Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Pharisee, the Temple and Polygamy

The Pharisees come in for a lot of criticism in the New Testament and, picking up on this, Christians down the generations have come to use the name as a byword for someone who is overzealous and legalistic. This is a correct application and you can see why.

When he [John the Baptist] saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising, he said to them; 'You brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.'” (Mt.3:7-8)

Pronouncing seven woes on Pharisees and experts in the law Jesus said:

And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Lk.11:46)

Pharisees tried very hard to be good and keep the law, hedging it about with ever more petty rules to ensure no one transgresses, “you give a tenth of your spices – mint and dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Mt.23:23)

The result of all this was an increasingly weighty body of rules to cover every aspect of life and ensure obedience in everything but to the neglect, as Jesus pointed out, of the weightier parts of the law. Jesus referred to Pharisees who “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mt.23:24) This is a reference to fastidiousness about dietary law that caused Pharisees to strain their wine through their teeth in order to “strain out a gnat” and avoid eating something forbidden but to turn a blind eye to more serious issues.

If you want to get a feeling for what it is to live under such a regime you need look no further than the Mormon rules on temple marriages.

The Temple

Last time we looked at how Mormon temples divide families and how controlling the Mormon Church is, even dictating who can and can't, should and shouldn't be invited to a temple wedding. This control extends to even the formal dress worn by the bride, groom and guests, with wedding dresses being “white, long-sleeved, modest in design and fabric and free of elaborate ornamentation” - and without a train. “Tuxedos, dinner jackets, cummerbunds, formal head-wear, and boutonnières and other flowers are not appropriate...” (Church Handbook of Instructions, book 1, p.71) The exchanging of rings and vows are also prohibited during the temple marriage ceremony.

“Unworthy” relatives and friends may be invited to a special meeting that “provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage.” How included they might feel is questionable since “no ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged” during this meeting. Given the distance most Mormons must travel to get to a temple it hardly seems worth the journey for “unworthy” members and non-members to sit in a room waiting to be told the bride and groom are now married and to possibly hear “a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader” because that is all they will hear. What will he say? They are now married – honest? The ceremony was beautiful, you should have been there?

There are countries, such as here in the UK, where secret wedding ceremonies are not recognised in law. But this brings into play a host of other rules. Here a civil ceremony may be conducted in the usual way followed, after one year, by a temple ceremony. However, the one year waiting period is waived provided one or more of a number of conditions are met. Conditions including legal requirements, the availability of a temple, unchaperoned travel by an already civilly married couple requiring one or more overnight stops (yes, ironically, sex between a faithfully married couple not already sealed in the temple disqualifies the candidates)

Then there are the “special circumstances” that may arise prompting the question, “can a couple be married in the temple if...?” Just the kind of question the Pharisees and teachers of the law would have relished. “Ooh, that's a good one. What happens if a man marries a woman who was already previously sealed to a husband who is now dead AND if the proposed new husband was previously divorced from the woman who was sealed to him?”

Well, this is what happens. The couple may marry in the temple for time only and she may petition the First Presidency for a cancellation of the previous sealing (her poor dead husband having apparently no say in the matter. Imagine that, coveting the wife of a man who is beyond the grave. Is that Celestial adultery? Even Joseph Smith didn't do that) and he may receive a sealing clearance from the same source. Then they may, on presentation of the appropriate paperwork at the temple, be sealed together for time and eternity. She has a new husband and he another wife - of which more presently.

But what if there are children from these previous relationships? Children born to temple-married parents are said to be “born in the covenant” but where will your kids go if a previously entered into sealing is revoked? What about children born out of wedlock? Foster children, adopted children? Children conceived by artificial insemination? What happens if two people who previously committed adultery now want to make their relationship legitimate? It gets complicated and, frankly, silly but it is all covered in the Mormon Handbook of Instructions. The oddest one however is “deceased couples who were divorced.”

“Deceased couples who were divorced may be sealed by proxy. These sealings often provide the only way for children of such couples to be sealed to parents.” (Church Handbook, book 1, p.74) It happens - Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But really now. Is it likely that two people who couldn't abide the thought of a lifetime together would seriously consider a relationship for eternity?

Temple Polygamy

The surprising and revealing thing is, however, the practice of polygamy in Mormon temples. Ask a Mormon about polygamy and they will likely raise their eyes to the skies and patiently explain, “We don't practice polygamy. It has been banned since 1890.” But this is a disingenuous answer because, in Mormon temples, members may enter into polygamous marriages.

