By Scott S. Mitchell
I feel the need to begin with this short clarification. Although the second half of this essay argues that leaders of the LDS Church too often claim to have received revelation from God when they actually haven’t, I don’t believe these leaders are unrighteous men. Indeed, I consider them generally righteous, well-intentioned, and highly intelligent men, who, like most members of their church, accomplish much more good than evil during their lives. Their principle mistake, I believe, is that they accept unquestioningly traditional LDS views regarding their own authority, the superiority of their spiritual gifts, and what constitutes revelation and what does not.
Book of Mormon Scriptures Regarding Who Receives Revelation, and by What Process
The Book of Mormon has much to say about revelation. One of the most inspiring, gratifying and encouraging messages therein is that revelation from God is available to all who sincerely seek it. The book’s message is directed to Christianity as a whole, so not surprisingly, it doesn’t indicate one particular latter-day Christian denomination is preferred over the rest of them. Therefore, no hint is provided within its pages that latter-day revelation is more available to leaders or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than to those of any other faith. Nor does it permit the inference that God, in revealing previously unperceived truths to his children, discriminates between genders, or between those of high position within a church and those with less authority, prestige or prominence. Instead, the Book of Mormon makes plain that revelation, and the spirit of prophecy which often accompanies it, are not intended as a scarce commodity with the lion’s share reserved for a select few. In fact, quite the opposite is true; as Nephi said, the Lord truly gives “liberally to him that asketh” if he asks not amiss. (See 2 Nephi 4:35.)
Jarom, a Book of Mormon writer who lived in a time of widespread evil much like our own, commented on the prevalence of revelation among those who remained righteous: “And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiff-necked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith.” (See Jarom 1:4; emphasis added.) The same was true in the time of Nephi and his brother Lehi, who were the father and uncle, respectively, of the “third” Nephi. According to Mormon, those two men and “many of their brethren, which knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily… did preach unto the people…” (See Helaman 11:23)
The book also teaches another inspiring, and perhaps counterintuitive, facet of revelation. Not only is the ability to receive revelation from God universally available to all who are willing to strive for it, without regard to a person’s calling or position in a church, but the magnitude of the revelation that might be received is likewise unrelated to the recipient’s stature or notoriety. Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah who with his brothers and a few other men who accompanied them brought many thousands of Lamanites into Christianity, including Lamanite kings, provides an instructive example. On their own, these sons of Mosiah, still newly-converted former reprobates, had decided to become missionaries without any church leader extending that call to them, and without holding any office in the nascent church of Christ. They’d studied the scriptures diligently, fasted and prayed, and in time God had granted them the gifts of prophecy and of receiving revelation. (See Alma 17:2-3.) Though it’s true the brothers were all sons of a king, they had each deliberately chosen not only to decline the accoutrements of royalty and celebrity, but to work in a foreign nation where they were nothing—outsiders with no recognition or social position whatsoever. They’d begun as servants, begging to be heard, willing to be thrown in prison if it afforded them an eventual opportunity to share their message. After the completion of their overwhemingly successful fourteen-year mission, Ammon said this concerning the revelatory process:
Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.
(See Alma 26:22)
Lest anyone perceive that revelation is easily received, as opposed to being universally accessible if the right steps are followed, the prophet Alma, a fellow former reprobate with the sons of Mosiah, corroborated what Ammon and his brothers had learned, and taught about the toil required to obtain the gift of revelation. He explained what process he’d followed to have it revealed to him whether the gospel precepts he’d been taught were actually true. Though he’d been ordained the church’s high priest, receiving revelation was no easier for him than for anyone else. As a younger man, he’d been interrupted in his waywardness by an angel of God, who’d told him he was on the road to self-destruction, and had exhorted him not to destroy others along with himself. (See Alma 36:6-24.) But even that experience hadn’t constituted proof that all the religious writings he’d read were true. Notice in these words the evidence that nothing he came to believe was adopted merely because it had been believed or taught by his predecessors, or because he was the son of a prophet:
46 Behold, I say unto you they [the gospel truths taught by previous prophets] are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.
