Archive for the 'Living Prophet' Category


Frustration Over Sources of Authority

      In the comments following my last post a LDS member replied to a question I had about an older edition of Gospel Principles by stating:  “I also wouldn’t put it passed the writers (whoever the nameless curriculum writers are) of Gospel Principles or any other manual to not only include a typo, but also to make an assertion that the scriptures themselves do not make.”  I appreciated the candid answer but it left me frustrated.  Here’s why.

     Years ago, when I was starting to research Mormonism, I asked some local LDS leaders what sources I should read to understand Mormonism.  They pointed me to the standard works but also to the words of the living prophet.  In that connection more than one told me that any church manual that, at that time, was copyrighted by the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a true and trustworthy source.  They especially pointed me to Gospel Principles as a great introduction to official Mormonism.

    Over the years, I have heard similar things expressed at General Conference, in the Ensign by the First Presidency, and yes, also in manuals.  In fact, I can’t think of a time when somebody in an official capacity downplayed the official manuals.  To this day, the manuals are represented by official Mormonism as reliable sources of authority.

     That is all well and good until you are talking with individual Mormons who do downplay the manuals.. They point back to the standard works as the only sources of authority.  The trouble with that is that individual Mormons interpret them quite differently from each other as is very evident in the contradictory comments often left on this blog by LDS members. 

    Here’s my point and please try to understand the frustration this gives to a non-Mormons who are sincerely trying to learn what Mormonism teaches and not so much what individual Mormons believe.  The official church consistently points to the living prophet besides the standard works as a source of authority.  Included in this, according to church explanations, are things that are printed under his authority – like official manuals.  And if you read the manual, Teachings of the Living Prophets, especially Ezra Taft Benson’s speech, the authority of the living prophet is very broad and is not restricted to just “official” pronouncements.  Therefore it seems only legitimate and proper for a non-Mormon researcher to give much more weight to the explanations given in church manuals than to differing ones given by individual Mormons – when the topic is what does Mormonism believe and teach.

     Therefore it is extremely frustrating when individual Mormons don’t give much weight to what the official church manuals teach.  As far as I can tell, unless somebody can point me to an official declaration, the official leaders of the LDS Church, the General Authorities, have not disavowed Benson’s view of the wide-spread authority of the Living Prophet.  In fact, by citing it extensively in an official manual, isn’t the logical conclusion that they support it?


The Mormon Source of Authority


      The manual, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church – Joseph Smith”, is currently being studied in the Mormon Church.  Chapter 16 is entitled, “Revelation and the Living Prophet.  That chapter contains the following two paragraphs.


Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church, reported: “I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made … with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. … A leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’


“When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the [living] oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’ ”16


     This is significant for two reasons.  One is that it gives the testimony of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that the living prophet is even more important than scripture.  As Brigham Young said, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants are “nothing” compared to the living prophet.  Joseph Smith gives his assent to that.  That’s significant.

     But is just as significant is that the LDS Church saw fit to make this part of this new manual.  This is not a dusty doctrine from the dim Mormon past.  In fact they emphasize it with the following study question.


• On pages 198–99, read how Joseph Smith and Brigham Young responded when a man said we should confine ourselves to the revelations written in the scriptures. What would be missing from your life if you confined yourself to the standard works, without hearing the words of the living prophet? What can we do to follow the spirit of Brigham Young’s counsel?


     Does this not say that THE ultimate source of authority in the LDS Church is not the Bible, or the Book of Mormon, or D&C, but the current president, Thomas S. Monson?  As Brigham Young said above:  “I would rather have the living oracles than all the writings in the books.”


General Conference


     This past weekend the LDS Church held their semi-annual General Conference.  Every six months the leaders of the LDS Church (called General Authorities) give a number of talks over two days.  Thousands of Mormons attend these talks in Salt Lake City, while millions of others listen to them through satellite feeds, the Internet, etc.  General Conference weekend is a very big event in Mormonism.

      How big?  Elder Mark E. Petersen, said:  “A general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far more significant than most people realize. . .

      . . .it is one of the most important events of the present day.  Many do not regard it, even among the Latter-day Saints.  But for those who appreciate its true significance, it is of transcending importance, for in it PROPHETS OF GOD SPEAK, living prophets.

      When God gives a message to mankind, it is not something to be lightly cast aside.  Whether He speaks personally, or through His prophets, He himself said, it is the same.

     And in this conference HIS PROPHETS SPEAK!”  (Teachings of the Living Prophets, p. 63.)

     These conference talks are published in the next month’s edition of the Ensign, the LDS magazine.  Many Mormons will faithfully study these issues.  As Ezra Taft Benson said, “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one living in our day and age. . .Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is that 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.”

      It is important for those Christians who are witnessing to Mormons to realize the importance of General Conference.  In line with that, it is beneficial to get the Conference editions of the Ensign and read them.  That is what many of your LDS friends will be doing.


Mormonism’s Sources of Authority


     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.” 




    In my last post I talked about Mormonism’s 8th Article of Faith, namely, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”  The word “translation” usually means taking something from language and putting it into a different language.  For example, I translated that letter from Spanish to English. 

     But Mormons often cite the 8th Article of Faith in reference to their belief that the original text was corrupted.  In other words, they often include the transmission of the text down through the ages.  As Joseph Smith said, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers.  Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.”  (Quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual, p. 14)

     To muddy the waters even more, as this issue is discussed, often the interpretation of the Bible is introduced with the argument that people interpret things differently.  But the interpretation of the Bible is not pertinent in this discussion.  Translation and interpretation are two different things.

     Hopefully the following analogy helps make my point.  Whenever the President of the United States gives a speech, the “experts” immediately interpret that speech and come up with differing interpretations of it.   But the key point to my illustration is that they all work off all the same transcript of the speech.

     Now apply that to the Bible.  People come up with different interpretations of it, but they all work from the same “transcript”.  Mormonism, however, says the transcript itself is corrupt.  In any other situation when such a charge is made, the obvious questions are:

“What parts are corrupted?” and “Can you prove it?”  How many news agencies, for example, would take at face value the claim that the transcript of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was not accurate without asking those two questions?

      Many people are asking the LDS church, what parts of the Bible are corrupted?   A general statement that it is corrupted isn’t very helpful.  If you want to be helpful, be specific.  From an outsider’s viewpoint, these seem to be reasonable questions -especially because of Mormonism’s claim that its living prophets receive direct revelation from God.  It is difficult to believe that God, over the past 150 years, hasn’t remedied this situation of a corrupted Bible by revealing the truth to one of its living prophets.    

August 2022

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