Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Bread of Life

Note: I'll continue my series on prophets soon. But first, this.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
—John 6:51

The saved and immortal Adam and Eve ate fruit for their diet in the Garden of Eden. But when they were expelled from the Garden as a result of the fall, there was a mandated change in diet. The sustaining of their now-mortal lives would require bread, produced by the labors of their mortal bodies.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19)
The fact that bread comes from the dust of the earth, and then returns thence, was symbolic of their own mortal journey from dust to dust. Indeed it is symbolic for each of us. "...for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

When Christ sat at Passover with his disciples, he took bread and blessed and broke it. The traditional Hebrew blessing upon bread, which Christ likely would have spoken, is as follows:
“Blessed art thou Lord our God who brings forth bread from the earth.” 
It’s interesting to note in the prayer that GOD is the one who brings forth bread from the earth. Man may labor to till and plant, harvest and thresh, but it is God who makes the grain grow. Just as God formed Adam and Eve from the dust, so God forms bread from the dust of the earth. Or in other scriptural language, God turns stones into bread. 

Therefore, when the Devil tempted Christ in the wilderness to turn stones into bread, the temptation wasn’t about Christ’s physical hunger at all. It was for Christ to prove he was God by doing what only God can do. “IF thou be the son of God…” was Satan’s opening to each challenge. Each of Satan’s other temptations had the same aim in mind. He wanted Christ to prove in a miraculous way that he held God’s power. But to what end?

At this point, Christ had indeed received sealing power from his Father, giving him the ability to do the miracles, but this power could only be employed as directed by his Father. Had Jesus employed the power to impress Satan, prove his abilities, or even to satisfy his own doubts, he would have lost that power by its misuse—and thus lost the ability to be our Savior. Satan is no dummy…he knew it was his last chance to destroy Christ’s power before the mission of salvation began. Like every anti-Christ that would follow, the devil demanded a sign.

But the only way in which Christ employed that power in conjunction with the devil was to cast him out.

God, Man and Bread

Any man can BURN bread into stones, but only God can TURN stones into bread. This metaphor rightly attributes the creative power to God alone.

Since man was created from the dust of the earth (stone) and bread represents life, the metaphor reinforces the fact that only God can save fallen mortal man and give him eternal life. The miracle is made greater by the fact that man is even lower than the dust of the earth (Mosiah 2:25.) 

This is the ultimate expression of God’s creative power—and this is exactly what God intends for every man and woman. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

Now, let's think about this lesson, as the Savior applied it in the sermon on the mount. 
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? (Matthew 7:9)
Here, a child asks bread of his father, and his father most certainly won't give him a stone. 
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11)
Luke takes the teaching one step further:
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:13, emphasis added)
Since this metaphor is given in the context of "ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9) the metaphor now expands to the idea of seeking from God the knowledge that will save us. It’s perhaps easy to forget that the key to salvation lies not in our works (we are all sinners) but in our knowledge. The Holy Spirit is provided to give us knowledge.

Bread can fill the belly temporarily, but only knowledge of God can fill and save the soul.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
Ignorance is the path opposite to salvation:
It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance. (D&C 131:6)
Said Joseph: 
"… 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." (TPJS 217)
In the end, this is really a metaphor about revelation through the Holy Spirit. If we ask God, He will give liberally the bread of life, which ultimately consists in saving knowledge. This is the hunger we MUST satisfy.

The restoration started with this truth:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
And the Book of Mormon culminates in this same truth:
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5)
So it’s all about the process of gaining our salvation by gaining knowledge from God and of God.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)
Said the Lord to Jared's brother:
"Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you." (Ether 3:13, emphasis added)
This same promise applies to each of us:
"Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am." (D&C 93:1)
Now in light of all that, we can begin to comprehend what the Savior meant when He said He is the bread of life. (John 6:35) Knowledge of Him is the key to our own eternal life.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
When our Lord taught His disciples to pray, He included this request, which was not about satisfying our physical hunger, but our spiritual: 
Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
And so we need Him daily, even from moment to moment, as our hope of salvation from this tabernacle of clay.

