Revealing truths: is modern day revelation different?

Sometimes when combing through pages of the Ensign to read recent Conference talks I have felt disappointed.  Although our arguably most powerful belief as an organization is in our leaders’ abilities to receive continuing revelation, a glance at recent addresses makes it clear that our mode of receiving revelation is no longer that practiced by Joseph Smith.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but whereas Joseph Smith spoke directly through God’s voice in his numerous public outpourings of revelations, current leaders very rarely make such claims of authority. 

Given the central importance of our claim to continuing revelation, some explanation is needed as to why we have shifted so much in our capacity to and our mode of receiving revelation.  Again, I am not arguing that it is desirable that Joseph Smith’s revelations be models for today or that we receive more revelations, but it intellectually troubles me.  While I cannot pretend to know how our current leadership understands their unique callings as revelators (though I am eager for them to explain), analysis of their public addresses suggests that they more frequently couch their remarks as merely strong advice.  They also tend to rely on citations of previous authorities or scriptures, suggesting that their role is more one of interpreting and preserving past revelations for our times than of revealing new principles.

Although I am sometimes puzzled by the lack of recent revelations– our knowledge of our divine purpose and God is far, in my mind, from complete – more recently I have begun to consider from a faithful perspective why such public revelations appear to occur at best infrequently.  Central to the issue, I believe, is that the geography of the Church has fundamentally changed since Joseph Smith.  Whereas in the early days of the Church members could access the prophet directly and he could receive revelation that pertained to majority of a very geographically and culturally limited membership, we are now too large, diverse, and removed from the central leadership to have principles and practices revealed in one area necessarily apply in another.  While geographic spread amongst the membership does not explain our lack of revelation about questions pertaining to the nature of God, many of Joseph Smith’s original revelations touched upon matters pertaining to groups of individuals rather than theological questions.

In other words, as one of many possible and non-exclusive explanations, I’m suggesting that revelation amongst our leadership has not so much ceased as transferred in many cases from the general to the local level.  It is at the level of wards and the personal that modern day revelation far more frequently occurs.  Our focus on the importance of personal revelation – and the belief amongst many saints that personal revelation must confirm and can even trump principles suggested by General Authorities – is not so much an act of asserting the individual over the collective church (though it certainly can be that) as much as a necessary principle when the church becomes too big to govern from the top.  Along with personal revelation, revelation received by bishops and other local leaders plays an increasingly important role not only in church governance but also in the faith-building experiences of the membership.  Although God might be in principle the same everywhere, the way He manifests himself and the way His principles play out in practice are ever more contingent on local environments, because speaking for the “whole” Church is increasingly harder to do. 

But why, then, if I accept that revelation occurs, albeit more frequently in a local context, do I still feel frustrated by my perception that our General Authorities rarely seem to reveal any communications from God?    One problem, perhaps, is that while we still doctrinally adhere to the governance structure laid out by Joseph Smith – and presumably most members believe that this leadership structure is divinely appointed (though not necessarily applicable for eternity) – in practice the roles played by members of each office might have substantially shifted over time.  There is, then, a disconnection between what the average member thinks leaders do and what they actually do caused by lack of information. 

Rather than leaving us to speculate about the offices and roles that a current General Authority or even local leaders fills, and then leaving us to wonder why General Authorities don’t match our expectations for better or for worse, these leaders could discuss more frankly with us how they see their roles evolving and how they understand and receive their revelations for governing the Church.  We could be more transparent and open about what the role of being a revelator means in this moment and about who can fill that role.  Such transparency and openness would doubtlessly help members be more supportive of the leadership and foster expectations in line with reality.  Every time I have had a glimpse of how leadership and inspiration — is that the same as revelation? – operates in practice, it has deeply affirmed my faith and challenged me to reconsider how I perceive the Church leadership that I have never had much contact with.

Comments

  1. “the lack of recent revelations”

    I would strongly challenge this premise. First, I would argue revelation happens at the local level on a daily basis. It may not go into the D&C but it is revelation from God to His authorized servants about how to do His work. It goes to parents, children, leaders and anybody else humble enough to ask.

    Second, I believe the Proclamation on the Family, The Living Christ and many of the changes we see to the organizational structure of the Church also count. What about the revelation pushing more autonomy down to the stake level?

    What about the constant admonitions to get out of debt, get education and gather our food storage and emergency kits?

    I think a strong case can be made that all of these constitute revelations from the God through His chosen general leaders.

    Your point may be more along the lines of why we don’t get more Earth-shattering revelations, like D&C 132 or blacks and the priesthood.

    I think the answer may have something to do with something I’ve noticed in General Priesthood and General Relief Society meeting over the past 14 years or so. Every six months, the leadership of the Church has 2 hours to instruct priesthood holders and sisters. What’s their message to the sisters? Great job, you’re awesome, stop putting so much pressure on yourself and remember that God loves you. With few exceptions, I think most people would agree that’s the message.

    The message I hear in Priesthood meeting is stop watching porn, quit abusing your wife and kids, who deserve better, by the way and work harder. You could be doing a lot better.

    So, I think the reason we’re not getting more of those grand revelations is because we’re not worthy of them. Perhaps the general membership as a Church needs to focus on stopping stupid bad habits and starting to do simple things like read the scriptures and pray daily.

    My two cents, anyway.

  2. It would help to distinguish the difference between “receiving revelation” and “revealing new or lost doctrines.” The latter type was Joseph Smith’s role more than for any succeeding prophet, but all have experienced regular outpourings of the former type of revelation.

    Which types of revelations are you discussing primarily here? I perceive revelation is occurring quite frequently at all levels.

  3. Okay, I’ll out myself as a skimmer. Clearly, the first part of my response was addressed in the post. My apologies!! :)

  4. M,

    Comments like the one which you just posted are of a genre one might call conversation-stoppers. You throw your “two cents” in knowing that they will blow the whole joint up, prohibit further dialogue, and make you feel superior. Your point has been made. You hold the high-ground. You win.

  5. iguacufalls says:

    I’d have to say amen to #1 – and add that even those who are worthy, may not yet be prepared for the next big “Thus saith the Lord” pronouncement. So many of us don’t even fully understand the nature of Faith and Repentance on a truly deep level (these being the things that will perfect us), so that’s why the GAs have to focus on the basics. There may very well have been major revelations given to the Brethren that we are not prepared, as a Church, to receive and/or obey.

    Now, back to working on my own lack of understandings…

  6. Blake Ostler seems to agree with the concept of revelation moving to the individual member:

    The reception of spiritual experiences doesn’t entail that they are all scripture. The argument is common that because the prophet is not receiving revelations like Joseph Smith that are written in scripture, therefore prophecy and revelation have ceased in the Church. However, it must be disconcerting for a church that says that what guarantees the truthfulness of our church is continuing revelation, and we know we have the right interpretation of scripture because we have an ongoing revelation that interprets the scriptures for us. With all due respect I don’t see a “thus saith the Lord” in the [unintelligible] in a long time. Does that mean that the Church has ceased to receive revelation and is therefore no longer true? I suggest looking at it from a different perspective. The goal has always been a “nation of prophets” who themselves are governed by personal revelation. Each person, each Sunday School teacher, each Relief Society president, and (in my case) every Nursery leader, must receive revelation for their stewardship and the accountability for receiving revelation; and it shifts the accountability to each member so that we can’t avoid our responsibility by relying on the prophet to have revelations for us. In fact, I suggest that there is more revelation in the Church now than in the time of Joseph Smith, not less. The goal has always been a “nation of prophets.”

  7. Personally, I think revelation isn’t presented the same way because somebody, somewhere would immediately be all up in arms over it. Look at the Bloggernacle treatment of Bruce R. McKonkie or some people’s problems with the Proclamation on the Family if you have any doubt.

    I suppose in a way this is related to the Church being to big to have one voice speak for it. I don’t know, all I know is that Paul was on to something when he called the word of God a two edged sword.

  8. They also tend to rely on citations of previous authorities or scriptures, suggesting that their role is more one of interpreting and preserving past revelations for our times than of revealing new principles.

    This is actually one of the primary roles of the Biblical prophets as well.

    “It is evident that a prophet, contrary to the common meaning of the term today, was very little preoccupied wiht the future, concentrating his message on the present and on the interpretation of the past.”

    Alberto Soggin, Israel in the Biblical Period, 7.

  9. @oudenos – Wow, I’m sorry you feel that way about my comment. I meant to express my own opinion, not prohibit others from doing the same. If I came across as trying to be superior, I apologize. It wasn’t my intention.

  10. Just to clarify, since I obviously take responsibility for not making this point clear, I’m refering to why we don’t receive many big, public revelations anymore about doctrine that are clearly couched as directly coming from God. Even Proclamation on the Family is not an “I the Lord say x” kind of revelation like we find in D&C. We are much more cautious about claiming to speak for God. This caution makes it sometimes hard to know whether what leaders say comes from God or is just good advice. But, it seems important to recognize this ambivalence and to pay attention to our rhetorical reluctance to speak more strongly of receiving revelation directly from God.

    I think that this post is trying to suggest basic agreement with a lot of what comment #1 says, which is that we have more need now for local-based revelation, which is why we see it so often at the local level even while GA’s rarely make public specific statements that they couch specifically as revelation. We are just too big and diverse to not have problems if a GA were to “reveal” new principles that were supposed to apply everywhere. I fully agree that parts of the membership might revolt. But my main point is that the lack of statements by GA’s doesn’t mean that revelation isn’t happening.

    My second point, which I think this post is illustrating :), is that we have a lot of confusion about what revelation means. Is inspiration and revelation the same thing? Does official revelation need to be more than the “strong promptings” that most of us feel? It would be helpful to have leaders discuss how they understand the their roles so that we could be more clear on what is happening.

  11. I was thinking just the other day that it’s a shame that the most prominent documents of recent date, The Proclamation on The Family and The Living Christ, are not couched in terms of “Thus saith the Lord” but are a recap or codification of what we basically knew anyway.

    I wonder if it’s an issue, then, of us being unwilling (as a people, as a modern culture, etc.) to accept such strong language in a post-Enlightenment world anymore, so the Lord gives us only what we collectively are willing to hear.

    And the argument that we need to take the revelation we have more seriously before we can get new revelation completely breaks down when you consider ancient Israel, who never lived the law really but still had a constant outpouring of revelation.

  12. This is just a question, so I’m not trying to be offensive, but is the prophet more like a CEO now? I’m wondering if he’s meant to just keep the church stable and thriving, and not actually needing to have face-to-face conversation with Christ, or even getting huge important revelations anymore. Didn’t Heber J Grant tell the U.S. congress that he had never actually spoke to Jesus?

    Maybe Joseph Smith needed the spectacular revelation and personal appearances, and the current prophet and membership just needs the gentle reminders of what we already know.