What do we glean from these Book of Mormon scriptures? That those who expend the spiritual effort–by assiduously reading, pondering, fasting and praying, can receive revelations from God and become prophets, regardless of their individual gender, station in life, title, renown, platform or connections. The revelations received don’t seem to be mentioned in connection with the kind of administrative decisions required to run an organization, though have to do with understanding the scriptures and the mysteries of God;There can be many of them at one time, even “exceedingly many” of them among a relatively small group of people at one time (see Enos 1:22; see also 1 Nephi 1:4, Words of Mormon 1:16-18 and Ether 11: 1,12, 20) and despite their number, no structural hierarchy is contemplated which grants any one of them authority over the others. In fact, in the Book of Mormon, never are the ability to receive revelations, nor the closely-related gift of prophecy, associated with the LDS concept of “priesthood authority.”1
Revelation’s Defining Characteristics, and What the Book of Mormon Shows It’s Used For
If there are three common denominators in the Book of Mormon among all the instances where divine revelation is obtained by individuals, I believe they are these: First, the information being revealed is tremendously important for the common good. Second, it cannot be obtained by resorting solely to the human mind. Third, while the temporary policies or procedures men and women devise to order their lives and organizations, and the decisions they make to govern them, vary greatly and may or may not be inspired, God’s logic, consisting of the principles, philosophies and objectives upon which his advice to us is based, does not vary or produce bad results if followed. God never reveals defective advice which later needs revising to become more palatable to man; if it was defective at first, it wasn’t of God, regardless of how it was then characterized.
Hence, with these traits in mind, we see that through revelation, God’s children are shown how to build boats they wouldn’t otherwise know how to construct, and those boats sail farther and endure better than otherwise possible. In a nation-threatening war, God’s followers are shown where the enemy’s armies have gone, and what city they plan to attack, and this information saves a righteous people from destruction. It’s revealed to man what exactly the resurrection consists of, how wonderful it is, and what happens with a spirit when it separates from a body immediately after death, and the result is many millions of readers thereafter cease fearing death to be permanent. Men and women are allowed to see momentous events in the near and distant future, then come to understand how longsuffering and just God is with his children. Unspoken, thoughtful questions are perceived and answered, while others’ evil thoughts and designs are exposed and thwarted. Divine methologies are proclaimed, illuminating that God actually gives men weaknesses to keep them humble, or that opposition in all things must remain a constant to perpetuate righteousness. And most often, God shares his own mind with that of the supplicant, so that the two minds, working together, reveal to the supplicant that the good news he or she is reading is true. (See Moroni 10:4-5)
What Members of the LDS Church are Taught about Revelation
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter also referred to as “the LDS Church” or “the Church”) are taught that their denomination is the only true church on the face of the earth. In other words, it alone constitutes the religious organization God the Father and Jesus Christ recognize as the authorized successor to the religion Jesus himself founded during his earthly ministry. Because of this preeminence within not only Christianity, but indeed, all the world’s religions, the Church also considers its leaders entitled to divine revelation not available to leaders of other religions or denominations. The following word-for-word excerpt (with some words italicized to highlight noteworthy claims) is from an article authored by the LDS Church and linked to from its own website under the title “Modern Prophets and Continuing Revelation”:2
- Modern apostles and prophets are a distinctive characteristic of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members view senior Church leaders — Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the presidents of the Church that followed — as prophets of God in the same way they view Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and the apostles in the day of Jesus Christ. Russell M. Nelson is the current president and prophet of the Church.
- Members believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the church originally established by Jesus Christ during His mortal lifetime. Part of the restoration includes living prophets and apostles.
- Along with modern prophets comes continuing revelation and additional scripture…
Problems with the LDS Presupposition and Declaration of Exclusivity
The above claims, unremarkable to members of the LDS church, are striking to observers not of that faith. The most salient feature, perhaps, is the presupposition of exclusivity, with Mormonism alone meriting recognition as the restored modern iteration of the church Christ founded. Supposedly, the LDS Church’s unique chosenness thus blesses it with the presence of authentic modern prophets and apostles; i.e., those who are explicitly authorized by Christ to run his church today (as opposed to the false ones that might exist in other churches and who wrongfully believe they, too, may receive the Lord’s inspiration and endorsement). The presence of these fully endorsed and authorized apostles and prophets purportedly brings with it the distinct blessings of access to continuing divine revelation and additional scripture not available to other religions.
