We have just finished a General Conference. This is important because we have a promise given in the scriptures that we can rely on:
“Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
Meaning that we have no reason to doubt anything a leader of the Church says, because it’s the same as if the Lord Himself had said it.
This promise can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 verse 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.
Here we learn that this phrase is actually just a small part of a whole idea. That idea is a continuation of the preceding verse, and is basically stating that the Lord has given us many prophecies and they will all be fulfilled. The Lord will not make excuses for seemingly unfulfilled prophecies or prophecies that seem like they will never be fulfilled. The Lord then drives the point home my saying that all even though the heavens and the earth, which are practically eternal in comparison to human lifespans, will pass away, His Word will never pass away. All His word will be fulfilled. Then comes the familiar part where He says, whether that fulfillment comes by His own voice or by the voice of His servants, it is considered the same.
There’s just one problem. This phrase isn’t talking about what we thought it was. This isn’t a promise by the Lord that we can trust that whatever Church Leaders says is the same as if the Lord had said it. Instead it is a statement that it doesn’t matter whether a prophecy of God is fulfilled by His voice or the voice of his servants. In fact the Lord has never commanded us to just take someone’s word for it. We are commanded to search things out, ponder them, and pray about them.
This brings up another question. Who are the Lord’s Servants? To answer to this question the Lord has given us many indications as to who His Servants are. First the Lord will tell us who they are. Throughout the scriptures the Lord called people to be his Servants. The Lord spoke to Moses through the burning bush. He called Lehi in a vision. Joseph Smith received revelations wherein the Lord stated the he was God’s servant. All of these people were able to give us accounts of the Lord’s voice calling them to be His servants.
But who’s to say Joseph Smith didn’t just make up his revelations. There should be a way to check them. Well, in addition to asking God himself, in 3 Nephi 14:15-20 we receive a warning about false prophets. This includes the second indication we have been given. We can know true servants of God by their fruits. Is the claimed prophet bringing forth revelations? Are those revelations good? Do they support the commandments God has already given?
As members of the Church we trust that Russell M. Nelson the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve are God’s Servants. But did you know there has not been one published piece of evidence where God, in His own voice, acknowledges Russell M. Nelson as His servant. All we have is other mortal humans saying he is. Even Russell M. Nelson has never said that he is a prophet, nor has he ever said that he has seen Christ. Why then do we assume he is the Lord’s Servant even though the Lord never given us any indication that he is?
It’s because he was called as the President of the Church. Surely that at least implies that He was called of God. Well…not really. In fact Russell M. Nelson himself confirmed this when he stated:
“When a President of the Church passes away, there is no mystery about who is next called to serve in that capacity.”
He is saying that when it’s time to call a new President of the Church there is no question who it will be. They already know. And if they already know, why would they need to ask God?
Why is there no question? Because the Charter of the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already specifies who will be the next President. That’s right, it’s a legal document, not a revelation that determines the next President. Russell M. Nelson was called to serve as President of the Church, first and foremost, by the succession clause of the Corporate Charter.
But that’s all just legal stuff. I mean, who really cares about that? What really matters is fruits, right? Just look at all the new revelations we got during conference. There was the reorganization of the Elders Quorum, the modification of Home and Visiting Teaching. Here’s the problem, while words like “revelatory” and “inspired” were used to describe these changes. We have no published revelation where the Lord commanded these changes to be made. So we really don’t know if the Lord commanded this or not.
Now, before you tell me to just go and pray about it; first show me the Lord’s words concerning these changes, so I can know what to pray about. Praying for confirmation without that crucial information would be like missionaries asking investigators to pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true BEFORE they’ve even read it. Of course they need to read it first, so they will know what they are praying about. The very idea is ridiculous. So why do we think it is less ridiculous when it comes to the claimed revelations of Church Leaders?
Interestingly, as far as fruits go, 80% of the section in the Doctrine and Covenants are “thus saith the Lord” revelations. Even if we accept the 14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet, where is states that “The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord;'” you’d expect that over that past 100 years or so, there would be at least one “thus saith the Lord” revelation produced by Church leaders. Yet there hasn’t even been one.
Meanwhile, over at the Community of Christ(RLDS), their Doctrine and Covenants is up to 165 Sections. Ours is only at 138.
Now you may think that’s not a fair comparison; because for us talks in General Conference are our modern scripture. The problem with that is our own Church Leaders have told us that’s not true. In Handbook 2 it states:
The standard works of the Church are the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In many languages, the Church has approved one edition of the Bible to be used in Church meetings and classes. Likewise, the latest authorized edition of the other three books of Latter-day Saint scriptures should be used. No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture.
The Church has clearly stated that only the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are scripture. Contrary to popular belief, nothing else is scripture to us, not even Conference talks.
So are modern Church Leaders the Lord’s servants? That’s a great question; and one I leave up to you to decide. For me the jury is out. I think in general, L-dS General Authorities are good men who are trying to serve God. But it seems the only ones proclaiming them to be the Lord servants are those who already believe; while the Lord himself has appears to be silent on the issue. My rule is never to reject anyone who claims to speak for God. Instead I study out their claims and ponder them. If their revelations are in harmony with what God has already established, then their message should be accepted.
But we must be careful never to give anyone carte blanche just because they spoke for the Lord in one thing. After all, not everything prophet speaks is the same as if the Lord had spoken it.
November 1831 was when D&C 1 was received. A quorum of twelve apostles did not exist in Mormonism until February 1835. Accordingly, the information in Section 1 did not, indeed could not, refer to a non-existent quorum of the twelve or church president. A servant is a messenger sent by God with a message. A servant is not necessarily the LDS church president.
I believe the answer to your question “Who are the Lord’s Servants?” is clarified in verse 14 of D&C 1. The “servants” referred to here cannot be prophets or apostles, even true ones. “Apostles and prophets” and “servants” are spoken of as two separate groups. Taken in context (as with many other places in the D&C), I believe any reference to “servants” in D&C 1 can only refer to angels.
The Lord’s named servants in the D&C:
Robert B. Thompson
John C. Bennett
Robert D. Foster
Major N. Ashley
Thomas B. Marsh
Michah B. Welton
Parley P. Pratt
Frederick G. Williams
William W. Phelps
John E. Page