The traditions of men, part 2

Originally, the view of personal revelation or any visionary experiences was quite different than what many believe today.  In fact there are those who claim that ANY vision, visitation or revelation not received by the Prophet (meaning the president of the church alone) should be viewed as false.  God speaks to the Prophet, and only to the Prophet, and we are to wait to hear what God wants us to know from the Prophet. This is an extension of the adoption of the term “Prophet” and the resulting cult of personality.
During Joseph Smith’s time, he welcomed the revelatory experiences of others.  He neither discouraged them nor felt threatened by them.  His enthusiasm for what others told him of their revelations, and the acceptance of others’ revelations is readily apparent in the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers.  Today the tradition is quite the contrary.  Today, if anyone has a revelation they are advised to keep it to themselves. When others hear about them the cautionary attitude adopted is – ‘if it were something important then the Prophet of God would have told you about it.’
The effect of the adoption of the term “Prophet” for the living church president has been far ranging and dramatic.  There has been a dramatic change in people’s expectation of personal revelation, as a result of this title shift. The result is, of course, if you do not expect revelation you are not going to receive it.  The expected charismatic gifts of the Spirit during the early church is now replaced by the assumption that charismatic gifts are driven by office and position.  Bishops get revelation for wards (and by extension no one else does or can).  Stake presidents get revelation for stakes (and by extension no one else does or can).  Mission presidents get revelation for missions (and by extension no one else can or does—except in the notable case of the recent earthquake in Chile, as I mentioned before).  What has always been true is that presiding authorities alone are the final say on revelation or guidance for their calling.  What is not true is that no-one else can, has or does get revelation.  Revelation comes to those who are prepared.  It comes in response to seeking, asking, knocking, and not automatically as a result of a new office or position.  Now someone called to office may humble themselves, begin seeking, asking and knocking and then get revelation.  But the revelation was always available, and the same information is available to all, “even the least of the Saints” as Joseph Smith put it.  The proposition that there is a control over available revelation is one of the results of the post-1955 development of the cult of personality centered on the President as the Living Prophet of God.
Another change now firmly in place is the administration of temporal affairs within the church.  For example, the Presiding Bishop’s office controlled the operations involving all the church’s construction projects until the David O. McKay presidency.  As a result of some problems (beyond the scope of this), the First Presidency decided to take construction over as part of their duties.  One of the members of the First Presidency got involved in some difficulties (again beyond the scope of this), and to placate the Quorum of the Twelve, the responsibilities were shared.  The result was that the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve now have budgetary involvement with the church’s building program.  This is a massive undertaking.  It involves worldwide construction of church facilities.  It is a major duty devolving upon these men.  However, it was one time an Aaronic Priesthood assignment, and the duty of the Presiding Bishop’s office.  Temporal concerns are associated with that order of Priesthood.  On the other hand, the higher Priesthood is involved primarily with the spiritual concerns of the church.  It’s all in the D&C.  But the shift of Aaronic/temporal concerns onto the shoulders of the Melchizedek Priesthood leaders has its effect.  The extent of that effect has been reflected in comments made by those who serve in the Twelve or First Presidency.  They hardly have time to do more than move from one meeting to another.  One said he never had time to reflect or meditate.
The original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation were given a charge by Oliver Cowdrey that their ordination was not complete until they had received an audience with Christ.  That audience was what would entitle them to be a witness of the resurrection.  The charge was given to newly ordained Apostles from the time of the first called Twelve until 1911, when the charge was discontinued.  It was discontinued because so few of them had ever received an audience with Christ.  Since then the Apostles have been encouraged to bear a witness of Christ based upon their spiritual conviction that He lived, died and rose from the dead.  The manner in which this is done is to suggest an actual witness of His resurrection.  But the words are carefully chosen.
When he was put under oath by the Senate Confirmation Committee, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he was a “prophet of God.”  His response was, “my people sustain me as such.”  The senator asking the question didn’t understand the answer, and asked again.  After some back and forth, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he had ever had a revelation; to which he responded that he had not.  He added a bit later that he, like all other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet and Jesus Christ had appeared to him.
[Now as an aside, this testimony was in 1905.  Later, in 1918 President Joseph F. Smith received the vision now published as Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants; the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.]
The church holds the tradition that the First Presidency and Twelve are sustained as “Prophets, Seers and Revelators” and as a result of that sustaining vote they must necessarily have all seen Christ.  This idea/tradition is so widespread that even when the brethren clarify what their testimony consists of most members of the church won’t listen to, or accept what they say.  I’ve posted about President Packer’s talk on his own testimony a little while ago in another post.  There are those who don’t believe him, and insist he is holding back because such things are just “too sacred to be revealed.”  However, the calling of an Apostle, as set out in Section 107, is to bear witness of Jesus Christ.  There isn’t anything “too sacred” about bearing testimony of Him that would prevent an Apostle from stating without equivocation they are a witness by having seen the Risen Lord.  President Packer has been truthful, forthcoming and honest.  I accept what he says at face value and I respect and sustain him all the more because of it.  He is indeed an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  And he is also an honest witness of Him.  However, he has essentially explained what his testimony consists of honestly, truthfully and fully in General Conference.  People continue to ignore his words and substitute the myth for the reality.
