The Fallibility of Infallibility

The Prophet Joseph Smith said “ … a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.”  (History of the Church, Volume 5:265). This simple statement, made to a “brother and sister from Michigan” has invoked much discussion about when a prophet speaks for the Lord and when he is simply offering good advice.

Latter-day Saints do not profess a belief in the infallibility of their leaders. President James E. Faust wrote this, “We make no claim of individual infallibility or perfection as the prophets, seers, and revelators. (James E. Faust, “Continuing Revelation,” Ensign, Aug 1996, 2).  And while the Church does not express that the leaders themselves are infallible like the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility, there is an expectation they will lead us in the right direction according to the mind and will of the Lord and in harmony with the Scriptures.

President Erza Taft Benson wrote, “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” Tambuli, Jun 1981, 1). This was not a new concept originating with President, then Elder Benson. It has been taught since the days of Joseph Smith.

But, how do we know when we need to heed the words of the Prophet and when it is simply good advice and counsel.  Just when is a prophet acting as such?

The simple answer is that he is acting as a Prophet when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:4)

However, how do WE know?  Again, the simple answer is in the same way. The Holy Ghost must testify to us of the truthfulness of the words spoken. Sounds simple enough?  It’s not.

For some of us, we struggle with this concept and its application. In some cases, we simply do not have the faith to believe. In other cases, we have not trained ourselves to hear that testimony. Perhaps in other cases, it just does not come. Maybe, it IS just good advice? Or maybe, it’s bad advice?

We are required to pray and ask for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the statements of the Prophets to us.  “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. “(Doctrine and Covenants Section 9:8).

Frankly, I’ve never had a burning in the bosom except for heartburn, but I also recognize that that expression is a metaphor for the feeling I do get when I’ve made that step or feel that I am under the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Some members do not need to make that step and receive confirmation. Perhaps, they receive an instantaneous witness of the truth. Or, perhaps they are acting as the President Brigham Young warned,

“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, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. 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, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 135).

And yet, while we have many members of the Church who would blindly follow their leaders without inquiring of God for themselves, they are also more willing to overlook individual foibles of the same leaders, past and present.

The polygamy practices of Joseph Smith, the past racist statements of some Church Leaders, and the inconsistent telling of Church History, to name a few, do not bother them.  They trust the explanation of the leaders and the Church.

On the other hand, there are those in the Church who are really bothered by those things, and seem to have a hard time reconciling the actions of those leaders with their prophetic mantle. In other words, if those leaders are so in tune with the Lord, they should have known better than to do and say those things?  Infallible?

Could it be that those members actually hold them to a higher standard than the rank and file member?

President Wilford Woodruff and others taught that the Lord would never let the Prophet lead the Church astray. I believe that. I also believe the members of the Church would also not permit it.

The Prophet is not infallible and we do not hold to that idea. He is a man, like every other man, imperfect and capable of error.  We love him and sustain him and recognize his authority to counsel and instruct us, lead us and guide us.

We do not follow blindly, but ask for confirmation of the truthfulness of his words. We sometimes struggle with following that counsel, but hopefully, we are better off for it.

Follow the Prophet

Comments

comments

56 comments for “The Fallibility of Infallibility

  1. June 25, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Ok, we know that our imperfect language and context creates filters that control how we hear, perceive and understand things that introduces flaws in our understanding. We also know that the same issues create flaws in the way prophets speak to us from God, even if they speak by the Spirit and we receive by the Spirit.

    We know that the entire picture is very, very large, outside of time (whatever that means) and complexly layered, so that much of what God tells us is figurative or in parables, even if we do not recognize them as parables.

    Finally, we know that often God pushes us one way so that with counterforces the direction we end up going is right, not necessarily the direction we are pushed in, kind of like an airplane flying into a cross wind may be pointed / but go –> in direction, and so reach the desired endpoint, even if it is never pointed that way until it lands.

    How can we doubt both that the prophets are fallible (has anyone been reading the Old Testament this year!?) and that we should follow them?

  2. Dave P.
    June 25, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Oh how I hate that primary song.

  3. June 25, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I think there is another group that may appear to follow blindly, but are unfairly cast in that light. This is a group who may have felt a confirming witness when sustaining a prophet or when hearing him speak, and, having felt that witness, trusts what he says even when the person does not understand it. In this case, the person is walking by faith — not blindly because of his witness of the prophetic call, even if not of the prophetic utterance.

    As for your collection of concerning ideas (polygamy of Joseph, racist comments of past leaders and inconsistent telling of church history) — you seem to put those all on the same level with equal weight. Is that your intent, or is it to use these as illustrations of the kinds of concerns that some may have with things the prophets have taught that are not understood / accepted?

