Chapter 18: Church Leadership and Selfless Service

Chapter 18: Church Leadership and Selfless Service

During 2013, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. 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 underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Lorenzo Snow

The Lord has given leaders in His Church a divine mandate: “Feed my sheep.”

Let every man who stands in an official station, on whom God has bestowed his holy and divine priesthood think of what the Savior said to the Twelve Apostles just before he went into the presence of his Father—“Feed my sheep.” [John 21:16–17.] And he continued to say this until his apostles felt sorrowful that he should continue to call upon them in this manner. But said he—“Feed my sheep.” That is, “Go forth with your whole heart, be devoted wholly to my cause. These people in the world are my brethren and sisters. My feelings are exercised towards them. Take care of my people. Feed my flock. Go forth and preach the gospel. I will reward you for all your sacrifices. Do not think that you can make too great a sacrifice in accomplishing this work.” He called upon them in the fervor of his heart to do this work. And now I call upon all who hold this priesthood, the presiding officers of [the] stake, and the Bishops, and the High Council, to go forth and feed the flock. Take an interest in them. … Work for them, and do not confine your thoughts and feelings to your personal aggrandizement. Then God will give you revelation upon revelation, inspiration upon inspiration, and teach you how to secure the interests of the Saints in matters pertaining to their temporal and spiritual welfare.

I completely agree that the leaders of any church have a special responsibility to their people, including those leading the Mormon Church. According to Acts 20:28, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” The people of God are supposed to trust their leaders to guide them in the right ways. Hebrews 13:17 explains, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

This doesn’t mean that the memebers of a church shouldn’t scrutinize the teachings of their leaders. As Jesus said, there are many false prophets out in the world today who are wearing sheep’s’ clothing. They are looking to fool whomever they may. We must therefore be very aware of those who might try to lead us astray.

Imagine if someone asks you to invest your money with them. If you do, you are promised that you can make 20% a month on your investment. If you are a fool--after all, the Bible teaches how a "fool and his money are soon parted"--then you may be gullible enough to believe that your funds will be properly invested. It would behoove you to do your homework. Yet in the state I live in--Utah--investment fraud is rampant, perhaps because so many nice Utahns are too trusting.

Such an "investment" is most likely nothing more than a Ponzi scheme, created to dupe you out of your hard-earned money. So too are there people saying how they represent God; if a person doesn't do his or her homework, somebody could lose more than just their shirt. If what our spiritual leaders teach is different from the gospel originally presented in the Bible, Paul says they should be eternally accursed (see Galatians 1:8-9).

Acts 17:11 provides an example of how people should investigate the claims of someone who is supposed to be representing God. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Imagine if the apostle Paul came to your church and, after giving the sermon, you held out your hand and said, “Paul, I'm going to check the Bible to see if what you said is really true.” According to this passage, you wouldn't offend Paul in any way; he might even put his hand up to give you a "high five." As this passage proves, Paul must have loved it when the Berean Jews searched the Old Testament to see if what he said was correct. Indeed, they were of more noble character.

This attitude seems much different from what has been displayed by LDS Church leaders, who have made it very clear that members should not second-guess their instruction. Consider the words of a variety of prophets who taught in previous Teachings of the Presidents manuals, all of them claiming that the leaders should not be scruntinized or questioned:

“We don’t have to depend solely upon what is in the standard Church works. In addition to what the scriptures have told us, we have what the prophets today are telling us here and now, and it is for us if we want to be saved on Zion’s hill, when these perils come, to hear and obey. So often today when our brethren do speak authoritatively, we have some who rise up to challenge and say, ‘Now, just where can I find some authority that you can cite for what you are saying?’ We are tempted to say, ‘You go back and read the speech of the present leader of the Church on this subject, and you have all the authority that you should look for, because this is the Lord’s way. His prophet is here, and revelation is just as needed and is just as much in evidence as it has been in any time in any dispensation of the gospel upon the earth’”(Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 84).

“Look to the President of the Church for your instructions. If ever there is a conflict, you keep your eyes on the President if you want to walk in the light” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 85).

