If I Were In Charge: Reopen the LDS Canon

By: Mike S
March 2, 2012

There has been a lot of discussion recently about some comments made by Professor Bott at BYU.  For me, seeing the discussions on race has been interesting, but I’d already resolved the issue for myself, much like Andrew S talked about in his recent post.  To me, it was basically just institutionalism of the racism present in US society, but that’s not the real purpose of this post.  The more interesting thing regards how we actually know what we “believe” in the LDS Church, and what are just “folk beliefs”, as some people have described that Professor Bott said.

To start, look at the Church’s official response to the controversy.  Here is an excerpt with a few points highlighted:

The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church.

… For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.   It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.  Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

So what did Professor Bott actually say when he attempted to tell “why” the restriction was in place?  What is this implied “speculation and opinion”?  Here is part of the article in which he was quoted.  For the whole article, here is a link.

According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, “were black.” One of Cain’s descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, whose descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood…

As a result, many Mormons believed that blacks were less valiant in the pre-Earth life, or fence sitters in the war between God and Satan. That view has fallen out of favor in recent decades…

“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood….

“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”

While may we see this as quite bigoted and racist today, where did this actually come from?  Is it merely Professor Bott’s opinion and speculation, as implied in the official response from the Church?  While he is being vilified for saying these things, did they originate with him?  Consider the following official statement from the First Presidency:

August 17, 1949

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment of the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.” The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

George Albert Smith
J. Reuben Clark
David. O. McKay

There are a number of other quotes about blacks and the priesthood, as well as various discussions off the history of the ban, but this statement from the First Presidency is fairly straightforward.  Professor Bott didn’t really say anything more or less than what has been taught by our own Prophets and Apostles.

But this leads to a quandary.  In last week’s press release, these statements were described as “speculation and opinion, not doctrine” and the Church states that it ‘is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.”  That raises the question, however, as to whether  an official statement published by the First Presidency is “speculation and opinion”?  If that’s the case, what exactly is “doctrine”’?

This same issue isn’t limited to the recent situation.  In a TIME magazine interview with President Hinckley, the following exchange took place:

Q: Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.

A: Yeah.

Q: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?

A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

Just like in the situation with Professor Bott, if there is something uncomfortable, we hear that we don’t really know where it came from, or whether it’s really doctrine.  Just like above, however, in this case the underlying teaching also came from LDS Prophets. In the King Follett discourse referenced in the interview, Joseph Smith taught “”God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” This was expanded upon by President Lorenzo Snow when he coined the couplet, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”

To me, this is a pretty amazing teaching of Mormonism, one which I would consider doctrine and one which I would argue helps set us apart from many other faiths.  Our potential to truly and actually become like God is profound.  Yet, like the issue with blacks and the priesthood, it was dismissed by President Hinckley as some archaic thing that we don’t really understand – again, opinion and speculation.

This leads to the main issue of this post.  What is our doctrine, and what is opinion and speculation?  It is a somewhat uncomfortable situation.  We teach our children to sing songs such as “Follow the prophet, he knows the way…”, yet we also teach about the fallibility of prophets and grant them the latitude to speak as men at times and prophets at times.  But when are they speaking as men, giving opinions and speculation, and when are they speaking as prophets, as the mouthpiece of God? There isn’t always a clear answer.

Fortunately, we have a mechanism in place in the LDS Church to make this absolutely clear – our canon.  Unlike other Christian faiths who often teach that the canon is closed(Revelation 22: 18-19), we teach that the canon is open – that God still speaks through prophets today as in times of old.  We have added the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants as other books alongside the Bible – declaring them canonized scripture that contains the “official” word of God.

So, If I Were In Charge, I Would Reopen the LDS Canon.

Except for 2 Official Declarations, we haven’t added to the official canon of the LDS Church since D&C 138, nearly a century ago.  We teach that the scriptures in our canon contain God’s words to mankind through His prophets.  We teach that our prophets today continue in the same line of prophets revealing God’s word, from Adam through Abraham and Moses and Joseph Smith to us.  Yet we haven’t added to our canon for a LONG time.  Our canon is effectively closed.  Reopening it would have a number of advantages:

1) It would eliminate opinion and speculation

We would be able to point to our canonized revelations as containing our “doctrine”.  We could point people (like the author of the Washington Post article) to our “official” canon as opposed to leaving them grasping for quotes from people like Professor Bott (who, ironically, would actually seem like a great source – as he is a well-respected professor of religion at the Church’s flagship educational institution).  Just like the statement where “nature abhors a vacuum”, in the absence of any “official” source of doctrine, we are going to continue to be plagued with situations like this.

