Can Revelation Correct Error in Doctrine?

By: shenpa warrior
March 23, 2011

Two assumptions that I’m assuming believing members will agree on:

  1. Church leaders are fallible on an individual level.
  2. Sometimes church leaders teach or opine but it is just their opinion.

My questions, which are similar (and thus suffering from multicollinearity, just like the assumptions above):

  • Do the “majority of the Twelve” or whatever standard by which you might judge whether or not something is “Doctrine,” ever get something wrong or partially wrong that needs to be corrected by new revelation?
  • Is the only purpose of revelation to add new knowledge that cannot contradict past teachings? Or can current revelation correct past error of the church?
  • Did the Restoration make everything in the church right, upon which foundation we are building?
  • Or, did the Restoration establish the beginning of the church in the Latter-days, and now the church is growing and evolving, and still weeding out false or imperfect doctrines or practices?

It seems to me, that there are at least two camps here in the church. One group says that new revelation only adds upon the old (or is for new teachings for different time periods), while another group says that even the church as a whole can get things wrong, and that is one of the reasons why we have ongoing revelation.

Please discuss. I seem to be getting into many debates underneath which there is this theme. What are the ramifications of each view? Strong points? Weak points? What drives people to take one view or the other? What are some other (that I have not listed here) ways of looking at it?

While I generally take the view that the church even in matters of doctrine is still open to pruning away false doctrine, or evolving and growing not just on an individual level, that view, I’ve been told is filled with fallacies and not as logically sound as the more orthodox view, which suggests that the Bretheren will “never lead you astray,” i.e. individual leaders may make mistakes but never the church as a whole.

Which view do you have? Which is more logical? Are your answers to those questions the same? Mine are not – it seems to me that the more fundamentalist your view is (whether a theist or an atheist) the better arguments you have. Is that correct?

68 Responses to Can Revelation Correct Error in Doctrine?

  1. Paul on March 23, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    Does your post presuppose that change is only correction? Or does the phrase “new knowledge that cannot contradict past teachings” mean that changes can be developments without casting aspersions on the prior practice?

    The practical danger for me as a believer is trying to sort out what old teachings are wrong compared with those that are replaced by new practice. (Was polygamy discontinued because it was wrong or because we moved to a time when the Lord no longer required it?) If I assume there are errors to be corrected, should I then devote my energy to looking for those errors or to worshipping the best way I know how to today?

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  2. Senile Old Fart on March 23, 2011 at 7:18 AM

    My opinion: any theory on this matter needs to account both for doctrines and practices that have been expressly repudiated (e.g., 1978 priesthood), as well as doctrines and practices that have been de-emphasized to the point of forgetfulness (e.g., female health blessings, most everything Brigham Young taught). I’m not in “the Brethren will never lead us astray” camp.

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  3. Jeff Spector on March 23, 2011 at 7:21 AM

    In reality, a Revelation can change anything. Because it is just that, a revelation from God. Take polygamy for example. Members were commanded to practice it and then, by revelation, told to stop practicing it.

    A revelation could be received to allow the drinking of coffee or tea, or anything else. Or one could be received to increase the tithing amount, I suppose.

    Now, whether church members would accept a new revelation increasing the tithing amount is, of course, another story.

    Most members parse the laws of the Gospel to meet our own agenda anyway.

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  4. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    The pattern for revelations are pretty straight forward:

    * The Lord will make known that He is the one speaking,
    * There will be a second witness present,
    * And a written copy of said revelation will be presented to the church in conference for the members to acknowledge and accept by a vote of common consent as a revelation binding on the church.

    We only have these questions and we only “parse the laws of the Gospel to meet our own agenda” when the leaders continually give wishy-washy remarks and “inspired counsel”.

    I have always taken it as a positive that the leadership doesn’t pretend to even be receiving revelations anymore. The back-door “counsel” tactics are easy for me to discern.

    However, were they to come to a conference and state a revelation had been received that said God requires white shirts for His priesthood holders or that tithing is actually 10% of all [non-surplus] income, etc. — then people like me would be in more of a pickle.

    I’ve taken comfort in the fact that they seem to be honest enough to at least never come out and claim revelations knowing full well that they aren’t receiving any.

    The leaders don’t even pretend to receive revelation — they just pretend that what they receive is revelation.

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  5. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    Paul – I think the aspect of correcting false teachings is only a part of change. I agree with the idea that changes can be “developments” that do not necessarily reject or “cast aspersions” on prior practices or teachings. Re: “practical danger for me as a believer is trying to sort out what old teachings are wrong compared with those that are replaced by new practice” – I agree 100%. That would be one of the major flaws of this stance. If prior positions of the church as a whole have been in error, what about today’s church is also in error? I believe that in 50-100 years we could look back on today and think something about some practice today and say, “WOW, I can’t believe we actually thought that.” Well, those who follow the idea that the church can be wrong. Those who believe (and it seems may be the majority of the church, idk) that the bretheren as a whole cannot err, will no doubt have reasons valid enough for them to explain the changes.

    Senile Old Fart: I agree with you, but some members would say, “the priesthood revelation in 1978 lifted the curse that was from God” rather than “the ban was racist” for example. They might also say, “female health blessings, BY’s teachings, etc. were for that people in that time.”