  13. I think it is reasonable that the prophet at the head of the dispensation would receive the bulk of the doctrinal restoration/revelation. It is largely up to those who follow after to properly implement the gospel within the church. Todays revelations might have more to do with administration than with doctrine.

  14. Neal – I actually wondered the same thing: would I believe the prophet if he claimed to directly speak for God? I honestly don’t know, but I agree that our post-Enlightenment culture makes us more reluctant to accept strong language. Somehow, accepting strong feelings seems easier.

    #12 – I don’t think that is an offensive question at all. GA’s do spend a lot of time in “management” activities, and I, too, wonder what that says about their current purpose. Although as I have been reading the Joseph Smith Papers, I have been struck by how much time he, too, spent on financial matters.

  15. #12,

    That was Joseph F Smith during the Smoot hearings.

    He then received a Revelation a few years later we now know as Section 138.

  16. Someone (Weber maybe?) talks about the prophetic vs. the priestly, Amt “office” vs. Geist “spirit.”

    Every religion begins with a charismatic/prophetic/Geist figure, but the religion cannot survive unless that figure is followed by the systematizing/priestly/Amt.

    I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but can overlap a good bit. I think management and people skills are much more important now in a Church of 12 million, but that doesn’t exclude revelation from the picture.

    I believe in Inspired Managers ;)

  17. I think we’ve covered most of the ground here that revelation has not ceased, but that Revelation of New Doctrine is much rarer these days.

    The same kind of revelation that we see on a local level also, I suspect, is the kind that goes on at the general authority level. An interesting read is the recent article in BYU Studies about Spencer W. Kimball and the 1978 revelation on priesthood for an example of big, public revelation. I believe this was an expansion of the chapter in Edward Kimball’s biography of SWK.

    Most of the doctrine is in place. The need for revelation is in smaller and not so dramatic things, regarding principles and policies, as the church likes to say these days. We are no longer in the phase where Joseph Smith was creating the church and its organization as he went along, and revelation was coming at a much faster pace, and restoring the gospel as fast as it could be handled.

    Now, the greatest need for revelation may well be who is supposed to be the new primary president in the Nethermost Parts of Zion Stake Struggling Ward. And we certainly can’t discount that.

  18. #12 – Would we then be better off changing the bi-annual sustaining of Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, to something more akin to Officers, Managers, and Board Members. In seriousness, while I don’t mean to be to critical of the sincere question, if such a conclusion were reached it would undermine the Corporate Brand and efficacy of everything the Church has and continues to be. Joseph Smith did spend a lot of time performing executive duties for the Church, one could argue that so did a number of the early Apostles and other figure heads of alternate dispensations. Given this, the assertion that possibly the Prophets have evolved would not appear correct, rather it would be a concession that modern leaders appear to have been stripped of their Prophetic means rather than changed in organizational leaders period.

  19. Cowboy,

    I take issue with this statement:

    a concession that modern leaders appear to have been stripped of their Prophetic means

    While I think we have all agreed that the needs are different now, I can remember specifically when hearing President Hinckley announce the Perpetual Education Fund a feeling that “Here is a Prophet, announcing revelation”. It was one of the strongest spiritual confirmations that I have had.

    I also recall Pres. Hinckley talking in General Conference several times over the earlier parts of this decade about getting out of debt, preparing for leaner times, and similar themes. Not as earthshaking as D&C 76, but certainly evidence to me of his prophetic calling.

    I suspect there are other examples out there, but to me much evidence exists that modern day leaders have not been stripped of their prophetic means.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    There’s a natural movement from the prophetic charisma of the founder to the more bureaucratic style today. After all, one doesn’t become the prophet today by display of charismatic gifts; one becomes prophet by surviving for many decades within the constraints of a very constraining bureacracy.

  21. StillConfused says:

    I think the current political climate plays a great part too. If you want to be accepted as mainstream, you have to act mainstream.

  22. Eveningsun says:

    If some explanation is needed as to why we have shifted so much in our capacity to and our mode of receiving revelation, isn’t the most obvious explanation the historical shift in religious attitudes since the 1820s? As Doc put it (#7), if the Church president reported a Joseph-style vision or revelation, “somebody, somewhere would immediately be all up in arms over it.” Actually, that’s putting it pretty lightly.

    Times change, and (with a few exceptions that do not include the LDS Church) churches change with the times. Yes, I know I’m suggesting that much of what we would like to understand as timeless truth is actually historical contingency, but there it is. How can anyone look at the record and honestly conclude otherwise? The 1978 priesthood revelation is a pretty obvious case in point. Did God really change his mind, for some inscrutable reason that had nothing to do with the civil rights movement? Or did humans change in response to changing times?

  23. Eveningsun, not to threadjack here, but let’s assume that the PH ban started with BY and was a product of the culture of the times (which I think is an easily supportable position, BTW), once the policy got entrenched, it became difficult to change for any reason. It appears that it became obvious to the SWK and to many of the apostles at that time that the historical record did not support a revelation establishing the ban. They also rejected a merely administrative solution, which was to simply say we can now do it differently. I think they surmised nothing short of new revelation would be sufficient grounds to change the policy, and also have it accepted by the church as a whole.

    A historical contingency for ending the ban would have made more sense in the late 60′s when external pressure on the church was greatest. Pretty much all the scholarly research agrees that the pressure had subsided somewhat by 1978.

    For the Edward Kimball article, go to http://byustudies.byu.edu/Products/MoreInfoPage/MoreInfo.aspx?ProdID=2108&Type=6 to download the full volume, which includes that article.

  24. 20 – I hadn’t thought about becoming the prophet being such an act of survivalship. It is fascinating to think about how the act of surviving – both the organization and health issues – might influence prophetic perspective.

  25. Kevinf-

    I am sorry you take issue with my statement. Notwithstanding my personal skepticism about the Church or Prophets in general, I was not stating an opinion nor my view of the facts with the comment you have issue. I was responding to the hypothetical posed in comment #12, that perhaps the role of Prophet has evolved from the direct (face to face) intermediary of the Savior, to an executive who manages the organizational affairs of the Church without the direct presence of divinity. I clearly failed to articulate my point correctly. I was suggesting that the historical precedent of Prophet, particularly if we Joseph Smith and the early Brethren as a model, is one that encompasses both the spiritual/divine mediation, ie classical Prophets, and the administrative roles of organizational leaders. I even concede that a similar case could be made for many of the ancient leaders if we were to define their activities with cotemporary business vernacular. That being the case, the argument that perhaps the role of a Prophet has evolved, ultimately will undermine the Church. Why? Because, if the former Prophets were both organizational leaders and divine intermediaries (or intermediaries with the divine-which ever is more correct), then to accept that they are now just organizational leaders is not a progression from “simple to complex” if you will, rather a trading of one at the expense of the other. In other words, the Church leaders today would “appear” (key word there) to be stripped down versions of the former generation of seers. In other words, I don’t think this is the road the Church leaders would like to go down seeing as it ultimately devalues the brand.

  26. Following on Kevin’s remarks, one can argue that we have seen what Max Weber calls the “routinization of charisma” which is common when an organization must continue after the passing of the original prophetic, sometimes anti-traditional, leader or leaders.

    I would argue, however, that the revelations themselves contemplate a “routinization of charisma” as we have seen.

    The D&C clearly requires that the decisions of the leading quorums of the Church be unanimous before they can be binding. In my view, this means discussion, debate, prayer, compromise, yielding, humility, and eventually coming to a unity that all can support. I suspect that the production of the Proclamation on the Family involved all of those. It was not simply one person praying and then receiving language directly from God, but a work of collaborative revelation.

    Of course, in Joseph Smith’s case, as I understand it, he felt free to subsequently add to or edit revelations he previously received, suggesting that it was not merely of taking “divine dictation”, even though it was often prefaced “Thus saith the Lord.” He did not, however, appear very willing to take suggestions from others as to what the revelations should say which, arguably, may not be entirely consistent with the unanimity and common consent principles of those very same revelations.

    Personally, I do not think that those early revelations are appreciably, if at all, more “inspired” or “revelations” than the collaborative process followed today. And I think today’s process may yield better decisionmaking. As a thought experiment, I some times wonder what section 132 would look like had it been received or prepared and considered through the inspired collegial processes followed today. Who knows, we might still be headquartered in Nauvoo!

  27. I believe that the GA are called by God and receive revelation.

    I would also say they have the same difficulty as JS — they are men, with the corresponding problems of humility, pride, arrogance, existing beliefs, and a tendency to judge things. I think of those things as a “cloud” in front of received revelations. I suspect that the “cloud” is less aggressive when a revelation seems to appear as an inspiration, dream, or thought — rather than a direct command with the associated “must”.

    Obviously, this introduces the difficulty that some inspirations are just thoughts, while others may be an actual revelation.

    The bottom line would seem to take us full circle – we must try to work on our sin, redemption, and transformation — regardless of the GA.

  28. For whatever the reasons, it’s clear that there has been a transformation in the way the leaders communicate to the general membership.

    In regards to President Hinckley’s comments about getting out of debt and in light of this topic I don’t know what to make of this statement of his (Oct. ’98)

    Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.

    So many of our people are living on the very edge of their incomes. In fact, some are living on borrowings.

    Given our current economic situation, it certainly seems like a prophecy, but President Hinckley himself wasn’t ready to call it that.

  29. Thomas Parkin says:

    I personally find General Conference full of evidence of continuing revelation. Far more so than even, say, 20 years ago. I think what we are mostly talking about is a matter of style and delivery. And there I completely approve of Doc’s remark in #7. ~

  30. Nate, # 28, great example. As Natalie said, if the Prophet gets up and says “God told me to tell you xyz” there are lots of folks who would get freaked out. Heck, some folks probably did after that October 98 statement.

    The much more widespread availability of the statements of modern day prophets certainly has led them to be more cautious. President Hinckley in many of his high profile interviews was much more circumspect about how he publicly defined his relationship to the Lord than Joseph Smith was.

    We can’t know what exactly led President Hinckley to make the statements he did in that conference, nor can we know for sure how much he tempered his public utterances. For me, I prefer to leave the really dramatic face to face encounters with Deity to very rare and select occasions where such intervention is needed. I am much more comfortable with feeling that Stake Presidents, General Authorities, and Presidents of the Church get there revelation and inspiration much the same way as the rest of us, just perhaps more frequently, and maybe with greater clarity. There is, after all, a reason that they are where they are.

  31. I echo the thoughts that other posters have shared here, in that I believe that the “Thus saith the Lord” type prophecies and revelations are no longer presented as such. The prophecies and revelations still exist and those who are in touch with the Spirit do recognize then, through the witness given them by the Holy Ghost, when they are given. Bracketing modern revelation and prophecies in such “Thus saith the Lord” type language would call more negative and divisive attention to them, more than anything else.