  4. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Paul, #3

    “Is that your intent, or is it to use these as illustrations of the kinds of concerns that some may have with things the prophets have taught that are not understood / accepted?”

    Just the ones that came to mind. But, no, I was just pointing a paradox I see with some folks not wanting to always follow the Prophet and the fact that they do not seem to allow for the circumstances of their time.

    For instance, Brigham Young said stuff about Blacks that was, by today’s standards very racist. By the standards of the time, they were common views. But, some feel that Brigham, as Prophet should have known better or the Lord should have restrained him from saying those things.

  5. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Stephen,

    “Finally, we know that often God pushes us one way so that with counter forces the direction we end up going is right, not necessarily the direction we are pushed in, kind of like an airplane flying into a cross wind may be pointed / but go –> in direction, and so reach the desired endpoint, even if it is never pointed that way until it lands.”

    So, are you saying that the “straight and narrow path” has built in course correction?

  6. Mike S
    June 25, 2010 at 8:38 am

    To help resolve this, I have tended to resort to a “big picture” viewpoint of things. If there is “One Truth” or one straight and narrow path to get back to God then, by definition, this should be the same path yesterday, today and always. There are many fundamental truths that fall into this realm which I try to let permeate me. A few examples include a belief in God and Christ, faith, being good to my fellowman, avoiding lying, don’t steal, be faithful to my wife, don’t kill people, etc. These are always the same. When a prophet exhorts me to follow these, I have no problem accepting that they are helping remind me where the path lies and helping me refocus my thoughts on God.

    There are many things that we also know are NOT eternal truths as their implementation among faithful saints has changed throughout time. In the current iteration of the LDS Church, they currently serve as a marker for “faithfulness” for some reason. These include facial hair, white shirts, drinking wine, polygamy, etc. I look at proclamations like this as “club requirements” that change are are pretty much up to the whim of the current leadership. When I was in college, I was in a fraternity. There were certain required things that seem pretty strange from the outside, but to me a member of the fraternity, they were requirements. I approach many of the current requirements of the Church and leadership statements as opinions that fall in this category. We know drinking wine won’t keep someone out of the Celestial kingdom, otherwise Christ and Joseph Smith wouldn’t be there, but it’s a requirement for now so I follow it. White shirts, tattoos, etc. are all generational opinions and not eternal truths. But as a member of the “club”, I follow them. I don’t get to pick the club rules, I can just pick if I want to be in it or not.

    So, eternal truths are things that are always true. Opinions are things that change, either in this dispensation or looking across dispensations.

  7. June 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Praying for confirmation is, in my mind, a catch 22 situation. There’s only one answer that you can receive without making yourself suspect. Imagine what it would be like in a fast meeting if someone announced that the Spirit had witnessed to them the opposite of what was being proclaimed by the brethren. You can pray all you want but you’d better get the right answer.

  8. June 25, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I think the big picture view is helpful. The gospel is pretty simple, after all.

    I’m reluctant, however, to announce what present proclamations are not part of that big picture.

    Mike S: “These include facial hair, white shirts, drinking wine, polygamy, etc.” A rather wide ranging list. Not sure I’d ever put white shirts and polygamy on the same level. And facial hair?

  9. K
    June 25, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I find the exceptional power given to local leaders very troubling. If a SP or bishop are friends with a GA, their actions are often unquestioned, even if they are abusing their wives, ward or stake members, teaching false doctrine, and/or excommunicating others who question their decisions.

    The Church needs an office where people can call who are experiencing ecclesiastical abuse and where someone will stop the insanity. This is happening far too often in the Church.

  10. Cowboy
    June 25, 2010 at 9:51 am

    The “witness” of the Holy Ghost is ambiguous at best, and very inconsistent from person to person. In some ways this may be a positive as it can/could promote a tendency for spiritual individuality. On the matter of determining whether a Prophet is right or wrong however, it is not at all helpful that everyone must draw a subjective conclusion for dictates that are intended to be blanket edicts for the whole Church. It also begs the question of what purpose then does a Prophet serve? If god chooses to validate his agenda, as per the Prophet, individually to each member, then why not just drop the middle-man and go direct to the people via the Holy Ghost? We are taught and currently encouraged to follow the Prophet, as the song says, he knows the way. Though as this post admits, sometimes that is not entirely true. As members we constantly get up in our various meetings and gatherings, and express grattitude for the fact that God has given us a Prophet, who can lead and guide us – but apparently he can’t be expected to always be right. My assertion is that ultimately, a Prophet (among other LDS leaders) is intended be followed as though he were infallible. The famous quip that “…a Prophet is only a Prophet when acting as such…” is nothing more than that, a quip intended to spin the argument when obvious proofs against Prophetic credibility arise. That statement could also be worded “…a Prophet is only right, when he is right”, and infact that would be true – but doesn’t it beg the question then, what exactly is a Prophet?

