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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 6: Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains

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 6: Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains

Those who preside over the Church are prepared, chosen, and inspired by the Lord.

This great Church has been presided over by men who have been specially prepared, specially taught, specially equipped for that high honor that has been conferred upon each as he has taken his place. Our Heavenly Father in his wisdom has surrounded these leaders of Israel with others who like themselves have faith and who do not bow to the individual because of his personality or individuality as president of the Church, but who recognize him as the mouthpiece of our Heavenly Father and sustain him and uphold him and pray for him, and love him, in order that they, too, may receive the blessings of our Heavenly Father.

There is no other organization like this in the world. There are no other people [who are] led as this people are led. It is truly said that those who preside are just men. It is through them that our Heavenly Father will perform his work. It is through them that the gospel must be taught. … The man who presides over us today is not presiding because of his own native ability. He is not presiding because he is the son of some great potentate, but he is in the position he occupies because our Father in heaven knows the integrity of his soul. Realizing the determination he would have to carry this message to all the nations of the earth, he prepared him for the high calling that has been conferred upon him. He presides as a representative of our Heavenly Father.

According to one LDS Church manual, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: 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, p. 45). Since Mormonism began in 1830, church leaders have rejected the idea of a closed canon, claiming that inspired teachings from God can be given to their living prophet. This is demonstrated in a Mormon-produced encyclopedia:

“Since Latter-day Saints believe in the genuine gift of prophecy, it follows that the revelations received by modern prophets should be esteemed as highly as those received by ancient ones. Hence, the LDS canon of scripture can never be closed. . . .” ( Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism 1:398).

The job of clarifying the position of the church has been entrusted to the Mormon prophet as well as to his two counselors. These three men comprise the First Presidency. A church manual for Mormon missionaries explains the role of the Mormon “prophet, seer, and revelator”:

“A living prophet directs the Church today. This prophet, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. He and the present Apostles trace their authority to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations through Joseph Smith.”  (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, p. 37).

Several biblical passages are typically used as support for this unique position. One of these is Amos 3:7, which reads, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Prior to this claim, God asked if it is possible for two to walk together unless they are in agreement. He then gave several rhetorical questions that can only be answered in the negative (see 3:4-6). Mormons usually insist that verse 7 is a general rule, implying that the New Testament church will be led by a living mortal prophet who will reveal the Lord’s “secrets” to the church. However, the context of this passage is speaking of impending danger and judgment upon the nation of Israel for the people’s iniquities (see 3:2). In other words, God used mortal men to warn theocratic Israel on His behalf. To disobey a prophet in the Old Testament often resulted in judgment and punishment. Their words were considered final, authoritative, and, ultimately, binding.

Nothing is implied in the Amos passage to show how this refers to the governmental role of a prophet living in post-Old Testament times. In fact, Christian theologian Wayne Grudem notes that “there is no convincing evidence that New Testament prophets in their role as prophets ever governed early churches through ‘charismatic leadership’ by means of prophetic declarations about the direction of the church. This theory is based on some people’s ideas of how the church ‘must have’ or ‘could have’ developed, but it is not supported by the facts of the New Testament itself.” (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, 160).  Grudem points out that the role of a New Testament prophet is quite different from the Old Testament, saying, “It is not surprising, then, that when we read the New Testament we find several times when the apostles are connected with the Old Testament prophets, but New Testament prophets, by contrast, are never connected with Old Testament prophets in the same way.”  (Ibid., p. 28)

Though the LDS Church claims to be a restoration of how things were done in ancient times, it breaks with scripture by insisting there can only be one “living prophet” whose authority is above all others. This pattern is not found in the New Testament. For instance, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:29 that when two or three prophets speak, those who heard them were allowed to weigh, or judge, what was said. How were they to be judged? Grudem explains, “As a prophet was speaking, each member of the congregation would listen carefully, evaluating the prophecy in the light of the Scripture and the authoritative teaching that he or she already knew to be true.”(Ibid, p. 58)  Paul also told the Thessalonian believers that they should not despise prophecies but were to prove, or test, “all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21).  This would obviously include prophetic utterances.