As this essay attempts to demonstrate, the LDS Church’s claims are at odds with the Book of Mormon and untrue. Unfortunately, however, the presupposition of exclusivity and superiority also comes across as arrogant and un-Christian to many devout believers of other faiths, thus hampering the Church’s ecumenical efforts.
The Problem with Equating a Current Church President with Abraham, Moses or Isaiah
Also striking is the bold claim that merely by virtue of one’s position as the president of the Church (which is attained solely by seniority), the holder of that office automatically becomes a prophet equal in stature to Abraham, Moses or Isaiah. Abraham, the great patriarch, spoke often with God and angels, and received God’s protection in all his dealings with the heathens that surrounded him. Moses did great miracles in view of all Israel, gave the world the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses, and prophesied of Jesus’ coming by saying God would lift up a prophet like unto himself. (See Deuteronomy 18:15). Isaiah’s stature as a foreteller of the Savior’s life, and of the future of Jehovah’s dealings with the House of Israel and other nations, was unparalleled by all but Jesus himself. So prodigious and monumental were Isaiah’s prophecies of religiously significant events to come that Jesus not only repeatedly quoted him, but also said of him, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (See 3 Nephi 23:1; see also 3 Nephi 20:11, both in the Book of Mormon.) Thus, these LDS website claims surprise non-LDS readers, and even some lifelong church members, and inevitably focus scrutiny on whether the church president’s prophetic demonstration is as spectacular as advertised. After all, today even the pope isn’t described by faithful Catholics in such glowing terms.
But when members of the LDS Church are individually asked what things church presidents who’ve lived during their lifetimes have done to evoke comparisons with the great prophets of the Bible, they are hard-pressed to do so. They might cite to church administrative decisions, such as lowering the age at which missionaries may begin their missions, giving those missionaries electronic tablets, reducing Sunday church meetings from three to two hours, combining two priesthood quorums into one, overhauling the words and rituals of the temple endowment ceremony yet another time, or allowing couples with temple recommends to be sealed in the temple as soon after their civil marriages as they wish. (More on that last decision later.) Or, they may refer to a president’s conference talks urging church members to get out of debt, or read the scriptures, or attend the temple regularly, or be active in the community, or repent daily of one’s sins. But none of these exhortations or administrative decisions are materially different from the decisions and exhortations made by other male and female church leaders throughout the world, or from those made by faithful lay members in their everyday lives. In fact, the nature and quality of these acts don’t even distinguish an LDS president from conscientious leaders and faithful members of other Christian denominations or other religious traditions. The decisions themselves may be substantively different, but they don’t require the decision maker to have superior spirituality or scriptural understanding to make them.
To this writer, it therefore appears, from my own lifetime of speaking with church members, and from personal observation, that the asserted equivalence between Abraham, Moses and Isaiah and modern church presidents, which is heralded on the LDS church website, is hard to substantiate. But if there is equivalence between the Church’s most senior apostle and Abraham, Moses and Isaiah, all Christians who are doing their best to manifest Christ’s teachings in their lives share in that equivalence. How could they not? Does the Church believe that becoming president by seniority automatically entitles the officeholder to a greater portion of the Holy Ghost’s influence than that promised to any other faithful Christians?
The Problems with Linking Modern Prophets with the Production of New Scripture
A third noteworthy assertion from the excerpted article is that new scriptures come with the presence of modern prophets in the church. Of course, the Church is right to proclaim the Book of Mormon as a second scriptural witness, equal to the Bible in stature, of Christ’s divine Sonship and salvific mission. Most Christians haven’t read the Book of Mormon, and justify their disinterest in doing so with the anti-intellectual, illogical and circular reasoning that they’ve already decided it’s not the word of God. A few others, hearing that the process whereby the book was produced involved at least one heavenly messenger and a Urim-and-Thummim-type instrument, declare it fraudulent simply because either they don’t believe such things are real, or they don’t believe God still uses such means to communicate with man like he did in antiquity. Moreover, it’s also true that most non-LDS Christians reflexively insist that the Bible was meant to be the Lord’s exclusive scriptural dispensation (an idea which, whether they like it or not, finds not the slightest doctrinal basis in the Bible).
