Opposing a Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator

By Sharon Lindbloom
2 May 2017

In a recent blog post, Mormon author Mette Harrison pits herself against the teachings of a twentieth-century LDS apostle. Responding to the question, “Do Mormons worship Jesus Christ?” Ms. Harrison takes issue with Bruce R. McConkie’s teaching regarding “Our [proper] Relationship with the Lord.” Mr. McConkie declared that Mormons do not worship Jesus Christ, but worship only Heavenly Father, a doctrinal tenet challenged by Ms. Harrison.

In 1982 Bruce McConkie was a devotional speaker at LDS Brigham Young University. He began his address by stating,

“I shall set forth what we must believe relative to the Father and the Son in order to gain eternal life. I shall expound the doctrine of the Church relative to what our relationship should be to all members of the Godhead, and do so in plainness and simplicity so that none need misunderstand or be led astray by other voices. I shall express the views of the Brethren, of the prophets and apostles of old, and of all those who understand the scriptures and are in tune with the Holy Spirit.” (“Our Relationship with the Lord,” March 2, 1982)

Nevertheless, Ms. Harrison disagrees with the Mormon apostle’s doctrinal teachings regarding the Mormon Godhead, as well as his teaching on the authority and role of LDS leaders. To wit, Bruce McConkie said,

“Now, it is no secret that many false and vain and foolish things are being taught in the sectarian world and even among us about our need to gain a special relationship with the Lord Jesus. I shall summarize the true doctrine in this field and invite erring teachers and beguiled students to repent and believe the accepted gospel verities I shall set forth…”

“We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost. I know perfectly well what the scriptures say about worshiping Christ and Jehovah, but they are speaking in an entirely different sense—the sense of standing in awe and being reverentially grateful to him who has redeemed us. Worship in the true and saving sense is reserved for God the first, the Creator…”

“Our relationship with God the Father is supreme, paramount, pre-eminent over all others. He is the God we worship…if there were some need – which there is not! – to single out one member of the Godhead for a special relationship, the Father, not the Son, would be the one to choose.”

“The proper course for all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church. This is the Lord’s Church, and it is led by the spirit of inspiration, and the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of scripture. And you have never heard one of the First Presidency or the Twelve, who hold the keys of the kingdom, and who are appointed to see that we are not ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14), you have never heard one of them advocate this excessive zeal that calls for gaining a so-called special and personal relationship with Christ.”

Ms. Harrison bluntly rejects Bruce McConkie’s authoritative teaching. She writes,

“I’m not going to follow Bruce R. McConkie on this, and I suspect that since I’ve heard no one quote this talk in General Conference in the last twenty years that the ‘brethren’ have kicked this to the curb along with other nonsense McConkie believed was ‘Mormon Doctrine.’…Well, excuse me if I reject that premise [i.e., that “the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture”]. I’m going to listen to the scriptures… Yes, we know that there is an Elohim who appeared with Christ to Joseph Smith, but He immediately turned to His son and told Joseph Smith to listen to Him. All of our interactions with God are through Christ. He is the God of our universe, the creator, the redeemer. I’m worshiping Him with all my might…”

LDS apostle Jeffrey Holland has not kicked McConkie’s talk to the curb. He quoted from it favorably in 2013 as he taught at a seminar for new mission presidents. This same 2013 address was printed in the January 2016 Liahona magazine as well. Bruce McConkie continues to be liberally quoted in LDS magazines, teaching manuals, and ongoing General Conferences — including the most recent April 2017 Conference where apostle Dallin Oaks quoted Bruce McConkie in “The Godhead and the Plan of Salvation.” Contrary to Ms. Harrison’s suspicions, Bruce McConkie’s teachings have not been abandoned by current LDS leadership. For it is no small matter within Mormonism to spurn a latter-day apostle’s teachings; those teachings carry with them the ultimate and supreme authority of God Himself.

