Apostles versus Prophets

By: FireTag
July 9, 2011

The LDS church is an Apostolic church. It has a Prophet, but the Prophet is chosen according to seniority of his position among the Apostles upon the death of his predecessor. Further, the Twelve in Salt Lake City are considered successors in office to the Twelve originally called by Jesus in Jerusalem.

It’s a bit different in the Community of Christ, where there is very definitely a First Presidency and a Second Presidency (the Twelve).  Historically, the Community of Christ has described itself as a Prophetic Church rather than an Apostolic Church, and its Prophets regularly add revelations to the Community of Christ’s Doctrine and Covenants.

But what is the difference between the functions of prophets and apostles, and why might it make a difference whether a church sees itself as prophetic or apostolic? To get to that, let me make an analogy using the way computers play chess to the way a human grandmaster plays chess.

When computers play chess, they make use of the ability to calculate all possibilities for more moves into the future than can their human counterparts. This alone makes them superior to most human players. To me, the Apostle is like the computer that sees the “best” move when calculating one or two moves ahead. He — or, in the CofChrist, she — finds the best move established doctrine can come up with given those limitations. This gift of the Spirit alone makes the Apostle “superior to most human players” at sensing the will of God.

In contrast, I would liken the prophetic gift to the ability of a chess master. In more detail, the ability of a “Prophet” is the ability to see what chess players call “deep combinations”. In these combinations, the first move seems inferior to another move by all conventional doctrine, yet opens up hidden possibilities for the second, third, or forth move that would have been closed off by what conventional doctrine teaches.

To reach the highest levels of chess playing ability, machines have to learn how to imitate the “inspiration” of a chess master and add that to their calculating ability. Programmers struggle to put that ability in computer algorithms because the chess master can only explain or understand part of what he or she is seeing or even what he or she is looking for. The “prophetic” chess master senses as if knowing the combination is there. So, too, “apostles”, even when they act on faith that the prophet is correct, understand the combination only later after they analyze it and test the robustness of the combination against alternative responses.

In religion, the ability to see those combinations is often associated precisely with the ability of the prophet to “unbind time” and know not only what God is doing today in the present, but also recognize what He has already unleashed in the past and what He will unleash in the future that will make those unconventional combinations possible. It is faith not just that God will do something, but that God will act in specific ways and times that others cannot yet identify. And it is such identification of what God is/will be doing that permits those who believe the prophecy to effectively align their lives with God’s will.  It’s not just about correct principles, it’s about correct tactics applied in a specific historical situation .

But here we run into a quandary. In the traditions that descend from Abram, such prophets do not institutionalize well. It’s easy to see why. Prophets demonstrate their ability precisely by selecting moves that the other types of religious leadership would regard as morally irresponsible if not irrational, and so those leaders believe they must resist if they are to be faithful to their own understanding of God’s will and their own responsibility to the church. For this reason, prophetic leadership of any religious tradition always seems to be temporary.

As part of that recurring institutionalization process in all prophetic religious traditions, the prophetic line is gradually “domesticated” by the priestly and/or governmental classes. In the Western Church and the enlightenment cultures that sprang from Christendom, that has had to involve demolishing any prophetic claims to see beyond the immediate.

Interestingly, this concept is conveyed quite openly and unapologetically by a brochure put out under the Imprimatur of the Catholic Archdiocese in Washington that I was given by friends in connection with the 2008 visit to DC of the Pope:

“The Lord… entrusted the keys of the Church to him [St. Peter]. The Bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter…functions as the head of the Bishops, to work in unity with them to teach, lead, and sanctify – to safeguard what has been handed down, not invent new ideas.” [Emphasis added].

But true prophecy must also be profoundly disturbing to many of the leaders of the church itself. After all, like the chess example, the deep spiritual combination can not be vetted in advance, precisely because the first move of a deep combination will seem inferior to elaboration of established doctrine. Note that if it didn’t seem inferior, the gifts of the Apostles and other leading orders would have enabled them to see that move without the prophet. It would have been merely elaboration of established doctrine, and the prophecy would have been unnecessary to open the creative possibilities! A prophet that is not disturbing to the leaders of the church (and to the larger society) is likely to be irrelevant.

