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Prophets and Revelation

Are the prophets of the church chosen by revelation?

This is from The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, p. 37:

“…The Lord knows all the men who will be Presidents of the Church. The Lord calls them to be Apostles, and then when he is ready for them to be the President of the Church they are already serving as senior Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”

That’s certainly what I have been taught my entire life.

From 1904 to 1906, the Reed Smoot hearings in front of Congress put various church leaders in the position of providing sworn testimony in public. President Joseph F. Smith, the President of the church at the time, was one of those leaders. This is one excerpt from his testimony (various formats available here as well):

Senator McCoMAS. When vacancies occurred thereafter, by what body were the vacancies in the twelve apostles filled?

Mr. SMITH. Perhaps I may say in this way: Chosen by the body, the twelve themselves, by and with the consent and approval of the first presidency.

Senator HOAB. Was there a revelation in regard to each of them?

Mr. SMITH. No, sir; not in regard to each of them. Do you mean in the beginning?

Senator HOAR. I understand you to say that the original twelve apostles were selected by revelation ?

Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir.

Senator HOAR. Through Joseph Smith ?

Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir; that is right.

Senator HOAR. Is there any revelation in regard to the subsequent ones?

Mr. SMITH. No, sir; it has been the choice of the body.

Senator McCoMAS. Then the apostles are perpetuated in succession by their own act and the approval of the first presidency ?

Mr. SMITH. That is right.

Later in the same hearings, President Smith said this:

“And then, again, the senior apostle, through custom of the church since the death of Joseph Smith, has been recognized on the death of the president as the legitimate successor to the president.”

So we have on public record, in sworn testimony, the word of the President of the church that the Apostles are chosen not by revelation, but by the simple choice of the other Apostles. And that the custom is for the most senior apostle to become the next prophet. Does that seem like a divine method for choosing a prophet?

What about being special witnesses of Christ?

There is a persisting belief in the church that every Apostle has seen the Savior as part of his calling as an Apostle and special witness of Christ. While I have been unable to find any statements directly confirming it, the belief no doubt exists because of implications in statements like the following.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:146:

“All men may, by virtue of the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost, become witnesses for Christ. In fact that is just what every elder in the Church should be, but there is a special calling which is given to the Twelve special witnesses that separates them from other elders of the Church in the nature of their calling as witnesses.”

President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 178:

“These twelve disciples of Christ are supposed to be eye and ear witnesses of the divine mission of Jesus Christ.”

However, there have been a few frank denials.

President George Albert Smith, March 25, 1950:

“I have not seen the Father or the Son, neither have I heard their voices in an audible way…”

In the Journal of Discourses, there are numerous accounts of President Brigham Young admitting that he has never had a visual witness. It’s interesting to note a small but important change in the 2009 version of Gospel Principles.

1997 edition:

“Twelve Apostles, who are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, teach the gospel in all parts of the world.”

2009 edition:

“Twelve Apostles, who are special witnesses of the name of Jesus Christ, teach the gospel and regulate the affairs of the Church in all parts of the world.”

Does the prophet of the church often receive revelation?

President Joseph F. Smith in the Reed Smoot hearings:

Senator HOAK. I speak of the revelations given to the head of the church. Is that a fundamental doctrine of Mormonism?

Mr. SMITH. Yes, sir.

Then shortly afterwards:

The CHAIRMAN. You have revelations, have you not?

Mr. SMITH. I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations. I never said I had a revelaton except so far as God has shown to me that so-called Mormonism is God’s divine truth; that is all.

So the President of the church, who had been an Apostle for almost 40 years, had never received a revelation for the church or anyone in his care.

In an interview with David Ransom on Australian TV, President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say:

Gordon B. Hinckley: Now we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.

DR: And this is a revelation?

Gordon B. Hinckley: This is a revelation.

DR: How often have you received such revelations?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Oh, I don’t know. I feel satisfied that in some circumstances we’ve had such revelation.

Does the Lord allow the leaders of His church to teach false doctrine?

President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 95:

“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture”

The First Presidency Message in the June 1981 Liahona was an address from President Ezra Taft Benson. It was called “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” And this was the fourth fundamental:

Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

President Wilford Woodruff stated:

“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.”

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’”

Found in the Improvement Era, June 1945, p. 345:

“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan-it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no discussion, it should mark the end of controversy…”

But Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, in 1981 wrote this:

“I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality”

If you have been reading my other posts, you have already seen numerous cases where this is proven true: the Adam-God doctrine, the Blood Atonement doctrine, various statements about polygamy, and the many other contradictions previously discussed.

One humorous story is related in Doctrines of Salvation:

“May 14,1961 – Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith announces to stake conference in Honolulu: ‘We will never get a man into space. This earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it.’ Smith, the Twelve’s president and next in succession as LDS President, adds: ‘The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.’ In May 1962, he privately instructs that this view be taught to ‘the boys and girls in the Seminary System.’ On 20 July 1969 U.S. Astronauts are first men to walk on moon. Six months later Joseph Fielding Smith becomes church president.”

After Apollo 15’s journey to the moon, the astronaut team brought him a Utah State flag that had been with them to the moon.

What about false prophecies?

The modern church is far more careful about prophecies than the prophets like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Not only are actual prophecies very rare, but they are always in complete control of the church (100 temples in a timeframe) or not specific enough to be proven false. However, that was not always the case.

  • The Lord supposedly called David Patten to go on a mission (D&C 114:1-2), but he died before he could go
  • Joseph Smith claimed the Book of Mormon copyright would sell in Canada, but it did not (source and source)
  • Joseph Smith claimed that the Second Coming was going to happen in 1891 (History of the Church 2:182 direct from BYU’s website)
  • Joseph Smith claimed, in D&C 87, that the Civil War would become a World War
  • Joseph Smith claimed in D&C 84 that the Missouri Temple would be built in his generation
  • Not only did Joseph Fielding Smith teach that man would never get to the moon, Joseph Smith taught that other people inhabited the moon. Apparently these moon men and women live to about 1,000 years of age and dress in the Quaker style (source)
  • Brigham Young taught that other people inhabited the sun (Journal of Discourses, 13:271). Interestingly, that was shortly after Brigham Young claimed every statement he gave in sermons should be considered scripture (Journal of Discourses, 13:95)

Was Joseph Smith greater than Jesus?

History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408, 409:

“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever 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 it. 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.”

Next Step: Elder Paul H. Dunn

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