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Twice a year, during General Conference, the membership of the LDS Church sustains the president of the Church as a prophet, seer and revelator. The belief that there is a modern prophet on earth to guide the Latter-day Saints is one of the core doctrines of the Church.
Overview of LDS position
The Lord has designated the President of the Church as the only one entitled to receive revelations and directions for the Church as a whole. He is the man chosen by God to say the things God Himself would say if He were speaking directly to man. The modern prophets' words can be found in the General Conference reports or in Church magazines.
Overview of Critics' position
Although the LDS church claims that president of the Church speaks directly for God himself, there have been numerous instances throughout the history of the Church where the prophet has made incorrect prophesies, or where he has taught things as eternal principles which were later changed or voided. For example, many teachings given by the prophet Brigham Young, often in General Conference, are now specifically denied by the LDS church. If prophesies can be false, and doctrines given by one prophet can be invalidated by another, what good is a prophet? If the prophet is only speaking as a prophet sometimes, and as a man at other times (over the pulpit in General Conference), how is a member of the church to tell the difference?
One of the great benefits of our religion is that we have an actual modern-day prophet that leads our church. We sustain the current prophet twice a year at general conference specifically as a prophet, seer and revelator. Although the prophets are men and make mistakes like anyone else, they do not err when conveying God's will to the church. They serve as God's mouthpiece on important issues and can be called upon at any time to reveal God's will to man.
Here's a sample of quotes from apostles many decades after Joseph died regarding the seer portion of the prophet's calling:
In 1878 Orson Pratt had seen fit to challenge the world on this subject, declaring in one of his sermons: "Have any of the other denominations got this gift among them? Go and inquire through all of Christendom ... 'Can you translate ancient records written in a language that is lost to the knowledge of man?' No ... the universal reply of the Christian denominations, numbering some 400,000,000, would be that they have not the power to do it ... you must give us credit," he had chided, "of at least professing to have these great and important gifts."
Nor was Apostle Pratt's point taken lightly by others in the Church; several decades later another Apostle, John A. Widtsoe, pointedly explained that if "records appear needing translation, the President of the Church may at any time be called, through revelation, to the special labor of translation."
No prophet since Joseph Smith has really prophesied, acted as a seer or provided any real revelation except undoing what Joseph Smith had done such as ending polygamy or allowing black men to have the priesthood. If we as Latter-day Saints believe that Joseph Smith restored the gospel and was indeed the first prophet of the restoration, then why hasn't any prophet since then exhibited the same prophetic gifts that Joseph appeared to have?
Editor Comment: Joseph Smith may not have intended black men to be denied the priesthood as he ordained Elijah Abel. The ban may have been a policy instituted by Brigham Young - see below for a discussion. Regarding the policy of denying blacks the blessing of the temple and the priesthood to black men, there is no evidence that Brigham Young received a revelation stating this but rather a policy he adopted which became doctrine and followed by every prophet thereafter until 1978.
Joseph Smith claimed to translate and bring forth many scriptures using his prophetic abilities as a seer. These include the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham and the inspired version of the Holy Bible. Why haven't the prophets that followed Joseph performed any prophetic duties as seer for the church?
True believer response
Joseph translated all the important documents that needed translating brought forth before him. There is nothing left in modern times to translate. If there were documents that God wanted translated he would have the current prophet translate them just as Orson Pratt stated.
There are numerous documents that could be translated by modern prophets and provide value to Latter-day Saints, just as the other additional scriptures brought forth by Joseph have. A few immediately come to mind:
The Dead Sea Scrolls
One of the most exciting religious discoveries of the 20th century has been the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. Scholars have been all over these documents but why hasn't the LDS prophet tried to decipher these valuable ancient documents instead of just scholars?
The RLDS Church (Community of Christ) has a document in their possession referred to as the Anthon Manuscript. This is believed to be the original or a copy of the original document that Martin Harris took to professor Anthon to convince Martin that Joseph really was translating an ancient document written in reformed Egyptian. This document is of enormous historical value to the church.
The characters on the so-called 'Anthon Document' match the characters on early 1840s placards promoting the Book of Mormon and also on the front and back covers of the 1980 'gold' edition of the Book of Mormon. This document may not be the original document taken to Professor Anthon, but the characters likely are as they are the same characters used on the covers of the published 1980 edition of the BOM.
If a modern-day prophet could translate these characters and show that this was part of the Book of Mormon then this would add significant credibility to Joseph's ability as seer. Modern linguists have looked at the characters and said they are gibberish but what does our modern-day seer say?
The Kinderhook Plates
For many years LDS scholars debated whether or not the Kinderhook Plates reportedly translated by Joseph were actually real ancient plates or not? The pictures of the plates with the detailed writings were published in the Church-owned Times and Seasons newspaper when Joseph lived, as well as being published in the book History of the Church by Joseph Smith. Any prophet with the seer ability from Brigham Young to our current prophet could have used the pictures of the plates and translated the writings to verify what Joseph said about them as well as to finish the translation.
This would have ended the debate as to what the Kinderhook Plates were. If they were not real plates, they could have determined that also and said as such. If they were real, they could have provided the Saints with additional scripture or at least silence the critics.
The Book of Abraham
The Egyptian papyri found in the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1966, including facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham, were given to the church in 1967. Many people have asked why the translation of the papyri by modern-day Egyptologists do not match what Joseph said they mean. Why does our prophet not use his ordained seer ability to translate these documents in the same way Joseph did and see what they mean and why? This way the prophets could answer with surety the many troubling questions by members such as BOA translation problems. Many people have understandably left the church over the BOA. Would this not be a good use of the prophet's seer ability by helping keep members from leaving the church?
Instead of using our prophet's ability as seer, the church has given the papyri to LDS scholars to study. Why would they do this unless the prophets are not really seers as we sustain them to be twice each year?
The Book of Joseph
The Egyptian papyri Joseph had also contained the Book of Joseph, which Joseph never translated. The papyri found in the Metropolitan Museum of New York included some of the Book of Joseph as described by Oliver Cowdery. Why doesn't the prophet translate the Book of Joseph portion?
The Inspired Version of the Holy Bible
Joseph began translating the inspired version of the Bible. Our current LDS versions of the Bible contain footnotes where Joseph had corrected the translation errors made when the Bible was translated over the years, as well as an entire chapter of Matthew. Joseph apparently never finished the work. Why didn't the next prophet, or any subsequent prophet, finish the inspired version of the Bible that the church thought was so important that they altered our version of the King James Bible to include the portions that Joseph did retranslate?