An Apostle asked to prophesy may be likely to affirm the conventional rather than come out with something truly disturbing. In such a case, the leaders may correctly feel the touch of the Spirit confirming that the conventional move is good. But the Spirit has no opportunity to confirm the greater good of a move that those who are not prophets cannot see in the first place. To paraphrase the New Testament, the Lord may truly have many more things to tell the Apostles – things that might open unimaginable creative possibilities – but the Apostles could not bear them now.

To the contrary, to follow a true Prophet can feel like a betrayal of duty to a faithful religious leader. Leaders must risk that their own sense of the Spirit is mistaken in order to follow prophetic leadership, at least until the combination materializes or fails. That hesitancy, that freezing of the conventional doctrine and settling for minor elaboration because of the very real (and too often justified) fear of the false prophet and the heretic seems eventually to bury the prophetic within every religious line until the Spirit breaks forth again somewhere else, often in institutions or movements as opposed by the religious establishment as Jesus was Himself by the Masters of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Thus, you cannot, even in principle, establish your credentials as a prophet until you’ve gone against the judgment of the legitimate religious and cultural elites and the deep combination materializes – until the prophecy comes true. Until the situation arises where the deep combination is vigorously pursued against the resistance of the religious leadership, the prophet can never prove himself. That’s the “catch-22”.

But notice that the argument doesn’t work the opposite way! The longer the Prophet goes on identifying the gospel with the pre-existing views of the elite of any current religious or civil culture, including his own, regarding the best move, the more likely it becomes that the “Prophet” is merely a caretaker Apostle sitting behind the Prophet’s desk. Even when the elites are right, the caretaker thereby only demonstrates Apostolic qualifications, not Prophetic ones, because someone else must have passed the truth to the elites first, and the elites are already better positioned to implement the truths given them than is the Prophet. The prophecy is not false; the new prophet is merely irrelevant.

Let me emphasize this, because it is a subtle point: the prophet must not only be right, but must be right before the elites of any culture embrace that “rightness” in order to be considered a Prophet. The true Prophet must be looking ahead to moves the elites cannot see or advocate, asking questions they do not ask, not echoing either side of an inter- or intra-cultural debate (even if the side being advocated is correct). The latter advocacy role is instead that of the Apostle.

Thus, an inability of the prophet to meaningfully state differences with the surrounding elites (even the elites within the church) marks the transition from a prophetic church to an apostolic one, and it also marks the diminishing of further ability to “invent new ideas” (to see deep combinations) that God inspires to open new creative opportunities. Thereafter, the Apostolic church may preserve and spread the best gifts God has placed within its culture, but such a church gradually adopts the limitations and fate of that culture as well, no matter how strongly it may assert it is still Prophetic, proclaim the injustices inherent in continuing the existing system, or express hope for greater justice in the future.

The ministry of a prophet comes from the ability to see how doctrinal principles can be combined in new ways when they do come into conflict with new evidence and new realities. In doing so a deeper, more general doctrinal principle comes through as a guide to “apostles” as they translate those principles into practical creative opportunities in the lives of those to whom they minister. This ability is equal in importance to the gift of time unbinding in creating a true prophet, and is essential to providing protections against moral error and to avoid wandering into theological dead ends. This dual requirement is why such prophets are so rare and so important in the history of what God is doing in human civilization.

To be a true prophet, you first have to beat the apostles.

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35 Responses to Apostles versus Prophets

  1. Andrew S on July 9, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    Man, I just wanted to say that this is an OUTSTANDING metaphor.

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  2. Mike S on July 9, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    This is a GREAT post. Given these definitions, we are definitely an Apostolic church (the LDS Church, that is). Our prophets haven’t added any new revelations to our canon for decades, and if you take out 2 official declarations of change in policy, it’s been nearly a century.

    I think much of it is structural in the LDS Church. In order to even have a chance of being an apostle, you have to at least take on many aspects of being a ‘yes man’. You have to be a bishop who does whatever your stake president tells you, whether you agree or not. You have to be a stake president who does whatever your general authority tells you, whether you agree or not. You have to be a mission president who follows all the rules set out for mission presidents. Etc. And even if you make it to the newest apostle, you have to enter the room in a certain order, pick chocolates from a box in a certain order, etc. Over this decades-long process, this encourages people who follow the Apostolic method to “rise to the top”.

    You mention that:

    Prophets demonstrate their ability precisely by selecting moves that the other types of religious leadership would regard as morally irresponsible if not irrational, and so those leaders believe they must resist if they are to be faithful to their own understanding of God’s will and their own responsibility to the church.

