By Eric Johnson
Note: The following was originally printed in the May/June 2023 edition of Mormonism Researched, sent bimonthly to financial supporters of MRM. To request a free subscription to Mormonism Researched, please visit here.
The Saturday morning session (April 1, 2023) of LDS General Conference ended at noon as I stood near the corner of West Temple and North Temple across the street from the conference center in Salt Lake City.
As I like to do at public events such as this, I offered free copies of Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness to passersby who seemed to be hurrying to lunch. This evangelism strategy, described in my book Sharing the Good News with Mormons, has worked well for me over the past decade. After all, Kimball accurately described what is required to gain celestial kingdom glory by using his church’s unique standard works. During the two days of the conference, I handed out 50 books and engaged in many short but productive conversations.
As the crowd leaving the venue thinned to a trickle, an older man stopped to chat. After a minute of small talk, I asked about his favorite moment at the session that he had just attended. He thought for a few seconds before he began to chuckle.
“Well, I did take several short naps,” he admitted with a smile. “But there was one leader who talked about following the living prophet. And he told a funny story about crushing water bottles.”
He couldn’t remember the speaker’s name, but I was intrigued. I often get a pulse for a conference session by asking several people to give their highlights. Later that night, I decided to see which speaker he was referencing.
Placing full trust in the “living prophet”
Seventy Allen D. Haynie gave a talk Saturday morning titled “A Living Prophet for the Latter Days.” In the middle of his presentation, Haynie provided a “real life parable” that seemed to strike a chord with the 20,000 people in the audience.
Haynie explained how he had just gotten his food at the church cafeteria one day when he looked for a seat. President Russell M. Nelson saw him and invited him to his table along with the other two members of the First Presidency. Near the end of the meal, Haynie watched as Nelson loudly crushed his water bottle, flattening it in his hands, and replaced the lid.
Counselors Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring then each proceeded to flatten their water bottles, though Eyring did it horizontally, making it more difficult. According to Haynie, Nelson decided to show Eyring how to crush it using “the bottle straight-up technique.” Confused by this, Haynie asked if flattening one’s water bottle had become a rule in the cafeteria. Oaks responded, “Well, Allen, you need to follow the prophet.” The audience roared with laughter.
While Nelson was merely showing how to condense recycling materials, Haynie said the example of Oaks and Eyring ought to be followed by the church membership. “The key,” he said, “is to follow the living prophet.”
Haynie insisted that careful attention must be made to do whatever the prophet says, claiming, “Our seemingly small deviations, quiet neglect or whispered criticisms in response to prophetic counsel may result in our only walking dangerously near the edge of the covenant path.”
For those members who had failed in the past to follow Nelson’s teachings, Haynie had some words of advice: “Now some of you may feel you have fallen short to follow the counsel of President Russell M. Nelson. If that’s the case, then repent. Begin again to follow the counsel of God’s chosen prophet. . . . Trust the Lord’s anointed.”
Similarities with Ezra Taft Benson’s devotional
Haynie’s talk is similar to a devotional given on February 26, 1980 by Ezra Taft Benson who, at that time, was an apostle; he later became the church’s thirteenth president. It was titled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” Among other things, Benson said the “the prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything” as well as “the living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.”
In the final point of his devotional, Benson laid down the gauntlet: “The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the first presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.”
Haynie’s 11-minute conference message sounded like he was reiterating Benson’s devotional. For one, Benson had made a point to show how “the prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.” Haynie agreed with this assessment, saying that “knowing by revelation that there is a living prophet on the earth changes everything. It causes one to be uninterested in the debate about when is a prophet speaking as a prophet or whether one is ever justified in selective rejection of prophetic counsel. Such revealed knowledge invites one to trust the counsel of the living prophet even if we do not always understand it.”
Haynie went on to claim that the prophet is “someone God has personally prepared, called, corrected, inspired, rebuked, sanctified and sustained. That is why we are never spiritually at risk in following prophetic counsel.”
In 1980, Benson taught that “the living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” As he stated, “the living prophet has the power of TNT. By that I mean ‘Today’s News Today.” Benson went on to say that “the most important prophet, so far as you and I are concerned, is the one living in our day and age to whom the lord is currently revealing His will for us. . . . Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.”
Haynie made the exact same point in just one sentence of his general conference talk: “We should not seek to use the words of past prophets to dismiss the teachings of living prophets.”
Should past LDS prophets’ teaching be ignored?
Over the years, I’ve had dozens of Latter-day Saints tell me that Kimball’s book I hand out is not authoritative for them since this leader is deceased. In my conversations on the street, I have learned to use several questions to counter the criticism:
· “If a man like President Kimball did not teach the truth when he wrote his book as an apostle—the same position that Paul had when he wrote much of the New Testament—would you (the Latter-day Saint) agree that Kimball was teaching false doctrine?”
· “Now that President Benson is no longer living, should I consider his teaching on the 14 fundamentals on following the prophet to be false? Or do I only accept the things that he taught that agree with the teachings of the current prophet?”
· “President Nelson, 98, is not going to live forever. When he does pass away, does that mean his teaching on using the full name of the church (rather than a nickname such as ‘Mormon’ or ‘LDS’) has no more value than what Gordon B. Hinckley, now deceased, taught on how the word ‘Mormon’ actually means ‘more good’?”
· “Did any Old Testament prophet ever contradict a previous prophet? If so, could you show me an example?”
Despite the accolades heaped on him by Haynie, Russell M. Nelson is just a fallible human. But note, if Nelson is wrong about important biblical truths, then it behooves a wise person to reject his teachings, regardless of the admonition to follow him. Is it possible that the apostle John described someone like Nelson in 1 John 4:1? He wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If the teachings of LDS leaders are to be accepted as truth, they ought to be in line with what the Bible says. And if they are authorized by God, there should be no contradictions between what previous leaders taught and what the “living prophet” declares as truth today.