During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015
“We are guided by a living prophet of God—one who receives revelation from the Lord.”
That opening sentence is huge. According to this statement, there is a man on the earth today who receives revelation unlike anyone else. If true, the entire world ought to look at that man. If it’s not true, then whatever this man says ought to be considered to be on par with all false prophets. Let’s take a closer look and see if this is true.
Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
In each dispensation, God has raised up prophets as His spokesmen.
As one turns the pages of the Old Testament, there appear the writings of great men of ages past who are referred to as the prophets. The books of the New Testament contain, among other things, the writings, teachings, and history of men of a later dispensation, who have been designated as prophets. We also have the record of the prophets of the western part of the world, who raised their voices, proclaiming the word of the Lord, protesting unrighteousness, and teaching the principles of the gospel. All of these have left their witness.
A prophet is one who has been called and raised up by the Lord to further God’s purposes among his children. He is one who has received the priesthood and speaks with authority. Prophets are teachers and defenders of the gospel. They bear witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prophets have foretold future happenings, but this is not the most important of their responsibilities, although it may be some evidence of prophetic power.
Righteous leadership has been needed in each dispensation of time, and God chose prophets for this purpose long before they came to this mortal existence [see Jeremiah 1:5; Abraham 3:23].
I think Mormons and Christians alike can agree that biblical prophets taught truth. When a doctrine as important as the nature of God is concerned, what did these men in ancient times teach about this? For instance, consider what Isaiah said:
Isaiah 43:10: Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
Isaiah 44:6-8: Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . . . Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
Isaiah 45:5: I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.
Isaiah 46:9: Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
How about Malachi? He said that “I am the Lord, I change not” (3:6). And more prophets could be cited.
Now let’s consider what the Mormon prophets have taught about God, starting with found Joseph Smith:
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346. Italics in original. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).
Doesn’t this sound a bit different from Isaiah and Malachi? Perhaps other LDS leaders have disagreed with Smith. Let’s see, first starting with the next president, Brigham Young:
When you can thus feel, then you may begin to think that you can find out something about God, and begin to learn who he is. He is our Father—the Father of our spirits, and was once a man in mortal flesh as we are, and is now an exalted Being. How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and when men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity. You cannot comprehend this; but when you can, it will be to you a matter of great consolation (October 8, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:333).
In fact, Young appears to agree with Smith. Both Smith and Young are teaching contrary to the Old Testament prophets. OK, how about fifth President Lorenzo Snow:
As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 2. Italics in original. See also The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, 1979, p. 59).
Again, this is a much different God. Now let’s consider a later prophet, tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith:
Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet, had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand (Doctrines of Salvation 2:47. Italics in original).
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks summarized the difference this way:
In contrast, many Christians reject the idea of a tangible, personal God and a Godhead of three separate beings. They believe that God is a spirit and that the Godhead is only one God. In our view, these concepts are evidence of the falling away we call the Great Apostasy (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 84).
Meanwhile, another general authority, Apostle Quentin L. Cook, also shows that Mormonism’s view of God the Father differs from biblical Christians today:
Among the first principles lost in the Apostasy was an understanding of God the Father (“The Doctrine of the Father,” Ensign, February 2012, p. 33).
Many years have gone by since the Mormon Church was founded by Joseph Smith, yet the corrupt view of God as proposed by Smith has been perpetuated for many generations, contradicting God’s Word. This false doctrine is a problem for Evangelical Christians who care about the truth. After all, how could God be pleased when people hold to a belief in Him that is contrary to who He really is? Somebody has to be wrong. Were Isaiah and Malachi (and the other biblical prophets) wrong? Or is there a problem with the teaching of the “Latter-day” prophets as found in the Mormon Church?
A study of the revelations of the Lord in holy writ confirms the fact that it is continuous revelation that guides prophets and the Church in any age. Were it not for continuous revelation, Noah would not have been prepared for the deluge that encompassed the earth. Abraham would not have been guided from Haran to Hebron, the Land of Promise. Continuous revelation led the children of Israel from bondage back to their promised land. Revelation through prophets guided missionary efforts, directed the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple, and denounced the infiltration of pagan practices among the Israelites.
These are pretty miraculous items that are listed, wouldn’t you agree? What revelations have “modern” LDS prophets had that would be on the same scale? In fact, what has Thomas S. Monson said in the entire tenure of his presidency that someone could say, “Wow, he really is a prophet of God”?
Before the ascension of Christ, he promised the remaining eleven apostles, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20.)
If this verse is true, then how could there have been a Great Apostasy? After all, the Great Apostasy teaches that God’s authority left the earth. This verse seems to contradict the very need for the Mormon Church.
Following his ascension, he guided the Church by revelation until the death of the Apostles and subsequent apostasy of the Church of Jesus Christ.