The terms “prophet, seer and revelator” come from scripture where the president of the church is to “be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God.”  (D&C 107: 92.)  The way this is read in the church today is that any person who holds the office of President of the High Priesthood is ipso facto a “seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.”  Meaning the office defines the gifts.  What if that is not the intent of the scripture?  What if the scripture means, instead, that a person who is these things is the only one to be called to the office?  That is, unless the person “be” such a person possessing these gifts, he is not and cannot be the President?  Such questions are not even possible to be asked today.  They are, according to the current reading of that verse, evidence of weak faith and evidence someone is headed for apostasy.  Therefore a discussion about this verse’s meaning and possible differences of meaning are excluded and no other view is possible to be discussed.
President David O. McKay did not get a testimony of the church until sometime after he had been called as an Apostle.  President Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked about revelation, said “I don’t know that we need much revelation anymore.”  President Packer has defined revelation as when the presiding authorities reach an agreement.  President Nibley (a counselor in the First Presidency and Hugh Nibley’s grandfather) said if an angel were to appear to him he would jump out the window.  There are other examples, but the point is that there are many statements which have been made by the highest authorities in the church which contradict the popular myth that the Lord has and does regularly appear to, meet with, and speak face to face with the presiding authorities.  Despite this, there are people who presume the Lord is in the weekly meeting in the Temple, every Thursday, telling them how to run His church.  In contrast, President Young said when he asks the Lord for guidance and then he receives nothing, he will make his best judgment and proceed.  And the Lord is bound to sustain him in his decision, since he asked for guidance.  That approach is healthy, and allowed President Young and others to move forward.  However, it is one thing for men of good faith and decency, who are making honest and worthwhile efforts to manage the church to have our prayers, faith and confidence; and quite another to assume these men quote the Lord with their every breath.  As a church this subject is just not discussed.  As a result those who suspect that the brethren are making great efforts and are good men, but who may not have had an audience with the Lord are kept from asking the question.  When a Gentile reporter has the impertinence to ask such a question, they are rebuked and told things like that are sacred. 
A Prophet of God is not required to have seen Him.  A prophet can and has been inspired to speak for the Lord by the inspiration of the Spirit.  But when the scriptures use this phrase “and the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…”  This formula assures the listener that the words which follow originate from the Lord and not a good and honest man’s best advice.  All this has happened in the past and therefore you cannot discount a prophet’s calling because the word of the Lord comes by the Spirit, rather than from a personal visitation.  Visitations are rare.  However, the calling of a prophet in scripture was not institutional.  The Lord was directly, personally and individually involved.  Moses was told by the Lord, directly, as the Lord stood in a pillar-cloud at the door of the tabernacle: “Hear now my words:  If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”  (Numbers 12: 5-6.)
When the Church was led by a president (from the death of Joseph Smith until 1955) there was no cult of personality around the church president.  He was the presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood.  When the title shifted, things began to change.  Today a discussion about this process is not possible because the subject matter is too charged. 
The difference between good men doing good things in good faith, who are entitled to our support in their calling and efforts on the one hand, and a prophet of God whose words are questioned at the peril of eternal damnation on the other hand is the overwhelming difference which now plagues the church.  We cannot have a discussion that questions the wisdom of church policies, procedures or decisions.  When even obvious mistakes are made, people who notice are not to speak of it, and if they do they are told that they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy.  Criticism is essential to a healthy mental state.  Without feedback and criticism you cannot raise a normal, healthy child. Try raising a child to whom you lavish only praise, and to whom you say, without regard to how bad, poorly or evil an act they commit: “You are inspired!  You are right!  It was good of you to have done that!  God Himself inspired that act!”  What you would raise up would be a monster.  Without criticism and challenges to decisions made, no-one can ultimately become anything worthwhile.
We have a church in which those who love it the most, and whose perceptions may be the keenest, are required to take a host of questions, suggestions or criticisms and never give them voice.  The only negative feed-back must originate from either outside the church, or if inside they are cast out because they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy.  This was the inevitable evolution from the cult of personality.  It is still unfolding.  It will progress in a funnel which narrows over time until, at last, when the work has been fully completed, we will have a Pope who is infallible.  Not because he is always inspired, but instead because he holds the keys to bind on earth and in heaven, and as a result God is bound by whatever he does.  History assures us this will be the case.  UNLESS, of course, we open things up to a more healthy way of going about our Father’s business.
Well, this is too long.  I’m not done.  But I’ll add more later.

