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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 11, Revelation from God to His Children

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. 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.

Chapter 11: Revelation from God to His Children

“Not only has the Lord given us the advice already recorded in the scriptures to guide us but he has placed a leader in this Church, one of his sons who has been chosen and ordained and set apart to be the President. He is our pilot and he will be directed by a voice that will enable him to lead us where we should go. If we are wise we will not set up our judgment against him but will be happy to honor him in his place as long as the Lord sustains him.”

President Smith also used his experience on the airplane to teach that each of us can receive revelation to guide our own lives if we are worthy:

“If we are living as we know that we should we are entitled to the whispering of a still small voice calling attention to danger, saying this is the pathway of safety, walk ye in it. … If we have erred in our conduct the voice will whisper to us ‘turn back, you have made a mistake; you have disregarded the advice of your Heavenly Father.’ Turn from the error of your way while there is yet time, for if you go too far from the right path you will not hear the voice and you may be hopelessly lost. …

“My advice to you is to get the Spirit of God and keep it and the only way we will retain it is by living near him, by keeping his commandments. … Listen to the still small voice that will always direct you if you are worthy of it in a path that means eternal happiness.”

The distinction between this great Church and that of all other churches from the beginning has been that we believe in divine revelation; we believe that our Father speaks to man today as he has done from the time of Adam. We believe and we know—which is more than mere belief—that our Father has set his hand in this world for the salvation of the children of men.

It is not only because we have faith in these books [the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price] that we are considered a peculiar people but also because we confidently believe that our Father in heaven has spoken in this day and age. In fact, we know that there is communication with the heavens. We believe that Jehovah has the same feeling towards us, the same influence over us that he had for and over his children who lived in this world in times that are past.

Later in the chapter, Smith explains: It is unique these days to belong to a church, wherein those who are members believe that the Lord speaks through their leaders. When we are instructed by the President of this Church, we believe he tells us what the Lord would have us do. To us it is something more than just the advice of man. We believe that, and it searches our souls, and we are prompted to renew our determination to be what God would have us be.

We have had misguided souls in the Church who have, in their ignorance, opposed the advice of the [President of the Church], not sensing the fact that they were opposing the Lord and they have fallen into darkness and sorrow, and unless they repent they will not find a place in the celestial kingdom.

Let us remember that the President of this Church has been officially designated as the pilot of the Church here in mortality to represent the Master of heaven and earth.

The idea that the Mormon Church has a leader that guides humans in these “latter-days” is not controversial with Latter-day Saints. Over and over again—as these quotes from George Albert Smith suggest—the Church is told that the LDS leader is the “pilot” who ought to be followed.

Consider what Apostle D. Todd Christofferson said at the April (2012) General Conference of the Mormon Church: “…we must admit there has been and still persists some confusion about our doctrine and how it is established. That is the subject I wish to address today.”

In his remarks, Apostle Christofferson explained,

“The President of the Church may announce or interpret doctrines based on revelations to him (see, for example, D&C 138). Doctrinal expression may also come through the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see, for example, Official Declaration 2)… At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘a prophet [is] a prophet only when [he] is acting as such.” (Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign, May 2012, p. 88)

This, after he said several pages earlier:

“By 1954, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., then a counselor in the First Presidency, explained how doctrine is promulgated in the Church and the preeminent role of the President of the Church. Speaking of members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he stated: ‘[We] should [bear] in mind that some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a special calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching; they have a resulting limitation, and the resulting limitation upon their power and authority in teaching applies to every other officer and member of the Church, for none of them is spiritually endowed as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Furthermore, as just indicated, the President of the Church has a further and special spiritual endowment in this respect, for he is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the whole Church.’” (pp. 86-87)

OK, so let’s put Christofferson’s thinking into an organized order:

  1. The General Authorities have authority to declare doctrine.
  2. However, some of the General Authorities are limited.
  3. Apparently, the only one without limitation is the President of the Church.
  4. At the same time, if the President says something out of sync that is just his personal (though well-thought out) opinion, then it is “not meant to be official or binding for the whole church.”
  5. We really can’t trust ANYTHING from these leaders–including the Prophets– because anything they say could possibly be just their personal opinion.
  6. Therefore, our personal revelation takes precedence over the words of the Prophet.