Another passage often cited by Mormons is Ephesians 2:20. The apostles and prophets mentioned here are the foundation of the church in so far as they fit with Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone. Hebrews 1:1-2 states how God spoke previously through the prophets, but has “in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” First Corinthians 3:11 explains, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” A foundation must align with the cornerstone that sets its trajectories and measurements. In the same way, the proclamations given by the apostles and prophets were to always be measured by how it matched with Jesus’ message and life. As prophesied in the Old Testament and declared as the fulfillment in the New Testament, Jesus Christ—who is clearly declared as God manifest in the flesh—is the living prophet for the Christian. And while Mormonism teaches that men are necessary to guide the church with authority, the Bible says the task of guidance is given to the Holy Spirit. John 16:13 says, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.”

I have been thinking today of the humble but great men who have led this Church from its organization. … I have been well acquainted with [many of the] Presidents [of the Church] and believe that they were all men of God. It is inconceivable that our Heavenly Father would choose any other kind to preside over his Church.

How is it possible to tell a false prophet from a true prophet? For one, a true prophet will teach about the true God of the Bible and correctly identify how a person can have a relationship with God. False prophets are to be rejected. Jesus even said in Matthew 7 to watch out for false prophets who come in sheep’s’ clothing but are, deep down, ravenous wolves. Jesus told His followers to judge by their fruits, and if the fruits of Mormonism include the teaching of a false God, a false Christ, and a false Gospel, then by all means the prophets teaching in these things ought to be rejected (also see 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:8).

What happened when [Joseph Smith] died? … [The Saints] didn’t hold a conclave, choose a chairman and pick a new leader. The leader had already been chosen by the Lord. He was the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brigham Young. … The Church as a body in all its sessions sustained him as President. When he died, his counselors did not say they were the President, but the Quorum of the Twelve presided for a long time, and then their senior member was sustained as President of the Church. Perfect order prevailed. …

This is the same Brigham Young who taught:

  • God the Father had a body with parts and was a person of flesh (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 24)
  • God the Father was once a man in mortal flesh and was a finite being (Journal of Discourses 7:333, 9:286)
  • Adam was God (Journal of Discourses 1:51)
  • God the Father is not everywhere (omnipresent) (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 29)
  • Man can become “a God” (Journal of Discourses 6:282)
  • “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of god, are those who enter into polygamy” (Journal of Discourses 11:269)
  • Jesus was literally begotten by God the Father, the result of “natural action” (Journal of Discourses 1:51; 8:115; 11:268)
  • A person can be saved only by “every ordinance” as well as every commandment and requirement (Teachings of Presidents of the Church—Brigham Young, p. 18

To choose this man to become a “prophet” even though he held to such unbiblical teachings was the wrong decision. “Order” at the sake of biblical accuracy is nothing more than disorder.

I have traced some of these things in order that there may be no mistake. Joseph Smith did not choose himself to be President of the Church. Neither did any who followed him. … The appointment comes from our Heavenly Father through His inspiration, and men receive all the power that comes with an appointment.

Unfortunately for the Mormon, there is no evidence that God ever intended Joseph Smith to begin a “restoration” by organizing the LDS Church. He had no witnesses to his so-called “First Vision.” How he received God’s words to write the Doctrine and Covenants, nobody knows. We are left with trusting Smith’s word that God even spoke to him. Since Joseph Smith’s revelation is contrary to the revealed Word of God, I as a Christian have good reason to believe that he was commissioned by God.

