Sunday, June 25, 2017

Joseph Smith's Big Mistake

Which of these things is not like the others?
Previously: Rejected Gospel

First time readers might look at the title of this piece and mistakenly assume I am a critic of Joseph Smith. But long-time readers know I hold Brother Joseph in the highest regard. I believe he was divinely appointed by God to be the prophet of the Restoration, that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, that he received direct revelations from the mouth of God which he then conveyed to the world, and that on several occasions he enjoyed a personal audience with Jesus Christ.

That's not to say the man was perfect. Jesus Himself called Joseph Smith on the carpet more than once for demonstrating poor judgment. So let's start by acknowledging that the man was human like the rest of us.

While I recognize Joseph Smith as a true prophet, seer, and revelator, I do think he made one gigantic error, an error that continues to have negative repercussions today within the LDS Church, warping our collective assumptions about what a prophet of the Lord should be.

 So what, you may ask, was that mistake?

It happened in 1832 at a conference of the fledgling church in Amherst, Ohio, at a time when the total membership of the church was little more than two or three hundred strong. Two years previously, Joseph Smith had been called of God and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ. His official designation at that time was "first elder" of the church, which was not a priesthood office but merely a title predicted by John the Baptist, and accepted by the 27 other members present. (Joseph Smith History 1:72) His actual priesthood calling, which he obtained from the Lord, was as an apostle, and along with that calling God had designated him a prophet, a vessel through whom God's words were to be disseminated to the world.

On January 2nd of 1832, the Lord gave a revelation through the prophet which, among other things, instructed the saints to elect certain men whose job it would be to look to the poor and the needy within the church and administer to their relief. "And this shall be their work," the Lord continued, "to govern the affairs of the property of this church." (D&C 38:35-36)

So three weeks later, when Joseph and Emma arrived at the conference in Amherst, one of the orders of business was to choose those men who would govern the temporal affairs of the church. Joseph Smith was himself nominated, then elected by the people to be the new "President of the High Priesthood."

And so it was that two years after the church had been organized, the newly created office of president -an administrative office that could have been held by Joseph's brother Hyrum, or Oliver Cowdery, or Sidney Rigdon, or David Whitmer, or pretty much anybody else- was intertwined with the divine calling of a prophet, seer, and revelator. And few there be in the church today who are able to untangle that titular mess.

Here's what Brigham Young had to say some years after Joseph's death:
"Perhaps it may make some of you stumble, were I to ask you a question—Does a man’s being a Prophet in this Church prove that he shall be the President of it? I answer, no! A man may be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and it may have nothing to do with his being the president of the Church. Suffice it to say, that Joseph was the president of the Church, as long as he lived: the people chose to have it so. He always filled that responsible station by the voice of the people. Can you find any revelation appointing him the President of the Church? The keys of the Priesthood were committed to Joseph, to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth, and were not to be taken from him in time or in eternity; but when he was called to preside over the Church, it was by the voice of the people; though he held the keys of the Priesthood, independent of their voice.” (Journal of Discourses 1:133)
A few years after being elected president, Joseph attempted to have his brother Hyrum take over all of his duties, because for one thing the office of Patriarch was a greater church office than the office of President, and if the church were to be governed by someone, it should be governed by the patriarch. For another, Joseph Smith had grown past the church, which he understood to be but a stepping-stone to his greater calling: to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom, which, as we have seen, is perceptually distinct from the Church, was where Joseph's overriding interest now lay. So he tried to turn responsibility for the church over to Hyrum. But the vision of the members was narrower than Joseph's and they would have none of it. Members of the church tended not to heed Hyrum Smith, despite Joseph's counsel that they should. They wanted the prophet to also preside over them. They wanted him to run their church.

The reason I feel it was a mistake for Joseph to go along with the people's wishes and take on the church's administrative duties, is because to this day most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don't seem to understand that those roles are vastly different. Over time we have conflated the office of the President with the divine calling of a prophet, even though one has virtually nothing to do with the other.

Take a look at the collection of pictures at the top left corner of this essay. Each of those men has held the office of president of the church. But only one -the first one- has ever made the claim that he was a prophet of God. Indeed, out of all the men pictured, Joseph Smith was the only one who has ever been endorsed by God as His prophet. (See this previous post for a partial list of the Lord's scriptural endorsements.) God instructed the saints to "heed [Joseph's] words" as he receives them from God's own mouth. (D&C 21:4-5) The Lord has never given similar instructions to the church regarding any subsequent president. Not once.

What's more, Brigham Young specifically denied being a prophet, and he denied he was Joseph Smith's legal successor. Decades later president Heber J. Grant said he knew of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Likewise, you won't find one instance where any president of the Church, from Brigham Young through Thomas Monson, has claimed to have the gifts of a prophet, seer, or revelator. He does, however, tend to sit back and allow his underlings to heap adoration on him, describing him with adoring terms such as "our beloved prophet." But I have never heard a sitting president refer to himself as a prophet, seer, or revelator, or affirm he has any of those gifts and abilities. In fact, Joseph F. Smith and Thomas S. Monson both went out of their way to dodge the question when asked point-blank.

Don't you think that's odd? Out of that entire bunch -16 presidents over a period of 187 years- Joseph Smith was the only one who boldly made the claim to being the mouthpiece of the Lord.

We seem to be deeply conditioned to believe that any man who ascends to the presidency of the Church has somehow been appointed to that office by God. And we also assume, despite a complete lack of evidence, that the same time the Lord chooses a man to be president, he has also bestowed upon that man the gifts and abilities of a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.

But here's something worth remembering: although God did anoint Joseph Smith to be a prophet, a seer, and a revelator, he did not anoint him to preside over the church. That was a separate administrative office requiring a differing set of skills, and God left it up to the members to choose who they wanted to preside over the church. Why? Because God never imposes his will on anyone, and a president is required at times to decide temporal matters affecting the congregation. Therefore the congregation was instructed by God to vote for whomever they wanted in that office.