2) It would free up General Authorities when they speak

Currently, General Authorities of the Church necessarily need to be very circumspect in what they say in just about any setting.  Because we haven’t added to our canon for so long, people seem to take just about anything said by a General Authority in any setting as “doctrine”.  The Church itself has come out against this, warning against recording or otherwise distributing anything said by a General Authority in any “non-official” setting.  Having an official canon would actually free up General Authorities to once again give their opinions and feelings about things without having it misinterpreted as official doctrine.

3) It would reemphasize the role of our Prophet

We hold our prophets in high esteem.  People travel for hours to hear our prophets speak.  We broadcast their words throughout the world.  We accept the idea that they can speak directly with God and Jesus Christ to find out Their will for mankind.  We also accept that they have the possibility to have a direct “Thus saith the Lord…” type of proclamation.  Having additions to our canon where we can read “Thus saith the Lord…” as a direct communication from God to us in our day, as opposed to opinions about prior things, is very powerful.

————

So, what things would make suitable additions to our canon?  I have no idea.  I don’t presume to be in a prophet’s role.  I would leave that up to God and the prophet.  If there are opinions or stories (like a $5 bill in your pocket that makes it through the wash) that serve to help refocus our minds and hearts towards God and each other, we would continue to welcome them.  But if there are specific things that God reveals through the prophet as His doctrine, we should add them to the D&C.  I would love to see the D&C grow with me through my lifetime as God continues to reveal specific doctrines for our time and day.

If I were in charge, I would reopen the LDS canon.

——————————–

(NOTE: This is part of a series of things I would change if I were in charge. Rest assured, there is little danger of this happening.  But there are specific things we could do to make the Church stronger and more tolerant of its diverse membership without changing anything doctrinal.  If you are interested in seeing any of the other ideas, here is an Overview and Topical Guide of things I would do if I were in charge.)

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56 Responses to If I Were In Charge: Reopen the LDS Canon

  1. anon on March 2, 2012 at 8:22 PM

    I’m surprised they haven’t yet added The Family Proclamation and The Living Christ to the scriptures–those seem fairly canonized in our current setting.

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  2. Bob on March 2, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    OP:
    Would you pick_say the best 50 things said in the last 100 years and add those to the Canon? Or, just start today?

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  3. prometheus on March 2, 2012 at 8:53 PM

    I would love to see this, but I am a bit dubious about this part:

    “We accept the idea that they can speak directly with God and Jesus Christ to find out Their will for mankind. We also accept that they have the possibility to have a direct “Thus saith the Lord…” type of proclamation.”

    I am of two minds – on the one hand, I believe quite strongly that our Heavenly Parents approve of Thomas Monson as the presiding high priest – there is very little room for doubt in my mind about that. However, I am not entirely sure that the flow of revelation is as open as it used to be, and I am not placing the responsibility for that on anyone in particular, but rather on a drift in the whole church itself.

    Honestly, we have turned into a be-nice-to-others religion (which quality is great), but we seem to have lost along the way a certain striving, or engagement, I think. The fire in our bellies for visions and revelation has dimmed considerably (I am as guilty of this as anyone).

    I think that until we want it, and really want it, as a people, our ears and eyes will continue to remain closed to greater things, according to our desires.

    All that being said, I also think that there is an awakening going on, that a call is going out, and that things could change and do so quickly.

    These are just my impressions based on what I see at church and what I see online. All anecdotal, but that’s all I have to go on. :D

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  4. Jared on March 2, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    I think before the Lord adds more to our cannon we need to embrace what currently is in our cannon.

    After all is said and done on this subject, and every other subject we care to caress with our intellectual talents; there remains the bottom line question: are we experiencing the fruits of the Spirit on a regular basis, does the Lord hear and answer our prayers, do we see his hand guiding our walk–in other words, are we the recipients of his tender mercies? If yes, then we’re doing something right, if not, we need to do as President Monson said in last Oct Conference:

    “If you do not now have such a relationship with your Father in Heaven, I urge you to work toward that goal. As you do so, you will be entitled to His inspiration and guidance in your life—necessities for each of us if we are to survive spiritually during our sojourn here on earth. Such inspiration and guidance are gifts He freely gives if we but seek them.”

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  5. james on March 2, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    Sorta always was under the assumption it was open, but your “effectively closed” argument makes a lot of sense.

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  6. Jon on March 2, 2012 at 11:07 PM

    Which begets the question is there a modern (small a) apostasy in the church today as some believe the scriptures allude to?