In the example given above a man's wife has died and he is entering into a marriage with another woman. They may be sealed for time and eternity, leaving him with two wives as far as the Mormon Church is concerned and they will both be his after the resurrection. Note in the example that the only requirements are that his first wife is dead and he gets a “sealing clearance”, a certificate allowing him to take another.

The church leadership is effectively saying, 'Yes, you may take a second wife.' Further, the handbook says, “A deceased man may have sealed to him all women to whom he was legally married during his life if they are deceased or if they are living and not sealed to another man” (ibid. p.73) This is polygamy – isn't it?

Especially noteworthy however is the fact that, “A deceased woman may be sealed to all men to whom she was legally married during her life. However, if she was sealed to a husband during her life, all her husbands must be deceased before she can be sealed to a husband to whom she was not sealed during life” (ibid) Note the words, “sealed to all men to whom she was legally married.” This is polyandry, the practice of one woman taking more than one husband – isn't it.

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? (Jer.13:23)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mormon Temple Marriage

I suppose we all have a general idea of how a wedding is arranged. Two people who epitomise the triumph of hope over experience propose to be married. They may plan a civil ceremony, or they might go for a church wedding but, either way, certain legal requirements must be met.

That done the venue is booked – a registry office or a church – and arrangements are made. If a church wedding the Christian minister/pastor/priest counsels the couple on the serious, covenant nature of the promises they are about to make and there is a reminder that they make these vows before God.
Guest lists are “negotiated”, giving the happy couple their first real row perhaps, with the realisation that they might have been naïve in thinking they were simply marrying each other

A celebratory feast is planned, the reception at which the happy couple receive their guests formally, and during which key people whose usual conversation is football, cars and work, stumble over effusive praise and admiration for the bride/groom. Mother cries, father is manly, young brothers embarrassed, sisters jealous and altogether a sense of having done something special as a community prevails.

Marriage is public and societal

The above may strike you as a rather jaded description and it is. I wrote it that way deliberately to make this point. However modest or grand, easy or difficult the day. However embarrassing some relatives and friends, however noble and wonderful the way others rise to the occasion. However stirred we may be on the day, or blunted may be our enthusiasm for these customs in light of their subsequent problems and failings a marriage is something a community agrees to together

It is a public declaration before witnesses and before God of two people's intention to live in relation to that community in a new relationship with that community and with each other and it is a serious, and inclusive, business.

The happy couple are reminded of “the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make.” They and all those present are reminded that marriage is the union of one man with one woman voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others. So the community know “he/she is mine”, understand the exclusive nature of this new relationship and their role towards it.

The bride and groom are, respectively, asked searching questions about their intentions. “Will you love, honour and respect..?” and are invited to “solemnly declare that there is no reason why” they should not be married. They then “call upon the people here present to witness” to these things. When you witness a wedding you are a witness to a wedding and a participant in the establishment of a new arrangement. In this way the community is invited to recognise the relationship and do all it can to help make it work.

Something is said along the lines of, “In the presence of family and friends (groom and bride) have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their love by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of a ring.”

Then, on behalf of the gathered community the officiating officer says - “I therefore declare that we (the community) see them now as husband and wife.” Note “In the presence of family and friends” and “we see them now as husband and wife.”

Throughout history such vows have been essential to the cementing of communities, vital to the building of civilisation. The solemn and public recognition of the roles played by different members of the community brings order and understanding, builds trust and strength as we relate daily to the people who mean most to us, and with whom we identify. We recognise, we promise, we covenant before and with our community.

Mormon Marriage is Secret and Exclusive

To a Mormon, especially for a young Mormon woman, a temple marriage is the great goal; to be worthy to attend the temple and to marry in the temple. A Mormon temple wedding, unlike any other, is not just for life but “for time and all eternity” and these vows are taken very seriously. So you might expect that a young couple would want everyone who is important to them to attend and witness this special day.

According to the Mormon Church Handbook of Instructions, “Only members who have valid recommends and received their endowments may attend a temple marriage.” (Church Handbook p.71)

For those not familiar with the role and purpose of Mormon temples let me explain that, unlike biblical temples, Mormon temples can only be attended by Mormons in good standing with the church, worthy and shown to be worthy after rigorous and probing interviews with church leaders who issue passes into the temple called recommends. Only a third of Mormons are meaningfully involved in the church and only half of those are considered worthy and so even Mormon family and friends may not attend a Mormon temple wedding.

