Apostle – Special Witness of Christ

by: Mormon Heretic

September 3, 2012

I wanted to follow up on Grace for Grace’s discussion about revelation, and whether we need to be living righteously to receive revelation.  Many people have wondered if apostles have seen Christ.  Michael Quinn discusses this in The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Quinn says on page 1,

[Oliver] Cowdery told the new apostles: “It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God.”  Then he continued, “That is more than the testimony of an angel….Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face.”3 Cowdery acknowledged that most of the new apostles had depended on visions of others for their faith and suggested that some might even be skeptical of visions.  Thus it was not necessary to see Jesus to be chosen as an apostle. However, once ordained each man had a lifelong obligation to seek this charismatic experience: a vision of diety.

Quinn goes on to show apostles that did and did not have visions.  Orson Pratt and Heber J. Grant felt “inadequate” because they did not have these.  In the 20th century, the charge to seek visions was no longer given to apostles, starting with Reed Smoot in 1900.  Quinn says that apostles began to adopt wording (from page 2)

that encouraged listeners to assume the leader has had a more dramatic encounter with the divine than actually claimed.  Apostle Boyd K. Packer acknowledges that some Mormons have become impatient with those carefully worded apostolic testimonies and ask: ‘Why cannot it be said in planter words?  Why aren’t they more explicit and more descriptive.  Cannot the Apostles say more.”  He dismissed this objection as seeking ‘for a witness to be given in some new and dramatic and different way.’10

Ancient Apostle John receiving a vision

While early apostles were not charged with the duty to seek for a visitation, Quinn says that apostles starting in 1900 were no longer required to seek for this witness when Reed Smoot was ordained an apostle.  From page 2

General church authorities had long regarded him as “reliable in business, but [he] has little or no faith.”7 President Lorenzo Snow blessed him to receive “the light of the Holy Ghost” so that he could bear testimony of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.  That was an extraordinary departure from the apostolic charge as given in 1835.8

Quinn continues on page 3,

Unlike the nineteenth-century apostles, modern LDS apostles have no obligation to see a visionary witness of Jesus Christ.  In place of hte instruction to seek a vision is a lengthy charge for modern apostles to be submissive to the majority of the Twelve.

Therefore, the twentieth-century hierarchy began publicly downplaying the necessity of apostolic visions.  By the time he became church president, Heber J. Grant had overcome guilt he had felt as an apostle for not having had a vision.  “I never prayed to see the Savior,” he told a tabernacle meeting in 1942. “I have see so many men fall because of some great manifestations to them”17 He came to deny knowledge of such experiences for his colleagues:  “I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to he Prophet Joseph Smith.”18 In fact, rather than qualifying a man as a special witness and apostle, visions made one vulnerable to apostasy in Grant’s view.  His first counselor, J. Reuben Clark, went so far as to dismiss visions as “testimonies of the flesh.”19 On the other hand, Grant’s second counselor, David O. McKay, reported many spiritual manifestations, including a dream-vision of Christ.20

From pages 5-6,

Apostle Marion G. Romney wrote in his diary during the 1960s: “I don’t know just how to answer people when they ask the question, ‘Have you seen the Lord?’  I think that the witness that I have and the witness that each of us [apostles] has, and the details of how it came, are too sacred to tell.  I have never told anybody some of the experiences I have had, not even my wife.”29 Nevertheless, as recently as 1989 Apostle David B. Haight publicly affirmed that during “days of unconsciousness” stemming from a health crisis, he had a vision of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.30 However, according to his official biography in 1995, whenever asked if he has seen Jesus Christ, Apostle Boyd K. Packer’s response is:  “I do not tell all I know.  If I did, the Lord could not trust me.”  Such a standard would put Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon, and David B. Haight under divine condemnation for telling their visionary experiences.31

Hugh B. Brown privately related a charismatic experience which seems unprecedented among twentieth-century apostles.  Following a decade of service as a counselor in the First Presidency, Brown was released in 1970 and resumed his position in the Quorum of the Twelve.  In physical decline and unhappy at his release from the Presidency, Brown had an experience which he related to his nephew:

He said it was not a vision, but the Lord appeared to him, very informal, the same as I was sitting talking to him. The Lord said, “You have had some difficult times in your life.”  Uncle Hugh responded, “Yes, and your life was more difficult than any of us have had.”  In the conversation Uncle Hugh asked when he would be finished here, and the Lord said, “I don’t know and I wouldn’t tell you if I did.”  Then He said, “Remain faithful to the end, and everything will be right.”32

Brown was the only twentieth-century appointee to the Quorum of the Twelve to describe a charismatic witness of Chris as a waking appearance.  The few others who have reported such experiences have described them as dreams, “night visions”, or visions while unconscious with a physical disability.33 Brown received his “special witness” without a charge or obligation to obtain such at his ordination.

