As a missionary back in 2004 – 2005 I often touted to investigators that our Church had modern revelation. This means that our Church(the L-DS Church) has a leader to whom God communicates directly. I would often reflect on the wonderful simplicity of God’s plan. He speaks to prophets, the prophets tell us what to do, and we do it. Well, in an ideal world we do it. But as is often the case, it is our inability to follow the prophets that prevents us from being in harmony with God. If only we could be like those great men. So humble, so righteous. Maybe then we could receive some great spiritual insight. Maybe then, God would open his windows of revelation and give us just a small drop of the wisdom He has bestowed upon our leaders.
And so it continues in the lives of members of the Church. We try to follow our leaders with exactness. When Thomas Monson says jump, we jump. When he says run, we run. When he says go to the temple, we go to the temple. Why do we do this? Well the answer is obvious. Thomas Monson is the Lord’s anointed. God speaks to Him on a daily basis and tells him what the members of the Church are to do today. When Brother Thomas speaks in General Conference it is the Lord’s voice. When he approves of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, then that book has the Lord’s approval.
Such is the way revelation is perceived in the L-DS church. In this article I will attempt to help the reader, and myself, understand just what revelation is. Also I will discuss how revelation works in the Church and compared to how the Lord says it works. Surely the Lord’s “True Church” receives revelation in the manner God has prescribed.
What is Revelation?
Before we can have a meaningful discussion on revelation we need to first define what revelation is. The definition of revelation in Webster’s 1828 dictionary is:
n. [L. revelatus, revelo. See Reveal.]
1. The act of disclosing or discovering to others what was before unknown to them; appropriately, the disclosure or communication of truth to men by God himself, or by his authorized agents, the prophets and apostles. How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words. Eph. 3. 2Cor. 12.
2. That which is revealed; appropriately, the sacred truths which God has communicated to man for his instruction and direction. The revelations of God are contained in the Old and New Testament.
3. The Apocalypse; the last book of the sacred canon, containing the prophecies of St. John.
So already we can see that the word revelation has many different meanings. On lds.org:
Revelation is communication from God to His children.
In the broad overarching meaning, I find myself agreeing with what is on lds.org. But we also must recognized that revelation is slightly different than inspiration. Revelation must, as Webster’s says, disclose to a person what was previously unknown to them. That is where the word revelation comes from, reveal.
I think often we confuse inspiration and revelation. This is not so bad when talking about personal revelation. However when discussing revelation given through others, like a prophet, to us; conflating inspiration and revelation can be a fatal mistake.
What I’ll call for now “Institutional Revelation” is revelation that is given for the whole Church. This is the revelation of which I will discuss in this article. I searched the Doctrine and Covenants and came up with some basic principles of what constitutes an institutional revelation.
- Spirit of Revelation comes when the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and our minds. (D&C 8:2,3)
- Revelation can only come by one who has been appointed by the person who held this power to reveal, starting with Joseph Smith.(I think this includes revelations who come through others but have the approval of this person.) (D&C 43:1-4)
- Revelations are distinct from general teachings. (D&C 43:5)
This is from referencing the Doctrine and Covenants. Some additional qualifications can be known by observing how revelation was given at the time of Joseph Smith.
- About 90% of the sections in Doctrine and Covenants are given as if the Lord was speaking in the first person. From this we can assume that most revelations will be given in the first person, i.e. “I the Lord speak unto you…”
- Joseph Smith wrote his revelations down, or had them written down.
- Joseph Smith received revelations sometimes with and sometimes without a seer stone.
So from this we can deduce some rules that will almost always apply to institutional revelations. Granted there may be sometimes when some of these rules do not apply.
- is communication from God.
- reveals previously unknown information.
- comes from the Spirit.
- is given directly to the mind or through another object such as a stone.
- comes through one appointed.
- is given in the first person as the Lord.
- is written down and published.
- will not contradict a previous revelation.
We can use these criteria to examine any revelation that comes from anyone.
Revelation in the Modern Church
Now let’s take a look at how “revelation” works in the church today. For members of the church revelation can come in many different forms. A conference talk, an inspirational story, or a new manual. As long as something has the stamp of approval of the Brethren™ is has the potential of being revelation.