On 10 January 1832, the Lord encouraged the Brethren to continue the translation “until it be finished.” (D&C 73:3–4.)
Does it make any sense that the inspired version of the Bible should not be finished merely with the death of the first prophet of the restoration? If we really did have a succession of prophets since Joseph Smith, this important work would have been finished and published as God commanded Joseph to do.
Note: There seems to be some debate as to whether or not Joseph actually finished the inspired translation of the Bible before he was killed. President George Q. Cannon in his Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet: “We have heard President Brigham Young state that the Prophet before his death had spoken to him about going through the translation of the scriptures again and perfecting it upon points of doctrine which the Lord had restrained him from giving in plainness and fulness at the time of which we write [2 February 1833].” (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1958, p. 148.)
However, others disagree and said that the JST was ready to be published in its entirety before Joseph died. In either case, the prophets following Joseph should have completed the translation or should have known that the JST was complete and published it as the Lord commanded and as Joseph intended if they were indeed receiving revelation on the matter. The only apparent reason not to publish the JST in the 1840s would be if they didn't know what to do which would be the case if they were ordinary men and not inspired prophets.
Reference: LDS library article Joseph Smith’s Efforts to Publish His Bible “Translation”
Per Gordon B. Hinckley [emphasis added]:
Critic's point: If the purpose of a prophet is to give answers to people for the dilemmas in which they find themselves, then why doesn't the prophet inquire of the Lord and give the members clear answers as to the many dilemmas that currently face thousands of Latter-day Saints such as:
Thousands of people understandably leave the Church because they cannot get official, plausible answers from their leaders to these troubling questions and other dilemmas that trouble them deeply. The prophet could do tremendous good in the lives of these thousands of people and their families if he would just give them the answers they seek. The only reason to not give them these answers is if they don't know the answers. If they can't get these answers as prophets then how are they to fulfill President Hinckley's statement that the purpose of a prophet is to give answers to people for the dilemmas in which they find themselves?
There is some debate within the Church as to what is considered official doctrine and what is just a man's opinion.
Brigham Young said "I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 95)
Some members say that it's not an official revelation unless the prophet ends it with the phrase "thus saith the Lord." The last President of the Church to prophesy or revelate using "Thus Saith the Lord" was Wilford Woodruff (4th President of the Church). Presidents of the Church since his time have not prophesied, seen visions (save a dream by Joseph F. Smith in 1916), nor received any "Thus Saith the Lord Revelations."
For those who believe that only "thus saith the Lord" statements are official revelations, then what value are the prophets to the LDS Church if they haven't had any real revelations in well over 100 years?
Some members believe that if it is not in the four standard works then it is not considered official. Joseph Fielding Smith said,
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine.
Using only the Four Standard Works as doctrine leads to the following logical argument: If a modern day prophet reveals something that isn't covered in the four standard works can we then reject it? So what's the point of having a living prophet? What is the value of modern-day prophets since they almost never add to those four scriptures? Of what value is the temple recommend interview since it is not found in the Standard Works?
Most members believe that anything published in The Ensign is considered scripture although some believe that just what is in the 'First Presidency Message' of The Ensign should be considered scripture.
Often LDS apologists pick and choose what they consider to be doctrine. If it's a touchy subject such as racist comments made by past prophets, prophecies that didn't come true or teachings from prophets such as the 'Adam-God' sermons of Brigham Young, LDS apologists say that was merely a man's opinion and not really God speaking through his appointed mouthpiece.
If that's the case then how do you know if a prophet is speaking doctrine or merely giving his opinion? If the apologists are right then why bother reading The Ensign or why take General Conference seriously if it's just the opinions of individual men?
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
Many of the disconcerting comments made by the prophets have come from the Church publication called The Journal of Discourses. It's often quoted in Church and even by LDS apologists. How much credence should we give to the JofD?
The Church has recently issued the following statement on their website:
On 11 May 2013 a Google search of lds.org was performed typing the following in the search box "journal of discourses" site:https://www.lds.org/ which looks up the exact phrase "journal of discourses" and searches only the site lds.org. There were 236,000 hits (in other words, it was used 236,000 times in the webpages found on lds.org).
In comparison, on the same search date, Google returned a combined number of 279,189 hits for "doctrine and covenants" (154,000) and "doctrine & covenants" (859) and "D&C" (123,000) and "D & C" (1,330). (This search included -dc which excluded references with the book Doctrine and Covenants itself.)
If the Journal of Discourses are currently relegated to the status of not-very-important as the entry from the source above notes, why has it been used so many times of the years by the Church in its official publications? Not only publications, but over the pulpit in General Conferences. A search just of General Conferences from 1971-2013 returned 84,000 hits.
A note must be given that because of the way lds.org is set up, some of the hits for the pages are duplicates because it shows searches within the lds.org site and also foreign languages. These hits should only be used for comparison purposes with other hits, not as a definitive statement on the exact number of occurences of search terms.
Critic's point: Some LDS apologists try to wiggle out with "it's not doctrine," but even they admit it's a long-running series of public transcriptions of sermons by the highest Mormon leaders, often from General Conferences. If even that's not doctrine, then what about conferences, devotionals and other talks at which General Authorities speak today?
The Journal of Discourses is available online: http://www.journalofdiscourses.com/
Ezra Taft Benson's talk given at Brigham Young University on February 26, 1980. Reprinted in the Church magazine Liahona, June 1981:
The sixth fundamental in following the prophet is per President Benson:
Editor Comment: This talk was quoted twice in the General Conference of October 2010. So it is hard to say that it is not still taught. The first talk was in the Saturday Morning session called "Obedience to the Prophets" by Claudio R. M. Costa. The second talk was in the Saturday Afternoon session called "Our Very Survival" by Kevin R. Duncan.
Approaching Mormon Doctrine
SALT LAKE CITY 4 May 2007 Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.
The Church welcomes inquisitiveness, but the challenge of understanding Mormon doctrine is not merely a matter of accessing the abundant information available. Rather, it is a matter of how this information is approached and examined.
The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context (see here and here), and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. News reporters pressed by daily deadlines often find that problematic. Therefore, as the Church continues to grow throughout the world and receive increasing media attention, a few simple principles that facilitate a better understanding may be helpful:
Journalists, academics and laymen alike are encouraged to pursue their inquiries into the Church by recognizing the broad and complex context within which its doctrines have been declared, in a spirit of reason and good will.
Editor comment: This article on the Church's official website does not clarify which particular teachings one should take as "doctrine" and which should be considered merely advice. If anything, it seems to muddy the issue when it says that "Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine." If doctrine is not identified, how can members receive a confirmation of "Church doctrine"? If the statement also encompasses the concept that members must first gain a spiritual understanding of what is Church doctrine, what is the purpose of modern prophets and apostles?