    This wouldn’t last too long at any level of the LDS Church.

    And I do agree with you – it is a rare thing to live during a time where there is a prophet who prophesies, a seer who sees, and a revelator who reveals unseen truths – at least one who tells these things to other people.

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  3. Howard on July 9, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    I see the gospel as a series of metaphorical paradigm stair steps you would call these steps the deep combination moves. For the reasons you gave and Mike S.’ ‘yes man’ example the next LDS stair step will come either from a Prophet raised up outside the church or Christ’s millennium reign. It will be interesting to see how these care taker apostles react.

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  4. FireTag on July 9, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    Andrew S. and Mike S.:

    Thanks for the complements.

    Howard:

    Interesting question, wouldn’t it be? Could a Mormon prophet arise today outside the institutional structure of the existing church? (Think Alma.) Or would the fear of a false prophet keep those already in the church less likely to pay attention than the non-members would?

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  5. Steve on July 9, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    I think your analogy breaks down very quickly…. the underlying premises of competition, winners and losers, victory and defeat is not comprehended by partners on the same team. When all work together, a great leader will receive direction from a counselor, confirm the quality of the input and adapt the decision as his own. How is that comprehended in your analogy?

    Your assumption that the prophet must be the first to receive revelation from the Lord is flawed. Every key he has is also in the hands of another.

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  6. Mike S on July 9, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    I think a Mormon prophet ABSOLUTELY could not arise today outside the institutional structure. The hierarchy is present at every level. And the past few decades have emphasized obedience and following the Church absolutely more than before.

    It starts young. I teach Primary. We sing “Follow the Prophet” on nearly a weekly basis. It seems like an indoctrination chant to me, but I hold my tongue.

    So, any “dissent” outside the current structure is SWIFTLY and FIRMLY clamped down. And the members would be swift to discount anyone outside the hierarchy as an apostate.

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  7. Howard on July 9, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    FireTag good question. Mike S. thinks not but Prophets are raised up not ordained and sustained. How do you imagine someone who is being personally tutored by God rising within the LDS church institutional hierarchy to Apostle? I assume God would have to pave the way around the competition and opposition and then what God kills off the Apostles as necessary and maybe the President until they make church President?

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  8. FireTag on July 9, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    Steve:

    Do you see the distinction I’m trying to make between office and function? The catch 22 is that elaboration of that already given is NOT the function of the prophet. If EVERYONE sees it, the role of the prophet is unnecessary as anything but an administrator. It’s the Restoration equivalent of the College of Cardinals — a Quorum of 15. And the LDS leadership can be correctly described by the lack of new revelations, just as the Catholic quote above in the OP, as “safeguarding that which has been handed down”. Might Apostle X receive a revelation that radically altered LDS understanding? Then he’d first have to convince the Presidency and the rest of the 12 AGAINST their current understandings that the revelation was correct. (Think of the NT conflicts between Peter and Paul.)

    Mike S.: Could not a prophet who was raised up outside the institution, but within Mormon culture and belief systems, still be considered a Mormon prophet? That seems a less painful route than “God kills off the Apostles as necessary and maybe the President until they make church President”, as Howard puts it.

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  9. Latter-day Guy on July 9, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    Ditto to #1. What an intriguing way to organize these ideas. Reminds me of a comment John Hamer made (somewhere) regarding the Soviet system, which really ought to have culled even modest reformers, like a Gorbachev, before they rose to any position of power. Similarly, has the LDS institution, so radical in the 19th century, grown in ways that effectively quash prophetic figures of the type you describe? The whole question reminds me of that line from Luke: “No prophet is accepted in his own country church”

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  10. Mike S on July 9, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    FireTag asked: Could not a prophet who was raised up outside the institution, but within Mormon culture and belief systems, still be considered a Mormon prophet?

    Perhaps, as with God all things are possible, but I think it is extremely unlikely unless that person is a “sleeper” for decades regarding “non-orthodox” thinking. It seems that (at least lately) all non-orthodox thinking is squashed. Perhaps someone can suppress all thinking “outside the box” until they rise to Prophet-level, but I don’t see that happening.

    I think it has at least a better chance of happening in CofC, where leaders get emertius standing and move on, and where the prophet isn’t decided by “last man standing”, but not in the LDS faith unless something radical changed.

