By Eric Johnson and Bill McKeever
Mormon doctrine teaches that God reveals himself to the LDS prophet. This is integral to the claim that the LDS Church is the only true church. Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, stated that he restored the office of prophet to the world and proclaimed,
God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 363).
The Mormon prophet is always right even if he is wrong. In 1970, President Harold B. Lee said:
Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident…. Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church. (Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 152-153, as quoted in Living Prophets for a Living Church, p. 32).
Even individual thinking on the part of the Mormon is challenged. One LDS Church publication stated:
Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy…. It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to “do their own thinking.” (Improvement Era, June 1945, p. 354).
To make sure the reader would understand what was just written, it added:
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.
Another “obey at all cost” quote was made in 1979 by N. Eldon Tanner, the first counselor in the First Presidency, who responded to a statement made by Young Women General President Elaine Cannon at the October 1978 General Conference. Cannon had said, “Personal opinions may vary. Eternal principles never do. When the prophet speaks, sisters, the debate is over” (Ensign, November 1978, p. 108). Instead of criticizing this statement, which sounds very similar to the Improvement Era article, Tanner referred to Cannon’s speech and said, “I was impressed by that simple statement, which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us. Wherever I go, my message to the people is: Follow the prophet…. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over” (Ensign, August 1979, pp. 2-3). This thought is supported by LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard when he said that “modern revelation to living prophets is just as profound as books of scripture.” At an August 1991 fireside address given to Mormon missionaries, he taught:
Do not take this fact casually that we have a living prophet and that we have living apostles on the face of the earth. Listen to what they teach. When general conference comes, pay attention to what they’re saying…. Isn’t it exciting to live in a time when we have a prophet of God to tell us what needs to be done (LDS Church News, August 10, 1991, p. 7).
John A. Widtsoe, an earlier LDS apostle, taught that church doctrine should not be accepted blindly. He wrote:
The doctrine of the Church cannot be fully understood unless it is tested by mind and feelings, by intellect and emotions, by every power of the investigator. Every Church member is expected to understand the doctrine of the Church intelligently. There is no place in the Church for blind adherence (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 226).
Despite his quote, Widtsoe believed that true revelation only came through the LDS presidency, with the prophet as the mediator between God and man. He wrote:
If we need revelation for our guidance, what channel should they come through? The Lord will speak to us through the head of His Church, through him who holds the Presidency…. If any person other than the Presidency should profess to receive revelations for its government, would you consider them genuine revelations? If so, you would be mistaken (Priesthood and Church Government, p. 248).
Ezra Taft Benson felt that the LDS prophet should always be obeyed. In a 1980 speech, he pointed out that the prophet speaks for God in everything and will never lead the LDS Church astray. He said that the prophet “is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials” and can “speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.” Benson also taught that the prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give authoritative Scripture (Fundamentals in Following the Prophets, p. 3)
Mormon leaders have consistently taught that the prophet is humanity’s direct connection with God. Even with quotes that are more than a hundred years old, the modern LDS Church affirms the teaching by requoting from past leaders in official manuals. For instance, sixth President Joseph F. Smith was cited several times in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, saying,
[The] President is the mouthpiece of God, the revelator, the translator, the seer, and the Prophet of God to the whole Church. It is he who holds the keys of this Holy Priesthood—the keys which unlock the doors of the Temples of God and of the ordinances of His house for the salvation of the living and the redemption of the dead. It is he who holds the sealing power, by which man may bind on earth and it shall be bound in heaven, and by which men duly authorized and appointed of him who holds the keys may loose on earth and it will be loosed in heaven. This is the order of the Holy Priesthood (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 141).
He also said,
Honor and praise be unto [the President of the Church,] that instrument in the hands of God of establishing order in the midst of uncertainty, and certain rules by which we know our bearings (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 222).
In addition, he taught that “the President of the Church is recognized as the only person through whom divine communication will come as law and doctrine to the religious body” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 226). Eighth President George Albert Smith explained, “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” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, p. 116).
As tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith put it,
The Latter-day Saints should put their trust in their leaders, and follow the teachings of the authorities of the Church, for they speak unto them with the voice of prophecy and inspiration. The Lord has declared in the very first section in the Doctrine and Covenants, that whether he speaks by his own voice or through the voice of his servants, it is the same [see D&C 1:38]. Therefore, we are under just as great responsibility and obligation to hearken unto the voice of the one who stands at the head to teach the people, or to listen unto the voice of the elders of Israel, as they carry among the people the message of truth, as we are [if] the Lord should send from his presence an angel or should come himself to declare these things unto us (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 145).
In the October 2010 general conference, Seventy Kevin R. Duncan explained,
Brothers and sisters, like the Saints of 1848, we can choose to follow the prophet, or we can look to the arm of flesh. May we have the wisdom to trust in and follow the counsel of the living prophets and apostles. I am a witness of their goodness. I testify that they are called of God. I also testify that there is no safer way to approach life, find answers to our problems, gain peace and happiness in this world, and protect our very salvation than by obeying their words (“Our Very Survival,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2010, p. 36).
While Mormons generally profess their loyalty to the LDS prophet and believe he could supersede the standard works, some believe that limitations should be attached. If the prophet says something with which they disagree (i.e. opposing homosexual marriage or not allowing women to hold the priesthood), they tend to classify it as mere opinion.
While this may sound logical, it contradicts the LDS leadership and, thus, Mormonism. If it is all right for a Mormon to arbitrarily override a teaching from the living prophet, there is no need to have a prophet in the first place. It is interesting to note that many Mormons do not agree with the prophet or with one another. There are different types of Mormons ranging from the liberal Mormon, who is less apt to believe the prophet, to conservative Mormons who toe the line and accept anything coming from the prophet’s mouth to be scripture. It is dangerous to put so much trust in a single individual, especially when he could advocate doctrine that contradicts the Bible.
To question the prophet of Mormonism is akin to questioning God. Therefore, all LDS members are expected to give total allegiance to the leader in Salt Lake City. While Mormon prophets are looked upon as being above reproach, Galatians 2:11-12 states that not even Peter himself was beyond criticism. As a result of Peter’s inconsistent behavior among the Jews, Paul felt compelled to confront him face-to-face on the issue.
As stated before, placing one’s eternal trust in mortal men, such as the Mormon prophets and apostles, instead of the Bible is dangerous. Whereas man has been known to fail or to be wrong, it is only through God’s Word that we can be assured that all doctrine and teachings are true.