Joseph Smith said "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil."
From David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, p.30 - p.31 [It will be on slightly different pages in different editions of Whitmer's pamphlet.]
We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient, thinking that Martin Harris was too slow and under transgression for not selling his land at once, even if at a great sacrifice. Brother Hyrum thought they should not wait any longer on Martin Harris, and that the money should be raised in some other way. Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue. He was wrong in thus judging Bro. Martin, because he was doing all he could toward selling his land. Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father's house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil." So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man. When a man enquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if he is deceived by his own carnal desires, and is in error, he will receive an answer according to his erring heart, but it will not be a revelation from the Lord.
In discussing the "Canadian Copyright Caper" B. H. Roberts quotes this entire passage in Comprehensive History of the Church Vol. 1 pp. 162-66
So just how do we know what revelations are from God, from the devil or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn't tell?
The last line of the quote is significant:
In other words - you may still receive an answer but it will be the wrong one and you will have no idea that it's wrong. You can't really trust any spiritual witness whatsoever, can you?
The Greek Psalter Incident
Professor Henry Caswell, gave Joseph Smith a Greek Psalter to examine and asked him what it was. Joseph of course would know this as he reportedly translated the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian and he translated the Book of Abraham from Egyptian papyri.
Joseph replied that it was a Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Professor Caswell of course knew Joseph was wrong as this was a known Greek Psalter and definitely not Egyptian.
Reference: http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu/IL/sign1843.htm scroll to near the bottom for section called 'THE MORMON PROPHET AND THE GREEK PSALTER.'
Caswell told this incident to Mormon apostle Dr. William Richards who said "Sometimes Mr. Smith speaks as mere man. If he gave a wrong opinion respecting the book, he spoke as a mere man."
Now assuming this was actual event as reported in the newspapers at the time, should this be considered a prophetic statement or just Joseph's opinion?
It's very convenient to say Joseph speaks as a man whenever he's proved wrong and a prophet whenever his statements haven't been proven one way or the other yet.
There are of course many prophecies of Joseph Smith that did not come true: http://utlm.org/onlineresources/falseprophecies.htm
Prophecies of Brigham Young: http://packham.n4m.org/byoung.htm#PROPHECIES
How do we know when to believe a prophet?
In order to show that these men were very human, here are a few quotes to consider from the modern-day prophets [emphasis added]:
Adam is God Quotes
Hinckley's comments on Brigham Young's Adam is God statements:
"Brigham Young said if you went to Heaven and saw God it would be Adam and Eve. I don't know what he meant by that." Pointing to a grim-faced portrait of the Lion of the Lord, as Young was called, Hinckley said, "There he is, right there. I'm not going to worry about what he said about those things." I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of polytheism. "I don't have the remotest idea what you mean," Hinckley said impatiently.
Murder of Unfaithful Spouse is Justified
"Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, and put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; under such circumstances. I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 247)
Utah will never be admitted to the Union if the church has to abandon polygamy
I heard the revelation on polygamy, and I believed it with all my heart, and I know it is from God - I know that he revealed it from heaven; I know that it is true, and understand the bearings of it and why it is. "Do you think that we shall ever be admitted as a State into the Union without denying the principle of polygamy?" If we are not admitted until then, we shall never be admitted. - JofD 11:269 (Aug 19, 1866)
Science: Rock will decay; Gold and silver grow, same as hair
The elements of which this terra firma is composed, are every moment either composing or decomposing. They commence to organize or to compose, and continue to grow until they arrive at their zenith of perfection, and then they begin to decompose. When you find a rock that has arrived at its greatest perfection, you may know that the work of decaying has begun. Let the practical chemist make his observations upon a portion of the matter of which this earth is composed; and he will find, that just as quick as it is at its perfection, that very instant it begins to decompose. ...
Gold and silver grow, and so does every other kind of metal, the same as the hair upon my head, or the wheat in the field; they do not grow as fast, but they are all the time composing or decomposing. - JofD 1:219 (October 9, 1852)
Brigham Young's statement:
Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his diary: "The inhabitants of the moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the earth, being six feet in height. They dress very much like the Quaker style and are quite general in style or fashion of dress. They live to be very old; coming generally near a thousand years. This is the description of them as given by Joseph [Smith] the Seer, and he could see whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see" - Journal of Oliver B. Huntington, Vol 2, p 166, emphasis added
"I will tell you who the real fanatics are: they are they who adopt false principles and ideas as facts, and try to establish a superstructure upon, a false foundation. They are the fanatics; and however ardent and zealous they may be, they may reason or argue on false premises till doomsday, and the result will be false. If our religion is of this character we want to know it; we would like to find a philosopher who can prove it to us. We are called ignorant; so we are: but what of it? Are not all ignorant? I rather think so. Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon? When we view its face we may see what is termed "the man in the moon," and what some philosophers declare are the shadows of mountains. But these sayings are very vague, and amount to nothing; and when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the most ignorant of their fellows. So it is with regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain. It was made to give light to those who dwell upon it, and to other planets; and so will this earth when it is celestialized. Every planet in its first rude, organic state receives not the glory of God upon it, but is opaque; but when celestialized, every planet that God brings into existence is a body of light, but not till then. Christ is the light of this planet." - Journal of Discourses Vol. 13, p.271.
Joseph Smith being a God
Brigham Young said:
"Joseph [Smith] will stand at the head of this Church and will be their president, prophet and God to the people in this dispensation." (Kelly, Journal of John D. Lee, entry for February 16, 1847, page 83)
"Some have thought it strange what I have said Concerning Adam But the period will Come when this people of [sic; if] faithful will be willing to adopt Joseph Smith as their Prophet Seer Revelator & God But not the father of their spirits for that was our Father Adam."
For more gems from Brigham Young: http://home.teleport.com/~packham/byoung.htm#NEGRO
"And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God;..." Journal of Discourses, Vol. 22, page 304
"...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people."
During General Conference in April, 1898, he made this startling prophecy:
"I will say here that I shall not live to see it, you may not live to see it; but these thousands of Latter-day Saint children that belong to the Sabbath schools, I believe many of them will stand in the flesh when the Lord Jesus Christ visits Zion of God here in the mountains of Israel." (Conference Reports, April 1898, p.57).
Of course everyone that was in that congregation in 1898 has since perished w/o seeing Christ appear in the flesh to Israel.