How grateful we ought to be to know that this work is not the work of man, but it is the work of the Lord; that this Church, that bears the name of Jesus Christ, is directed by him, and he will permit no man or group of men to destroy it. He will not permit the men who preside over his Church to lead the people into error, but he will sustain them with his almighty power. He will magnify them in the eyes of good and great men and women. He will bless their ministry and it will be fraught with success. Those who oppose and find fault will not find joy in their opposition. Those who criticize and seek to destroy the influence of the leaders of the Church will suffer the result of their wrong-doing. There is need for us to have thanksgiving in our hearts that we are led by holy men who are inspired by our Father in heaven to teach us day by day.

While Mormons may give lip service to the idea that their church alone has access to modern-day revelation from God, many have brushed aside claims made by their leaders with whom they disagree, especially after those particular leaders die. This position sends a clear message that they feel the “revelation” of these leaders is nothing more than the personal opinion of the speaker and not to be taken seriously. One proponent of this thinking is LDS apologist Michael R. Ash, who said that

“the official position of Mormonism is that of a fallible prophet, yet few Mormons really seem to believe it. . .  . we can know if leaders speak the will of God when we, ourselves, are ‘moved by the Holy Ghost’ (D&C 68:3-4). 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.”  (Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, 21-22).

He also said on page 16, “We need to be aware that sometimes we are too quick to uncritically accept the things we hear or read—even from sources such as Church leaders or in Church magazines.” Ash’s claim that church leaders and official church publications can be products of the day and culture means some false ideas from Salt Lake City could be possibly disseminated.  This salad bar philosophy of picking and choosing among the leadership’s teachings is not easily supported by official church manuals and general conference addresses throughout the years. For example, President Wilford Woodruff explained the importance of the living prophet: “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 199).

President Harold B. Lee gave an address to a general conference audience that has been quoted in a number of church manuals. He said:

“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the word and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet. . . . There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’” (Conference Reports, Oct. 1970, 152; Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).

President Spencer W. Kimball agreed, saying, “Let us hearken to those we sustain as prophets and seers, as well as the other brethren, as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!”  (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 256).

Clarifying official church doctrine is not the job of Mormon lay members or employees at church-owned schools. President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “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.”  (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual: Religion 333, 25). A 2010 LDS teacher’s manual reports, “The President of the Church was foreordained in the premortal life and is called in mortality after long, faithful service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He is set apart to exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven on earth and formally sustained by the membership of the Church.”  (Teachings of the Living Prophets Teacher Manual: Religion 333, 13.) Apostle M. Russell Ballard declared to a general conference audience, “When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History shows that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophet counsel.” (Ensign, May 2001, 65. Quoted in Teachings of the Living Prophets Teacher Manual: Religion 333, 6).

When asked by television interviewer Larry King to describe his role as the leader of a major religion, President Gordon B. Hinckley replied, “My role is to declare doctrine.” (Larry King Live, September 8, 1998). This thinking can be traced to D&C 21:4-5. Speaking specifically of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith, the commandment supposedly given by God states that members are to “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.” Harold B. Lee taught that this passage applied to LDS prophets in general and should not be limited to just the founder of Mormonism.  (Stand Ye in Holy Places: Selected Sermons and Writings of President Harold B. Lee, 129).

Christians who ask Mormons to explain what their leaders have said are often rebuffed with a comment made by Joseph Smith in 1843. Speaking to two members in a private conversation, he remarked that “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.”  (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 5:265. Also see Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, 236-239). All things being equal, however, this noncanonical comment from Smith’s journal really becomes no more authoritative than the quotes that the Mormon might be trying to sidestep.) And notice that this argument is not even brought up in the church manual being critiqued in this article.

While he was serving as a church apostle, Ezra Taft Benson gave a discourse in 1980 called “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” The talk was dusted off and quoted twice at the October 2010 general conference. Seventy Claudio R. M. Costa  and Seventy Kevin R. Duncan  both listed the main points of this speech given three decades earlier. Consider several of the points:

• First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

• Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

• Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

• Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

• Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

• Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

• Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the first presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.