  11. hawkgrrrl
    June 25, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I think there is more harm in believing them infallible than in following their counsel while knowing it may only be opinion. The problems I see creeping in are: 1) when the advice is not divine and has unintended negative consequences, 2) when blind obedience is used as a litmus test for righteousness, and 3) when one takes authority for truth, including one’s own authority.

  12. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Cowboy, #10,

    “Though as this post admits, sometimes that is not entirely true. As members we constantly get up in our various meetings and gatherings, and express gratitude for the fact that God has given us a Prophet, who can lead and guide us – but apparently he can’t be expected to always be right.”

    I think you may be misreading my post. I didn’t say that sometimes it is “not entirely true,” I was referring to the lack of confirmation and the conclusion one might take from it.

    The scriptures are pretty clear on the need for a Prophet and while God can definitely hear and answer our prayers individual on what we should and shouldn’t do, the Prophet is there to speak to the collective masses all at the same time. If God had wanted it any other way, it would be that way, I guess.

    The quip, as you call it from Joseph Smith, is all there is, no explanation, nothing. It has been left to others to decide what he meant by it.

    I suppose, if Joseph were playing the stick pulling game and said to his opponent, “I am going to beat you.” That might not be a prophetic utterance like “we will build the Temple here.” That is what I took that quip to mean.

  13. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Hawk, #11,

    I agree with you on your points, but who is to judge who is blindly obeying and who is not? I suspect the blind obeyer has as much as a problem as the non-obeyer.

  14. Cowboy
    June 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Jeff:

    I agree with your example about the stick pulling game. Certainly Joseph Smith and other Prophets can make absolute statements, such as “I’m going to beat you”, without risking Prophetic credibility. Those common expressions aren’t intended to be as definitive as revelatory absolutes such as the experience which brought about Doctrine & Covenants section 76. That being said, if I recall correctly the quip about under which circumstances a Prophet is a Prophet, doesn’t get this pass. I believe it was in response to Oliver Cowdrey, who returned discouraged from Canada, after he had followed a Prophetic directive to go and sell The Book of Mormon copyright. No one wanted it, so he raised the issue of how could Joseph Smith be a Prophet, while being wrong in one of his revelations – to which Joseph responded, “a Prophet is only a Prophet when acting as such”. It is easy to look at this situation and say, yep – just a convenient quip.

  15. Arius
    June 25, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Cowboy:

    I believe you’re thinking of Joseph’s statement that some revelations are of God, some are of men, and some are of the devil, which can be found in David Whitmer’s An Address to All Believer’s in Christ.

    The quote to which you refer is found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 278, and reads:

    “Wednesday, Feb. 8 — This morning I read German and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet”; but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (DHC 5:265).

    I don’t have a copy of History of the Church, which would give the fuller context, but since it occurred in 1843, I don’t think it had anything to do with selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon.

  16. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Arius #15.

    That is where I got the quote and the reference. Thanks for clarifying it. it is just a stand alone statement.

  17. Cowboy
    June 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Arius:

    Thank you for the clarification, you are correct – I confused the two circumstances.
    I’m still not satisfied that this brings clarity to the question. Both of these quotes still provide Prophets with a loophole that allows them to speak their mind authoritatively on any subject, receiving the benefit of the doubt which only makes their comments subject to scrutiny, as opposed to their alleged callings.

  18. dblock
    June 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I agree with K 100%, I’m experiencing that now first hand.

    The problem that i have with following blindly is this. It means that I am not doing enough on my own to find out weather or not what the prophets are teaching is true. I could just be relying on what some joe smoe in sundance utah is telling me instead of investigating on my own the worth or veracity of a statement.

  19. Rich
    June 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Stephen Marsh -1
    —“Ok, we know that our imperfect language and context creates filters that control how we hear, perceive and understand things that introduces flaws in our understanding. We also know that the same issues create flaws in the way prophets speak to us from God, even if they speak by the Spirit and we receive by the Spirit.”

    Sentence 1. OK, fine.
    Sentence 2. How do we know that?

    —“We know that the entire picture is very, very large, outside of time (whatever that means) and complexly layered, so that much of what God tells us is figurative or in parables, even if we do not recognize them as parables.”

    Who’s ‘we’? According to this complexly layered thing, does God ever tell us anything that is real or is everything parables? I know the Garden of Eden is, by popularity, becoming ever more categorized as a parable even though we claim to know the physical place where that parable happened.