Broken Bread

It is only broken bread that can enter into our bodies and give us nourishment. Likewise, it is the broken body of Christ, offered in the garden and on the cross that atoned for our sin and reconciles us to God. The broken bread thus becomes the most fitting symbol of Christ, the bread of life, "bruised, broken, torn for us." (Hymns, 181)

But as we partake of the emblem in remembrance of Him, it also comes to represent us. For he asks of us the only acceptable offering we can offer: 
"And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost..." (3 Nephi 9:20)
Thus the broken bread not only represents Christ's broken flesh, but reminds us also of the broken flesh of our own heart as we ponder His sacrifice and our need. Likewise, the sacramental wine symbolizes our contrite spirit—a discussion for another day.

Christmas Bread

And so at this season when we celebrate Christ's birth, a few reminders:

December 21: Winter solstice, when light triumphs over darkness. 

—And then a day and a night and a day later:

December 23: The birth of Joseph Smith who would restore light to the world.

—And then a day and a night and a day later:

December 25: We celebrate the birth of Christ—when God condescended to become man, and took upon Himself a tabernacle of clay so He could eventually turn all the stones into bread. You and I—we're the stones. But when our stony hearts are softened, and then finally broken, Christ can work His miracle in each of our lives, thus giving us—and making us—the bread of life.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)
Therefore, with the rich symbolism of bread, stretching all the way back to Eden's garden, is it any wonder that the unregarded little hamlet where the miracle began was called Bethlehem? 

In Hebrew:


And so in the house of bread, the manna from Heaven descended to Earth.
With angelic hosts proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!" 

Bread in the House

And so, in light of stones and bread, dust and deity, what is a fitting way to commemorate His birth?

I suggest there is no more fitting Christmas celebration than the one prescribed by Christ himself: 
And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you. 
And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. (3 Nephi 18:6-7)
This Christmas, why not take a break from the tinsel and toys, gather your family and friends, break the loaf, kneel together and bless it, and partake of the bread of life? Not with a crumb of bread and a thimble of water, but with a feast of bread and wine in remembrance of our Lord! 

Use the revealed words of scripture in Moroni 4 and D&C 20:76-77. Do it the way Christ instructed it be done. NO MAN has any right, key, authority, control, dominion or compulsion that allows him to forbid you obeying your Lord's commandment. Any man who would forbid it is anti-Christ. Go before your Savior with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Remember him in the way He asked you to. Make your home a house of bread.
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in. 
O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prophets, Part 3:
We Thank Thee, O God, for a Princess

Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.
—Helaman 13:8

In the first two posts in this series, we discussed the fruits of a prophet, and the standard set by the Lord for discerning a true prophet. "By their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20)

We also covered the fact that, without the fruits of prophecy, visions, and revelation, it's impossible to tell if someone is a prophet, seer or revelator. The fruits come by gifts of the Spirit, not by virtue of any office in the church. Sadly, these fruits have been absent from the LDS church for quite a long time—that is, we cannot point to any new revelation, prophecy, or vision to the church in the last hundred or so years. 

When I have pointed out this fact to my brothers and sisters in the church, and even church leaders, the most common reply is that we receive revelation at every General Conference. Indeed, some regard every talk by the members of the First Presidency or an apostle as revelation—because these men are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. 

I disagree. As I discussed previously, prophecy and revelation are different than inspiration. Many church leaders give inspired talks by the power of the Spirit, teaching great truths. Many General Conference addresses share this common inspiration and are filled with light. But revelation is something more. Prophecy is something different than just a great talk.

Is it Prophecy?

Allow me to illustrate what I mean. For purposes of this discussion, let's accept the proposition that our sustained prophets give revelation at every General Conference. In fact, to make things simple, we'll confine our search to just the President of the Church. Nobody will question that he is certainly accepted and sustained as a prophet, and therefore the common belief is that his words are revelation to the church. 

