outdated documents. There are numerous quotes, for example, that describe General Conference talks as scripture. One of the newest LDS manuals, True to the Faith, says, “Your greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church.” P. 130
Back to the original question. It sure seems to me, if I were a faithful member of the LDS church, the church itself is telling me loud and clear where to look – at what is currently being taught by the First Presidency. In that regard, I would pay special attention to everything the First Presidency officially endorses – as is the case with many church manuals. In fact, if I put something above them, it seems to me that I would not be a faithful member. As the church itself teaches: “The living prophet always takes precedence.”