This idea that the Prophet could possibly give his mere opinion, not doctrine, is not the message given by  13th President Ezra Taft Benson’s speech three decades ago. The sermon (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”) was dusted off twice at the October 2010 General Conference and recited, point by point…twice. In that speech Benson said that a prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” for something to be considered a word from the Lord.

But Christofferson—as have other leaders—makes it appear that the Mormon leader’s words can be trusted only if my personal revelation tells me he’s not merely speaking from his own limited perspective/opinion. As stated above in point 6, it all boils down to personal revelation, doesn’t it? The Mormon must confirm through his personal feelings that whatever the prophet said is accurate. This leads me to ask a couple of questions:

  1. Christofferson refers to a quote supposed given by Joseph Smith (“a prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as such”). Why should this quote be considered authoritative rather than just Smith’s mere opinion? After all, according to the fifth volume of the History of the Church, Smith gave this statement to a Michigan couple who apparently insisted that a prophet was always a prophet. Was Smith’s “opinion” voted on by the membership? Pronounced in General Conference? To both questions, no. Again, why should we not believe Brigham Young’s teaching on the Adam-God “doctrine” (see Journal of Discourses 1:50-51) over something spoken by Smith in a private conversation?
  2. If my personal revelation (as a Mormon) told me that Christofferson’s views were wrong, what right does anyone have to tell me that I am wrong?

If the Church has a prophet who has a direct connection with God and will guide the people into truth, then shouldn’t he be trusted? To infer that the Prophet should be trusted while allowing for the possibility that he could just be giving his personal opinion is double-speak, leading to a spiritual free-for-all.

By the unbeliever, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ in all ages of the world have been considered a peculiar people. When the Lord has spoken through his servants, there have been at different periods of time many people in the earth who have said, “I do not believe in revelation.” This age is no exception to the rule. The thousands, yes, the millions, of our Father’s children who live in the earth are but repeating the history of the past when they deny that God has revealed again his will to the children of men, and say that they have no need of any further revelation.

We do not believe that the heavens are sealed over our heads, but that the same Father who loved and cherished the children of Israel loves and cherishes us. We believe that we are as much in need of the assistance of our Heavenly Father in the directing of our lives as they were. We know that in the day and age in which we live the seal has been broken, and God has again spoken from the heavens.

Christians believe that revelation is given by God’s Word, so additional “revelation” contradicting the teachings of the Bible should not be accepted as truth. There are many passages to show how we can trust in God’s Word and the inerrancy of scripture. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for daily living. Christians can receive true doctrine from the writings of God’s prophets and apostles. The problem with doctrines taught by unique LDS scripture is that they usually contradict the teachings of the Bible. Thus, when we ask such questions as, “Who is God? What is the nature of Jesus? How does a person receive salvation?” we should not have to rely on “scriptures” that contradict previous revelation.

The Lord guides His people through revelation to the President of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by direct commandment from our Heavenly Father. Upon the rock of revelation this Church was founded and by revelation it has been guided.

The account of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”—supposedly when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith as a 14-year-old boy—has too many problems to be considered believable. For more information, see this.  If the First Vision is inaccurate, then there is no “revelation” on which the Mormon Church was founded.

When men, as they have sometimes done in order to win their success along some line or another, have come to an individual or individuals and said, “I have had this dream and this is what the Lord wants us to do,” you may know that they are not on the Lord’s side of the line. The dreams and visions and revelations of God to the children of men have always come through his regularly appointed servant. You may have dreams and manifestations for your own comfort or for your own satisfaction, but you will not have them for the Church. … We need not be deceived. My soul is filled with gratitude this day to know that as we continue our membership in the Church we do have a pilot who knows the way, and if we will follow his direction … we will not meet the spiritual disasters that the world is meeting but we will go about doing good, blessing mankind, and rejoicing in the companionship of those we love.

As explained earlier, the words of the Prophet are authoritative when the membership receives a personal revelation that what he has said is true. But what do we do when an individual receives a personal revelation/dream/vision that contradicts the prophet? How is that individual supposed to know that his feelings are misleading him? Once more, the Mormon cannot have it both ways.

We are each entitled to personal inspiration from the Holy Ghost if we obey the commandments.

