In the first post of this blog we explored the numerous commands of God to search the scriptures. This post focuses on WHY this is so important.
And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived… Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:37
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived — verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. D&C 45:57
The scriptures teach us two keys for not being deceived. The first is to treasure up the words of life in the scriptures and the second is to take the Holy Spirit as a guide. Instructively, the Lord never tells us in the scriptures that the way to avoid being deceived is to follow a man, any man, even if he is sustained as a prophet. In fact, the scriptures teach us that we are cursed when we trust in fallible mankind.
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. 2 Nephi 28:31
I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. 2 Nephi 4:34
One of the specific purposes for the Doctrine and Covenants as specified in the preamble (Section 1) is to teach us that …man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh– D&C 1:19. In other words, we are to primarily look to the revelations, not to man.
Latter-day saints have been indoctrinated into believing that if they just follow the prophet that all will be well in Zion and we can never go astray. From the very time you are in Primary you sing and chant:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, don’t go astray..
Can’t you just see the little primary kiddies singing it with gusto! I’m willing to bet it’s echoing in your head right now if you grew up LDS.
Plain and simple, it is not scriptural. There is nowhere in the scriptures that the Lord tells us that a prophet cannot lead us astray. Many leaders have quoted from talks given by Wilford Woodruff following the issuance of the Manifesto ending polygamy wherein he states:
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”
It is interesting to note that the version of this placed in the LDS scriptures omits the “I say to Israel” qualifier.
So think about this for a minute. Wilford is telling us that the Lord will intervene to take away a prophet’s free agency (by taking his life) just so we don’t have to exercise our own agency to determine by the Holy Spirit whether he is being led by the Lord or not! Is that not wholly inconsistent with key principles of the Gospel regarding free agency? Is it not wholly inconsistent with the principle of common consent?
When you understand the historical context of the time, many saints thought he actually was leading them astray by ending the practice of polygamy. He had to assure them that he wasn’t with some very strong language. A myth is born.
The other prophet myth in Mormondom is the notion that if the prophet teaches a false doctrine and we follow it (because, of course, he could never lead us astray) that somehow we will be blessed for our blind obedience. Marion G. Romney, a member of the first presidency during the Spencer W. Kimball administration shared a story that is largely responsible for perpetuating this false idea.
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home…Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'” (Conference Report, October 1960, P.78.)
Amazing. Not only one unscriptural doctrine, but two in the same paragraph. The prophet will never lead the people astray AND if you blindly follow him even if he is wrong you will be blessed. This belief is so prevalent in LDS society today. My mother taught it to me when I was growing up. Today we hear this even more often. Ezra Taft Benson gave a talk at BYU in June 1981 entitled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” The prophet at the time, Spencer W. Kimball, according to his biographer was troubled by the talk to the extent he required that Elder Benson clarify and explain himself to the general authorities. However, today, when we hear a GA quote from this talk there appears to be no blowback from any quarter.
Prophet worship has become so ingrained that I even had a member try to convince me that the guys should all try to emulate Thomas S. Monson in the way that we dress. He must be blissfully unaware (as most of us are as a people) that the “Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
So now let’s turn to the scriptures and see what the Lord teaches us about prophets.
First off, the D&C has a provision and procedure for excommunicating the President of the High Priesthood (D&C 107:82-84). If the Lord were to personally take responsibility for all the actions of the prophet (which as we mentioned above is in violation of the principle of free agency) then there would be no need for Him to give us that procedure in Section 107. It is because men are fallible that he has placed that provision in our scriptures.
More importantly, however, is the fact that if you search the scriptures you realize there is a consistent theme around how the Lord tests his people. He occasionally uses prophets to see whether or not his people will follow the prophet or follow Him. We never hear about this in sunday school.
Read 1 Kings 13. It is the story of a prophet who was given a message to deliver to the king. He was told by the Lord not to stop along the way either going or returning. On his way back another prophet told him that an angel had instructed him to feed the prophet and put him up for the night. He stayed overnight and the next day was eaten by a lion on the way home. The JST clarifies that this was done to test the prophet. Incredible.
I mentioned this passage of scripture to a former stake president and mission president who immediately dismissed it as being in the OT and that prophets back then weren’t like prophets today. His conclusion was entirely based upon reading the chapter heading (because, of course, a prophet, seer and revelator had approved those very words). He didn’t even bother to read the story. Question: Since when did someone’s synopsis or interpretation of scripture become scripture? This has happened to me more than once with some very high level leadership.
Read Ezekiel 14. In the first few verses of this chapter, the Lord says he will give a false answer to someone who asks with an iniquitous heart. This should be a lesson for all of us. We really will get what we ask for even if it is to our own destruction. Recall that the Lord finally relented in allowing Joseph to lend the Book of Mormon manuscript to Martin Harris. The Lord had already given Joseph an answer several times, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Read Jeremiah 35. Jeremiah is commanded to tempt the Rechabites. They refuse to follow Jeremiah and are blessed for it. The scripture heading on that chapter states that “The Rechabites are commended and blessed for their obedience.” Whoever wrote that one failed to mention that the Rechabites were commended because they DIDN’T follow the prophet who under the Lord’s direction was tempting them with a false commandment. They were blessed because they were obedient to God. Oops.
Could this happen in our day? Has it already happened? I need not go into all the doctrines that were perpetuated during the administration of Brigham Young, including the Adam-God doctrine, polygamy, blood atonement, the restrictions on blacks in the priesthood, etc. that the church is desperately trying to walk back today. This despite the fact that Brigham Young once said that every sermon he ever preached could be considered scripture. There is a reason why you cannot access the Journal of Discourses on the Church’s website.
Despite my tongue-in-cheek jab at Brother Brigham, he also said some mighty profound things on this particular topic:
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation…Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” Discourses of Brigham Young, 135
“..if He (God) should suffer him (Joseph Smith) to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray…it would be because they deserved it…” JD 4:297-298
Obviously, Brigham Young didn’t buy into the Wilford Woodruff argument that has become essentially scripture to modern Mormons. Just because leaders quote each other saying that the Lord will never allow them to lead the church astray doesn’t mean the Lord has said it, no matter how often it is repeated.
Let’s conclude with a quote from Joseph F. Smith (someone who is also responsible for perpetuating the “Lord will never allow…” myth). However, in this case I think he is spot on.
“It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203)
There you have it. The scriptures in conjunction with the Holy Ghost are the keys to not being deceived, and that is WHY we must become more conversant with the scriptures and search them diligently to find the truth. In fact, as we will see going forward, I believe the scriptures hold the answers to the vexing issues around Joseph Smith and the difficult questions about early Mormon history.
Are you searching?
Next Up: The good news first…The Marvelous Work is a future event.