A prophet is a divinely appointed calling, while a president is an administrative one. Anybody could have been elected president of the church, but not anybody can be a prophet. Joseph Smith's role as president required him to wear two different hats, depending on the occasion; sometimes he acted in his capacity as a prophet, and other times he acted in the administrative role as president of a religious society.

This modern conflation of prophet into president has caused us to lose sight of the prophet's true purpose. According to Elder B.H. Roberts, being a teacher is the prophet's "highest and noblest calling."
"First of all, a word of definition: This term "prophet" -what do you make of it? Generally, when you speak of a "prophet," you have in mind a predictor of future events, one who foretells things that are to come to pass, and indeed that is, in part, the office of a prophet -in part what is expected of him.

"But really this is the very least of his duties. A prophet should be a "forth-teller" rather than a fore-teller. Primarily he must be a teacher of men, and expounder of the things of God. The inspiration of the Almighty must give him understanding, and when given he must expound it to his people, to his age. He must be a Seer that can make others see. A Teacher that can make others see. A Teacher sent of God to instruct a people -to enlighen an age. This is the primary office of a prophet." (B.H. Roberts, Joseph Smith The Prophet-Teacher, 1907.)
Where Are The Revelations? 
Twice a year for most of my life I've plopped myself down in front of the TV during conference sessions expecting to be taught a message from the Lord coming through the president of the church. At least since Gordon Hinckley was president, I've paid close attention, listening for a message direct from the Lord -the type of clear, unmistakable oracles that members of the Lord's church received through Joseph Smith on a regular basis.

I don't know about you, but I don't recall being taught much that was noteworthy from either Gordon Hinckley or from Thomas Monson. I've watched over the years as they both conduct meetings, make announcements, report policy changes, introduce speakers, tell stories, compliment the choir, admonish us to pay tithing, and warn us to obey them. But I've never heard either of them impart any new or worthwhile information as Joseph Smith constantly did. I've never heard either of these men actually teach.

I've listened to the current president repeat the same insipid stories he's been telling for over thirty years now, and I'll be frank with you: I'm not getting the feeling I'm being properly taught. In fact, on at least one occasion which I documented on this blog, Monson actually disparaged a salient teaching of Jesus Christ when he stepped up to the pulpit and quoted at length from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The putative prophet of the Lord stepped up to the pulpit in general conference, ostensibly to deliver a message from God to the entire world, and for his text he presented -not a revelation he had recently received from the Lord, not even an excerpt from scripture- but an article he said he had recently read in the Wall Street Journal. I was so astonished by this choice of material that I wrote a blog post about it.

Now don't get me wrong. I like the Wall Street Journal, especially the middle column and the editorial page. Many years ago, in a life much different from the life I live today, I read that paper every morning over donuts. So I'm not knocking the Wall Street Journal.

But put this in perspective. Imagine you are one of the 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic church, and you have tuned in to watch the pope standing on the balcony of the Vatican looking down at the millions of his admirers who are standing there waiting for His Holiness to deliver a message from God, and he opens with, "So I was reading an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal."

Wouldn't that seem a bit out of place for a major religious leader? You might understandably wonder what The Pontiff was doing poring over a copy of the Wall Street Journal in the first place. Is this what the Holy Father does with his time?

We Mormons look at our prophet the same way the Catholics see their pope, only we believe our guy is the true messenger of God.

So then why doesn't he ever deliver a message from God? Why in heaven's name is he wasting our time quoting lengthy passages from the newspaper? Most active members of the church have an image in their heads of the prophet diligently spending time going through the scriptures, or having a personal audience with the Lord.  Yet I don't know of any active members who thought it the least bit strange to hear their prophet, seer, and revelator center his keynote sermon around the editorial page of America's financial daily.

And what was that message? If you'll watch Monson's face at the 2:17 mark, you'll see him share the mocking disdain the editorial writer has for the very idea that the most important thing any of us can do on this earth is to love one another. It only happens to be the first commandment of Jesus Christ.

Some teacher, huh?

But perhaps I'm being too hard on the president. Obviously someone thinks President Monson is a great teacher. The evidence is all over the internet, as many of his loving admirers have gone to the trouble of creating and distributing memes containing his various words of wisdom. Here are a dozen examples that typify The Teachings of The Prophet of The Lord:

Now, I don't want you to think I take issue with any of those aphorisms. In my opinion they all contain general truth. I'm just curious why it is that so many members are plastering these sayings all over the internet as if they prove Thomas Monson is a prophet of God. Nevermind that you can find the same sentiments contained in any decent collection of self-help books; what I want to know is this: if Thomas Monson is not just the president of the church, but a prophet as well, when is he going to start teaching us things Tony Robbins hasn't already come up with?

On my bookshelves I have an incomplete set of The Joseph Smith Papers. I also have a separate and unrelated two volume set titled The Papers of Joseph Smith, as well as books with such titles as Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; The Words of Joseph Smith; The Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings; The Journals of Joseph Smith; The Essential Joseph Smith; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith; and Joseph Speaks. In addition to those, most members have in their homes the impressive body of scripture produced through Joseph Smith, which includes the Book of Mormon, the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lectures on Faith, and Joseph Smith's Inspired Translation of the Bible.

All of these volumes are chock full of teachings that enlighten. By that I mean most of Joseph's speeches and writings contain bona fide profundities; information that had been lost to time or otherwise unavailable to the world before he came on the scene. President Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and because he was a prophet he fulfilled the most noble role of a prophet: he was an actual teacher. He taught things that were not widely known before he presented them to the world.

Conversely, you can go down to your local Deseret Book Store and find books that have been written by almost every president of the Church in modern times. You will find they contain nothing like the kind of information you'll find in a single one of the volumes containing Joseph Smith's teachings.

Have you ever tried to read through one of their books front to back? I can't do it. Where the teachings Joseph Smith left behind are chock full of sagacity, these books of the modern presidents are overflowing with inanities. They're mostly rehashed conference talks and assortments of words of dubious wisdom ghostwritten by hacks in the Church PR department -much like the "words of wisdom" provided to Thomas Monson by staff writers and recycled in those memes above.

According to the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project, today we are left with only a fraction of Joseph Smith's teachings. He gave some 250 sermons in his lifetime, but only about 50 of them were written down by scribes. So who knows what else we're missing?