    We haven’t even had a prophet who has added to our canon for decades or nearly a century, depending if you count “declarations” or not. To expect to see anything more radical might take even longer.

    If anything were to drive some sort of discontinuity, it is going to be the declining growth in membership. In the next 20 years or so, there will be as many people leaving the LDS faith as converts. Growth will occur entirely through children born to members. The status quo is to accept this and tell everyone to be even MORE obedient, read the scriptures even MORE, etc. But they won’t take a good look at things they might change. If it gets to a critical point, perhaps they’ll accept what you are talking about.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

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  11. FireTag on July 9, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Mike S.:

    “Prophet-level” is an OFFICE that comes into being AFTER enough people have decided that they have sufficient evidence of the FUNCTION of a candidate prophet. The acceptance of the prophet (i.e., by those that then established the institution) preceded the establishment of the institution.

    A few tens of millions of people have decided that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. Many more have decided that he was a false prophet. Most people in the world don’t care to decide one way or the other. Maybe that ratio is a good proxy for the likelihood of any candidate prophet being true or false.

    But nobody would bother to argue that JS was a true apostle or a false apostle.

    In the CofChrist the test is somewhat different: do the revelations expressed by the leadership precede or follow in time the consensus of the civil culture in which the leadership is embedded? In other words, the challenge with the CofChrist in telling the prophetic from the apostolic is not true or false so much as relevance or irrelevance even when true.

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  12. MH on July 9, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    FireTag, this is interesting. As far as who is “really” a prophet in the LDS church, I would have to say that Spencer W Kimball and Wilford Woodruff (authors of the 2 Official Declarations) definitely challenged the status quo. Perhaps these are the only 2 that could be considered truly prophetic in your sense of the word–the rest are “merely” apostolic caretakers.

    Joseph F Smith did add a revelation in 1918 that is D&C 138. He too could fit the prophetic mantle. His vision of the Spirit World was truly prophetic.

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  13. Ray on July 9, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Many apostles have challenged the status quo – they just don’t tend to do it through raised voice and fiery oratory that includes, “Thus saith the Lord.” General Conference’s time constraints and teleprompters don’t lend themselves to that type of delivery, but if you read what has been said in lots of talks over the decades, there’s plenty of stuff that changes the status quo. There’s also plenty of prophecy; it’s just not stated as, “I prophecy . . .”

    I agree completely that most talks don’t fit that category – that, in fact, they are a relatively small minority – but they absolutely are there. I’ve also been part of smaller meetings that qualify as revelatory in every way described in this post.

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  14. Howard on July 9, 2011 at 10:36 PM

    Ray I’m curious would you mind sharing some specific examples?

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  15. Irony on July 9, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    This is rich:

    General Conference’s time constraints and teleprompters don’t lend themselves to that type of delivery…

    Quote of the month… perhaps year.

    Maybe “prophets” don’t need a teleprompter at all, now there’s a novel idea.

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  16. Mike S on July 10, 2011 at 12:06 AM

    Ray:

    Here’s my issue with your concept

    - If something is said in a smaller meeting, we are specifically told NOT to repeat it. I don’t really count this as “prophesy” for the Church.

    - In GC and other places, various ideas have been forwarded. Some have been good (perpetual education fund), some have been bad (eliminating the use of “Mormon” only to embrace it a few years later). But I would expect good ideas. These are talented men.

    I don’t really see this as any different from many other organizations, however. Steve Jobs has come up with a lot of inspired ideas for Apple as well – a few misses – but some great things. Many other companies do the same. So, just having an “inspired” idea doesn’t quite fit the bill of “prophet”.

    - Just saying something in GC is also wishy-washy. There are things said that change. The comments at that point are that that person was just speaking as a person and it wasn’t really “revelation”. So how do we know when they are speaking “revelation” or when they are speaking as a man.

    I suppose I am looking for something to distinguish our Prophet from everyone else in the world. Historically, prophets have said “Thus saith the Lord…” or “I prophesy…” or something to set this apart. We have had a couple of declaration of changes in policies (which many argue were misguided anyway) but NO ADDITION to our official canon for nearly a century. None.

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  17. Marty on July 10, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    if you read what has been said in lots of talks over the decades, there’s plenty of stuff that changes the status quo. There’s also plenty of prophecy; it’s just not stated as, “I prophecy . . .”

    … I’ve also been part of smaller meetings that qualify as revelatory in every way described in this post.