Even then, there are limits to who may attend. The Handbook goes on to dictate, “ Couples should invite only family members and close friends to be present for a temple marriage” (ibid) Where couples usually discuss whether their wedding should be a small affair or a grand day, for the Mormon couple the decision is made.

Only temple worthy Mormons may attend and, even then, only a select few. Anyone who has been inside a Mormon temple sealing room will readily understand the logistical problem of seating a large party of guests into a space no bigger than a small hotel room. But imagine telling family and friends they can't come to your wedding because they are not worthy, or not close enough to be included.

Mormon Temples Divide Families

The church that insists “Families are Forever” and declares that, “the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children” (Proclamation on the Family) divides families at the very point where families should be most involved. The covenant traditionally made before and with the community that means most to us are now entered into before a select group of “worthy” witnesses whose involvement is controlled by the Mormon Church.

What arrangements can be made to include the unworthy and “distant” friends and relations? The Handbook explains:

“A couple may arrange with their bishop to hold a special meeting for relatives and friends who do not have temple recommends. This meeting provides an opportunity for those who cannot enter the temple to feel included in the marriage and to learn something of the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. The meeting may include a prayer and special music, followed by the remarks of a priesthood leader. No ceremony is performed, and no vows are exchanged.

No other marriage ceremony should be performed following a temple marriage.” (p.71)

So “unworthy”dad won't walk his daughter down the aisle; “unworthy” mum won't be involved in preparing her daughter for the big day, won't give her reassuring looks, won't shed a tear as her daughter's hand is given; “unworthy” family and friends will not witness a ceremony, will not be invited “I call upon these people here present”, will be excluded from the very covenant ceremony of which they are among the most important celebrants. I call upon these people here absent?

It is about control, power and control, and nothing is so important to the Mormon Church as that level of control in members' lives that allows it to dictate their lives in every respect. The church doesn't celebrate the family, rather, where the family should be most involved and embraced, it seeks to replace the family. The family that can only be included if it surrenders control to the Mormon Church.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Monday Mormon: What a Malarkey! Malachi 4:6

Mormons insist that Elijah, whose return is prophesied in the Old Testament book of Malachi, “restored in this dispensation” the doctrine of saving the dead by means of vicarious temple work.

Mormons all over the world – but largely in the USA it must be said – spend countless hours doing genealogical work to trace their dead forebears to submit their names to Mormon temples for such work to be done. The Mormon Church spends millions of dollars raising elaborate buildings in which to do this work and countless hours are further spent attending these temples and toiling at “saving the dead.”

In the February 1910 Improvement Era (p.352, reproduced in the Feb.1971 Ensign) Mormon president Joseph Fielding Smith quoted Joseph Smith, saying,

“the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “it is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,” says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Times and Seasons 5:616.)

From this, then, we see that while it is necessary to preach the gospel in the nations of the earth and to do all other good works in the Church, yet the greatest commandment given us, and made obligatory, is temple work in our own behalf and in behalf of our dead.

He goes on to state the familiar Mormon view that people who do such work will be “saviours on Mount Zion”, that the neglect of this work puts our own salvation in jeopardy because “we without them cannot be saved”, and he makes clear that the great purpose of God is the binding, or sealing of families together in one long family line going back to Adam saying:

Again, quoting from the prophet: “The Bible says, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”

“Now, the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God to be gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion.

“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work and improve our time, and make use of the seals while they are on earth.” (Teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, p.330)

So there you have it, the whole plan, explained by the man himself, of how the heart of the children are turned to the fathers, and the heart of the fathers are turned to the children. But wait! What did he just say?

“Now, the word ‘turn’ here should be translated bind, or seal.”

Is that right? I am no Hebrew or Greek scholar but that’s why we have Bible helps and Study Bibles. The word translated “turn” in your Bible is the Hebrew shûb (shoob), which Strong gives as to turn back, bring back, call to mind, recall etc. There is no mention of binding or sealing here and the context simply doesn’t allow it (as we shall see). The same word appears in the New Testament in the same context and in reference to John the Baptist:

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."  (Luke 1:16-17)

Here we have the Greek epistrephō (ep-ee-stref'-o), meaning “to revert (literally, figuratively or morally): - come (go) again, convert, (re-) turn (about, again).” (Strong)

So both the Old Testament and the New Testament clearly prophecy a turning back, a moral reversion, a conversion for fathers and children of Israel at the time of the coming of Elijah. Jesus identified John the Baptist as “that Elijah that was to come” (Matthew 11:1-14) and it was John, in preparing the way of the Lord, who preached a message of repentance, conversion, moral reversion, turning back to God (Matthew 3) the true meaning of the prophecy.