  32. iguacufalls says:

    Truth be told, though – think of the scriptures. Out of 6000 years of history, how often were there “thus saith the Lord” pronouncements, or outright SuperWow! miracles? The scriptures skip so much time, we sometimes feel that the miracles and prophecies all happened one right after the other. But that’s not what happened. Even Elijah and Elisha, who are kind of like the superheroes of prophets only recorded a few major events in their lives. Very likely they could have spent the rest of their time telling people to get along and read your Torah and say your prayers. We’ve only had less than 200 years – why should we expect anything different?

  33. This topic has been recently discussed in various ways over at Mormon Matters here, here, and here.

    I wrote that it might be helpful to distinguish different types of revelation: doctrinal and administrative. In the doctrinal camp would be revelations that give further light and knowledge about God, humans, or the Gospel. Revelation of this nature is scant. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times this kind of revelation has been communicated and canonized since Wilford Woodruff. I don’t even think that the PotF really qualifies as doctrinal revelation because no new concepts were introduced; they were merely stated more concisely.

    Administrative revelation includes deciding how to manage the Kingdom, including decisions about where and when to build temples, whom to call to fill major leadership positions, where to spend/invest time and money, introduce, expand, or cancel programs of the Church, etc. That stuff is on-going.

    It would be nice to simply claim that revelation occurs mostly at the local level these days, but really, personal revelation on how one should conduct one’s own life, or on what and how to teach a particular gospel principle to a sunday school class hardly compares with the pronouncements of prophets in our early Church history. Not only does the revelation not apply generally, but if it veers too far into doctrinal territory, or administratively off the correlation committee’s program for the church, it is looked upon with suspicion.

  34. I think it’s also important to remember that a lot of what JSJ presented as revelation and was later canonized as scripture (not all of JSJ’s canonized teachings, btw, were revelations…) was not particularly earth shattering. There’s a whole lot of the mundane in Book of Commandments and D&C. It’s couched in KJV-style language, and that grants it a certain revelatory gravitas; but even the not-so-mundane stuff can sometimes be, uh, weird (think devil-angels attempting unsuccessfully to shake human hands). A lot of what JSJ revealed to his followers was not functionally different from what we get on a more regularized and bureaucratized basis, i.e. avoid debt, don’t disparage or otherwise abuse your wives, shun pr0n, value education, etc. The really groundbreaking stuff is few and far between, and was, more or less, the same during JDJ’s time.

  35. There was a fascinating article in either Sunstone or Dialogue a couple of decades ago, discussing presidents of the church as either “Prophet Innovators” or “Prophet Caretakers.” The author concluded that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were innovators, and then we had mostly “caretaker” prophets until the presidency of Spencer W. Kimball. Under President Kimball, lots of things changed, in addition to the revelation on the Priesthood. We went to a 3-hour block time, the design of garments changed, and several other innovations took place. Perhaps the presence or absence of pronounced “revelations” is partially a matter of the personal style of the current Prophet. I would submit that President Hinckley was also an innovator.

    This is only the second time I’ve ever commented –be kind! Mostly I lurk.

  36. Hope this isn’t too off topic, but it is interesting that the other branches of Mormonism continue to expand their cannon of scripture. Many find compelling the Community of Christ’s D&C Section 163. It’s like a revelation for liberals.

  37. Comments like #1 are a Sunday School staple. The challenge with pointing to “small” things like organizational changes (changes in the 70s over the years, no more Regional Representatives), the new hymnal in 1985, small temples, garment length, etc., is that EVERY institution, from the US Army to IBM to NAACP, makes comparable changes all the time, making it impossible for us to say that the church receives revelation in a way that IBM and NAACP don’t. “District Managers will now be responsible for monthly reconciliations” is evidence of as much revelation as the move from Regional Representatives to Area Authorities.

  38. I normally read all the comments before adding something, but I want to draw a comparison to something that is a bit tangential:

    We have far fewer grand explorers than there were in the past. Why? Probably for no other reason than that there is much less unexplored territory now than there used to be.

    There is almost no “new revelation” in the epistles of Paul (and the other epistles, for that matter), and there is absolutely no “new revelation” from at least Enos through Omni – a period of over 400 years. More than once, it’s couched in terms similar to the following:

    Everything there is to say has been said already by someone else.

    That’s worth considering. I accept “administrative revelation” as being every bit as legitimate as “doctrinal revelation” – and I believe the former happens on a regular basis.

  39. Some people have commented that perhaps we don’t have “thus saith the Lord” style pronouncements because times have changed, and people would be up in arms or leave the church. But plenty of people got upset over Joseph’s pronouncements as well — I find it hard to imagine remotely plausible revelation (i.e. not reinstitution of polygamy) couched in thus saith the Lord terms over which a larger fraction of people would leave the church than left in Joseph’s time.

    I really do think there is one subject that we do need more doctrine on now; and that is the role of sex (more precise term) /gender (somewhat sanitized term). The proclamation on the family seemed to almost open up more questions that it answered. If there are divine roles, what are they in the premortal / afterlife? How do the gender roles corresponding to 20th century America correspond to the role of the genders in the eternities? Why can’t women hold the priesthood in a comparable way to men? What is the role of Heavenly Mother? Does Heavenly Father stay home and take care of the kids while Heavenly Mother is out working to pay the power bills for the Universe, and that’s why we never hear about her? What is the role of polygamy in the afterlife? Clear answers (by which I mean answers that recognize the complexities inherent in these questions, even if they come down on a side I disagree with) to all of these questions would provide invaluable help to answer pressing questions that the church and the people of the world are facing now, and which affect the way we approach our everyday life, and those answers can only come from the top.

  40. Matt #37:

    My sentiments exactly. For the sake of making a case for modern day revelation, I think the Church should put greater emphasis on the less mundane. While I can still see an argument being made for the Lord having his hand in all things, generally “administrative” revelations rarely pack the same punch as consuming the Priest of Baal with fire. Largely because, they are 1) debatable, 2) trivial.

  41. A few more points:

    – Even Joseph didn’t keep up the rate of “revelation” from the first few years of the Church. If you look at the D&C, you’ll find that the first 200 pages (out of just under 300) were given by the end of 1833. The rate of revelations (taking about those that have been canonized) drops off dramatically after that, with the exception of a burst from mid-1838 to early 1839. There’s only one D&C section from 1837 and none at all for 1840.

    – As has been noted above, much of the D&C comprises instructions for specific individuals and specific situations. Clearly that type of revelation goes on constantly at all levels of the Church; it’s just no longer dictated to a scribe and later canonized and published. If you go through the D&C and just mark up those passages that set forth what one would consider doctrine or the initial setting forth of key practices and organizations, I think you’d fine that it’s less than you expect.

    – Again, as noted above, I think there has been and continues to be plenty of revelation. Case in point: ten years ago, at the height of the late 90s economic boom, the Church committed itself to spend $50 million per year (half a billion dollars to date) in building 300 employment centers around the world. I consider that prophetic foresight.

    – Finally, I know it’s a cliche but it’s none the less true for that: we’re still struggling as a Church to live up to all that we were given in a few short years in the 1830s and 40s. Yeah, we’d like some regular dramatic “thus saith the Lord” revelations, but I keep thinking about Mormon’s comment in 3rd Nephi (“Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people.”). ..bruce..

  42. These comments have been extraordinarily thoughtful. Thank you everyone. On the whole, I feel inclined to agree with sentiment that we are still trying to “live up to all that we were given” in JS’s time and that maybe all we need now is for a caretaker prophet. But the feminist in me needs to echo MRS’s comment about gender. 50% plus of the church has not yet been given a model of divinity to aspire to (assuming that we believe the genders have distinct roles as is implied by the Proclamation), and this seems like a true theological problem without which any restoration is glaringly incomplete. Perhaps we as a Church are not yet prepared to receive revelation on gender, but, then, we also believe that we need to have a desire for more knowledge before it comes. Since we tend to institutionally discourage the desire to know more about female divinity, then what…?

  43. P.S. Feel free not to take this thread in the direction of gender. I just want to point out that I don’t think lack of need for more knowledge can thoroughly account for shifts in patterns of revelation.

  44. Thomas Parkin says:

    “50% plus of the church has not yet been given a model of divinity to aspire to”

    To my knowledge, both genders are given the model of Christ to aspire to. The only way to know anything about Father is to is to learn about Christ, and to learn more while following Him. I’m sure the same can be said about Mother, since they are One.

    Learning about divinity is an individual matter. The profoundest individual revelations are left to be shared only with the closest intimates, or not at all. The necessary tools are all in place – and those necessary tools are not priveleged to wither gender. ~

  45. Thomas Parkin says:

    wither = either.

    I thanks you, I thanks you very much. ~

  46. “‘District Managers will now be responsible for monthly reconciliations’ is evidence of as much revelation as the move from Regional Representatives to Area Authorities.”

    Agreed, if the change was inspired by God. I pray about work things, so I could see that happening.

    Also, a lot of those “big” revelations seem big because they were new at the time. Revelations we receive now aren’t new to us. However, I would bet a new member of the Church would feel like there were more “new” revelations than somebody who grew up in it. So, maybe it’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

  47. “To my knowledge, both genders are given the model of Christ to aspire to. The only way to know anything about Father is to is to learn about Christ, and to learn more while following Him. I’m sure the same can be said about Mother, since they are One.”

    I totally see what you are saying, but I find Proclamation on the Family very difficult to square with this line of thinking. I hope that your point of view is the correct one (and I find it pleasing to think of God as the ultimate gender bisexual!), but if we consider “Proclamation” to be revelation, then we have been told that the genders have eternally unique but complementary roles. They might be one in love, but we are told that eternal differences exist. I’m okay with the idea that these differences do exist, but then I hope to know what they are and what I can hope to become. If gender difference doesn’t matter eternally, then I think the rhetoric should be dropped from our church.

    I’ll just point out that most of our theology, especially the temple ceremony is written from the point of view of what a male can aspire to be. Example: while men are currently annointed in the temple to fulfill purposes I will not mention here, women are still only annointed to be an “x” unto their husbands. I can’t speak for all women, but this rhetoric deeply bothers me and strongly implies a theology in which my divine purpose is NOT the same as my spouse’s. Again, I’m fine with difference, but then I want more information.

  48. Thomas Parkin says:

    Natalie,

    May I suggest that whatever differences exist between male and female in the eternities, they are not to be “aspired” to in the same way that coming to Christ is to be aspired to. I feel that there may be gender differences that transcend what is changeable in us, but, by and large, never mind that. What we have more clear is the constant instruction to remember Jesus and to strive to keep His commandments. We hear it every week in the a most important ordinance we participate in.

    If we are not believing in Him, hearing Him and coming to understand Him, following Him, we will not be with Him … and everything else is moot. This is the one thing necessary that Mary got and Martha didn’t. It is very clear that whatever differences exist between Father and Son, they are not deeply meaningful, not to be compared with the similarities that make them One. Seeing that women also are under the same covenant to come unto Christ, there is no reason to imagine that they do not share potentially in those _exact_ attributes that make such unity possible, and that therefore Mother in Heaven also shares those attributes and in that unity. Tell me where are you forbidden to Come to Christ?? That doesn’t mean that there are not meaningful, lasing differences between male and female, that impact who we are in Eternity – but such are not primary but are secondary to those traits that are most significant in the character of Jesus.

