By Eric Johnson
Sometimes one of the most powerful apologetic approaches a Christian can offer is to allow LDS leaders to speak for themselves. While a layperson Latter-day Saint may say that their view “is just their opinion,” this should not be the case when the leader is speaking at General Conference or is writing in an official organ, including the church’s monthly magazines. After all, members are not supposed to create doctrine, as this is left to the leaders themselves. An excellent place to find a variety of quotations in an encyclopedic fashion is Bill McKeever’s In Their Own Words, which includes an electronic PDF copy that is searchable.
One of my favorite tactics is to utilize actual citations of LDS general authorities and official church manuals in my evangelism. In the main book (Sharing the Good News with Mormons), I wrote my chapter about how I utilize The Miracle of Forgiveness, authored in 1969 by Spencer W. Kimball, to get into many incredible conversations. Part of my goal is to give away highlighted copies of the book—as of 2020, we have given away more than 1,000 copies—but the main purpose in this approach takes place with those Mormons who already own it and have read it. When I find out that they own the book and/or have read it, I ask, “Are you doing everything that President Kimball said needed to be done to get forgiveness of sins?” (See my chapter to see more on how I use this in evangelistic conversations.) When It comes to the authority of the book itself, the Latter-day Saint has only two options:
- Agree that the book is authoritative while admitting they are not doing what Kimball said was necessary to gain the celestial kingdom
- Fight against the book and say what Kimball taught was not authoritative. However, there are many ways to show that he certainly thought what he was saying is supported by the church’s unique scripture. (For example, the book is on display on the second floor of the Church History Museum in a display case honoring Kimball; the book was republished in 1998 by the First Presidency and given away as a Christmas gift; the book was cited dozens of times in a 2006 church manual (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball) that was supposed to have been read by all Latter-day Saints the following year.) It appears that Kimball cites at least one scriptural reference (especially the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants) on every page! And he does a good job in explaining the meaning of these verses—thus, a Mormon who disagrees will have to explain a better way to interpret these LDS scriptures.
Generally, I have found that most Latter-day Saints will side with choice number one; although it’s not 100%, most who have read it seem to know that this book is a classic and what Kimball teaches really should be considered LDS doctrine.
Here’s the point in this tactic. Let the Latter-day Saint either own the unique teaching of their leader(s) or let them be the one who argues against their leaders. In other words, the Mormon has to pick a side, giving the Christian the ability to flesh out the evangelistic opportunity and go wherever the Mormon leads.
What should be considered an authoritative statement?
When it comes to general authorities in the LDS Church—from the three members of the First Presidency to the twelve apostles and the seventies—it must be understood that these men claim to hold positions in the “restored church” that were initiated during the days of Jesus. Thus, allowing themselves to be known by these titles is a major claim to authority.
Of course, the teachings found in the “Standard Works”—the KJV of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price—are considered to be authoritative. “Scripture” is made up of more than just these four written scriptures, as the church manual Gospel Principles explains:
In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, the Liahona or Ensign magazine, and instructions to local priesthood leaders. (Gospel Principles, p. 48).
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith discussed what it means to be inspired by the Lord:
WHAT IS SCRIPTURE? When one of the brethren stands before a congregation of the people today, and the inspiration of the Lord is upon him, he speaks that which the Lord would have him speak. It is just as much scripture as anything you will find written in any of these records, and yet we call these the standard works of the Church (Doctrines of Salvation 1:186. Italics in original).
With that said, the Latter-day Saint is under obligation to explain why any particular quote taken from:
- Standard Works
- General Conferences
- Church magazines
- Church manuals
- Talks where the leader believes he is inspired by God
is not to be taken as authoritative, correct teaching. Arguments against any general authority’s teaching—including “I don’t agree with him,” “I don’t like what he said,” or “I have received different personal revelation”—should not be considered reasons to reject what has been taught by representatives of the “latter-day” church.
To use this strategy using your own favorite citations, I recommend purchasing Bill McKeever’s In Their Own Words (Morris Publishing, 2016), an encyclopedic work of hundreds of page that includes quotes on a wide variety of topics, from “Aaronic Priesthood” to “Zion.” The book also comes with a CD disk containing the searchable PDF file. There are dozens of different topics to research.
With this as a background, let’s take a look at several different citations from LDS presidents that you could share with your LDS friend, along with questions that you could ask.
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet (History of the Church 6:408-409). This was said in May 1844, a month before Smith was killed at the Carthage Jail.
- James 4:16 says “you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Do you think Joseph Smith was boasting in a righteous manner? If so, can you explain how this is true?
- 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17 say, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Was Smith boasting in himself or in the Lord?
- Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Do you feel this verse applies to the attitude Joseph Smith had?
NOTE: Some may claim that Smith’s words were no different than what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11. To explain how this is not true, click on this article, “Were the apostle Paul and Joseph Smith two peas in a pod?”
Brigham Young (2nd president): Adam God
Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken—HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do (April 9, 1852, Journal of Discourses 1:50).
Brigham Young gave this sermon at a general conference. More than two decades later, he restated his belief in this teaching:
How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me – namely that Adam is our father and God (Deseret News, June 18, 1873, p. 308)
- Was Young wrong saying that Adam is God? If so, what other things could he have been wrong about?
- If you believe that Smith was correct in his teaching, can you explain why your leaders disagree with this teaching today?
- If a president could give wrong teaching in a general conference talk about the nature of God, would you say it’s possible that a current LDS president could also teach wrong doctrine at general conference? (How do you know the current leaders are teaching truth?)