    I likewise would be interested in some specific examples. You probably didn’t intend to, but I find that many people who respond in the manner you did have difficulty coming up with specific examples… examples that they could point to and share.

    Specifically, to narrow it down for you, what “changes” to the status quo can you point to… your wording is quite specific in this instance, so I assume you had something(s) in mind when you wrote it.

    “Plenty of prophecy”, but not with a qualifier such as “I prophesy”? (A) can that happen and (b) either way, I think you’d find many of us eagerly waiting to read those prophecys.

    Ditto what Mike said about “revelatory” small meetings. If it’s said in a meeting that cannot be repeated (all local meetings) or shared with anyone outside that meeting, then it simply cannot be for the whole church or canonized, which puts a damper on the whole thing.

    MH:

    The funny thing about Woodruff, and how you put him down as one challenging the status quo, is that the guy thought every year was going to be the end of the world. Luckily for us we have these viewpoints in his journals, where he’d start out the year predicting/prophecying that THIS is the year, only to have to revise and defer that prediction when nothing happened come the end of that year.

    One of his more memorable “revelations” came in 1868 when he stated, by way of revelation, that come 1898 – 30 years hence – Logan would be home to over a million people, the temple in Jackson County, MO, built and being used, Albany, NY was destroyed by fire, Chicago burned and destroyed by fire & brimstone, Boston sunk by an earthquake and many “millions” of people destroyed for their abominations. The US had broken into pieces, Brigham Young was called on by the US populace “to take the Presidency of the United States to save the Constitution & the remnant of the nation from utter destruction.”

    That was all to have happened by 1898… and, following Woodruff’s oration, Woodruff records in his journal that “President Young said my remarks were given by Revelation.”

    Humorously enough, come 1898 when nothing Woodruff wanted had come to pass, almost exactly 30 years after his “revelation”, Wilford was in heathen territory – at a meeting of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, California – rather than in New Jerusalem’s temple in Jackson County, Missouri.

    Wilford’s belief in the world’s imminent and violent end provided an animating energy for his sense of power and knowledge for himself, for his church. Waiting for world’s end, enduring the accumulating decades of ordinary human life, living on and on and on in a commonplace world, punctuated only occasionally by acts of daring, brought the ultimate challenge to Wilford’s imagination and faith.

    In Waiting the World’s End, Staker includes this to describe Woodruff’s life:

    As I think of Wilford Woodruff waiting for world’s end, I cannot keep from my mind the echoing experience of Estragon and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s 20th century play Waiting for Godot. Each day the pair return to the same tree in hopes of keeping their appointment with Godot, who each evening sends a message that he will come tomorrow.

    As the waiting extends and recapitulates itself, they find it increasingly difficult to remember who Godot is, how or why they made the appointment, where they are supposed to meet him, whether they actually made an appointment with someone named Godot, whether there ever was someone named Godot, whether any of this seems like a good idea after all. … there is evoked as well the virtue of waiting: keeping one’s appointment, waiting for Godot or waiting for the sunset [each evening]. This uncertainty advertises an existentially troubling dilemma. Can the waiting end or is there only the promise of return, here figured as the daily loss of the sun? Embedded in the uncertainties lie central questions which bedevil religious aspiration. Can existence ultimately support the conviction that time is in some sense teleological – goal oriented, progressive, meaningful? Or does time exist itself as a matter of chance and repetition with no possibility for escape, radical transformation, closure? Can God bring his own ends, transform earthly history into the eternity of heaven, or must humanity endure the indifferent returns of nature?

    It is the burden of the latter possibility which structures the final moments of Beckett’s play. Vladimir and Estragon [the two main characters] consider the possibility of wresting the responsibility for ending from Godot – or perhaps from the sun. “Why don’t we hang ourselves?” Vladimir asks. But they have no rope.

    Estragon: You say we have to come back tomorrow?
    Vladimir: Yes
    Estragon: Then we can bring a good bit of rope.
    Vladimir: Yes.
    Estragon: Didi.
    Vladimir: Yes.
    Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
    Vladimir: That’s what you think.
    Estragon: If we parted? That might be better for us.
    Vladimir: We’ll hang ourselves to-morrow. (Pause.) Unless Godot comes.
    Estragon: And if he comes?
    Vladimir: We’ll be saved…

    Despite the absurdity of their situation, Estragon and Vladimir exhibit moments of energy and grace evoked through small events
    … It is something like the way I respond to Vladimir and Estragon that I find myself reacting ultimately with sympathy to Wilford Woodruff. I feel such a gulf between myself and the violent and vengeful images which animate the religious energy of Wilford’s journal. So much of what is painful to me in the 19th century legacy of the LDS church can be found in the lure of this language of excess and violence, the structuring energy of largely male rituals of war and armies and blood. But waiting enforces on Wilford a different register of existence, the dailiness of “habit” and “proceedings.”

