There is no topic as key or confusing in Mormonism as the definition of scripture. For most Christians, having any book other than the Bible and accepting it as the word of God is not only confusing, but heretical. Mormon scripture, however, prides itself in being an additional witness. According to Mormons, after all, the glory of God is light and truth.
Mormonism (as I was taught it) accepted the following as scripture:
And last but certainly not least:
The idea that God speaks to men through prophets is not unique to Mormonism. What is unique is how fundamental and institutionalized this doctrine is. In a pattern that is anything but biblical, Mormons select a prophet through a vote of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This vote, however, is meaningless. In the past hundred years, the most senior apostle has always been voted in as the President of the Church. This vote is not much more than a scripturally mandated sham and is completely unnecessary. Because this is God’s Church and God knows everything, He strategically allows apostles to die in order to get the right guy in line to become the next prophet. We can also be sure that this person is indeed a prophet because it follows a scriptural pattern like prophets in the Bible and the Book of Mormon did. Ancient prophets were called from within God’s institution of the Church (Moses, Alma, Paul, etc) and their every arrival was always met with a chorus of “We Thank Thee Oh God For A Prophet”.
Because these men are prophets, their words are considered the mind and will of the Lord. This holds true for all Presidents of the Church, despite the fact that no “prophet” since Joseph Smith has made a habit of delivering a specific, unique, clear message that claims to come straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. Instead, prophets teach about authority, then say that because of their priesthood position God will endorse their words – “whom the Lord calls, He qualifies”. Which, to be frank, sounds more like the Catholic Pope to me.
But to be fair, there is a possibility that they have indeed seen Jesus Christ. The problem is that if they have, we would never know it. An experience like that would fall under what Church leaders have decided is too sacred of an experience to share. This is odd considering that these men are, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, “special witnesses”. But because these implied experiences are sacred, not secret, we will never know if these men are actually apostles. Ironic, considering what made the original apostles apostles was their unique quality of being witnesses of Jesus Christ. So, as Mormonism so often does, it redefines words and redraws the lines. When Elder Ballard said at a regional conference today that he bears a witness like Paul that Jesus Christ is resurrected, what he is actually saying is that he, like Paul, has the title of apostle and that he, like Paul and anyone else, has a spiritual witness of Jesus Christ. Because, like Elder Oaks said in Boise, being an apostle doesn’t really mean seeing Jesus.
It is apparent to anyone who has watched General Conference or read an Ensign magazine that there is no prophecy, seership, or revelation. LDS General Authorities believe that they have a special connection to God based solely on the fact that they have been handed down priesthood authority (which sounds more like the Pharisees than apostles, but maybe it’s just me).
So they redefine words and redraw the lines.
Prophet means president of the Church with all the keys, not someone that prophecies. Being an apostle like Jesus’ time just means talking about Jesus, not being poor, persecuted, or being an actual witness of him. When a prophet makes a prophecy that doesn’t come true, or teaches one of heaven’s mysteries that turns out to be nothing more than misogyny or racism, he is was simply speaking as a man or was a product of his time.
Despite the obvious blunders that the leadership of the Church has made on nearly every important social issue during the Church’s short existence, members of the Church firmly believe that these men have a connection to God that makes them privy to special revelation. Members seem so desperate to believe this that any sort of pronouncement from the brethren, whether it is lowering the age for missionary service, changes to Sunday School programs, or vague remarks in a public address will be considered absolutely reflective of the will and mind of the Lord.
But how do you trust a leader of the Church to get it right? If everyone was feeling the Spirit and felt the love of God witnessing to them that the priesthood ban was the right way to go, but then the current leadership of the Church comes around and says that was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened, how do you know that what the Church says today won’t be overturned tomorrow? Why does the mind and will of God seem to change along with his prophets?
Chapter 11 of Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, which is the Priesthood/Relief Society manual for 2016 contains this bit of amazing doctrine:
“The prophet will never lead the Church astray.”
This teaching manual is put together and approved by the correlation committee, wizards behind the curtain who determine and define church doctrine. This committee is headed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who speak the very mind and will of God. It is safe to say that this, despite not having any scriptural basis, is 100% absolutely current Church doctrine.
It is interesting to note that this idea of a prophet’s infallibility was first perpetuated by Wilford Woodruff. After years of polygamy being taught as an eternal covenant required to be attain the highest degree of exaltation, Wilford Woodruff suddenly issued the Manifesto, declaring that the Mormons were going to stop the polygamy, just like the United States demanded. Understandably, the members of the Church cried foul. Luckily, Wilford Woodruff was God’s council-elected-but-divinely-appointed prophet, and taught what is certainly the most divinely inspired revelation that man was to ever receive: that a man could never lead the members of his Church astray.
Of course this demonstrably false. Prophets lead people in the wrong direction all the time. Just a few years ago, the Lord was “hastening the work” with all the new missionaries that were being sent out. But as the per missionary baptism rate fell and activity rates continue to slow, “hastening the work” is redefined into terms that can focus more on the success of the Church. Like family history. We are doing a great job at that.
Redefine, redraw the lines.
A more drastic example is the excommunications of Douglas Wallace and Byron Marchant. They believed that blacks should be given have the priesthood and opposed Church leaders discrimination of priesthood and temple blessings. Because of this, these brothers were excommunicated, the spiritual equivalent an execution. These men accepted a fate considered by the Church to be worse than death instead of being accomplices in allowing discrimination. Which, in hindsight, was obviously wrong of them to do. They should have just listened to the prophet, because he would not have lead them astray!
As the follies, mistakes, and outright crimes of previous Church leaders come to light, modern prophets and apostles are in a pickle. To justify their actions is to justify the very sins they now condemn. To say that these leaders got it wrong diminishes their own prophetic authority. What is a prophet to do?
Well, exactly what the Church is doing.
Instead of Church leaders addressing church history issues that are leading so many Mormons into a faith crisis, they turn to expert apologists or faithful historians to carefully craft essays about Church History. These essays place blame on insufficient evidence, (hilarious given the current state of Book of Mormon evidence, but I digress) the mistakes of men, (because convicting people to spiritual death or, in Brigham Young’s case, teaching physical death to atone for one’s sins, are just little mistakes) or simply member’s presentism (because it was absolutely the norm for a young teenage girl to marry an already married man twice his age behind the back of his first wife). From correlation committee approved artists to the members themselves, blame is placed on anyone other than the men that are supposed to being getting divine guidance from all-knowing God Himself.
Redefine, redraw the lines.