Mormonism 201: Chapter 18 – The Church and Its Leadership

Response to J.
Cooper Johnson
Rejoinder by
Eric Johnson

(Editor’s
Note: In order to make this review easier to read, all original
quotes used from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and
italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.)

According to the
rejoinder written by Mr. Johnson (not to be confused with me!), our
chapter on the LDS Church’s leadership makes it appear that we put
no credence into biblical prophets. Utilizing the story of Naaman,
the leper commander in 2 Kings who was told by Elisha to wash himself
in the Jordan River seven times in order to be cleansed of his
disease, Mr. Johnson says that not following the prophet of God has
hampered people from Old Testament times through today. He writes:

We find many
people in history unwilling to heed a prophet’s voice as the will of
God. Many people don’t see the wisdom in a prophet’s counsel. And why
should they? For the sake of Pete, what good would washing seven
times in a river do? That makes no sense at all. Why would a man
claiming to be a prophet of God command someone to do things that
just don’t make sense? Why should we trust him?

After telling
another Old Testament story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings, Mr.
Johnson adds,

Are we to
listen to these prophets? Are we to put our total trust in them?
Should the widow and Naaman follow the commandments of these men of
God? The conclusions of McKeever and Johnson seem to lead us to a
clear and resounding, "No!" According to these authors, it
is foolish to follow those claiming to be prophets. We can only
conclude, based on their writings, that McKeever and Johnson would
support Naaman’s reaction to storm away in anger when the command
from this prophet didn’t square with his expectations. We can also
conclude that had these authors been in Zarephath to counsel the
widow, the advice would have been not to follow the command of
Elijah, for a true prophet wouldn’t ask a poor widow to do such a
thing. To sum it up, no one should place his or her trust in these
prophets.

Now, if you
find yourself puzzled, you are not alone. For, on the one hand,
McKeever and Johnson profess a belief, trust and faith in the
writings of apostles and prophets. Yet, on the other hand, the
authors take a position in direct opposition to the first, by
suggesting that we should not put our lives in the prophets’ hands;
implying that the writers of the Bible would not want us to trust
what they say. It is extremely puzzling. Yet, this is exactly the
conclusion of McKeever and Johnson.

Talk about
putting words into our mouths! Do we really “suggest that we should
not put our lives in the prophets’ hands; implying that the writers
of the Bible would not want us to trust what they say”? This is far
from the truth. We fully accept what these men of God said. What the
real issue is—and what Mr. Johnson does not make very clear—is
whether or not LDS prophets—those who are said to have “restored”
Christianity to the earth in the 19th century after the
authority was said to have been taken away more than a millennium
ago—are God’s spokesmen for today. We don’t believe they are.
To make it appear that we would reject all prophets, though, is both
completely inaccurate and unfair.

Let’s take a closer look at their
case. McKeever and Johnson spend the first five or six pages of this
chapter quoting former leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. These quoted statements exhort members of the
Church to trust their leaders (accepted by Church members as apostles
and prophets, just as those who wrote the Bible) and follow their
teachings. The point, McKeever and Johnson conclude, is that trusting
in these men, their teachings and their counsel, is a foolish and
destructive path.

If what these
leaders say is contrary to the already revealed Word of God, then it
is imperative for people to distance themselves from this teaching.
This is a no-brainer. We are told in the Bible to “test everything”
(1 Thes. 5:21). We are commanded to not believe “every spirit, but
try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets
are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). If somebody preaches a
gospel other than the one originally preached (in line with the Old
Testament scriptures), then such a gospel should be rejected and the
deliverers of this false message be accursed (Gal. 1:8, 9). In fact,
Jesus said in Matthew 7:15 that the false prophets would make their
message look as close to the original as to make it palatable to an
unsuspecting audience. Clearly, following a false teacher is truly “a
foolish and destructive path.”

The current leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley, is quoted by the authors: “Never let
yourselves be found in the position of fighting The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. You cling to it and be faithful to it.
You uphold and sustain it. You teach its doctrines and live by it.
And I do not hesitate to say that your lives will be the richer and
happier because of that. You cannot find happiness fighting the work
of God.” Again, if a Baptist leader were to make this statement
regarding the Baptist church, would a Baptist find cause for concern?
Of course not. The fact that the leaders of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that its teachings are true and
that its members should follow its teachings only demonstrates the
faith of the leaders in the accuracy of its teachings. Perhaps I am
missing something, but shouldn’t every member of a church believe in
the teachings of that church?

While we expect
that true followers of Mormonism would want to follow their leaders,
our point is merely that these leaders are supposed to be followed no
matter what, even if their message denies or distorts important
teachings of the historical Christian church. If these leaders are
from God, then they certainly should be followed as long as
their teachings coincide with the teaching of the Bible, God’s
revealed Word. Once their ideas contradict the Bible, the leaders of
this or any other church should no longer be trusted as having God’s
seal of approval.