Now this line of thinking is not without reason. I used to think this way. The idea is, that our leaders have close intimate communication with God. He reveals His will to them. So when the President of the Church speaks in conference, even if it is just an inspiring story, whatever he said must be God’s will. Since he knows God’s will he will choose words to include in his talk that reflect that will. So even though it’s not the Lord speaking, it is still the Lord speaking, because the words were chosen to reflect God’s will.
The same thing goes with manuals. If a committee somewhere in the Church™ proposes something and presents it to the Brethren™, and it is approved, then it is the same as if the Lord has approved it. Because, again, the Brethren™ know the Lord’s will and will only approve things in line with His will. So even though the Lord has not vocally approved something, He has tacitly approved it because of the acceptance by those who know His will.
It makes sense from a certain point of view. But is it correct? This is where the problem comes in. This process may work just fine for inspiration, but not for revelation. Revelation must meet the qualifications outlined.
Doctrine and Covenants 43:5
5 And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments;
We are only to accept true revelations through those appointed as revelators. If it is just a teaching it is NOT revelation. This disqualifies pretty much every general conference talk from being revelation.
This fact was confirmed to me this last general conference. At conference there were many nice and inspiring things said. There were masses of members in attendance and many more watching at home. There were beautiful hymns sung. There were heart warming stories. There was everything you need to have a great meeting. But there was one thing conspicuously missing. And if you weren’t looking specifically for it you might not even have noticed. I sat there with paper and pencil in hand ready to write it down. It is the very thing hundred of thousands of people gathered around the television for. But when General Conference concluded my paper was still blank. Had I missed it? Had I fallen asleep? Where was it, I had to be there! But alas the very thing I expected to hear was missing. That thing, as you probably have guessed, was revelation.
When I brought the fact that I did not hear any revelation during Conference to friends and church leaders I was met with responses like:
“It was there you just have to look for it.”
“We don’t receive many earth shattering revelations like in the early Church.”
So I re-read some of the Conference talks and still there was no revelation. There were nice stories and insightful messages, but nothing that met the qualifications for revelation.
Additional Insight Into “Modern Revelation”
I’ve been asking myself and others how to know when a leader is speaking as a prophet, seer, and revelator. But perhaps the most accurate response to this question I have seen was on a Catholic Forum.
“A good rule of thumb is that whenever a prophet says something that Mormons have been trained to defend, he’s a prophet. When he says something that causes questions a Mormon can’t answer, then he’s just speaking as a regular person.”
I hate to sound condescending but this response seems to fit the model of the Church today. Among members of the church, revelation is mutable. It changes with each generation and with each trend in the world. But it seems there is one constant. As long as something supports what the Church™ is currently doing; streamlines our organization; or makes us more acceptable as “Christians” in the eyes of the world; then it is revelation.
Anything that contradicts these three things, past, present, or future is rejected. Previous beliefs can be rejected simply by denying that it was ever really based on revelation. Another tactic is to say that it only applied to those people who lived one hundred years ago(as if one hundred years ago was some long forgotten ancient time that required completely different rules).
For example, even though Section 119 is in our scriptures we don’t need to follow it today. Because it only applied back then. We don’t have to consecrate our property and then every year after that pay ten percent of our increase as tithing. No, no, no. Today our leaders have told us to pay ten percent on any income we receive. So they in effect reject Section 119, yet it remains in our scriptures.
Doctrine and Covenants 1:38
38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
God’s word is not wishy-washy. It is solid and unchangeable. The commandment to gather to the City of Zion still stands today. So do the other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. I will not tolerate nor back down from any commandment simply because the Church™ wants to gain acceptance in Babylon!
Where are the Revelations?
So if the teachings during general conference are not revelations, where are the revelations? The Church prides itself on modern revelation so it must exist somewhere. It is assumed by most members of the Church that the leaders receive revelations but do not share them with the general membership. The response I got when discussing my concerns with leaders is insightful. The consensus seems to be that we don’t receive many “earth shattering” revelations like we did before.
This sentiment seems to be shared by my fellow members of the Church. We don’t receive many earth shattering revelations through our leaders. So in order for us to still be able to claim modern revelation the revelations must be of the more “mundane” variety. This would also explain why we don’t receive the text of any of these revelations. Who wants to hear revelations about what properties to buy, how to invest tithing money, or changes to church policy? That’s all boring operational stuff. And the vast majority of L-DS members accept this.