    I’m not saying that is what I believe but the scriptures do talk about how events happened previously and we are supposed to liken them to our day. So why do we not liken that part of the scriptures to ourselves and the modern day?

    I don’t really know. But I do know the Book of Mormon gives some pretty stern warnings to us in our day as people in God’s church specifically.

    It’s interesting to read previous prophets warn of apostasy happening to the whole modern day church as an organization.

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  7. Mike S on March 2, 2012 at 11:40 PM

    #1 anon:

    I think those would be reasonable things to start with, but I don’t know that we decide what is revelation from God vs a “position statement” – that’s up to the prophet.

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  8. Mike S on March 2, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    #2 Bob: Would you pick_say the best 50 things said in the last 100 years and add those to the Canon? Or, just start today?

    Again, I don’t think we just pick. The prophet can tell us which things are actually revelation (ie. Thus saith the Lord…) in his role as prophet, seer and revelator.

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  9. Mike S on March 2, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    #3 promethus: The fire in our bellies for visions and revelation has dimmed considerably (I am as guilty of this as anyone). I think that until we want it, and really want it, as a people, our ears and eyes will continue to remain closed to greater things, according to our desires.

    I actually agree with this. My question back is whether this has been “engineered” out of the Church for the sake of correlation and conformity. It seems that a big underlying thing is to not make waves, to follow the Handbook, etc. It seems to make us more passive and “wait” for words from the top down.

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  10. Mike S on March 2, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    #4: Jared:

    I agree with you that our relationship with God is the most essential thing – the fruits of the spirit. Can this exist independent of the Church, or does it need to happen within the bounds of the organization?

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  11. Mike S on March 2, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    #6 Jon:

    Maybe. Just maybe.

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  12. larryco_ on March 3, 2012 at 2:35 AM

    One of the most stirring “course corrections” in all of the scriptures takes place in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus, quoting past authorities, uses the phrase “ye have heard that it hath been said…”. He then tells His listeners “but
    I say unto you…” He does a variation of this several times, which allows his listeners (and us) to understand that particular ways of thinking about aspects of religious conduct – whether having developed from past scriptural writings or tradition – were no longer acceptable in the Kingdom of God.

    Certainly the revelation given to President Kimball was a similar course correction. And I, too, yearn for a more open canon and for the heaven’s to bring forth further light and knowledge.

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  13. Remlap on March 3, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    So if they open the Canon can we remove some of the items as well?

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  14. jeans on March 3, 2012 at 5:59 AM

    While we’re at it, can we remove “there is no end to race” from the end of the verse of “If You Could Hie to Kolob?” that every ward in the church always ends on?

    I think that would be more merciful than decreeing that we all must sing the entire hymn.

    The addition of a simple “g” would do it. There is no end to grace.

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  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 3, 2012 at 6:33 AM

    There is no end to race refers to humanity always continuing, not racial divisions.

    The OP was very well written.

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  16. Howard on March 3, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Something very significant was lost at succession it wasn’t obvious at the time because Brigham was a very dynamic figure and there was much to be done but nothing of significance has been revealed since the D&C was published except OD1 and OD2 which were lagging reactions to the secular world! Okay we can debate the value of the family proclamation but it is not canon. God himself selected and trained Joseph for his role in restoring the gospel. Seniority succession ordination and sustaining old men cannot compare with what God did to prepare Joseph. Why would we expect it to? Because the church conflates the two probably deliberately. But the truth is modern prophets are junior prophets, caretaker prophets compared to Joseph. Aren’t they?

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  17. jeans on March 3, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    Stephen M – I know, but who understands it that way in this day and age? It just perpetuates a poor impression, since the use of the word that way is archaic.

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  18. Jared on March 3, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    #10 Mike S.

    We’re taught that all of mankind are given access to things of the Spirit. However, because of the restoration LDS have access to things of the Spirit in greater measure.

    Regarding our cannon,about two thirds of the Book of Mormon plates were sealed. Now that’s a closed cannon.

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  19. prometheus on March 3, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    “My question back is whether this has been “engineered” out of the Church for the sake of correlation and conformity.”

    That’s a very good question, and one that I am somewhat disposed to answer yes to. Frequently repeated warnings in the scriptures related to power and control issues would not be so frequent if it weren’t a real danger. One can look at documented cases of unrighteous dominion on the part of many of our leaders over time, and it would be very easy to decide that the rank-and-file needed to be controlled for their own safety.