McKeever
and Johnson would have their readers believe that the members of the
Church are to be blind sheep, just doing what they are told and
nothing else. And, true to form, these anti-Mormon authors follow the
same pattern as do others. While quoting leaders of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, anti-Mormon authors like to
conveniently omit sections that would, if read, shed additional
light.

Unlike Mr.
Johnson, we did not have unlimited room to put our thoughts. Whenever
we quoted from someone, including general authorities, we did our
best to quote in context. He gives several examples, including this
one from Ezra Taft Benson:

Doctrinal interpretation is the province of the First
Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by
revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the
members of the Church.”

The authors question the "role of such authority," and
wonder how people can "trust these men.” I ask the question…is
it so difficult to believe that a religious leader would counsel the
adherents of the religion to follow the teachings of the religion?
Would Billy Graham be found preaching his interpretation of the word
of God, yet following up his sermons with a statement, "but you
folks interpret this stuff however you want…don’t mind me…this is
just a guess…faith, works, baptism…your guess is as good as
mine?" Of course not!

If a godly
Christian pastor—whether it was a local leader or an evangelist
such as Billy Graham—taught a doctrine that was contrary to truth
and God’s Word, I believe he would want his congregation to reject
such a teaching. One pastor in my earlier days used to tell his
congregation on a regular basis to not just take his word but
consider what the scriptures had to say. The duty of the people of
God is to test a person’s teaching and compare it to the Word of
God, which has been provided to us for our own spiritual safety (2
Tim. 2:15, 3:16; 2 Peter 3:16).

A true mark of a
cult—and I am not intended here to use that word in a derogatory
way—is having its followers submit to the group’s teachings,
regardless of what the Bible or anyone else says. For example, Jim
Jones moved his church from Northern California to Guyana in South
America in the mid-1970s to get away from impending trouble in
California. When there were major problems in Guyana (his church’s
guards murdered several important American officials who were
visiting the cult’s compound in November 1978), Jones had his
congregation of almost 1,000 people drink poisoned Kool-aid. Because
these people did not reject or question the teachings of this cult
leader, they ended up paying for their undying allegiance with their
lives. While I certainly am not trying to equate Mormonism with
Jonestown, the point is that a leader should not be followed
if what he is teaching is contrary to truth, no matter how much he
says God has divinely endorsed his message.

Now, let’s
try to figure out why on earth LDS leaders would put forward such a
declaration. Why wouldn’t they want members to go out and find their
own interpretation of the scriptures?… Allowing the "private
interpretation" of scripture and doctrinal declaration to be
held by individual people would lead to mass confusion and thousands
of differing, if not opposing, doctrines and teachings (sounds like
an accurate description of Protestant Christianity, doesn’t it).

We agree that if
the Mormon Church is going to have any semblance as the one true
church upon the face of the earth and its leaders are directly
empowered by God to continue managing the restored Body of Christ,
then they certainly have every right to demand its members to fall in
line with its accords. It is wrong, however, to make it appear that
we were trying to advocate a “private interpretation” of
scripture, as this is far from the truth. Although there certainly
are difficult passages to interpret, God’s Word clearly states that
we can understand the general truths of what it is trying to teach
us. These scriptures, “which are able to make thee wise unto
salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” according to 2
Tim. 3:15, have been provided so we might be able to discern
“doctrine” as well as reprove and correct one another while
providing a pathway unto righteousness (v. 16). And notice who this
is for, according to verse 17: “That the man of God may be perfect,
thoroughly furnished unto good works.” We need to judge what a
teacher says by how it corresponds to God’s Word.

This is the same
problem Martin Luther saw in the Roman Catholic Church some five
centuries ago when he eventually nailed the infamous “95 Theses”
on the Wittenberg Door. The Catholic pope and the leaders of this
church had become the dictators in determining truth rather than the
Bible itself. To keep people under the thumb of the Catholic
leadership, God’s Word was suppressed, and important
pre-Reformation figures such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale
paid a tremendous price for their Bible translation and distribution
to the common man: their lives. Luther never intended to begin a new
movement but rather was attempting to “reform” the Catholic
church. It was to no avail, and Luther’s ideas were eventually
condemned at the Council of Trent. Hence, the cries of “sola
fides” (only by faith) and “sola scriptura” (only through
scripture) became rallying slogans during the 16th century
Reformation period.

In a tone of
flabbergastation (new word) and unbelief, McKeever and Johnson follow
the Ezra Taft Benson quote with the following remark:

"Do most Mormons accept this role of such authority, even to
trust these men to lead them to eternal life? Apparently so. What if
they are wrong?"

The authors ask a fair question here. I answer it with another
question. Put yourself in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago,
witnessing the preaching of Peter unto people of Jerusalem as
recorded in the second chapter of Acts. The people are "pricked
in their heart," and ask Peter and the other apostles, "what
shall we do?" Peter answers with three simple, yet direct
commands, "Repent," "be baptized," and "receive
the gift of the Holy Ghost." Did the people trust Peter and the
apostles? Should they have trusted them? What if Peter was wrong?
These are the questions the authors would have us ask.

