Prophet, seer, and revelator

I often think that modern Mormons view the sustaining of their governing Church hierarchy as “prophets, seers and revelators,” as being exclusive to the offices. This is most readily apparent in the proclivity for us to refer to the President of the Church as “The Prophet,” when no such office in the Church exists. It was at Kirtland that Joseph, with ornate splendor, cracked the walls that separate people from prophets. And Brigham Young is perhaps the greatest fruit of his labor.

It was Joseph’s goal to instill God’s power into the people and to create a grand city of prophets. In 1835 and in dedication of their new temple to God, the priesthood rose in their various quorums and sustained the authorities of the Church. The Twelve were declared “prophets, seers and revelators.” I’m not sure that we can capture the zeitgeist of 1835, having heard that phrase repeated over and over in our lifetimes; but I believe that this was a great extension of the hand of God to His people.

And Brigham was a great beneficiary of this democratization. While he was a religious man and apparently experienced some gifts of the Spirit (notably glossolalia) he was no natural visionary or seer. After Joseph was killed and the Saints prepared for their doom in the West, Brigham made what I view as one of the most poignant confessions we have on record. Mary Rollins Lightner, heroine of the restoration, was one of Joseph’s wives, but was such, she later wrote, only as a result of her confrontation with an Angle. She remembered a bit of a conflict with Brigham in the waning days of Nauvoo and wrote that “he Said he would give anything to have seen what I had.” (1) Later near the end of his life, Susa Young Gates recorded that when asked if he had ever seen the Savior, Brigham responded that he hadn’t, and that he didn’t expect to until he died. (2)

Brigham was keenly aware of his own natural gifts and his relation to Joseph. At one point Brigham emphasized this when offering a predictive commentary to some visitors to his office: “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet…” (3) It is uncertain if Brigham was alluding to Amos who made a similar claim:

7:14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:

15 And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.

16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD…

Jean Calvin, Mormonism’s archetypal foe, analyzed these verses in a way that is perhaps helpful when looking at Brigham:

…he indeed modestly says, that he was not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet: why did he say this? To render himself contemptible? By no means though the words apparently have this tendency; but it was to gain for himself more authority; for his extraordinary call gave him greater weight than if he had been brought up from his childhood in the schools of the
prophets.

Like Amos, Brigham was an unschooled farmer and laborer; however, it was not the schooled prophets over which he attained primacy, but the natural prophets. In a Sermon delivered at the Tabernacle in 1860, Brigham spoke of “the characters of Oliver Cowdry, Martin Harris, and others, [and then] noticed that men, who have been natural Seers, and had many other remarkable gifts, had fallen away, principally because they had not Sufficient humility.” (4) The previous decade, he had similarly preached (speaking of himself in the third-person):

A person was mentioned to-day who did not believe that Brigham Young was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. I wish to ask every member of this whole community, if they ever heard him profess to be a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, as Joseph Smith was? He professed to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ, called and sent of God to save Israel. If you know what the calling of an Apostle is, and if there were ten thousand of them on the earth at the same time, you must know that the words of an Apostle who magnifies his calling are the words of the Almighty to the people all the time… Joseph Smith was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator before he had power to build up the kingdom of God, or take the first step towards it. When did he obtain that power? Not until the angel had ordained him to be an Apostle. (5)

John Taylor in confronting one apostate defended Brigham and further explained what it means to be a natural seer:

Brigham Young in saying that He did not profess to be a prophet seer & Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers. Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all. He had not this gift naturally yet He was an Apostle & the Presidet of the Church & kingdom of God on the Earth and all the Keys of the Holy Priesthood & of Revelation was sealed upon him & the spirit & power of Revelation was upon him daily. (6)

Perhaps out of a measure of discomfort or out of respect for his dead friend, Brigham consistently avoided calling himself a prophet, seer or revelator. Elsewhere he was recorded saying, ” I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don’t profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser;” (7) and “I have never particularly desired any man to testify publicly that I am a Prophet; nevertheless, if any man feels joy, in doing this, he shall be blest in it. I have never said that I am not a Prophet; but, if I am not, one thing is certain, I have been very profitable to this people.” (8)