The problem here is that this divides revelations into two categories: the mundane revelations, and the earth shattering revelations. But in reality there is only, revelation. Any time previously unknown information is received through the Spirit, it is revelation. Revelation can be about anything from traveling to preach the Gospel, to building a City. The scope of the revelation is irrelevant. When the revelations of Joseph Smith were compiled into the Doctrine and Covenants they were not chosen based on how grand or amazing they were. In fact a great many revelations are about simple mundane things. Section 26 tells us that things are to be done by common consent. Section 48 is about buying land. Also many revelations are personal communications to specific people. Yet these are all included in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Despite the mundane and sometimes personal nature of these revelations, they were written down, later published, and accepted as scripture by the church. So why are the supposed revelations of today, which are just as mundane, not written down and presented before the church? Two paragraphs ago I asked the question who wants to see those mundane revelations?
Where is the revelation to build any one of the many temples around the world(after Nauvoo of course)? Where is the revelation to buy and operate the hunting preserves? Where is the revelation commanding the new Church Handbook of Instructions?
Ok, I admit, maybe these thing are in fact too mundane to be shown to the members of the church. Maybe the revelations weren’t even written down because they were so mundane. So let’s make it easy. Where is the revelation given to Wilford Woodruff commanding the end of Plural Marriage? Where is the revelation allowing the “blacks” to hold the Priesthood(There was never a revelation commanding the ban. It was Brigham Young’s bigotry that started it)?
If a revelation was written telling the United Order to accept Frederick G. Williams(Section 92); surely there must exist written revelations for such “earth shattering” changes as Official Declarations 1 and 2.
You’re probably asking why I care. Why do I care about reading these revelations? Well I actually have quite a few reasons. Here are some of the reasons why I want to read modern revelations, even the most boring mundane ones:
- I want to read the modern Words of God.
- I want to see if there even are any revelations today through our leaders.
- I want to see if modern actions and policies are in line with God’s will.
Maybe this is where the conflict occurs. As I discussed, L-DS members think that by reading conference talks or the ensign the words the leaders give there is the Word of God. But this is not true. Even Jesus, when speaking as the Father, would refer to himself in the third person. Jesus didn’t rephrase God’s Word. Likewise God’s word given through a revelator will not be rephrased, paraphrased, or summarized. True revelations usually don’t read, “The Lord is commanding…” but they read, “I the Lord am commanding…” So when a leader says “I ask you…” or “I now publicly declare that my advice…” it is NOT the Lord’s voice but is the voice of a man.
If our modern leaders receive revelation from God then they stand in violation of a commandment of God.
Doctrine and Covenants 104:57-59
57 But, verily I say unto you, I have appointed unto you to be stewards over mine house, even stewards indeed.
58 And for this purpose I have commanded you to organize yourselves, even to print my words, the fulness of my scriptures, the revelations which I have given unto you, and which I shall, hereafter, from time to time give unto you–
59 For the purpose of building up my church and kingdom on the earth, and to prepare my people for the time when I shall dwell with them, which is nigh at hand.
In these verses we come to know that God has commanded the stewards over the Lord’s house to print God’s word including “the revelations which I have given unto you, and which I shall, hereafter, from time to time give unto you”. Not only were the revelations to Joseph Smith to be published. But the revelations which God would give after April 23, 1834, are to be published.
I’m sure you will agree that today is happening after April 23, 1834. So where are the revelations? Why have the revelations from the late 1800s to now, not been published? Either there have not been any, or our leaders are violating God’s commandment to publish the revelations.
I don’t care how many inspirational stories, warm fuzzies, or official proclamations we get. Until the Lord’s recent Words are made available I cannot accept those things in the Church™ that contradict the revelations I have in my hand. I will not put my faith in a man. My faith exists only in Jesus Christ. I cannot just “Trust the Brethren®”, or “Follow the Prophet®”. Because in Church related matters they have not proven trustworthy(I can’t speak for them personally since I don’t know them. But I believe them to be good men). Even then, we should still only follow and trust in Christ.