    May I suggest that it is possible that the x you refer to represents a time previous to entering into one’s exaltation. And while we are right to be circumspect, I’d like to call your attention to two facts in the endowment. First, think of the only place in the temple where men and women are not segregated and; second, recall the blessing that is pronounced just before entering that place.

    In todo caso, these things are mysteries … and both you and I have the same access to understanding mysteries if we are willing to pay the price. If you want more information you’ll be waiting for a long time to get it from any place other than the Source itself. The endowment, the scriptures, the whole ball of wax can only be understood in one way – and that way is through the revelation of God to us, in small then increasing degrees. It wouldn’t matter particularly if the GAs issued clarifying statements – those statements would not be understood by people living outside the covenants that bring personal revelation. There is nothing forbidden to women that men have some privilege in when it comes to understanding God or aspiring to be like Him.

    May I humbly as possible suggest that language is often a stumbling block, and I’d hate to see you stumble over it. The immediate prize isn’t our exaltation, it is Jesus. He is the door through which we all must pass. We should keep our eyes on Him, first and foremost and all the other understanding we need will come to us as we go. But if we don’t, everything will remain darkness, confusion and bitterness.

    Thanks for accepting my little sermons. ;)

    John 10: 1-7

    1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
    2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
    3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
    4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
    5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
    6 This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
    7 Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
    8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
    9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

    ~

  49. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    I remember the spiritual deliberations that were a part of each month’s companionship transfers for my mission president. Receiving the revelation necessary to try to get each Sister or Elder in the spot that was best for them, their companion, and the mission at that point in time was a time-consuming process that took a few days each month even when half the mission was not involved each time. Even then, anecdotal evidence would show a few swings and misses.

    When I compound that thought with the need to call a couple thousand missionaries each week to over 350 missions, I’m simply baffled. And to think that The Twelve tackle that task when they have the downtime to be in front of the computer for a few hours. Add to that the other administrative tasks (temple sites/presidencies, Stk presidents, patriarchs?) that are unique to the 12-15 men whose health and geographic location allow participation.

    Am I recalling correctly that each temple sealing annulment comes across the desk of the First Presidency? That must feel like a tidal wave. And then they leave town three weekends a month to get some attention out to the rest of us.

    I think “surviving” is probably just the right word, and it does sound like dry administrative work. The result of their time and place-specific revelation though is to get the right “revelators” in place locally.

    It is a far cry from Joseph bottled up in a jail for five months churning out D&C 121-123.

  50. Since we believe in continuing revelation, I thought that we should all have the opportunity to have a big one, not the little administrative ones. I asked about women and the priesthood and wrote one.

    It was credible. It was accurate. It made me want that someone with real authority could have done the same.

  51. Perhaps another way to phrase Natalie’s question is: “Why have church leaders subsequent to Joseph Smith not elected to recommend more additions to the canon?”

    As to additions to the canon, we have WW’s Manifesto, JFS’s vision of the redemption of the dead, and SWK’s revelation on the priesthood. Of the three, the only one that is a revelation is JFS’s vision. The other two are press releases of revelations. (As has been noted above.)

    If we consider the deletion of the Lectures on Faith from the D&C, we as a people have had a net reduction in the words to our canon, not an increase.

    As a church that proclaims the existence of contemporary prophets and the importance of modern revelation, this seems odd.

    No one here doubts the on-going evidence of inspiration and revelation – at all levels.

    However, what is odd is that with the abundance of such divine inspiration and revelation to those sustained as PS&R’s only three instances have risen to the level worth of canonization. Three, in over 150 years? Three, over a time period in which the church as grown from a few hundred thousand to over 13 million members?

    Notably absent from our contemporary canon are such revelations as BY’s seniority system for church leadership succession and JET’s 1916 doctrinal exposition of the Father and the Son. (While we say that BY’s seniority system is a mere custom, I fully believe it to be a revelation.) I cannot think of any inspiration or revelation as basic and fundamental to church administration and doctrine as the method of leadership succession and the role of Christ in the Godhead.

    Is the threshold for canonization so high that not even these revelations qualify? Then how is it that the D&C continues to include such inconsequential revelations as the Lord’s calling of Bro Sidney Gilbert in Section 53? (I do find it puzzling that we have deleted the Lectures of Faith from our canon due to some inconsistencies, but continue to include sections such as Section 53. Why not just amend the LoF?)

    I am aware of President Hinckley’s comment to Larry King that the church does not need more revelation – we have enough. However, I find this troubling also in light of IINephi 29.
    Some may say that an unchanging canon may be evidence of its divinity and worth. This maybe so, but this point of view certainly flies in the face of over 170 years of LDS claims of modern revelation. I am not suggesting that the canon be added to frequently or amended frequently. Not at all. And, I am not suggesting that all additions to the canon be qualified with “Thus saith the Lord.”

    Furthermore, I am not suggesting that there is less revelation at the highest levels within the church; I am just saying that I am puzzled (perhaps as Natalie is) as to why no sermon, article, practice, custom, memo, administrative policy, or proclamation has been presented to the church for canonization, other than those above. Has there not been any other inspiration in 150 years worth of such status? I get the feeling that everything is, well, …kind of tentative and the church leadership is hesitant, for whatever reason, to adopt long-term (multi-generational) or fixed doctrinal or administrative positions. I am open to the idea that to fill its divine objectives the church is going through a long period of assimilation during which additions to its canon may not make sense.

  52. Thomas Parkin writes (#48), If we are not believing in Him, hearing Him and coming to understand Him, following Him, we will not be with Him … and everything else is moot.

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly in a general sense. Perhaps I’m taking the statement too literally, but failing to or even refusing to believe in Christ does not render everything else moot. The other things people do or don’t do continue to matter a great deal.

    And I couldn’t disagree more strongly in the more specific sense addressed by Natalie. The fact that women have the same opportunity as men to come to Christ does not make it right to deny equality opportunity to women in other aspects of life.

  53. 51 – Yes, Earl, that is a great way of rephrasing my basic question! Additionally, I suspect that part of my confusion over what counts as “revelation” has to do precisely with my confusion over how we decide what to canonize as such.

  54. In a very fundamental, practical way, “canon” and “continuing revelation” can function as conflicting ideals. Look at it this way, Natalie:

    Would most members who frequent this blog prefer more things that would be considered by many members to be the unalterable word of God or less? Would most people here prefer more “this is only valid the way to look at this concept” or less?

    We need to look at the practical effect of canonizing more revelations compared to canonizing less. Personally, I prefer less.

  55. You definitely have a point there, Ray.

  56. 54 – I think part of your conclusion rests upon the fact that a great deal of what is debated in this blog, is based upon the unqualified statements of former Church leaders. So if continuing revelation means more ambiguity over time, then you certainly have a point. However I find this to be a dissappointing perspective, given that generally revelation’s are thought to provide answers – unless of course we take Daniel into consideration, among others.

  57. Earl T (#51): nice comment.

    Ray (#54): I get your point, but something in my mind is still unsettled. Joseph Smith, in receiving doctrinal and administrative revelation for the Church, didn’t seem to worry all that much about how the revelation would be received by the members. And this was when the Church, with only a few thousand members, could be devastated by massive “apostasy”. I’m not sure I would necessarily like what I heard if the doctrinal revelations started clarifying issues that currently have significant grey areas, but it seems a bit odd to me that the concept of continuing revelation as proclaimed by JS could be be so completely emasculated in our day and age. It continues, after all, to be one of the big selling points of our theology, despite scant evidence of doctrinal expansion, at least in the canonic sense.

  58. Rameumptom says:

    Joseph’s role was to bring about the Restoration of the Gospel, which required restoring many lost things (priesthood, BoM, scripture, temple rites, etc).
    President Boyd K. Packer has stated that there is more revelation being received today than at any other time. Most of it, though, is in maintaining the Church and its practices, not in delivering new revelation.

    We do not need modern prophets to begin, “Thus saith the Lord”, as most LDS have learned to follow the prophets. This was something the saints struggled with during all of Joseph’s presidency, with several others claiming revelations through peepstones, etc. Still, others claimed he was a “fallen prophet.” We now know to study the General Conference reports for the inspiration and revelation given to us that we need to know now. While it isn’t necessarily couched in commanding tones, the teachings are authoritative and necessary to our times.

    Food storage, family home evening, modern small temples, the establishment of Area Authorities, the 1978 priesthood revelation, the Proclamation on the Family, Pres Hinckley’s powerful talk in 1998 on staying out of debt and preparing for a difficult economy, and many other talks and statements come to mind as being powerful and authoritative inspiration from the First Presidency.

    I have seen even more come from bishops, stake presidents and other leaders over the years, as they’ve given insight to me through the inspiration and revelation they’ve received.

    So, I guess I’m entirely rejecting the premise of this post. While most of our revelations today do not have to do with revealing lost scripture, etc., it is just as powerful in preparing us for the 2nd Coming.

  59. As an LDS, I find I am most comfortable with a fluid definition of “revelation” that changes to mirror the current mode of communication from contemporary Church leaders. Whatever the leaders are saying or doing, that’s my definition of “Revelation”. Coincidentally, I always find that modern leaders are receiving revelations and leading the Church therefrom.

  60. No. 54 & 55: Less? In light of IINephi 29? I realize that Nephi is speaking of the word of God to nations and not necessarily of the the latter-day church. However, Nephi does stike a rather strident tone in chapter 29 as he chides the latter-day Gentiles for rejecting “any more Bible.” Then, in verse 9 he quotes the word of the Lord (see attribution in verse 4):


    And, because I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another.”

    Divine inspiration does not need to be canonized before it is useful and insightful. And, I do not suggest that the inspired word of God in any form is of any lesser value if uncanonized.

    However, is no one puzzled that (other than for three exceptions) in over 150 years, NO sermon, article, practice, custom, policy, memo, or proclamation has been presented to the church as canon? We butt heads with evangelicals each day regarding our doctrine of an open canon, yet we do not add to our canon.

    Why then have an open canon to begin with (or why have a canon at all) if uncanonized, contemporary utterances of PS&R’s is sufficient? (It very well may be sufficient, and it very well may be the will of God. If so, then let’s at least canonized this notion.)

    Perhaps there is a comparison between the Jewish Torah and Talmud on the one hand, and the Latter-day Saint canon of four standard works and Conference Reports, on the other hand.

    Earl T.

  61. However, is no one puzzled that (other than for three exceptions) in over 150 years, NO sermon, article, practice, custom, policy, memo, or proclamation has been presented to the church as canon?

    I’m not.