    —“Finally, we know that often God pushes us one way so that with counter forces the direction we end up going is right, not necessarily the direction we are pushed in, kind of like an airplane flying into a cross wind may be pointed / but go –> in direction, and so reach the desired endpoint, even if it is never pointed that way until it lands.”

    Fine – kind of. You should make sure the reader understands that if the counter forces have any effect on the direction we end up going in, the very great majority of the time, it will be due to the misuse of agency or a lack of faith on our part.

  20. Rich
    June 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Dave P. – 2
    “Oh how I hate that primary song.”

    ‘Hate’ is a strong word. Why would that song bring on such an emotion?

  21. Rich
    June 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Paul 3
    What waw wrong with the polygamy of Joseph Smith?

  22. June 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    21 Rich — I never said there was anything wrong with it. I think the OP listed it among several things that trouble people today and cause them to wonder about prophetic counsel. I raised it only to clarify the intent of the OP, as the OP included it in the list.

  23. Rich
    June 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Mike S – 6
    “We know drinking wine won’t keep someone out of the Celestial kingdom…”

    How do we know that?

  24. June 25, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    All of us are children of God. We have the ability to communicate with Him. Each of us differ in our capacity in things of the Spirit as we are intellectually. Those who want to grow in their Spiritual capacity can, through obedience grow, just as those who are disobedient can diminish.

    When we want help in the things of this world we can go to those who are experts in their field, when we want help in the things of the Spirit we can go to those who are called to administer the Lords’ affairs. In both instances, the experts are not infallible but generally are very helpful.

    In things of this world and of the Spirit, mankind grows precept on precept, here a little, and there a little.

  25. Heber13
    June 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Putting all the responsibility on the prophets to tell me what is right or wrong for my situation is taking the easy way out, just as blaming them for everything that goes wrong.

    I need to take responsibility for my life. I think the things the prophets say that inspire me are of God, and the things that I read in Buddhist teachings that inspire me are of God. What I choose to do when inspired is hopefully pleasing to God.

    I also don’t think I have to pray for confirmation on every statement I hear. As long as what the prophet is saying jives with my understanding of prior teachings and is helping me do good, then I can follow it (others may say that is blind obedience, I just say it is reality). The big items that impact me are the ones I choose to struggle with. I am choosy when I need to test things and when I don’t.

    Joseph Smith’s imperfections don’t impact me much. His accomplishments do.

  26. Jeff Spector
    June 25, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    #17, cowboy,

    “Both of these quotes still provide Prophets with a loophole that allows them to speak their mind authoritatively on any subject, receiving the benefit of the doubt which only makes their comments subject to scrutiny, as opposed to their alleged callings.”

    I am aware of any instances where the Prophet himself said he was wrong. I know that some GAs thought that the Blacks would not receive the Priesthood in their lifetime, but I do not recall any church president say he was wrong about something. I’ve heard a lot of member say the Prophet has been wrong. So I am unsure that they have taken advantage of the loophole you describe.

  27. June 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Heber 13 – “Putting all the responsibility on the prophets to tell me what is right or wrong for my situation is taking the easy way out, just as blaming them for everything that goes wrong.”

    My thoughts exactly. In a way, we give up our agency when we put the responsibility on someone else… we also are free from responsibility when something doesn’t work out, and have an easy target to blame.

  28. Thomas
    June 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    #23 — Because if it does, then Joseph’s not there.

  29. Cowboy
    June 25, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    #28 – Neither would Jesus be there in such a case, as we all know, he supplies.

    Jeff:

    everything from Brigham Youngs comments about blacks, or those things which fall under the assigned category of “blood atonement”, are routinely dismissed from Church defenders under this clause. Joseph Fielding Smith stated in a sacrament meeting in Hawaii that man would never land on the moon, again excused by the Prophets are only Prophets when they are right mantra. You may argue that Brigham Young never plead this “loophole”, or the Joseph Fielding Smith wasn’t THE Prophet at the time. That is fine, we disagree on the technicalities. I guess I’m just not impressed with the claim that Mormons have the key’s revelation, including the direct guidance of God to a Prophet, which is then trivialized with all these disclaimers which muddle the question of how reliable Prophetic utterances are.

  30. Thomas
    June 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Cowboy, one of the genius aspects of Mormonism is the ability of its members to enjoy the assurance that their salvation is guaranteed if they follow their leaders, while at the same time being able to make allowance for their leaders’ errors.

    One thing that fascinates me, is the frequency with which people who become disaffected from Mormonism, become disaffected from God entirely. Although some go from Mormonism to evangelical religion, my unscientific observation gives me the impression that more go from Mormonism to agnosticism or atheism.

