Friday, 15 January 2010

Testing Mormon Prophets

Last time we looked at the claims and promises of Mormonism. We considered the Mormon teaching on apostasy (the wholesale falling away from truth) and restoration of that truth and considered how exciting this message can seem and asked, “Does God really speak today through living prophets?” This time we look at the Mormon canon (collection of official scripture).

The Mormon Scriptures include the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), and the Bible. The D&C is what concerns us since the other three, while being regarded as scripture, are also historical documents pertaining to the past. The D&C however is viewed as evidence that the heavens are open once more and that the church is led by living prophets. As the missionaries clearly teach “The teachings of the prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures”. If God speaks through prophets today it is here, or in even more additional “sacred books”, that we should look for evidence that he does.

The original vision and claim of Mormonism was that:

“After his death, Jesus continued to lead his Church by revelation to his apostles and prophets...They taught the truth and recorded these teachings in the scriptures. In this way, the truths about the plan of God were taught clearly without confusion.

Because of the wickedness of the people, the apostles and many of the righteous Church members were killed. The Lord took the priesthood authority and his Church from the earth. There was no longer a church on earth directed by revelation. Because men relied on human wisdom to understand the scriptures, many plain and simple truths were lost.

The [Mormon] Church is led today by a prophet and twelve apostles. The Lord has called these men in our day just as he did in Bible times. They receive revelation from God and have his priesthood authority...We follow the guidance and direction the Lord gives us through them” (Mormon Missionary Discussion 3, 1986, pp.4, 6, 12)

Ongoing Canonised Revelation

Consequently Mormons like to think of their church as operating as described by the following quotes:

"It was the Lord Himself who installed prophets in this modern Church. ... This, too, has He done for the successors to the Prophet Joseph, even down to our present wonderful and humble leader. He, too, is inspired of God. He, too, is a revelator. He, too, is the voice of the Almighty to the saints of this day." (Editorial, Church News, September 26, p. 12, 1981)

"Words of Our Living Prophets — In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders. 'We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God' (Articles of Faith 1:9)." (Gospel Principles, p. 55, 1992)

“There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records that would be the ‘end of the prophets’. But again we testify to you that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organised, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognised of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord” (“Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” Spencer W Kimball, Ensign, May 1977, 78).

Today I would like to address [a] major doctrine which characterizes our faith but which causes concern to some, namely the bold assertion that God continues to speak His word and reveal His truth, revelations which mandate an open canon of scripture... I testify that Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet, a modern apostle with the keys of the kingdom in his hands, a man upon whom I personally have seen the mantle fall. I testify that the presence of such authorized, prophetic voices and ongoing canonized revelations have been at the heart of the Christian message whenever the authorized ministry of Christ has been on the earth. I testify that such a ministry is on the earth again, and it is found in this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Jeffrey R Holland, April 2008 Conference)

So Where’s the Open Canon?

The D&C ends in the 19th century, aside from section 138 which is purported to have been received in 1918 by Joseph F Smith, sixth Mormon Church president. The previous revelation in chronology, section 136, is dated January 1847, is given through Brigham Young, and concerns the organising of the saints to move westward. Young led the Mormons for another 30 years until his death in 1877, thirty of the most challenging and defining years in Mormon history, and yet nothing was added to the D&C to show that God was leading his people through a living prophet. There have been thirteen more prophets since then and yet no additional scripture is to be found, either in the D&C or any other additional work of “scripture”.

One would have thought, perhaps, that many volumes might exist by now showing that since the time of Joseph Smith “revelation has been continuous”. The Journal of Discourses (JOD), a 26 volume veritable encyclopaedia of early Mormon sermons and writings, seems to have been once regarded as filling the role.

The Mormons refer to their official scriptures as Standard Works and the eight volume of the JOD (pub.1861) is prefaced with the following, written by George Q Cannon, ordained an apostle 1860:

“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the church, and every right-minded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill’.

We rejoice, therefore, in being able to present to the Saints another complete Volume – the Eight in the series; and, in doing so, we sincerely commend the varied and important instructions it contains to their earnest consideration.”

Mormon Revelation Died with Joseph Smith

As time has passed the Mormon leadership has found the contents to be more embarrassing than instructional and it has been relegated to the role of historical curiosity. A recent correspondent, commenting on our use of the Journal, referred to it as “an obscure historical source”. It seems that the Mormon idea of continuous revelation being recorded in scripture has, itself, been relegated to history and that 1847 saw the last church-developing revelation in the Mormon Church. That is a gap of 153 years. Mormons operate from a closed canon.

Inevitably a Mormon will mention the 1978 revelation on Priesthood and indeed the Doctrine and Covenants contains a ‘Declaration’ to the effect that such a revelation had been received - but no revelation. This is also the case with the infamous 1890 Declaration on polygamy, reversing a so-called eternal principle; A Declaration but no revelation. Where is the revelation in the Mormon Church? Even if we were to be generous and allow that these declarations are revelation we still have 136 revelations from 1830 - 1847 and then 5 from 1847 - 2010. Not a “Thus saith the Lord”, not a “Hearken, O ye elders of my church”, not a peep from “the voice of him who dwells on high” for 153 years.

Revelation died with Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church has followed the classic pattern for all organisations, i.e. the Visionary stage, the Organisational stage and the Management stage. The record of a recent prophet, which we will consider next, illustrates this well.

Previously:
The Mormon Message of Prophets

Coming Up:
Testing a prophet
The Changing Face of Mormonism
Who Speaks for Mormonism?

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