    Jeff: “Whether church members would accept a new revelation… is, of course, another story… Most members parse the laws of the Gospel to meet our own agenda anyway.”

    Some would not accept it, for sure. Others would accept it but would not accept that the new revelation could make the old teaching “wrong” but just “not for our time” or would have some other way of explaining why the former teaching was also correct. I also agree that pretty much everyone parses to meet their own agenda.

    Justin – Interesting points as always, thank you. Where can I find a source (or sources, or posts, etc.) on the pattern you describe? Also, I think it is a problem when many members have taken “inspired counsel” as you say, and call it “revelation from God” when it appears there is a difference.

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  6. C. on March 23, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    I believe that Truth is eternal but that prophets are people too and Truth still has to come through a human filter. Humans (and therefore prophets) are subject to prejudices as anyone and often are a product of their times.

    The best example I can think of is one that’s been beaten to death: blacks and the priesthood. Brigham Young “knew” that those of African descent were “inferior human beings” – but so did most of his contemporaries. Even ardent abolitionists believed this. This was an opinion, backed up by ferociously shoddy “science,” but it was one shared by the majority of the Western caucasian population.

    We know better now. This idea was based entirely in prejudice and it took a long time to root out, even from leaders of the Church who had been raised to believe it true.

    I think God does send revelation but that people wear blinders – sometimes put on by themselves, but also by society and cultural norms. The natural man isn’t just sinful, he’s also prejudiced, bigoted, and anxious for a hierarchy (which he tops, of course). Therefore, sin isn’t the only barrier to revelation – our inherrent human nature can get in the way, which is why it’s one of those things that needs to be perfected.

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  7. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    C., thanks for the comment. What would you say to someone who replies to your comment with “sure Brigham Young though was just one prophet, not the church as a whole” or “well, blacks WERE inferior until the curse was lifted.” How do you respond to that?

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  8. C. on March 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    I would say Brigham Young was, basically, ruler of a theocracy for many years and what he said went, so in essence he was the Church for a long time. And in counter to the second point, I’d remind them that Joseph Smith ordained blacks to the priesthood and Brigham Young revoked their ordination – which I interpret as a demonstration of his own bigotry and prejudice. And that the person making that second statement is subject to the prejudices of past eras as well – CLEARLY…

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  9. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    I would agree with you… thanks. I’m trying to get a few people on here to present their counter arguments. I think I have brought up the “Joseph Smith ordained blacks to the priesthood” issue before, and have lost that argument due to some rebuttal. I can’t remember what it was though.

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  10. C. on March 23, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    Well, for me it comes down to this: two prophets, ordained to that position, presented two fundamentally different attitudes and actions towards the same issue. Which means one of them was wrong.

    The fact that the priesthood was restored to those of non-caucasian descent – after the trials of slavery, war over slavery, institutionalized bigotry, and the civil rights movement, all of which I think were necessary to drag society out of this logical fallacy – as well as my own conscious tells me that Joseph Smith’s take was correct. That the “cursed race” explanation was insufficient and that the reason the priesthood was withheld was not a matter of Eternal Truth, but of very temporal ignorance.

    Rant over! I promise!

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  11. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Amen! Keep it coming. ;)

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  12. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    I said:

    The pattern for revelations are pretty straight forward:

    * The Lord will make known that He is the one speaking,
    * There will be a second witness present,
    * And a written copy of said revelation will be presented to the church in conference for the members to acknowledge and accept by a vote of common consent as a revelation binding on the church.

    shenpa warrior said:

    Where can I find a source (or sources, or posts, etc.) on the pattern you describe?

    I would first direct your attention to the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. That is where my initial understanding of this pattern came from.

    As far as extra-scriptural sources/posts — Pure Mormonism’s post Follow the Prophet: True or False also includes a similar formulation of what constitutes a “revelation“:

    A revelation must indicate that it has come directly from the mouth of the Lord, for instance being prefaced with the words, “thus saith the Lord”; it will not contradict previously given revelation; it will not violate the doctrine of free agency; it must be written down; the people are to pray about it so that the Holy Ghost may witness to the people that these words truly are of the Lord; and finally the people, having had a witness from the Holy Ghost, are to vote upon the written revelation in conference as having come directly from the Lord and therefore is binding on the whole church.

    Perhaps you could recruit Rock to comment here — to see what [if any] extra-scriptural sources he may have used.

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  13. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Thanks Justin. If anyone reading this knows Rock I’d love to have him on. It is interesting that he says revelation cannot contradict previous revelation – that would mean that if it DID contradict previous revelation, then either the old or the new revelation must be false, correct?

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  14. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    Can Revelation Correct Error in Doctrine?

    Error in doctrine:
    That “eternal” or “endless” punishment refers to the length of its duration.

    Revelation:

    Surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.

    Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my cleft hand.

    Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

    Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

    Thus God allowed the error in doctrine b/c of how it might work upon the hearts of the children of men — but D&C 19 correct the doctrinal error.

    Error in doctrine:
    That the “other sheep” that Jesus told the brethren at Jerusalem that He would visit and minister to were the Gentiles.