    Now why might that be? One possibility is that for many Mormons, faith in Mormonism is what drives their faith in God. (“If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet; if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then his successors are prophets; if his successors are prophets, then when they tell me that God lives and has a plan for me, then I can trust that God lives and I should follow his plan.)

    For many people, the model works wonderfully. One problem (as potentially shown by the pattern of disaffection I’ve observed), is that human prophets — especially when they’ve been elevated to the pedestal they are, and when loyalty to them is demanded to an extent that really would only be proper if they were something like infallible — are more likely to disappoint than God. And when the prophets are the main foundation for a person’s faith, then when the prophet is seen to disillusion, there goes God, too.

    “Put not your trust in princes” isn’t bad advice, whether we’re talking about secular lords or Princes of the Church. Let God be true, [even if] every man [be] a liar.

  31. June 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    #29 — Never land on the moon? If I was going to pick a controversial comment from JFS, it wouldn’t be that one.

  32. Cowboy
    June 25, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Thomas-

    I don’t doubt your observations at all. I would suggest however that the Mormon prescription for “finding God” largely comes through the hierarchical framework. A convert for example, is often (not always) rushed through the assumption that God exists, emphasized with Christian undertones, to the core message of The Book of Mormon and it’s implications to Joseph Smith. They are then integrated into an organization with an encouragement to become dependent and loyal to several layers of top-down leadership. They are encouraged to reverence these men who stand as gatekeepers to a broader domain of revelatory and authoritative association with God. Much of the encouragement is placed on following their counsel – to the point in the temple where such obedience, and more pointedly its inverse – backbiting – is covenanted to with specific Eternal consequences. It would stand to reason that a person who “grows up” in such circumstances, may find it difficult to adopt a belief system where faith in God and Mormon leadership is mutually exclusive. I personally tend to take somewhat of an agnostic position. I hope that God exists, and like you find such a belief system productive, though I really don’t have much direct evidence in support of that. I don’t take the position though, that God is somehow unknowable, or beyond human understanding, as is common in a more classical view of agnosticism.

  33. June 25, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Well, got back from work (generally I can post before work and after work), this thread has really grown.

    “We know” is kind of terse. “Brigham Young and Joseph Smith spoke extensively on the subject that” might have been better. Often tying it into our lack of a pure and complete language, other times explaining why the frailty of language created problems in communicating the complete truth.

    Jeff Spector — “Strait and narrow” http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/strait-and-narrow.html “‘a route or channel, so narrow as to make passage difficult'” — a constrained route rather than a linear one — which fits the Palestine desert images behind the phrase. The image is of finding the right path through an Arabic desert. I know in Saudia, when we went from the top of the escarpment to the red sea, seven thousand feet below, the strait way was not a line, but a narrow twisting path all the way down that if you left it, you were unlikely to arrive at the bottom safely.

    As for metaphors and parables and figurative things, never forget that the four beasts who stand before God are both figurative and literal.

    Rich — if there are forces pushing people to have too many children, you might speak to a group telling them to be careful not to outstrip their strength. If cigarettes use tobacco that is cured in such a way that one can absorb nicotine through the lungs, rather than having to dissolve it in the mouth acid, making it dramatically more addictive, one might stress abstinence from cigarettes, as a reaction to the acts of conspiring men when otherwise tobacco or sweet grass products might not be harmful or necessarily avoided (I’m allergic to the smoke, so I’m glad they are reviled in this age). I can think of many currents and countercurrents that do not necessarily require one to be giving way to evil to need encouragement or direction that helps one face against it.

    Hope that makes more sense.

    Sorry I was too terse.

  34. species373
    June 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    #30

    One thing that fascinates me, is the frequency with which people who become disaffected from Mormonism, become disaffected from God entirely. Although some go from Mormonism to evangelical religion, my unscientific observation gives me the impression that more go from Mormonism to agnosticism or atheism.

    Now why might that be?

    I think it is because mormonism constantly harps on the “our way or the highway” theme. Other religions allow a person to flow to a new belief system without tossing aside God.

    On the OP, I’d like a church authorized correlated guide to conference to show me when the Apostles are speaking as men and when as Holy Ghost inspired voices of the Lord. My personal burning bosom-eter doesn’t have the greatest fidelity for me to tell the difference sometimes.