What evidence does the Mormon have to show how all authority left the earth after the death of the biblical apostles? For more on this issue, see Acts 1 and the 12 Apostles
Down through its history, including this very day, the Church has had a prophet, seer, and revelator. At the head of the Church is Jesus Christ, who directs his prophet. … His counselors [and] the members of the Council of the Twelve … are also prophets, seers, and revelators. … Members of the Church do not have to listen to an uncertain trumpet. They can believe the voice of their leaders, knowing they are guided by the Lord.
How is a person supposed to know that these leaders are really listening to Jesus? How do we know that their doctrines are really divine and that their voices coincide with the Almighty? There are other groups all claiming Joseph Smith as the true prophet, including the FLDS Church that is still led by Warren Jeffs. Why shouldn’t we accept this man’s voice as a prophet rather than Thomas S. Monson? These are not flippant questions. Rather, they are very serious. A Mormon may say that he or she has prayed about the issue and has come to the conclusion that what he or she believes is true. But wouldn’t the followers of Warren Jeffs say the same? A Muslim has a testimony that Muhammad was a true prophet. And so on down the line. How, then, can we know that the prophets from the Mormon Church are speaking truth?
God provides guidance for His children through a living prophet today. A distinctive sign of the last days that will precede the eventual second coming of the Lord was seen in vision by that same Apostle who recorded the book of Revelation. He said: “I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (Rev. 14:6.) …
This unique interpretation by the former Mormon prophet is merely reading into this passage (eisegesis). Consider, for instance, the preceding verses in this passage:
- 144,000 saints standing with the Lamb (Jesus) on Mount Zion (verse 1)
- A new song sung by only the 144,000 (verse 3)
- These beings had kept their virginity (verse 4) and had never lied (verse 5)
Then, in verse 6, the “eternal gospel” is announced by the angel to the inhabitants of earth. While Mormons believe that the angel Moroni (a former human) delivered gold plates to Smith, when did this angelic being ever announce the “eternal gospel” to “every nation (ethnos), tribe, language, and people”? Mormonism, however, teaches that a “restored” Gospel was needed because the “eternal” Gospel had been lost from the face of the earth.
Originally written in a language nobody knew (supposedly Reformed Egyptian), the Book of Mormon was “translated” by Smith into writing very similar to the King James-style English. However, the Book of Mormon still has not been translated into every language almost two centuries later…far from it. In fact, as of 2011, the Book of Mormon has been translated into only 82 languages, with portions in an additional 25 languages. However, there are a total of 6,500 languages in the world today. Granted, about 2,000 have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Given that, let’s just say that there are 4,500 known languages in the world (each having more than 1,000 speakers).
If that’s the case, almost two centuries after its founding, the LDS Church has translated the Book of Mormon into fewer than three percent of all languages. The Book of Mormon is not therefore a gospel given to “every ethnos, tribe, language, and people.” In verse 7, it says the “hour of His judgment has come.” Did Jesus judge the earth in the 1820s? If this is referring to a future event, then verse 6 should not be interpreted as having already occurred.
Noticeably, Hunter didn’t continue his quote with verse 8, which talks about a “second angel” who spoke about “Babylon the Great” that would fall and make all nations drink the wine of sexual immorality, bringing wrath. In verse 9, John mentions a mark of the beast put on people’s foreheads and hands. If verses 6 and 7 refer to events that have already happened (the introduction of the Book of Mormon to the earth), then the Mormon is obligated to explain these additional symbolic references. Instead of referring to Moroni and any other event from the past, there is no doubt that Revelation 14 is talking about events in the future. It is unfair to pull a verse (or two) out of context and make it say something it was never intended to say.
We testify to all the world that heavenly ministers have already appeared in our age, bringing authority from heaven and restoring truths lost through corrupted teachings and practices.
Because there was a Great Apostasy, according to Mormonism, all authority as well as teachings and practices were “corrupted.” If you are a Christian believer, understand how serious this is. According to Joseph Smith-History 1:19 found in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith claimed he was told by God the Father:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.
President Ezra Taft Benson explained the situation:
God the Son told Joseph Smith not to join any of the churches. Joseph was to learn that the Lord’s true church was not on the earth; that living prophets of God, who were the foundation of the church, had not walked the earth for centuries; and that with their deaths, the rock of revelation on which the church was built ceased; and so there was no new scripture (“Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” Ensign (Conference Edition), January 1973, p. 58).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained:
How fearful, how solemn are the words of Jesus, spoken that spring morning in 1820, when he said that all the professors of religion in the world were corrupt and that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp. 142-143).
Those who think they are practicing their Christian faith outside the authority of the LDS Church are sadly mistaken, according to President Spencer W. Kimball:
Presumptuous and blasphemous are they who purport to baptize, bless, marry, or perform other sacraments in the name of the Lord while in fact lacking his specific authorization (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 494).