    The only way I see to make TF:APttW “canon” is to add it to the D&C, and why do that? It only forces the issue on everyone in an official manner. Why is that better than leaving it as is – a proclamation signed by all of the apostles of the time? How is adding it to the D&C more “official” than having all signatures of the FP and 12 on it? Those who reject it as it currently is won’t accept it within the D&C; those who accept it is as won’t accept it more. What’s the point?

    D&C 58:26 says:

    For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

    Which is better – to pick and choose what should and should not be added officially to a bound and finite canon and take away the responsibility of the membership to accept and follow based on their own choice – or to leave everything in the terms of initial delivery and allow the membership to grapple with the exercise of their agency?

    Again, I prefer not being told what must be followed and what is ok to disregard – since canonizing some things would have the de facto effect of minimizing the importance of everything else? I want to make that determination on my own.

  62. How about we accept a looser definition of canon – one that encompasses all inspired statements uttered through the influence of the Holy Ghost? That would open up all kinds of interesting implications, including an openness to things that have been recorded outside our own Standard Works. I don’t think any of our modern-day prophets would object to that definition, since it appears to be the basis of how they tend to use the term now – and I certainly think that’s much closer to how Joseph Smith viewed the concept than “what is recorded in a few officially recognized books”.

  63. How about we accept a looser definition of canon – one that encompasses all inspired statements uttered through the influence of the Holy Ghost?

    Quality Control.

  64. #63 – Absolutely and unequivocally not.

  65. to add to #64 – I believe that is what the Brethren essentially are doing – opening up “scripture” to its purest and most basic definition and letting us digest what we will.

  66. Sure it is. Quality control has been a major issue since the beginning. The Hiram Page account illustrates this perfectly, as according to Joseph Smith the Lord through this event established a hierarchy of revelation authority. The Correlation committee today (which I believe is mainly composed of the twelve) must approve GA talks prior to conference, even for individual members of the Twelve. Keeping the message and culture of the Church intact and defined depends greatly on the programs and manuals for the many auxillaries it runs. I would even argue that this is partly why the current approved conduct for personal revelation is to only share with people you are really close too. They don’t really want to relive the kirtland day’s of too much zeal and too little knowledge.

    The majority of this post including many of the ensuing comments is focused on the acknowledgement that high magnitude revelations appear to be scarce these days, and more particularly the Brethren appear to be very guarded about how much ownership they are willing to take for even top level statements. This doesn’t sync well with “Absolutely and unequivocally not.”

  67. Thomas Parkin says:

    “he fact that women have the same opportunity as men to come to Christ does not make it right to deny equality opportunity to women in other aspects of life.”

    Who said anything about denying women equality? A closer better reading of what I wrote would reveal quite the opposite. It is actually grounds on which to establish equality. ~

  68. Cowboy, We obviously are interpreting “quality control” differently. It’s probably semantics, since I agree with your last comment.

  69. Canonization usually happens much after the fact, doesn’t it? Think of how much time passed before an individual or group examined loads of prophetic writings and decided which parts to canonize as the OT, the NT, the BOM, and even the PoGP. (The D&C is kind of atypical in this regard, if you ask me). This delayed approach is probably good; takes us out of the heat of the moment. So maybe we will someday see some of the items in Earl T.’s #51 in the canon, or any number of other things. Maybe the family proc., maybe not, etc.

  70. Left Field says:

    As to additions to the canon, we have WW’s Manifesto, JFS’s vision of the redemption of the dead, and SWK’s revelation on the priesthood. Of the three, the only one that is a revelation is JFS’s vision. The other two are press releases of revelations.

    I have to disagree there. First of all, OD2 is a letter to church leaders, not a press release. Every one of the four standard works already contain letters that have been canonized, so I don’t know any reason that a revelation cannot be expressed in the form of a letter.

    But more importantly, I don’t think any of the written texts we have constitute the revelation itself. Revelation is written as Paul said, not in ink or tables of stone, “but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

    Once the revelation is received, it might or might not be expressed in human language, but in any case, the revelation has been received long before ink ever hits paper. And when the ink does start flowing, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the revelation is expressed in the form of a letter, a press release, a history, a declaration, or some other form. All of them are valid ways of delivering the revelation to the intended audience.

  71. One more point:

    Most of the New Testament is comprised of letters written by individual apostles to members and congregations. Do we really want to follow precedent and canonize the General Conference addresses of the modern apostles – or go through a correlation process to determine which of them deserve canonization and which ones don’t?

  72. Ray, I’m just saying (#69) that some things make it into the canon, and others don’t, and that’s not necessarily an insult to the ones that don’t make it. As I understand it, we have an open canon, but that doesn’t refer to the interest we show to thousands of General Conference talks; the open canon means that we have the possibility of adding something to the standard works which make up our canon. Even with the doctrine of continuing revelation, the Church goes to the trouble of designating some material as binding, and setting a process for additions. Like you, I’m glad those additions don’t happen too often, but then historically, additions haven’t happened often or quickly anyway. In most cases, it takes time for messages to emerge as salient and enduring, so that people in authority can discern what should become official. Examples other than the Bible and BOM: the Articles of Faith and Joseph Smith’s 1838 account of his history were added decades after Joseph’s lifetime. Obviously most of his other writings have not been added.

  73. A. Perhaps this is a good part of the the ambiguity which Natalie expressed in her first posting: we do not feel the need to identify inspiration worthy of canonization.

    What is the difference between a closed canon and an open canon for which the qualifying threshold is set so high as to virtually preclude any additions? As an example, JET’s 1916 doctrinal exposition apparently does not make the grade, even after almost 100 years. In addition, President WW’s 1894 revelation to suspend sealings to church leaders and to, instead, seal children to parents does not make the grade.

    B. As another point, I am not suggesting that we conform our doctrine and theology based upon our apologic discussions with evangelicals, but …I am fearful that here again we are open to criticism that we speak in code words. We say that we have an open canon and that an open canon is necessary and important (we point to the restoration scriputes), but in the end, our actions say that for the last 150 years we have not deemed much of divine will (manifested in many forms) that is worthy of canonization.

    I am certainly not suggesting that additions to the canon be frequent, regular, or made in any prescribed manner. And, I am not suggesting that a large number of conference sermons be adopted into the canon – nothing of the sort. However, I can think of one sermon that might be considered for canonization – and that sermon is the one President JRC delivered in Aspen Grove in 1954 – regarding statements of church presidents. Prayerful petition to the Lord might help identify five or six other inspired works or actions worthy of canonization.

    Earl T.

  74. Almost from the first moment I heard Proclamation on the Family – it felt to me like “thus saith the Lord” and I was strongly impressed that one day it will become scripture.

    More LDS families have that posted up on the wall than any other LDS quote nowadays. That is giving it a lot of preferential treatment.

  75. #73: “we speak in code words….” This from Earl Tea?

  76. A distinction which I think is useful is that between “prophet” and “priest” (I think that this was proposed by some emininent scholar whose name I should rememebr, but I don’t). The “prophet” announces the word of the Lord and is often a charismatic and disruptive figure. The “priest” maintains and regulates the religious traditions originally enunciated by prophets. Both are essential roles. However, they are also quite distinct. In ancient Israel they were often held by different people who usually cooperated (Moses and Aaron or “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet” for anyone wants to hum along to Handel) but sometimes had conflicts.

    In modern Mormonism the two roles are combined. However, our custom of calling the President of the Church the “Prophet” obscures the degree to which his primary role is really to be “President of the High Priesthood of the Church” (D&C107:65). If one thinks of the Presidents of the Church primarily as the Presiding High Priest rather than the “Prophet” how they have functioned since Joseph makes a lot more sense. For the most part Presidents of the Church have been fulfilling the day-in-and-day-out “priest” function. To act as a “prophet” is disruptive and must be much less common.

    That said, the degree to which a President of the High Priesthood of the Church acts as a prophet also seems to depend on personality. Priestly chief administrative officers are not usually inclined to seek out disruption. When they do, it is often to more effectively move forward the interests of the corporate body, such as when Spencer Kimball actively sought out a revelation about race and the priesthood.

    Our modern Church leaders clearly do not have Joseph Smith’s urgent need to know on theological issues. For example, I think good arguments can be made that our doctrine is in need of clarification on matters like the implications of the KFD teachings on the history of God or the suggestion that there is a Heavenly Mother. Just as clearly men like Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson are not interested in exercising their prophetic function to inquire of the Lord on those subjects.

    I suspect that one of their successors will only do so when the administrative interests of the corporate body make it compelling that they do so. Circumstances which might make that compelling may be the exploitation of our theological confusion about the history of God by anti-Mormons on the Internet to impede missionary work, or the need to present a fuller model of the divine feminine in order to retain the allegiance of the ever increasing numbers of educated, single women in the Church.

    In the meantime, I content myself that the President of the Church is diligent in fulfilling his primary function as the Lord’s “Presiding High Priest.”

  77. Ray (#54),

    Do you prefer less canonization of revelations because you doubt the complete accuracy of such revelations? I don’t understand why you prefer less, if the revelation in question is truth from God. If it’s a matter of context and audience, we are able (and encouraged) to make those distinctions and related judgements of applicability to revelations in our current canon, and I believe future generations could do so to our received revelations also.

  78. Troykapoika says:

    Stop looking for “Thus saith the Lord,” and read D&C 1:38. “..whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

  79. #78: Google “The Profile of a Prophet” ( HUGH B. BROWN).
    If the Church has changed this, please show me where.

  80. Do you prefer less canonization of revelations because you doubt the complete accuracy of such revelations?

    #77 – Not at all – just the opposite, in fact. I just don’t care one bit if something is “canonized”. Why does it matter? What difference does it make? So what?

    Frankly, I think canonizing scripture is an apostate, incorrect tradition of our fathers. I don’t think the original motivation behind the D&C, for example, was to “canonize” scripture but rather simply to collect the current revelations into one book – to compile them for handy reference. I’m fine with that, but to then imbue them somehow with “extra authority” simply because they got slapped into that volume smacks of the exact same thing we decry in the compilation of the Bible – a process that was meant as much to exclude as it was to include.

    I’m saying that if we “canonize” something, we imbue it with “extra authority” and separate it from what isn’t canonized – and in the process we devalue other real and valid revelations that don’t get slapped into the new volume.

    Why should we do that? I have yet to read one single justification in all of these comments for doing that – other than angst over it not happening. I think it’s MUCH more interesting to consider why that angst exists than to fret over whether something has been canonized lately.

    Seriously, I couldn’t care less about canonization – except the flip side of why in the world it matters to us and the effect of canonization on what isn’t canonized. Personally, I think it doesn’t matter – not at all. Imo, a revelation has the exact same weight and import whether it’s canonized or not. So, why bother?

  81. In light of this discussion, it is interesting that the next volume of the Joseph Smith Papers on translations and revelations,includes some revelations that were not canonized (see here).