Notwithstanding all this, the LDS Church should be more circumspect in declaring that the presumed ongoing exclusive presence of true prophets within it produces new scriptures. First of all, the Book of Mormon itself does not contemplate any new scripture coming forward in the pre-Millennial last days other than itself.3 This is a huge point, and it can’t be ignored. Second, the Book of Mormon came forth before the LDS Church was organized, and when it was published, no claim was contemporaneously being made that Joseph Smith would necessarily remain a prophet for life, or that he had produced the Book of Mormon. Instead, the message was, and properly should remain so today, that the Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets, and that one man, Joseph Smith, was gifted with the temporary gift of seership and the privilege of using an instrument, akin to the Urim and Thummim used anciently by Aaron to discern God’s will in Moses’ time, to read and dictate its text to a scribe.
A third reason not to claim LDS Church leaders necessarily augment the Bible and Book of Mormon is that it draws heightened attention to two books which the LDS Church canonized in the 1800s, the Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. More than any other book, the former of these two has subjected the LDS Church to allegations that its theology differs dramatically from what Christ taught the Jews during his earthly ministry, or indeed, what he taught the Nephites in America following his resurrection. The notion that “‘Mormons’ aren’t Christians” comes from the Doctrine and Covenants’ theology that only through sacred rituals performed by LDS Church Melchizedek-order high priests in LDS temples can the highest heavenly awards be obtained. This teaching both conflicts with, and nullifies, Jesus’s own message in the Bible and Book of Mormon that his gospel has nothing to do with temple rituals. Much has been written elsewhere on this website about this conflict and nullification. See, e.g., Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation.
The second book of scripture LDS leaders canonized in the post-1830 19th Century, the Pearl of Great Price, has also received heavy scrutiny of both its provenance and its doctrine, especially over the last 50 years. The authenticity of the Book of Abraham, contained within the Pearl of Great Price, has been decisively discredited, and those willing to defend it have themselves lost intellectual credibility. For more on this subject, see The Book of Abraham: Fully Discredited by LDS Church History, the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Moreover, Joseph Smith’s own version of LDS Church history, also part of the Pearl of Great Price, has also proven on many points to be easier to disprove than to verify, as new documents have come to light and large numbers of scholars in and out of the faith have taken an interest in the subject. See, e.g., Whether Joseph Smith’s Canonized First Vision Account is Authentic History and The Restoration of the Priesthoods: True or Revisionist History?
A fourth drawback to suggesting the church’s modern prophets promulgate new scriptures is that it raises the expectations bar to a level over which modern LDS leaders can’t leap. The only new scriptures added to the LDS canon in the last 30 years have been old writings from between 100 to 180 years ago by long-dead former presidents. Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”) Sections 137 and 138 were both canonized in 1981. But D&C 137, written by Joseph Smith in 1836, has proven problematic for the Church. It throws a huge monkey wrench into LDS doctrine, as it constitutes a wholesale refutation of the supposed need to perform temple rituals for the dead. In that section, such rituals are declared unnecessary in the case of those who lived Christian lives but died without baptism. Given the confusion it adds to LDS theology, it’s difficult to understand how Church leaders arrived at the decision to canonize it in the first place, unless they felt a need to produce some evidence of “continuing revelation.”