Quite simply, an
apostle’s word was not enough for Christians to blindly accept the
teaching of a wrong doctrine. When Paul and Silas presented the
gospel in Berea, it says in Acts 17:11: These were more
noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with
all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether
those things were so.” Notice, they didn’t just say, “Well,
it’s Paul and Silas, and Paul certainly fit the description of an
apostle (see 2 Cor. 11). Let’s just accept what they say and who
cares what the scriptures have to say.”

To the contrary,
they tested the information given to them, and Luke records that they
were “more noble” since they “searched the scriptures daily”
to see if “those things were so.” I wonder what would happen if,
at the next general conference session, people remained in their
seats after the session ended in order to search through their Bibles
and converse with each other in order to determine if the speaker’s
message fit within the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy. Would those
in charge commend them for this behavior or shoo them away, telling
them that it is not proper to question the Lord’s anointed?

The real
concern is that many people reading this book by McKeever and Johnson
are accepting the authors’ self-appointed role as such authority,
even to trust the authors to lead them to eternal life. Many people
will read this book and put their trust in the authors…the very
trust the authors advise us not to instill in anyone. What if they
are wrong? I tell you that they are indeed wrong. They are very
wrong. That is the travesty.

We never asked
the reader to accept what we had to say based merely on our own word.
The reader is free to question our research and conclusions. Our
purpose was merely to present Mormonism to an Evangelical Christian
audience in as clear of a manner as we could. If our material is
wrong, then it ought to be rebutted (as those putting Mormonism
201
together have done). The rebuttal should be able to stand on
its own. Perhaps we are wrong and the Mr. Johnson is right, which is
certainly his opinion as he says that we “are very wrong.” And
he’s entitled to his view. The leaders might be right, or they very
well could be wrong, but it’s impossible to have both views be in
the right since they are contradictory. This is why testing all truth
claims must be a priority since nobody should want to be followers of
error.

The true colors of McKeever and Johnson shine through as they
conclude this section of the chapter. After asking the questions
above, the authors make this statement: “Some seem to think that
they (LDS Leaders) will be forgiven and the issue will be forgotten.
Speaking at an LDS Sunstone Symposium on 8 August 1997, Clay Chandler
said, ‘Our leaders can be forgiven for occasionally deceiving us if
they don’t violate our trust." Some Christians may not
completely understand such rationale, but it must be remembered that
for Mormons, rejecting the prophet and other church leaders is akin
to rejecting God Himself.”

First of all,
let me state unequivocally that this is pure dishonesty. This is an
intentional attempt to deceive people who don’t know any better. Why
do I make such an accusatory statement? As anyone who has studied The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would know (and the
authors tout themselves as "experts"), the Sunstone
Symposium is NOT a Church-sponsored symposium…it is far from it.
The Sunstone Symposium is held every year by the Sunstone Foundation
and provides a forum where a variety of topics among Sunstone
subscribers (these include dissident LDS members, excommunicated LDS
members, current LDS members, atheists, humanists, etc.) are
discussed.

First, I’m not
sure where we ever said that Sunstone was an official
organization of the Mormon Church. We were merely quoting someone
who, while speaking to a group of liberal Latter-day Saints, was
offering an opinion that we have heard before from others. Yet our
chapter is littered with quotes showing the authority of the LDS
leaders in the same light as Chandler.

Second, I don’t
remember us “touting” ourselves as “experts.” We believe
we’re certainly knowledgeable about the topic of Mormonism, but Mr.
Johnson makes it appear we walk around with a chip on our shoulders.
If we have used this label for ourselves, perhaps he could give us
the reference. In addition, I have no idea what he means by “pure
dishonesty.” Allow me to spend a page providing a few more quotes
showing that the words of the LDS leaders are completely
authoritative:

  • “When
    brother Joseph Smith lived, he was our Prophet, our Seer, and
    Revelator; he was our dictator in the things of God, and it was for
    us to listen to him, and do just as he told us….Brother Joseph is
    gone, and now brother Brigham Young, the Governor of the Territory of
    Utah, is our Prophet, our leader, our Revelator; and it is for me and
    you to listen to him with all diligence, the same as we would listen
    to Joseph Smith were he alive; his word is sacred; and if you do not
    observe it, it will not be well, and there is where I fear for you,
    brethren.” (Heber C. Kimball, JOD 2:106, 107)
  • “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 Neal A. Maxwell, "The Wondrous
    Restoration," in Ensign,
    April 2003, p.36).
  • “If the Prophet of the living God, who is my standard, lays down a
    principle, whether it be a principle of doctrine, or a principle in
    philosophy, or a principle in science, or a principle pertaining to
    anything whatever, it is not for you nor me to argue against it, and
    set up our standard, and our views, and our judgment in order to make
    a division in the church
    of the living God–even if the division goes no further than our own
    individual selves. We must bow, if we would bring about that oneness
    spoken of in the revelations of God. We must yield to these things;
    and it is my determination to do so” (Orson Pratt, January 29, 1860
    "Confessional Discourse," as cited in Dialogue:
    A Journal of Mormon Thought
    ,
    Vol.13, No.2, p.51).
  • “Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he
    ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it,
    the lord will bless you for it but you don’t need to worry. The lord
    will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray” (Marion G.
    Romney, quoting LDS President Heber J. Grant, Conference
    Report
    ,
    Oct. 1960 p.78). (Notice, even if the prophet tells you something
    that is wrong, you are to be congratulated for following his teaching
    or advice.)
  • “Having in mind that this Church of ours is a practical Church,
    that it deals with temporal as well as with spiritual affairs, I
    submit that whatever comes from the voices of those who hold that
    authority is scripture, no matter of what they may speak. That
    conclusion to me is inevitable” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference
    Report
    ,
    April 1944, p.112).
  • “Doctrinal
    interpretation is the province of the First Presidency. The Lord has
    given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the
    right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church. If Church
    members would remember that, we could do away with a number of books
    which have troubled some of our people.” (The
    Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
    ,
    p.317).
  • The June 1945
    Improvement Era (p. 354) claims that to oppose the teachings
    of the leaders and do your own thinking is part of Lucifer’s plan.
    It reads, “Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether
    actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the
    ‘prophets, seers, and revelators’ of the Church is cultivating
    the spirit of apostasy….It should be remembered that Lucifer has a
    very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General
    Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be
    right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has
    practiced hit on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory
    when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders
    and to ‘do their own thinking.’…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.”

These types of
quotes are very dangerous, even if the LDS leaders may never ask
their membership to drink poisoned Kool-aid and risk the physical
lives of the Mormon people. But what if the Mormon prophets and
apostles were instructing church members to accept their false
teachings that, when followed, result in eternal spiritual
consequences? Is this really any better than what Jim Jones did?

Perhaps Peter
would rather those from Jerusalem, in the second chapter of Acts,
have questioned his words and his command to repent and be baptized.
Perhaps, in some statement that we no longer have, Paul advised the
Romans, Corinthians and others not to trust his words. "Do not
study my words," he must have suggested, "and do not refer
to them often. In fact, throw them away."

Yet this is
what McKeever and Johnson would have the leaders of the LDS Church
advise its members, for it is the only alternative to advising the
members to study, take heed, and follow their teachings. This makes
no sense to me.

Mr.
Johnson brings up Peter and Paul again, an interesting pair. The two
had some disagreements, as Paul wrote in Galatians 2:11, “But when
Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he
was to be blamed.” We later read in the book of Acts that they were
able to reconcile their differences, as Paul happened to be right
(biblically) in the conflict. Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:15-16 are
even that much more impressive, calling Paul’s teachings
“scripture”: “…even as our beloved brother Paul also
according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also
in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are
some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and
unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own
destruction.”

Both
of these men were apostles, yet one of them had to be wrong in the
conflict. Without a main source from which to determine truth, how
would it ever be possible to differentiate truth from error?
Fortunately this disagreement between two very important apostles was
resolved and they could march on to telling the whole world about the
Gospel message.

As a point of
clarification, the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints do not claim "ultimate authority." That
would be God who holds that type of authority. However, if, by
"ultimate authority," the authors mean authority from God
to declare doctrine and interpret scripture for the purposes of
teaching the people, then I have no problem. I felt the need to
clarify that term.

Although Mr.
Johnson says it is God who holds “ultimate authority,” he
certainly hands this authority right back to the leaders of his
church. This is exactly what our chapter said, despite the complaints
of the author.

It appears
clear, consistent with Peter’s declaration (cited earlier), that Paul
did not want the members of the Church to privately interpret
doctrine. Paul’s instructions are certain: follow the doctrine that
the leaders of the Church (apostles) taught them, which is perfectly
consistent with the statements by the leaders of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The
point of both Peter and Paul was that the believers were not to just
merely follow the leaders of the church if what was being taught was
false doctrine. Rather, they were to follow truth. If the LDS leaders
want to follow the biblical precedent, then they should want its
people to follow them only if they are teaching the truth and not
just because they said it was so.

McKeever and
Johnson attempt to demonstrate that the New Testament apostles were
in opposition to such a view:

Paul took a position opposite to that held by the leaders of
Mormonism. He invited his followers in Galatians 1:8-9 to closely
scrutinize his teachings: ‘But though we, or an angel from heaven,
preach any other gospel … let him be accursed.’ He made it clear
that even he was not above criticism.”

The authors
miss the point and their statement begs the question: What gospel is
Paul talking about? The one HE taught them. I am completely baffled
how these two men, who run a "Christian Ministry," can
entirely miss the plain meaning of this passage and contradict the
rest of Evangelical Christianity (of which they claim to be a part)…
.

Is there any
way for Paul to make his directive more certain? Paul is effectively
warning the members of the Church by saying that the doctrines "we"
taught you are not up for debate or discussion. The gospel "we"
taught you is not to be scrutinized. That which "we" taught
you is indeed above reproach. The Galatians are not to listen to
anything else.