President Woodruff made another interesting statement in 1888; at the dedication of the Manti Temple. He said:
"We will not end the practice of plural marriage until the coming of the Son of Man". (Journal of John Henry Smith, 21 May 1888, LDS Church Archives)
Of course the LDS Church changed the practice of plural marriage and the Son of Man hasn't come yet.
"And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children."
"Wake Up, Ye Elders of Israel, and live to God and none else; and learn to do as you are told, both old and young: learn to do as you are told for the future... if you are told by your leader to do a thing, do it. None of your business whether it is right or wrong" Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 32, November 8, 1852.
Perhaps that kind of obedience explains the travesty at Mountain Meadows and the undertones of racism and homophobia.
"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race." (The Way to Perfection, p.101.)
Answers to Gospel Questions, (1958 Deseret Book) Vol 2 under Chapter 43: 'Guided Missiles and Interplanetary Travel,' Joseph Fielding Smith wrote (p. 191):
Stake Conference Talk:
When asked about his statement discounting that man would ever reach the moon, former church President Joseph Fielding Smith said, simply, "Well, I was wrong."
"The day of the Lamanites in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation...There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. Spencer W. Kimball; The Improvement Era, Dec. 1960, p. 923)
The Hofmann Forgeries
Where was their Spirit of Discernment? Even the Tanners, who are considered some of the biggest enemies of the Church, said that the documents were likely fakes but the Church bought them anyway.
Some Latter-day Saints speculate that the Church bought them knowing that they were fakes but better to keep them out of critic's hands. That makes no sense. It would have been much more powerful for the LDS Church to declare them fakes and have experts verify that. But this story shows that the leaders exercised no discernment.
Apostle Dallin H. Oaks tried to show that the document didn't really alter the Church's foundational claims by claiming that the 'salamander' mentioned in Hofmann's document could be interpreted as a 'mythical being thought to be able to live in fire' (even though Hofmann said he substituted the word salamander for toad from another early church document which clearly shows that the context of salamander was a small lizard and not some 'mythical being'). An apostle should have had the power of discernment to find out that the document was a forgery instead of trying to justify it's content.
Note: Apostle Dalin Oaks gave a talk responding to the incident called Recent Events Involving Church History and Forged Documents.
The apostles and other General Authorities have said many more disconcerting things. Here's just one of the more respected general authorities - apostle Bruce R. McKonkie [emphasis added]:
"It is also to the Book of Mormon to which we turn for the plainest description of the Catholic Church as the great and abominable church. Nephi saw this 'church which is the most abominable above all other churches' in vision. He 'saw the devil that he was the foundation of it' and also the murders, wealth, harlotry, persecutions, and evil desires that historically have been a part of this satanic organization.(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine , 130.)
McKonkie also reiterated what Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
"Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man's origin. It is the Lord's doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)
As we understand it, the President of the Church, David O'McKay, had the reference to the Catholic Church removed in later editions. The "negroes" reference was also removed, but the edition we used had it. Mormon Doctrine was a book that influenced at least two generations of Latter-day Saints. We recognize that Church leaders are fallible, but it leaves us to wonder which statements made by General Authorities are authoritative and which are not.
The devout will say that it is up to the individual to determine for themselves through prayer and inspiration the truth of a leader's words. But that begs the question, "What then is the purpose of the General Authorities of the Church if each member needs to verify their words, supposedly spoken/written under the influence of the spirit?"
Obviously this prophecy hasn't come true. All the attendees have very likely passed on. Even if an infant was in the congregation, he would be a hundred years old and that doesn't leave much time for this to happen.
Being a Prophet
Gordon B. Hinckley appeared on two nationally televised interviews and when asked if he was a prophet his answer was 'Well, I'm sustained as such'.
Critic's point: What about a simple "yes" or "no"? To give a vague answer like that perhaps implies that everyone thinks he's a prophet but maybe he doesn't think so.
MT Comment: In the following interview, GBH says he is prophet but seems to say it in such a way as to elicit laughter - perhaps that's just his style or his trying to be humble.
Reference of one of these interviews (San Francisco Chroncile, 4/13/1997). (underlining added):
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-Musings-of-the-Main-Mormon-2846138.php#ixzz2E0VsLMjw
Men can become Gods
Excerpt from President Hinckley's interview with Time:
Critic's point: This doctrine has been clearly taught in the church since Joseph Smith's time. Every member knows this.
"The doctrine that God was once a man and has progressed to become a God is unique to this church." (The Teachings of Brigham Young, 1997, p. 34).
President Gordon B. Hinckley is also on record as saying:
Editor Comment: Some of us think this is a very defensible belief. We don't know why GBH doesn't just say Yes, we believe this and here's why. To say otherwise confuses the members to the point that many people don't know for sure what the doctrine is. The same dialogue said to the members should be the same dialogue said to the public so we don't appear to be hiding anything.
From Larry King Live Interview:
Gordon B. Hinckley: I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.
Critic's point: Polygamy is clearly doctrinal and still believed to be practiced in the next life. Men who have had their wife die can be sealed to their second wife with the belief that they will be married to both women (or more) in the next life. Also the saints practiced it in the 1800s when it was illegal so why bother making a big deal about obeying the law now when the LDS Church didn't obey the law for 50 years?
"I hope that prayer will take on a new luster in our lives. None of us knows what lies ahead. We may speculate, but we do not know."
Washington Times Article
"Revelation no longer comes by vision," Mr. Hinckley said, "but in the 'still, small voice,' like that heard by Elijah." "We wrestle with a problem, we discuss it, we think about it, we pray about it," he said... "And the answer comes in a remarkable and wonderful way." (Washington Times, Dec. 3, 1996, page A8)
Critic's point: Many within the Church believe that revelation still comes to the apostles and prophets through visitations and audible voices, as it did at the time of Joseph Smith. Many members are disappointed when they learn that the modern General Authorities receive their revelations the same way the general Church membership does: through thoughts and feelings. For a world with so many social problems, why would President Hinckley say, "Now we don't need a lot of continuing revelation." And, "We don't need much revelation." If there was ever a time for revelation, it would be today. Why would Joseph Smith receive such
LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie admitted that Brigham Young was guilty of teaching things that were "out of harmony with the gospel" (p. 6). In fact, McConkie makes the amazing confession that "I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality" (p. 7).
Critic's point: Such a statement should be disconcerting to the average Latter-day Saint who has heard his leaders time and time again insist that, "God will never allow the prophet of the church to lead the church astray." Since when has teaching false doctrine not been a method of leading people astray? And of course, how do we know which doctrines that have been taught by the Church are false and which are true?
"Beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence." (Fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Feb 26, 1980
The prophets since Joseph Smith have been wrong about some important doctrinal and historical matters. Brigham Young was obviously incorrect when he taught that Adam was our God.
Early prophets of the restoration clearly believed and taught certain things but they were changed by later prophets when science proved the earlier prophets' teachings incorrect e.g. Joseph F. Smith's explicit denial of evolution.
It's taught that a living prophet's words should be taken over a dead prophet's. A current prophet can trump a previous one. So if the current prophet can say that a previous prophet was wrong about doctrine, church policy or anything really, then how do we know what the current prophet says won't be deemed invalid by the next prophet?
What if the prophet gives bad counsel that the members take as being God's will? If a current prophet is later proved wrong by a future prophet about something minor then that's not a big deal. But what if it's something important?
Your Life or Your Virtue
At least three of the prophets have written that it is better for a woman to die resisting a rapist than live. In President Spencer W. Kimball's book The Miracle of Forgiveness he says:
We would imagine some women, who have been raped, might not agree with these prophets. We can't imagine what it would be like if one of us had a wife or daughter that was raped, but we can all for sure say we would rather her be a live, recovering victim, that did all she could to stay alive, than a dead victim. We wonder how many women may have given up their lives following this teaching?
Science or Religion
Imagine if the prophet said that cloning organs is wrong and God does not approve of it. We as good Latter-day Saints would not consider getting organs cloned even if a loved one's life depended on it. Now what if in 20 years or so public opinion changes enough to where cloning of organs is socially acceptable and the next prophet says that cloning organs is OK. Well it's a little late now for the person that followed the current prophet's counsel to not use a cloned organ to save his loved one.
Our hearts goes out to the gay people in the church. The church leaders have taught that feeling that way is wrong, immoral and totally a choice made per the individual. As scientists learn more about how our brains work, it's apparent that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality in many people. The leaders often make these people feel as if they have no hope and are destined for damnation. Many gay people in the church have committed suicide as a result of our leaders' teachings which seem to be in conflict with science.
So it's very important, perhaps even life-threatening, to be able to know when a prophet is speaking for God and when he is merely giving his own opinion. But to many faithful, it's more important to follow the prophet than it is for the prophet to be right:
President Heber J. Grant's statement, quoted by Apostle Marion G. Romney in 1960 (underlining added):
This was also quoted in “The Covenant of the Priesthood,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 98
If the prophet can be wrong about important issues, even doctrinal issues, then can we as members of the kingdom challenge the prophet on controversial topics? Often critics cite the following couple of quotes from Church magazines provide the answer:
"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 discussion, it should mark the end of controversy," stated a part of the ward teaching message printed in the Improvement Era, June 1945, p. 345.
However, some members also cite other talks that church leaders have given that states that the prophets are not always inspired such as this quote from Harold B. Lee:
Editor comment: It's kind of hard to answer this question with just a few quotes from various church leaders. However, we can say with some surety that if you publicly disagree with the church leadership over certain issues, you will be subject to church discipline.
If the ban preventing blacks from having the priesthood was instituted by Joseph Smith then that would give the ban more legitimacy, as Joseph was the first and by far the most doctrinal of the Latter-day prophets. However, if the ban was made by the prophets after Joseph then perhaps they were in error, as Brigham Young was in error regarding the Adam-God sermons.
Joseph himself ordained a former slave, a black man named Elijah Abel as an elder with the priesthood in 1836. Brother Abel was a fairly prominent member that served in the 3rd Quorum of the Seventy starting in 1839. He served three missions for the Church. Another black man, Walker Lewis also received the priesthood during Joseph's leadership - he was ordained an elder in 1844 by William Smith, Joseph's brother. Joseph Smith was not a racist - he was friends with a black convert (Elijah Abel) whom he allowed to be ordained to the higher priesthood. However, Brigham Young refused that same man from being endowed in the Nauvoo temple with the rest of the Saints. Perhaps the racism came from Brigham moving forward because we've seen no evidence that Joseph felt that way and we could find no official church policy on blacks written during Joseph's life. He was out to win over all men regardless of race, nationality or color. When Joseph ran for president of the United States, he made ending slavery a key issue of his campaign.
If the prophets after Joseph Smith were responsible for the ban on blacks from receiving the priesthood, and if indeed this was a false doctrine, then how could any of those men possibly be prophets? For men of God to deny an entire race the benefit of the priesthood for 150 years is inexcusable. The Church would have been much better off to have been governed by a group of men, that did not claim divine authority, and therefore could have been responsive to the will of the members.
The church members, in at least the last half of the 1900s, did not want the priesthood ban on the blacks. It was embarrassing. God's true church should have been on the forefront of civil rights not the last major church to adopt it. Many of us felt ashamed as a Latter-day Saint growing up in the 1970s being taught that blacks were cursed from Cain and were less valiant in the pre-existence. We never liked that doctrine and always wondered if it was really true. We all believed it back then but now we think it's much more likely that the prophets were in error. The Church will not confirm that it was a mistake. The Church will not make any official comment on the reasons for the ban.
If Brigham Young instituted the priesthood ban on blacks without being directed to from God then this is just too serious to ignore. And if all the prophets since Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball let it go unchallenged, then how can anyone say these men are truly prophets of God? It's ironic that all the other Christian churches, that do not claim to have prophets, allowed blacks the same rights as whites long before the prophet-led LDS Church did. If the LDS prophets made this big of an error then why should they be believed on other matters?
Elijah Abel Reference: dailyutahchronicle.com
We've all heard that one of the important reasons that we have a prophet and apostles in modern times (as well as ancient times) is for them to act as a "special witnesses" of Christ. What does this mean? Many members believe it means that these 15 men may have actually seen Christ or have some sort of definitive experience that would eliminate any possible doubt as to the validity of God's true church on earth.
We've heard that when missionaries are visited by apostles and they give them the opportunity to ask them any questions, it almost always come up that someone asks the big question, "Have you actually seen Christ?" The usual response is something vague like, "If I have, it would be too special to talk about."
A member of my stake presidency was talking to me about Gordon B. Hinckley's interview with Mike Wallace and said that Wallace asked him if he'd ever seen Christ (this may have been off-camera). Hinckley responded that he has not seen Christ. The stake presidency member said that GBH "had to say that" to Mike Wallace so it wouldn't be paraded around on National TV but that "we all know" that GBH has seen Christ.
It's obvious that many Latter-day Saints believe that the special witnesses that we call prophets and apostles have actually seen Christ. What do the prophets and apostles themselves say? [emphasis added]:
Joseph F. Smith, 6th LDS President
The sixth president of the LDS Church testified under oath before Congress in the Reed Smoot Hearings that he, as prophet of the Church, has not received any revelations and that he only gets impressions from God the same as any good Methodist would get.