    Some of this all does boil down to semantics. The 1978 revelation on PH is no less significant in that it didn’t come as the voice of the Lord through SWK, but instead came as a confirming witness to the First Presidency and the members of the Twelve who were present. Try convincing me that BRM or others’ accounts of that moment don’t qualify as doctrinal revelation, even if it was resetting a doctrine that had been set aside or ignored for some time.

    I believe that there has been a trend towards “democratization” or decentralizing of revelation in the church that started probably a century ago or so, and has continued. Many things are still centralized, but there has been an increasing push of authority and responsibility out to stake presidents. Part of it is the size of the church and its global span, I’m sure, but I think there is more reality than ever before that revelation is the gift of all members of the church who live worthily and seek it. The “servants” discussed in D&C 138 isn’t limited just to the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve, but can and does, I believe, include stake presidents, bishops, relief society presidents, home and visiting teachers, and so on.

    We aren’t going to canonize all that. We need more to be agents to ourselves, to “act and not be acted upon”.

  82. Thanks for the clarification. I agree, by the way.

    How do you view the principle of “common consent” if not related to canonization? Is that what you were referring to when you asked if it is better to “allow the membership to grapple with the exercise of their agency” and stated “I want to make that determination on my own”?

    I don’t know the history of common consent in the LDS church, but according to their self-published history the RLDS/CoC underwent a change in the early 20th century from “common consent” meaning that “if the laws and rules put in place by authority were unpopular, individuals had the right to ignore them,” to meaning that “church members had the privilege and right to discuss and debate church laws and rules as they were being established, but once those laws were established, individuals had the right and responsibility of obeying them.”

    Do you follow the first view, maybe replacing “unpopular” with “determined to not be revelation”? I fall more into this camp, although I feel that the general LDS church membership is more in line with the CoC’s current position.

  83. Antonio Parr says:

    A non-Latter-Day Saint who reads General Conference addresses would almost certainly conclude that the sermons (outstanding as they otherwise might be) are not presented in the guise of prophetic revelations. If that same non-Latter-Day Saint were to read the early sermons of Joseph Smith, s/he would undoubtedly conclude that Joseph Smith thinks he is a prophet.

  84. Antonio Parr says:

    #79 – Ray, in response to your statement

    Seriously, I couldn’t care less about canonization – except the flip side of why in the world it matters to us and the effect of canonization on what isn’t canonized. Personally, I think it doesn’t matter – not at all. Imo, a revelation has the exact same weight and import whether it’s canonized or not. So, why bother?

    I respectfully reply that cannonization helps to clarify what is doctrine and what is dogma, and, for purposes of explaining ourselves to non-Latter-Day-Saints, it helps us to provide an official explanation of who we are and what we believe.

    The Church has canonized the Book of Mormon; the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. This process certainly doesn’t seem apostate to me . . .

  85. “I’m saying that if we “canonize” something, we imbue it with “extra authority” and separate it from what isn’t canonized – and in the process we devalue other real and valid revelations that don’t get slapped into the new volume.”

    I think you are making a very valuable point here. I suspect that our angst exists partly because, as you point out, we have accepted the feeling that canonized documents are more authoritative than others. And that, in turn, has created a culture where we see non-canonized inspiration and revelation as tentative, non-binding, or less authoritative, even though this means that the experience of only a very limited number of people is defining our faith. It is also a culture where we might accept as more authoritative than intended revelations that made it through the editing process into D&C.

    That said, I feel that many of the most accepted beliefs in contemporary Mormonism are less than spelled out in canonical scripture. For example, I believe that our conception of eternal families has been elaborated now far more than we find scriptural evidence for. So, we can also at times argue that we have beliefs that are fundamental to modern Mormonism, but that are not found in canonical texts. Indeed, we often tend to cherry-pick and distort the scriptures in an effort to make them conform to contemporary meanings. We are now like the Judicial branch, interpreting what the law is supposed to mean.

    But, I think my angst springs from a sincere desire to understand in what ways our leaders are still being unique witnesses of Christ. The major distinguishing feature of our church, for me, is the promise that God is still speaking to us, and I wish that I understood better what that means. As weird as it sounds, I wish I knew if current apostles have witnessed Christ more literally than I have.

    And, partly, my angst stems from the attempts I make to square my personal faith with Church-beliefs that are sometimes incompatible with it. Struggling to reconcile my belief systems often makes me wonder what is mere historical contingency v. something more “true.” Since most of my personal “revelations” have been about issues pertinent to only me, I have a strong testimony of God’s love for me and others and his role in our lives, but far less testimony of the big doctrinal theories and ordinances. So, I have often wondered about the status of those “big” revelations and their applicability to me.

  86. Antonio Parr says:

    Natalie:

    What a beautiful and honest post. I wish you joy in your journey.

    (P.S. As someone who knows quite well the process of angsting, I usually am able to survive such spells when I come across a particularly spirit-filled talk during General Conference. Although this does not answer the very legitimate and authentic questions posed in your post, it usually is enough to carry me through.)

  87. Natalie, to the extent that I have had personal revelations pertinent to me, I also have a strong testimony of God’s love for me and others.

    On the other hand, I am quite glad that Elder Packer’s personal feelings about funerals, for example, have not been canonized, and take great comfort in the general conference talks that are more about the mundane things that seem to be more personal and general, such as Elder Wirthlin’s talk where he had to be supported by Elder Nelson while he spoke about service, a pretty basic principle.

    I’m not so sure that knowing whether or not an apostle has seen the Savior is that important to my testimony, but their testimony of His reality and His power to help us change our lives is very important to me. The promise in D&C 93:1 is made to all of us:

    Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

    I know I’m not there yet, but I keep trying. I guess I find some comfort that some, perhaps many, of the apostles may have a testimony of the Savior’s reality without ever seeing him in this life. And it may also be the same with us. I prefer to think the divide between us isn’t really so great.

  88. Thanks for the comments and sympathy!

    Revelations are interesting on tons of literary levels, but I think I have found a better way to summarizes the two aspects of revelation that generate “angst” for me:

    1. The status of revelation – does what we hear currently come from God or not? What’s God, what’s human, what’s the limitations of language, and what do I really have to believe to be a member of the Church?

    2. The duration of revelation – assuming that God is speaking, for how long and in what contexts does what he says apply? I don’t see how anything expressed in limited human language and context can capture the fullness of meaning available in the eternal perspective.

  89. I respectfully reply that cannonization helps to clarify what is doctrine and what is dogma, and, for purposes of explaining ourselves to non-Latter-Day-Saints, it helps us to provide an official explanation of who we are and what we believe.

    The Church has canonized the Book of Mormon; the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. This process certainly doesn’t seem apostate to me . . .

    #84 – First paragraph: I respectfully reply that I don’t think it does – since we ignore whatever in the canon doesn’t fit our current understanding anyway (see Paul’s epistles and the practical, mortal application of Section 132).

    Second paragrpah: Canonizing the Book of Mormon didn’t exactly require picking and choosing among revelations, so it’s outside the scope of this discussion. I respectfully reply that we’ve stopped adding things to the canon, so maybe the “canonization” of the D&C and the PofGP actually was a natural result of the “canonization” habit that was carried over from the Christian Apostasy. Maybe we’ve moved past that as a church.

    (That is said mostly tongue-in-cheek. Mostly.)

    I feel that many of the most accepted beliefs in contemporary Mormonism are less than spelled out in canonical scripture.

    #85 – Good. That means the tent can be larger than it was before. That’s a good thing, imo.

    I actually understand what you wrote in #85, Natalie. I just don’t want everything (or almost anything, really) presented in black-and-white, “believe it exactly this way or else” terms. I want the principles taught and the rest left up to me to struggle to figure out. That’s where I’ve found the most personal growth, and I don’t want to lose that.

    #87 – I pretty much know when I see kevinf’s name on a comment I am going to be moved by it and nod my head throughout. This was no exception.

  90. A couple of quick responses, then I’ll shut up for a few minutes. :)

    1. The status of revelation – does what we hear currently come from God or not? What’s God, what’s human, what’s the limitations of language, and what do I really have to believe to be a member of the Church?

    That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma. Let me say simply that I like being able to reach those conclusions on my own – and I like that others can reach slightly different conclusions and still sit next to me in the chapel, in the classroom and in the temple. I can’t express how much I hope that doesn’t change through a comprehensive correlation and canonization of revelation.

    2. The duration of revelation – assuming that God is speaking, for how long and in what contexts does what he says apply? I don’t see how anything expressed in limited human language and context can capture the fullness of meaning available in the eternal perspective.

    I believe that revelation (at all levels – global to local to personal) lasts for those to whom it is given until it is replaced by further light and knowledge – exactly as we view stuff in the canon that we no longer practice and exactly as we view what one Bishop or RS President receives being replaced by what the next Bishop or RS President receives). I believe this specifically because I agree with your last sentence 100%.

  91. Thomas Parkin says:

    “ust as clearly men like Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson are not interested in exercising their prophetic function to inquire of the Lord on those subjects.”

    I don’t know that we are in a position to say what they do or know if their personal spiritual lives. What I do know is that it is incumbent upon us individually to seek personal revelation on _every_ matter of interest to us. And then to make sure we are keeping in the way that allows us to receive those revelations – including the patience implied in the phrase ‘enduring to the end.’

    I repeat what I said to Natalie. The tools are available to us individually if we are willing to pay the price and put them to use. If not, we are going to be waiting a long time for the GAs to spoon feed every piece information we desire. It isn’t their purpose. The foundational ideas were more or less less fixed into place 160 years ago. The GAs since that time have tried to lead us to the water, but only we can choose to drink. ~

  92. Antonio Parr says:

    Natalie’s questions are fair, especially when it comes to entering into dialogue with non-Latter-Day Saints. When we say that one of the distinguishing factors of our Church is our belief in continuing revelation, then a non-LDS is entitled to ask for examples of said revelations. If the revelations look like sermons that are not wholly different in appearance from sermons given by inspired but non-LDS religious leaders, then a non-LDS might understandbly ask in what way our sermons are qualitatively different than the sermons of a non-LDS Christians. It is easier to answer such questions when pointing to the more dramatic sermons/revelations of Joseph Smith than it is when referencing modern-day General Conference talks. That doesn’t make modern-day General Conference talks less valuable. It does, however, mean that it can be more challenging (when dealing with non-LDS friends) readily distinguishing modern LDS sermons from sermons by pastors/priests/ministers of other faiths.

  93. #92 – Agreed, Antonio.

    It also hurts our ability to have that type of conversation properly, imo, if we assume that only LDS members or prophets are entitled to revelation. Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that ministers and members of other faiths (and non-Christian religions) have and share revelation.

  94. [A] No. 79, Bob: Let me amend my above post (No. 73) to include a second recommendation for canonization: HBB’s “Profile of a Prophet”. One of my very favorites since I was a lad. I am glad you mentioned this timeless sermon. (Don’t get me wrong, ET’s favorites are just that – his opinion. They are not guidelines for canonization.) No flame wars here.