As Mr. Johnson
points out, Paul gives his credentials in verses 11-12, “But I
certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is
not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught
it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Just where did Paul
receive the gospel truth? He says through the revelation of Christ.
It is, he says in the earliest of all epistles, littered with Old
Testament scriptural references, which is the gospel of truth when
compared to the gospel of the Judaizers, a people who claimed that
dietary and circumcision laws had to be obeyed in order to be
Christian. His position is not contrary to the revelation given in
the Old Testament or by Christ, and his words were accepted by the
other apostles. What he is teaching is true. The Christians in
Galatia can either accept or reject his teaching, but rejecting his
teaching would mean they were out of sync with God’s intention. In
other words, this is not merely Paul’s personal opinion.

The LDS
leaders (apostles and prophets) are admonishing the members of the
Church (saints) in precisely the same way that the New Testament
leaders (apostles and prophets) were admonishing the members of the
Church (saints). Unfortunately, McKeever and Johnson want people not
to trust their leaders. They want us to scrutinize and criticize the
apostles of the New Testament. This is not how the Lord’s Church
worked two thousand years ago, nor is it how the Lord’s Church works
today.

This is far from
the truth. Rather, we are to accept the words of men when they
coincide with the gospel as presented by Christ and as revealed in
the scriptures. We should trust our leaders only as long as they
abide in truth.

I wonder
which of Paul’s writings McKeever and Johnson feel need to be
scrutinized and criticized? What parts of Paul’s writings do McKeever
and Johnson disagree with? Certainly, if Paul is not above reproach,
McKeever and Johnson must have some criticism of Paul. I would be
interested to learn just which of Paul’s teachings they would
criticize.

Paul supports
his case using the Word of God. For instance, there are dozens of
references to the Old Testament in this book of Galatians. He uses
the same approach in his other epistles. Paul was not just somebody
who flippantly presented views that ran contrary to the previous
revelation. Rather, he used the witness of those before him as well
as the available evidence. This is why, in a matter related to the
resurrection of Christ, he could write the following 1 Corinthians
15:1:

[1]
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached
unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
[2]
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto
you, unless ye have believed in vain.
[3] For I delivered
unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ
died for our sins according to the scriptures;
[4] And that
he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the
scriptures:
[5] And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the
twelve:
[6] After that, he was seen of above five hundred
brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present,
but some are fallen asleep.
[7] After that, he was seen of
James; then of all the apostles.
[8] And last of all he was
seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
[9] For I
am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an
apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
[10] But
by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed
upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they
all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Paul insisted
that the resurrection of Christ was to be accepted because it was a)
historical; b) experienced by more than 500 brothers and sisters,
most of whom were still living 25 years after the fact; c)
experienced by Paul himself. Based on this, he taught it was logical
to accept something as crucial as the resurrection of Christ.

Are McKeever
and Johnson wanting us to believe that a small inconsistency in the
behavior of an apostle must disqualify the apostles from having the
special authority to teach and declare correct doctrine and
principles of the gospel? Apparently. It is necessary to remind the
authors and the readers that no one should expect the apostles and
prophets to be perfect men. They are human and only Jesus was
perfect. But this does not prohibit the leaders of the church
(apostles and prophets) from having the authority to lead the people,
to teach the people, to declare correct doctrine to the people and to
instruct the people to follow their teachings.

But notice, when
Peter was wrong, he eventually admitted it. The quotes from LDS
leaders that were provided above make it appear that the Mormon
prophet and his fellow general authorities are supposed to be
accepted, with no questioning of the teaching. (If this is not true,
then perhaps Mr. Johnson could tell me a time where an LDS leader
reprimanded another general authority for wrong teach, like Paul did
with Peter. Or can he point to a time where a general authority
admitted that the leadership was wrong about a particular teaching. I
cannot think of such a case.) This appears to be a very dangerous
precedent, one that the Bible never appears to encourage us to
follow.

The New Testament is replete with these directives from the
apostles (as documented by the passages I shared above). Take for
example, Paul’s strict warning to the members of the Church in
Corinth: “I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors
in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have
begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye
followers of me.”

Of course, Paul
is telling the believers to follow him since he’s not like the
false teachers of his day. Going back to Acts 17, Paul did not act
insulted when a group of Bereans checked his teaching with scripture.
Instead, they were commended for their approach. And while he did say
that he ought to be followed, Paul certainly wasn’t advocating that
he was perfect (see Romans 7:7ff) or that he should be believed
regardless of what he taught. No, he wanted people to follow his ways
because he was teaching the truth, supported by Christ’s teaching
and the scriptures.

The fact of the
matter is, both the Latter-day Saint and I hold Paul to be an
authentic prophet of God. There’s no argument there. However, our
disagreement is over the Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles. I
don’t believe they have the same authority as Peter and Paul had.
The first order of business, then, is for the Mormon to show why
anyone should consider anything said by LDS leaders to be
authoritative in the same manner as the prophets of old. For, if
there was no total apostasy and there was no need for a
“restoration,” and if what these leaders teach are contrary to
biblical revelation, then I should have no incentive to consider
anything they have to say as authoritative.