Therefore, since he is issuing revelation as a prophet, his talks should be qualitatively different than what is offered by, say, a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy, the Presiding Bishop, or the Relief Society General President. If you take the names off the talks and simply read them, you should be able to pick out the revelations of prophets, which are different than the talks of non-prophets, right?

Try these. Which of these was spoken by a prophet at General Conference?
  1. We’ve all felt anger. It can come when things don’t turn out the way we want. It might be a reaction to something which is said of us or to us. We may experience it when people don’t behave the way we want them to behave. Perhaps it comes when we have to wait for something longer than we expected. We might feel angry when others can’t see things from our perspective. There seem to be countless possible reasons for anger.  
  2. Pride is essentially competitive—it is competitive by its very nature...Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone....it is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began...pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. 
  3. Are we really aware of the perilous circumstances surrounding our own children? We can usually determine if their physical needs are met, but what about their spiritual needs? Do they know of the light and peace of the gospel of Jesus Christ? The scriptures teach, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Children need the peace that comes from knowing they have a loving Heavenly Father, who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bring light and hope into the world. It is up to us as adults to direct children to that peace and light.
  4. Many people are longing not only to be loved but to have someone who will listen to them. When we love God with all our hearts, then we have the capacity to love our neighbor. The greatest need in the world today is not more science, not more social engineering, not more teaching, not more knowledge, not more power, not even more preaching-the greatest need we have today is for love. 

OK, what do you think? Which words were spoken by a prophet and which were not? Clearly, all are inspired messages, and teach truth. But which rise to the level of revelation or prophecy? Here's the answer key:

Number one was spoken by President Monson in the October, 2009 General Conference. These are the words many will elevate above the others and call them revelation. Read them again. Any new revelations there?

Number two is tricky. These are the words of Christian author C.S. Lewis, but some of them were borrowed by Ezra Taft Benson for his April, 1989 General Conference address. When the words originate with a non-prophet, but then are spoken by a prophet, do they become elevated to revelatory status?

Number three was sister Coleen K. Menlove, Recently Released Primary General President, from the April, 2005 General Conference.

Number four came from Christian evangelist Billy Graham.

Now, I'll admit that such a test as I just offered is necessarily limited. I've only taken excerpts of talks, devoid of context. But I did that intentionally to focus on the message, rather than the setting in which it was offered. 

Nevertheless—and I won't take the space here to do so—I submit that you could do the same with entire conference talks. Take off the speakers' names, then try to pick out the talks of prophets vs. non-prophets. Could you conclusively say what is revelation and what is merely inspiration?

This was brought to my attention forcefully, when someone emailed me a link to a fictional general authority website, containing absurd parodies of General Conference talks. The site was sent to me in the context of being an important addition to the topic at hand. It wasn't until a couple of days later, as I recall, that the sender realized the deception and told me the site might be fake. 

Hey, if you use the right vocabulary, speak the correlated phrases, and parrot what other general authorities have said, guess what? You'll sound just like them.

And that's just the point. Men and women, even children, speak inspired words and teach beautiful truths. People of all faiths do so. LDS leaders certainly do. Calling such words prophecy or revelation because they come out of one person's mouth, but merely a good talk when they come out of another person's mouth makes the owner of the mouth the most important deciding factor in discerning truth. It elevates the speaker above the message, and relieves us of our obligation to seek confirmation from God. It makes a man into an idol and God's word into a secondary consideration. This is against Christ's injunction to know the man by the fruits, and not the fruits by the man.

Most important, such an idea supports the notion that God's words are really no different than man's words, and that revelation and prophecy are really no different than any other banal platitudes that may be offered as religion.

Prophet or Princess?

You may not want to read what follows. It's a harsh reality, but it wasn't my idea. No, it's an idea promoted by the LDS Church. More specifically, I got what follows from an article in LDS-church-owned magazine, LDS Living, in which a quiz was offered comparing the words of LDS prophets to those of Disney characters. Check it out at this link.