  35. hawkgrrrl
    June 25, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    “One thing that fascinates me, is the frequency with which people who become disaffected from Mormonism, become disaffected from God entirely. Although some go from Mormonism to evangelical religion, my unscientific observation gives me the impression that more go from Mormonism to agnosticism or atheism. Now why might that be?” I think it’s a few things: 1) those who were raised in the church have been repeatedly taught that if Mormonism isn’t true, no religion is (people only change religions when they see all religions as interchangeable vehicles to God), 2) IMO, many who are Mormons are not terribly spiritual, just religious (this is doubtless true in many religions, but when that is the case, you go from being religious or ‘practicing’ to being simply ‘not religious’ or ‘not practicing’ – I suspect this is most true in “authority” religions like Mormonism and Catholicism), and 3) if an individual has not had a successful spiritual conversion experience, then Mormonism didn’t work for them; ergo it’s easier for them to conclude God is not there. Mormonism has a built-in “God test” that is discussed very frequently and foundationally. In other non-proselyting faiths, conversion is less of a focal point than using the religious rites to get closer to God.

  36. Thomas
    June 25, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    “On the OP, I’d like a church authorized correlated guide to conference to show me when the Apostles are speaking as men and when as Holy Ghost inspired voices of the Lord.”

    These things are known only in retrospect — i.e., (1) when it becomes absolutely silly to keep trying to defend something spoken “as a man,” or (2) when Church doctrine has evolved in a different direction.

  37. Cowboy
    June 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Paul (#31):

    I used to share this perspective also. I used to brush this aside as perhaps just watercooler candor, until a conversation on the Fair website from about a year ago. I have always had trouble sourcing this comment, but apparently it was given during a conference in Hawaii, and part of JFS rhetoric was that this (man travelling to the moon) simply wasn’t “part of the program”. Not exactly the most inflammatory statement in Joseph Fielding Smith’s career, but a fairly bold assertion nevertheless. He spoke from the pulpit, he spoke boldy, and I think he felt spiritually confident about his position. The same could be said for Brigham Young – his words come across quite confident. This used to make me wonder if BY or JFS could really even tell the difference between those occassion where their words came from God vs themselves. Now I’m of the opinion that their words always came from themselves, despite claims to revelation, but when those “revelations” don’t jive with established fact or reason we just dismiss the conflict with “…oh, he was just speaking as a man”. Again, clearly true – but implicit in that defense is the unsupportable opinion that on other occassions their words come from God. It is all just very convenient, and really not all that clever either.

  38. June 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    #37 Cowboy, I guess I wonder what’s the point? What I am I supposed to do with a question of whether man will land on the moon (pre- or post-1969)? How does that affect my salvation? Or how I should behave?

    What concerns me personally about a prophet speaking for God is when he gives me counsel to follow, since I believe that by following the prophet I will do God’s will.

  39. Cowboy
    June 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    It’s a matter of belief Paul, that distinguishes our conflicting positions. That is fine. I’m not in a position to postulate on what affects your salvation. I would ask you that question – what items do affect your salvation, and what detracts from that?

    The content of the issue about man landing on the moon is of course trivial. But to table the issue on that question is to miss the forest through the trees. I don’t need the bible to tell me that if a man holds himself out as an authority on God who holds access to direct revelation on the details of his plan, the purpose of life, etc, that if he asserts that certain things are a certain way – or that things will come to pass/ or not come to pass, and he turns out to be wrong, he’s probably wrong about all of those other things too. That’s the obvious relevance of the whole moon landing bit. And for what it’s worth, that actually does make the matter relevant to ones salvation, if you believe that salvation rests in the assurance these men actually know what they are talking about.

  40. Holden Caulfield
    June 26, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    If an apostle tells a tall tale like that in a t-shirt and shorts at a family BBQ, I don’t care about it. If he’s standing at the pulpit and in his official capacity as a church leader, the fact that he speaks nonsense affects what I think of both him and his position.

  41. dblock
    June 26, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    @hawkgirl

    I don’t think people who leave Mormonism become disaffected with God entirely, I think they just become disaffected with the idea of organized religion, especially when organized religion has specific rules of conduct that the local leadership refuses to follow.

  42. June 26, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    40 — Yeah, well, he might as well have said it at a barbecue because no one has produced documentation. This is one I won’t lose any sleep over.

  43. Mike S
    June 26, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    #42: Paul

    I don’t actually have this edition of the book so obviously haven’t looked at it personally, but here is “documentation”, at least the best available unless you have an actual copy:

    “May 14,1961 – Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith announces to stake conference in Honolulu: ‘We will never get a man into space. This earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it.’ Smith, the Twelve’s president and next in succession as LDS President, adds: ‘The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.’ In May 1962, he privately instructs that this view be taught to ‘the boys and girls in the Seminary System.’ On 20 July 1969 U.S. Astronauts are first men to walk on moon. Six months later Joseph Fielding Smith becomes church president.”