The actual dialogue:
Critic's point: From this it is plain to see that just because a man is ordained a "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator," it does not necessarily mean that he is any of those things. If Joseph F. Smith was only as susceptible to the impressions of the Spirit of the Lord as "any good Methodist any other good church member" then why should his word be trusted above that of a good Methodist or any other member of the church?
President George Albert Smith
Mar 25, 1950 - President George Albert Smith writes, "I have not seen the Father or the Son, neither have I heard their voices in an audible way, but I have felt their presence and have enjoyed the whispering of the Still Small Voice that comes from them, the result of which has given me a testimony of the truth."
"The Vocation of David Wright: An Essay in Analytic Biography1" byBruce W. Jorgensenin "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought," Vol. 11, No. 2 Summer 1978, p. 48-49Critic's point: George Albert Smith was not just an apostle when he wrote this, he was Church President, THE PROPHET etc. His testimony as a prophet doesn't really sound like he's a 'special witness'. His testimony is similar to the average member.
I have flattered myself, if I am as faithful as I know how to be to my God, and my brethren, and to all my covenants, and faithful in the discharge of my duty, when I have lived to be as old as was Moses when the Lord appeared to him, that perhaps I then may hold communion with the Lord, as did Moses. I am not now in that position, though I know much more than I did twenty, ten, or five years ago. But have I yet lived to the state of perfection that I can commune in person with the Father and the Son at my will and pleasure? No, - though I hold myself in readiness that he can wield me at his will and pleasure. If I am faithful until I am eighty years of age, perhaps the Lord will appear to me and personally dictate me in the management of his Church and people. A little over twenty years, and if I am faithful, perhaps I will obtain that favour with my Father and God.
Journal of Discourses, 7:243. Brigham Young, September 1, 1859
And what shall we say of our Heavenly Father? He is also a man in perfection, and the father of the man Jesus Christ, and the father of our spirits; He lives far above the influence and power of sin, and holds in his hands the destinies of all. We have not seen the person of the Father, neither have we seen that of the Son; but we have seen the children of the Father, and the brethren of the Savior, who are in every way like them in physical appearance and organization. Although mankind of the same color look alike, yet there exist expressions of the features by which one person can be distinguished from another. The human family all resemble one another in the main characteristics of humanity, and all resemble the Savior who died for us; and could we see him in the flesh, as he appeared to the ancients, we should very likely find that some men are more like him that others in feature and form, as we often see men who are more like Joseph Smith than others are.
Journal of Discourses, 11:42. Brigham Young, January 8, 1865
It is our desire to be prepared for a celestial seat with our Father in heaven. It was observed by brother Grant that we have not seen God, that we cannot converse with Him; and it is true that men in their sins do not know much about God. When you hear a man pour out eternal things, how well you feel, to what a nearness you seem to be brought with God. What a delight it was to hear brother Joseph talk upon the great principles of eternity; he would bring them down to the capacity of a child, and he would unite heaven with earth, this is the beauty of our religion.
Journal of Discourses, 4:54. Brigham Young, September 21, 1856Critic's point: If Brigham Young, being the very first prophet after Joseph, never had Jesus or the Father appear or communicate with him then it is very unlikely that any modern prophet has ever had a visitation or direct communication from Deity either.
Heber C. Kimball
How many times I have heard it - "We believe what brother Brigham says, and we believe this, and we believe that; but here is brother Heber, - he is a kind of wild, kind of enthusiastic; he is full of visions and wild notions." Tell me one notion I have had that is not correct. Say you, "Some things you have prophesied have come to pass, but we do not know whether the rest will or not." I do not profess to be a Prophet. I never called myself so; but I actually believe I am, because people are all the time telling me that I am. I do not boast of that. I say that every man and woman who will live their religion, be humble, and be dictated by the Holy Ghost, the spirit of prophecy will be upon them.
Journal of Discourses, 5:177. Heber C. Kimball, August 23, 1857
Gordon B. Hinckley
Apostle Neal Maxwell and Apostle Dallin Oaks
In an interview with Steve Benson (President Ezra Taft Benson's grandson), Apostle Neal Maxwell and Apostle Dallin Oaks were reportedly asked "What personal spiritual experiences have you had which gave you your testimonies as special witnesses for Christ?"
Reference: Steve Benson article on TwinCentral.com
Changes in the Gospel Principles Manual
It seems that even the apostles shy from away stating that they are really a true, literal witness of Christ:
This change to the 2009 edition of Gospel Principles (the relevant changes are in capital letters) reflects this:
"Twelve Apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, teach the gospel in all parts of the world."
"Twelve Apostles, who are special witnesses of THE NAME OF Jesus Christ, teach the gospel and regulate the affairs of the Church in all parts of the world."
What's to witness? ANY Christian believes in "the name of Jesus Christ." So in what way are the so-called apostles any more special than anyone else?
This link shows all the changes made in 2009 in the Gospel Principles book. For the particular example given above, scroll about halfway down to chapter 17.
All the accounts we've ever heard about the prophets and apostles are similar to these. Their testimonies are simply no different than any other member's testimony. There's nothing special or divine in their testimonies that eliminates the room for doubt about the LDS Church being God's one true church on earth. In fact these testimonies, as well as the average members' testimonies, aren't really any different than the testimonies of members of other faiths.
Think about how many apostles left the church in the early days. Many left after hearing Martin Harris say publicly that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes but only in a vision or imagination, and the same was true for all the other witnesses. If these "special witnesses" of Christ really had a "special" witness, then one would think they would not have left the church merely over what Martin Harris said.
Since we receive so little revelation in modern times, some members wonder if the prophets really still do receive revelation.
Gordon B. Hinckley (December 2005 Ensign):
GBH goes on to say that the concept of small temples and even changing of how the costs of financing local Church operations came about by revelation. GBH seems quite confident that the modern prophets receive revelation. We have to wonder, how does this occur?
Revelation through dreams
Apostle Hugh B. Brown said "Revelation may come through dreams or visions, the visitation of angels, or, on occasion such as with Moses, by face-to-face communication with the Lord" (Hugh B. Brown, 131st Semi-annual conference, 1961).
Critic's comment: GBH said that revelation "comes now as it has come in the past". Joseph Smith received revelation through a stone that he put in a hat. Oliver Cowdery received revelation through a stick. Why don't the modern prophets receive revelation through physical objects or perhaps they do but it isn't talked about?