Certainly President Gordon B. Hinckley understood the severity of these words and offensively they ought to be taken by Bible-believing Christians all over the world:
The Prophet Joseph was told that the other sects were wrong. These are not my words. Those are the Lord’s words. But they are hard words for those of other faiths (“Inspirational Thoughts, Ensign, June 2004, p. 3).
The very existence of the Mormon Church is based on the cornerstone of this “Great Apostasy.” But what if the “Great Apostasy” never happened and it’s the Mormon leadership that’s in apostasy?
God has spoken anew and continues to provide guidance for all his children through a living prophet today. We declare that he, as promised, is with his servants always and directs the affairs of his Church throughout the world. As in times past, revelation directs missionary labors, the building of temples, the calling of priesthood officers, and warns against the evils of society that may deny salvation to our Father’s children.
According to this paragraph, modern-day revelation brings a number of things:
- Missionary labors: Unfortunately, these labors result in bringing false doctrine to people all over the world.
- Building temples: Unfortunately, man-made temples are not required by God. The sacrifice for the sins of all believers was made by Jesus on the cross. To suggest that anything more is needed for salvation means that the work really wasn’t “finished” on the cross, as Jesus said it was.
- Calling of priesthood officers: These officers supposedly have the “Aaronic” and “Melchizedek” priesthoods. But what if these priesthoods have been fulfilled in Jesus and are not needed by believers today?
- Evils of society: It’s wonderful that Mormonism teaches in good morals. The problem is that it also teaches that abiding by these morals (fulfilling covenants) is what a person must do in order to attain full salvation.
In a revelation to a modern oracle, Joseph Smith, the Lord said: “For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion. “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.” (D&C 1:35–36.)
The Savior is reigning in the midst of the Saints today through continuous revelation. I testify that he is with his servants in this day and will be until the end of the earth. May our vision not be so narrow that we would relegate revelation to only the ancients. God is merciful and loves his children in all ages and has revealed himself to this time in history.
The Lord has revealed his mind and will to his anointed prophets. There is an unending stream of revelation flowing constantly from the headwaters of heaven to God’s anointed servants on earth. Since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the voice of the Lord to his prophets has continued as before. It is … my humble testimony that the gospel in its fullness has been restored in these latter days and that there is a prophet on the earth today who speaks the mind and will of the Lord to those who will hear and have the faith to follow.
Hunter can testify all he wants, but if it can be shown that the Mormon Church is not teaching truth as taught by the Bible, then what good is “continuous revelation”? How can we test whether someone “speaks the mind and will of the Lord”? The answer? We have the Bible that guides us into all truth. If the leaders contradict God’s Word, then Houston, we have a problem.
If we follow the teachings of the living prophets, we will not go amiss. To peoples of past dispensations and ages, the most important prophet was the one then living, teaching, and revealing the will of the Lord in their time. In each of the past dispensations, prophets have been raised up by the Lord as his spokesmen to the people of that particular age and for the specific problems of that age.
Why does the Mormon Church ignore Jesus’ role as prophet of God’s church? Check out this article.
It is the present living prophet who is our leader, our teacher. It is from him we take direction in the modern world. From all corners of the earth, we who sustain him as a prophet of the Lord express our appreciation for this source of divine guidance. …
If the “guidance” given by the “living prophet” goes against God’s Word, then how “divine” can it be?
As the prophets from the beginning to the present day pass in review before our memory, we become aware of the great blessing which comes to us from the influence of a living prophet. History should teach us that unless we are willing to heed the warnings and follow the teachings of a prophet of the Lord, we will be subject to the judgments of God.
The footnote to this paragraph is from a “Conference Report.” No Bible references are given. A person is “subject to the judgments of God” when false doctrines are believed.
Only the President of the Church has the right to receive revelations for the entire Church or to give official interpretations of the scriptures or the doctrines of the Church: “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting [the President of the Church], for he receiveth them even as Moses” (D&C 28:2). If we follow the advice, counsel, and teachings of the leaders of the Church in their instruction to us, we will not go amiss in that which is important for our own personal salvation and exaltation.
I can’t emphasize enough how faulty this logic is. Heber C. Kimball, who was a member of the First Presidency, suggested following the President was vital even if the leader was wrong. He stated:
In regard to our situation and circumstances in these valleys, brethren, WAKE UP! WAKE UP, YE ELDERS OF ISRAEL, AND LIVE TO GOD and none else; and learn to do as you are told, both old and young: learn to do as you are told for the future. And when you are taking a position, if you do not know that you are right, do not take it—I mean independently. But if you are told by your leader to do a thing, do it. None of your business whether it is right or wrong (November 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses 6:32).
