Quick. Without thinking about it, visualize in your mind the current head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Did you think of Gordon B. Hinckley? Understandable, but no cigar. How about Thomas S. Monson? Wrong again.
I was raised to believe that the head of the Church of Jesus Christ was... Jesus Christ. That's why we named the thing after Him, and not Hinckley or Monson or Smith. But apparently that belief is no longer in vogue.
These days I'm feeling somewhat alone in my assertion of who's actually supposed to be in charge, especially when I read the emails I receive in reference to something I've written on here.
Oddly, although I now get hundreds of hits every time I write a piece, very few people comment in the Comments section. But I do get a whole bunch of letters in my email box and on my Facebook account. And very often I'm called to task for not engaging in the type of hero worship some members think I should.
Today I came across an anonymous post in my comment box following my piece entitled "Too Bad I Don't Like Beer". It's typical of the type of private responses I got to it. The piece in question demonstrated, along with ample quotes and plenty of links citing sources, that beer was not only sanctioned for our use by God, but that no latter-day saint, including the leaders of the church, ever so much as questioned that fact until after prohibition, when the church changed its policy as a public relations ploy.
What was once endorsed by God in scripture was now prohibited so that we would be found more acceptable to the world.
Many of the responses I got went something like this (and I'm paraphrasing wildly here): "I don't care what God says or ever said in the past; what is important is that today we are blessed with prophets and apostles who contradict God, so I'll put my money on those modern leaders. What our leaders tell us today is more important than what God said yesterday."
I touched on the topic of this fanatic Mormon Idolotry back in August, but it looks like it didn't quite take. Below is the latest example of a reader calling me on the carpet. My response can be found in boldface below it:
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to forget that the role of a prophet is to receive and convey revelation directly from God.
You appear to be of the opinion that if a prophet expresses an opinion of his own accord, that his opinion trumps God's word, or at least that it holds a position equal to God's own pronouncements.
Have you forgotten that we received the word of wisdom from God through a prophet, and that the prophet wrote down the revelation as he received it directly from God?
If or when the Lord wishes to clarify, amplify, or amend the Word of Wisdom, he will do so as he always has, by communicating his precise words to the prophet who will write them down and pronounce those words as having come directly from the Lord.
If, as you posit, the living prophet "came out and added something specific to the word of wisdom", he would be acting without God’s authority. The prophet does not have the authority to pronounce ex cathedra; he is not our pope. The president of the church can't just speak and "make it so". That authority is reserved only to God (and possibly Jean-Luc Picard).
You seem to believe that when President Hinckley cautioned against tattoos and earrings that he was passing on to his youthful audience a revelation he had received from God.
Now, I personally happen to be of the opinion that tattoos and piercings are unattractive and foolish. I would not care to receive any, and if someone sought my opinion on the subject I would not hesitate to advise him or her against it. So I agree with Pres. Hinckely's opinion, and I see it as valuable and instructive counsel.
It was only his opinion. No member of his audience had any obligation to treat that opinion as anything other than wise counsel. He did not claim it was any pronouncement from God, so his young listeners had no more obligation to obey that counsel than they did the advice of any other person (with the possible exception of their parents).
If Dr. James Dobson or the Reverend Pat Robertson had given that advice from the pulpit (and they probably have), would you be writing me about it? Absent a revelation from God, President Hinckley had no more authority than they do to compel the saints to obey. He did, however, have the right to do what he did, which was to share some of his musings and misgivings on the prevailing fashions of the day.
Let's remember that a prophet is only a prophet when he speaks as a prophet; that is, when he is revealing the actual will of the Lord.
The President of the church wears more than one hat. Joseph Smith taught that the president holds the keys of Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and can exercise those keys only when the lord sees fit to use him in that capacity. Most of the time the president simply presides. That’s why he’s called the president. He is the “Preside-ant”. He functions as an officer of the corporation that is the institutional church, and presides over the day to day affairs of that corporation. He is never in charge of you or me or any other member of the church of Christ.
When President Hinckley advised against tattoos and piercings, he was sharing his personal opinion, just as I’m sharing my personal opinion with you right now that his advice was valid and useful and worthy of consideration. But make no mistake: when he was telling those kids that he didn't understand why some young men would want to disfigure their bodies, and when he told the young women that he did not find multiple earrings on a woman attractive, he was not channeling God, he was channeling your grampa.
Do you really believe that the very God who had nothing to say to the prophet in April 2003 regarding America’s heretofore unprecedented attack and occupation of distant nations; who gave no warning since then of the endless killing and the quagmire that would result; who offered his prophet no prophecies regarding the devastating floods, tsunamis and economic depression, nor any hints about the emerging plagues and America's impending police state; are you telling me that this same God somehow found the time to whisper into Hinckley’s ear a trivial bit of fashion advice?