Let's come to the proper conclusion here: a president is a vastly different animal than a prophet. In many ways their purposes are at odds with each other. A president's role is to command and control. A prophet is a teacher of righteousness, who successfully fills his role only if he operates through persuasion. Joseph Smith was somehow able to balance the two roles, but only because he understood he could not operate as a prophet and preside over the church at the same time. At those times when he had donned the hat of the president, he was not functioning as the prophet, and vice-versa. We don't seem to understand the difference in the church today, where everyone seems to use the terms "Prophet" and "President" interchangeably.

Joseph Smith could have done us all a favor back in 1832 and declined the people's invitation to become their president. But he didn't, so what's done is done. It's our responsibility now to wake up and be able to tell the difference so we don't continue to mistake a man with high rank and administrative titles with someone who has actually been given gifts and abilities from on high.

If we fail to discern the difference, we run the risk of following a false prophet.


Tamsyn Spackman said...

This was definitely one of the main reasons I left the church. During a temple recommend interview, I attested that I didn't think being the president meant a person was a prophet, and that I couldn't sustain President Monson as being a prophet, seer and revelator without redefining what those terms mean. I didn't get my recommend. It was 3 years of research up to that point, and a lot of other reasons, but knowing that from that point on I wouldn't be able to fully participate anymore was a defining moment for me.

Milo Jury said...

I will be an apologist for the brethren. I believe many in the past knew their callings did not mean they were prophets, seers, or revelators. That did not mean they couldn't prophesy, see, or reveal as the Lord directed. They were apostles, missionaries called to preach Jesus Christ to the world. This, in my opinion, is why the church is so focused on missionary work to the exclusion of so much else. I think that is true of some or most of those today. If these guys would leave CHQ and get out into the world exclusively, the church would benefit greatly, but I digress.
However, the members do not want this. They want men to lead them. Members keep pushing their responsibilities to seek the Lord and his mysteries upon the brethren. The brethren do not want to upset the apple cart, so they smile and play the role. At first, they play it to please the members and help them feel love towards the church. Removing or reducing cognitive dissonance is the primary goal here. I wonder though if some have let the adoration go to their heads.
So who is to blame? I place it upon the members. After all, it is our church, and we could stop sustaining these guys to greater glory than they deserve.

Robin Hood said...

I don't disagree with anything you wrote in this article Rock.
The only thing I will say is that it is supposed to be like this. Joseph is the prophet of the restoration.... period.
The last 2 verses in D&C 136 clearly indicate that the Lord had turned the Kingdom over to the church and that there would be no more revelation for some time.
I personally believe this will be the case until the Lord sees fit to speak again in a "thus saith the Lord" way. Currently the church is managed through inspiration in much the same way each of us manages our lives.
Some believe the "one mighty and strong" to come will be a returning Joseph Smith. I don't know about that, but I do know it's not Denver Snuffer et al!

Lester said...

A lovely piece, Rock—friendly, the ideas well-fleshed-out and completely relevant to the tenor of our time of questioning the relevance of organized religion. Thank you. Your change of address to the hinterlands of Idaho hasn’t diminished your contribution to the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the least.

In hindsight, this post paints the LDS corporate witch hunt and keystone cops caper that drove you out as remarkably weak, tenuous and simple-minded. Lacking any coherent evidence or compelling insights into your change in perspective, your accusers branded you an apostate and just heaved you off The Good Ship Zion™. Here you share an full-blown indictment of the system of LDS presidents after Joseph. Think of the demon they could’ve made you into as evidenced by this post! Think of the rallies, the memes the endless talks inveighing the gullible to beware of president-doubters!

I agree with your contention that God’s direct, revealed word to man is the gold standard for trustworthiness and usefulness. Unless a man claims to be speaking words that God told him to share and we can confirm that by a witness of the spirit, that man is a cheerleader at best and the head of a Magisterium at its most colorful, logical extreme

Robin Hood—If you discover a true messenger from God in your travels, do let us know about him or her. As at moments preceding great change in the past, there well may be multiple true messengers sent to warn and to teach in our day. I wouldn’t put such a burden on Rock, but his writings have strengthened my loyalty to Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

May LDS presidents continue to receive the sustaining of life from moment-to-moment that King Benjamin notes God affords us all. May they find joy in their hobbies and in their grandchildren. May they give generously to ease the suffering of any of the billions of fellow human beings less fortunate than they. May the Lord entice them to step aside from the telestial illusions of power and self-importance that plague even good men.

matt lohrke said...

Memes - one of the most pernicious of all artifacts afflicting the modern church. They have the appearance of profundity and depth, but are simply equivalents to Lifetime Movies and Hallmarks cards. They're designed to make us feel good about ourselves for accomplishing absolutely nothing.

One of my favorite things to do is to search #ldsconf on twitter during conference weekend. The speed with which these memes appears is truly staggering...

What a world.

matt lohrke said...

I forgot mention, many years ago my grandmother gave a book by President Monson titles, "Inspiring Stories that Build Faith," or something to that effect. I recently thumbed through it while cleaning out my house before a move. It was, sadly, full of those "I left my $5 bill in my pants when I put them in the washer and found it dryer" type of stories. There was not one story of true faith.

I put the book in the "donate to DI people" before my aunt rescued it...

The Navarro's said...

When you say:

"Joseph Smith had grown past the church, which he understood to be but a stepping-stone to his greater mission: to help institute the Kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom, which as we have seen, is perceptually distinct from the Church, was where Joseph's true interests now lay."

Does this mean you believe the Kingdom of God was not on earth till Joseph Smith came around? I ask not to bash but to understand. The more I ponder on this the more I feel the restoration was not a restoration. Maybe a restoration of the of the Priesthood but even then the Priesthood does not appear to be what the Church teaches. The Church seems to make a bigger deal about Priesthood than it ought too.

The parable of the talents is about the the Kingdom of God/heaven or in other words His church and the Savior defines in Third Nephi what His gospel was and if we take Him at His word, which we should, then the gospel never left the earth: And by his definition of His church in D&C 10 neither did his church.