While the question of whether Mormons worship Jesus Christ has been complicated by conflicting statements coming from Mormon leaders, the doctrine regarding the authority of LDS prophets and apostles has remained pretty consistent. Mormonism is rooted in its doctrines of continuing revelation and revelation-led leadership. The proclamations of its “prophets, seers, and revelators” (i.e., the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) are understood to ultimately formulate the doctrines of Mormonism; not what is found in the ancient, written scriptures such as the Bible. Consider this story told during the October 1897 General Conference of the Church:

“Joseph [Smith] turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’” (Conference Report, October 1897, 18–19)

Nearly two decades later LDS apostle Orson Whitney explained,

“No book presides over this Church and no book lies at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is the constitution of the Church of Christ. If we use water instead of wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, it is because Christ has so commanded. Divine revelation adapts itself to the circumstances and conditions of men, and change upon change ensues as God’s progressive work goes on to its destiny. There is no book big enough or good enough to preside over this Church.” (Conference Reports, October, 1916, 55. See also Teachings of the Living Prophets, 1982, 20; Ensign, March 2015, 80)

Also worth noting is a declaration from the man who became Mormonism’s thirteenth president, Ezra Taft Benson. In 1980, while serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Benson gave a BYU devotional speech, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets.” In it he said, “The Living Prophet is More Vital to Us Than The Standard Works.” (Evidence that the Brethren have not kicked this teaching to the curb is found in the speech’s favorable inclusion in two October 2010 General Conference talks.)

Yet it is not just the Prophet and President of the LDS Church who is more vital than the written Mormon scriptures. In October 2014’s General Conference, LDS apostle Russell M. Nelson spoke on “Sustaining the Prophets.” Quoting late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley, the role of the Church’s leadership was explained:

“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices.” (Quoted from “God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 54)

Another LDS apostle, Mark Petersen, taught,

“If you want to know what the word of God is, go to the Council of the Twelve or the First Presidency. They are the foundation of the Church; they will keep you on the right track so that you will not need to worry.” (“A Man Must Be Called of God,” as cited in Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual Religion 333, 1982, 30)

According to the LDS Church, Bruce McConkie was called by God and ordained to the high office of apostle. As such, he became a “prophet, seer, and revelator” – a “living oracle” — to members of the Mormon Church. He had the authority to speak the mind and will of God, and to expound on doctrine. LDS apostle James E. Talmage explained,

“‘We believe that God is as willing today as He ever has been to reveal His mind and will to man, and 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 [1968], 7; emphasis added).” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual Religion 333, 2010, 72, emphasis in the quoted source.)

As much as some Latter-day Saints may not like what their prophets and apostles have taught, they are not at liberty to pick and choose which doctrines to embrace and which to reject while still living their religion. LDS apostle Neal A. Maxwell taught,

“Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate!” (Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, 74)

Indeed, it’s not enough that Mormons listen to and obey the words of the men who have been ordained as LDS prophets and apostles. They must also accept and believe that when these men speak they impart the voice of God:

“‘It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father.’ (President Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct, 1950, 130).” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual Religion 333, 2010, 2)

I am thankful that there are Mormons who recognize the heresy in Bruce McConkie’s theology, and I love the fact that some of these folks long for intimacy with Jesus. Yet for those who believe Mormonism is true, the authoritative teachings of Bruce McConkie, or any other Mormon “prophet, seer, and revelator,” cannot be “kicked to the curb.” They cannot be rejected, denied, or dismissed as “nonsense.” For those who believe Mormonism is true, the words of Bruce McConkie are the very words of God. Joseph Smith instructed,

“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.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 363)

Mormons, live your religion – or leave it. It is impossible to defend Mormonism within the doctrinal confines of Mormonism. If you want to reject the teachings of Bruce McConkie you must also reject Mormonism. I invite you to do so — and to instead consider biblical Christianity, where the whole-hearted worship of Jesus Christ is never censured.