Is our God the Lord of Shabaoth, or is He the Lord of Teen People and Gentlemen’s Quarterly?
If Hinckley’s counsel had come directly from the Lord, he would have said so, and he would have presented a written revelation in the words of the Lord (or as close as man can come to approximating those words) just as we do throughout the Doctrine and Covenants.
I would caution you to rethink your belief that "we are supposed to be smart enough to get our day to day rules from [the prophets]". This is unscriptural, undoctrinal, and subversive to God's plan. Second Nephi 32:5 as well as countless other scriptures state unequivocally that it is the role of the Holy Ghost to show unto us all the things that we should do.
Nowhere was I ever notified that the function of the Holy Ghost had been outsourced to Salt Lake City.
I don't wish to suggest that those members advocating blind obedience to the prophet may be having difficulty getting all of their synapses firing properly, but Joseph Smith declared that a person who advocated such obedience "should not claim a rank among intelligent beings".
It's not merely a stupid belief, it's a potentially dangerous one. Brigham Young prophesied in 1861 that some day "this church will be led on to the very brink of hell by the leaders of this people."
So maybe it's time to rethink who should have more influence in your day-to-day life: Holy Ghost, or Corporate Office Holder?
Perhaps you've forgotten Lehi's dream in which we learn that the only safe haven is to hold to the iron rod, which Nephi interpreted to be the word of God. That word is received by us in three ways:
1. Through scripture, where it is clearly specified as coming through revelation.
2. Through the witness of the Holy Ghost
3. Through modern revelation.
The Lord has very carefully placed conditions on how modern revelation is given and received. He placed these safeguards on the church so that we can differentiate His words from those of the prophets.
A revelation must indicate that it has come directly from the mouth of the Lord, for instance being prefaced with the words, "thus saith the Lord"; it will not contradict previously given revelation; it will not violate the doctrine of free agency; it must be written down; the people are to pray about it so that the Holy Ghost may witness to the people that these words truly are of the Lord; and finally the people, having had a witness from the Holy Ghost, are to vote upon the written revelation in conference as having come directly from the Lord and therefore is binding on the whole church.
"Follow the Prophet, don't go astray" makes a dandy primary song, but it’s not doctrine. It is a 20th Century invention, an old wives’ tale, a Mormon Urban Legend that has slowly gained credence through constant repetition. For the past couple of decades The Brethren have quoted each other in circles regarding this "doctrine", but they never seem to quote God Himself on it.
You won’t find such a teaching in the writings or speeches of Joseph Smith or anywhere in Scripture, and you won’t find it in any modern revelation from God. As the apostle Peter (who was a prophet, don’t forget) insisted, we ought to obey God rather than men", and unless the prophet speaks in the name of God, you are following a man when you put your faith in the arm of flesh.
You ask me, "what do you think [the prophet] would say if you asked him whether or not you are living the Word of Wisdom by drinking beer?"
Well, first of all, I don't drink beer. I simply mentioned that it was too bad I can't stand the taste of it, since God stated in his revelation that he placed barley on the earth for our use in beer and ale and that he fully expects us to consume those drinks as His people have throughout history.
Secondly, I would not ask the prophet such a question, because this is a matter that the scriptures are already clear on and we have been admonished to "be not commanded in all things", particularly those things that have already been promulgated and have not been superceded by any subsequent commandment.
However, if the prophet expressed to me an opinion on beer contrary to the revelation Joseph Smith received, I would ask him if he has received a direct revelation from God on the matter. And if so, I would respectfully ask to see said revelation so that I may pray about it and receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost that it did indeed come from God.
I would also ask him to inquire of the Lord why, if mild drinks are forbidden the saints, did He permit Brigham Young to finance the building of his personal mansions with the profits from beer and wine sales which were purchased and consumed by the saints?
Every pronouncement on the subject of beer that we have today appears to have been influenced by the adopted creeds of the sectarian churches around the time of prohibition- churches which our own traditions have rightly decried. No statement of any general authority purporting to wedge beer into the category of "strong drink" pretends to have been received through a revelation.
A living prophet is very useful when conveying direct revelation or prophecy. However, what I gather from your letter is that according to your personal doctrine, men can usurp the will of God any time they want simply by virtue of having been given an office and a title. You not only appear to believe that the prophet must always be obeyed, the entire theme of your letter seems to promote it as the First Principle of the Gospel.
Where do you get such ideas? Nothing you are espousing can be found anywhere in the theology of the Restoration.
The only sure path through this life is to hold to the iron rod which leads to joy in Christ. To advocate letting go of that rod and reaching for the arm of flesh is to risk wandering from the path and falling into the mists of darkness.