    #77 – Not at all – just the opposite, in fact. I just don’t care one bit if something is “canonized”.
    Why does it matter? What difference does it make? So what?
    Frankly, I think canonizing scripture is an apostate, incorrect tradition of our fathers.

    [B] Ray, in light of my prior protestations, I must say that, surprisingly, I agree with the substance of your above comment. How so? The root cause of my frustration stems from the fact that we DO make a big deal about our open canon, and, as you know, this is one of the major visible issues with which we contend with our non-LDS Christian brethren. The open canon is not a third-string issue. If so, then for goodness sake – apply the principle – and canonize something…! I am not saying how much or how little. I am not saying conf talks or Ensign articles. The church leadership should decide – not postpone. I also do not want our canon to be a compilation of do’s and don’t. I do not want the canon to be overbearing in length or complexity. I do not want the canon to become trivial.

    My own opinion – for as little is it worth – three additions in 150 year (less the deletion from the LoF) does not do justice to one of the foundational, defining principles of Mormonology. ON THE OTHER HAND,

    If the concept of canonization is an old world concept – with less relevance today and no need to add to it – I am fine with that… just SAY so, close the existing canon, and move on. Continue with an “oral, living canon” (not an open canon) – as we seem to be doing now. Again, in light of your comment in No. 77, I can support and be happy with this. But, in my opinion the church leadership should clarify whatever position they may want to take. (And for heaven sake… no need for a lengthy document – a short paragraph or several comments in conference would be fine. And I don’t expect anyone in SLC to ask me either..!)

    My reasoning for clarification in this matter is that, as I mentioned above, the concept and practice of canon is a foundational, defining principle and the church membership should understand just how the leadership views the canon, and additions there to. (If for no better reason than to make these posts unnecessary.) The canon is one of the pillars of our faith and theology. Both JFS and HBL stated that if they taught anything that was contrary to the canon, we should not believe it.

    I am personally uncomfortable with our current middle position. And, without putting words in Natalie’s mouth, I believe that this is part of the root cause of her concern.

    [C] Now all the above being said, let me back peddle somewhat. I well realize that information technology has come a long way since Lehi’s time. Perhaps, Ray’s comment should be considered in light of the advances in how prophetic utterances and guidance are recorded and distributed. Today, prophetic utterances are recorded permanently and distributed worldwide instantly. They are indexed and cataloged and knowable far beyond anything possible in the ancient world.

    However, when Father Lehi departed Jerusalem, in speaking of Laban’s record, he stated that it was better for Laban to perish, than a whole nation dwindle in unbelief, i.e., better that one man perish in Lehi’s attempt to acquiring the canon, than a whole nation dwindle in unbelief without the canon. A fairly high pedestal for the then canon. It is interesting that from among all of the then written scrolls and plates in Jeruslaem, Laban’s records (the canon) were deemed necessary to sustain the faith of the people in the journey. Apparently, Father (and Prophet) Lehi’s then contemporary words were not judged to be enough.

    As the days of the Nephites were coming to a close, Mormon was inspired to write a summary (both secular and spiritual) of God’s dealings with all of those who he brought forth to the New World. The Nephite record was voluminous – yet the charge was clear to Mormon, make one abridgement. A cave or vault of records – however inspired – was not readily usable – to teach the modern day Lamanites of the love of God for their forefathers. One abridged record (canon) was all that was needed.

    Christ chided the Nephites for, while remembering the teachings (oral tradition), omitted the words of Samuel the Lamanite from the Nephite canon.

    Today, we have caves and vaults full of inspired and inspiring prophetic utterances. With the rise of the internet, we have easier access to such records.

    However, while information technology is light years ahead of anything in Lehi’s or Mormon’s day, our own human capacity to learn, ponder, read, and study the words of the prophets remains steadfastly in the ancient and old world technology of “scrolls” and “movable-type”.

    Our contemporary vaults and caves of inspiration – now all Googlized – is vast and increasing. However, our human individual ability to digest this vast record is in many ways no further developed than was Mormon’s – search engines, bookmarks, and semi-annual Ensign conf reports notwithstanding. We need a written, added-to canon that we can place in our hands to help us distil the enduring, the timeless, enlightening, and the most-worth from all that God has revealed, now reveals, and will yet reveal.

    Ray, in a sense you are correct. By canonizing parts of God’s word, we do set it apart from His other words. Mormon did not have a problem with this, and I do not think that the Almighty has a problem with this either. I do not see the danger in church leaders prayerfully recommending to the church what they feel is of most worth. And, I do not feel it disrespectful to God to make prayerful judgments on His words. I believe that an oral, or living canon, while it may be adequate for some, is limited in terms of its power upon the mind and spirit, day-by-day, year-by-year.

    I understand your concern about being able to make these determinations on your own. I share your concern – greatly. In one sense, canon does set a perimeter around the camp. On the other hand, a canon may also expand the perimeter. It may establish or settle confusing or contradictory practice or theology to allow the perimeter to be extended. While it is our divine right to be able to figure things out in our own mind, a canon may help in that the church membership collectively says, in effect, look here, not there. It is empowering for us to make these inspired personal judgments and I personally believe that the camp is larger than most members and church leaders admit. However, there is a limit. My hope is that an added-to canon (not just more conference reports) will help clarify that limit.

    One thing more, I am frequently annoyed in GC when speaker after speaker says (referring to their topic at hand) “This is an important principle.” “That is essential.” “Nothing is more important than this…” In the end, it seems everything spoken is important, essential, or vital, and hence, I am still left to decide or apply using my own prayerful judgment what to me is essential. In one sense, GC becomes “hyper-revelatory”.

    Using the same visual images of prewar Germans carrying bags of hyper-inflated coins to buy a loaf of bread, the guidance, instruction, and words of wisdom (however inspired) from semi-annual GC can be at times overbearing and well, …inflationary. In my view, an added-to canon, would help us today, right now, make personal judgments with more conviction, and clarity – with constant dollars (excuse the pun). Your mileage (index –ops sorry again) may vary.

    So here is the back peddling: I can live without a canon and others can live without a canon… but, a printed and bound canon for the common membership inspires, teaches, guides, instructs, heals, and builds faith like nothing else.

    Earl T.

  95. Well said, Earl. It is more of a dilemma for the community than it is for some individual believers. My comments didn’t reflect that complexity.

  96. Eveningsun says:

    Yes, “a printed and bound canon for the common membership inspires, teaches, guides, instructs, heals, and builds faith like nothing else.” It also unifies and, to use an older and not wholly loved term, it correlates.

    What I’m seeing in all of this is a tension similar to one that’s been felt for a while now in the Southern Baptist Convention, a tension between a centralized, top-down model in which the church hierarchy is a supreme authority, and a decentralized, “priesthood of the believer” model in which individuals have access to revelation (and the capability and responsibility, as agents, to act upon that revelation). I don’t think I have to elaborate on the problems resulting from veering too far in either direction, except to say that this tension can pose a dilemma both for the Church (with its interest in clearly enunciating doctrine but also in fostering and respecting agency) and for individual believers (for whom revelation of whatever sort can be very powerful but not necessarily 100 percent in line with the Church).

    Seems to me it’s an unavoidable conflict, at least if the Church does not want to fundamentally alter its character (as many feel the SBC has done over the last couple of decades).

  97. Waaaait a second. Ray, you’re treating the canon like it’s supposed to be a creed. I don’t think of it that way.

    Ray says: “…we ignore whatever in the canon doesn’t fit our current understanding anyway (see Paul’s epistles and the practical, mortal application of Section 132).”

    I disagree. Just because something is in the canon doesn’t mean it’s to be taken literally. Can’t you imagine any other reason for keeping a story in the scriptures? Don’t you think there’s value in wrestling with the tensions within the canon? Don’t you want to explore whether a statement is cultural (e.g., women speaking in church) or eternal rather than yank it out or proclaim that the canon is just a mess? Can’t we remember that different church presidents have interpreted a given scripture to mean contrasting things over the decades? All of this reminds me that having a canon isn’t about having a fixed, correlated tome.

    Also: “Canonizing the Book of Mormon didn’t exactly require picking and choosing among revelations, so it’s outside the scope of this discussion.”

    I’m thinking about the process of the prophet Mormon picking and choosing material for the Book of Mormon. So I do think the Book of Mormon is relevant.

    Also: “…the ‘canonization’ habit that was carried over from the Christian Apostasy. Maybe we’ve moved past that as a church.”

    I think we still need canonization. Although we rarely use it, we still have the concept of common consent. If the general leaders are really serious about us accepting a specific interpretation, they must present it for a high-profile church-wide vote. We can’t lose that. It’s a safeguard.

  98. I agree with Natalie’s original contention. Modern prophets do not come forward the way Joseph or Brigham did. In one of the blogs on the Black priesthood ban it was suggested that Bro McConkie was asked to research the origin of the ban before thte change could be made. If true that is certainly a different approach than what we see in any revelation in scripture. Also the grooming commandment that was handed down almost sounded like personal preference rather than commandment from god.

    Since conference talks are now used the way we used to use the scriptures it is clear that church leaders regard that as canon. Sacrament and every open lesson period is now derived from conference talks.

  99. Antonio Parr says:

    Jerry made the following comment:

    Since conference talks are now used the way we used to use the scriptures it is clear that church leaders regard that as canon. Sacrament and every open lesson period is now derived from conference talks.

    This practice — which is certainly the norm in my ward — has hastened a dramatic deterioration in the quality of Sacrament Meeting talks. Asking a member to give a talk on someone else’s talk usually results in someone reading a talk that we all have seen and read in the very recent past. It makes for a very dull and monotonous meeting, and further deprives the speaker of the sense of wonder and adventure and stewardship that members felt when they were merely asked to give a talk, for the most part leaving the topic up to the individual’s faith and the workings of the spirit.

    The other problem with “talks-on-talks” is that it compromises the primacy and deep wisdom of scripture — passages that have withstood the test of time — in preference for a months-old talk that history may prove to be one of the speaker’s weakest moments. Why not, instead, draw upon the very best of General Conference addresses (even if they happen to be 5 or 10 or 20 years old), the very best of scriptures, and the very best effort of the speaker to incorporate his/her own spiritual journey into the sermon?

    Finally, the talks-on-talks approach also reduces the focus of Christ in our meetings. With the combination of the Joseph Smith manual in Priesthood/Relief Society; the Sunday School focus on the D&C/modern Church history/Joseph Smith; Sacrament Meeting thus becomes the only meeting where we can talk about Jesus of Nazareth in any focused way. I attend 3-hour blocks where there is little-to-no mention whatsoever of Jesus Christ. In part, this is because all 3 speakers in Sacrament Meeting have been asked to speak on tithing or word of wisdom or priesthood or celestial marriage, etc. The net result is that a visitor could attend all 3 meetings and walk away with some understandable confusion about the import of Christ in LDS theology and worship.

