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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 11: Follow the Living Prophet

Chapter 11: Follow the Living Prophet

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 146–55

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. 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.

“The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age.”

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

The President of the Church is the Lord’s mouthpiece on the earth.

Learn to keep your eye on the prophet. He is the Lord’s mouthpiece and the only man who can speak for the Lord today. Let his inspired counsel take precedence. Let his inspired words be a basis for evaluating the counsel of all lesser authorities. Then live close to the Spirit so you may know the truth of all things.

The Lord’s mouthpiece and prophet on the face of the earth today received his authority through a line of prophets going back to Joseph Smith, who was ordained by Peter, James, and John, who were ordained by Christ, who was and is the head of the Church, the Creator of this earth, and the God before whom all men must stand accountable.

This Church is not being directed by the wisdom of men. I know that. The power and influence of Almighty God are directing His Church.

Mormons are told specifically to keep their eyes on their top leader, the president (also known as the prophet), whose presidency was “foreordained in the premortal life” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Teacher Manual: Religion 333, 13). An experience at a Utah high school seminary (a church building located near the public school where academic classes on LDS scripture are offered to Mormon students) illustrates this point.

The classroom teacher of thirty students drew two stick men on the white board and explained how the figure on the right symbolized humanity while the figure on the left stood for God the Father. Then he drew a tall wall separating the two, saying it represented the isolation suffered by all humans who, by themselves, do not have access to God. Because of mankind’s rebellion, he said, the wall prohibits God from communicating with humans. Then the teacher drew a third stick figure that stood on top of the wall. Arrows were drawn going up and down on both sides to show how it is possible in the twenty-first century to have communication take place between God and people. It was all dependent on the middle man on the wall. According to a Christian worldview, this could be a symbol of Jesus Himself! As it says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” But who did the teacher claim the man on the wall represented? He said that this figure symbolized the latter-day Mormon prophets, beginning with Joseph Smith and embodied today in the current LDS prophet. Jesus’s name was never even mentioned! The message to these teenaged students is very clear.

As President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson spoke with great love and urgency.

The living prophet tells us what we need to know, not necessarily what we want to hear.

A revealing characteristic of a true prophet is that he declares a message from God. He makes no apology for the message, nor does he fear for any social repercussions which may lead to derision and persecution.

As Benson said, a “true prophet” “declares a message from God.” Yet Jesus is considered to be the prophet for Christians today. Hebrews 1:1-2 state,

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.

According to Deuteronomy 13, it is possible to ascertain what this person says is true or false:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

And Deuteronomy 18:20-22 adds,

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lordhath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

Mormonism teaches in another God, another Jesus, and another gospel. Anyone can claim to be a prophet speaking on behalf of God. But if the person’s teachings are contrary to the Bible, the inspired Word of God, then he or she ought to be rejected.

Sometimes there are those who feel their earthly knowledge on a certain subject is superior to the heavenly knowledge which God gives to his prophet on the same subject. They feel the prophet must have the same earthly credentials or training which they have had before they will accept anything the prophet has to say that might contradict their earthly schooling. How much earthly schooling did Joseph Smith have? Yet he gave revelations on all kinds of subjects. … We encourage earthly knowledge in many areas, but remember if there is ever a conflict between earthly knowledge and the words of the prophet, you stand with the prophet and you’ll be blessed and time will show you have done the right thing.

What Benson teaches has been objected to by some LDS apologists. One, for example, is Mormon apologist Michael R. Ash who wrote Shaken Faith Syndrome (FAIR, 2008). He believes that “just because a prophet has the keys to the priesthood and the authority to receive revelation from God for the direction of the Church” doesn’t mean every word he speakes is “infallible, inspired, or factually accurate.” Among other things, he wrote on page 22:

The onus is upon us to determine when they speak for the Lord. If we rely solely on the revelations of the prophets, without seeking our own personal confirming revelations, we tend to tacitly accept their revelations as infallible.

He adds on page 24,

There is more to being a member of Christ’s church than just marching in step. Our goal should be to receive our own revelations and to become united with Christ.

Thus, he says, it’s possible for prophets to speak on topics they just don’t have the human knowledge to understand. He explains on page 25,

Do we really want to believe that Old Testament prophets had a complete understanding of the cardiovascular system or operating laws of photons? Yet some members think that modern prophets should never make mistakes in matters of history, geology, or geography—especially if they believe such matters relate to scripture.

Then he makes this incredible statement:

We shouldn’t expect prophets (including modern-day prophets) to have a complete understanding of all gospel principles or all gospel-related issues, nor should be expect them to be free of prejudice, cultural bias, and traditions. (Italics in original)

In what has to be considered nothing more than just his personal opinion, Ask says he thinks very little ought to be considered true doctrines except fundamental principles such as the existence of God, Jesus as the Son of God, Joseph Smith as a prophet, the scriptures are the words of God, and the church and his prophet are true. Everything else, he says, is nothing more than speculation. He writes on pages 33 and 34:

While there are other true doctrines, many of the things we believe are actually traditions, policies, practices, and wise counsel. Non-doctrinal beliefs may be useful and true, but they are not official doctrine unless the First Presidency officially expresses them as such. (Italics in original)

Wow! In other words, he says it’s not necessary to feel obligated to believe a prophet’s words—even if spoken at a general conference—unless it is presented as a message from the First Presidency. (I cannot remember such an event since September 1995 when “The Family: A Procolmation” was given by Gordon B. Hinckley and his two counselors.) Benson’s teaching—remember this was in print decades before Ash ever wrote his book 21st century book—certainly seems to contradict Ash and others who appear to want an “out” whenever their prophets speak words with which they disagree.