    Revelation:

    This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:

    That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

    And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.

    And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said:

    Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

    And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching.

    And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice — that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.

    But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.

    The brethern at Jerusalem committed two errors that caused them to err in doctrine:
    1) They did not get revelation as to the real meaning of Jesus’ saying — which was due to their “stiffneckedness and unbelief.”

    2) They assigned their own interpretation to the passage.

    Not knowing the correct interpretation is bad enough. The passage then becomes a mystery and the information that it contains cannot be used to progress farther in the gospel. But when an incorrect interpretation is added, instead of simply not progressing as faster or easier along the true path — you may end up on an altogether different path, b/c errors are introduced.

    Then Christ’s words [revelation] to the Nephite church in 3 Nephi 15 corrected the doctrinal error.

    Further, I think that this “supposing” is also common among the Gentile church of God — as explained by C’s comments above.

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  15. Mike S on March 23, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    I think the problem is in defining “revelation”.

    The strongest level is something from God and accepted by the Church as a whole as canonized scripture. This happened once in the past century – where blacks were given the priesthood. Some would argue that this was fixing a flawed policy. But McConkie suggests a spiritual experience associated with this. So, if this is our definition of “revelation”, then we haven’t actually had much for a LONG time.

    The next level is something from a prophet who says, “Thus sayeth the Lord…” This is something directly from God using the prophet as a conduit or a revelator. I don’t recall anything like this in my lifetime. Perhaps there is an instance, but this isn’t very common.

    And finally there are various talks given by various General Authorities. These are generally mixtures of stories, scriptures and opinions. They are not “revelation” per se, but given the desire of the church members for “revelation”, they are often taken as such. An example is Hinckley’s opinion that he didn’t really like more than one pair of earrings in women. This has been elevated to “revelation” status for many people.

    So, the real problem is that we don’t really have any revelation per se. And we certainly don’t have much “prophecy”. Even Hinckley has been VERY careful to say that he is NOT preaching doom and gloom at times, but merely expressing some thoughts.

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  16. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    Thanks for the comment Mike. I agree – people define “revelation” in different ways. Not only that, they define “never lead us astray” in different ways. I encounter some who define those ideas as “the majority of the 12″ or “the church leadership as a whole.” I don’t see it that way, but many do.

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  17. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    that would mean that if it DID contradict previous revelation, then either the old or the new revelation must be false, correct?

    Largely correct — I would like to hear where he got that specific part of his formulation from. To me, this is quite a strange position [given I am interpreting his remarks correctly] taking for example the Official Declaration(TM) discontinuing the practice of polygynous marriages. We’d have to stick to the “older” revelation that was in favor of it — oh horrors!! [Admittedly, one could claim that "Joseph Fought Polygamy"]

    Although I could imagine an instance where a false revelation was sustained as binding on the church by the members’ vote [perhaps b/c of a desire to "sustain" their leaders and rubber stamp all priesthood action] — and then the Lord would need to send a second revelation to correct that falsely accepted one.

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  18. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    I think that was my interpretation. I’m pretty sure he would say neither revelation is false, and have some other explanation for it (the previous revelation wasn’t a “revelation” it was just his opinion, or “Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory is not false like Pres. Kimball said, they just didn’t understand it” for example.

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  19. Mike S on March 23, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    Another interesting observation in light of this post is the fact that we really only have two “revelations” in the past century that are accepted as canonized revelation through a prophet – OD#1 and OD#2. Other than that, there have been NO additions to our canon since the 1800′s.

    And in both of these instances, the revelations were to correct practices of the Church which had fallen vastly out of favor with societal trends – eliminating polygamy and not discriminating against blacks. They didn’t really bring forth any new “light and knowledge”. They didn’t bring forth any new information about God or Christ or the Plan. They weren’t prophecies about future events. They arguable didn’t “reveal” anything new.

    They just brought current Church practices up to speed with the society in which we found ourselves.

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  20. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    Another interesting observation in light of this post is the fact that we really only have two “revelations” in the past century that are accepted as canonized revelation through a prophet – OD#1 and OD#2. Other than that, there have been NO additions to our canon since the 1800′s.

    Again referring to my comment #4 that the leadership doesn’t even pretend to receive revelations anymore:

    The OD’s are exactly that Declarations — were they considered “revelations”, they would have been added in as additional sections.

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  21. Shorty on March 23, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    “While I generally take the view that the church even in matters of doctrine is still open to pruning away false doctrine, or evolving and growing not just on an individual level, that view, I’ve been told is filled with fallacies and not as logically sound as the more orthodox view, which suggests that the Bretheren will “never lead you astray,” i.e. individual leaders may make mistakes but never the church as a whole.”

    If you’ve been told this, I’d love to hear a doctrinal basis for the “Brethren will never lead you astray” mentality. I see it pounded from the pulpit, I see it sung and taught in primary, I see my wife wanting to divorce me over this very issue, but I see no doctrinal basis for it. At all. How exactly is that mentality “logically sound” and filled with fewer fallacies?

    As to another source, which to me is a great synopsis of this issue, I’d direct you to this post someone wrote some time ago on the “Mind and Will of the Lord.”

