In my previous post, we discussed the definitions and scriptural hallmarks of prophets, seers and revelators. These are spiritual gifts with specific fruits—not offices or titles. These gifts are vital for the proper leadership of the church.
Each of these gifts bears specific fruit, and this is how we may know them. (Matthew 7:15-20) As the Savior commanded, we must know a prophet by examining his fruits. In today's installment, we'll examine the fruits as they are manifest in the modern church leadership, and what this implies for us.
The Gifts Today
So how do our modern prophets exercise the gift of prophecy?
President Hinckley explained more about his role as prophet for the church in a 1997 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:
Q: And this belief in contemporary revelation and prophecy? As the prophet, tell us how that works. How do you receive divine revelation? What does it feel like?
A: Let me say first that we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don't need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we've already received.
Now, if a problem should arise on which we don't have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind. I liken it to Elijah's experience. When he sought the Lord, there was a great wind, and the Lord was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was not in the earthquake. And a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. But in a still, small voice. Now that's the way it works. (Emphasis mine.)
Did you catch what he said?
First, the prophet said we really don't need much revelation. In light of the current situation in the world, and what is shortly coming, I find this statement surprising. I need a great deal of revelation to lead my own life and lead my family. I can't imagine that the complexities of leading a worldwide, multibillion dollar, multi-million member organization would require less—especially in the last days of a fallen world careening wildly toward chaos. Can you imagine Joseph Smith ever making such a statement?
No, Joseph said very much the opposite:
The Church must be cleansed, and I proclaim against all iniquity. A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God. (DHC 4:588)President Hinckley also said that revelation to the prophet comes NOT by an audible voice, vision, visitation, angelic minister, or face-to-face consultation with the Lord, the way it so often came to Joseph Smith, but rather he said it comes by a still, small voice in the mind after fasting and prayer.
Well, this is exactly the way it comes to anyone who has not received the gifts of prophecy, seership or revelation. The still, small voice of the Holy Ghost is available to all who will receive the Holy Ghost, from the President, down to the least saint. You don't even have to be a saint to receive revelation through the Holy Ghost! (Moroni 10:4-5)
Given the opportunity to explain something more, to testify of God's gifts to the church, to proclaim that miracles, visions and angels have not ceased, that revelation continues, and the heavens are yet open, President Hinckley instead gave us the Sunbeam answer that babies come from the Stork and that the prophet, seer, and revelator—does none of these things.
Because, as he pointed out, they're really not much needed.
As we might expect, scripture has something to say on this topic:
Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost! (3 Nephi 29:6)President Hinckley also noted that when a problem arises for which the leadership doesn't have an answer, the prophet takes it to the Lord. Ironically, it was the lack of scriptural answer concerning women and the priesthood that led Kate Kelly and the Ordain Women movement to petition the First Presidency to take the matter to the Lord.
Just ask God. That was their request.
And rather than doing so, the church brought its considerable PR and disciplinary might down on the heads of those who dared ask the First Presidency to act in their office. The question remained unanswered, and Kate Kelly was excommunicated.
Too Sacred to Mention?
"But wait," some say, "How do you know the prophet isn't meeting with Jesus Christ every Thursday in the temple? Who are YOU to claim our prophets don't receive visions, angels and visitations? What makes you think they would ever tell us if they did? Such things are too sacred to talk about! They would NEVER reveal such things publicly!"
Actually, I hear this a lot. So let's get past the pre-school answer of "We don't talk about that!" and shoulder the more mature responsibility of studying scripture and thinking for ourselves.
When prophets meet God or an angel face to face, they are obligated to tell us about it. This is what prophets are for! This is what they do!
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. (Exodus 3:15)D&C 107:91 requires the President of the church to be like unto Moses. I would submit that at least one of the ways he should do this is by plainly stating he has been given a message by God. Joseph Smith did so. This is always the pattern.
And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7:29-32)There must be those whose knowledge reckons directly from heaven, or else the rest of us would know nothing at all concerning heaven—and therefore could not exercise faith. Our apostles are obligated to bear their special witness of Jesus Christ to the world, because this is their office!
In Joseph Smith's day, the original twelve were charged at their ordination as follows:
You have been indebted to other men, in the first instance, for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out...
Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days? (Minutes, Kirtland, OH, 21 Feb. 1835; in Minute Book 1, pp. 158–159)Yet, these days, we’re told that some things are “too sacred” to talk about. What? Since when? We can’t talk about the way back to God? We can’t bear testimony that it is possible to be redeemed from the fall? That angels still minister to men? That Jesus Christ yet lives and receives all who will come to Him? That our prophets know Him personally and have seen Him face to face? That they have been ordained by Him just as in former days?
If such things were not too sacred for Joseph to talk about, what changed? Did they become more sacred? Or have such things ceased and we are left to assume they still happen based on nebulous statements, or evasive answers about "sacred" things?
Why would a prophet NOT declare he has received revelation?
The Messages they Share
I've never met President Monson, but everything I've heard about him tells me he is a good man. He has devoted his time, effort, and very life to service in the church and to his fellowman. He has shouldered a terrible burden for us all in running the church, and I am grateful for all his good works. He has set an example of Christlike service and compassion that ought to instruct us all.
But, according to Christ, I'm not to examine the prophet as a man, or even examine his works. Rather, I'm to look at his fruits. Therefore, to take the measure of this prophet, I'm obligated to examine President Monson's prophetic pronouncements.
Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any.
President Monson has taught great truths, told inspiring stories, and quoted scripture throughout his ministry, but I've not been able to find any instance of him claiming to have a message from God, a vision, a heavenly visitation, or any new truth to reveal. In fact, quite the opposite. He tends to dwell on the same themes repeatedly, even to the point of recycling conference talks.
Nevertheless, I find his words inspiring, his talks uplifting. But let's not confuse inspiration with revelation. These are different things. I've heard countless church leaders and non-leaders alike, at all levels, give inspired talks about important truths. They spoke and still speak by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. But these were not and are not revelations.
From a prophet, the scriptural pattern tells us, we should expect something different. And from President Monson, we do get something different—but not in the way we might hope.
In all seriousness, unlike most other general authorities and even general church members, President Monson has NOT testified to the church of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon in the last 9 years. Not even once. There's been an exhaustive study of the topic, cataloging every testimony he has borne in general conference—and in the 69 General Conference talks he's given since October, 2005, he has never once born personal testimony of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon.
Now I'm certainly not telling him what he ought to say, or how to run the church—that's his responsibility and authority, not mine—but I do find it odd that given 69 opportunities to testify to the world, he has not once felt to testify of our unique, foundational truths that even our primary children are taught to witness.
And, of course, it goes without saying that he has never claimed to have received a revelation, prophecy, or vision. If we are to know him by his fruit, there is simply no fruit to examine.
I might add, to save time for those inclined to accuse, I'm not evil speaking of the Lord's anointed. I have spoken positively about both Presidents Hinckley and Monson, while examining their messages and stating facts about about their public pronouncements. If you find these facts negative, or even evil, that's your opinion. You should ask yourself why you're uncomfortable with these facts.
Laying Aside the Juvenile Definitions
Now that we have the facts in front of us, with all emotion aside, we must ask ourselves as rational, thinking adults what evidence we have that our current church leaders are “prophets, seers, and revelators” according to the scriptural pattern. Even if we just focus on President Monson—What has the prophet prophesied? What has the revelator revealed? What has the seer seen?
Please don't think I'm writing against President Monson. I'm not. I'm cheering him on, praying for him, and hopeful that God will sustain and support him in his duties—including his duties to obtain and exercise the gifts of the spirit. I want him to prophesy, to reveal, and to see. The church so desperately needs these gifts.
My Stake President asked me if I believe Thomas S. Monson is a prophet. I replied that I don't know if he is or isn't because I've never heard him prophesy, and therefore I have no way to apply Christ's test to tell if he's a prophet. It was a very honest answer to a difficult question. I'm certainly open to the possibility that he is, and indeed, I hope he is a prophet. But I can't pretend to know what I do not.
Believing [insert name here] is a [insert profession here]
Claiming that a man is a dentist, rock star, astronaut, rodeo clown or prophet does not make him so. Claiming he's one of these things in a complete absence of evidence demonstrates a defective thought process and, in the case of a prophet, a disregard for Christ's word.
