I want to thank everyone who took the time and read my previous post about President Monson’s amazing new revelation during general conference. I admit it was a bit out there, but that was intentional. It was with that post I wanted to comment on the current Mormon understanding of modern revelation and doctrine.
Yes, I agree that I made some monumental logical leaps, but isn’t that what our understanding as a Church of modern revelation requires us to do as well? If President Monson’s words that Section 89 is the Word of Wisdom (which allows the interpretation that I can abide by everything set forth in section 89 and still keep the Word of Wisdom) aren’t revelation then what is? If a prophet’s words can only be considered revelation if they agree with the institution, then what use is a prophet?
The thing is that most members of the Church have a very loose definition of what constitutes revelation. We use generic phrases like, “guided by revelation.” But what does that mean exactly? We use it to mean that a talk, while may not be a revelation revelation, it was inspired and thus pretty much the same thing as revelation. We also say things like a manual (written by various authors, then organized by a committee, then published with the Church’s name on it) is pretty much revelation too because “the prophet approved it.” In either case both of these positions contain just as huge leaps of logic as my previous post did. We spread the definition of revelation so thin that anything could be revelation; it just depends on how many people support it.
All of this tradition and institutional policy is built up as a defense that allows members of the Church to still claim modern revelation, while avoiding that fact that no revelations, like Joseph Smith received, have been published in over 125 years. What that boils down to in ground level terms is that it makes it impossible to analyze the truth claims of continuing revelation because any statement by a church leader or Church publication is simultaneously both revelation and not revelation. It becomes one or the other depending solely upon whatever the Church headquarters says it is at any given time.
I’ve asked the question of other members of the Church, “If the Prophet said something that contradicted the handbook what should we follow?” The most common answer is that we should follow whatever the prophet said most recently. However, the response to my previous post proved that it doesn’t really matter to most members of the Church what the Prophet actually said most recently. The only reason President Monson’s talk wasn’t regarded as revelation is because, contrary to rhetoric, most members of the Church don’t actually look to the President of the Church for revelation, we look to the institution. We expect that there will be new manuals, new policies, press conferences, the whole shebang. Just look at the change in missionary age. This is widely regarded as revelation, though it was never actually stated to be such. There were just all the institutional trappings that come with what we claim to be revelation, so BAM it was revelation.
We as members of the Church often repeat the phrase “Follow the Prophet,” but we don’t actually mean that. What we actually mean is, listen to what comes out of the Church Office Building and Church culture and do that. In other words the phrase “Follow the Prophet” actually means, be a good Mormon. Thus if there is anything that makes you do something other than what a good Mormon should do, even if the Prophet says it, don’t do it. Just be a good Mormon!
For an excellent example of following the Church over prophets we need only look at how Hastening the Work became a major Mormon teaching; even though President Monson never started it. To read the entire history of this click here; but for this post I’ll quote the main point:
Over and over we heard that President Monson told us it’s time to hasten the work. I was actually assigned to teach the topic to my Elder’s Quorum [in 2014], so I set about tracking down the original quote from President Monson about hastening the work. I wanted to read to my brethren the call from the prophet himself.
Except he never said it.
I went through every General Conference address, and every other speaking gig President Monson did since the age change, and I couldn’t find even a single instance of him speaking of hastening the work. Not one.
And yet, in the April, 2014 General Conference, no fewer than FIVE speakers spoke on the “hastening,” often tying it in some way to President Monson, and thus putting words he never said, squarely in his mouth.
Incidentally, President Monson has since written about hastening the work. It was in a First Presidency Message in the Ensign in June of this . And it was about family history work. Confused? Predictably, the message has been adjusted and we are now hearing about hastening the work of salvation–among the living and the dead. No problem.
This is yet again proof that we prefer institutional policy over revelation. The doctrine of Hastening the Work appeared out of our culture, was adopted by leaders of the Church, then only after all that did President Monson speak about the topic. If Hastening the Work was a doctrine that came from culture, not from revelation; then what other Mormon teachings are? What other teachings have we gotten over the pulpit that first came from opinions and then were promoted enough until they finally became doctrine? What are things we claim as revelation that are actually just teachings our leaders grew up believing?
This is why I can’t just accept at face value what the Church teaches and go on “being a good Mormon.” What if what the Church currently teaches is wrong? Most members of the Church would say that it can’t be because “the prophet will never lead us astray.” The problem with that is first of all, people aren’t listening to the prophet, they are listening to the institution. Second, where did that teaching come from? What if that teaching is a false doctrine too?
Those questions are why I HAVE TO examine the history and progression of Mormon theology. That is why I can’t just accept what is taught TODAY as truth. Instead, I have to seek out where teachings came from and see if what is taught today came from God or men.
In the classic epic poem the Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus and his crew are sailing past the island of the Sirens. The call of the sirens was such that it would make a man go mad and lead to his death. So Odysseus ordered his men to put wax in their ears. But Odysseus wanted to hear the call of the sirens So he told his men to tie him to the mast. After entering range of the siren’s call Odysseus begged and pleaded to be set free. But his men refused and they safely sailed past the island.
If Odysseus’ crew had taken the current orders and more important than the previous ones; then Odysseus’ men should have untied him and let him swim to his doom. That is, after all, what he was telling them at that time.
But Odysseus had given them orders to disregard anything that contradicted his will at that time. His men recognized that his present desires were contradicting he previous orders. They stuck with what he had previously ordered and made it through safely.
What if right now the church is metaphorically sailing past the island of the sirens. What if those at the helm of the Good Ship Zion are contradicting the orders of the Captain Himself? We can’t know unless we compare it with what God said in the past. The scriptures teach that pondering is important to understanding God’s truth. How many of us actually study these things and ponder them? And how many of us just keep doing what we’ve always done because that’s what we’ve been taught from day one? Are we too busy trying to get right the teachings we were raised in that we are neglecting to get right the teachings of God?
Is there anything in the scriptures where Odysseus-like commands are given? In fact there are. In multiple places we are taught to disregard things that conflict with what was established at the time.
Paul in Galatians 1:8, 9 warned:
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Again in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 we learn:
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
With these warnings we can used the scriptures as our measuring stick for any teaching we come across. This doesn’t mean that we reject new teachings from God through revelation. Nor does it mean that we must be stuck in the 1800’s. Instead it means that when people, regardless of their position, come to us and claim something is God’s Word, we can judge if it truly is. And if it is we accept it and if it is not then we don’t.
I don’t believe we must reject leaders of the Church. But I do believe it is our duty to examine our teachings, and if they are found to be false we should reject those teachings and replace them with correct ones. When we say we sustain Church leaders we teach it doesn’t mean we blindly follow them. But do we really believe that? Like the story of Uzzah who was struck dead when he put his hand forth to steady and support the ark in its improper method of being carried. So too we will not stand blameless for supporting incorrect teachings. Sometimes sustaining Church leaders means to not support false teachings we heard over the pulpit.
I fully believe that the President of the Church cannot lead this people astray. That’s because if we as a people know and support God’s true teachings; then if leaders, any leader or even just a random blogger, teach something that is incorrect, we cannot be lead astray by it.
In my journey I observed several places where what we as Mormons practice seemed to conflict with what God taught in the scriptures. Noticing this apparent contradiction I began to study. The result of my study is that I found many of the things I had been taught by well-meaning teachers and leaders was not correct. Faced with this realization I must either accept additional light and knowledge or remain in darkness and lose what light I possessed. What would you do?