Also, where do we get the term restoration from as in the Restoration of the Gospel because if the Gospel never left the earth then what was restored. We talk about Restoration when it seems it would be more appropriate to refer to it as a Clarification of the Gospel.

matt lohrke said...

@The Navarro's --

I think this is a fairly accurate assessment. Just in the two weeks or so I've been listening to presentations One Who Is Watching posted on YouTube. At one point, he said neither Joseph or the Lord referred to Joseph's mission as "The Restoration." I searched the D&C and sure enough, the term only appears in reference to restoration of lands and covenants (this term may appear in other places, but I haven't had time to search it out yet).

I'm just thinking out loud here, but perhaps "establish" and "restore" aren't the same thing. Maybe the Lord "established" his gospel among the Gentiles because of our role to play in restoring the various tribes of Israel into the covenant family? I'm currently reading Avraham Gileadi's "The Last Days" (HIGHLY recommended) in which he compares the Mormon Gentiles to the mother tree in Zenos' allegory -- and suggests that a group of sanctified people plucked out of the larger church (the rest will be destroyed) will have the charge of delivering the Gospel to Lehi's descendants and the scattered House of Israel, thus fulfilling the Gentile role of "nursing mothers." In order to have a sanctified people, the Lord needed a place to dwell and to teach and to instruct and to reveal and we all know how Nauvoo turned out.

Again, just thinking out loud but it just makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Robynn said...

Great article! I also have made the deliberate choice to leave the LDS Church and be baptized into a fellowship. When you read the history of the prophets you see that none have been anointed as "prophet, seer, and revelator" Joseph F Smith declared that they were not to be anointed, only God has that power, yet later Joseph Fielding Smith was anointed as "prophet, seer, and revelator." There was no human ordained with that anointing power. In my eyes and mind, I have come to the conclusion that such actions are blasphemous in God's eyes. My discomfiture in the practices of the LDS Church because of such a bunch of hogwash and was no longer a religion but closer to a cult following a corporation! Where the corporation demands the donations to come in monthly so they can continue to participate in business transactions.
I ponder of all of the corporations that the federal government paid to help out struggling business could have been kept in the coffers if all corporations operated in the same manner! Hahaha

Leonel D'Ávila said...

Congratulations, Rock. A really illuminating article that corroborates many of my own visions. I would just like to add that although Brigham Young rejected the role of prophet or successor of Joseph Smith, he was the only president of the Church who added a new perspective of understanding to the Gospel. Unfortunately or not, these doctrinal developments were rejected as mere opinions as soon as Young died.

James Q. Muir said...

You want a life that seriously sucks become a true prophet.....actually obey the commandments of Jesus Christ and take his name, forsake the world, and that not in vain, but choose the kingdom of God as your reality, THEN receive an actual baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost....that gets you numbered among the prophets....Samuel 10...even King Saul for heaven's sake. You will have to stand as a lone witness the rest of your life as EVERYONE will think you nuts. They will ignore teachings that you expound and unfold. You might even be given to reveal The Apocalrock where God set his monument with hallmarks of his ownership of this planet and proofs of who are his prophets and what IS NOT of God. Important for our day.........then listen for the sound of being completely ignored. All you can do is KEEP what you are. It requires all you got and forget about success in the world. What a joke. You got to hold on to the kingdom at all costs all alone with not one to help. LOVE IT!

Matthias said...

Interesting article.

It should be obvious to anyone who is willing to open their eyes that there is a big difference between Joseph Smith and his successors as church president. Certainly no church president from Brigham Young onward has even come close to filling Joseph Smith's shoes. There is no comparison.

However, the idea that Joseph Smith shouldn't have been called as president of the church and could have acted as prophet, seer, and revelator while someone else acted as the president of the church is in direct opposition to the scriptures.

The idea that Joseph Smith was trying to put his brother Hyrum in as church president so he could focus on the kingdom is also not correct.

According to D&C 107 the president of the church's responsibilities include being like unto Moses and even being a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.

91 And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—

92 Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.

Now these verses do not automatically bestow all of these gifts upon the president of the church, but it's pretty darn clear that obtaining these gifts and being the Lord's spokesman like Moses is a vital part of the office of Church President/President of the High Priesthood.

Furthermore, the Lord makes it clear that the Keys of the Kingdom always belong to the presidency of the High Priesthood (aka first presidency). This is made clear in D&C 81 where Frederick G. Williams is called to be Joseph Smith's councilor.

1 Verily, verily, I say unto you my servant Frederick G. Williams: Listen to the voice of him who speaketh, to the word of the Lord your God, and hearken to the calling wherewith you are called, even to be a high priest in my church, and a counselor unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.;

2 Unto whom I have given the keys of the kingdom, which belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood:

In a number of places in the D&C the Lord makes it clear that Joseph Smith was his one and only spokesman, until another was appointed in his stead and that the church was to reject any revelation that came from another source. See for example D&C 28:2-7 and D&C 43:2-7

D&C 43 which was received in February 1831 also commands the saints to appoint and uphold Joseph Smith.

12 And if ye desire the glories of the kingdom, appoint ye my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and uphold him before me by the prayer of faith.

Appoint and uphold him to what? To the office of church president of course.

Unknown said...