The authors
turn their attention to the emphasis that leaders and members of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints place on living prophets.
They have a difficult time dealing with the fact that the leaders and
members tend to give more heed to living prophets over dead prophets.
This is a simple issue to deal with. Remember, we are operating
within a framework where living prophets are on the earth, leading
the people. Why would one not listen to a prophet who has been chosen
by God to lead in modern times? If we were to place the words of
former prophets before the current prophet, what is the use in having
a current prophet? We can look to the Bible to see a consistent
pattern.

Ahh, so here we
come to the crux of Mormonism. Based on this idea, the living
prophets take precedence over the dead prophets, whether the dead
prophet is Isaiah or Spencer W. Kimball. This view is consistent with
Ezra Taft Benson’s teaching on the topic (“14 Fundamentals in
Following the Prophet,” Feb. 25, 1980, see
http://lds-mormon.com/fourteen.shtml)
However, I cannot remember one instance where a biblical prophet
contradicted a previous prophet who no longer was living. In fact,
the book of Hebrews clearly shows that the Old Testament was
completely fulfilled in the New Testament and through Christ, who
came not to overturn the law but rather to fulfill it (Matt. 5:18).

The people
who fought against Christ and His apostles did so in the name of dead
prophets. They refused to listen to and believe Christ Himself and
the living prophets (apostles) and instead referred to the teachings
of dead prophets. This is a dangerous course the authors have laid
out. Why listen to a living prophet? Because the Lord has sent him to
us in our day, in our time, for us to heed his words…for they are
the words of the Lord for us!

Mr.
Johnson assumes that a current prophet (the top Latter-day Saint
general authority) has more authority merely because he is living.
But he gives no reason why we should consider this man (at the time
of this writing, Gordon B. Hinckley) as any more authoritative than
“prophets” in the splinter groups who also claim Joseph Smith,
Jr. at their founder. In fact, why should this man be any more
authoritative than the religious leaders of a variety of other
religions that also teach they speak for God? Instead of asking “Why
listen to a living prophet?” the better question is “Why should I
consider the Mormon prophet to be authoritative?” And it all boils
down to this: Did God really a) need to restore His church? b) use
Joseph Smith to do this? Until we can answer these questions with
certainty, I have no reason to accept anything that men such as
Joseph Smith or Gordon B. Hinckley teach as truth.

Even if the authors were correct in their assessment of
inconsistent statements of LDS leaders (let’s make that assumption),
is this a cause for concern? No. To say that small, differing
personal opinions among Church leaders on the deeper elements of the
gospel diminishes from their calling of God to lead His children and
declare official doctrine is completely unfounded and unbiblical. (
Keep in mind that none of these statements were canonized or made
official Church doctrine.) Prophets are fallible men with their own
opinions on many matters. They are not perfect…only one was
perfect. Bruce R. McConkie, himself stated, in an unpublished letter:
“As Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a
prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they
make mistakes… Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are
not endorsed and approved by the Lord.”
While this letter
has not been published, McKeever and Johnson are very aware of it,
for it is posted on their website. Yet, they never make an effort to
provide this view. I find this approach very suspect.

It is
fascinating that many Mormons scramble when they are approached with
material that shows one LDS leader contradicting another leader,
whether present or past. The argument as presented by Mr. Johnson is
that we should believe a prophet, as McConkie puts it, “only when
he is acting as such.” What exactly does this mean? According to
the LDS-produced manual Gospel Principles, “scripture”
comes from several different sources: “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, 1997, p. 52).

But determining
what the prophets say as truth gets much more complicated than this.
According to the church-approved manual Teachings of the Living
Prophets
(published by BYU), a “publication (that) has been
approved by the adult correlation committee of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints,” there are several guidelines to
determine if what the prophet said is true:

1. “Everything
taught by the authorities of the Church ought to be couched in the
scriptures.”

2. “The
prophet at the head of the Church is the ‘one exception’ who can
write or speak going beyond the content of the standard works and
giving new revelation.”

3. “When an
authority speaks, ‘when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ these
statements may be considered scripture.”

4. In order for
a church member to tell if the authority is speaking by the Holy
Ghost, the member also need to be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In
a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to
determine when they so speak.” This comes by “living to have the
witness to know” (living righteously).

Finally, the
book is very clear to point out that “to reject the living oracles
is tantamount to rejecting the Standard Works.” (pp. 146-151, date
unknown).

George Q. Cannon
is quoted in the December 1957 Improvement Era (pp. 914-15,
used on page ix of Teachings of the Living Prophets) to say,
“If we talk about the living oracles and want to pay respect to
them, how shall we do this? Shall we do it by never reading their
words—by paying no attention to that which they say? That is a very
poor way of doing. We ought to listen to their words. When we cannot
hear their words, we should read them; for they are the words of the
authorized servants of God. I feel that there is a great neglect
among us in this respect.”