Michael Quinn has noted that it wasn’t a regularity to sustain Church leaders as prophets, seers and revelators during the life of Brigham Young, except for conferences in 1855 and 1857 (9). This may be somewhat underrepresented as Orson Pratt recorded the Saint Louis Stake conference as affirming Brigham’s status as a prophet, seer and revelator in 1854 and conferences in England were doing the same. (10)

Despite Brigham’s reticence to employ the tripartite title, his co-religionists viewed him as bearing it. When the First Presidency and Twelve were rebaptized in the Endowment House font, each member of the First Presidency was re-ordained and commissioned as prophets, seers and revelators. (11)

Joseph ‘s vision was to use the Church as means to endow God’s people with gifts and power. Despite his proximity to Brigham, Wilford Woodruff obviously missed some of his comments; still his commentary on the nature of prophethood is an excellent analysis of Brigham’s behavior and our own potential within the Church:

It has been remarked sometimes, by certain individuals, that President Young has said in public that he was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I have travelled with him since 1833 or the spring of 1834; I have travelled a good many thousand miles with him and have heard him preach a great many thousand sermons; but I have never heard him make that remark in my life. He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy. The Elders of Israel are prophets. A prophet is not so great as an Apostle. Christ has set, in his Church, first, Apostles; they hold the keys of the kingdom of God. Any man who has travelled with President Young knows he is a prophet of God. He has foretold a great many things that have come to pass. (12)

________________

  1. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Autobiography, in B. Carmon Hardy, ed., Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: It’s Origin, Practice, and Demise (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007), 48.
  2. Note, 1885, Susa Young Gates Collection, Box 11, Folder 1, Subfolder 1, Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City.
  3. Fred C. Collier, ed., The Office Journal of Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D (Hanna, UT: Collier’s Publishing Co., 2006), 5.
  4. Ibid., 184
  5. Brigham Young, Sermon, April 7, 1852, JD 6:319-320.
  6. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5:549-550
  7. Brigham Young, Sermon, July 26, 1857, JD 5:77.
  8. Brigham Young, Sermon, October, 7, 1864, JD 10:339.
  9. D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature), 251.
  10. Orson Pratt, Seer, 2:230.; Report of the London Pastoral Conference, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…on Saturday and Sunday, December 25th and 26th, 1852… (N.p.: N.pub., n.d.), 1.
  11. Wilford Woodruff Journal, 4:460-461
  12. Wilford Woodruff, Sermon, December 12, 1869, JD 13:165.

Comments

  1. MarkinPNW says:

    This reminds me of the last line in the LDS Bible dictionary entry for “Prophet” (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/p/61) which says that “In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11: 25-29; Rev. 19: 10″. When my daughter was serving a mission, I gave a talk in Sacrement meeting where I said that all of our missionaries are prophets out “prophesying” as they teach the Gospel of Christ by the Holy Ghost. Likewise, when any of us teach or testify of Jesus Christ and his Gospel by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are also Prophets (in this general sense).

  2. If Mary Rollins Lightner hadn’t been so obtuse, she wouldn’t have needed to have a confrontation with an Angle. …sorry, couldn’t resist.

    Very good post though, thanks!

  3. Peter LLC says:

    I am a Yankee guesser

    My new favorite Brother Brigham quotation.

  4. Staples, I’m curious how much of this was influenced by JSIII, David Hyrum, and the lineal priesthood. Was it a reference to Amos or to JSIII?

    I am fascinated by his uncertain relationship to native mystical powers. An interesting parallel to those of us who are supernaturalists more by desire than by aptitude.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Excellent, Stapley. At the same event in Kirtland, Joseph Smith asked that “these, thine annointed ones, be clothed with salvation” in the prayer of dedication. Kirtland Mormonism was a place where everybody was a prophet and everybody was one of the Lord’s annointed.

  6. …would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! (Num 11:29)

  7. SC Taysom says:

    Interesting insights. I’m curious though about how you would work around the tensions that tended to arise when individuals took the idea of a “grand city of prophets” too literally. The incidents involving Hiram Page and Ms. Hubble might complicate your model of democratization inasmuch as they suggest that Joseph was concerned about his position as THE Prophet among prophets. I like your take on this, I’m just curious about the other side of the coin.