But if Joseph Smith received a vision of Elijah D&C 110) and understood that “turn” in the Malachi text, “should be translated bind, or seal” then surely he must have corrected it in his own “Inspired Version” (JST) of the Bible. In that version the verses reads the same as the KJV of which it is said to be a revision. So the Joseph Smith Translation has nothing to say about this mistranslation.

The official Mormon Bible is the KJV with selections from the JST in footnotes and endnotes. Here again no indication that “turn” is incorrect even though notes refer to Genealogy and Temples.

On the word of a man who gives no rationale or apologetic for making the claim, and who disregards his own teaching in producing his version of the Bible, generations of Mormons have put their hope in an unbiblical doctrine that offers false hope and empty promises. The gospel of repentance (turning back) exchanged for a message of vain genealogies (1 Tim.1:4; Titus 3:9) fruitless labour.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Monday Mormon: Blinded by Faith

Reason demands that you can examine the arguments from both sides and reach a conclusion based on the facts.  The facts about Mormonism are very clear, and the arguments which they put forward can be shown to be full of holes. Any Mormon who was shown the errors in that faith would leave it – right?  This is plainly not the case.

There are of course emotional, social, and cultural reasons which make leaving difficult.  It means a drastic change in lifestyle, a loss of friends (and sometimes loved ones) and giving up the security and support that membership of a tightly-knit group brings. But there is more to it than that. Mormons will not listen, will not even concede that the points you make may be valid because they are blinded by faith.

Your Own Personal miracle

When you investigate the Mormon Church, you are told the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. You are invited to follow Joseph's example and find out for yourself whether these things are true by asking God. They use three scriptures:

From the Bible, James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." 

This is the verse which inspired Joseph Smith to ask God for wisdom. You are encouraged to do the same, and promised that God will give you the same answer.

From the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4,5: "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." 

This is known as Moroni's Promise. You are encouraged to try the promise, and you will know that what you have been told is true.

From the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9:8: "But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."

This is the way you will know the truth - by a burning in the bosom.
The anticipation this engenders is enough to create the glow of excitement which can be taken as confirmation that the Mormon Church is true. Having had the Mormon message explained to you, you now have your own personal miracle to confirm it.

The noble bereans and the company of the saints

Compare this with some investigators of the early church. In Acts chapter 17 we meet the Bereans. Paul came and preached the gospel to them but they did not go away and pray about it - they searched the scriptures  to see if what they had been taught was in agreement with God's word. "...they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:10-12)

Jesus encouraged people to search the scriptures. "You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me." (John 5:39)

Having decided that the things you have been taught are true, you are told that the next step for you is to join the church through baptism. You are baptised "into the church." Compare this with the response of the Christian church when someone professes faith.

The Christian invitation is to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and entry into the body of believers, the company of the saints, who share that relationship. This relationship is life-giving and enabling, supplying saving grace and power to live the godly life. Joining an organisation will give you rules to live by, but you must conform by your own strength.

Because of the way a Mormon testimony is gained, it is not about relationship and power, but about things. A typical Mormon testimony says "I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on earth today, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God."

meeting challenges

With this as a foundation, it then follows that everything taught by the Mormon Church, the prophet, and the Book of Mormon must be true. In fact, there is a saying in the church: "When the prophet speaks, all debate is ended."  Doctrines which, explained in the cold light of day, would not be accepted are accepted without question in the warm glow of the Mormon testimony.

When a Christian is met with an argument that challenges their faith, they ask "Can the argument be borne out in scripture and experience? Like the Bereans, they will examine the scriptures to see what God has already revealed that will shed light on the question. The Mormon criteria in facing a challenge to their faith is "Does this agree with the church?"

For example: James 2:17,18 appears to teach that salvation is by works which prove your faith. This challenges the Christian belief that salvation is by faith alone. The Christian reaction to this scripture is that the belief in salvation by works does not fit with the bulk of gospel teaching in the rest of the New Testament (see Romans 4 & 5; Gal. 3; Eph. 2:8-10; Philip. 2:13) nor, on closer inspection, with the context within the book of James (see James 2:14-26).

The challenge of salvation by faith, not works, is met by the Mormon with the reaction that the church is true, and its teachings must be right.

another testament or a different testament?