Another explanation for the decreased emphasis on visionary witness is the hectic life of LDS apostles in the late-twentieth century. “Before I became a General Authority I picture the Brethren sitting at their desks studying hte scriptures, writing books, and having hours at a time to meditate upon matters of the kingdom,” said Apostle David B. Haight.  Instead he discovered “the reality of back-to-back committee assignments; preparation of talks and remarks to be given in various parts of the world to many types of gathersing, as well as those assigned for general conferences, frequent (an often far-flung) travel to stake, region, and area conferences,…[Quinn lists many other tasks.]

With little opportunity for the contemplative life of traditional mystics, LDS apostles currently have limited time in which to follow Oliver Cowdery’s original charge: “Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face.”

I want to point out the discussion we had earlier.  Denver Snuffer has written a book on what steps one can take to receive a heavenly visit.  Snuffer makes the claim that anyone, apostle or Joe/Mary Citizen, can have this experience.

Do these excerpts enlighten you to the life of an apostle?  Does anything surprise you?

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20 Responses to Apostle – Special Witness of Christ

  1. Bonnie on September 3, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    I don’t like Michael Quinn’s writing. He is passively adversarial, seeking for ways to position out-of-context statements to mislead. Nothing big, just sowing discord. The search for truth does not sow discord along the way.

    The gifts of the spirit are given independently of calling or sex or age. The Savior was clear about equating those who saw him in person and then testified and those who believed their testimony, because those are simply different gifts, not gradations in discipleship. Each of the statements Quinn has quoted are useful in their own context, and true, without having a necessary connection to one another or condemning other views.

    Cowdery was precisely right: we are ALL encouraged to seek the face of God, however that occurs in our lives. However Packer is right too to say that seeking for a witness can be seeking for a sign. The truth is in the tension between those two, but both are equally useful. For me the key is to seek the confirmation of the spirit in all things and to let that unfold as the Lord wills. People are going to have a variety of feelings about the wisdom of sharing their experiences, and I imagine that will depend on the context of those opportunities as well.

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  2. Howard on September 3, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    The search for truth sows discord unless you believe the status quo IS the truth! Christ and Joseph both sowed discord and they were killed for it! The genesis of Michael’s discord is he dishes up history instead of laddling out correlation kool aid.

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  3. Mike S on September 3, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    We can’t control whether God grants us a visitation. We can’t control whether we get answers to Moroni’s promise. We can’t control whether one person getting a blessing gets miraculously better while another dies. We aren’t God – we don’t understand God – our thoughts are not like God.

    Because of this, my goal is to focus on things I CAN control. I can be a good person. I can be honest. I can help my neighbor. I can read scriptures. I can meditate and pray. I can serve God when asked. And that’s about it.

    I go forward with faith, hoping that I am choosing a good path yet never being absolutely certain. If, someday, God grants me “more” – some answer to prayer that I am absolutely on the right path, or some visitation confirming things, or whatever, I would be thankful. But those things seem few and far between. So, I just go forward, trying to be a good person, and hope that it’s enough.

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  4. Jared on September 3, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Mike S-

    I approach this topic differently than you advocate.

    I’ve learned that if we apply the teachings of the prophets, particularly the Book of Mormon prophets, we will focus our efforts on acquiring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    In essence, we worship the Father, in the name of the son, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    Without the HG we are basically lost in this fallen world, using only the our rational resources (light of Christ).

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  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 3, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    Bonnie, I very much agree with you.

    Howard, Elijah and Moses, on the other hand, were not murdered.

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  6. Jon on September 3, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    You see Mike, you have to do it just so, otherwise it just isn’t going to happen, because God doesn’t care about you unless you follow the steps and procedures just right.

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  7. Ray on September 3, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    I think it is abundantly clear from the totality of our scriptures, both modern and ancient, that people experience God differently – and that God is perfectly fine with that.

    Perhaps the clearest example of this is the statement that “to some is given to know . . . to some is given to believe . . .” If believing without knowing is called a “gift”, I have a hard time asserting that everyone can know and should expect to know.

    Seeking to know is one thing; expecting and/or demanding to know is quite another; judging others because they can’t say they know (or, in this case, have seen) is something altogether different.

    Anyone who asserts that everyone can see and know or seeing and knowing is impossible is picking and choosing what they want to accept from our scriptures and ignoring / rejecting the rest, imo.

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  8. Howard on September 3, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Which means what Stephen?

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  9. ji on September 3, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    “Do these excerpts enlighten you to the life of an apostle? Does anything surprise you?”

    Nothing in the original posting enlightens me, or surprises me.

    When a son or daughter bears testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy Ghost often bears witness to me that I am hearing truth or truthful sentiment. That’s good enough for me. If one of our sustained and ordained apostles did have a miraculous vision, I hope he would keep it very quiet and continue to bear simple testimony that Jesus is the Christ.

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  10. Jon on September 3, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Lest we forget. The scriptures are also full of scriptures that say if we desire something and, if we ask with faith, it will be granted.

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  11. Ray on September 3, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    That’s true, Jon – and it makes my point for me.

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  12. Jon on September 3, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    And my point was: If someone desires to see God or an angel then God is compelled to show Himself, according to His promise.