    Additionally, I’d read this “What is ‘LDS’ Doctrine” by FAIR. I’m not a huge fan of FAIR, but I do like this write-up in that it’s something many members can latch onto and understand. From this article I quite like this statement:

    “As Harold B. Lee said, “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write.” To claim that anything taught in general conference is “official” doctrine, notes J. F. McConkie, makes the place where something is said rather than what is said the standard of truth. Nor is something doctrine simply because it was said by someone who holds a particular office or position. Truth is not an office or a position to which one is ordained.”

    Anyway: I am sincerely interested in your thoughts on the “logically” more “sound” never-lead-us-astray camp.

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  22. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Shorty – me too! I’m trying to get these other kind folk to come here, but it’s not looking likely. I *think* they view it as more logically sound because if you believe the church as a whole could err in the past, then you have to accept that they might be getting it wrong now, then you have to ask “what else is wrong” and then “well, is anything true?” That’s my guess anyway. I wish I knew. For sure, some people don’t view that individuals cannot err, just not the “majority of the twelve” i.e. the church as a whole.

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  23. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    I am sincerely interested in your thoughts on the “logically” more “sound” never-lead-us-astray camp.

    Well current leaders can’t “lead the church astray” because past leaders said they couldn’t.

    Besides, the fact that the current leaders are still alive is proof postive that they aren’t “leading us astray” — b/c if they were even to attempt to, then the Lord would deal them the “death card”.

    To Whom It May Concern:

    The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

    Wasn’t there a post here recently on circular logic?

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  24. mh on March 23, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    I have just a minor quibble. there is a revelation in the d and c (sec 134 I think) from joseph f smith on a vision of christ in the spirit world. the vision was in 1918, so that goes with revelations od1 and 2 for the past century. (as a point of trivia, one of the sections is a revelation to brigham young to take the saints west.)

    I know that od1 and 2 are ‘declarations’. however both of these declarations are based on uncanonized (or perhaps unwritten) revelations. if you read the footnote to od1, it is clear that woodruff received a vision. in fact, I think the footnote and official declaration should switch roles. to me, the footnote is the more inspiring words than the declaration (which is really more of a press release.) it seems strange to me that we have practically canonized a press release.

    as for od2, once again we are canonizing the press release rather then the actual revelation. from the limited stuff I have read, it is clear to me that pres kimball received a revelation. I am at a loss as to why the revelation isn’t recorded in the d and c, but the press releases are. it makes no sense to me. I wonder if the revelations accompaning the od’s will ever become part of the d and c.

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  25. FireTag on March 23, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    Wouldn’t we expect that a religious analogy of Mosiah 29:26-27 would apply here to the sustaining of a revelation that was in serious error.

    If it gets through all of the “quality assurance” processes in the first place, the faith is in serious trouble.

    26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything bcontrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the cpeople to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

    27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

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  26. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    MH:

    Good call on D&C 138 — its chronological placement is why I said what I did in #20.

    My personal theory is that the revelations that were associated with the OD’s were either:

    OD1 = Not quite what the press release was saying.

    or

    OD2 = Perhaps a bit condemning to previous leaders for their actions.

    So given that revelations did in fact exist, they were not kept.

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  27. Justin on March 23, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    FireTag — Yes.

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  28. mh on March 23, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    to answer your question in the op, I think that it is easier to defend the proposition that leaders can make errors in revelation than to defend that every revelation is of god.

    if we look at a biblical example, there were 2 camps in ancient christianity that questioned whether circumcision should/should not be required of new christian converts. I don’t know how a person can look at these 2 positions and claim that both are in agreement. it is much easier to pick peter or paul as the ‘correct’ answer than to try to play semantic games that peter and paul were both correct. even if one were to defend peter’s position that circumcision should have been required (and paul was wrong), that is an easier opinion to defend than trying to defend the idea that peter was right until paul’s revelation that circumcision should not be required for gentile converts but is required of jewish converts.

    it strains credulity that peter was right, then paul was right, and I think it is impossible to defend.

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  29. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    mh – I agree, although I think some would argue that while you are right, leaders can make errors, the leaders as a group united never will, or something. I’m sure I’m not getting it right.

    Part of my motivation for this post was losing a debate with some folk about this issue, so I thought I’d write this and invite them on. No takers so far. Maybe our blog is threatening.

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  30. mh on March 23, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    where is the other post? perhaps reinforcements from here can help you there?

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  31. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    It’s on facebook. 184 comments already… here’s the link if anyone is interested in slogging though the mess (and my tendency to self-disclose my emotional states during debates, haha):

    https://www.facebook.com/zeeman1/posts/212303948784422

    Just a warning, engage at your own risk. :)

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  32. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    FYI, if you go there you need to click on “previous comments” to see the whole mess. Anyone who is willing though, I would be interesting in this discussion bifurcating to include the thread over there, if they won’t come here, idk.

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  33. Jeff Spector on March 23, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    How do we know if we are astray or not? What exactly “astry” look like?

    Could we be not be astray from the fact that most of the church is not active? Could we be astray due to the factthat many young people seem disinterested in the Church?

    and if a Prophet only serves a short time, was he trying to lead the Church astray?