    That being said, I think that in many ways, the inherent hierarchical structure of the church is also a large part of the problem. When one man is set above another, it is hard not to inhale, as it has been eloquently put. Continuing along that line, when the church was small and most people knew the prophet personally, they could see with their eyes all his flaws. Now that the church is a multinational corporation, and its leaders are so very remote from most of us, there is a tendency to idolize them.

    Anyway, the short answer would be yes, but I hesitate to assign malicious intent (for lack of a better term), rather a lack of foresight and self-reflection.

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  20. mh on March 3, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    mike, if you were in charge, i’d love to hear the revelation you received to open the canon. could you give us a preview?

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  21. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    #20 mh:

    The canon is technically not closed. We still teach that God can speak to man through our Prophet.

    This would be more of a procedural thing anyway, as opposed to a doctrinal thing, so a revelation isn’t needed. We could continue to address the myriad non-doctrinal things as needed in the CHI, conference talks, etc. Anything that God actually reveals to the Prophet as doctrine could be added to our official canon and thereby labeled as “doctrine”.

    So, it wouldn’t take a revelation, and I wouldn’t be the one to receive it anyway.

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  22. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    #19 prometheus: the inherent hierarchical structure of the church is also a large part of the problem

    I think this is key. Any revelation or promptings or ideas that someone has in the hierarchy are generally run against what the “handbook allows” or what the person above in the hierarchy thinks.

    And it is ironic. Theoretically, the higher up the hierarchy someone is, the most influence for change they can potentially have. Yet at the same time, someone can actually be more “paralyzed” and beholden to NOT change the higher they are in the hierarchy.

    This has been true for all time. Our great prophets have always come from OUTSIDE the existing hierarchies. Moses, Lehi & Nephi, Joseph Smith, etc. And perhaps the most “disruptive” was Christ Himself. Leaders existing WITHIN hierarchies often become too beholden to the organization as a goal itself rather than a means to an end.

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  23. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 10:59 AM

    #16 Howard: But the truth is modern prophets are junior prophets, caretaker prophets compared to Joseph. Aren’t they?

    I wonder if this isn’t in fact true. See my comment #22 for more elaboration.

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  24. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    #18 Jared: We’re taught that all of mankind are given access to things of the Spirit. However, because of the restoration LDS have access to things of the Spirit in greater measure.

    We have more authority for specific ordinances, but do we REALLY have more access to things of the Spirit? Are we truly focused on finding a personal relationship with Christ, or do we spend a lot of time in the LDS Church worrying about our relationship with the LDS Church?

    I would argue that perhaps the latter is the case. There are a great many spiritual people outside the Church, and many who I might consider to be hungering for things of the Spirit more than people I see within the Church.

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  25. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    #14 & 15 jeans & Stephen:

    I agree with Stephen’s interpretation of the meaning. That being said, I do like “grace” 100x more than “race” in that line.

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  26. Jeff Spector on March 3, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I would like to see more things added to the LDS canon that have been taught for many years. I don’t think the Proclamation or the Living Christ would be because it is not new doctrine, really.

    But it would better re-enforce they idea of a living prophet, continuous revelation and a living canon.

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  27. Jeff Spector on March 3, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    BTW, Mike S. I am glad you are back with this series! :)

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  28. ji on March 3, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    No, please let’s not re-open the canon to address the issue of the moment. If this were the case in 1949, then the 1949 statement would be in the canon.

    I prefer to leave the canon alone, and only to include revelations from God. Then, we can distinguish between (a) canon and (b) the teachings of good and holy men. There is a difference.

    The Proclamation On The Family is not revelation — it is the teachings of good and holy men.

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  29. Jon on March 3, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    In the end how much does it really matter? As Nephi said, we can receive the revelations ourselves without an intermediary and that is the ultimate goal really, when it comes to revelation. The prophets are supposed to help us along this path and reveal things we might not have thought to ask but in the end, it is us ourselves that must keep the open and critical minds and be willing to accept new revelation and ideas when they come.

    It would be nice to see some new cannon, but the new cannon of today, will it be written by the president of the church or will it be written by other prophets that God sends? And will we be ready to receive them?

    I know for myself, it is easy to be hard hearted on certain subjects sometimes.

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  30. mh on March 3, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    but mike, if YOU were in charge, YOU would be the prophet. so i am curious what YOU would do to open the canon. it would be YOUR JOB, if you were in charge.

    I know these ‘if I were in charge series are popular, but it sounds like you are playing monday morning quarterback. really, what revelations should be received if you were in charge? I would like some specifics.