  8. smb # 4, the same thing struck me. BY certainly seems to have been more the process man and recognized that himself.

    At the same time, I think the Apostle angle noted here is extremely important both to understanding this period of the Church’s history and to understanding the leadership of the Church today. It is something that we perhaps do not think about enough.

  9. MarkinPNW says:

    Maybe this is a threadjack, but I used to think that I became one of the “Lord’s Annointed” when I received my washings and annointings just before taking out my endowments, but now I tend to think that I became one of the Lord’s Annointed when I received the Gift of the Holy Ghost after being baptized (not that I am any great example of what one of the Lord’s Annointed should be, what with all of my mortal weaknesses I am probably far from such an ideal).

  10. Sam, that is a great question. The Smith family was absolutely primate and Brigham publicly differed to David. That Brigham would not pretend to be a replacement for that family is consistent with his history. Brigham’s own family was not without visionaries, though; but he himself appears to not have been naturally gifted. Whether his “not a prophet, nor son of a prophet” was a reference to scripture, to the Smith family, or both, we can only guess, but I think that that they are all likely.

    Taysom, there is no doubt that Joseph didn’t have much patience for challenges to his authority and control. There is a great tension and it is seen in just about every one of his organizations (the anointed quorum was perhaps the most successful, in my opinion). I mean, how can you have a “democracy” with an ordain “Prophet, Priest and King” over it all?

  11. Great stuff, J. Understanding more deeply how BY saw himself is an important key in understanding the place of “The Prophet” after JS. Josh Probert, PhD. student at Brown University, wrote his 2006 Bushman fellowship paper on BY’s developing sense of prophet-ness. IIRC, Josh found that at the end of BY’s life he started to call himself a prophet.

  12. Brigham echoed the words of Moses, would God that all would be prophets, so to speak:

    Is [being a prophet] the privilege of every person? It is. Permit me to remark here-this very people called Latter-day Saints have got to be brought to the spot where they will be trained (if they have not been there already,) where they will humble themselves, work righteousness, glorify God, and keep His commandments. If they have not got undivided feelings, they will be chastised until they have them; not only until every one of them shall see for themselves, and prophesy for themselves, have visions to themselves, but be made acquainted with all the principles and laws necessary for them to know, so as to supersede the necessity of anybody teaching them. (JD 2:89).

    Elsewhere:

    “All creation could ask for no more witnesses than they have, that the New Testament is true, that Jesus is the Christ, that the holy Prophets are true, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet and Revelator. But the Lord has so ordained that no man shall receive the benefits of the everlasting Priesthood without humbling himself before Him, and giving Him the glory for teaching him, that he may be able to witness to every man of the truth, and not depend upon the words of any individual on the earth, but know for himself, live ‘by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,’ love the Lord Jesus Christ and the institutions of His kingdom, and finally enter into His glory. Every man and woman may be a Revelator, and have the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, and foresee the mind and will of God concerning them, eschew evil, and choose that which is good,” (Brigham Young, 2:179)

  13. David, i thought that Josh was at Delaware? I’d love to read that paper. Do you know if he will be publishing it?

  14. #8:
    Is that “Apostle angle” the same “Angle” that visited Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner? ;-)

  15. I should also add that Brigham taught that it was the patriarchal right of an Apostle to ordain his sons apostles, regardless if they ever make it into the Quorum of the Twelve. The consequence of this practice is that there were likely very many more apostles outside the Quorum than in it. What is interesting about that is that it seems, in a way, that he replaced the family of natural prophets and seers with the family of institutional prophets and seers.

  16. Interesting re: # 5. While women certainly participated in the pentecost at Kirtland, were they really considered to be part of the more democratic version of the Lord’s anointed before 1842?

  17. IIRC some of his sons were very young (children) when ordained to the apostleship as well.

  18. Good point Kris #16. Remember too that women were not initiated into the anointed q. until the summer of 1843, more than a year after the group was formed.

  19. Sam,
    I’ll have to track down the relevant quotations later, but my understanding is that BY mourned the fact that JSIII and David Hyrum remained behind and publicly expressed his wish to have them come west and assume their rightful place as prophets in the kingdom.