Duane Crowther writes in his book “Thus sayeth the Lord” (pages 148,149)
“An assumption frequently made is that the authors of the prophetic books of the Old Testament were the constituted authorities of the church in their eras. This however was not always the case. Some of them were even considered rebels by the religious leaders of Israel in their days.
Jeremiah was one such prophet who stood outside of the church. The established church, through its priests, even attempted to put Jeremiah to death. Micah, Amos, Hosea and Zephaniah were also prophets who were critical of corruption within the church.
Many times the Lord spoke through the prophets to rebuke the established church which was still conveying the Priesthood authority. They were regarded as spokesmen of God by the righteous, but as enemies and nuisances by the wicked priestly officials.”
In that perspective I conclude there may be prophets among us, even in our day.
Anyway, as Brigham has said: God chooses His prophets; the people choose their presidents.
When Joseph proposed his brother to be the President of the church, the people rejected that idea, and Joseph had to grant them that wish, since the church is a democracy (it should be) and everything in the church has to be done by common consent and Joseph had to honour that principle, as it is one of our doctrines.
If Hyrum would become president, Joseph would retain his position as “prophet seer and revelator”, the Lord's Anointed, which is a Priesthood office that is connected with the keys of the kingdom. We also read about this order of things in Mosiah chapter 25: King Mosiah as the Lords anointed, as prophet seer and revelator (he had the urim and thummim by which he could translate), orders Alma to set up a church organisation, of which he – Alma – then becomes the president.
At that time Joseph was very much involved in establishing – by revelation – the political kingdom of God, as a part of God's kingdom on earth, which, as a matter of fact eventually resulted in the organisation in march 1844 of a political body called the Council of Fifty. He needed time, as he probably knew he would not live very long, and that is why he wanted Hyrum to be the president.
Indeed the distinction between the office of a President and a Prophet has disappeared in the modern LDS church, and it is good to highlight these things, but I am afraid it will not reach the people who most need to read it. Most church members today know little or nothing about this topic. The correlated church keeps people uninformed. You only get the information by serious research and not much people are willing or able to make that effort, is my experience.
I believe this church has a president who is not a prophet appointed as such by the Lord. Things have become mixed up quite a bit in our time, but fact is that the prophet Joseph still holds the keys of this dipensation and the promise has been made to him that one day he'll come back to finish the job and to put the House of God back in order. That is my belief and my hope for the future.
Thanks for this post.

Unknown said...

One more thing. I said that most people are'nt willing or able to study these things. Let me correct that. It looks a bit arrogant. It's not just that simple, I realise that most people simply lack the time. This is a very much time consuming effort. For me it's easy, being a pensioner. My best regards to all.

Robin Hood said...

Well said.
By the way, are you guys going to be ok without us?(Brexit)

Matthias said...


Your conclusion is quite logical. Certainly if we use the governing structure of the Book of Mormon and Old Testament where the people were lead by a king or judges and had prophets outside the church hiarchy and compare it to our day your conclusion of there being prophets outside of the church today would make perfect sense.

The problem I see with it are the revelations I just quoted above, in which the Lord appears to be setting up a different governing structure in the latter days than in biblicle times.

I agree with you that it does not appear that the church has a true prophet as its President today. Nor does it appear that we've had one since Joseph's death. I'm not completely sure why that is. Perhaps Brigham Young was not actually called of God to be the president of the church. Or perhaps it is something else.

As to there being true prophets comparable to Joseph Smith, the ancient apostles of Christ, or the prophets of the Old Testament and Book of Mormon on the earth today, I don't see any evidence that such have existed since the death of Joseph Smith, whether within the church or without. Are you aware of any individuals who fit the criteria of true prophets, seers, revelatory, and translators like Joseph Smith was?

I agree we that one mighty and strong Will be sent forth to set in order the house of God. Perhaps it will be a returning Joseph Smith, perhaps John the revelatory, or perhaps someone else. It would seem to me that the church would have to sense to exist before this individual is sent forth, so as not to violate the governing structure the Lord set up in the D&C. I could be wrong about that.

Matthias said...

I meant the church may have to cease to exist not sense to exist. Darn auto correct.

Walrus said...

Compelling, but in error?
The Holy Ghost is our Teacher, Guide, and Personal Revelator. The Prophet and President positions both focus on bringing everyone closer to God, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, repentance, and the Holy Ghost.
All the "unenlightended stories" shows how applying gospel principles to life experiences can develope our relationship with God..told by "great leaders" having normal experiences.
J Smith received revelations at differing first monthly, but 1837, and 1840-41 were had only a few. When the revelations didn't come monthly, many doubted and some fell away..having expectations of what a Prophet should do and how often.
God revealed all that was wanted Through Joseph Smith...easy and clean. Can you imagine if God dispersed it over many Prophets? Why? That would cause division and strife, as was found in New Testament times.
Not all prophets revealed or restored...most simply support the gospel Repent and look to Jesus Christ and find that personal relationship.

Walrus said...

Lastly...Joseph Smith taught us that as he received all his visions, so could we, and more. He withheld certain wisdom because it wasn't his place to reveal it...but again, he showed us the way.
I feel bad for those sitting through Conference waiting for the leaders to wow them, when they are the key to unlocking the wow. Faithful service may find you in close proximity to a leader, and increase your chances of mind blowing....but being realistic, our minds cannot always be in a state of "blow".

Unknown said...

Walrus, I agree that the Lord would rather have one prophet to reveal His word: His anointed one. But then we speak of a situation in which the House of God is in order. I am afraid it is not, even that at present the Kingdom is completely out of order, like in the days of Lehi, (and I am not alone in that opinion). Nephi writes in his very first chapter in the BoM (vers 4) that there came many prophets, urging the people to repent. Lehi may have known Jeremiah personally, for instance. It may well be that we are in such a situation today.

Unknown said...

To Robin Hood: I am sorry about Brexit. That is the result of political games played by irresponsible politicians. I hope they'll find a way to part in decent way. Such matters should not be decided by referendum.

Robin Hood said...

@ MrHFMetz
Brexit is very popular here. I am very much in favour of it. Just concerned that Germany will now completely dominate Europe. Herr Hitler would be delighted.

DeeLyn said...

I agree that none of those who came after Joseph were prophets. But I don't believe Joseph was either. It seems the last true prophets were maybe some of Christ's apostles and John the Baptist.

But Christ did not want us to put faith and trust in any man or prophet anyway, or let them lead us or receive revelation or truth for us, or to give us power or to take care of the poor for us or to interpret scripture for us and tell us what is right or wrong. These are all things Christ taught we need to do and discern for ourselves.

Not even God can make someone a prophet or give them power or spiritual gifts, such things must be earned by keeping the commandments. There are no short cuts to heaven.

Robin Hood said...

Well said. I'm inclined to agree with you.
Like I said previously, it is meant to be like this.
Right at the end of D&C 136, the very last "thus saith the Lord" revelation, the Lord says "so no more at present. Amen and amen."
I think he meant it.