Similarly, D&C Section 138, purportedly revealed in 1918 by President Joseph F. Smith, the nephew of Church founder Joseph Smith, possesses no contemporaneously written manuscript to authenticate its origin. Instead, its text stems solely from a typed manuscript produced by Smith’s son, Joseph Fielding Smith, four weeks after the revelation was purportedly dictated. Though Joseph F. Smith spoke in General Conference the day after the revelation was supposedly received, he made no specific mention of it during his address or at any time over the next few weeks until his death. Nor did he say he’d dictated something which he intended to be canonized. More importantly, aside from these questions about whether the chief author of this reported vision was Joseph F. Smith or his son, the vision contains what I have argued elsewhere are clear doctrinal errors.4
More recently, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”5, a doctrinal statement issued by the Church’s fifteen putative “apostles and prophets” in 1995, has come to be deemed canonized scripture by many in the LDS Church, and is advertized as such by the same body of Church leaders from which it originated. Although its overall message to the world is salutary, it, too, suffers from doctrinal defects. First of all, it decrees the existence of a Heavenly Mother, which, though certainly a popular idea in today’s world, enjoys no scriptural foundation and was never mentioned by any prophet, or by Jesus or any of his apostles or disciples, at any time. The decree therefore suggests senior church leaders have the prerogative of creating new doctrine without scriptural support, a dangerous proposition indeed.
Second, the Proclamation makes much reference to what happened in the pre-mortal existence, which pre-existence is doctrinally supported only by the heavily discredited Book of Abraham (at least to the extent that it proclaims all Earth’s inhabitants lived there before they came here), but nowhere else.
Third, the Proclamation refers to commandments given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden which, again, are not set forth in actual scriptures in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or even Mormonism’s other canonical works. For more on this subject, see Eve’s Supposed Dilemma in the Garden of Eden: a Notion Lacking a Scriptural Basis, elsewhere on this website.
In other words, if the existence of modern-day prophets in the LDS Church brings with it the revelation of new post-Book of Mormon scriptures, questions necessarily arise as to why the scriptures thus produced are so faulty.
Misleading Claims of Revelation Within the LDS Church
The 2015 ban on baptisms of children of homosexual parents: Prior to the start of the LDS Church’s April 2019 general conference, Church President Russell M. Nelson announced in a “senior” leadership meeting (presumably attended by the fifteen putative apostles and prophets) that during the past year, the First Presidency had been blessed with “revelation upon revelation” from the Lord. None of these revelations were specifically identified, nor was it explained what differentiated them from teachings already contained within the scriptures. Second Counselor Henry B. Eyring seconded this claim, adding that just as God has led his church by “revelation through prophets” since Adam and Eve (a questionable proposition in and of itself, since the concept of “church” didn’t exist for most of the first 5000+ years6 after Adam and Eve, and many times during that span, and for most of the time after Christ, no prophet was acknowledged as the leader of God’s people), that same practice continues today. Like Nelson, however, Eyring did not identify what specifically God has revealed lately.
But what most caught the attention of the public was the announcement in this same senior leadership meeting by First Counselor Dallin H. Oaks that the First Presidency had abandoned and reversed “recent Church policies related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.” As Jana Riess, who holds a Ph.D in Religious History from Columbia University, wrote in an article entitled “Mormon leaders reverse LGBT policy, raising the question: What is revelation?” appearing in the April 4, 2019 edition of Religion News Service,
The 2015 policy had prohibited children of same-sex couples from being baptized (which Mormons can do beginning at age 8) and also from being “blessed” as infants. Priesthood ordination for tween boys and missionary service for young adults were likewise off the table for children born to same-sex couples unless they were willing to publicly disavow their parents’ relationship after turning 18.
The 2015 policy also targeted the parents, stating that any adult members who were in a same-sex marriage or long-term homosexual relationship were in “apostasy” and subject to a mandatory church discipline council.
As Riess explains below, the April 2019 change announced by Oaks was particularly surprising, given that Russell M. Nelson, when President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had been its most outspoken supporter. Speaking in January 2016, before he’d replaced the late Thomas S. Monson as president of the church,
Nelson said the ban was the result of top church leaders’ meeting “repeatedly in the temple” to seek God’s guidance. God, Nelson said, had “inspired his prophet … to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord” with the LGBT ban.
The ban was, in other words, a clear revelation.
More than three years later, Nelson says it’s now the Lord’s will to reverse that policy — and that this is also a revelation.