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  34. Jeff Spector on March 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    Some of my favorite hymns:

    “Astray in the Manger” and “Far, Far Astray on Judea’s Plain”

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  35. Will on March 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM

    Doctrine as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants is official and will not change. The Proclamation on the Family, which was signed by all members of both quorums, is also canonized doctrine. Other books, such as Mormon Doctrine are good books written by Apostles and are not necessarily canonized.

    Mormon Doctrine, Study aids and books written by the Apostles should be treated like the Apocrypha and how the Lord indicated we should study such material as recorded in D&C 91:

    “Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him aunderstand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the aSpirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited.”

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  36. John Swenson Harvey on March 23, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    I think the only revelation one can examine to answer these types of questions is the 1978 revelation on Blacks and the Priesthood. Luckily we had an Apostle who came right and said: “We have read these passages and their associated passages for many years. We have seen what the words say and have said to ourselves, “Yes, it says that, but we must read out of it the taking of the gospel and the blessings of the temple to the Negro people, because they are denied certain things.” There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” Clearly the prior to 1978 policy *was* wrong, the new revelation corrected it.

    Joseph Smith Jr. ordained a black man, sent him through the temple, and called him as a “Traveling Elder” – not just as a regular missionary (roughly equivalent to a 2nd Quorum of the Seventy member today). After Joseph’s death this same Elder was called on multiple missions. Interestingly the Utah Church later ordained his son as well. But then in the early *1900′s* announced to the family that no more descendants would be ordained. Joseph got it right, and the racism of the times eventually caused the subsequent prophets not only to get it wrong, but to resist fixing it all the way until 1978.

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  37. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    John, may I copy and paste your comment on the facebook thread? I won’t attach it to your name.

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  38. John Swenson Harvey on March 23, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    You may post or link to it wherever you would like. My name may/probably should stay with it – after all I wrote it. :-)

    John

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  39. Paul on March 23, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    #36: You are not the first to say here that the 1978 revelation was to correct a mistake. I certainly do not quibble, based on Elder McConkie’s words which you quote that HE was mistaken.

    But I don’t know how to reconcile, in that context, the fact that President McKay also considered the question of blacks and the priesthood and did not receive the revelation he so ardently sought at that time, namely that the ban should be lifted. His biography by Prince takes great pains to point out the ways in which President McKay extended priesthood blessings to as many as he could without running afoul of the standard he wished he could repeal, but did not because of the lack of prophetic mandate to do so.

    Does that suggest that President McKay was also wrong? I have a hard time reaching that conclusion.

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  40. John Swenson Harvey on March 23, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    RE: Paul

    I think it does suggest that *all* of the previous Presidents and Apostles of the Church who eventually bought off on the ban were wrong. That is *exactly* what Elder McConkie’s mea culpa says. You can choose to accept that idea or not, but Elder McConkie clearly says just that: “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.” He doesn’t qualify as to what was then recent prophets or long ago prophets, he includes them all. He was part of the Quorum of the Twelve when President McKay struggled with the issue.

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  41. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    Paul – Based on the account in the book, it seems as though he felt it was in the very least a policy he would like to have ended. Under the assumption that God was aware of this, maybe there is a possibility that the ban was wrong AND the timing of the revelation was important. Who knows.

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  42. Mike S on March 23, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    Paul: Perhaps, as alluded to in the biography and other places, there were certain leaders of the Church alive in McKay’s time who were so dead set against blacks having the priesthood that it essentially required them all dying off before things could change.

    There are many things in our church that are very much generational in nature:

    - Early leaders denounced the waltz as a dance that lead to promiscuity. The younger generation didn’t think so, and when they eventually became the leaders, the waltz was considered fine.

    - Tattoos and earrings are very much a generational thing in society. Young people see nothing wrong with them and a large percentage have them. Old people don’t like them and don’t understand them. Because an older generation is in charge, we get talks about earrings and tattoos.

    - In general, older generations were not as “color-blind” as the younger, multiracial generation is growing up to be.

    - The younger generation is much more accommodating to alternative lifestyles, etc. and seems to be less judgmental than the older generation.

    - The younger generation is much more skeptical. Because anyone on the internet can pretend to be anyone else, ideas themselves have to have merit as opposed to just an authority figure saying it. This contrasts with the older generations where something was more likely to be accepted just because someone said it. This is echoed in the 14 points type of talks. Older generations seem to take towards these topics. It turns off a lot of the younger generation.

    Overall, I think the “wrong” that has to be “corrected” by prophets and apostles are OPINIONS that have creeped into Church policies/teachings. It’s not a doctrinal issue. And it’s largely due to a generational gap where, by nature of succession in the Church, the people ultimately in charge are generally several generations removed from the body of the Church. Their generational opinions get incorporated into practice.

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  43. Roger on March 23, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    Again–not to quibble, but McConkie did not join the Quorum of the 12 until after David O. McKay’s death. But the Quorum certainly did have Joseph Fielding Smith, Mark E. Peterson and Delbert Stapely whose writings, BYU faculty addresses, and letters to political candidates indicate disregard if not disdain for the political and legal equality for blacks. They were afraid of miscegenation and whatever other neuroses afflicted that generation. Leading one to consider that their insights were not particularly gifted by the divine.