Yes, that's right. Prophet or princess? Hard to tell? That's what makes the quiz so fun! The words of the prophets are entertaining! It's not like your soul is at stake or anything. Have some fun!

Though I write a lot of stuff, there are times when I'm so caught off guard that I'm at a loss for words. 

This is not one of those times. 

Two words, in fact, come readily to mind. But this is a family-friendly blog, so I'll edit them and present them as follows:


Are you SERIOUS? Let's compare what we claim are the direct words of Jesus Christ—to vapid platitudes of Disney Princesses? For fun? And THIS is what passes for revelation? THIS is how we claim to receive the very oracles of God? THIS is where so many of us will hang our salvation, secure in the knowledge that we can never be led astray? 

Allow me to quote another animated, fictional character—namely, Homer Simpson: "Feeling stupid? I know I am!"

But it's OK, because in the words of the Pooh prophet Winnie: "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

And it's a good thing, too. Because you're going to need those smarts to beat the next quiz (Again promoted by the LDS church in LDS Living magazine). That's right, it's time to play Dieter or Dumbledore!

In this fast-paced religious extravaganza, you get to guess which hackneyed clich├ęs were uttered by fictional wizard Albus Dumbledore and which were spoken by prophet, seer and revelator, Dieter Uchtdorf. After all, as the introduction states, "They both have silvery hair, speak with foreign accents and are known for their wisdom." 

Having trouble? Here's a hint: if it's about flying a plane, it's Dieter. If it's about flying a broom, it's Dumbledore. You're welcome.

I hope you'll forgive the sarcastic tone of the above. Sometimes this is the best way to highlight utter absurdity. When the sayings of those called prophets are viewed as sources of entertainment, when the words of eternal life are confused with the slogans of fictional wizards, when we, like fools, trifle with sacred things, unable to discern God's word from man's, we are indeed "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:17)

Would we ever play such games with the words of Christ? Isn't the fact that we play such games proof enough that, though we claim the prophets speak for Christ, we don't really believe they do? Do we not show, by our own works, that prophecy has ceased? When those we call prophets only offer what is commonly available and ceaselessly repeated every six months, how will we ever know God's will? 

What are we to do in such circumstances? 

Well, it ends where the restoration began, with James 1:5. 
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
It never was about finding a man to follow. It's always been about finding God for ourselves. Of course other mortals can point the way to Christ, but ultimately the journey to find him is undertaken alone, "relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save." (2 Nephi 31:19)

His voice is yet in scripture. His voice is yet in the flood of revelation that came through Joseph Smith. And His voice will yet speak to all who will ask and listen. His words never cease. (Moses 1:4)

But seeking Him will take work. And faith. And it may require letting go of cherished, but false, traditions. And that might be uncomfortable. 

So it might be more entertaining to just go read this article about what prophets have said on the topic of Santa Claus. Oh—and I hear the Muppets are delivering the glad tidings of great joy this year too!

Yep, that'll do it.

And the people bowed and prayed 
To the neon god they made 
And the sign flashed out its warning 
In the words that it was forming 
And the sign said 
"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls 
And tenement halls 
And whispered in the sound of silence"
(Paul Simon, The Sound of Silence)

Oh that we would turn to God ourselves, search the scriptures, cry in mighty prayer, and seek to know Him. Then, having obtained a hope in Christ, perhaps we may again hear words over the pulpit like those of Benjamin:

My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.
—Mosiah 2:9

Presidents, Popes and Politicians

Update December 29, 2017: Those tricksters at LDS Living are at it again! Here's a fun quiz they put together, where you can try to tell the difference between the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and living prophets and apostles. Remember, "Their wisdom is timeless and their words touch our hearts."

The tricky bit: Many of the quotes from Lewis and Tolkien were used in General Conference...so...does that make them prophetic?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Prophets, Part 2:
Are the Fruits Forbidden?

Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
—Ezekiel 13:3

In my previous post, we discussed the definitions and scriptural hallmarks of prophetsseers and revelatorsThese 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.)
Now, I loved President Hinckley. His wisdom, humor and gentle nature were wonderful and endearing. He felt like a grandfather to me, and I do not mean to show him any personal disrespect. But I believe it is appropriate to examine his public statements when acting in his capacity as church President. It's our obligation to do so.

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]

I'll pull out the dental analogy again: It's like being asked if a man you've never met is a dentist, even though he has never personally claimed to be one. People may say he is, he may be loved and respected for his stories about teeth, and he may be a wonderful man to boot. He may own a set of dental tools, and come from a long line of dentists. He may even spend all day in a dental office. But unless he actually fixes teeth, it's hard to say whether he's a dentist. People whose teeth he has never fixed, and who have never seen him fix a single tooth may bear you their solemn witness that he most definitely is, for sure, absolutely an honest-to-goodness dentist. They may just know it with every fiber of their being. But in the end, such testimonies are expressing a hope in the absence of any evidence. This is NOT the same thing as knowledge.

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?
If you have not taken these steps, and yet you accept a man as a prophet, you are in danger. It doesn't matter if—
  • 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
These things don't matter, nor should they prevent you from obeying your Lord. Christ gave you a warning. You must now choose whether you will heed it. You must choose whether you believe Him or not. It's rock or sand. There is no middle ground.

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.
—Matthew 7:24-27

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Prophets, Part 1:
Mommy, Where do Prophets Come From?

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
—Numbers 12:6

It's not a comfortable question to be asked, and it can be equally uncomfortable to explain:

Mommy, where do babies come from? 

Different explanations are offered for different levels of understanding: The stork, the baby store, the hospital, mommy's tummy, and eventually the biological realities of reproduction are explained when there is sufficient maturity to understand and use such knowledge properly. 

Religion works in much the same way. We teach children simple truths, which they accept in simple faith, and as they mature, we increase the depth and breadth of teaching so they can gain a fuller understanding and exercise greater faith. 

In the process, sometimes uncomfortable topics come up, requiring us to grapple with questions, doubts and fears. But this struggle is worthwhile, because, properly pursued, it produces a more informed, mature and powerful faith. This is the necessary process of spiritual growth. Said Paul:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Putting away childish things in our gospel understanding is absolutely necessary, though often uncomfortable. Ironically, receiving greater light and knowledge requires us to become more childlike; the more open we are, the more our hearts are soft and willing, the greater our capacity to understand truth. Being childlike in our openness is not the same as being childish in our understanding.

And so, we come to the topic of prophets. As Mormons, we unequivocally believe in prophets and prophecy, so it's worthwhile to study the topic. In doing so, we must let go of our preconceived ideas and biases so we can be soft hearted and open to truth, even when it's uncomfortable. The path to Christ's redemption was never designed to be comfortable, popular or easy. 

No matter the stories we may tell our children, neither babies nor prophets are delivered by storks. 

Do you Sustain the Prophet?

If you've ever had a temple recommend or priesthood interview, you've been asked the following questions:

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? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? 
These are interesting questions to ponder, particularly if you don't just answer with a knee-jerk "Yes!" reaction. It's worth considering what it means to "sustain" a man as a "prophet, seer and revelator." As with all questions affecting our salvation, we ought to take this question seriously.

Let's start with those three titles--Prophet, Seer, Revelator. They are first listed together in D&C 107, as follows:

And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church. (D&C 107:91-92)
Now the first thing we have to get straight is this: The titles "prophet, seer, and revelator" do not refer to priesthood offices. You CANNOT ordain someone "prophet" or "seer" or "revelator." I've heard people talk about the President of the church being "ordained to be the prophet." This may be the colloquial usage among us Latter-day Saints, but it is not correct. The President of the church is ordained to be the President, which is an administrative office—not the Prophet, which is a spiritual gift.