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  31. Bob on March 3, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    In 1930, a small volume edited by Apostle James E. Talmage titled Latter-day Revelations was published, which was a highly edited selective version of the Doctrine and Covenants. Some believe it was intended to replace the Doctrine and Covenants, but that due to the controversy that arose this plan was dropped.[citation needed] Talmage’s work did not contain the section on plural marriage.[7] (Wikipedia)

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  32. Jenkins on March 3, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    I’d agree with several of the comments in saying that to me Thomas Monson has more of a role of High Priest than that of a Prophet. Like Mike S. said in #22, the prophets from the scriptures always come from outside the hierarchy that exists in the church. Ultimately God’s ways are His, we don’t decide who God is going to speak to by raising them up to be a ‘prophet’. God chooses his prophets and in my opinion his prophets are people with the physical ability to speak to God. Not everyone has that gift.

    So I would love to see the cannon expand. However, I think the ‘prophets’ in the church know that they do not receive revelations from God like Joseph Smith seemed to. The Proclamation was written by committee, not by God.

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  33. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    #30 mh: what revelations should be received if you were in charge? I would like some specifics.

    If I were in charge (ie. the prophet), I would assume that I would have the same characteristics that our current leader has – that of being a prophet, seer and a revelator. I would hope that I would truly have the gift of prophecy, the gift of seeing, and the gift of revelations from God. I would hope, that as God’s chosen representative for the 7 billion people on earth, that if anyone was qualified to actually talk to God and Christ, man-to-man and face-to-face, it would be me.

    So, I would simply ask God. If there was some prophecy, I would include that. I wouldn’t worry about how outlandish it might seem, because if it comes from God, it must be true. I there was some revealed doctrine, I would include that.

    In looking at history, it seems that a lot of things brought forth by prophets have been in response to petitions to God. I do have some specific things I would start with to ask God. I would ask about:
    - Giving women the priesthood (not entirely outlandish, we once said the same thing about blacks)
    - Where the Book of Mormon took place (would solve a lot of speculation)
    - If I was the one through whom the 2/3 sealed portion might come forth (continuing the idea of an open canon)
    - I’d have a lot of questions about science and religion about which A LOT of speculation has taken place – Adam, Noah and a world-wide flood, etc.
    - How we could best create a role for gays in the Church
    - An actual revealed update on the Word of Wisdom in light of advances in knowledge over the past nearly 200 years
    - If we could modify garments as per one of my prior posts
    - If God really cared about beards or tattoos or white shirts or many of the things we worry about
    - Etc.

    Ultimately, I would mostly want to fulfill my role and truly be a prophet, seer and revelator. I don’t know exactly what they would end up being, but I would want to add these actual revelations to the Doctrine & Covenants.

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  34. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    #28 ji: If this were the case in 1949, then the 1949 statement would be in the canon.

    That’s fine. If it actually WAS a revealed doctrine from God, then it SHOULD have been included. If, instead, it was merely the opinion of the men in the First Presidency at the time, it should NOT have been included.

    Does your statement suggest that the 1949 statement was merely just someone’s opinion and that a signed letter from the First Presidency is NOT God’s will?

    This would have cleared up a lot of speculation. Now we have current leaders of the Church saying that things that prior leaders of the Church said were merely “opinion and speculation”. But it begs the question as to things the CURRENT leaders of the Church teach. Which of these things are “opinion and speculation”, and which are actual doctrine?

    Having a mechanism to help us sort this out might be useful.

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  35. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    #26 Jeff: But it would better re-enforce they idea of a living prophet, continuous revelation and a living canon.

    I agree with this exactly!!!

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  36. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    #29 jon: In the end how much does it really matter? As Nephi said, we can receive the revelations ourselves without an intermediary and that is the ultimate goal really

    I agree with this, but this is very contrary to the current teachings of the LDS Church. We teach that in (and ONLY in) the LDS Church are necessary ordinances found to receive Eternal Life. And we expect a certain level of allegiance to the ORGANIZATION itself in order to be found “worthy” to receive these ordinances.

    So, while you ask if it really matters, given the position the Church has taken in placing itself between any individual and their Eternal Salvation, nothing else actually matters more from the LDS perspective.

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  37. mh on March 3, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    are you saying that thomas s monson hasn’t asked any of the questions you raise?

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  38. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    #32 jenkins: However, I think the ‘prophets’ in the church know that they do not receive revelations from God like Joseph Smith seemed to. The Proclamation was written by committee, not by God.