He also said:
Brother Brigham is my leader: he is my Prophet, my Seer, my Revelator; and whatever he says, that is for me to do; and it is not for me to question him one word, nor to question God a minute. Do you not see? (November 8, 1857, Journal of Discourses 6:33).
It is a serious offense to criticize the church leaders and do your own thinking. Listen to a “Ward Teachers’ Message” from 1945:
He [Lucifer] wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against the leaders and do “their own thinking.” He specializes in suggesting that our leaders are in error while he plays the blinding rays of apostasy in the eyes of those whom he beguiles. What cunning! And to think that some of our members are deceived by this trickery…When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan – it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy” (Ward Teachers’ Message, Improvement Era, June 1945, p. 354. Ellipsis and brackets mine).
A church manual states that one’s salvation can even be in jeopardy when criticizing church leaders:
They should never criticize priesthood leaders or say unkind things about them. Criticizing our leaders endangers our own salvation (The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, 2000, p. 106).
I ask the Latter-day Saint to provide a quote from the Bible that suggests the apostles are above criticism. Why, even the apostle Peter was reprimanded by Paul. Galatians 2:11-14 says,
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Can you imagine how difficult this opposition by Paul was for Peter to accept? Yet the criticism was healthy and helped Peter change his mind, for he admitted he was wrong. We should remember that Peter was one of Jesus’s best friends, so to get reprimanded by a “junior” apostle who once persecuted Christian believers must have been very hard to take. Later, listen to how Peter describes Paul in 2 Peter 3:
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Peter said that Paul wrote “some things . . . that are hard to understand” yet he qualified Paul’s writings as being on par with scripture! If criticism is something you’re not supposed to give the leaders, Peter and Paul apparently didn’t get the memo!
In general conference, we receive inspired counsel from prophets, seers, and revelators. As I have pondered the messages of [general] conference, I have asked myself this question: How can I help others partake of the goodness and blessings of our Heavenly Father? The answer lies in following the direction received from those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, and others of the General Authorities. Let us study their words, spoken under the Spirit of inspiration, and refer to them often. The Lord has revealed his will to the Saints in this conference.
Much inspired counsel by prophets, seers, revelators, and other General Authorities of the Church is given during general conference. Our modern-day prophets have encouraged us to make the reading of the conference editions of our Church magazines an important and regular part of our personal study. Thus, general conference becomes, in a sense, a supplement to or an extension of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Conference time is a season of spiritual revival when knowledge and testimony are increased and solidified that God lives and blesses those who are faithful. It is a time when an understanding that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is burned into the hearts of those who have the determination to serve him and keep his commandments. Conference is the time when our leaders give us inspired direction in the conduct of our lives—a time when souls are stirred and resolutions are made to be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, more obedient sons and daughters, better friends and neighbors. …
We who are met here today [in general conference] claim a special, unique knowledge of the Savior’s gospel. Most striking of all, to those who first became acquainted with us, is our declaration to the world that we are guided by a living prophet of God—one who communicates with, is inspired by, and receives revelation from the Lord.
To Latter-day Saints who make up their own Mormonism as they go, these words ought to be considered. Twice a year the leaders speak to the entire church from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. What they say there is supposed to be considered scripture, as this church manual states:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These books are called the standard works of the Church. The inspired words of our living prophets are also accepted as scripture (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 45).
The Words of the Prophets Delivered through the Spirit during General Conference Are Latter-day Scripture. Scripture is the mind and will of God revealed through His servants (see D&C 68:4). The Apostle Peter declared, ‘Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1:21). Such scripture has been written and preserved in the standard works as priceless gems of eternal truth. However, the standard works are not the only source of scripture. Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles identified the connection between the standard works and the words of living prophets: ‘The Standard Works of the Church constitute the written authority of the Church in doctrine. Nevertheless, the Church holds itself in readiness to receive additional light and knowledge ‘pertaining to the Kingdom of God’ through divine revelation. We believe that God is as willing today as He ever has been to reveal His mind and will to man, and that He does so through His appointed servants—prophets, seers, and revelators—invested through ordination with the authority of the Holy Priesthood. We rely therefore on the teachings of the living oracles of God as of equal validity with the doctrines of the written word” (Articles of Faith , 7; emphasis added) (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual Religion 333, 2010, p. 72).
Mormons are taught to study the conference messages again and again.
May we long remember what we have heard these past two days, I urge you to study the messages further when they are printed in coming issues of the Ensign and Liahona magazines (“Until We Meet Again,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, p. 113).
In fact, each of the five editions following the conference editions (May and November) contain pull quotes throughout the magazines from general authorities who gave these messages. These talks are about as “official” as it gets, and it’s a reason why we at MRM quote so liberally from them.
To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.