  20. Stapley,
    I think Josh is at Delaware. His paper should be published at some point, if nothing else, in the proceedings of the post-summer-seminar conference.

    Interestingly, I am aware of exactly two instances in which BY used his prophetic status/office as a kind of trump card to legitimize his position: once to defend the Adam-God doctrine; once, before the territorial legislature, to prophecy that the cursed seed of Cain would never receive the priesthood.

  21. Brad–it’s pretty well-documented. The wonderful biography of David Hyrum (strongly encouraged reading, From Mission to Madness) has sources presented in a more compelling way than the standard Quinn presentation.

    #9 In earliest Mormonism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost was considered a proto-endowment but was distinguished from the actual anointings that Smith revealed in the late 30s and early 40s. The anointings were the second, mystical stage, and, if we have earliest Mormonism as our guide, you were anointed during the temple rather than with confirmation (confirmation was the public face of charismatic Mormon ritual).

    I write about the sacerdotalization of family in the book manuscript, stapes. It’s pretty clear that a) BY created a new family with his control over the temple primarily, one that could compete openly with the biological family, and b) he was following JSJ in this respect.

    Incidentally, this tension between fraternal (sororal) family created by priesthood ties and the biological and affinal family is one of the central paradoxes of Joseph Smith’s religion-making. It’s been underappreciated in the post-polygamy era.

  22. and taysom, I agree. There’s a lot of tension with institution and charisma even during JSJ’s life. bowman and I are working on a bit of this vis-a-vis antebellum religious encyclopedias and interesting notions about the meaning of historical enthusiastic heresies.

  23. Fascinating as usual, J.

    I am just observing in light of Wilford Woodruff’s statement:

    The Elders of Israel are prophets. A prophet is not so great as an Apostle.

    that we sustain the Q12 as apostles first, and then sustain them secondarily as “Prophets, Seers, & Revelators”. The same thing is done for the First Presidency.

  24. Sam, wow. Is there anything you aren’t working on? I’m envious of your productivity!

  25. #13 and #20: Yes, I misspoke, Josh is at Delaware. The last I talked to him about the paper he was not planning to publish it elsewhere, just in the seminar proceedings, as Brad suggests. I’ve sent him the link to this thread to see if we can entice him into participating in the ‘nacle. Previous attempts have not been successful, but perhaps this time he’ll come around.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    As an ignorant observer just let me say thanks to J. and to the participants on the thread. Fascinating stuff.

  27. I’m not sure what’s wrong with my browser this morning, but it has produced the following lines:

    It was at Kirtland that Joseph, with ornate splendor, cracked the walls that separate people from prophets.

    I have no idea how to crack a wall with ornate splendor, but I’m willing to learn.

    The Smith family was absolutely primate and Brigham publicly differed to David.

    I think we’re all primates, but I know that the Catholics have different kinds of primates than those that Ms. Fossey was interested in. I wonder if “absolutely primate” is something like “strictly ballroom.”

  28. This topic has fascinated me for years – especially in regard to how BY felt about his own role as compared to Joseph’s. There is something compelling in his feelings of inadequacy.

    Other than that, I second what kevinf said in #23 and echo Steve’s #26. Thanks, all; this is one where I will lurk and learn.

  29. Thanks indeed. I’m fascinated by the distinction between the natural family of prophets and the institutionalized family of prophets. The idea rings true to me.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    Anyone interested in the angle of BY ordaining a son as an apostle should read the following:

    Compton, Todd M. (Todd Merlin), 1952- “John Willard Young, Brigham Young, and the Development of Presidential Succession in the LDS Church.” Dialogue 35 (4) Winter 2002: 111-134.

    I’ve always liked BY’s reticence about claiming great spiritual gifts and visions. It kind of annoys me that many apostles today kind of like people to think they have tea with Jesus Christ every Thursday. I don’t like giving our people the false impression that one must physically see the Savior to be an Apostle in this dispensation.

  31. Lurk and learn. Nice phrase, Ray. I do that alot around here.

    Wondering what “IIRC” means.