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  18. FireTag on July 10, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Ray:

    I, of course, am not an expert on what goes into the pre-vetting (correlation?) of Conference talks, but I wouldn’t imagine that there is a lot of room for individual free-lancing. Wasn’t there something a few months ago about one of the speakers being called in to re-record the video tape of a talk after conference so that the tapes actually archived reflected doctrine rather than the talk actually delivered?

    I would think a better argument for you to make would be that any struggles of a “prophet” to convince the other “apostles” of a change would go on out of sight and never be presented in conference unless it were uniformly backed. At which time, there would be a collective testimony that this was what the church had ALWAYS believed, and the Apostolic orientation would be maintained above the Prophetic one.

    MH:

    Your example — one day from experience to publication — is certainly one that avoids any apostolic closing-of-ranks around Section 138. And it radically alters the theology by which most Christians interpret Peter by emphasizing that humans take the Word to the unrighteous dead after commissioning by Christ. How did that altering influence the direction of the LDS throughout the post-WW1 period?

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  19. FireTag on July 10, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    Marty:

    Exactly how apocalyptic the natural world really is has been a topic of several of my posts here. After all, my gravitar is a picture of a galaxy sterilizing worlds by the thousands. The idea that God is loving does not, to me, imply that He is necessarily cuddly!

    I and my family were very much influenced by the writings and personal ministry of an RLDS Apostle, Arthur Oakman, who didn’t put dates on things, but definitely thought things would not muddle along undisturbed until people could start referring to Restorationists as Middle Day Saints. In the CofChrist, that view is no longer dominant (or perhaps even significant).

    Nevertheless, although I am not cashing out my retirement accounts, I think history on national, civilizational, and even evolutionary scales is a LOT more bumpy than we tend to accept. I think the opinion leaders in our society are taking for granted their vantage point as one of the most secure societies earth has ever known, and so do not notice how ABNORMAL our idea of “normal” may be statistically.

    I do think we ought to always keep in mind “regression to the mean” as an alternative to unchecked progress for the next stage of our history.

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  20. Ray on July 11, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    Sorry for not responding. Somehow, I missed the extra comments – never even read them. I’ll try to remember and find some examples for everyone.

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  21. Jake on July 12, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    “Wasn’t there something a few months ago about one of the speakers being called in to re-record the video tape of a talk after conference so that the tapes actually archived reflected doctrine rather than the talk actually delivered?”

    Yes, it was Elder Poelman’s talk on the Gospel and the Church. Rock Waterman did a great post about it at pure mormonism:

    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2010/02/best-conference-talk-you-never-read_13.html

    Firetag: “Could a Mormon prophet arise today outside the institutional structure of the existing church?”

    I think the answer is most certainly no. It seems to me that most if not all of the prophets in the scriptures were called from outside the mainstream leadership of the church of the time. It is almost as if in order to be able to see clearly they have to be free from the cultural backage that comes from being entrenched in the institution. Think Abraham, Moses, Samuel the Lamanite, Lehi, Samuel, David (I know he was a king but still outside the mainstream)

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  22. Howard on July 12, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Fascinating read Jake thanks for the link. Here’s a teaser from Rock’s post:

    Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the Quorum of the Seventy was secretly escorted back to the podium and instructed to deliver his talk a second time. Only this time it wasn’t the same talk. The text had been fundamentally altered to make it more palatable to the corporate Church. Afterward, an audio “cough track” was added into the background to give the impression that Elder Poelman was speaking live before a full auditorium. This reworked video was then spliced into the existing conference record where it replaced the original, then it was filed with the Church archives. Copies were dubbed into foreign languages and sent to missions abroad. This new version was now the official truth. Meanwhile the original, true, and accurate video record of Elder Poelman’s conference address simply disappeared. Except not quite. As it turns out, there actually were a handful of church members here and there who owned some of those expensive video cassette recorders, and some of them had used their machines to record general conference. Sensing an awkward controversy developing, Church spokesmen trotted out a statement to the effect that Elder Poelman had decided, on his own, to revise his address for purposes of clarity. But few were buying it. Poelman’s conference address, originally a rare and inspiring defense of free agency became “yet another cry for obedience.”