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  44. Mike on March 23, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    I actually read through that facebook thread (which has now been deleted it looks like). Wow, 180+ comments! Must have really been a slow day at work for me to read all of them. My observations:

    1. Why do you think you were losing that debate? It didn’t seem like that to me, just seems that you backed down sooner in order to keep the discussion relatively civil since you were….

    2. ….debating with one of the most arrogant, self righteous pricks that I have ever met. Well, technically I have never met this Jared guy, and he may be a nice guy in person, but he comes across as a jerk (I would really like to use other words here) on facebook. I mean, I would love to discuss some of his quotes that completely floored me but the thread has been deleted.

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  45. shenpa warrior on March 23, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    Mike – The thread is still there, is it not working now? I just checked it… – https://www.facebook.com/zeeman1/posts/212303948784422

    Interesting, and I appreciate your comment as an observer. I get into debates like that with both believers and “new” atheists alike, and often feel floored, which I think I equate with losing.

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  46. Stephen Marsh on March 23, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    Prince in writing about David O. McKay makes it very, very clear that he got revelation: the policy would change, but in the future and David was to quit petitioning the Lord for a different time table.

    That does add some interesting nuance to the entire matter.

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  47. John Swesnson Harvey on March 23, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    What is interesting is that in the early 1900s, when the Church had to codify the policy or give it up, the First Presidency and Apostles held several courts/councils on the subject and they were not able to find *any* documents that previous Presidents claimed to be revelation on the subject. All they had was the fact that President Joseph Smith Jr. had Black men (plural) ordained, sent through the temple and called on missions as Church authorities, contrasted with the “testimony” of an early Church official (who was a general authority at the time of the councils) who claimed President Joseph Smith Jr. had confided to him that blacks (not the word he used) should not have the priesthood and that he (Joseph) had made a mistake in having any ordained. (Incidentally he was the very person whom Joseph Smith had perform the ordination!) In his original testimony he claimed the “mistake statement” was made on a date *before* the ordination even took place (the Black bother had kept his ordination certificate and his family was able to produce for the church councils). So yes, the timing of the revelation is certainly consistent with the idea that a few key racist folk had to die off before the “ban” could be lifted. Such a state of affairs could explain President McKay’s record of his dealings with God on the issue. But that foes not change the eternal status of the incorrectness of the policy in the first place (As Elder McConkie stated).

    Also: I apologize for mixing up the date of Elder McConkie’s call to the Apostleship. He was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy during President McKay’s consideration of the issue.

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  48. MH on March 23, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    I read all the comments too. I tried to “like” your comment (asking who had read all the comments), but Facebook would require me to be friends with Ben. I don’t know him, so it doesn’t make sense for me to friend him. (I’d call that a Facebook Faux pas–and I don’t want to have any of those this week!) ;)

    I heartily endorse Mike’s comment 44 above. I don’t think you lost the argument at all, but were trying hard to maintain a civil tone (which I would not have done with those two knuckleheads.) They obviously didn’t care about being civil. Frequently those who win arguments do so by insulting intelligence–that was their main technique, as well as being extremely sure of themselves and dismissing Terryl Givens and other scholars as “ignorant.” Puhleeez. They think they’re smarter than Bushman too!

    I was impressed that you cared more about civility than the argument. (I’ve done that with a blogging friend recently, but I wouldn’t have done that with them.) When you asked them to explain where your arguments were wrong, did you notice that nobody answered the question?

    Those guys are a bunch of lemmings (“if the leader said so, that’s good enough for me.”) I have no doubt they would have participated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre without questioning anyone in authority.

    Sorry I didn’t participate over there, but I can’t think of any way I would consider any of them “friends”, nor would I want to read anything else they say. If it didn’t require Facebook “friend” status to participate, I probably would have jumped into the fray.

    But it did give me an idea for a new post title: “Evil Speaking of the Lord’s anointed”. That line made me chuckle. I suspect I’m one of the “evil speakers”, even though I just praised Bishop Burton. It was nice to be a fly on the wall to see a world they inhabit where all issues are starkly black or white, and they were so sure of their intelligence, despite not reading much.

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  49. Wyoming on March 24, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    Good discussion on the topic. I have found Orson Scott Card’s article on the topic of personal revelation insightful and perhaps relevant. It seems that God has always worked in the cultural context of his disciples. Perhaps he allows cultural confirmation bias to guide our thinking because we don’t ask?

    http://www.mormontimes.com/article/19392/Be-careful-claiming-inspiration

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  50. shenpa warrior on March 24, 2011 at 4:58 AM

    Thanks for wading through it MH. I certainly was tempted a few times to write something caustic. I figure that a lot of people would have the same feelings debating there so I tried to do the opposite… which I guess leads to me feeling like I’m losing, plus one of the commenters there said I was losing, so I guess I just bought it, haha. You’re right though, I was never told exactly how it was that I was not #winning. Interesting that you can all read the comments but cannot comment. Weird. They both pride themselves on being open with everything, yet fb won’t allow non-friends to comment, a shame.