Costa concluded his talk,

“We are privileged to have the words of our living prophets, seers, and revelators during this wonderful general conference. They will speak the will of the Lord for us, His people. They will transmit the word of God and His counsel to us. Pay attention and follow their instruction and suggestions, and I testify to you that your life will be completely blessed.”

Why do I spend so much time reiterating the theme that George Albert Smith already seems to be giving? I want it to be clear that Mormons have been duly instructed that they are to follow the “prophets” of God, as determined in Salt Lake City. They are, as the subtitle puts it, “prepared, chosen, and inspired by the Lord.” If that is the case, someone like Ash who would like to minimize his leaders’ teachings needs to be countered, as his view is not the way this church operates. Mormon prophets and other leaders are the ones who give the marching orders to their people, not the people determining when they are (or are not) authoritative and true.

I know of nothing of great importance that has happened in the world that the Lord through his prophets has not advised the people of beforehand, so that they have not been left in ignorance of what was to develop, but could plan their lives, if they would, to their advantage. … The case of Noah is in point. He was commanded of the Lord to build an ark in which the righteous might be preserved from the flood which was to come. Noah built the ark and preached repentance to his generation for a period of one hundred and twenty years, thus fully warning them. The people, however, were so wicked that they failed to heed the warning. Having their agency, they chose evil rather than righteousness. The rains descended, and the floods came, and only Noah and his family of eight souls were saved. All had been fully warned, but because of their illfulness and their refusal to repent they were drowned. [See Moses 8:13–30.]

What does this mean? If it means what it says on the surface, then nothing has happened of major consequence that the prophets didn’t forewarn. If that’s the case, why didn’t the prophets use their foresight to guide the United States in times of war? What about times of natural disasters? After all, people could have been forewarned about imminent floods, tsunamis, or hurricanes that are about to demolish a place where people lived. Or couldn’t President Hinckley have let the authorities know before 9-11 so that tragedy could have been prevented or, at the very least, nobody would have gone to work in the Twin Towers that fateful day? When Smith said he “knows of nothing of great importance that has happened in the world that the Lord…has not advised the people of beforehand,” how exactly is the prophet doing his job today?

The Lord wants us to be happy. That is why he gave us the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why he conferred the priesthood upon us. He wants us to have joy. That is why he organized this church and set in it the various offices, and all these things are in order. … If you will follow the leadership of the Lord, and those whom the Lord sustains, you will not fall away into darkness, lose the light, transgress the laws of God, and forfeit your privileges that he is so anxious that all of us should enjoy.

Where does the Bible say that God wants people to be “happy”? Fulfilled, of course.  Living life fully and completely, yes! (John 10:10) But “happy” is an emotion, and things are not always going to feel “happy,” even when we are Christian believers. Joy is different, one of the fruits of the spirit, and that is much different than happy. As Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

There is only one pathway of safety for me in this day and that is to follow those whom the Lord has appointed to lead. I may have my own ideas and opinions, I may set up my own judgment with reference to things, but I know that when my judgment conflicts with the teachings of those that the Lord has given to us to point the way, I should change my course. If I desire salvation I will follow the leaders that our Heavenly Father has given to us, as long as he sustains them.

We ask once more, how do we know the LDS leaders are the ones “the Lord has appointed to lead”? Instead of trusting so much in these leaders, perhaps we ought to put more trust in the Word of God.

Those who are humble and faithful sustain and defend the Lord’s servants.

This is a statement of manipulation, which is like saying “those who give me $1,000 are gentlemen and scholars.” Thus, this heading is just silly.

… Just as long as [the President] presides over this Church, it matters not how many years it will be, our Heavenly Father will give him strength, power, wisdom, judgment, and inspiration to talk to Israel as they need to be talked to. We, in following his leadership, must be like Aaron and Hur of ancient times; we must uphold his hands, that through him the Lord will let the blessings of heaven descend on us and this people.

Again, it is a major assumption to say that following the LDS leadership is the same as following God’s commandments. If these leaders are wrong, they must be avoided at all costs.