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  13. Mike S on September 3, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    #6 Jon: You see Mike, you have to do it just so, otherwise it just isn’t going to happen, because God doesn’t care about you unless you follow the steps and procedures just right.

    We seem to have a different focus. This comment implies a lot of worrying about what we “do”, about “steps and procedures”. It worries about what is “going to happen”. It is a natural result of how the LDS Church seems to approach things, with specific requirements and home teaching states and lists of things to do in order to (get a temple recommend/ perform some ordinance /hold some calling / meet some goal / see God / etc).

    I look at it much differently. I suppose my thinking is more along the lines of what is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita:

    To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction

    According to this, we do correct actions simply for the sake of doing correct actions, dedicating everything we do to God and NOT doing them in order to receive a specific “reward”. This is how I approach Mormonism. I try to be a good person and dedicate my life to God and others. I try not to worry about any outcome. It’s obviously not Western nature, as we are attuned to a cause-effect worldview (in which Mormonism was incubated), so it can be difficult.

    But, it’s possible. I care far less about any potential rewards now than I used to. My practices are essentially the same, but my motivation for doing them are completely different. So, when you say “you have to do it just so, otherwise it just isn’t going to happen” it doesn’t mean much to me, because “it happening” shouldn’t be the focus.

    We can learn a lot from our Eastern brothers and sisters. They are among the “other sheep” to whom we teach God has spoken in the past.

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  14. Ray on September 3, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    #12 – Jon, and my point is that by making that claim you are ignoring every instance throughout our canonized scriptures and post-Restoration history that isn’t in line with that assumption. You’re picking and choosing what to accept and believe and what to reject and not believe.

    I’m fine with that, since we all do it (since there must needs be opposition in ALL things, including our scriptures), but it’s good to realize you’re doing it and not claim that the scriptures somehow speak uniformly about this and other topics.

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  15. Ray on September 3, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    I also think those who do something for a specific reward have their reward – and it often isn’t or won’t be what they expect.

    For example, I’ve heard members talk about serving people in order to cause baptisms – and, sometimes, baptisms do occur. They have their reward. However, they often also alienate people who need help but won’t be baptized – and, in that instance, they also have their “reward”. What they fail to have, imo, is the reward God has promised to give those who lose themselves in selfless service – so, while they have “their” reward, they fail to have “His” reward.

    I would far rather serve for the sake of service and let whatever rewards be given as they will. I personally believe we would build Zion much, much faster and more strongly if we quit focusing so much on the rewards and just loves and served unconditionally. If we were more charitable and Christlike, especially in our selfless service of the outcasts in our society, I believe the results would be much more what we desire and describe as the ideal than currently happens.

    How does that relate to this topic?

    I think the same thing would happen if we truly honored and valued whatever each of us brings to the table as a member of a loving community, instead of casting expectations all around us and marginalizing (theoretically and in practical terms) those who don’t fit our vision of the ideal. Has a member, including an apostle, had a visit by or vision of God? Great! Has another not had such an experience? Great! There should be room for all with regard to this topic in the “kingdom of God” – especially given what our scriptures say regarding it.

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  16. Jon on September 3, 2012 at 3:56 PM


    I was being sarcastic. But I do appreciate your comments on my sarcasm.


    Then the scriptures are inconsistent. God said we would give of our desires. Jacob even said we could get riches if that were our desire, I would think a desire to see an angel or God would be a far more important thing than riches. If God can’t give man that one gift, according to ones desire, then who is God?

    If someone wants a true testimony of God and His work who is God to say no? Is it not given to man because that man has no gift? Then who is God to judge man?

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  17. Ray on September 3, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    “Then the scriptures are inconsistent.”


    I don’t have a problem with that.

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  18. KMB on September 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    Is it telling that — even if we accept all of the listed spiritual experiences and visions at 100% face value — that none of them have anything to do with Church administration or doctrine? They are all described in personal terms only.

    Sharing models of having an intensely personal relationship with the living Lord sounds wonderful, but doesn’t answer the real question that many members have: How does the Lord “lead” the Church through revelation (or its weaker cousin: inspiration)? Or does He at all?

    I believe a lot of members are (or should be) more concerned about doctrine and policy issues, as in “did this policy or teaching come from the Lord or from the thoughts and philosophies of men?”

    The absence of any claimed revelations or dramatic experiences concerning actual organizational leadership decisions may be a more significant concern for members, whether we believe in the visions of the crucifixion in dreams or not.

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  19. Cowboy on September 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    What happens to Mormonism if the gifts of the Spirit, visions, etc, are dealt out selectively? What of Moroni’s promise, and what is the real purpose of mortality, a restoration, etc? What is so important about having “special witnesses” of Christ, if their “witness” isn’t to be testified of? This creates for me, a strange situation where God seems to be competing against himself.

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  20. Hawkgrrrl on September 4, 2012 at 4:43 PM

    KMB makes a valid point. There are several talks by members of the Q12 that indicate their process of revelation is basically the same as your local Primary president or Cub Scout leader. We all know how fool proof that is! But we still worship our own false expecttions. The church is more egalitarian in reality than its members and leaders are. So it would seem.

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