    The talks-on-talks approach is a disappointing one, and one that I hope will be soon recognized as a failed experiment.

  100. Ray, you’re treating the canon like it’s supposed to be a creed.

    I obviously wasn’t clear. If that conclusion came from my comments, I completely messed up my comments.

  101. Larry the Cable Guy says:

    I don’t know if this helps on a personal level Natalie, but I find these trends interesting:

    We have canonized 135 documents from Joseph Smith, and once document each from J. Taylor, B Young, W Woodruff, J F Smith, SW Kimball.

    The great majority of J Smith’s 135 sections come before the end of 1833 at which time the church had around 3,100 members — in other words, about the size of a modern stake.

    In 1836 Joseph was able to see the completion of the temple and also enjoy a relatively stable quorum of the twelve from that time forward. We have only 22 canonized documents from Joseph after that year, and many of them are further elaborations on The Temple (baptisms for the dead, celestial marriage) or the Twelve (replacements, mission assignments). Exceptions include the Liberty Jail letters, the nature of angels, and identification of A-o-D.

    It’s oversimplifying a bit, but the “canonization curve” makes an abrupt shift in the mid 1830′s, and I suppose it has less to do with Joseph looking after more members than it does with the establishment of the Temple and the Twelve. We are encouraged to be seekers individually, but it seems that general doctrinal pronouncements have been few and far between since even the latter part of Joseph’s presidency.

  102. I remember hearing that just because we don’t hear about the general authorities speaking directly with the Lord nowadays, that doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy the same type of relationship that earlier leadership has.

    I understand your point–its an interesting conundrum, and I believe you’re right, things shift as the church’s demographics have changed and we have geographically stretched. Sometimes the hubs and I joke that most of what we hear is for Utah (having lived there for a long time and also lived in the ‘mission field’). While we do love to hear from our leaders and yearn for their instuction, I think we’re almost to the point that the Br. of Jared was at–we have all the knowledge and instruction that we need to get on with our life and to be productive members in this church organization. If we feel we need more significant instruction we are encouraged to seek this out thru study, prayer, and temple attendance. I think the leadership has put this responsibility on our shoulders. Personally sometimes I’d really rather someone else take on the burden of being in the right spirit to be receiving that revelation–but I guess that’s probably the sorting of the wheat from the chaff right? LOL!

    Thanks for the great postulation! Really got my brain going!

  103. Jesus often spoke in parables. A modern equivalent might be speech that is filled with “I think”, “it may be that”, and other expressions of uncertainty.

    I strongly suspect that anyone receiving extensive revelation would not be allowed to admit that revelation — except with a few “select” people.

  104. No. 99:

    Finally, the talks-on-talks approach also reduces the focus of Christ in our meetings. With the combination of the Joseph Smith manual in Priesthood/Relief Society; the Sunday School focus on the D&C/modern Church history/Joseph Smith; Sacrament Meeting thus becomes the only meeting where we can talk about Jesus of Nazareth in any focused way. I attend 3-hour blocks where there is little-to-no mention whatsoever of Jesus Christ. In part, this is because all 3 speakers in Sacrament Meeting have been asked to speak on tithing or word of wisdom or priesthood or celestial marriage, etc. The net result is that a visitor could attend all 3 meetings and walk away with some understandable confusion about the import of Christ in LDS theology and worship.

    Here is a not so untypicial LDS sacrament meeting (some variation on this theme):

    1. The program cover has a picture of Joseph Smith.
    2. The opening song is “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.”.
    3. The youth talks are themed, “What the prophet has said about preparing for a mission.”
    4. The first adult talk is a woman who speaks on, “How following the prophet strengthens the home.”
    5. The rest hymn is “Oh How Lovely Was the Morning”.
    6. The second adult talk is, “Listening to a prophet’s voice”.
    7. The closing hymn is “We Ever Pray for Thee Our Prophet Dear.”

    Within the past two years, while I cannot remember the date or session, I listened for and heard the word “Christ” mentioned once at the standard closing. The remainder of the prayer was thanksgiving and blessings for the church leadership and PS&R’s.

    Earl T.

  105. Every time I hear a Prophet speak, I get excited. I think, “Maybe I’ll hear some new revelation from God.” I usually don’t get anything new. I hear a great talk about some gospel principle with some cute stories added in. It’s a talk I could have heard from my stake president.

  106. Here is an interesting story I heard today on NPR on the topic of canonization:

    Apparently while Thomas Jefferson was the president, he decided to “edit” his own version of the Bible. By cutting and pasting, he removed all the parts he felt were erroneous and kept the parts he thought were valuable. In his case, this meant preserving Christ’s teachings, but removing references to Church hierarchy and Christ’s divinity.

    Anyway, slightly off-topic, but interesting…

  107. Most likely many of us wouldn’t accept the answer/revelation that was being given and it would likely renew condemnation and scorn upon the Church for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean we’re hiding and not doing what we should, but I am pretty certain if the revelations that your thinking you’d like to have start coming (big ground breaking type things) then many of us would probably be wincing from the public impact.

    Of course, the standard answers apply here as well. Revelation continues, its both personal and local (wards and stakes), etc.

    But really, as much as I’d like the lost book of X to be restored, I’d also not be ecstatic about the beating I’d be taking for it publicly. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take it and endure to my fullest. But it would still be tough!

  108. #104 – I attend that meeting about once or twice per year. I have no problem with that, since most sacrament meetings are centered on a theme in many units I attend. The other 50-51 meetings are about faith, repentance, the Holy Ghost, revelation, and other Christ-centered topics.

    Frankly, I think the idea that we are (or appear to be) a prophet-worshiping, Jesus-de-emphasizing religion is a straw man, plain and simple.

  109. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray –

    We may not be a “Jesus-de-emphasizing” religion, but there are many, many wards and stakes that almost systematically ignore the life and teachings of Jesus to the point that one would be hard pressed to see how Jesus is in the center of the religion of the people of that ward/stake.

    Elder Oaks once gave a talk on this very topic, and stated that Latter-Day Saints are under condemnation for their neglect of Christ and His atonement. (He even noted deficiencies in prior General Conference addresses with respect to their focus on this essential topic.) Elder Oaks’ talk can be found here:

    http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=7103

    Thus, I respectfully disagree with your characterization of complaints about the absence of Christ-centeredness at some wards/stakes as a “straw man” argument. I believe that it is a dangerous problem/practice to have Sacrament Meetings that don’t have as their primary focus Christ and His atonement. In fact, I think that such a practice is scandalous, and could even be characterized fairly as heretical and apostate.

    Check out General Conference talks on this topic by Elder Holland and Elder Oaks (in addition to the above-mentioned talk by Elder Oaks at BYU). There is simply no excuse for Sacrament Meetings to be anything other than Christ-centered.

  110. Antonio Parr says:

    P.S. This frequent (but certainly not universal) problem of an absence of Christ-centeredness in Sacrament Meeting becomes especially acute during years when the Church is not studying the New Testament. One can go years in the Church not hearing the parables of Christ, or about His miracles, or about His unique teachings, or about his dialogue and interaction with others during His mortal ministry. Years. Christ is the life and the light of the world; the living water; the Examplar. To speak so infrequently about the character and life of the one who saves us is nothing short of tragic.

  111. One can go years in the Church not hearing the parables of Christ, or about His miracles, or about His unique teachings, or about his dialogue and interaction with others during His mortal ministry.

    Respectfully, that might be the case in a ward here and there, but I don’t believe it. I’ve been in the Church for decades, lived in multiple countries and states, wards and stakes, and that is 100% opposed to my own experience. I understand the purpose of hyperbole, but this type of hyperbole carries a message that is not benign. It’s pernicious, and it greatly exaggerates what I agree has been a problem – and it’s not supported AT ALL by the article you link in your comment. (Read the whole talk, especially the part after [VI] in the link. It’s quite interesting when you actually read the article you linked.)

    Just as a simple example of the danger of such extreme statements, it is impossible to read and/or study the BofM and the D&C without hearing about Christ’s unique teachings. Let me repeat that: It’s impossible. I also believe it is impossible to attend sacrament meeting for more than a few weeks (let’s say a month, just for the sake of granting the extreme) in any ward or branch in the world without having the same experience. The teachings of Christ are central to the Book of Mormon and the D&C, and the lessons are arranged by topic – meaning the unique teachings of Christ are the center of nearly all Sunday School lessons, about half of the PH and RS lessons, nearly all Primary lessons, and many of the Sacrament Meeting talks.

    Again, your quote above is hyperbole, and it’s dangerous hyperbole on a public blog like this – where those who are not members can read it and assume you are correct, when you categorically are wrong. It is impossible to go years in this church and have the experience you describe – flat-out impossible.

  112. PS. Claiming we should study the Bible more is one thing (and I agree totally that members need to understand the Bible better than we collectively do), but then to link Elder Oaks’ talk about re-emphasizing the Book of Mormon would reach up and bite you in the butt. If you are going to link that article, it’s hard to turn around and complain that the Church spends an entire year studying the Book of Mormon and doesn’t study the Bible at all that year. Your actual complaint is essentially, “We don’t study the Bible enough,” NOT, “We don’t teach of Christ enough.”

    There’s a huge difference between those two complaints, and conflating them is what I oppose.

  113. Ray, I have to side with Antonio. The Church is “self-centered”, not “Christ-centered”. It’s about what Christ can /did for me (self). It’s about how I (self) can be more Christlike.

    I too recall many years/sermons that centered on bettering one’s self, than focused on Christ’s teachings or his life.

  114. Antonio Parr says:

    While I am reluctant to disagree with someone who is agreeing with me (that doesn’t happen very much on this Board!), I did not and do not wish to indict the entire Church with respect to the issue of Christ-centeredness. Indeed, there are ample talks by numerous Church leaders (not to mention the entire Book of Mormon) who/which make it crystal clear that the light by which we are to see spiritual truths is the light of Christ, and that the highest form of worship (in addition to obedience) is talking of Christ and rejoicing in Christ and remembering Christ.

    My unfortuante experience is that many, many wards and stakes fail to make Christ and His life and His atoning sacrifice the center of meetings. When Christ is removed from the center of Sacrament Meeting, in particular, then I believe that something is happening that is entirely inconsistent with the Gospel (i.e., good news) of Christ. I also believe that our missionary program is suffering because of the absence of Christ-centeredness that is all too frequent in the average US LDS Sacrament Meeting.

  115. Antonio Parr says:

    No. 113 was a response to No. 114 (i.e., Bob’s post of February 17, 2009 at 3:00 p.m.), which apparently hasn’t happened yet . . .

  116. If getting out of debt, preparing for the future, and strengthening your family are revelations, then how is this any different from teachings of other religious leaders today? I could receive similar ‘revelations’ at any other church.

    I agree with #13:
    “Todays revelations might have more to do with administration than with doctrine.”

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