It gives me no pleasure to analyze what this example proves about Mormonism’s concept of modern divine revelation. In this case, the church leaders met many times to discuss what stance to take on the baptism of children of gay couples, then finally voted to ban it. Superficially, the most readily apparent sign the administrative decision wasn’t an actual revelation from God was the fact it wasn’t touted as such, having been secretly inserted into the Church’s Handbook of Instructions without any notice to Church members that the policy had been enacted. Only through the agency of an anonymous tipster did Church members and the rest of the world learn that the policy existed. Revelations for the governance of the church are supposed to reveal God’s will where it was previously unknown; the Church should have no valid reason to conceal it, even if it garners bad publicity. Here, Russell M. Nelson only defended the policy as “revelation to a God’s prophet” as an afterthought, after the insertion had been exposed and widely criticized, in an apparent attempt to silence critics. To surreptitiously insert it into the LDS Handbook of Instructions, which is already restricted to very few leaders in local congregations, is to bury the instruction, not reveal it.
The second obvious reason to conclude the policy decision wasn’t divine revelation was the fact that it was reversed three and a half years later. The only changing circumstances between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2019 had been mounting criticism from both church members and nonmembers. In justifying the abandonment of the policy, nothing explained by Dallin H. Oaks mentioned changing circumstances as the reason behind it. Even if he had, that justification would have been one the Lord doesn’t recognize. God doesn’t withhold baptisms of little children due to the sexual orientation of their parents in 2015, and then decide He was unfair to do so in 2019. The principles, philosophies and objectives behind God’s revelations don’t ever change, let alone reverse themselves in three and a half years.
On a deeper and more important level, however, the Book of Mormon demonstrates that neither the prior policy nor the current non-policy could have been divinely inspired. This is because both versions presuppose the correctness of baptizing little children, and ignore unequivocal scriptural admonitions not to do so. Little children are not to be baptized. All eight-year-olds are little children, no matter how mature individuals might be for their age, and all of us manifest our belief in this proposition in the way we treat them. The clear error this practice entails, according to the simple, divine logic contained in Mormon’s sermon in Moroni 8 of the Book of Mormon, is discussed elsewhere on this website; see The Baptism of Eight-year-old Children Against God’s Will. A purported divine revelation dictated by Joseph Smith mandating the baptism of eight-year-olds, which flies in the face of the Lord’s unambiguous instruction to the contrary, is presumptuous error. No eight-year-olds should be baptized, nor any little children of any age, regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents. (That’s not to say God holds it against righteous LDS Church members for baptizing their eight-year-olds because of what they’ve been taught all their lives. The ever-merciful and understanding Lord judges us by the intent of our hearts, and those who are sincere in doing what they think God desires aren’t condemned. He does hope we’ll act upon what we discover in the scriptures, however, even if it contradicts what we’ve grown up believing.) To put it bluntly, if LDS Church leaders were receiving divine revelation on this point, they would have first, recognized Joseph Smith’s doctrinal error; second, reversed it; third, removed D&C 68:25-27 (the verses Mormons accept as the practice’s scriptural basis) from the canon; fourth, publicly announced the new doctrinal correction to the Church and the world; fifth, admitted their own negligence in previously accepting Joseph Smith’s contradiction of the Book of Mormon and failing to renounce it earlier.
The saga described above, even if only considered by itself, at least raises the suspicion that the LDS Church has been content to declare the decisions or pronouncments made by senior Church leaders to be divine revelation by definition, not because the Holy Spirit necessarily manifests God’s agreement. The thinking seems to be, “Because we declare all men whom we set apart as apostles to be the equivalent of biblical prophets and of Jesus’ original apostles, and because we declare the president of our church, who is always the most senior apostle, to be the preeminent prophet over the church and the equal of the great ancient prophets in scripture, then by definition, the decisions and pronouncements of these men are accepted as divine revelations on par with the utterings of the ancients.” This approach of making up its own definitions allows the Church to continue to claim it’s led by modern revelation as a general proposition, without feeling the need to disclose the specific processes that led to certain ideas being declared official church policy, history or doctrine. The practice of defining pronouncements as revelation, without regard to their substance, waters down the definition of divine revelation so as to render it meaningless. Revelations become revelations simply because the Church decides to call them that.