When we criticize our leaders or disregard their counsel, we allow the adversary to lead us astray.

There are those among us … who have been blinded by the philosophies and foolishness of men. There are those who reject the advice and counsel of the man that God has placed at the head of this Church. …

People who haven’t very much information suddenly come along with a bright idea, and they suggest “this is the way” or “that is the way,” and although it is in conflict with the advice of the Lord some are persuaded to try it. The Lord has given safe advice and appointed the President of his Church to interpret that advice. If we ignore what he advises, as the President of the Church, we may discover that we have made a serious mistake.

The Presidency of the Church … are the representatives of our Heavenly Father, not only to this people, but they represent him to all the people of the earth. We would do well if we would magnify and honor these men he has placed at our head. They are men with human frailties, they will make mistakes, but if we will be as charitable to the mistakes that they make as we are to our own failures and mistakes, we will see their virtues as we see our own.

I stand here to plead with you, my brethren and sisters, not to permit words of criticism or of unkindness to pass your lips about those whom the Lord has called to lead us. Do not be found in the companionship of those who would belittle them or weaken their influence among the children of men. If you do, I can say to you that you will find yourselves in the power of the adversary. You will be influenced by him to go as far as possible from the pathway of truth, and if you do not repent you may find when it is too late that you have lost the “pearl of great price.” Because of your selfishness and your blindness you will have been led away, and your loved ones … will be sorrowing on the other side of the veil because of your weakness and your folly.

The adversary is not asleep. He is deceiving many and leading them to sin. … There are some who are teaching false doctrine; and some who are seeking to persuade men and women to violate the commandments of our Heavenly Father. … If the members of this Church who find fault with the leaders of the Church and criticise those who are giving their very lives to bless and benefit us would only pause long enough to ask prayerfully, “Which of these teachers is it safe to follow?” they would have no difficulty in finding their right course and would sustain those whom the Lord sustains.

Mormons are warned to refrain from any criticism of the prophet and other General Authorities. For example,  President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,

“JUDGMENT AWAITS CHURCH MEMBERS WHO CRITICIZE BRETHREN. But it is not of this class particularly that I desire to refer, but to those members of the Church who have entered into the waters of baptism and have made covenants before the Lord that they will observe his laws and respect his priesthood, who have been persuaded, or who are in danger of being persuaded, by such characters.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:296).

Hinckley told a group of students:

“‘You have been taught to think critically, to explore, to consider various sides of every question. This is all good,’ he said. ‘But you can do so without looking for flaws in the church or in its leaders.’ Hinckley said that church critics ‘are wearing out their lives trying to find fault with this church. They mine history. They examine the words of general authorities.’ Though they may be ‘enjoying their day in the sun, their sun will set and they will not be remembered for good,’ he said.” (“Mormon President Warns Students of Pornography, Criticizing Church Leaders,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 1996, C1).

If what George Albert Smith is saying is correct, then what right did Paul have to oppose him? According to Galatians 2:11-13,

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”

Once more, we ask: If leaders are leading people astray, should they be followed.  If Paul followed Smith’s words, it would have been wrong to have criticized a fellow apostle, especially one who was one of the original twelve and was considered a main leader in early Christianity. But Peter was wrong and needed to be admonished. Why shouldn’t LDS leaders be open to criticism when what they teach is contrary to the true gospel message?

When we sustain our leaders, we commit to follow their counsel and magnify our own callings.

Even if their counsel is wrong? Of course, God has given the Christians church leaders to guide them into the right, but when those particular leaders lead us astray, their teaching should be rejected. If they prove to be heretics, they should be rejected as Christian.

Ultimately the Mormon people are required to depend on living mortal men for guidance, even when the teachings of these men deviate from the Bible. Christians, on the other hand, can rest assured that their living prophet (Jesus) will never lead them astray. Reading the Bible and understanding His special revelation thus becomes the goal of every faithful Christian believer.

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