Note: The following was originally printed in the November/December 2019 edition of our bimonthly newsletter. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
A common frustration many Christians experience when challenging the truth claims of Mormonism with Latter-day Saints, is the quick rejection they sometimes receive when a comment spoken by an LDS leader is given in the conversation. Oftentimes, the Mormon will insist that such a comment is not “official,” and therefore is not relevant, even though many Mormons believe what the leader said.
I’ve often said that after four decades of studying Mormonism, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what Mormons are supposed to believe, but I’ve also learned from experience that many Mormons sometimes don’t believe what they are supposed to believe. How then, can we engage in a meaningful conversation with Mormons who arbitrarily dismiss what their leaders have said?
First of all, we must understand that if a Mormon doesn’t believe a reputable comment from one of their leaders, that is their problem, not ours. More than once when encountering a member who does this, I will politely ask something like, “Well, it appears you don’t trust your leader (at least on this particular issue). If you can’t trust what your leaders have said, why do you think I should?” In other words, the Mormon who rejects what his leaders have taught, tends to undermine a principle teaching of Mormonism, that is, God ordaining latter-day prophets to guide his people. If you were to go to the official website of the LDS Church (www.churchofjesuschrist.org) and type “Follow the Prophet” in the search engine box, you will find a myriad of articles that emphasizes the importance of placing spiritual trust in Mormonism’s leaders, especially the “prophet, seer, and revelator” who currently holds the title of president. One of the first references that pops up are the words to a children’s song titled, “Follow the Prophet,” the stanza of which repeats the words:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; he knows the way.
The Doctrine and Covenants addresses the importance of heeding the teachings of the living prophet when it says:
Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-5).
In the mind of sixth President Joseph F. Smith, rejecting the counsel of the prophet is a most serious offense.
If you acknowledge … the President of the Church and he and his counselors as the presiding authority, then the member who does not give heed to their counsel deserves pity, for he is in transgression. These men will not counsel you wrong” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 214. Ellipsis in original).
Mormon Apostle Richard L. Evans gave a similar stern warning in general conference in October of 1940:
“Besides this we have our living prophet, for whom I am grateful, and I hope to follow after him all the days of my life. I know that when I don’t follow him I am wrong, and I know that when I do I am right, even if I don’t agree with him. To those who only follow him when they do agree with him he is not a prophet unto them” (Conference Reports, October 1940, 61).
A salesman who admits to certain flaws in his product should not be surprised if a potential customer becomes reluctant to buy his product. So too, a Mormon who undermines a primary premise of his faith, should not expect anyone to take his faith seriously.
Still, how can we try to avoid these potential roadblocks? My suggestion is, stick to sources the church itself has said are authoritative. Notice in the above citations, I referred to quotes from the church’s official web site, Mormon scripture, a correlated manual, and a general conference message. All four of these sources should not be questioned by any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though they may, they shouldn’t.
On its official website called Newsroom, we learn that
. . . information on official Church Web sites is reliable and consistent with the doctrines and policies of the Church. All materials on Newsroom and other Church Web sites are carefully reviewed and approved before they are posted… In a complementary way, Newsroom, LDS.org and other Church Web sites provide an official voice from the Church (https://newroom.churchofjesuschrist.org., “The Church and New Media: Clarity, Context and an Official Voice Newsroom LDS.org, ellipsis mine”).
This statement validates thousands of potential citations, since its primary website contains decades of church magazines, conference messages and many other lesser known talks given by LDS leaders.
Over my many years speaking directly with Latter-day Saints, I can’t recall a faithful member telling me he disagrees with something from Mormonism’s unique scripture. I have however, had multiple Mormons question the validity of the Bible when I cite a passage that conflicts with Mormon teaching. Their mistrust of the Bible should be expected at times, but dealing with those suspicions should not be a factor when citing the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price. Unlike the Bible, Mormons do not generally believe those other sources can only be trusted “as far as they are translated correctly.” They just assume they are accurate.
The First Presidency of the LDS Church has put its stamp of approval on manuals that it publishes for the education of its members. Since 1960, the church has had what it calls a church correlation department that oversees what is included in church manuals. According to one of these correlated manuals,
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve oversee correlation in the Church. Correlation includes: a. Maintaining purity of doctrine(Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, 2003, 244).
Since the church itself claims its correlated manuals include pure doctrine, a Mormon should not hesitate to accept what a manual teaches. Conference messages are also fair game when witnessing to members of the LDS Church.In the March, 2012 edition of Ensign magazine, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then a member of the First Presidency, instructed members to “listen to general conference with an ear willing to hear the voice of God through his latter-day prophets” (“Why do we need prophets?” Ensign, March 2012, 5).
Such an admonition is hardly new. For example, way back on October 7, 1900, George Q. Cannon, also a member of the First Presidency stated,
CONFERENCE ADDRESSES ARE WORD OF LORD. . . they are the word of God unto this people, binding upon them, and they will be judged by these words that we have heard. If we do not listen to these instructions and counsels and abide by the word of God as it is given to us from time to time, we shall be held to a strict accountability. (Oct. 7, 1900, MS 63:18)” (Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon 1:329).
Because church leaders have given these sources their “official” approval, Christians should feel confident gleaning citations from such sources.