Spencer W. Kimball (12th president): “Fallacious doctrine” of Grace
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 36).
And however powerful the saving grace of Christ, it brings exaltation to no man who does not comply with the works of the gospel (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 207).
We must understand that “exaltation” is the same as “eternal life” and is attaining godhood in the celestial kingdom. Yet Ephesians 2:8-9 says that a person is saved by grace alone and not by works. It says,
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
- Was the apostle Paul incorrect in teaching that salvation comes by grace alone, not by works? Or was Spencer Kimball correct that Paul’s teaching originates with Satan?
- If Kimball is correct, then what is the proper interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9?
Ezra Taft Benson (14th president): The “Virgin Birth”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16).
- Matthew 1:18 says that Mary “was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Was Matthew wrong? Or Ezra Taft Benson?
- I’m not trying to be crude, but if “God, our Eternal Father” “sired” Jesus in a literal fashion, as Benson so stated, and if Mary is God’s spirit child in the preexistent spirit world, then wouldn’t this be an incestuous relationship?
Thomas S. Monson (15th president): Keeping the commandments
Eternal life in the kingdom of our Father is your goal. Such a goal is not achieved in one glorious attempt, but rather is the result of a lifetime of righteousness, an accumulation of wise choices, even a constancy of purpose. Like the coveted “A” grade on the report card of a difficult and required college course, the reward of eternal life requires effort” (“Decisions Determine Destiny,” LDS Student Association Young Women’s Meeting, Logan, Utah, May 16, 1968. Cited in Teachings of Thomas S. Monson, p. 102).
- If you were to be graded on how well you keep the commandments, what grade would you say you deserve?
Many Latter-day Saints may point to “repentance” as their ticket to get to the “A” grade. If “repentance” is brought up, here are two other quotes to offer:
REPENTANCE MEANS TO TURN FROM SIN. Repentance, in one sentence, means turning from the things that have been wrong and never returning back to them. It isn’t to say, “I’m sorry,” and then go back and do it and again say, “I’m sorry.” That’s not it—it is to go about our way and sin no more. But if they sin again it is as though they haven’t been forgiven in the first instance, to use the Lord’s own language (see D&C 82:7) (11th President Harold B. Lee, Address at Priesthood Board Meeting, March 1, 1972. Cited in The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 114).
In the powerful scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 58, the Lord emphasizes that along with confessing sins, those desiring to repent will also forsake their sins. Forsaking a sin means we will never repeat it—never return to it—not in action or in word or even in our mind. Forsaking means that the sin is totally in our past. To forsake a sin will mean more than just feeling the remorse and sadness that it has brought to us and to others we have hurt; it will mean being certain that we don’t put ourselves into the same position that brought the sin before (Apostle Neil L. Andersen, The Divine Gift of Forgiveness, p. 207, italics mine).
D&C 58:42-43 says cited by Andersen says,
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
And D&C 82:7 mentioned by Lee says,
And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.
- According to D&C 58:42-43, as cited by Neil Andersen, the way a person can know that she has truly repented is she no longer commits the same sins. When you repent, do you ever repent those same sins?
- According to D&C 82:7, as cited by Harold B. Lee, a person who sins again after repenting will be given back all previously “forgiven” sins. Does this concern you?
Sometimes Mormons have an idea that they can finish their works after death. This is taught in neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon. For instance, Alma 34:32-35 teaches,
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. 33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. 34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. 35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
Gospel Principles uses this passage to explain, “The time to fulfill the requirements for exaltation is now (see Alma 34:32–34)” (p. 277). Spencer Kimball uses the same verses to state, “. . . the time to act is now, in this mortal life. Once cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments. . . .” (p. 10). Then, quoting the verses in Alma 34, Kimball concluded, “Even if we leave aside the many scriptures which bear similar testimony, reading and prayerfully meditating upon this one brings an awe-inspiring conviction of the need to repent—now!”
Marion G. Romney, a member of the First Presidency, told a general conference audience:
I have never found anything in the scriptures nor in the teachings of the prophets which encourages me to believe, that those who have the gospel taught to them here will be able to make up their loss if they choose to wait for the next life to obey it. I would not advise anyone to take that chance. As I understand the scriptures, taking such a hazard would be fatal (Conference Reports, April 1954, p.134)
- If you believe it is possible to finish the work after this life, do you have any biblical (or Book of Mormon) support to back up your position?
- How do you interpret verse 35 (“the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked”) if it doesn’t mean that the final state is determined by what is done in this life?
- If you agree with your leaders and this text in Alma that all work has to be done in this life, and if the only passing grade is achieving an “A” grade, do you believe you have done all you can do to earn the top grade? If not, when do you assume you will achieve this level?
These are just five areas—feel free to buy a copy of In Their Own Words and find some of your own quotes that you might like to try out. Latter-day Saints are free to believe whatever they want. However, they are not free to believe whatever they want and pass it off as authentic Mormon doctrine. By using actual quotes from their own leaders and church writings, the Christian puts the Latter-day Saint in a unique position of either accepting these difficult teachings or rejecting their leaders. This tactic is helpful in getting the Latter-day Saints to think on their own. Be sure to have biblical support for why you believe the way you do and show why having the proper beliefs really do matter.
Eric Johnson (Sandy, Utah) ministers full time with Mormonism Research Ministry (www.mrm.org). He has coauthored Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2012) and Mormonism 101 (Baker, 2015) with Bill McKeever. He has also penned Mormonism 101 for Teens (MRM, 2016). Eric received his MDiv from Bethel Seminary San Diego in 1991 and spent nearly two decades in secondary and college education.