    Also could someone explain what the “annointed quorum” is? People who were ordained to be apostles but not in the quorum of the twelve? What did they do? Get together for really amazing testimony meetings?

    Thanks for the great post and comments.

  32. Mark, nice try funny-man.

    Kevin, I second that article (and general sentiment). That was a fascinating episode.

  33. Jami, see this post: The Anointed Quorum.

  34. Thanks, J. Very helpful. I appreciated the link within a link too. I’ve never printed out anything from a blog before, but those posts are going to hit my paper file.

  35. Matt Thurston says:

    Kevin (#30), I agree. David Bednar recently spoke to the youth of our Stake. At the end of his remarks he invited questions from the audience. One young girl asked Brother Bednar if he had ever seen the Savior. Bednar’s said he couldn’t answer the question because it was too personal. The conclusion of many in the audience was that he had seen the savior, else why would it be “personal”? This was discussed at much length in circles following the fireside, and even days later. Most people gave Elder Bednar the benefit of the doubt, with a refrain along these lines… “He’s an apostle after all, and Christ leads this church… we don’t know what goes on with these men in the temple.”

    I much prefer Brigham’s direct admission that he had not seen the savior, but expected to when he died.

    And why would seeing the savior be personal? Isn’t that an apostle’s calling, to testify as a “special witness of Jesus Christ.”?

  36. SC Taysom says:

    Kevin and Matt, you have touched on two of my biggest wishes:
    1. I wish we would stop asking apostles questions that we know they won’t answer
    2. Since #1 won’t happen, I wish apostles would answer the question (after all, it wasn’t too personal for Joseph Smith or Lorenzo Snow).

  37. Name (required) says:

    #36–

    Personally, I find it somewhat dishonest when the apostles imply that they have seen the Savior. These guys are smart enough to know what they are leading people to think when they give their ‘its too personal’ response.

    If they actually have seen the Savior, you’d think that they could admit as much even if the detials are too personal. A good explanation of WHY it is too personal would be helpful as well, since prophets haven’t been shy about it in the past.

  38. It may get into your meaning of the word seen and saw.

    After all, Romney SAW his dad march with MLK… :)

  39. Name (required) says:

    After all, Romney SAW his dad march with MLK…

    At first, I thought that ‘see’ here implied something that you learn about or read about. In reality, ‘see’ here means something that never happened. I understand now–there are indeed many events in my life that never happened that are too personal for me to tell you about.

  40. #37 & #39 – It bothers me when apostles are called liars with no solid foundation.

    Seriously, I find it extremely presumptuous when someone assumes someone else is being dishonest when they say they can’t talk about it. Elder Bednar’s quote is perfectly appropriate on any number of levels, *especially* if the answer is “Yes” in any number of truly sincere ways – but he doesn’t want that to get twisted into whatever the hearers think it means – and if it really is too personal for him to discuss. In my own case, I would answer that question in the exact same way he did – although I’m fairly certain that our reasons for answering that way are somewhat different.

  41. Name (required) says:

    Ray–

    I apologize if I was presumptuous. I sincerely don’t understand why it is something that can’t be talked about. I don’t think that I’m alone in not understanding this, considering the comments in #35, #36:

    And why would seeing the savior be personal? Isn’t that an apostle’s calling, to testify as a “special witness of Jesus Christ.”?

    I wish apostles would answer the question (after all, it wasn’t too personal for Joseph Smith or Lorenzo Snow).

  42. Ray, I agree that those comments were over the line. I do agree with the sentiment that Taysom related, though. Personally, if someone were to ask if I had seen the Savior, I would simply respond like Brigham: “no.”

  43. And to be fair, Name, we only have Lorenzo Snow’s account via his family members. To my knowledge he never told the public of his manifestation.

  44. Jami,

    IIRC = If I recall correctly

  45. Name, there is a difference between asking why it would be too personal to discuss and saying he was being dishonest. For example, I have no problem with someone asking me why I won’t talk about my answer to that question, but I it would bother me to have someone tell me I was being dishonest for saying it’s too personal to discuss.