Phillip Redd said...

@ Navarro's, @ Matt L:
I just wanted to comment on your posts, and appreciate what you said. I also believe that what Joseph did was not particularly a restoration, at least not one in its entirety due to the fact that he and his older brother were martyred prior to any chance of completion. Joseph's calling was to bring forth the Book of Mormon and to teach, exactly as Rock has outlined in this post above. I believe it was never his (Joseph's) intention to form a church, but that is what the saints wanted. We never seem to be able to function without a leader. So with the Campbelite explosion in Kirkland and with Sidney Rigdon's leadership, Joseph gave them a church and the Lord supported that because he saw wisdom in it. You and I wouldn't be where we are today without it! Yes, many of the prophets both in the old and New Testaments as well as the Book of Mormon, speak of the last days including a restoration of God's covenant people through a remnant ( yes, I believe a group of the humble followers of Jesus Christ to have left the corporate churches in one way shape or form) and through servants ( Jacob 5) to bring the gospel again to the house of Israel restoring them as Gods people (along with the converted Gentiles). I believe there are those who the Lord has chosen as servants and we must recognize for their fruits (read/listen to their message; is it from the Lord?) and then have faith and hear the Lord's voice and take part in what He has to offer you, i.e. His covenant, and then help to build Zion.

matt lohrke said...

@Phillip - appreciate the comments.

Very true about our tendency to want a leader. Nephi knew the danger in setting up such a system. Jared and his brother knew this, too. Although a godly monarch is the ideal, finding truly the righteous to fill such a seat is rare, to say the least. I like Joseph's statement that there was nothing he knew that each of was unable to know personally. To me, that's Mormon theology at its purest.

The more I think about it -- and I admit I could be totally wrong -- the more I like the idea of the establishment, or at least the attempt of establishing a church (a body of fully righteous believers - something akin to Benjamin's people where ALL were fully righteous, sanctified and living the law of consecration and perfect charity), rather than a "restoration" of a church.

I think what often gets lost is that there's a grand plan yet to be fulfilled. Joseph translated the BOM, whose primary purpose is to inform Lehi's descendants of their rightful place in the Family of God, and then to convince Jew and Gentile of Christ and bring the Gentiles into the covenant. Various messengers then committed keys and knowledge to Joseph for the purpose of preparing the Gentiles to fulfill our role in restoring Israel and making God's covenant family whole again. That knowledge included learning directly from the Master in the Nauvoo temple where He would give us the necessary information (things never before revealed) and instruction to complete the task. Everything given and revealed was done so to create a sanctified people, just as Moses tried to sanctify his people to behold the face of the Lord.

It should be manifestly obvious that LDS church hasn't reached the point of faith and sanctification necessary to carry out this work by the simple fact that we don't have the Brother of Jared's vision or the Brass Plates which are to go forth to all of Lehi's descendants. And it appears the church has no interest in accomplishing these things. The coming forth of these records is dependent upon our faith and holiness - it requires rending the veil, seeing the Lord and having our calling and election made sure, the desire of which Dallin Oaks said "is a familiar tactic of the adversary." Consequently, we must necessarily set down Brother Dallin as an imposter.

This group of sanctified people are the ones who will survive the Lord's coming in glory and embark on the Marvelous Work and Wonder during Christ's millennial reign. They will gather Israel and Lehi's descendants. They will dwell with Christ in Zion. This should be our goal.

This, in my view, is the sum and substance of everything.

Speaking of Ether 4:7 - as far as I can tell, Neal Maxwell is the only person in the history in general conference going back to 1970 to reference the scripture. And he only mentions that the Lord will reveal more scripture, not the requisite conditions in obtaining said scripture. Can the church really be this uninformed? Apparently.

"And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell."

I think it's safe to say we are witnesses to this happening.

But, of course, I could be wrong.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

The Navarro's,
Somewhere in the past on this blog I admitted I was misusing the term "the Restoratin" to refer to this thing the Lord restored through Joseph Smith. Whatever it was meant to mean in the early days of the LDS church, by the mid 20th century it came to describe the whole kit & caboodle of Mormonism, starting with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

As I grew up in the church, I was taught (incorrectly) that it meant the restoration of the church as it was organized in the first century after Christ's death, that because there were prophets, apostles, priests, deacons, teachers, etc in those days, a top-down organization cobbled together like that in our day was evidence that we were indeed the true church.

But "Restoration" had nothing to do with bringing back a hierarchical church government. For all we are taught about the great apostasy, we fail to recognize that the apostasy took place because it was so easy to compromise leaders at the top. That was never God's way.

In chapter 41 of Alma, that prophet teaches us what is meant by the restoration, and it has little to do with what I had presumed. Alma says it has to do with restoring all things to their proper order, then he goes on to give several examples.

I continue to refer to "the restoration" as shorthand for "Mormonism" because today it serves as shorthand to refer to the work Joseph Smith began. I should probably inject a caveat now and then to provide understanding that it was not a restoration of "the true church" but had a much more expansive meaning.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

You take issue with my assertion that it would have been better had Joseph declined the invitation to preside over the church, citing D&C 107 and 43 as evidence that the president of the holy priesthood should have certain gifts. But I think you're forgetting that the church and the kingdom are two separate entities. Gifts yes, office, not necessarily.

The verses in 107 do indeed strongly suggest that the president should have the gifts of prophet, seer, and revelator, so you conclude it had to be Joseph. But Joseph was forever encouraging others to seek for those gifts. It does not follow that the only person with the qualities to preside over the church must be the one true prophet and no other. why should have to do all the work, when the Lord had put it on the hearts of many to seek him.

The keys of the kingdom are not necessarily the keys to administer the church. The kingdom was to embrace both Mormon and non-Mormon, and Joseph Smith was uniquely qualified to preside over that body, which we also know as "the Council of Fifty." Likely the confusion comes from the fact that many in the Twelve were also members of the Council of Fifty" which accounts for Orson Pratt's inability to distinguish one from the other when speaking of the responsibility Joseph gave to the Council of Fifty to accomplish a broader mission than that which the Twelve had ever been assigned to.