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  23. Ray on July 12, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Jake, fwiw, the Old Testament prophets were a very different kind of prophet than their New Testament counterparts – largely because of the role distinction highlighted in this post.

    The prophets of the Old Testament had no real “church organizational standing”, if you will. That standing was for the priests – so it made perfect sense for the prophets to appear out of nowhere, outside of the official organizational structure, as criticzers of the nation. That was not the case with New Testament apostles, ALL of whom were called by Jesus or came from the ranks of the disciples, as far as we can tell. Even Paul reported to the organizational leaders of Jerusalem after his conversion and only then began his mission efforts. We have no record of an Old Testament type of prophet in the New Testament, largely because of the structural change to a church that wasn’t involved in the administration of a nation / kingdom.

    Modern Mormon structure, in that regard, is much more like the New Testament (and, interestingly, the non-Jaredite Book of Mormon structure) than the Old Testament structure – and I think the same question and conclusion apply to the Community of Christ despite the differences listed in this post. I believe they are more like the institutional apostles / prophets than the extra-institutional prophets, although I might be completely wrong on that.

    Is that accurate in your eyes, FireTag?

    So, in summary, the real question for me with regard to this post is if the role differences between CofC and LDS apostles articulated in this post are more or less substantial than the role differences between OT prophets and NT apostles – and if, in that regard, BOTH the CofC AND the LDS leaders are more apostolic than prophetic.

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  24. Heber13 on July 12, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    Excellent Post! I like the Chess analogy, and looking into the future to anticipate. Great stuff.

    OK, I was thinking that David O McKay is a good prophet. While he didn’t publish a OD or new section in the D&C, he was his own thinker, and kept the ship pointed in the right direction, despite disharmony in the Q12.

    The interesting paradox is that a prophet receives revelation that is in harmony with prior revelation and scripture, yet if it is revelation, it must be planting new ideas or pruning prior ideas (OD#1 and OD#2).

    Do we mostly accept a prophet by the office one holds, or by the prophecy that comes true? Joseph Smith did not have a 100% accurate track record, yet he was certainly one of the most important prophets in history.

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  25. FireTag on July 12, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Ray:

    I’ve been dealing with medical things this week and have been slow to respond myself. As to your summary –

    “So, in summary, the real question for me with regard to this post is if the role differences between CofC and LDS apostles articulated in this post are more or less substantial than the role differences between OT prophets and NT apostles – and if, in that regard, BOTH the CofC AND the LDS leaders are more apostolic than prophetic.”

    Well, this post is produced from something longer I wrote three years ago but never published. I didn’t publish it because three days after I’d written it and had begun to circulate it among friends for comment, probably the most “prophetic” among the current CofChrist apostles, published an article in the church’s official mag, the Herald. In that article, HE referred to the CofChrist as an “Apostolic Church”. First time I ever heard any CofChrist leader call us that.

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  26. FireTag on July 12, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    Jake and Howard:

    Thanks for the link. That was the one I remembered, but could not remember the name of the leader or the source.

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  27. FireTag on July 12, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    Heber:

    I think the key to resolving the paradox you note is in seeing a more general principle that extends the truth of the past into the future. Einstein’s relativity is a more general principle, based on a radically different understanding of how reality is organized, that nevertheless gets you classical Newtonian results when applied to classical situations. I think consistency with prior truth has to be seen in THAT sense.

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  28. FireTag on July 12, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    “I think the answer is most certainly no. It seems to me that most if not all of the prophets in the scriptures were called from outside the mainstream leadership of the church of the time. It is almost as if in order to be able to see clearly they have to be free from the cultural backage that comes from being entrenched in the institution. Think Abraham, Moses, Samuel the Lamanite, Lehi, Samuel, David (I know he was a king but still outside the mainstream)”

    Jake, I’m just confused about this paragraph. You seem to be making a case that a true Mormon prophet would HAVE to come from outside of the institutional church — and I very much include the CofChrist as an institutional Mormon church in this context.