The 100-year-old policy disallowing couples who first married civilly from being sealed in the temple until after a one-year wait: A similar scenario has unfolded with the Church’s May 6, 2019 announcement that couples who marry civilly will no longer be required to wait a year before being allowed to be sealed to each other in the temple.7 The policy requiring the one-year wait was long ago identifiable as absurdly flawed for several obvious reasons. It was designed to encourage temple sealings instead of civil marriages, and was instituted over 100 years ago during the administration of LDS Church president Heber J. Grant. Since then, couples who got married in a civil ceremony were forced to wait a year for their temple sealings regardless of their proof of worthiness evidenced by their temple recommend, and regardless of the fact that they were allowed to attend the temple for every other purpose during that one-year wait. The policy was simply indefensible.
Adding to the absurdity were these two factors: The one-year wait requirement did not apply in most of the countries in the world where the LDS Church has temples. It only penalized couples in such countries as the United States and Canada where temple sealing were accorded legal recognition as official marriages. Couples in most of the world’s countries were free to marry civilly first, then be sealed in the temple as soon thereafter as they desired. The worst effect of the policy was to exclude from temple marriages family, friends and loved ones who weren’t LDS, or who were LDS but didn’t possess a temple recommend for whatever reason (which reasons often included such minutiae as drinking tea or coffee or smoking a pipe). Ifn cases where the temple marriage was the couple’s only marriage ceremony, the policy meant that over the years, countless Christian families who had raised sons and daughters in the nurture and admonition of the Lord were excluded by Mormons from being present to see their offspring or siblings exchange vows. This policy was thus decidedly un-Christian, not only because it hurt so many people’s feelings, but also in light of the fact that Jesus’ first public miracle was to create more wine to accommodate more guests for a very public wedding. Prior to May 6, 2019, Jesus’ wine drinking and winemaking would have disqualified him from temple marriage attendance, too.
Undoubtedly, however, this reversal by Church leaders of the old civil marriage policy will now be heralded as another example of modern-day revelation received from modern-day prophets. And, it’s highly unlikely the church will admit that Church presidents and apostles were deaf to revelation that could have been received if they’d been less influenced by the desire to not overturn longstanding tradition. But again, it’s not hard to see that the new policy, though an improvement over the previous one, is by no means revelation from God. The doctrine behind temple marriages is wrong to begin with; they are not instituted of God and find no endorsement in the Bible or Book of Mormon. Marriage doesn’t exist in the post-mortal life, and Jesus said so. For more on this topic, see Jesus’s Failure to Endorse Eternal Marriage in the Bible and Book of Mormon, elsewhere on this website. An authentic revelation from God would result in the cessation of temple marriages, and a renouncement of the doctrine and practice that has surrounded them for so long in the Church. Marriage is indeed sacred to God, but it isn’t the temple that makes it so. It’s the covenant to treat one’s spouse with love and respect that makes it so.
The pre-1978 ban on blacks being given the priesthood: A third famous example of supposed modern day revelation occurred in June of 1978 when the Church reversed its longstanding practice of denying the priesthood to blacks. Not only has the Church never admitted that the original exclusion was completely uninspired, but they have officially proclaimed the dropping of the ban as a “revelation” from God to his prophet. (See Official Declaration—2, pp. 293-294 of the Doctrine and Covenants.) If authentic revelation from God were involved here, LDS leaders would not only have denounced the ban as having been inspired by racism, but would have also proclaimed that Melchizedek priesthood possession and temple ordinances have never been part of Jesus Christ’s gospel to begin with. For more discussion of this topic, see Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation, elsewhere on this website.