The titles of prophet, seer and revelator all refer to spiritual gifts. And according to D&C 107, it is the duty of the President of the church to obtain and exercise these gifts

There is no scriptural provision automatically bestowing these gifts on a man by virtue of the office he holds. But since so many people automatically associate the gifts with the office, it's worth looking at the process by which a man ascends to the office of President of the church. In our current practice, it happens in the following way:

  1. Upon the death of the current President, the next-most-senior apostle is automatically installed as the legal president of the corporation. There is no provision for discussion, dissent, or direction from God. It's written in the corporate charter and is legally automatic and instant upon death as part of the corporation's contract with the state, not God.
  2. Shortly thereafter, the new President is ordained to the office of President by the combined quorum of the Twelve Apostles (though in the past the ordination has also been performed by the Presiding Patriarch. And in some cases, there was never an ordination at all.)
  3. Sometime later, the new President is sustained by the vote of the church membership in General Conference. Being that the man is already legally installed, and ordained, the vote is merely symbolic. There is, in reality, zero chance that the vote would ever choose anything different than what has already been done, nor is there any procedure in place to change anything even if the vote did come out against what had been done.
  4. Having thus been legally installed, ordained and sustained in precisely backwards order from what it should be, the President is now obligated to seek and obtain the gifts of Prophecy, Seership and Revelation. It is his duty (D&C 107:91). He can be sustained by our vote, and ordained to an office, but this does not obligate the Lord to bestow any specific spiritual gift on that man. An office is no guarantee of any spiritual gifts at all. We cannot vote the gifts to descend upon the man. Only God can bestow the spiritual gifts the President is obligated to seek.
To better understand these gifts, let's examine them one at a time.

The Gift of Prophecy

It's a simple concept. By definition, a "prophet" or "prophetess" is one who has the gift of prophecy. (D&C 46:22). Such a person receives and delivers a message given them by God. Our common usage implies such a message will deal with future events, but the timing is not the defining characteristic of prophecy. Rather it is the source. Prophecy MUST originate with God.

There is no scriptural mandate that there be only one person with this gift at any given time, or that there only be specific leadership offices that enjoy this gift. 

Rather, the gift is available to all, and at times, there have been many prophets simultaneously issuing prophecy. (1 Nephi 1:4, Enos 1:22) Moses desired that ALL the Lord's people would be prophets. (Numbers 11:29) We should all be prophets because "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10, Alma 6:8)

Jesus taught us to expect prophets, and discern false prophets from true prophets by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20) If the fruit of a prophet is his prophecy, then we ought to judge the prophet by the message he delivers. 

Note that Jesus DID NOT say we could recognize a prophet by office, title, position, credentials, family, education, wealth, power, achievements, honors of men, success, accolades, or even common consent. These are all false standards, valued by this fallen world, but completely irrelevant to heaven. God chooses whom He will, and teaches that person. This is the only credential a prophet needs. The message is both the credential and the fruit of that prophet. If someone delivers a message from God, the message is all the authority needed. Such a messenger is, in delivering that message, a prophet.

Therefore, if we are to judge by fruits, we must examine the prophecy of the prophet to discern a true prophet from a pretender. If a man has never issued prophecy, there is nothing by which to judge. 

In that case, it's much like claiming to be a dentist, without ever having actually looked in someone's mouth. If you can't do it, you can't claim it. And it doesn't matter how many people may call you a dentist and testify that with every fiber of their being they KNOW you are God's chosen dentist and his mouth-doctor on earth. Until you fill the cavities, you haven't demonstrated you're anything but a title.

A prophet, then, has the obligation to make it clear when he is prophesying, or delivering a message given him by God so we will know it is prophecy and not just a good talk. "Thus saith the Lord" is a common scriptural marker. Or "the word of the Lord came unto me saying..." Others express it in other ways. King Benjamin made it known that he received his message from an angel. Jacob said he obtained his errand from the Lord. The key to remember here is that prophets clearly identify their prophecy as originating with God. We are never left to guess or make claims on their behalf that they do not make.