    Yet you say the answer is “no”. So are you saying that the Mormon tradition is dead as to NEW sources of prophetic leadership? Or am I just not getting your point.

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  29. hawkgrrrl on July 12, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    The scary thing about prophets is that they believe they are prophets. That’s why apostles are less scary. There’s some group policing when there are 12 of them (or 15). Unfortunately, the ones who do want to stand out, cry repentance, deviate from the other 12, etc., have always tended to be the most strident, overconfident voices. Based on their statements (often over-reaching), I suspect they have a hard time distinguishing their own opinions from revelation because their own opinions speak so loudly. Interestingly, the ones I’m thinking of were strident apostles who either didn’t make it to the big chair (e.g. McConkie) or who softened considerably when they did (e.g. Benson). Maybe God can tell the difference between their opinions and His.

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  30. FireTag on July 12, 2011 at 9:32 PM

    Hawkgrrrl:

    “The scary thing about prophets is that they believe they are prophets.”

    Exactly the dilemma. If you think your eternal salvation depends on believing correctly and error is unrecoverable, it is hard to take spiritual risks, because human sensing of the Spirit is very prone to error. At best, we “see through a glass darkly”.

    I’m VERY risk adverse, but I’m coming to realize that no one can follow Jesus from a safe distance. Like Spock in the old “Galileo 7″ episode, I end up logically concluding that an emotional outburst is required. :D

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  31. Rich Brown on July 13, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    “…it made perfect sense for the prophets to appear out of nowhere, outside of the official organizational structure, as criticizers of the nation. That was not the case with New Testament apostles, ALL of whom were called by Jesus or came from the ranks of the disciples, as far as we can tell. Even Paul reported to the organizational leaders of Jerusalem after his conversion and only then began his mission efforts. We have no record of an Old Testament type of prophet in the New Testament, largely because of the structural change to a church that wasn’t involved in the administration of a nation / kingdom.”

    The image and understanding of Paul has undergone a radical change in the past three or four decades among Christian and Jewish scholars. The “New Perspective” views Paul not as a convert to Christianity but as a faithful Jew (a Pharisee, no less) who was called and commissioned directly by the risen Christ to take the good news of Jesus’ messiahship beyond Judaism to Gentiles and the rest of the world. From his own writings (and the accounts in Acts) Saul/Paul is very much akin to Hebrew prophets. There are striking similarities between Saul/Paul and Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other so-called “minor prophets” (called from the womb, surrounded by light, speechless and blind, given a specific commission, etc.). Paul was adamant that his authority did not come from any individual human or council (i.e. the apostles in Jerusalem) and that his time with them was brief and perfunctory. Paul dared to confront the Roman Empire with the idea that Christ’s kingdom was greater than Caesar’s.

    There really wasn’t much of an organization to those earliest Christian groups. In fact, some scholars contend it’s a mistake to even refer to them as churches, because they were basically secret or semi-secret communities/groups united basically with a belief that Jesus was not only the longed-for messiah of Israel but messiah/savior of the world. This was a direct confrontation to Caesar, who was widely and officially viewed as messiah/savior. It’s little wonder that Paul ended up being executed by the Romans–on pretty much the same grounds as Jesus had been.

    Eventually, of course, church and empire were united (Christendom) and it became impossible to tell where the organization of one ended and the other began. If, in fact, we are now in a post-Christendom era, that raises important and critical challenges about how the church (or perhaps more properly, the believing community) should be organized and what its relationship is to the prevailing “empire” of the 21st century: global capitalism. Such a believing community would seem to me, at least, more appropriately a prophetic one rather than an apostolic one.

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  32. FireTag on July 13, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Thanks, Rich. I had your book “What was Paul Thinking” in mind in the conflict between Peter and Paul in comment 8.

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  33. Bishop Rick on July 13, 2011 at 9:41 PM

    We no longer have a prophet in the LDS church. We have a president of a corporation who leads the church. There is another post on Pure Mormonism that talks about the fact that the church official corporate doctrine states that the president will come from the longest tenured Apostle. This is an official corporate mandate. It doesn’t leave any room for being called as a prophet…by God or anyone else.

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  34. FireTag on July 13, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    BR:

    Yes, was that the one about the church having pledged the future tithing of its members to eastern bankers to keep the church financially afloat in the 19th Century and succession being a legal requirement for the bankers’ to loan the cash?

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  35. Bishop Rick on July 14, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    Yes that’s the one.

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