… The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.

These sections come from a speech that Benson gave titled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” This speech was endorsed twice at the Fall 2010 general conference. I provide the links here to save space, but I recommend checking these out if this topic interests you.

Sometimes there are those who argue about words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obliged to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you.” (D&C 21:4.)

This sounds opposite of the counsel given by the LDS apologists Michael Ash. Who should we believe is telling the truth: a prophet (with citation in a 2014 church manual) or an LDS apologist who holds the position as “Elder”?

… The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

“Thou has declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear,” complained Nephi’s brethren. But Nephi answered by saying, “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.” (1 Ne. 16:1–2.)

The question is not what do we want to know (or not know)? Rather, the question is, “What is true?”

Said President Harold B. Lee:

“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow. … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.)

But it is the living prophet who really upsets the world. “Even in the Church,” said President Kimball, “many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones.” (Instructor, 95:257.)

Why? Because the living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or worry about their own affairs. …

How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness. …

The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man. The rich may feel they have no need to take counsel of a lowly prophet. …

… The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

As a prophet reveals the truth it divides the people. The honest in heart heed his words but the unrighteous either ignore the prophet or fight him. When the prophet points out the sins of the world, the worldly either want to close the mouth of the prophet, or else act as if the prophet didn’t exist, rather than repent of their sins. Popularity is never a test of truth. Many a prophet has been killed or cast out. As we come closer to the Lord’s second coming you can expect that as the people of the world become more wicked, the prophet will be less popular with them.

I agree that “popularity is never a test of truth.” We shouldn’t base our analysis on whether or not we like what a “prophet” is saying. Rather, as I have said, the question is bypassing popularity and determining truth, as taught by the Word of God (the Bible).

We will be blessed as we follow the living prophet.

To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead, I am going to give you … a grand key which, if you will honor, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury.

… As a Church we sing the hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” [Hymns, no. 19]. Here then is the grand key—Follow the prophet. …

Referring back to the stick figure model drawn on the whiteboard by an LDS seminary teacher, I ask: Is there one mediator between God and man? If so, who is he? According to 1 Timothy 2:5, it’s Jesus. In Mormonism, however, a human called a prophet is needed to serve as the mediator. The role of Jesus seems to be secondary. If what a human says is contrary to what the Word of God teaches, then I say, reject it!

… The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

What a dangerous presupposition to have! The Bible says “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21). Consider Acts 17:11-12 in its reference to the Bereans:

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. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

In this passage the Bereans checked the apostle Paul’s message by “searching the scriptures daily.”  I would think that a Mormon prophet today would be irritated if a member questioned the leader’s teaching by referencing the Bible. However, Paul thought highly of those employing this tactic! Luke even calls the Bereans “more noble” than those who accepted the gospel in Thessalonica without little effort to check out the teaching. Finally, 1 John 4:1 says,

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Since these prophets are trying their best to produce counterfeit currency—making it look as close to the original as possible—we must be aware of these wolves who craftily dress up in the clothing of innocent sheep in order to be better accepted.

In section 132 verse 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord speaks of the prophet—the president—and says:

“There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred.”

Then in section 21 verses 4–6, the Lord states:

“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.

“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”

Doctrine and Covenants is not part of the Christian’s scripture. How dangerous it is for a person to “give heed unto all his words and commandments” when the Bible might be contradicted.

The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

President Wilford Woodruff stated: “I say to Israel, The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God” [see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff (2004), 199].

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home. … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78.)

This might sound like a cute story, but it’s not. For example, children should be made aware that, when it comes to their safety (including their sexuality) every precaution ought to be made. Even relatives can deceive!  Anyone who says, “Don’t worry, I’ll never lead you astray” ought to cause warning flags. It begs the question, “Why would this person say that?” I have even told my Bible students to check everything I teach. If what I say is contrary to the Bible, I tell them they are obligated to point out my error. I would hope that every pastor would have the same attitude. I would rather side with caution than advocate accepting a person’s word opn any topic, no matter how “expert” he or she is supposed to be. If their word is contrary to the Bible, then it must be rejected!

The story is told how Brigham Young, driving through a community, saw a man building a house and simply told him to double the thickness of his walls. Accepting President Young as a prophet, the man changed his plans and doubled the walls. Shortly afterward a flood came through that town, resulting in much destruction, but this man’s walls stood. While putting the roof on his house, he was heard singing, “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet!”

Whenever someone begins by saying, “The story is told,” I must wonder if this is one of those old wife’s tales. But let’s say this story is true. Would this prove Brigham Young is a true prophet? Why is it that Mormons today don’t hold to some of Young’s doctrinal teachings, including Adam as God or his teaching that there were inhabitants on the sun? Check out the links for yourself.

As members of the Church we have some close quarters to pass through if we are going to get home safely. We will be given a chance to choose between conflicting counsel given by some. That’s why we must learn—and the sooner we learn, the better—to keep our eye on the Prophet, the President of the Church.

My recommendation is to take Brigham Young’s words seriously when he said,

Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126).

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