Controlled Revelation

Joseph Smith did not attempt to control or limit people’s revelations except in only one regard. When it came to revelation involving governing the church, that was limited to him alone, as President. (See, e.g. D&C 43: 2-5; 21: 4-5; 28: 2.) Reading The Joseph Smith Papers, however, it is clear that for Joseph,  it came as a matter of some considerable satisfaction to him that others received revelation as well. 

The declarations of Joseph’s revelations raise two interesting questions: First, if Joseph’s status as the prophet, seer and revelator are foundational, then can any subsequent person change anything restored through Joseph? Even if there is another person elected through common consent to be the president of the church, is such an office holder free from the obligation to receive Joseph’s words as God’s words? Are we all, including subsequent office holders, required to “give heed unto all his [Joseph’s] words and commandments, which he [Joseph] shall give unto you as he receiveth them”? Or instead, does Joseph get relegated to obsolescence once he has been replaced by President Brigham Young, and so on?
Secondly, the question arises whether possession of the office Joseph held (church president) automatically entitles such an office holder to be in every whit exactly like Joseph. That is, do subsequent office holders also get the automatic right to claim everyone in the church must give heed to their words, too?
In Joseph’s case, the only way to replace him in his position was for Joseph himself to designate his successor/replacement. This is set out in the revelation to Joseph as follows: “[N]one else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him [Joseph]; for if it is taken from him [Joseph] he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.” (D&C 43: 4.) Implicit in the revelation, if you read it carefully, is that Joseph’s choice of the one who would succeed him would necessarily come by revelation to Joseph. “And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations, which you have received and shall receive through him [Joseph] whom I have appointed.” (D&C 43: 5-7.)
In Joseph’s case, he did receive a revelation which identified who would replace him, just as the revelation provided. “[T]hat my servant Hyrum may take the office of Priesthood and Patriarch, which was appointed unto him by his father, by blessing and also by right; That from henceforth he shall hold the keys of the Patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people, That whoever he blesses shall be blessed, and whoever he curses shall be cursed; that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And from this time forth I appoint unto him that he may be a prophet, and a seer, and a revelator unto my church, as well as my servant Joseph…” (D&C 124: 91-94.)
Hyrum, however, died in Carthage Jail before Joseph. The issue of “succession” was decided by common consent in the votes taken in Nauvoo following Joseph’s death. Then there is all that stuff about Joseph giving “the keys of the kingdom” to “the council.” But “the kingdom” was the Council of Fifty, not the church. The “council” to whom Joseph made the remark was the Fifty, not the Twelve. But we sorted that out in Nauvoo by common consent, choosing to follow the Twelve.
Revelation is foundational to the church. No one comes into the church without revelation. Missionaries ask investigators to ask God, based on Moroni 10:4, and get their own answer to prayer. A convert is expected to have received a personal revelation before becoming a Mormon.
This gives rise to some other interesting issues: Moroni 10:4 has as its scope the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. But Moroni 10:5 expands the scope so that a sincere inquirer “may know the truth of all things.” Therefore, there is no limit on what a person might inquire about and receive a revelation concerning. 
Now a convert who has discovered that they have already obtained an answer to prayer is likely (as I was) to continue to inquire. Converts who have had such an experience become rather like Joseph Smith following his first vision. That is, they “had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as [they] previously had one.” (JS-H 1: 29.) So people who have succeeded in obtaining an answer to prayer go on to make further inquiries and get further answers. The scope of such inquiries can be, as Moroni 10: 5 informs us, into literally ANYTHING. They can get to know “the truth of all things” by making such inquiries.
The interesting issue arises when the church then informs the convert that they can’t have revelations involving things which the church wants to control. They can’t ask and get an answer about anything that contradicts or opposes what the church says. If they do so, they are told they have a false revelation, or they are being inspired by the devil.
A great problem arises when someone who has received authentic revelation, and has been inspired as a consequence of that revelation to join the church, is then told by the church that their subsequent revelation is false, or of the devil. The convert must then choose. Revelation led them into the church in the first instance. If the church then tells them their continuing revelation is false or of the devil, they must grapple with whether the original revelation which led them to convert was also false and of the devil? Of course, if they reach that conclusion they leave the church. The other choice is that the revelation, both the original and the following revelations, are from God. If that is the conclusion they reach, then they know the church is overreaching. This gives rise to a continual anxiety about the church’s motives, and reliability about things which matter most.
Joseph’s delight in the revelations others received is akin to Moses’ delight in the same thing: “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11: 29.) The church’s jealousy on the same topic makes an interesting contrast, where those who have revelation oftentimes know God has spoken to them, but also know the church will not tolerate revelation which goes any further than knowing the Book of Mormon is true, Therefore, you have an obligation to join the institution which publishes and proclaims that book.
These are big topics. They are worth a lot of careful thought. One conclusion which leaps to mind, however, is that the loose grip Joseph and Moses took on the reigns of control extended to management decisions at the highest level. At lower levels people were free to develop their gifts, including revelation, without any molesting by the top. Our own scriptures say as much. To the church is given a variety of gifts, disbursed throughout the body:
“To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men. And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal. And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom. To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge. And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed; And to others it is given to have faith to heal. And again, to some is given the working of miracles; And to others it is given to prophesy; And to others the discerning of spirits. And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues; And to another is given the interpretation of tongues. And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.” (D&C 46: 12-26.)
Well, if they all come from God, and are spread to people throughout the church, it would seem incredibly wrong-headed to condemn such things or to attempt to limit them. It is an interesting thing to try and limit the Spirit. As Christ put it, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8.) Such things are free indeed. To hedge them in, correlate them, and attempt to subjugate them, oftentimes does not convince or persuade those being controlled. 
Fortunately, history generally sorts it out correctly. And today’s heroes become tomorrows villains – just as today’s fools become tomorrow’s venerated examples. How we sort it out in our brief moment here is not necessarily how either the Lord or those in the future will do so.
Well, enough of that. I do so look forward to General Conference this coming weekend.  I’m hoping to get some input on the things which really do matter most. There are so many important questions facing us today. It will be nice to hear what counsel we are given on these many perplexities.