9 thoughts on “The traditions of men, part 2

  1. Brothers and Sisters, Brother Denver gives some sound, fatherly advice. If you think it is unwise to do so, consider this: How many of you have followed fathers who lead double lives and teach how to pretend to be interested in the Church while breaking the Sabbath, for instance? If we are willing to accept that kind of unhealthy view, why not experiment with Denver’s view, even if some may call it unhealthy?

  2. Denver,
    I want to know more about having an “audience with the Lord” as you discuss in your blog. I’ve always been afraid to ask a general authority… and I’ve only had rare opportunities to ask anyway… if they’ve had a personal visit with the Lord… and could they talk about it? what were they allowed to share… and not share?

    I was touched by one of your parables… “The Horses of Shiloh.” I have pictures of the Savior in our home. I really don’t know how accurate they are.

    For those among us who have had a personal visit with the Lord… what can they share with us that have not ? Can they share what our Lord looked like? His eye color? hair? height? how was he dressed? Is he among us now? How did he sound? Is this too sacred to be discussed openly?

    I have not seen the Lord in my life. I don’t know why…. yet my testimony in Him is firm. So your blog raised some questions Denver. I don’t know how else to ask… expect to ask as honestly and sincerely as I know how.

    and in humility.

  3. I know of three men that I have met and known that the spirit has revealed to me that have had an “audience” with Christ.

    One of them is one of the current 12. Who I met at a leadership meeting. He spoke of some characteristic of the Savior that it was clear to me were not ones he was inferring from reading the scriptures, but had personal knowledge.

    One of the others was my mission president. I heard him bear clear testimony of it, it was bold and was unmistakeable, not to mention every time he taught us he was teaching us the doctrine that would lead us to that spiritual end.

    Denver I with you. It’s not about finding fault with leaders or key holders, what I hear you talking about, but more about truth. Truth is just truth it can come from anywhere if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. We are suppose to counsel with our leaders and they with those that with them. Not to mention Pres. Eyring talked about following the spirit in way to reach out and help other people one I feel is being jammed up by this “cult of personality” idea. We sometimes wait to much on the Bishop to do everything instead of following the spirit and helping people.

    Same thought exists around missionaries, like they are the only ones who have the authority to teach, prepare, and invite for baptism. NOT TRUE! The only thing “special” there is the Mission Pres. has key to authorize the ordinance. We can all teach and invite for baptism we just can’t authorize the ordinance.

    I DO think we can trust in the unity of key holders especially our leading 15. Each time I have met/heard one of them (in person, which has been only a few times) it’s clear to me when they are acting under the influence of the Spirit.

    Not that there are moments when they have not been off. I know I have been and I would hate to think people have taken me at my ever word in a “cult of personality” way in those moments. The same member of the 12 I heard spoke of this also.

  4. Denver,
    Wow – what can I say!! I have been cheering each sentence of this analysis as I have read it. What frustration I have felt for going on decades now over these very principles!!
    I once brought up some health difficulties my wife and I had over bearing too many children too close together to our good Bishop but was immediately slapped down as some kind of heretic (we are in a ward where the birth rate is astronomical) so this was taken as an affront to the command to multiply and replenish the earth and just about led us to fisticuffs during a temple recommend interview and he seemed hesitant to sign it – as if it were some kind of power trip….
    We truly do have cult of personality and are slapped down if we mention any of the gifts of the Spirit freely experienced by early members of the Church.
    Fascinating stuff – can’t wait to read part three…..
    I don’t know how you do it!

  5. dkd you need to read Denver’s book “The Second Comforter, Conversing with the Lord through the Veil” and them determine if you have any of these questions. I believe most of them will be answered. Make sure you read each of the footnotes. JRB

  6. JR Morgan… thank you for your insights. I appreciate them.

    JRB… I have read the book you mentioned. It was edifying. I read parts of it over and over with my wife…. I gave copies to my oldest son and my father. My son is not currently active in church meetings….I have hoped the book would motivate him to do what he needed to do to go to the temple. I was hoping at some point my son would return it to me so I could read it again. I think I need to buy another copy.:) father who is an ordinance worker in the Twin Falls temple was also edified by the book… He is on his third reading of it…. I’ve given a number of books over the years to my Dad…. this is the first I’ve heard him really open up and talk about… Thank you for your helpful suggestion. It is appreciated.

  7. Sorry, another comment…I’ve been concerned about the common practice of reporting the Church’s humanitarian efforts in newspapers and conferences of the Church, when the Lord has advised that we keep our alms to ourselves. The command to let our light shine before the world (commonly used to justify the reporting) I believe refers to the ordinances that belong to the world to be preached. This can be more clearly seen when it is realized that commands directed to “ye” in Old English refer to the group (and in this case, the Church) and the commands directed to “thee” are directed at individuals. In the Sermon on the Mount, often the Lord repeats a command to both, making it clear that the duty belongs on an individual level and on a group level. Let the non-Church, non-member presses pick up the stories if they please. It is sullying our sincerity in my opinion.

    Edited as per “Zang Family” and posted by CM

  8. Brother Snuffer

    I’m not trying to be arguementative, just asking a question: If the first presidency and the twelve really opporate with the spirit much like the lay members do, how then do you reconcile the MEANING of the words: Prophet; Seer; and Revelator. Aren’t these gifts unusual and set appart for the highest positions of the church? Wouldn’t one necessarily receive visions and dreams to qualify as a Prophet, Seer, or Revelator? How else would one SEE into the past, or the future, let alone clearly understanding the present? How do you recencile the current revelatory state of the leadership with the meaning of the words, prophet, seer, and revelator?

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