  46. Name (required),

    Part of the concept of personal revelation we hold to in the church is that it is, well, personal. There are experiences I have had in my life that I don’t speak much about, for the reason that they were intended for me as an experience, and may or may not have any value to others. In some cases, the experiences have clearly not been for public consumption (relating to leadership positions at a ward level). I totally appreciate the reasons for Elder Bednar or other apostles answering a question in that manner.

    I once had a friend share with me a visual image of striking detail that came into his mind once during a sacrament meeting, prompted, he believes, by his thoughts at the time, and the message of the meeting. He “saw” something, but certainly not in the way that you and I normally “see” with our eyes. He would have to think hard to answer a question about what this experience, to really answer accurately.

  47. J, I respect that greatly, but the answer isn’t that simple for some people – even those who aren’t apostles. I won’t elaborate further, but it just isn’t that simple for everyone.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    aw Ray, don’t be coy. You’ve seen Jesus — admit it.

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    The problem with the “it’s too personal” response is that it’s a de facto “yes” with only a very slight veneer of plausible deniability.

    My guess is that the reason for that response, which is a stereotyped one and very commonly the one given to that particular question, is that a lot of people would lose faith if they learned that an Apostle had not actually seen the Lord in the flesh. And the Apostles don’t want people to lose faith. I would be willing to bet that they are actually instructed to give that very response whenever they are asked that question.

    But why would people lose faith? Because over time we’ve created the expectation that Apostles see the Lord, and we keep that expectation alive with the stereotyped “it’s too personal” response.
    If one or more apostles would just come out like BY and forthrightly say “no,” that would go a long way to deflating the hyped up expectations we’ve created among our people.

    Preserving faith is often a matter of managing expectations, and in my view it’s irresponsible to inflate expectations in such a way as to set a lot of people up for a fall in their faith.

    Unless it really is the case that every Apostle of this generation really has had a personal interview with the Savior, which I do not believe.

  50. #48 is a good example of why I love you, Steve.

  51. #49 – Kevin, I agree with everything you just wrote, including the last sentence, but think of what would happen if “full disclosure” by the apostles showed some (or even just one) who had and others who had not. I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that I think that would have been the case at various times in our history. Personally, I don’t want to know the answer to that question – and I mean that in deepest sincerity. It sets up a standard for questioning that I simply don’t like – kind of an abrogation of personal responsibility for individual members.

    “I believe since Elder Bednar said he saw Jesus.” “Elder Oaks (just as an example) can’t be a true apostle since he hasn’t seen Jesus.” I just can’t accept the premise of the question, much less making each apostle answer it.

  52. Apostles are “personal witnesses of the savior”, which can be interpreted in many ways. I once heard the temple recorder of the Salt Lake Temple speak in a fireside one Sunday night, many years ago. He mentioned happening to sit at the same table in the cafeteria at the COB with a newly called apostle, whom he did not identify. In the course of small talk, he (the recorder) made the comment, “I guess that it must be pretty special having a Road to Damascus kind of experience”, with all that implies.

    The apostle answered him, “If that were what it took to become an apostle, then there would literally be thousands of them”. The recorder was quite embarrassed.

    As I noted in # 46 above, “see” and “saw” can have a lot of subtle variations in regards to personal revelatory experiences. I tend to be more optimistic than the Barney who shares my name, although I respect his statement. The reality is that we can make all sorts of assumptions about these things, and if we ever were to get definitive knowledge of the answers, we’d probably end up saying “I prefer not to answer that question”.

  53. Matt Thurston says:

    Ray (#51), I don’t see how can you agree with everything Kevin Barney wrote in #49 when it is more or less the same thing Name (required) said in #37 and #39.

    Kevin didn’t use the word “dishonest” like Name, but he did use the word “irresponsible” and suggested the response was canned, possibly even coached. Maybe that doesn’t qualify as “dishonest,” but it falls short of the word “honest.”

    And I agree with both Kevin and Name.

    While I appreciate some experiences are “personal,” as pointed out by kevinf and others, seeing the Lord was not too personal for Moses, Nephi, PeterJames&John, or Joseph Smith to talk about. (Imagine if it had been?) No, they testified of Christ, which is what they were called to do.