“If you will follow the leadership of the Lord, and those whom the Lord sustains, you will not fall away into darkness, lose the light, transgress the laws of God, and forfeit your privileges that he is so anxious that all of us should enjoy. There is only one pathway of safety for me in this day and that is to follow those whom the Lord has appointed to lead. I may have my own ideas and opinions, I may set up my own judgment with reference to things, but I know that when my judgment conflicts with the teachings of those that the Lord has given to us to point the way, I should change my course. If I desire salvation I will follow the leaders that our Heavenly Father has given to us, as long as he sustains them” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 60).

“If the members of this Church who find fault with the leaders of the Church and criticise those who are giving their very lives to bless and benefit us would only pause long enough to ask prayerfully, ‘Which of these teachers is it safe to follow?’ they would have no difficulty in finding their right course and would sustain those whom the Lord sustains” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 63).

“We have had misguided souls in the Church who have, in their ignorance, opposed the advice of the [President of the Church], not sensing the fact that they were opposing the Lord and they have fallen into darkness and sorrow, and unless they repent they will not find a place in the celestial kingdom. Let us remember that the President of this Church has been officially designated as the pilot of the Church here in mortality to represent the Master of heaven and earth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 116).

 “I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 159).

Based on these teachings—which, by the way, are consistent throughout this set of manuals—who should remain silent when a leader and member disagree? According to these presidents (and the current First Presidency that compiled the manuls), the answer is obvious.

Recently two Mormon missionaries came to my home and I invited them inside. After giving them some cold water, we started to talk. I used Bible verses to support my point. At this, one elder took out his Quad and began to look up the verses. Was I offended? Absolutely not! Instead, I encouraged him, telling him that this was an excellent way to determine if what I was saying was in context and therefore biblical. At the end of our time, he said he would go home and read the passages again before praying about them to see if they really said what it appeared they were saying. In this case, praying about something that was otherwise quite obvious—even though it went against the missionary’s presuppositions—was not necessary. Regardless of one’s feelings, it is vital to interpret a passage based on what the original author meant it to say, not what an individual feels it means. When we base our hermeneutics (interpretation) on our feelings, we are doomed to accept whatever we are told from the leaders we are supposed to trust.

The Old Testament explains that a prophet who doesn’t speak truth should not be followed (Deut.18:21-22). Spiritual teachers should have high standards (James 3:1). A person who belongs to the LDS Church or who leans in the direction of Mormonism must be very cautious by blindly accepting anything the LDS leadership says. If these leaders are teaching false doctrine, this should not be taken lightly. Church leaders are commanded to present sound doctrine (2 Tim. 1:13; Titus 2:1). If the very thrust of LDS teaching denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church—including the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the foundation of authority—then it behooves every person to be extremely cautious before following the teachings of any person, even if this man claims to have authority.

Leaders and teachers are called to follow the Savior’s example and serve with love, not to aggrandize themselves.

To “aggrandize” is to “enhance the reputation of (someone) beyond what is justified by the facts.” Let’s consider the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS religion. Listen to what he says in the History of the Church 6:408-409:

“Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. You know my daily walk and conversation. I am in the bosom of a virtuous and good people. How I do love to hear the wolves howl! When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go. For the last three years I have a record of all my acts and proceedings, for I have kept several good, faithful, and efficient clerks in constant employ: they have accompanied me everywhere, and carefully kept my history, and they have written down what I have done, where I have been, and what I have said; therefore my enemies cannot charge me with any day, time, or place, but what I have written testimony to prove my actions; and my enemies cannot prove anything against me.”

If you take a look at the entire series of Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, each volume contains at least one chapter dedicated to the life and teachings of Joseph Smith, even more than Jesus! In fact, the topic of Joseph Smith is the most popular topic in the entire series, beating out issues such as temples, priesthood, obedience, and testimony. The flattering words are consistenly found throughout these chapters. I am not claiming that Smith is worshipped by Latter-day Saints, but I wonder if we should consider the following leaders “aggrandizing” Joseph Smith in these Teachings manuals. Consider:

Joseph F. Smith:  “Where shall we go to find another man who has accomplished a one-thousandth part of the good that Joseph Smith accomplished?” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 18).

George Albert Smith: “To my mind one of the strongest testimonies of the divinity of the life of our Savior is the testimony of Joseph Smith who laid down his life as a witness of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 27).

“Many of the benefits and blessings that have come to me have come through that man who gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been some who have belittled him, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 34).

Hebert J. Grant: “The whole foundation of this Church rests firmly upon the inspiration of the living God through Joseph Smith the Prophet” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, p. 16).