You are correct when you point out that Joseph was God's one and only spokesman for the church, but he was not intended to be God's one and only prophet. Historically there have been several prophets on the earth at the same time. (For example, many other prophets were preaching repentance besides Lehi) The Words of Mormon show us that there were many prophets at that time. In the early days of the church, the Lord had to clarify that not everyone who deigns to prophecy has authority to issue commandments to the people. However, had the right to receive instruction and commandments from the Lord.

You cite section 43 where the Lord instructs His people to Appoint Joseph Smith, then you ask,"uphold him to what? To the office of church president of course."

A careful reading of that revelation would demonstrate that the Lord is relating specifically to the kingom, not the church.

Jenny Harrison said...

Great Post. I agree. Joseph Smith was to 'work a reformation' not a restoration. He overstepped his bounds. Everyone should read Book Of Commandments 1833, before it was changed a few years later. It even says that he was to 'pretend to no other gift' than that of translating the Book of Mormon.

Thanks for taking time to write these posts. You are awesome!


Matthias said...


I'll be honest that I'm not an expert on the council of 50, let alone on the specifics of much of what was done in those meetings.

From what I understand you are correct that within those meetings it was set forth that the kingdom of God and the church are separate entities. Joseph Smith was also anointed King from what I understand. Perhaps he was trying to restore the ancient kingdom of Israel with a Davidic King. From what I've been able to deduce in the scriptures there will in fact be another King of Israel from the line of David who will reign in the New Jerusalem in addition to Christ being there. There are those out there who think that Joseph Smith will return to be this Davidic King.

Be that as it may, the scriptures are less clear on a seperation between the church and the kingdom, especially within the D&C.

Like I quoted, the Lord said that the keys of the kingdom always reside with the first presidency.

It's also interesting if in fact Joseph was trying to put Hyrum in as church president, that the Lord had previously revealed that he was to be called as a prophet, seer, and revelator along with Joseph in D&C 124.

Also based on the scriptures I quoted earlier along with quite a few others in the D&C I think it is pretty clear that the Lord called Joseph to be the president of the church along with being his spokesman. In fact from what I can tell the Lord considered both of these things to be Joseph's calling. In fact the Lord told Oliver that he had placed Joseph as the head of the church in D&C 28 and then in D&C 107 the Lord says that the president of the high priesthood is at the head of the church.

Sounds like it is the Lord who combined the office of church president with being a prophet, seer, revelator, and his spokesman and not the saints.

I don't think the argument that the saints got it mixed up holds water, in spite of what Brigham Young said about the two being separate.

Having said that there is no question that the presidents since Joseph had not possessed anywhere near the gifts that Joseph did. I think Robin Hood makes an excellent point about the Lord declaring that he was done speaking to the church for a long while in D&C 136 and that the saints were to keep ALL of his commandments until he spoke again. I believe that the saints have collectively not kept all the commandments and there is where the problem lies. Not in the saints confusing the calling of the church president.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

There's no question the problem lies with the saints for not keeping the commandments. As to your specific points, the Lord in D&C 28 does indeed reference Joseph as being at the head of the church.

"Thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead."

Joseph was at that time head of the church (by the voice of the people) AND he was given keys to mysteries and revelations by God. In other words, God did give Joseph keys and gifts, but he did not appoint him head of the church. But as long as he was the guy who happened to be at the head of the church, others were not to give commandments to him.

D&C 107 is tricky, because so little of it legitimately came from God. One of the challenges of the team handling the Restoration Scriptures is in trying to determine what parts of it are legit, and how much was added to by zealous writers. The same thing happened with D&C 20, which is a blueprint for church government, and written by up to a half dozen different hands.

What, exactly IS the president of the high priesthood? Does he preside over the church, or does he preside, as verses 65 and 66 indicate, "over the high priesthood OF the church." An academic question anyway, as the office is not an office of the priesthood, but merely an office of the church. A title, if you will. It would all be easier to figure out if we understood who wrote the dang thing.

D&C 136 was not a revelation from God, but a plan written up by committee to direct the exodus from the church. We have to be careful what we call a revelation, because the committee that wrote the section introductions was often loose with the term. It's estimated that about 85 percent of the D&C actually come from revelations. (This controversy was addressed at length by others in the comment section of one of my posts a few months ago. Someone else will have to point out under which post that discussion took place.)

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I meant to mention that I quoted a lengthy section of one of Brigam Young's explanations on what the kingdom of heaven was intend for. The entire purpose of the council of fifty was to establish the kingdom on earth. Membership in that council consisted of both members and non-members, for reasons you'll understand when you read Brigham's description. You can find it in my post "Where Did the Oracles Go?"

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I would take issue with one statement you made above. No one is "baptized into a fellowship." It's understandable you would have that misunderstanding; most of us believed our baptism is what made us members of the LDS church.

You were baptized unto the lord, and not "into" any organization. (See my post "Over-ruling Jesus" for an in-depth discussion of what it all means. )

One of the primary reasons LDS Church leaders excommunicate people today who choose to be re-baptized is because even they don't understand what baptism is for. The handbook instructs leaders that a member is in apostasy if he or she joins another church. Since in their minds a member "joined" the LDS church when they were baptized, they reason that being baptized a second time must mean they have joined another church.

It's not true. As we know, in the past it was commonplace for members and leaders to get rebaptized on a yearly basis as a sign to their commitment to Christ. It's one of the great ironies in the LDS church that a commitment to the Lord is considered apostasy from "the Lord's church" today, but that's the current thinking.

Because you choose to associate with a fellowship of fellow believers does not mean you cease to be a member of the LDS church. Your membership is cancelled either through excommunication or resignation. Ask the millions of Mormons who have stopped attending LDS meetings and are attending other Christian denominations if their names have been taken off the records of the church for choosing to attend elsewhere. These days you are removed primarily for expressing a desire to become closer to Christ. Distancing yourself from the president of the church is what counts as apostasy in the church these days.

Matthias said...