    I’m not saying an apostle has to see the Savior to testify of Christ, but testify of Him as best you can (like Brigham Young); don’t hide behind stereotyped “it’s too personal” responses.

  54. The problem of the logic that equates apostolic office with a Damascus experience is that it can quite easily lead to a logic that makes such experiences the exclusive prerogative of the apostolic office.

    I suspect, to plagiarize a trusted colleague, that there are more janitors in the Church who have seen the Savior than there are apostles.

  55. Name (required) says:

    The apostle answered him, “If that were what it took to become an apostle, then there would literally be thousands of them”.

    Perhaps its the attempt to have it both ways that bothers me. In statements like the one above, the apostles are making it seem like a common experience that happens to thousands of people. At other times, they say that such an event would be too personal to even confirm or deny. Which is it? Do visions of the Savior happen all the time? Or is it something that doesn’t happen to even some apostles?

  56. Matt, my response to you is the same as my response to Name. “Canned” and “coached” are FAR different than “dishonest”; I have given both canned and coached responses in my professions that have been perfectly honest. Perfectly honest. It also is different to claim that our apostles are “hiding behind” a response – since that, at the very least, implies that none of them could answer the question with a simple, “Yes.”

    I don’t have any idea if any of them have or have not, but your implied assertion that they absolutely have not if they don’t make that direct claim (and that they are being dishonest if they don’t give a fully nuanced answer every time they are asked) is insulting to someone who would give the exact same answer Elder Bednar gave – without hiding or lying in the process.

    I won’t argue about this. We see it differently, and I have explained my feelings as best I can. However, I will challenge anyone who says our apostles are liars who shirk their responsibilities over something like this. That is what you just said, and I simply won’t go there.

    Sometimes, “I can’t answer that, since it’s too personal” really is the best answer possible.

  57. Brad makes an important point.

    Still, let’s consider this thread jack ended.

  58. #55 – Why can’t it be both?

  59. Matt Thurston says:

    kevinf (#52) said: “The apostle answered him, ‘If that were what it took to become an apostle, then there would literally be thousands of them’. The recorder was quite embarrassed.”

    No, probably more like millions, and only a fraction would be of them would be of the LDS faith.

    The same could be said of the millions who could say the same about Buddha or Allah.

    Not to diminish the temple recorder’s story, but this is the kind of wishy washy, open-ended, folklore-ish statement that is repeated in seminary classes and the MTC on a fairly regular basis. It’s a warm fuzzy, there is nothing doctrinal or factual about it. There is no personal testimony to back it up.

    On the other hand, the statement does say a lot about people. Which is to say that we are spiritual beings, we experience abstract spiritual phenomena while both awake and asleep. These experiences are ellusive and difficult to pin down, difficult to describe even to ourselves, and are therefore better left as “personal.”

    Along these lines, I’d agree with the newly-called apostle of the temple recorder’s story. Mormons and Christians and Buddhists all have “Road to Damascus” stories to tell.

    But when members of the church ask if an Apostle has “seen” the Savior, they are refering to something much more tangible, something more along the lines of a literal Road to Damascus or First Vision experience. Don’t you think?

  60. Can’t most of us fall back on the “not recently” response for having seen the Savior?

    Seriously though, “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question because it is too complex, too personal and might be misunderstood by some.” seems to be the meaning behind Elder Bednar’s non-answer. A polite churchy way of saying “no comment.”

    IIRC, Elder McConkie’s last conference address was a pretty powerful testimony of the Savior’s reality, even though there was no hint in the talk Jesus had physically visited him as an Apostle.

  61. Matt,

    I think that was my point, but perhaps I made it poorly. It is exactly the kind of folklore that the recorder got entagled in as well . But you are also right in your last paragraph that the question was referring to a very personal visitation/First Vision kind of experience.

    Back to the original thread, I still think it significant that the role of prophet is something sustained after we sustain the office of the individual. Often the blessings given with the setting apart to a calling reflect this democratization of revelation to all members of the church. I have seen this also from time to time in some patriarchal blessings, an invitation to seek revelation. And would we not consider patriarchs as revelators or seers? Anyone have any thoughts on the setting apart of patriarchs, how that is done?