According to
these LDS sources, we need to listen to the words of the prophets.
However, according to the quote above by Apostle Bruce R. McConkie,
we should listen to them only when they are acting as prophets and
not merely providing personal opinions. How can we judge this?
According to J. Reuben Clark as quoted in the Teachings of the
Living Prophets,
a person who is living righteously (a good
question to ask is what defines how righteous one needs to be?) is
able to feel the “moving” of the Holy Spirit.

Consider how
confusing this can be! Suppose I didn’t feel the “moving” of
the Spirit when listening to a general authority at a General
Conference session. And suppose the person next to me felt it. Should
I assume that I must have more sin in my life than this other person?
How is a person really able to compare truth to error? How would this
person know if their feelings are not deceiving them, one way or the
other, about whether or not what the prophet had to say is true? If
anyone decide to publicly speak out against the prophet’s teaching
because they feel that they are living righteously and yet did
not feel the Spirit move with the man’s talk, will this
person possibly be subject to church discipline? These are all very
important questions to consider.

One LDS prophet
who spoke with divine authority was Brigham Young, the second
president of the church and a man who solidified the Mormon faith
after the death of founder Joseph Smith. On January 2, 1870, he said,
"I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the
children of men, that they may not call Scripture" (Journal
of Discourses
13:95). Young would repeat this again in October of
the same year (Journal of Discourses 13:264). Thus, one would
assume that, in 1852 in a general conference speech, Young was not
joking when he called Adam “our Father and our God, and the only
God with whom we have to do” (Journal of Discourses
1:50-51).

Why is it, then,
that the vast majority of Mormons reject the teaching that was given
by a prophet when it concerned such an essential issue of the nature
of God? (For more information on this topic, go to
http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/theory.html.
To see the sermon itself, go to
http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/adam-god.html)
In other words, how could a Latter-day Saint say that this teaching
was not meant to be an authoritative teaching when this (and other
references that could be utilized) clearly shows that Young taught it
as doctrinal truth?

these men of God (latter-day as well as ancient-day) are not to
be held to a standard that God never intended. These men of God will
disagree from time to time. They make mistakes. They have their own
opinions on things. God has not revealed every detail about Himself
or His gospel to the apostles and prophets. We should not expect
absolute agreement on issues where there has been no canonized
revelation from God. These men of God continue to learn throughout
their lives. They were and are taught just as Isaiah proclaimed,
"precept upon precept…line upon line, here a little, and there
a little."

Again,
Mr. Johnson assumes that “ancient-day” prophets can be compared
to “latter-day” prophets, a false analogy. He admits that his
prophets will “disagree” from time to time and do “make
mistakes.” He writes that “we should not expect absolute
agreement on issues where there has been no canonized revelation from
God.” But shouldn’t we expect agreement, especially on an issue
such as the nature of God? Even an LDS standard work such as the Book
of Mormon

can be found to be contradictory to the teachings of Mormon founder
Joseph Smith, Jr. (and, hence, LDS teachers today) on a basic issue
such as God’s nature. Consider these three major differences:

  • the Book
    of Mormon

    teaches that there is only one God (Alma 11:26-29; 2 Nephi 31:21;
    Mosiah 13:34, 15:1-4; Alma 11:44; 3 Nephi 11:27, 35; Mormon 7:7)
    while Joseph Smith taught a plurality of gods (“I wish to declare I
    have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the
    subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods”—History
    of the Church

    6:474).
  • the Book
    of Mormon

    teaches that God is an unchangeable God (Mos. 3:5; 3 Nephi 24:6;
    Mormon 9:9,10, 19; Moroni 7:22, 8:18) while Smith claimed that “God
    himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits
    enthroned in yonder heavens!” (Teachings
    of the Prophet Joseph Smith
    ,
    p. 345)
  • the Book
    of Mormon

    teaches that God is a Spirit (Alma 18:2-5, 24-28; 22:9-11) while
    Smith taught in D&C
    130:22 (also a Standard Work) that “the Father has a body of flesh
    and bones as tangible as man’s.”

We
could certainly get into other areas where the Book
of Mormon

contradicts other LDS leaders as well, including on issues such as
salvation, baptism for the dead, and an everlasting hell. If the
Latter-day Saint hopes to pursue truth, these are the issues he must
understand and consider. Either the LDS Church leaders have properly
interpreted the Bible (and the Book
of Mormon
,
for that matter), or they have not. If they have not, is this not a
problem?

I return to
the central questions regarding this chapter and the conclusions of
McKeever and Johnson: Should members of the Lord’s Church listen to,
trust, follow and obey the teachings, doctrine and counsel of those
men chosen by the Lord to lead the Church? Or, should the members of
the Church follow the alternative pattern posited by the authors and
scrutinize, criticize and identify their own "private
interpretation?" Using the Bible as our guide, we find the
answers loud and clear.