The Book of Mormon is presented as “another testament of Jesus Christ” but it goes to great lengths to undermine the first testament. The Bible, it insists, has been corrupted over the years:

"...for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.  And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men." (1 Nephi 13:26-27)

The Mormon 8th Article of Faith states "We believe the Bible to be the word of God ‚as far as it is translated correctly."

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon is "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."

Is the Book of Mormon “another testament”, a supporting testament alongside the Bible? Or is it another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9) that undermines the gospel clearly preached in the Bible?

If you start with the assumption that Mormonism is true and all things Mormon are "most correct", the only way to handle criticism is to deny and denigrate all authority outside the church no matter how reliable or trustworthy. In the mind of the Mormon there is always something beyond mere facts that explains attacks on the church.

So Mormons can, with impunity, criticise whole chunks of the Bible as being incomplete or translated incorrectly without having a shred of evidence or even the first idea of what they are talking about. But after all if the Bible contradicts the church this is the only possible conclusion.

the sin of doubt

As in many cults, doubt is sin.  If you are unhappy with some of the teachings of the "only true church on earth today," then there must be something wrong with you.

"Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. ...  They who garnish the sepulchres of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones.  They return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs.  They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present. ... They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little 'off the beam'! ... Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen.  Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance, and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. ... He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop and strengthen cults.” (Mormon prophet Spencer W Kimball)

Critics are branded as, knowing or unknowing, conspirators against the truth.  But this paranoia is understandable when it is realised that it is something beyond mere facts that puts Mormons into such an untenable position in the first place -  its feelings. Feelings that are mistaken for faith, a brand of faith that blinds.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Mormonism’s Tumbleweed Moment

From a breath-taking, revolutionary, controversial start Mormonism has increasingly striven to occupy the colourless, comfortable, safe and predictable middle ground of modern American culture; a place no self-respecting Evangelical Church would be in a hurry to fill.

It still holds to those doctrines that mark it out as a cult but Mormons don't talk about these much nowadays. “We are a Christian denomination” they insist, creating the impression “we are Christians too” where once they insisted, “we are the one true church.”

Mormonism has busily transformed itself from the defiant, subversive, even scandalous church of the 19th century to become an institution eagerly seeking approval and respectability.

The promise of Mormonism is pretty wonderful when you come to think of it. When you become a Mormon you get prophets, apostles, an open canon of Scripture and the promise that the heavens are once more open after, they claim, centuries of darkness and apostasy. You don't have to look at two thousand-year-old texts to to find the will of God because prophets speak anew and their words are published to the world.

Not only that, but they bring apparently new doctrines, doctrines they would nevertheless define as original and fundamental, “restoring” such ideas as men becoming gods, secret temple worship, a complete rearrangement of the family unit, baptism for the dead and so forth.

light and instruction

Sure enough, from the earliest days of this fledgling restoration movement presses were established and sermons and discourses, teachings and commentary were being reported. The voice of God once more thundered from the pages of new scripture:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.

2For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:1-2)

A succession of periodicals turned out teaching and instruction, left, right and centre, beginning with Evening and Morning Star (1832-1834), Messenger and Advocate (1834-1837), Elder's Journal (1837-1838), Times and Seasons (1839-1846), Millennial Star (1840-1970), Ensign (1971-Present) and many others.

1855 saw the publication of the “Journal of Discourses by Brigham Young, His Two Counsellors, The Twelve Apostles, And Others”; a very cornucopia of Mormon spiritual/prophetic leading and insight that continued until 1866. This is indeed heady stuff and enough to convince that the fundamental claim of Mormonism is true, the heavens are once more open after generations of apostasy and silence.

The first 16 editions of the Times and Seasons was edited by Joseph Smith's youngest brother, Don Carlos (consider for a moment the implications of this one fact in relation to the popular story of poor ignorant farm-boys and the like). The first edition announced:

“We wish to make it a source of light and instruction to all those who may peruse its columns, by laying before them, in plainness, the great plan of salvation, which was devised in heaven before the foundation of the world, as made known to the saints of God, in former, as well as latter days; and is, like its Author, the same in all ages, and changeth not.” (Times and Seasons, Vol.1 No.1)

The Journal of Discourses was originally a semi-monthly sheet of sixteen pages published by Elder George D. Watt in England and designed to publish abroad the sermons of church leaders as they were preached in Salt Lake City. Elder Watt introduced what was to become a 26 volume library of sermons with these words:

“It affords me great pleasure in being able to put in your possession the words of the Apostles and Prophets, as they were spoken in assemblies of the Saints of Zion, the value of which cannot be estimated by man, not so much for any display of worldly learning and eloquence, as for the purity of doctrine, simplicity of style, and extensive amount of theological truth which they develop...These sermons will prove a source of light, information and joy.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.1 Introduction)

In endorsing the work in an open letter to the church leaders warmly and enthusiastically described how it came about:

“It is well known to many of you, that Elder George D Watt, by our counsel, spent much time in the midst of poverty and hardships to acquire the art of reporting in Phonography [shorthand] which he has faithfully and fully accomplished; and has been reporting the public sermons, Discourses, Lectures, etc. delivered by the Presidency, the Twelve, and others in this city, for nearly two years, almost without fee or reward.”

A labour of love, then, encouraged and endorsed by Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball and Willard Richards, the first presidency of the Mormon Church.

continuity and consistency

It is difficult to convey the excitement this tale of a growing corpus of revelation and truth engenders in people, encouraged by the official story of Joseph Smith, the anticipation of great things, the sense of being in on something worth living – and dying – for. Converts may thrill at being initiated into the company of those privileged to know such things, those raised in Mormonism may stand tall in the confidence that this their heritage is true and both may count themselves blessed to live in such times.

To the average Mormon (if there is a such a creature) this picture still colours their world-view and a true believing Mormon puts his or her confidence in the belief that this situation continues to this day. “The Church” is still led by prophets who speak authoritatively for God to his people and the world; but is this true?

If the message of God is, as the Times and Seasons proclaimed in 1839, “the same in all ages, and changeth not” why is it that this, and other, similar periodicals and journals are obsolete? If the Journal of Discourses is “a source of light, information and joy” why is it not used widely in the Mormon Church today?

These journals and periodicals contain sermons, letters, articles and reports about and from leaders of the church. And while it is true that some material is bound to have lost its significance as history has moved on, nevertheless if truth was proclaimed by prophets, and that truth never changes, it seems odd that these publications hold no greater place in the Mormon Church than historical curiosities and sometimes embarrassing reminders. Cite them and they are dismissed as “not official”, quote from them and you will be told that your sources are out-dated, obscure and irrelevant.

Silent prophets

But perhaps having living prophets makes them redundant since today's prophets are bound to be proclaiming prophetic truth to today's saints in today's idiom for today's context – surely?

Yet, as we have already seen in an article entitled Mormonism's “Open Canon”, the Doctrine and Covenants, Mormonism's official record of on-going revelation, has not been added to for a hundred years. Mormon leaders are increasingly diffident the nearer we come to modern times until we find today that Mormonism is experiencing a tumble-weed moment.

Where once proud and determined prophets defiantly thundered Mormon dogma to the faithful and to the world the only thing heard today is the wind whistling through the otherwise silent corridors and meeting places of the Mormon Church. Little more than an echo remains of those once confident and strident leaders, one of the last of which was the late Mormon apostle Bruce R McConkie and, surely, the last of which, Boyd K Packer, has been tamed and correlated to within an inch of his calling

Where once, even in my lifetime, Mormons quoted their leaders all the way back to Joseph Smith, today they are more likely to quote Mormon academics and unofficial apologists like Richard G Grant, Stephen E Robinson, Michael R Ash et al. Their thinking is informed not by apostles and prophets so much as by FAIR and FARMS.

Speaking of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies the late Mormon prophet Gordon B Hinckley said, “FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense (sic) of the Church on a professional basis.” This is a church whose founder boasted that he had the edge on mere academics and professionals because of his prophetic calling, saying,

“I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of the mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth diamond-truth; and God is my "right hand man.

If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster; I shall always beat them....I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet.” (History of the Church, vol.5, p.467)

It seems those days are gone and professional scholarship is the last best hope for a Mormon Church cut adrift from its roots, sans meaningful prophetic leadership. Until we come to today when a Mormon, commenting on this blog is able to write, “there are more reasons The Church doesn't produce commentaries in addition to the reason you mention. Harvard MBAs run the modern Church, not theologians. Apostles are concerned mainly with sales and administration.”

Is that it then? Are Mormon apostles and prophets little more than bean counters now with professionals running the church, predominantly gifted amateurs creating Mormon apologetics and committees telling even apostles and prophets what to say at General Conference? What has become of this Mormon message of prophets? And Who speaks for the Mormon Church today? Better step back because here comes another piece of tumble-weed.