Harold B. Lee: “We must accept the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the instrumentality through which the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ was accomplished. Each member of the Church, to be prepared for the millennial reign, must receive a testimony, each for himself, of the divinity of the work established by Joseph Smith” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 71).

Remember, all of these manuals contain the words from the LDS presidents and were not only printed by the LDS Church but also studied by the church membership during the past 15 years. For more information on Joseph Smith, see here. 

Make one prayer before [teaching], and that is this: Ask the Lord that you may say something during your remarks that will be beneficial to those whom you address. Never mind whether it will be something that will add to your own glory or not, but simply bear in mind that you are called upon to address the audience and that they desire to receive something that will benefit them. This can only come from the Lord. Do not worry as to whether … those who hear you may say you spoke beautifully. Do not mind about that at all, but remove every selfishness that may be in your mind that the Lord may dictate unto you something that will be of benefit to the people.

What will be more of a benefit to the people is that they are taught is correct doctrine. Nothing less ought to do.

The proper way to lead is by humility, good example, and devotion to the welfare of others. Authorita[rian] rule is not the proper rule by which to govern Saints, but rather seek to administer in the spirit of humility, wisdom, and goodness, teaching not so much by theory as practice. Though one teach with the eloquence of an angel, yet one’s good practices, good examples, one’s acts, constantly manifesting wholeheartedness for the interests of the people, teach much more eloquently, much more effectually.

I agree. So what do we do with these quotes from Joseph Smith?

“God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 363).

“When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 368. Also cited by Apostle Neil A. Maxwell, “How Choice a Seer!” Ensign (Conference Edition), November, 2003, p. 100).

“I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers; and I solve mathematical problems of Universities: WITH TRUTH, diamond truth, and God is my ‘right hand man’” (Times and Seasons 4:375).

If you will be as faithful and united as the First Presidency and Twelve are faithful and united, and will follow us as we follow Christ, all will be well with you. We are determined to perform our duty and to serve the Lord and labor for the benefit of His people and the accomplishment of His work. We are your servants in the Lord and desire your welfare and the welfare of all mankind.

Those who desire the welfare of their people will want to make sure they teach doctrinal truth. Espousing heresy in contradiction to the teachings of the Bible is a damnable sin. As 2 Peter 2:1-3 says,

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

The Lord has not chosen the great and learned of the world to perform His work on the earth. It is not those who have been trained and educated in the colleges and seminaries of learning, but humble men devoted to His cause whom He has chosen to take charge of the affairs of His Church, men who are willing to be led and guided by the Holy Spirit, and who will of necessity give the glory unto Him, knowing that of themselves they can do nothing. I can assure you, brethren and sisters, that I had no ambition to assume the responsibility which now rests upon me. If I could have escaped it honorably I should never have been found in my present position. I have never asked for it, nor have I ever asked the assistance of any of my brethren that I might attain to this position, but the Lord revealed to me and to my brethren that this was His will, and I have no disposition to shirk any responsibility nor to decline to occupy any position that the Lord requires me to fill.

This is not the first time that Mormon leaders have attacked those who have received their biblical education in college and seminary. In an earlier manual, for instance, Harold B. Lee is quoted as saying,

“A prophet does not become a spiritual leader by studying books about religion, nor does he become one by attending a theological seminary. . . . One becomes a prophet or a religious leader by actual spiritual contacts. The true spiritual expert thus gets his diploma directly from God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 73. Ellipsis in original.)

It is one thing to say that “the true spiritual expert” receives an education directly from God. It’s another to actually prove it. Everyone—from the Muslim to the Jehovah’s Witness—claims special authority. Yet to properly interpret the Bible is crucial, for a person can be “humble” and still be “humbly” wrong. If the LDS leaders are wrong, their people are paying the greatest price, which is the potential to gain the whole world and yet lose their souls.

I will endeavor to be devoted to your interests and the interests of the kingdom of God. I will serve you to the best of my knowledge and understanding, in reference to that which will promote your interests in connection with the interests of the Almighty. I will do this, the Lord being my helper.

If this prayer is really meant, then I say, Praise God. Yet it was Snow himself who taught “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” (See chapter 5 for more details.) Teaching church followers this heresy—whether it’s Lorenzo Snow, Thomas S. Monson, an apostle, stake president, or  even just a bishop—is damnable. And it should be rejected every single time.