I believe in you, my brethren and sisters. … You are entitled to the same knowledge that he is who presides over the Church. You are entitled to the same inspiration that flows to those whom God has caused to be ordained as His leaders. You are entitled to the inspiration of the Spirit, and the knowledge that He is your Father, and when I say “you” I speak of all those who have obeyed the commandments of our Father, and have partaken of the sweet influence of the Spirit of the Lord in the Church of Christ. … Each of us is entitled to the inspiration of the Lord in proportion to the manner in which we live a godly life.

According to George Albert Smith, a person must “obey the commandments” to receive accurate “inspiration” from God. However, what if a member claims to have kept the commandments, having “partaken of the sweet influence of the Lord” and keeping herself sexually pure, having not imbibed in hot drinks, attended church regularly, etc., yet disagrees with the prophet. Should her disagreement be considered valid? There is no doubt that, when pitting a prophet against an obedient member, the prophet will never lose in the eyes of the church. After all, name a time when the church accepted the belief of any non-GA individual over the teaching of its current leadership. These General Authorities are not providing their mere opinions when they speak at General Conference sessions and authorize church manuals to be written. They are, as Gordon Hinckley said it, declaring “doctrine.”

You are not dependent alone upon history, nor upon the teachings of any man, to know that this is the work of the Lord, because you have had it burned into your souls by the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is no doubt in your mind as to your origin, nor as to the place you will go to when this life is over, if you are faithful to the trust reposed in you.

Ask any Latter-day Saint which place he/she will go when this life is over (Celestial?) and the response typically given is “I don’t know,” followed by “I hope/I think/I’m sure” statements. This is because Latter-day Saints with whom I’ve spoken “know” they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). They realize that they haven’t been “faithful” to the covenants they have given in the temple and at the sacrament meetings. They understand the heavy load of guilt that rests on their shoulders. They cannot declare, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all their sins are forgiven, even though  this is the very purpose of why Jesus came to this earth (Matthew 1:21). It is a shame that Latter-day Saints—among the hardest-working religious people in the world—can’t place their entire trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Instead, they rely on their own works, with the constant understanding that they’re unable to do everything they were supposed to do.

I stand here today profoundly grateful for the knowledge that has come to me. I am thankful that I am not dependent upon any individual for the testimony that I possess. Of course, I am grateful for the encouragement I received from others who possess light and truth, and who give encouragement by lives of righteousness, but I do not depend on any of them for a knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of mankind and Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord. These things I know for myself.

We come right back to the problem. Is it possible that Joseph Smith was giving his mere opinion? According to this manual and Apostle Christofferson, yes. A Mormon could insist, “I know he is a prophet and can be trusted.” And I respond, “How do you know, for sure?” After all, have you ever been wrong in the past? Remember, we can certainly hold that Smith’s words are true, but as quoted by Christofferson, it is possible that Smith could have been wrong. If what Smith said contradicted the Bible, are you willing to put your trust in Joseph Smith rather than God’s revealed Word.

The Holy Ghost is a safe guide along the pathway of mortal life.

The companionship of [God’s] Spirit … is a safe guide along the pathway of mortal life and a sure preparation for a home in his celestial kingdom.17

We read in Job that there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding [see Job 32:8]. If we keep the commandments of God we are entitled to that inspiration, and if we live as the sons of God ought to live, we will have that inspiration, and nobody can prevent it, and the result will be our own physical and mental and moral development in mortality, and continued development throughout the ages of eternity.

Everything in Mormonism is based on “keeping the commandments.” In fact, D&C 25:15 says that all, not “some,” of the commandments must be kept. The question for the Latter-day Saint is, “How are you doing at that?” No Latter-day Saint will say that he or she is keeping “all” of them.

When life’s labor is complete may we find that we have listened to the whispering of that still, small voice that always guides us in the path of righteousness, and know that it has meant for us the opening of the door to the Celestial kingdom, for ourselves and those we love, to go forward throughout the ages, … happy eternally.

Mormonism is based on one’s feelings, relying on “that still, small voice.” But when that “voice” contradicts God’s Word, this ought to be an issue. First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”

When a Mormon friend says he has prayed about his faith and received confirmation that he is correct, you might ask whether that person’s feelings have always been accurate. At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our gut feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?

The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.

The Mormon who is striving for “happy eternally” has to base his or her hope on the “opinion” of fallible men such as Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson. Instead of trusting in them, the God of the Bible should be trusted. Only then will a person be able to truly understand what Paul called the “peace that passes all understanding.”

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