I think it's a slippery slope for the restoration scriptures committee, or anyone for that matter, to remove parts of the scriptures because they don't seem them as true revelations. That opens the door to remove things based solely on the merits that what is written contradicts one's own views.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect the church not to follow what is contained in the D&C and has been since it's original printing. If there series interpolation of men mixed in with the true revelations I would think that Joseph Smith would have corrected them in later editions. This was not the case.

Yes you are correct that the council of 50 included a couple of non members. Not really sure why. I'll take another look at the blog post you wrote about it.

Here's another question for you. You said that historically there have been multiple prophets on earth at the same time. You are correct of course. This was the case in the Old Testament and Book of Mormon. However can you identify this to be the case in the latter days? This is a sincere question. Wouldn't you think that if the church was so far off course right from the death of Joseph Smith, as you have endlessly posted about, that there would in fact be many prophets sent to warn the saints to repent and to prophecy their destruction? Yet where are these individuals that fit the profile of an Old Testament or Book of Mormon prophet? I can't think of anyone. Can you? Where were the Lord's prophets preaching against polygamy for example? Or against going up to battle in foreign lands?

I'm not suggesting that all is well in Zion and that the church hasn't drifted off course in a number of areas. What I'm suggesting is that the Lord no longer sends multiple prophets independent of the church hierachy. At least I see no evidence that he has sent any in out dispensation.

Jared Livesey said...

These are questions which had ought to be asked of God.

1 Nephi 15:11
Do ye not remember the thing which the Lord hath said?
If ye will not harden your hearts,
and ask me in faith,
believing that ye shall receive,
with diligence in keeping my commandments,
surely these things shall be made known unto you.

For reference, some of the commandments of the Lord are:

1. If anyone hits you on one cheek, turn the other cheek to him (Luke 6:29; Matt 5:39; 3 Nephi 12:39).
2. If anyone takes your cloak, allow him to have your coat too (Luke 6:29; Matt 5:40; 3 Nephi 12:40).
3. Give to every person who asks you to (Luke 6:30; Matt 5:42; 3 Nephi 12:42).
4. Do not ask for your stuff back from anyone who takes it (Luke 6:30).
5. Lend to everyone who asks, do not ask for it back (#4), and hope that you do not get paid back (Luke 6:34-35; Matt 5:42; 3 Nephi 12:42).

Alan Rock Waterman said...

MC, I think Oliver Cowdery and Hyrum Smith were considered prophets at the time. Probably Sidney Rigdon and surely Parley Pratt. David and John Whitmer. Perhaps James Strang, but he seems to have muddied things up later with his expectation that the dispensation head should lead the church as well. I'm afraid I only have the sketchiest grasp on Strang, but I believe he later crowned himself king of Beaver Island out Wisconsin way.

Strang and Rigdon certainly fit the stereotype of the wild-man prophet in their later years. Take them or leave them, they were zealous in the faith. As far as I know.

Among the earliest Saints it was assumed most had the gift of prophecy awakened in them. Some didn't keep it. One of the things that irked Joseph was they deferred to much to him. There's an episode where they were gathered to write the preface to the D&C but they just couldn't get the inspiration and wanted to palm the job off on Joseph. He was a bit frustrated with them, but he went ahead and got the revelation himself. It frustrated him because they were reluctant to fulfill their callings when he was around, preferring to defer to him as the chief bigwig.

I can think of a handful of others off the top of my head who were probably thought of as prophets. That was, I believe a gift expected of any apostle. Some of them didn't keep their light. And of course, when the saints failed to complete the temple, God seems to have pulled the plug on all of them. Just my opinion, though.

Matthias said...


I agree that there certainly were a number of prophets in the early days of the church. There certainly was quite a bit of prophecying that happened from the men you listed as well as quite a few others.

Not sure about James Strang. I right there with you in scratching my head about what he was up to. I lean heavily to him being a more or less a false prophet through and through. I believe that Satan used him as an instrument to deceive the saints from going on the exodus to Utah. Just my two cents.

Sidney Riff on was certainly a wild man in the last years of his life. Not sure if that means he was a prophet or a man who had the light taken from him due to apostasy.

I'm not sure if the saints failure to fully complete the inside of the Nauvoo Temple had any kind of negative effect on them or not. I know that the theory that the saints were rejected as a church because of it is quite popular these days.

I think we can both agree that the gift of prophecy is not present in the church today. Perhaps in a very limited sense it may still be, but I've never seen any of the gifts of the spirit in effect like they were in the early days of the church. They did seem to still be in effect to some degree in early Utah. Some say that they were still with the church to some degree up until the church gave blacks the priesthood. That was before my time so I can't say.

What do you think about true prophets warning the saints to repent since the Utah days? Are there any that you can hang your hat on? I can't think of any true ones, though there have been many false ones who have eventually split from the church and shown their true colors as wolves in sheep's clothing. The FLDS splinter groups come to mind. They come in all shapes and sizes though.

I know that the idea of the Lord sending multiple prophets outside of the church hiarchy to warn the saints to repent is all the rage these days, but is there any tangible evidence that true prophets have actually been coming among the saints throughout the churches history and today?

Matthias said...

Sorry about all the typos. Auto correct is killing me.

Alan Rock Waterman said...

I think D&C 124 is quite clear that the saints were rejected because they had not completed the temple. And it was not just the inside that was unfinished. Roof, walls, etc were not ready. At the last minute Brigham stretched tarps over where the roof should be so that they could fake it and call it good enough.

You seem to imply that Strang kept a great number of the Saints from going to the Rockies as if that was a bad thing. I don't think the exodus to the Rockies was something God approved of. Strang and his ilk, whatever their faults, rightly pointed out that if Zion was in Missouri, it made more sense not to head halfway across the country as Wisconsin was only a hundred miles from Zion's center place so why go so far away when they could remain closer?

I think it was the embrace of polygamy that took the saints further from God's approval. Elevating that practice as being essential to salvation most likely was the last straw. Although I believe God did and does remain with individuals, I'm convinced he completely turned his back on the Church as an institution. He was no longer at the head of the Church and has not been for a very long time.