Joseph Smith said a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such (DHC 5:265). This means that everything coming out of the prophet's mouth is NOT prophecy, and may also include opinions, teachings, and administrative pronouncements. In fact, the majority of what such a person speaks will NOT be prophecy. 

An example would be when Joseph Fielding Smith, at the time President of the Quorum of the Twelve, stated over the pulpit in 1961 that man would never go into space or reach the moon. Obviously, he was expressing his own opinion, later proven to be erroneous. The fact that he said it "in the name of Jesus Christ" and over the pulpit did not change the fact that it was mere opinion. And it's OK—he, like all men, is entitled to hold opinions and make mistakes. He did not say the Lord said it; he was not issuing prophecy.

And yet, if everything coming out of a prophet's mouth were prophecy, such errors would be hugely problematic and faith destroying. Therefore the prophet must identify clearly that which is, indeed, a message coming from the Lord. Unless a statement is identified as prophecy, the only safe course is to assume it is not.

Ask yourself, then: When is the last time you heard such a message identified and delivered by a living prophet (or heard it read to you from a teleprompter)? Who is the last man you know of who openly claimed to have met the Lord or an angel and to subsequently deliver a message from God? Or have you ever heard of such a message in your lifetime? Joseph Smith made it clear when he was delivering God's word. He was unquestionably a prophet. Do we hear such a voice today?

Or have we changed the definition of "prophet" and "prophecy" to conform to our current situation?

The Gift of Seership

The best way to think about a Seer is as a "see-er," or one who "sees." A seer is shown visions by God. Ammon gives an excellent summary:
But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known. 
Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings. (Mosiah 8:17-18)
Therefore, it's a fairly simple proposition for us rank-and-file church members to recognize a seer. He or she will have visions that reveal things that otherwise could not be known, and will make those things known unto us. Joseph Smith is a great example: His First Vision opened this dispensation, and he had, and revealed, other visions throughout his life, up to and including the night before he died. Joseph Smith was unquestionably a seer.

If we are looking for modern seers, we should identify them by the visions they receive and make known. And so we're right back to our dental analogy: Calling someone a seer who has never looked into heaven is like calling someone a dentist who has never looked into a mouth. If you can't do it, you can't claim it. Calling someone a seer doesn't make him one.

Who is it today that looks into heaven and tells us what he sees? What visions of Heaven have been delivered to the LDS people? When was the last such vision given?

The Gift of Revelation

The word "revelation" is based on the word "reveal," which means to make known what was previously unknown. Or, as Noah Webster put it in 1828, "The act of disclosing or discovering to others what was before unknown to them."

Therefore a revelator, by definition, reveals unknown truths, given by God. Here's how God put it:

If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42:61)
And what "bringeth life eternal?" Knowledge upon knowledge, the mysteries, the peaceable things: ultimately the knowledge of God.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
Therefore, if there is a revelator among us, he will reveal unknown knowledge. Mysteries. The truths of God. This is not the same thing as giving a good sermon by telling stories, quoting poets, or even teaching from the scriptures. You and I can do that. General authorities do that. TV evangelists do that. 

Many preachers of many different faiths teach great truths and give good advice. This is NOT revelation, even when it is based on scripture, because this is only expounding on principles that are already known and sitting in front of us in scripture.

However, from Joseph Smith's first vision to his last, he revealed NEW truths from God. Joseph most certainly had the gift of revelation.

The Gift of Translation

D&C 107:92, quoted above, also requires the President of the church to be a translator. In fact the title “translator” appears every time this list is applied to Joseph Smith (D&C 107:91-92, 124:125), though for some reason we choose to ignore that particular gift when referencing the current President of the church. 

Why is that? I suspect it’s because nobody has translated anything since Joseph, and it feels ridiculous for us to call our leaders translators when they clearly don’t translate. 