    But wouldn’t it be nice…

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  39. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    #37 mh: are you saying that thomas s monson hasn’t asked any of the questions you raise?

    I don’t know. When I think of President Monson, I think he is a good man. I think of stories about widows. I think about $5 bills still in pockets when they come back from the wash. I think of feel-good stories and experiences. But I hear feel-good stories all around me, in both religious and non-religious settings.

    So, does President Monson ask God any of these questions? I don’t know, because he doesn’t give any external indication that he has. But I don’t think it’s just him. I recall listening to General Conference in October just after 9/11. I was hoping for some sort of guidance from our prophet. Instead, I heard “I do not know what the future holds.”

    So, does President Monson ask these types of questions? I don’t know.

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  40. Howard on March 3, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    Lessor prophets may not be capable of opening cannon. Wouldn’t this make them a false prophet?

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  41. mh on March 3, 2012 at 2:18 PM

    well mike, president mckay did ask about removing the ban. when did we find out? about 35 years after mckay died. so, I think these questions are being asked. the answers don’t come as quickly as you and I would like, but they are being asked.

    one of my problems with the ‘if I were in charge’ title seems to be that the title seems to presume that you are more spiritual than the prophet. if you were in charge, revelation would happen faster, garments would be different, blue shirts would be ok, etc. while I generally agree with all of your suggestions, I guess it just strikes me as a bit arrogant to think your timetable for the changes you suggest should happen faster. but it makes for popular talk radio.

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  42. Mike S on March 3, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    mh:

    I absolutely do NOT think that I am more spiritual than the prophet. These are all just suggestions of things I would do if I were in charge – which I am obviously NOT.

    I actually think that your comment is representative of the thinking of the Church as whole, however. It is the idea that if we are so bold as to make a suggestion, then we are presuming ourselves to be “more spiritual than the prophet” as you state.

    As I stated near the beginning of the series, there are very specific parameters for this series, and there is a very specific reason for it. My own personal opinion is based on the fact that the work is slowing down, growth is stagnant in many areas of the world, our inactivity rate among young people is increasing, etc. Perhaps this is according to plan. I’m perfectly willing to accept that.

    The purpose of this series is to look at NON-DOCTRINAL things that MIGHT help with this. This includes things like tattoos, the current form of garments, etc. In this particular post, re-implementing a mechanism used in the past to define doctrine of the Church as opposed to merely opinion and/or speculation would help avoid things like the confusion surrounding the “Bott” case. I’m not defining WHAT that doctrine should be, as that’s not my prerogative. Until you kept pressing, I never even gave a single example of what that would be.

    So, again. I don’t think I am “more spiritual than the prophet”. I don’t presume to define WHAT revelations would be defined as doctrine. But I WOULD re-implement a mechanism whereby people (members and non-members alike) could see which things are doctrine and which are not.

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  43. Bob on March 3, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    Why do Prophets ask God questions? Because the people/the Times around him are demanding answers. Are people saying (not you) that people do not have a right to demand answers from their Prophets? ( And get some kind of answer?)
    The GAs with not even define the Canon for it’s members. To say it’s four books that are forever changing, is not a good answer.

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  44. MH on March 3, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Mike, I hope I’m not giving you too hard of a time here. For the most part, I generally agree with you. I think it would be great to make garments more comfortable, take away stigma from beards, tattoos, and blue shirts, etc. But I don’t think I’d want “you in charge”, as it presumes that you’re smarter than the brethren. Maybe you are, but I guess it just seems a bit arrogant to start suggesting wholesale changes as if you knew how to handle a 12 million person organization.

    I guess the scope of your series has suffered from scope creep. When you “open the canon”, you’re talking about DOCTRINE, not NON-DOCTRINAL things, so I think you may have crossed a line from your original charter.

    I guess I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the title of the series for quite some time, but I’ve hesitated to express that because I do know how popular the series is. (Mike, you’re a great writer, btw.) It seems like many of the items in here are a bit like scab-picking to me, and seems to have a negative focus. I mean I do some scab-picking too (like my recent “Dumbing Down the Gospel”), but I hope it isn’t a steady diet. I think we all wish certain things were different, but I don’t presume to think I’d make better decisions “if I were in charge.” In fact, I’d probably screw things up pretty badly, if I were in charge.

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  45. MH on March 3, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    I usually don’t focus on grammar, but I’d like to point out one thing.

    A CANNON is something that shoots a projectile.

    CANON refers to the scriptures.

    Just an FYI.

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  46. Jared on March 3, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    Mike S.–I hope you don’t mind if I venture off topic and express a few feelings.