Editor comment: Of all the methods listed above by which prophets can receive revelation, is it any wonder that the methods used by the modern-day prophets are the most subjective and open to the most interpretation as to whether it is from God or merely their own thoughts?
That doesn't really sound like GBH is sure if his revelation is from God or not.
The "still small voice" and "impressions" that GBH refers to seem so subjective and not definitive. How could any prophet really know if "the still small voice" or their own "impressions" are really revelation or just thoughts in their head?
We regret that we could not find these issues discussed comprehensively in any church publication or web site. However we found several responses from LDS apologists and LDS leaders which we cite below.
"[Anti-Mormons] ask why "the Mormon leaders," as prophets, did not detect the fraud perpetrated on the Church by Mark Hoffman (p. 19). The answer lies in Joseph Smith's declaration that "a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such." I presume that President Hinckley need not have been exercising prophetic gifts when he made business purchases for the Church. Moreover, we have, in the Bible, examples of prophets who believed lies (Joshua 9:3-27; 1 Kings 13:14-19). As human beings, even prophets can make mistakes, though when they act as prophet and president we should accept their word and live accordingly." (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.210)
It's important to understand that God, not Church leaders, is omnipotent and omniscient (i.e., all powerful and all knowing). While Church leaders are true prophets and apostles, they are only blessed with inspiration inasmuch as (1) they ask for it, and (2) the Lord chooses to give it to them. People who believe that prophets are omniscient have a flawed understanding of the workings of the Lord. Only God is perfect and free from all error."
- by W. John Walsh
Elder McConkie explained the problems specifically about what he himself said regarding his comments about Negroes. (It should be noted that this was told to a group of CES teachers and not in General conference or published in any Church Magazines.)
(From a dialog between Robert Millet and Greg Johnson held at Mt. Olympus Presbyterian, April 23, 2006):
"If you want to know what constitutes the doctrine of the church... 1) Is this doctrine or idea found within the standard works.2) Is it found in what we would call official declarations or proclamations... 3) Is this a doctrine that is taught by the apostles or the first presidency in general conference or other official church gatherings today. 4) Is this found in the general handbooks of the church or in the approved curriculum material of the church. If it doesn't meet one of those four criteria it is not the doctrine of the church. To be sure Brigham Young and a few others taught that [Adam-God] for a period of years. But by the criteria I have just given you it would not qualify as being the doctrine of the church because frankly when President Young passed away that doctrine passed away with him. It has been formally addressed by Spencer W. Kimball in general conference as not being a doctrine that is sound and true.
Now the immediate response I'll get from someone is 'wait a minute, Brigham Young was the president of the church at the time.' That's right. And he preached it in general conference. That is correct. My response to that would be, and this is a little tough sometimes, but I have pretty good authority on this one from President Hinckley, and it goes something like this, 'Latter-day Saints do not believe in either apostolic or prophetic infallibility.' Now what does that mean? It means that while we love and sustain and uphold and revere our church leaders, as Joseph Smith once said, 'I never told you I was perfect.' And he said if anyone should expect perfection from me I should expect it from them. So we believe it is perfectly possible for a person who even in a church position of that sort to say something that is in the long run proven not to be so, not to be true." http://mormonwiki.org/Adam-God
Let me see if I understand this:
You say only a prophet can receive revelation for the whole church. So what about his purchase of the Hoffman forgeries? Was he not acting for the entire church when doing so? You can not rationally say when the LDS prophet is acting in the name of the Lord or not because there are countless examples where one would believe he is acting in the name of the Lord and yet it is later proven to be false.
Here are just three examples:
This is not an issue of faith. LDS leaders have proven time and time again that their actions, done on behalf of the church, are false. How do you know when you should trust them and when they are in error?
If Elder McConkie can say 'Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation' then that makes the point that ANYTHING that a current church official says may very well be wrong and denounced by a future leader - so what's the value of a prophet if you don't know if he speaks the truth?Response to Millet
Millet's apologetic is null because canonized LDS doctrine states that God will never allow a living prophet to lead the church astray; and that if a prophet attempted to lead the church astray, God would remove him.
Obviously, Brigham Young taught what is now considered to be a false and heretical doctrine (Adam-God) for 25 years---leading the church astray from correct teachings---but he was never removed from his position. And when apostle Orson Pratt correctly stated that the doctrine was false and heretical, Young censured and demoted him. Also, other church members who challenged or protested the doctrine were excommunicated for disagreeing with the prophet.
Joseph Smith once said, 'I never told you I was perfect.' And he said "if anyone should expect perfection from me I should expect it from them." This doesn't work because Hinckley can't expect perfection from us because we do not claim to be prophets, seers, and revelators as is his title! We don't expect perfection from the prophet as a man but we certainly can expect more from him than he can expect from us.
The world could certainly use a prophet in this day and age to give God's will concerning controversial issues like stem cell research or cloning organs. The LDS prophets are very silent on such issues. We suppose the rest of the world wouldn't believe them but the 14 million members of the LDS Church who believed them could act to bring legislation that supports God's will like have done with family issues such as abortion and same sex marriage.
The prophets, seers and revelators sustained since Joseph Smith haven't prophesied, acted as seers or provided any real revelation except undoing what Joseph Smith revealed, such as ending polygamy or allowing black men to have the priesthood. Why hasn't any prophet since Joseph exhibited the same prophetic, seer and revelatory gifts that Joseph had?
Members are leaving in ever-increasing numbers because of problems they find in the Book of Mormon. Why doesn't the prophet answer difficult questions about the Book of Mormon such as why horses, elephants, wheat, barley, steel, silk, glass, etc. were not in the Americas during BOM times, although the BOM claims they were? Instead, they turn to LDS apologists and organizations like FARMS and FAIR. Why are LDS scholars trying to answer these issues instead of revealed answers from God to His prophet and apostles?
Getting a public, straight answer from the LDS leaders on doctrine is next to impossible. The articles in the Ensign are no longer considered scripture as far as it's correct. Past prophets' and apostles' declarations were thought of as doctrine at the time they were given, but are now often dismissed as theories. How does a member know when a prophet or apostle is speaking as a man and when he is speaking for God in his prophetic or apostolic role?
The issue here is not official declarations of "doctrine," the issue here is one of responsibility. When General Authorities speak (or have spoken) from the pulpit, or when the church publishes and distributes their teachings, are they responsible for representing God as His "special witness"? If they are, but later their words are said by current leaders to be merely the words of a man, or simply theories, then what special role are they filling as apostles and prophets? If they are not responsible for representing God as His "special witness," then why are they called as such? If they are speaking as mere men, they deceive the people by assuming a greater role than that which they have.