For example, when the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants have been translated from English into other languages, it has been by committees and scholars, not by “prophets, seers, revelators and translators.” Similarly, when various groups have approached the First Presidency with purported ancient records to be translated, the First Presidency has declined to do so.

This is food for thought. In our day, the church either doesn’t believe in the gift of translation, or doesn’t have it. It’s one or the other. Either way, when the church needs translation, it's the scholars, not the prophets, who do the work.

Who has These Gifts?

The scriptural references to prophet, seer, revelator and translator all applied to Joseph Smith, who had, and amply demonstrated, those gifts. It was Joseph, specifically, who was to speak for the Lord (D&C 5:9-10, D&C 21:4-5). There is no mention of a successor in that capacity. In fact, the Lord specifically declares that no other man can act in this capacity (D&C 28:2
D&C 43:1-5) unless Joseph appoints him. Incidentally, Joseph did in fact appoint his successor by revelation while he was alive. It was Hyrum.

But the question of succession necessarily brings up the question of gifts. Remember, you cannot "ordain" someone to these gifts. You cannot vote them these gifts by common consent. Rather, these gifts must be obtained by the individual, directly from God.

Nevertheless, we now apply these titles to the current President of the church, and cite section 107 as the reason. Let's look again at the verses in question:

And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church. (D&C 107:91-92)
So the President of the church is to:
  1. Preside over the whole church. Simple enough. He’s the highest authority.
  2. Be like unto Moses. This is a discussion of several hours, but here are some of the highlights:
  • Moses spoke with God face to face (Moses 1:2)
  • Moses met and resisted the devil (Moses 1:12-22)
  • Moses was in similitude of the only Begotten Son (Moses 1:6)
  • Moses delivered his people by working many, mighty miracles
  • Moses sought diligently to sanctify his people so they could behold the face of God as Moses had (D&C 84:23)
  • But the people hardened their hearts and refused, so they were given a lesser law and they lost the fulness of the priesthood (84:24-26; see also D&C 124:28)
This President of the high priesthood is beginning to sound a lot like Joseph Smith again, isn’t he?

Notice the dash after “like unto Moses—“ which indicates a continuation of the thought—and a wise one at that. "Here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet."

These are listed as duties of the office. Or alternatively, we could take it to mean that the only person eligible for the office of President is one who has obtained and demonstrates these gifts, and such a person should be sought and installed by common consent. 

Either way, there is no basis to claim from scripture that anyone automatically obtains the gifts of the spirit simply because of office alone.

And now, let's look at the final portion of that passage:

"having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church." 
Some have claimed this passage means that God automatically bestows these gifts on the President of the church. But I have a question. Who is the head of the church?

Think carefully. 

Oh yeah—

Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:23)

Therefore, a valid way to read this passage is that we would be wise (hence “wisdom”) to choose men who are prophets, seers, and revelators to be our leaders. In fact, we should choose men like Christ, having all the spiritual gifts, if we can find such men. Such would be "like unto Moses" indeed, who was in similitude of Jesus Christ. This would fit the scriptural pattern the Lord has stipulated.

And such leaders wouldn’t have to rely on public-opinion polling, high-priced marketing firms, lawyers and image consultants to determine doctrine and change ordinances. (oh, I wish I were exaggerating.) But sadly, we’ve established an order of legal succession (not in scripture) and we don’t dare depart from it, all the while telling ourselves we really didn’t lose anything when we lost our prophet, seer, revelator and translator, Joseph Smith.

Other men claim those titles today, and therefore we have the obligation, imposed directly by Jesus Christ, to know them by their fruits. Similarly, such men have the obligation to provide those fruits—revelations and prophecy that can be examined by us, taken to the Lord, ratified by the Holy Ghost, and accepted by the membership.

So in the next part of this series, we'll do as Jesus directed, and examine the fruits. We'll also talk about what it means to "sustain" our leaders.

     Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
     ¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.
—Matthew 7:13-16