    Wyoming – thanks for the link.

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  51. Jon on March 24, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    Good thing false doctrines are allowed to be changed, otherwise we would still have our wives married off to BY and JS.

    What constitutes revelation from God to the prophets? Me hearing or reading them and having the confirmation of the spirit that it is true. Another test could be looking at the fruits of the “doctrine”.

    As for the quote about prophets not leading the church astray. I like the qualifier, prophets can’t intentionally lead the church astray. Don’t know if that is true either though, of course, if they were intentionally leading the church astray then I wouldn’t consider them a prophet.

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  52. Jeff Spector on March 24, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    “Thanks for wading through it MH.”

    I couldn’t quite make it through all the comments. I greatly admire your intestinal fortitude.

    There is no winning with guys like that. They are firmly entrenched in their position and cannot see the forest for the trees. Your discussion was merely a practical represetation of reality and they were, IMHO, preaching doctrinal theory, if you will.

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  53. shenpa warrior on March 24, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    Haha thanks. My intestines were churning. ;)

    I agree though, there is no winning. I’ve realized that it carries on to other subjects as well. They do not concede anything to me. The only conceding that happens is when I find common ground and point it out. But my point I tried to make (and perhaps more self-awareness on their part would be necessary) was that they MUST defend every point tooth and nail and never concede an inch, for if they did their reasoning would fail. Maybe that just makes them better debaters, idk. Regardless, I think you described it well – I speak more from what I experience and what I see, while trying to make some sense out of it in terms of my beliefs or “doctrines” while they start with a belief, and force every other event into that belief. Frankly, putting it that way makes them look like apologists in the sense of not being open to new evidence per se, but cramming new evidence into their existing theory. I think the place that I speak from also can be weak though, because I probably do the same thing to some extent. Blarg. :)

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  54. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    I read the whole thing. I probably have passed that guy in the hall at church. :)

    I was impressed by how calm you stay. It makes the other people look a little silly. I know so many sane-thinkers that it almost surprises to come across people like this in the church. I knew they existed, but maybe they were only in some mythical realm of nuts. :)

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  55. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    I always love being called to repentance. I think I got one of my BIL’s to think a little though. We were talking about receiving your own confirmation of something a prophet says. He said he believed that we should. So I said, “what if you sincerely pray and don’t feel good about following what the prophet has said”. He didn’t have an answer. Usually he has an answer for everything, so this was big.

    It’s not that I was trying to convince him the prophet can be wrong necessarily, only that things are not always as clear as we would like them to be. Sometimes we just don’t know the answer, so we proceed the best we can with what we have.

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  56. Shorty on March 24, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    MH:

    “But it did give me an idea for a new post title: “Evil Speaking of the Lord’s anointed”. That line made me chuckle. I suspect I’m one of the “evil speakers”, even though I just praised Bishop Burton. It was nice to be a fly on the wall to see a world they inhabit where all issues are starkly black or white, and they were so sure of their intelligence, despite not reading much.”

    I was called into the Bishop’s office the other day, by my wife. She’s been concerned for some time now about my beliefs – principally that I don’t belief in the “Prophet will never lead us astray” idea. It really bothers her and no amount of discussion does any good.

    That was the reason my wife wanted me in there and, oddly, the Bishop didn’t bring the topic up. But, in discussing both his wife and mine, he mentioned something along the following lines:

    “They [our wives] know the commandments. They know what they believe, even if they can’t find, for example, the Word of Wisdom in the D&C, and even though they don’t research things.”

    The thought that came to me was this: I find it interesting that we reinforce things “we believe” and our belief in “the commandments” while at the same time discouraging research and “intellectualizing” the gospel. How can we know that what we believe is in line with the scriptures, if we don’t even know where to find anything as simple as the Word of Wisdom in the scriptures, or something else?

    It’s as if we want the leaders to be the interpreters of scripture, to read scripture to us… that way we don’t have to think for ourselves.

    Shenpa:

    Thanks for your comment above – I likewise don’t find any logic in it, but that doesn’t change my wife’s opinion about my “apostate” beliefs.

    So be it.

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  57. Shorty on March 24, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    “I always love being called to repentance. I think I got one of my BIL’s to think a little though. We were talking about receiving your own confirmation of something a prophet says. He said he believed that we should. So I said, “what if you sincerely pray and don’t feel good about following what the prophet has said”. He didn’t have an answer. Usually he has an answer for everything, so this was big.”

    Alice:

    I’ve discussed this with my wife in the past (frequently), and each time she responds with something saying that if I get inspiration that contradicts what the prophet says, then I must be wrong.

    Elder Oaks said something similar last conference – i.e. that if we get inspiration that contradicts the “priesthood line” of authority, then the source of that inspiration should immediately be questioned.

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  58. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    That’s what my BIL usually says too. Although, I wasn’t saying I had received revelation that the prophet was wrong, I just didn’t receive a confirmation that he was right.

    Life can be wonderfully complex, but those are the things that help us grow the most.

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  59. shenpa warrior on March 24, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    Shorty – I would have to ask someone like your wife if they think a prophet can ever be wrong. If so, wouldn’t that leave it open that it IS possible that an individual could get a different answer? If not, then their argument is probably sound from their POV.