The Church can't have it both ways. They can't tell themselves and potential converts that their leaders are inspired in their teachings to the Church, and that the prophets will never lead the Church astray, and then cry, "They were speaking as men," when a General Conference talk, article or teaching becomes embarrassing. One or the other is false.
The problem with declaring that you have absolute truth, is that when you're demonstratively wrong in your teachings, as the Church has been, it's hard to rationalize it, because then people want to ask questions like, "If you were wrong about blacks back then, how do you know you're not wrong about the things you are teaching today?"
To sum it up: Prophets who don't "prophesy" are not prophets. Seers who don't "see" are not seers. Revelators who don't "reveal" are not revelators.
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
The phrase "prophet, seer and revelator" that we attach to the head of the LDS Church now seems to be more titles than actual statements of the leader's duties. We've heard that Gordon B. Hinckley preferred the title of "president" over the title of "prophet" which is probably more fitting as the church in modern times is indeed a corporation.
We want to believe that modern prophets and apostles have some special ability, above and beyond the general membership, to communicate with God, but the evidence doesn't seem to support that. We want a prophet to be bold and committed in a public interview and say, "Yes, we do believe men can become Gods and here's why." Is that expecting too much?
When is a prophet a prophet?
We've all heard the phrase that a prophet is only a prophet when he is speaking as such. We wouldn't expect to hold Thomas S. Monson accountable if he said the Yankees will win the World Series and they lose or when Joseph F. Smith said man would never get to the moon. But when these agents of God speak before the church in an official capacity, they need to be accountable for what they say.
At BYU, in the "Teachings of the Living Prophets" class, we were taught that General Conference talks were scripture, as are all talks by General Authorities, which are inspired by the Holy Ghost. So how do we know which talks are inspired by the Holy Ghost and which are not? We assume that we should use our own judgement which may lead to disagreements among the members.
In light of the many untrue things that the past leaders have said, Faithful LDS say that we need to decide when each prophet is speaking as a prophet and when he's speaking just as a man.
Conclusion: We need to be a prophet just to figure out when a prophet is speaking for God and when he's merely giving his own opinion. So what real value is our prophet?
President acting as a Seer
I once asked in Sunday school what would have happened if Joseph Smith was killed before he finished the translation of the Book of Mormon. Would the Book of Mormon have ended mid-sentence in 3rd Nephi if Joseph was killed at that point of the translation? I was told that the next person called to be a prophet would have finished the work with the same ability that Joseph had.
That answer made sense to me. If we do indeed have a succession of prophets then we needn't fear the inevitable death of the current prophet. The work will continue with the next prophet.
So does it make any sense that the inspired version of the Bible should not be finished and published merely with the death of the first prophet of the restoration? If we really did have a succession of prophets since Joseph Smith, this important work would have been finished and published.
Why didn't Brigham Young or any of the prophets that followed finish the inspired version of the Bible that Joseph started? Joseph was commanded to finish it but it has never been published by the LDS Church, why?
Going back further, why didn't the New Testament end with the death of Jesus? Why didn't the Old Testament end with the death of Moses? The reason is that there was a succession of prophets that continued the work of the previous prophets until there was apostasy. Why would this end with the death of Joseph Smith unless that signaled another apostasy? Or perhaps the LDS Church doesn't have (or has ever had) any real prophets.
Also there are many items as mentioned above, that having a real seer would have been invaluable such as the Book of Abraham papyri, Book of Joseph papyri, Dead Sea Scrolls, Anthon Manuscript, Kinderhook Plates, etc. In addition a seer would be able to determine if actual early church documents that are uncovered are real or forgeries. Also ancient religious documents continue to be discovered such as the recent Book of Judas writings. A seer could be very useful to the LDS people not to mention the world. Yet despite all the good a seer could do, not one person that we consider a prophet, seer and revelator since Joseph Smith has acted as a seer in any way at all.
We realize that we as a church can't just all of a sudden change the title of the prophet, seer and revelator of the church to merely president or some other worldly title. But perhaps we're kidding ourselves if we regard him as anything more than just a man running the church with merely his own intelligence, opinions and self-induced revelation.
We believe that Joseph Smith F. Smith, sixth president of the church, was telling the truth when he told congress that he didn't receive revelations, and that any inspiration he received wasn't anything more than any good Methodist might receive.
We also don't believe that Gordon B. Hinckley's description of revelation he has is anything more than a group of 15 men that discuss issues, debate them and jointly decide on the best course of action.
To illustrate the point, in 1969 all the apostles met and unanimously voted to end the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. However, apostle Harold B. Lee and President David O'McKay were not there. So when they reconvened with all the brethren they voted again and this time the measure was struck down. Doesn't really sound like revelation to us.
Although we don't normally quote from unverified sources, we decided to add this account from someone we know that worked in the administrative staff at the MTC during the time of the announcement in 1978, reversing the ban on blacks having the priesthood:
Perhaps many revelations are received this way? Defining revelation can be very subjective. To some people revelation means the Lord audibly told someone to do something or explained something. To others it may just be the absence of the Lord contradicting what they have thoughtfully studied out in their mind.
The Biggest Error
From studying the issue of blacks and the priesthood it seems that the teaching that blacks were cursed from Cain and were less valiant in the pre-existence is Mormon folklore and not really church doctrine. Although confirming that is impossible as the LDS Church will not issue any statements to confirm or deny that.
Since two or three black men received the priesthood under Joseph's leadership, and no church policy was made during Joseph's time, then it seems likely that the priesthood ban on blacks happened during Brigham Young's leadership.
If the ban on the blacks having the priesthood for 150 years was not really God's will, or even the reasons for it, as instituted by Brigham Young and endorsed by every prophet until Spencer W. Kimball, then these men are not receiving God's will for the church and cannot be regarded as prophets.
The Bottom Line
The real point of this essay is to say that the entire belief in the LDS Church rests on one man, Joseph Smith. The other people that we have regarded as prophets haven't really done anything prophetic. If the prophets since Joseph Smith haven't really been prophets, then our total belief in the LDS Church relies on Joseph Smith's testimony. If that one man was a deceiver, deluded, mislead by Satan or just someone that was trying to make a better religion without any direct instruction from God, then maybe the LDS Church isn't what it claims to be. The leaders of the church since Joseph may have been intelligent, charismatic and good leaders, but the title of prophet, seer and revelator doesn't seem to apply.
Supporting the critics:
Supporting the church:
Salt Lake Freethinking Examiner: Follow the Prophet! Sometimes? The contradiction of LDS Leadership