If you’re still concerned that I’m “falling away from the Church®” just try to imagine it from my perspective. Pretend you received a letter from God. In this letter He gave you certain instructions to follow. Now pretend that one, Joe B. Low from across the street, comes over. He says, “Oh, just forget what is in that letter. That wasn’t written to you. God spoke to me last night and told me you need to do (insert action).” “Well what did God say to you last night,” you ask. “I’m not going to tell you,” replies Mr. Low, “But I suggest you avoid going into debt and save money for that rainy day. And don’t get your ears pierced. Oh, I want you to follow everything that is in this book I have written.” he hands you a book as you stare in dismay. “Nice letter though. You might want to frame that,” Joe says as he jaunts out the door, “But don’t pay attention to what it says. Just follow what I’ve told you and you’ll never be lead astray.”
Hopefully that little story helps you to see my perspective. Here I have the revelations from God sitting right in front of me. I can read them, examine their contents, and determine if they really are from God. These revelations tell me to live the Law of Consecration, gather to Cities of Zion, pay tithing, live Plural Marriage, etc. But then I have some guy coming along, who I have never met, who claims the right to have God personally speak to him on my behalf. He then proceeds to tell me, and thousands of others like me, to ignore the Word of God that we have, and obey a new set of rules(Unlike the Law of Moses which we built to be fulfilled, the Words of God I have were given eternally). But still, on top of that, he wont even show me the Words of God upon which these new rules are supposedly based. What am I supposed to do? Give up everything that God has spoken for the redemption of the Zion and Israel? Just drop it all because of some implied hearsay of what God has spoken today? That is my situation.
In conclusion I propose we perform an experiment. We’re allowed to do that right? Experiment upon the Word.
First, read Section 67 in the Doctrine and Covenants. This shows is that we can in fact examine revelations claiming to be God’s word. In verse four it talks about the commandments laying before the elders, and God confirming the truth of them. We can do this too. God can confirm the truth of revelations if they are laying before us and we can search them. In verse 6 the elders were told so seek out the smallest of the Book of Commandments. And then in later verses they are to experiment and examine it. Lets do the same.
Second, let’s gather a modern revelation. Any revelation from 1890 to today. It doesn’t matter how big it is. It can even be the smallest revelation. A bigger one would be more exciting but verse 6 says even the smallest. In fact, let’s make it easier. Rather than searching through millions of historical documents, let get one of Thomas Monson’s revelations. Surely in this computer age they are readily accessible.
Third, let’s examine it. Let read the supposed words of God in this revelation to determine if it really is true and if revelation really does continue today. If it is not true then we are justified in saying that it is not true. But if it is true then we are under condemnation for not declaring it is true.
This is a reasonable challenge don’t you think? I’m sure the church would certainly want its members to see that the revelation continues with modern leaders. It would reinforce the correctness of modern teaching, and members would more readily follow church leaders. This can happen by showing us the revelations given by modern leaders.
If they are afraid we will get bored to tears with the mind numbing mundaneness of modern revelation, they shouldn’t be. I don’t care how boring a modern revelation is. I want to read it. Pour it on me. Shower me with boxes filled with the most boring bureaucratic revelations you can find. As long as it is God’s word I don’t care what the contents are. How about the revelation to build the new temple in Urdaneta, Philippines? I would love it. How about the revelations of what to include in the new Handbook. If revelations about Book 1 are too sacred, then I’ll settle for revelations of Book 2. Anything!
I’m tired of silent revelations and second hand summarized and rephrased implied revelation. I want to be “nourished by the good word of God” so that I may be kept “in the right way.” Where are the prophets? Where are the seers? Where are the revelators? Where are the translators? We as a corporate Church have closed our eyes. We have rejected the Prophets. And as a result our rulers, and the seers, have been covered because of our iniquities. Heber Grant confirmed that the Heavens were as brass before him.
I exhort all of you who read these words to repent and seek out true revelations of God. And when you find them, wherever you find them, obey them! We must bring our lives into alignment with what the prophets have spoken. God wasn’t joking when he told us to gather from the gentiles into Zion and from the Jews into Jerusalem. He wasn’t joking when he told us to build the temple on the temple lot in Jackson County. LET’S DO IT!