Ever since last fall’s General Conference, the LDS Church has been emphasizing the authority of the living prophet. Twice in that General Conference, President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1980 speech, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”, was not just referred to but cited quite heavily. In fact, two different speakers listed all fourteen fundamentals. This is striking because this was and has remained a controversial speech even among Mormons. Numerous active LDS members have told me how they take that speech with a large grain of salt. That critical attitude was also evident in numerous posts made by Mormon bloggers after General Conference.
It’s not difficult to see why this speech causes discomfort among some Mormons. Here are the 14 fundamentals. Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy listed them with this introduction: “Because they are of such great importance to our very salvation, I will repeat them again.” (my emphasis)
“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.
“Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
“Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
“Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
“Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.
“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
“Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
“Fourteenth: [Follow] … the living prophet and the First Presidency … and be blessed; reject them and suffer.”
Those are quite lofty claims!
But this emphasis on the living prophet hasn’t ended there. In subsequent months, statements about the importance of following the living prophet have been appearing on the pages of the official LDS magazine, Ensign. In fact, March’s edition spotlights this again in its column, “What We Believe”.
I, for one, am happy to see this emphasis. I say that because it has been an ongoing frustration to quote a living prophet only to have it downplayed by Mormons as not binding. But that is not what Benson said above. It’s obvious that, by twice quoting those fundamentals at General Conference, the present Church agrees with Benson. As the January edition of the Ensign states, “God continues to reveal truths to living prophets through the revelation of the Holy Ghost. These truths are considered scripture (see D&C 68:4). They come to us primarily through general conference, held the first weekend in April and October, when members throughout the world hear addresses from our prophet and other Church leaders.”
With statements like the above, the proper method for seeing what Mormonism truly teaches is looking at what its prophets and leaders have said rather than what individual members say. And when a individual member’s position differ from that of the prophet, doesn’t honesty demand that, on the specific topic under discussion, that the member is not representing official Mormon teaching?