According to Mr.
Johnson, “private interpretation” of scripture is wrong, even if
our “private interpretation” is gathered while we are living
righteous lives, as so instructed by the passage in Teachings of
the Living Prophets
. In other words, the church encourages its
membership to be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” but if that
“movement” is contrary to the leader, it should be considered
mere “private interpretation.” What this appears to mean is that
the only correct answer a Mormon could possible have on a doctrinal
issue is in accordance with the general authorities.

Imagine if
someone at the next general conference message really did come to the
conclusion that Gordon B. Hinckley was not in the Spirit. If this
person told others about his perception, how long would it take
before excommunication proceedings were underway? Yet is this fear of
upsetting the apple cart really how 1 Thes. 5:21 was meant to be
practiced? As far as Mr. Johnson’s last sentence, “Using the
Bible as our guide, we find the answers loud and clear,” this is as
disingenuous of a statement as I have ever heard. In the Mormon
Church, the Bible is utilized in ways to make it appear that Mormon
teachings are true (e.g. yanking 1 Cor. 15:29 out of its context to
support such an archaic practice as “baptism for the dead”)
without regard to what was intended in the biblical message.

I think the
most significant obstacle for McKeever and Johnson, and the primary
reason these authors are unable to actually trust their religious
leaders as the members of the Biblical Church did, is this: They are
not led by prophets and apostles as members of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints are. This is the difference. I know, as
sure as the sun rose this morning, that I am led by a man, as
imperfect and fallible as he may be, who was called by God to be His
prophet. I know that he was called to be a prophet just as Moses was
and just as Peter was.

How is a person
to “know” that his leadership is true? Wouldn’t this be the
result of fully testing what these leaders have said in the past and
testing it to God’s revealed Word to see if the two are compatible?
Unfortunately too many Latter-day Saints say they know their religion
is true because they have prayed about it and have received a
testimony (James 1:5; Mor. 10:4-5). I have spoken with a number of
ex-LDS who had once believed that they too had this same testimony
about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the LDS Church,
though today they claim that this testimony had been based merely on
emotions, peer pressure, or just a wishful hope that this religion
really was true.

They testify
that what they had experienced was based on wrong feelings. Just like
I can “feel” that I aced yesterday’s math test but get
surprised when I actually find out that I got a “D,” or just like
I can “feel” that I am in love only to realize later that my
feelings were mere infatuation, so in the same way a person can
“feel” his religion is true and not realize that his church’s
teachings deny or distort each and every fundamental teaching of the
historic Christian church. I would never doubt the sincerity of any
Mormon, Mr. Johnson included, but it ought to be added that a person
might be sincerely wrong no matter their feelings.

Instead of human
leaders who act as spokespersons for God, as during the Old Testament
days, the Christian has “one mediator between God and men, the man
Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 2:5). Thus, Christian do not have a need for
anybody besides Him. According to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is:

  • the
    fulfillment of the prophets, “whom (God) hath appointed heir of all
    things” and “by whom also he made the worlds” (1:1-2). Jesus is
    the last of the prophets, the fulfillment of Deut. 18:18, 19,
    according to Acts 3:22, 23.
  • the Apostle
    and High Priest of our profession” (3:1). He intercedes on our
    behalf via the offices of “apostle” and “priest.”
  • “a high
    priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (6:20). We no
    longer need the Levite high priest to intercede between God and man
    via sacrifice.
  • the holder of
    “an unchangeable priesthood” (7:24). He has the authority that
    does not pass away since He, the priesthood holder, will never die.
  • “the
    mediator of the new testament,” which required blood (“without
    shedding of blood is no remission,” 9:22) and “death of the
    testator” in order to make this testament “of force” (9:15-17).
    He offered his body “once for all” and “sat on the right hand
    of God” (10:12-12). In other words, He sacrificed Himself, the
    perfect sacrifice, in order to atone for the sins of His people.
  • the sacrifice
    “perfected for ever” those for whom he died (10:14), as “their
    sins and iniquities” will be forgotten (10:17) We have need of no
    other sacrifice because this is good to the very end and does not
    need to repeated like the sacrifices of old.
  • be accepted in
    the “Spirit of grace” or a person does an “unholy thing” by
    rejecting Him (10:29, Acts 3:23). Unbelievers will pay a huge price
    for their rejection of Jesus.
  • to be
    glorified forevermore (13:21). Only God is to be glorified. Jesus
    Christ is God, to be praised into eternity.

I challenge the
LDS readers of this rejoinder to dissect the teachings of their
general authorities in the same way Mr. Johnson has attempted to
scrutinize our book, Mormonism 101. Compare their words with
the teachings of the Bible while trying to minimize any LDS
presuppositions. Many have come away with the conclusion that
Mormonism is not the same as Christianity and that the LDS leaders
are not “latter-day prophets.” If Mormonism is correct, the
teachings of its leadership will stand the test. If it is wrong,
finding out now before it is too late will be worth the time and
effort. But to follow a religion without a thorough investigation is
the most foolish course of action anyone can take.