Mormonism’s “Open Canon”
We have looked at the Mormon kingdom “Behind the Zion Curtain” and seen that the political, social and historical issues preoccupying Mormons there are not the key issues “Beyond the Zion Curtain.” We have looked at some ground rules that help us focus on those issues that do matter as we compare Mormonism and biblical Christianity. We have also looked at the Mormon attitude to Scripture.
Now we look at the most fundamental claim of the Mormon Church; that it works from an open canon of Scripture to which “ongoing revelation” is added regularly as prophets lead the church. This is an important issue for Christians who believe that the Bible is God’s all-sufficient Word, containing “all that we need for life and godliness” because it gives us “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3)
The Mormon Church adds extra books to the Bible; the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). This they present as evidence of their prophets’ authenticity. The reasoning is that they have prophets, those prophets prophesy, and those prophecies are put into additional books of Scripture. This is the pattern Mormons say they see in the Bible, although this is not by any means a defining pattern in Scripture.
The D&C is characterised as a book of modern revelation, “mostly given through Joseph Smith.” As we will see, it would be more correct to say “almost exclusively given through Joseph Smith.”
Ongoing Canonized Revelation
In the April 2008 General Conference Mormon apostle Jeffrey R Holland said:
“The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors...If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, ‘My works are without end, and. . . my words . . . never cease.’”
“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.” (Ensign, May, 2008)
there has been no written prophecy since:
1918 – Joseph F Smith’s vision of Jesus’ visit to the dead while his body lay in the tomb; D&C 138
1847 – Brigham Young’s revelation at Winter Quarters regarding the organisation of the saints; D&C 136
1844 – An account (not a revelation) of the “martyrdom” of Joseph and Hyrum Smith; D&C 135
1843 – Four revelations regarding (1) how to distinguish angels (D&C 129);( 2) eternal marriage (D&C 132); (3) Three degrees of glory (D&C 131); (4) The Second Coming, the celestial earth and the law of eternal progression (D&C 130)
It seems that 1918 saw the last revelation added to the Mormon canon, a gap of 90 years, and before that 1847 saw the last church-directing revelation, a gap of 153 years. The D&C contains 138 sections but of sixteen so-called prophets, from Joseph Smith to Thomas S Monson, Joseph Smith published 135 revelations, Brigham Young 1 and Joseph F Smith 1 revelation (section 135 is an account of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith).
Inevitably a Mormon will mention the 1978 revelation on Priesthood but the D&C contains no “canonised” revelation, just a “Declaration”, or announcement that prophecy has been received. This is also true of the 1890 decision on polygamy, reversing a so-called eternal principle; an announcement but no “canonised” revelation.
Mormon prophet, Spencer W Kimball, explains this:
“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).
Is it right to be satisfied that it is “in the vaults and files of the church” and not broadcast to the church and the world? What exactly is an open canon? If Christianity has proved apostate in not adding to the canon of Scripture, and Mormonism is the restoration of revelation, why has there been nothing of significance added to the Mormon canon for 90 and 153 years? And why have 13 prophets failed to add to the canon while two others have added only one “revelation” each?
Amateur apologists not prophets make Mormon doctrine
As a consequence of this failure of prophetic leadership Mormon “Para-church” organisations like FAIR and FARMS are making the running in defending Mormonism against critics. While the Mormon leadership does occasionally publish statements to clarify issues raised in the press etc. they never meaningfully engage with these issues, or “interpret the mind and will of the Lord.” FAIR, on the other hand, is consistently engaged in producing apologetics and rebuttals in response to church critics and when a Mormon defends his position it is “unofficial” sources that will have shaped his thinking not the prophet.
FAIR (Foundation for Apologetics, Information and Research) aims, “to address the charges levelled at the doctrines, practices and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) with documented responses that are written in an easily understandable style. FAIR will use current scholarship, scripture, Church doctrine, historical literature and sound logic in constructing faithful, well-reasoned answers.”
Ironically, the text they use on their Internet home page is Ephesians 4:11-14, a key yet increasingly incongruous proof text for Mormon claims to continuing revelation. FAIR emphasises scholarship and research and enjoys a considerable reputation among Mormons but lays no claim to revelation, and issues the usual disclaimer:
“FAIR is not owned, controlled by or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All research and opinions provided on this site are the sole responsibility of FAIR, and should not be interpreted as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief or practice.”
So all the evidence shows that Mormon prophets don’t prophecy and those people to whom ordinary Mormons increasingly look for apologetic and theological guidance insist what they teach is private opinion (2 Pet.1:20) and does not officially represent the Mormon Church.
The reality is that the Mormon canon is closed, Mormon prophets expect Mormons to settle for homilies punctuated with homespun anecdotes, and ordinary members are increasingly dependent on scholars and unofficial sources to help interpret their religion.
A Christian, on the other hand, has God-breathed Scripture making him or her “equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.3:17)