    As for Elder Oaks – I have ZERO disagreement with the idea that if I receive a different answer, I should question the source of my answer. I think we should always question like that.

    Alice – I have had some atheists argue with me on this point as well – many feel the same way as your BIL and shorty’s wife (ostensibly): If a prophet (or the “priesthood line or authority, or the “majority of the twelve,” or whatever) can get it wrong, then why should we listen to anything they say above any good or inspiring teacher?

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  60. shenpa warrior on March 24, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    Re: my question above – I’m not sure about an “objective answer for everyone” which is what more fundamentalist TBMs (FTBMs?) as well as some atheists would probably like, but I think the answer lies in one’s personal/subjective perceived value of a prophet or etc.

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  61. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    “As for Elder Oaks – I have ZERO disagreement with the idea that if I receive a different answer, I should question the source of my answer. I think we should always question like that.”

    I agree.

    “If a prophet (or the “priesthood line or authority, or the “majority of the twelve,” or whatever) can get it wrong, then why should we listen to anything they say above any good or inspiring teacher?”

    I guess that depends on what you believe as far as what prophets are. For me, I believe that Pres. Monson is a prophet of God. Certainly, he’s subject to the influence of his own life experiences, as we all are, which may affect how he process his nudges from God, but he’s still the prophet. :) I can’t answer that question for anyone else, because it is personal and could be different for each person depending on their beliefs.

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  62. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Ha, we cross posted. Good minds think alike (although I’m excessively wordy and you get to the point).

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  63. Alice on March 24, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    in 61 it should say “processes”, not process. Any other typos you’ll have to sort out yourself. It’s hard to think clearly when two little ones ready to go! :)

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  64. shenpa warrior on March 24, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    Exactly – Part of it comes down to what you think a prophet is, how you evaluate that and the current leaders, and what the implications for that are in your life.

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  65. Jeff Spector on March 24, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    I try to use the Spirit to differentiate to what I feel is true doctrine and the mind and Will of God versus mere opinion and good advice. In some cases, it forces me to change a belief or something I might be doing. And sometimes, I like the advice and follow it.

    Some might say that is me picking and choosing what I like and do not like.

    They can say that if they want. If works for me.

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  66. FireTag on March 24, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Your BYU basketball star misses a lot. Still, who do you want to rely on when an important shot has to be taken?

    I think it’s the same thing with prophets.

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  67. Shorty on March 24, 2011 at 5:36 PM

    Perhaps it’s a “sign from God” that FireTag’s most recent post was numbered #66.

    Call me crazy, but the gospel isn’t about “stars” or reliance on the arm of flesh or anything else. The only one God wants us relying on is Christ and, by effect, the Father. All we get with a “rely on the stars” idea is the stratification of the gospel – i.e. those who have contact with God, and those who don’t.

    “You go up to the mountain [insert name here], you’re better than me and are more righteous than me… get me the answer I need.”

    A better discussion of this might be Nibley’s “Day of the Amateur“, though by no means the only source:

    “Someone (this writer, in fact) has said that anyone can become a dean, a professor, a department head, a chancellor, or a custodian by appointment — it has happened thousands of times; but since the world began, no one has ever become an artist, a scientist, or a scholar by appointment. The professional may be a dud, but to get any recognition, the amateur has to be good. To maintain his amateur status, moreover, he has to be dedicated, honest, and incorruptible — from which irksome necessity the professional, unless he cares otherwise, is freed by an official certificate. … If we have no professional clergy in the Church, it is not because the Church cannot use expert knowledge, but because all members should be experts where the gospel is concerned, and as such they should make their contribution. All the same contribution? Not at all! The Church is structured for eternal progression, and that takes place as we all feel our way forward along a broad front. Seeking and searching are among the most common words in our scriptures; we are all supposed to be seeking all the time. Just as missionaries go forth as an amateur army, searching out the honest in heart in the most scattered and unlikely places, on the widest possible front, so the rest of us increase in knowledge, here a little and there a little, not by trusting a few experts to come up with the answers, but by all of us searching, all along the line, finding out a fact here and a document there, and reporting the discovery to the whole body. When he was editor of the *Times and Seasons*, the Prophet Joseph invited all to contribute.”</blockquote

    You can have your religious Jimmer, I'll take this (Jeremiah 31:33-34):

    “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord…

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  68. FireTag on March 24, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    Shorty:

    It is perhaps fortunate my comment wasn’t numbered 666. :D

    I generally agree with your point. In fact, I’ve been known to disagree publicly with my own denomination’s leadership (see for example

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/2010/11/27/community-of-christ-sets-conditions-for-membership-and-joins-ncc/ ) in the past and probably will again on one issue or another in the future.

    But if I’m to disagree, it is requisite for me to take very seriously what the Prophet says before I do so. I certainly do not believe in the “just following orders” notion of passing responsibility to the prophet. The very existence of our two denominations demonstrates that people with serious pedigrees for being called to the office of “prophet, seer, and revelator” can lead people astray.

    We all have to become prophets in the places we are called to serve inside and outside the church, I believe.

    But what role do you, then, assign to the Office that heads the church?

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