Posts Tagged ‘Living Prophet


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.”

May 2020

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