    [Joseph Fielding Smith, “Doctrines of Salvation,” Bruce R. McConkie, comp., vol. 3 (Salt Lake Cit, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954–56), p. 203]

  44. Mike S
    June 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    #23: Rich states:

    Mike S – 6
    “We know drinking wine won’t keep someone out of the Celestial kingdom…”

    How do we know that?

    I think others have answered this, but it is well documented that Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders drank wine. Wine was used in the temple for sacrament by the apostles at least into the 1900’s. Christ made wine. Etc.

    I assume that all of these people will be in the Celestial Kingdom – although I can’t “prove” that. But if they’re not there, then I’m certainly not going to be there.

  45. Jeff Spector
    June 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Mike S, #43,

    The trouble with that quote from DoS is that the page number cited has nothing to do with that topic or anything like it. Chapter 10 is entitled “Books the Lord Approves.” I have a 8th Printing 1963. The book was published in 1956, so the chances of a 1961 quote being in there is low. Plus the fact, that it is not even in the right form for the book itself.

    But I did find something in there that is interesting:

    “Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” (pers. cooresp. Doctrines of Salvation Vol 3, 204)

  46. June 26, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Mike S. #43:

    I guess this goes to show that one can reinterpret Mormon cosmology without destroying theological truth just as one could reinterpret early Christian cosmology (e.g., the earth-centered solar system. Now, about the Book of Moses and those “worlds without number”…..

  47. GBSmith
    June 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    I still remember as a 19 year old missionary in the old mission home in SLC in September of 1964 hearing and elder ask JFS what the church’s position on evolution was. His answer was “The church’s position on evolution is that it is a great fake.” Even then I knew he was wrong on both counts but it didn’t change my feeling about his position. I figured that when he talked about faith, repentance, etc. he know what he was talking about and let it go at that.

  48. Rich
    June 26, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Everybody – from the beginning to the end of time.

    “We know drinking wine won’t keep someone out of the Celestial kingdom…”

    When you consider whether some action of yours (ahm, let’s see, — I know – drinking wine, for example) will keep you out of the celestial kingdom, you don’t consider the person next to you. You don’t consider the guy down the block. You don’t consider the prophet. You don’t consider your brothers and sisters, ants, uncles etc. You only consider you. There are scriptures in existence that say stuff like ‘God is no respecter of persons’. My guess is that in yours interpretation of such writing, for the most part, you’ve slaughtered them.

    One of the thieves on the cross was told by Jesus that he (the thief) would be with him (Jesus) in paradise (the world of spirits) – whatever you want. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

    In the Doctrine & Covenants it says “But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised;…” (D&C 138:20).

    Now please don’t come on to me with a bunch of big names in the Church that say the gospels’ accounts can’t be true because that would be death bed repentance on the part of the thief. That’s one of the sickest interpretations I’ve ever heard. When in paradise the thief was ‘with Jesus’ where the D&C gives three reasons to clarify how Jesus was not ‘with the wicked’; he did not go to them, he was not among them, and his voice was not raised’ to them.

    The commandment not to steal had been around for a long time but here we have a thief in paradise and if you’re there, there’s a good chance you’re exaltation bound. Now for most other people, if you’re a thief, you will not be exaltation bound. Why? Because there’s a big difference between the thief and most other people. Never mind the thief. You just consider you. What do you know? What has been witnessed to you? (Whatever your analysis of that is, don’t get it wrong.) What does God require of you?

    “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.” (D&C 82:2)

    “We know drinking wine won’t keep someone out of the Celestial kingdom…”

    Stop saying this kind of stuff.

  49. GBSmith
    June 27, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Rich, that’s aunts, not ants.

  50. Rich
    June 27, 2010 at 6:18 am

    GBSmith – 49

    “Rich, that’s aunts, not ants.”

    I’ll try to remember that.

  51. Jeff Spector
    June 27, 2010 at 7:09 am

    “Rich, that’s aunts, not ants.”

    Some people’s family’s are very large and diverse…… 🙂

  52. Mike S
    June 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Jeff: Thanks, I stand corrected. As I mentioned, this is just something I saw but could not confirm for myself. Thanks.

    Rich: You emphatically say: “Stop saying this kind of stuff”. The whole point of the post is the fallibility of infallibility. It means that sometimes things prophets say are wrong (or change or whatever you want to call it in your world view). You specifically asked in #23 how we knew that drinking wine wouldn’t keep someone out of the Celestial Kingdom. I merely gave a few examples of people who the Church suggests will be in the Celestial Kingdom (ie JS and Christ) yet who also drank wine. I think this proves the point fairly well that there is nothing wrong with wine per se. Christ even implemented wine in the sacrament, an official ordinance to remember Him weekly.