Perhaps the following statement by the LDS Church helps explains why Church leaders misperceive what divine revelation is and isn’t. Notice the part [LDS] “historical precedent” and [LDS] “teachings, practices and traditions” play in determining what the Church promulgates, as if these considerations were co-equals with scripture. Notice also that the influence of the Holy Ghost is not mentioned as part of the channel through which revelation flows:
Like a river guided by its banks, revelation received by Church leadership flows through an orderly channel. Doctrinal, administrative and policy decisions, for example, are carefully weighed against historical precedent. The foundational revelations and teachings of the Church serve as the basis for decision-making. Church leaders work outward from the already established foundation of scripture, teachings, practices and traditions and chart a course for the future.8
In order for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to take seriously assertions that their leaders are led by divine revelations, leaders and members must take great care to assure those assertions aren’t promiscuously made. Real revelations should look like the revelations described in the Book of Mormon, and not be called revelations merely because all the president’s and apostles’ pronouncements are defined that way by those that make them. Nothing inconsistent with Book of Mormon or New Testament teachings, or the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, should be labeled a revelation. No Christian church can afford to create the impression among its members or observers that it greatly exaggerates the amount of revelation it receives. Otherwise, faith in all religious claims begins to erode.
And, to the extent the Church considers its own traditions and precedents as indicators of what to teach, it should be fully willing to objectively and prayerfully consider whether past leaders made uninspired decisions which became precedents. The painfulness of such an inquiry should be a burden willingly accepted; Jesus always required it of the Jews and the Nephites. If past errors are found, they should be openly identified as such and abandoned, even if doing so entails admitting past leaders gave flawed direction on weighty matters.
Revelation from God is sacred and crucial to Christianity. Even if much spiritual energy must be expended to discern the Lord’s voice, we cannot afford to do without it, nor accept any counterfeits.
1. For more on this subject, see Why the “Lines of Priesthood Authority” Concept is Missing from the Book of Mormon, and How Authority was Obtained to Found the First Known Church of Christ, elsewhere on this website.
2. The article, one of many such declarations of LDS beliefs to the world, can be directly accessed online at churchofjesuschrist.org or mormonnewsroom.org.
3. Nephi saw in vision “other books” coming forth in the pre-Millennial last days to convince mankind of Christ after the Bible had already gone forth into the world (see 1 Nephi 13:39-41), it is clear from the context of his description that the books he saw were the several books of the Book of Mormon. This conclusion is borne out from his description of these books. He notes that these books would convince the Gentiles, Lamanites and Jews that the Bible’s witness of Christ was true. The books, which he refers to also as records, would make known the plain and precious things which had been taken away from the people [by the great and abominable church], and would make known unto every nation, kindred, tongue and people that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world. This description of the Book of Mormon, written by Mormon himself, is found on the Book of Mormon’s title page. Finally, Nephi saw that these books would contain the wordsof the Lamb, and would be comprised of the records of thy [Nephi’s] seed, and would be joined with the Bible to be established as fulfilling the same purpose. The description given these “other books” thus plainly describes the Book of Mormon.
4. The first of these is the notion that Jesus only preached to formerly righteous people in spirit prison during the three days between his death and resurrection. The opposite appears to be true; Jesus preached to the formerly unrighteous during this time, see 1 Peter 3: 18-20. The description of the state of the righteous dead is also quite different in this vision from what is described in Alma 40:11-14 of the Book of Mormon. In the latter description, the righteous dead are content, worry-free and at rest, knowing the life they’ve lived has entitled them to eternal happiness. In D&C 138 they’re called as missionaries to be sent into the spirit prison to preach to the unrighteous. A second perceived error is the reference to “Shem, the great high priest.” See Why Melchizedek wasn’t Shem, and Why it Does and Doesn’t Matter, elsewhere on this website, for refutation of the notion that Shem was Melchizedek, or that he was even a high priest.
5. Available online at churchofjesuschrist.org.
6. For analysis of the time line between Adam and Eve to Christ, see How We Know Shem Wasn’t Melchizedek, Part II, and What it Means for Christianity
7. See “Latter-day Saint leaders eliminate year-long wait for temple sealing following civil ceremony”, in Deseret News, May 6, 2019, available online.
8. From “Divine Revelation in Modern Times,” at mormonnewsroom.org, linked to from church’s official website churchofjesuschrist.org.