There are many gospel principles, including the existence of God Himself, we must accept by faith. But the prophetic claim is NOT one of them. Jesus Christ specifically told us the opposite—we are to test the prophetic claims of men based on evidence if we want to avoid deception. "Ye shall know them by their fruits." Or, in other words, don't just believe whatever is claimed about someone; examine their fruits. Pretending to "know" something in some other way contradicts the Lord's command. I won't do that.
When confronted with the question of whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, there are ample fruits by which to know. When facing the question of whether our modern leaders are prophets the fruit trees are bare.
And yet, according to official church policy, before we will allow anyone to be baptized they must satisfactorily answer the following question:
Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?Before they will allow people to obey Christ's doctrine and receive His commanded ordinance, the LDS church has added an unscriptural requirement that a convert must confess a belief that a man who has never prophesied is, indeed, a prophet. And thus, they teach converts, from the outset, that becoming a Mormon requires one to suspend reason and ignore scripture in favor of conformity with group thought.
This contradicts Christ's doctrine and "cometh of evil." (3 Nephi 11:40)
Sustaining the Prophet
Unlike the baptismal interview, the temple recommend question doesn't ask about whether we "believe" or "know" a man is a prophet. Rather, it is phrased as follows:
Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?This brings up the question of sustaining. What does it mean to "sustain" the President of the church?
The dictionary says that to sustain is to uphold, support, and maintain. I take this to mean that if I sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer and revelator, I support the idea that he should obtain and exercise these gifts, that I uphold his right and duty to lead the church, and that I contribute to his maintenance with my tithes.
I do sustain President Monson. I absolutely recognize his right to lead the church. I pray for him to be guided as he does so. I believe he was placed in that position by God. I pray that he will receive and use the spiritual gifts on behalf of the church. I explained this to my Stake President.
Then my Stake President took away my temple recommend.
Evidently I wasn't "worthy" of a recommend because I didn't believe President Monson was a prophet. I explained that the temple recommend interview does not require me to believe any such thing. I am required to sustain the President, and I did and do.
I assume my Stake President's definition of "sustain" was more in line with what Elder Nelson said in the last General Conference:
Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.This is new doctrine. I can't find anything in scripture about the requirement to "sustain" a man, let alone make an "oath-like" indication to be bound to another mortal man's priorities. I'm not aware that God seeks to bind us to anyone but Himself. Our loyalty must be to our Lord. A prophet's role is to deliver a message from God, not demand loyalty to himself.
The Crucible of Contradiction
And so, here's the contradiction I still find troubling: In the temple recommend interview it's apparent that on one hand I must claim to believe the false proposition that a man who has never prophesied is a prophet, but on the other hand I must also claim to be honest with my fellowman.
A failure to make both of these mutually exclusive claims may mean denial of a temple recommend, barring you from entering the temple that was paid for by your tithes—because you are "unworthy."
I don't know how to resolve this contradiction. I tried and failed. Maybe you'll do better.
But What If?
So what if President Monson announced a new revelation tomorrow? What if he saw a vision or met with an angel? What if he received knowledge from heaven in the Lord's own voice and presented it to the church as God's word?
First, it would be absolutely within his authority to do so. Nobody would question that. I certainly wouldn't.
Second, it would then be the obligation of church members to take the matter up with the Lord to receive divine confirmation that this was, indeed, God's word. Failure to do s0—while accepting the message only by virtue of president Monson's office alone, would leave church members as blind followers, having not received God's word for themselves.
And ONLY blind followers can be led astray. Those who know they should ask God—and know how to receive the Lord's ratification of a message—cannot be led astray. They can discern by testing the fruits, just as Christ taught. Hence, Brigham Young said:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire of themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path that the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 150)Unfortunately, such discernment is a rarity among humanity. Said Joseph Smith:
The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves “in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,” and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men. (TPJS, 206)And so with these warnings in mind, ask yourself who you accept as a prophet. And why.
- Has he delivered prophecy? Can you identify it?
- Has he proclaimed it as originating directly from God?
- Have you studied it yourself, then taken the prophecy to the Lord and received confirmation that the words indeed came from God?
- Everybody calls the man a prophet
- The man's office claims to make him a prophet
- The man is revered and adored
- Your cultural upbringing insists you not question
- Your church privileges and membership are threatened
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.