    Now, the current leadership (and leadership since prohibition) have make drinking wine one of the temple recommend boxes to check for membership in the organization of the Church. I get that. I wants to be a member, so I don’t drink wine. It is a current church requirement. But as I mentioned, it is NOT a Celestial kingdom requirement, or else Joseph Smith and Christ won’t be there. My comment was directly related to the OP. It was specifically in response to your post in #23. Yet you say “stop saying that”. Huh???

  53. Badger
    June 27, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    To me, some of what has been said here seems to imply that whatever the Mormon position is, Catholic papal infallibility is a more extreme and less defensible belief. I’d like to express disagreement with that implication, while acknowledging that it may not have been intended by everyone who mentioned papal infallibility.

    The meaning of infallibility, as I understand it in this context, might be expressed in Mormon terms as saying that the pope’s infallible teachings “cannot lead the Church astray.” (for a full understanding, look up the details on a site like newadvent.org; it’s too complex for me to be completely accurate here). Catholics are (according to the Catholic Church) obligated to accept infallible teachings. In this sense, there is a parallel to the Mormon obligation to “follow the prophet.”

    The primary difference is that, in order to speak infallibly, the pope has to satisfy a rather lengthly and somewhat legalistic set of conditions; these requirements remove essentially all ambiguity about which teachings are infallible. Again, refer to newadvent or the like for the details (which are kind of interesting). There are also some broad, but explicit, limits on the subjects on which the pope can teach infallibly.

    It’s a little bit as if there were an LDS teaching that unless the prophet says “thus saith the Lord”, it’s not authoritative (a folk belief which is specifically contradicted from time to time in Church lesson manuals).

    So, it’s a big deal when the pope “goes infallible”, and everybody knows when it happens. What is the history of infallible teaching? Well, the whole concept was not formalized until the first Vatican council in 1870. A few years previously, Pope Pius IX had defined the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary as Catholic doctrine, and the recognition of papal infallibility served in part to ratify that teaching. So, although the teaching preceded Vatican I, it could be reasonably be said that this was the first exercise of papal infallibility formally recognized by the Church.

    The second occurred in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary to be an article of faith. And that’s it! Since papal infallibility was formally recognized by Vatican I, it’s been used exactly once.

    I think it’s fair to say that in principle, infallibility gives the popes a power that LDS prophets do not possess. At the same time, it’s a power that has been used very sparingly. And, although the pope’s other teachings are supposed to be taken seriously, they are all explicitly recognized as fallible. It’s a little as if the LDS church taught that anything not actually added to the Doctrine and Covenants is not fully authoritative. That’s a position I’ve heard apologists approach pretty closely when pressed, but it’s not something you’d hear over the pulpit in general conference.

  54. Andrew
    June 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    James 3:1
    “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.”
    or from the NIV
    “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
    the NLT
    “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

    here’s the scriptural basis for holding leaders to a higher standard.

  55. Rich
    June 27, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Mike S – 52

    “Rich: You emphatically say: “Stop saying this kind of stuff”. The whole point of the post is the fallibility of infallibility.”

    Yeah, I may not be comprehending what the post is trying to get at, but be it known, the only one who is infallible is God. There is nothing wrong with drinking wine at the sacrament – at least nothing intrinsically wrong. It is only wrong because it is legally prohibited as far as the Church is concerned because the leaders say so. I like Elder Oak’s clarification of these two instances in his October 1993 address until he takes it into the Garden of Eden and then his talk turns into a catastrophe with the creation of the “planned offense“.

    “And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.” (1Nephi2:3)

    Nephi was talking about his father and in doing so he came up with the perfect description of obedience to God. You, not the prophet or anyone else, find out what the word of the Lord is and then you do just that – you be obedient to that word.

    I don’t care if a leader is infallible or not. I still need the witness. I still need ‘to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent’ and nobody’s infallibility, even if it does exist, is going to do that for me. Anything short of the witness of the Holy Ghost is gambling. The scriptures don’t teach gambling, they teach faith. If you don’t know what faith is then study the scriptures and don’t get it wrong or you will just be responsible before God for mindless bungling. Now, back to infallibility.

    What’s going to keep you out of the Celestial Kingdom is not doing what the Lord has revealed to you. Did you get that? You! It doesn’t matter what God has said to anybody else. It only matters what He has told you.

    Conclusion – Yes, drinking wine can keep you out of the Celestial Kingdom regardless of who else drank it and/or for whatever reason they drank it. Sorry. Just because God gives somebody else a teddy bear doesn’t mean He’s going to give you one too.

    1Nephi 2:3 is the foundation for what I have said here.

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