In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the question of who said a statement is often more essential than the merit of the statement’s contents in determining whether or not that statement will be received as authoritative. Our prophet is authorized to receive revelation for the church in a way that individual members are not, and while many of the things he says and we accept as doctrine are inspired and thus have high content merit, it is probable that we also canonize comments that he did not intend to be accepted as doctrine. Due to the potential for each of the prophet’s words to take on doctrinal weight that can impact the course of Mormonism, the prophet and other authorities whose words carry similar degrees of weight must necessarily be restrained in their speaking in order to prevent the canonization of mere speculation, personal opinion, or off the cuff remarks.
But while church authorities must operate within a context that requires restraint, common church members face few serious consequences when they publicly express, create, and invent new ways of viewing their religion. In a sense, common members are more free than church leadership to follow or experiment with new, intriguing intellectual and gospel paths. This leads me to a thought: In order for the gospel to become more complete and for us to reach our fullest understanding, do God and his prophets need common church members like us to experiment more upon the word by talking about and imagining our own religious stories in order to create a context in which the prophet can eventually ask the questions common members raise and which good ideas can be discovered? In other words, do common members need to motivate revelation by asking questions and writing new stories that can eventually shape our religious moment and give the prophet a context to respond to?
On a recent post, Mark A. Clifford wrote a comment that has stuck with me and motivated me to write this post: “As wonderful as Latter-day Saintism is as a religion, it is by far more awesome as an enactment. Joseph Smith, instead of merely being “the Prophet”, is also the “way to be a prophet.” His revelations can be understood to describe, and thereby limit, what is true. But for me they do not function best in that role. Rather, they are meant to show the way to know. And they invite us to become “prophetic knowers” ourselves. They activate the imagination, which is an essentially religious faculty.”
Mark’s words speak beautifully for themselves. And if we accept his paradigm, then maybe future revelation depends less on knowing well what we already have and waiting for the prophet to ask for and receive revelation than it does on us following Joseph Smith’s example by inquiring of God and writing our own religious stories that might one day pave the way for new scripture–or even become scripture. To put it in simpler terms, if we really were acting upon the knowledge God already revealed to us, then wouldn’t we be following Joseph Smith’s lead and asking for more?