  62. I think it might be best for Apostles and church members in general if they have had such an experience to keep their mouth shut with regards to the details and simply testify that Christ is real and he was resurected and let the spirit convert.

    I don’t want a national media uproar everytime the LDS church gets metioned that, “remember how that Hinkley fellow said he was visited by Jesus…”

    Many will want proof. Many more will use it as a wedge against the church and its members.

    What happened to the church the last time we had a prophet who spoke openly abou this visions? I can only imagine the level of taunting, verbal abuse, sometimes physical abuse that would ensue if the adversaries of the church could post a youtube video of some Apostle telling us in detail about how he saw the Savior, etc.

    But there will always be sign seekers. I’m still wondering when the church will unveil those gold plates.

  63. OK, the whole visitation topic has been played. Further comments will be removed.

  64. kevinf (#23),

    Woodruff’s position was probably derived from 1 Cor 12:28:

    And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,…

  65. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on the comments, but I got an email back from Josh that may be helpful.

    One thing you can add on your post, if it already hasn’t been said, is that to Brigham Young, Joseph Smith was never fully gone. Remember that Young is seeing him in dreams, talking to Joseph, receiving guidance, etc. Joseph still presides over the dispensation and is the great prophet, so Brigham is clearly reticent to assume such a mantle. Plus, in the minutes of the Nauvoo showdown with Rigdon, Young uses the term prophet to characterize Rigdon–a charismatic leader without priesthood authority. In contrast to this, Young forwards the Twelve collectively as having authority to lead the church, but he goes on to say that Joseph will never be replaced.

  66. Josh’s point (via David G.) is an important one. Joseph’s presence as The Prophet extended even into the 20th century. As I recall, Quinn made the point that until David O. McKay’s presidency, any reference to “the prophet” had as its object Joseph Smith.

  67. I wonder what light BY’s statements and experience might shed on our current Prophet’s inability or reticence to speak about certain topics that were apparently and formerly important doctrines, and in his opinion, no longer are? (I am thinking of the “becoming like God, and God once being like us”). Also, Pres. Hinckley’s narrative of the receipt of the 1978 revelation on priesthood is almost emphatic on the point that while it was a “Pentecostal spirit”, WE did not see anything. I think it is interesting that he does not restrict the lack of a visual revelation to himself, but states that none of those present (presumably the whole First Presidency and Q12) saw anything.

  68. I agree, Taysom, that is very important.

    AHLDuke, I tend to think that modern equivocations on obscure doctrine are born of sound judgment. Brigham had no problem with doctrinal innovation. His perspectives on spirit birth, Adam-God, exaltation, etc. are well documented…it just so happens that most people think he was also quite wrong.

  69. #68 – Amen, J. We decry speculation from the past that led to doctrine that later was dropped – then we decry our current apostles’ lack of speculation. We can’t have it both ways, and I much prefer the current model.

  70. Most people think Brigham wrong on spirit birth? I think his view is still the majority view. Ditto with exaltation. It’s only the identity of the father of our spirits and the father of Jesus in the flesh that is considered an error.

  71. Clark, Brigham proposed that our mind was not eternal, and that our identities and existence as individuals began with spirit birth. I don’t know too many folks that believe that. As to exaltation, the details are esoteric, but generally, I believe most Mormon’s would disagree with Brigham’s process.

  72. Ah. OK. I thought you were referring to something else.

    Regarding Brigham’s process you’d have to be clearer. I think some elements folks would agree with and some disagree with. The role of becoming a Christ being the key issue.

    Regarding individualism and the spirit birth I actually think things are a tad more complex. But certainly he didn’t accept an eternal Cartesian mind the way many do.

  73. One interesting bit of church history trivia that is seldom talked about is that when Oliver Cowdery was called by revelation to help pick and ordain the 12 apostles, he told them that their calling as apostles would not be “complete” until the Savior appeared to them and personally ordains them.

    I find that particularly interesting in light of the quote by BY saying that: he hadn’t seen the Savior and that he didn’t expect to until he died.

    After studying virtually every known sermon that BY gave, I tend to think that quote from Brigham is authentic and accurate.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,514 other followers