    You, MH and many others in the bloggernacle have gifts that I believe come from the Lord. Not the least of which is to be members of the His Church.

    I feel love for all well up in my heart and wish that I had power to convince those who struggle with doubt to know that the Father and the Son did come to the earth and restore the church through the prophet Joseph Smith.

    I wish that I had faith like Nephi such that “it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words”. But all I am able to do is proclaim that I know with certainty it is true, and pray that all of us will eventually find our way through the labyrinth of this fallen world and return home as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.

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  47. FireTag on March 3, 2012 at 9:20 PM

    Jared:

    The wishes are appreciated.

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  48. [...] I’ve read so many Bloggernaclers argue that at least correlation keeps the ward crazies from preaching “folk doctrine” as real doctrine. I completely disagree. When nothing except a short list of pablum can be discussed openly and officially, that creates an environment where crazy folk doctrine can flourish behind closed doors, never exposed to the light of critical discussion, so even the most faithful Mormons don’t know “what Mormons believe”. Maybe discussion should be reopened. [...]

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  49. Mike S on March 4, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    #44 mh:

    Don’t worry – you’re not giving me too hard of a time. I actually welcome criticism of any argument I might make. If it’s worth making the argument, it should also be defensible. So thank you for the feedback.

    In the same regard, the title of the series was specifically chosen for the purpose you mentioned. It gets peoples’ attention to focus on different things. And I absolutely do NOT expect everyone to agree with me. I appreciate discussion, however, just like you’ve done. Tell me areas where you agree. Tell me areas where you disagree. Tell me areas where you think I’ve crossed the line. Tell me areas where you think I could go further. So, the title serves its purpose.

    And regarding the purpose of the series, by background, I am an engineer and a surgeon. My nature is to fix things. If I see something inefficient, or something that it interfering with something else, I want to find a way to make it better. And I feel the same way about the Church:

    - If we are having a hard time keeping young people, and young people have tattoos, why make a big deal about a non-doctrinal thing like tattoos?

    - If garments are a potential issue for some people, and we’ve already taken 15 inches off the arms, why not take off 2 more inches and make a camisole top? Especially if it will help just a single person.

    - If not having a specifically defined doctrine is a problem (like in the recent issue) and we have a way of canonizing revealed doctrine in our scriptures, why not use it?

    And so on. Why not fix these little things that are mountains for some people, but molehills for others? We could wait for change to come down, but isn’t our input from “below” also important? Would we have changed the temple ceremony if it wasn’t for feedback from members? Would we have changed the black and priesthood policy if it wasn’t for outside feedback? Would we have changed polygamy if it wasn’t for outside feedback? The Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    I actually feel it is important to continue to give feedback.

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  50. Mike S on March 4, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    #44 mh: In fact, I’d probably screw things up pretty badly, if I were in charge.

    Me too. I guess that’s why we’re not in charge.

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  51. Ron Madson on March 4, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    Personally I would have no one in “charge”, but rather all major policy decisions be governed by real Common Consent-including total transparency leading to informed consent for malls, use of funds; policies such as allowing civil weddings followed by sealings the same day, etc. etc. as it was intended.

    As to prophecy, revealing, seering—I no longer conflate office with gifts. If they intersect great, if not then seek after it wherever it can be found and authenticated.

    My only expectations of apostles is a personal witness of the resurrected Christ and an open declaration of such to all mankind. Anything short of that I can get anywhere–good books, self-help lecturers, and brilliants Christian writers who frankly have a much fuller and deeper understanding of the gospels then what I have ever heard in GC (see NT Wright/ Yoder/ Hauerewas, etc.)

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  52. Cowboy on March 5, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    I’m confused by the rationality of this whole post, and a lot of the ensuing comments. Assuming that Church leaders really were Prophets, then how do we explain the sudden drop in revelations over the last 100 years, as Mike has noted? Answering that question is a requirement before we can talk about “opening the canon”. After all, who closed the canon? Are we to assume that God has been trying to speak, but that the General Authorities have him gagged and bound somewhere? I mean really. In other words, if you assume that God really drives the Church, you probably have to assume that he has been quiet intentionally. Furthermore, that there would be nothing we could do to just suddenly open the lid on revelation. I would expect a perfect God to speak when he deems it appropriate to do so.

    So, in essence what this post is really calling for is for General Authorities to take more theological risks. Naturally they are going to be risk-averse compared to obviously successful low-risk strategy they have been taking for the last 100 years. So, why aren’t we content? We are either hope for an opportunity to live out our vision of life under Joseph Smith, or we are hoping that finally someone will theologically step into it so deep that we can finally feel justified in not believing.

    Lastly, I find the whole question of “how do we define doctrine” troubling in some contexts. We go to Church and are constantly confronted with assurances that the Holy Ghost has witnessed to the majority there, that the Church is true. Then we have visiting GA’s come, or Q&A’s with the Stake Presidency, and we get questions like:

    “How do we know what the doctrines are”

    “How do I know if I am going to the Celestial Kingdom”

    “How do I know if my spiritual promptings are the Holy Ghost, or just my own thoughts”

    The reality is, the very fact that we are asking these kinds of questions, exposes the reality that we have no assurances. Paramount among these unassurances, is the whole experience and system of personal revelation. If you can’t answer the three questions above, how can you answer the more fundamental question – “is the Church true”.

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  53. Justin on March 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    I’m confused by the rationality of this whole post, and a lot of the ensuing comments. Assuming that Church leaders really were Prophets, then how do we explain the sudden drop in revelations over the last 100 years, as Mike has noted?

    We don’t have any living prophets in this era. What we have are men who are sustained as prophets — but do not prophesy, and who are sustained as seers — but receive no visions, and who are sustained as revelators — but do not reveal anything new from word of God.

    There are three stages of the church of Christ [whether we talk of the primitive church of Christ, or the restored church of Christ]:

    (1) The first stage is when the church is built upon the works of the Father. In this stage you get all the signs and wonders and miracles, angelic visitations, healings, speaking in tongues, etc., that happened during the primitive and restored churches of Christ — right at the period of their inception.

    (2) The second stage is when the church of Christ is built upon the works of men. During this stage, people preach with authority, but no power, and miracles are all but gone. Angels stop visiting men, etc.

    (3) The third stage is when the church of Christ is built upon the works of the devil. The primitive church of Christ went through [and has come out of] this stage some time ago. The restored church of Christ may be approaching this stage, but is not there currently.

    The restored, Gentile church of Christ has been in stage two for quite some time. There may be here a man or woman who manifest the signs that follow the believers in Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, that perform the miraculous works of the Father — but by-and-large most will profess Christ but have no power given to them.

    Apostate Christianity is also in this stage, whether it be the Catholic branches or the Protestant branches.

    The LDS church, however, still has such legitimate authority, because they still possess both sets of keys [the keys of the priesthood and the keys of the church, or common consent]. However, there are no works of the Father — therefore, they do not manifest power, only authority and only makes appeals to authority.

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  54. Justin on March 5, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Now “the priesthood” is the language of God — a language that uses the audible word and silent gestures to speak persuasion, patience, gentleness, meekness, kindness, and genuine love.

    Every adult receives the rights of the priesthood when they receive the key-words [audible word] and signs/tokens [silent gestures] of the priesthood.

    Receiving the rights of the priesthood comes with all of the associated keys — just in an unactivated state. The various keys needed to perform the work of the Lord are then activated by the consent of the members of the congregation to which that person belongs [whether that congregation is the church or your family] — like in movies when they need two keys to authorize the launching of a military missile.

    However, the restored, Gentile church of Christ [as it exists physically today as a corporate entity] has put “the priesthood” into a Gentile power-pyramid or hierarchy [where the greater are "above", and are obeyed by, the lesser] — instead of being a gospel-based anarchy, inverted pyramid where the greater are “under”, and are the servants of, the lesser.

    Thus, we talk about “the Priesthood” like it’s just the administrative arm of the Salt Lake oligarchical patriarchy. But that’s just the “power” to pass bread, to sit in high seats, and to control budgets.

    None of those things are evidence that a believer in Christ “holds the priesthood” — or has actual “power in the priesthood” upon them. It’s nothing more than the appearance of authority and power.

    The scriptures give the signs that will manifest if a person is truly a holder of the priesthood — because with the priesthood comes:

    the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church
    to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
    to have the heavens opened unto them
    to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn
    and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the father
    and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant

    [D&C 107:18-19]

    That is real priesthood — not just the image of it. That’s the power to call down angels to minister to your congregations, to call down healing by the laying on of hands, to work miracles, and to prophecy and see visions, etc.

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  55. Mike S on March 5, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    #53/54: Justin:

    As always, you have very interesting concepts – something for me to think about.

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  56. [...] post is a list of ten things I like about my ward.  The impetus is a comment by Mormon Heretic to my post last week where he said, “It seems like many of the items in here are a bit like scab-picking to me, and [...]

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