Divine Quiescence in the Last Dispensation

This is another installment in a series of posts based on the monthly themes from, “Come, Follow Me,” the new youth curriculum for the Church. Here are the previous posts for January, February, March and April.

Boyd K. Packer

The topic for May is “Prophets and Revelation.” (By the way, this topic highlights the genius of providing this curriculum on-line, as some of the links point to messages that were given just weeks ago in general conference. Never has Church curriculum been so agile and timely.) One of the links points to Boyd K. Packer’s most recent testimony, “These Things I Know.” I am struck by the sincerity of his concluding words:

Of all that I have read and taught and learned, the one most precious and sacred truth that I have to offer is my special witness of Jesus Christ. He lives. I know He lives. I am His witness. And of Him I can testify.

It is instructive to set that simple but very direct testimony next to another address by Pres. Packer, speaking in general conference in 2007. He is discussing what it means to be a special witness:

I was called to meet with President David O. McKay. He took both of my hands in his and called me to be one of the General Authorities, an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

A few days later, I came to Salt Lake City to meet with the First Presidency to be set apart as one of the General Authorities of the Church. This was the first time I had met with the First Presidency—President David O. McKay and his counselors, President Hugh B. Brown and President Henry D. Moyle.

President McKay explained that one of the responsibilities of an Assistant to the Twelve was to stand with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as a special witness and to bear testimony that Jesus is the Christ. What he said next overwhelmed me: “Before we proceed to set you apart, I ask you to bear your testimony to us. We want to know if you have that witness.”

I did the best I could. I bore my testimony the same as I might have in a fast and testimony meeting in my ward. To my surprise, the Brethren of the Presidency seemed pleased and proceeded to confer the office upon me.

That puzzled me greatly, for I had supposed that someone called to such an office would have an unusual, different, and greatly enlarged testimony and spiritual power.

It puzzled me for a long time until finally I could see that I already had what was required: an abiding testimony in my heart of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer.

… I have the witness that would qualify me for the calling I have. I’ve had it since I met the First Presidency those many years ago.

Marion G. Romney

Next, Pres. Packer quotes Marrion G. Romney, who, speaking of an experience of being touched by the Holy Ghost while gazing at the night sky “as a missionary boy in Australia,” said that “he did not know any more surely then as a member of the First Presidency that God the Father lives; that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father; and that the fulness of the gospel had been restored than he did as a missionary boy 50 years before in Australia.”

More recently, David A. Bednar has spoken to a similar theme, distinguishing between the “immediate and intense” appearance of light, and the “subtle and gradual discernment of light.” He pointedly quotes yet another prophet, Joseph F. Smith:

As a boy I would frequently ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing… But the Lord withheld marvels from me and showed me the truth line upon line…. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this…. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess, and by that principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth that will stay with them, and it will make them to know the truth as God knows it, and to do the will of the Father as Christ does it, and no amount of marvelous manifestations will ever accomplish this.

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith

…It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.

Our current leaders are certainly not ruling out the possibility of God manifesting himself openly and directly (indeed, elsewhere in the curriculum—see Elder Christofferson’s talk—this point is clearly made), but they seem to be teaching that this is not a trend, even among the apostles. We are living in a period when direction from heaven is to be had through the subtle and quiet operations of the Holy Ghost rather than by glorious, open visions or commanding voices that are “as the rushing of great waters.” Even a witness as emphatic as Elder Holland’s most recent one still stops well shy of Smith’s and Rigdon’s 1832 ocularity, as they exclaim, “We saw him, even on the right hand of God” (D&C 76:23).

I have a friend who in all candor tells me that he finds this idea troubling, disappointing. Why, he asks, don’t our prophets act like prophets used to? Where are the gifts of old, the signs and wonders from heaven and new books of scripture that we still want to associate with the titles of “prophet, seer, and revelator”? It seems cold comfort to observe that Mormonism is not unique in its shift from charismatic gifts to routinized institutional protocols, whereby the Handbook of Instructions gets more regular updates than the revelations in the canon. Is there anything uplifting to be said about this?

I want to offer two observations that I have found both challenging and oddly helpful. The first is a feature of the idea of “dispensation” that we often overlook in the Church. We speak of dispensations as times during which divine truths are revealed to humanity. The opening of a given dispensation is often necessary because previously revealed truths have been lost due to apostasy. We find this pattern occurring throughout sacred history, with periods of apostasy coming about as the inevitable outcome of human weakness and arrogance. We seldom pause, though, to ask what it is that permits human folly to take over to the extent that it does. The uncomfortable idea is that God, by deliberate inaction, by lack of intervention—and therefore a kind of absence—has allowed such periods of darkness to come about. God is not the direct cause of apostasy, but its absent preventer, and this seems to be a recurring pattern.

Other Christian traditions have been more up front about their notice of this cycle of dispensation and apostasy than we tend to be. The widely influential Protestant Scofiled Reference Bible (1909), for example, stated that, “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God” (p. 5), and the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements adds that “Each dispensation has its point of beginning, its test, and its termination in judgment due to humanity’s continual failure.” [1]

The “test,” of each dispensation is, I take it, a sometimes very lengthy quiescence on the part of God following an initial period of self-manifestation to some portion of humanity. I won’t go into specific examples here, but the Scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, seem to show this pattern very clearly. What is less obvious, perhaps, is whether Latter-day Saints today believe that the “test” part of this dispensational pattern applies to us—to our privileged dispensation. After all, is not the dispensation of the fullness of times supposed to be different from every other in that it will culminate in Christ’s return in triumph? Do not the prophets and apostles now have a greater measure of physical security than in the past, and are we not assured that the Lord will not suffer them to lead the Church astray? This brings us to the second observation I wanted to offer.

There is a parable that we never talk about. It is one of only three in the Doctrine and Covenants, right in the middle of one of our most important revelations—“The Olive Leaf.” Section 88 expounds, among other things, on the pervasive nature of the Light of Christ and on Christ’s role in the creation and redemption of his Father’s kingdom; on the manner of God’s governance of all the universe by law; and on the relationship that all intelligent beings bear to that law. There is a discussion of the vastness and yet perfect order of God’s creations, or “kingdoms,” including the earth and all the planets. And then, the Lord says this:

(46) Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand? (47) Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

(51) Behold, I will liken these kingdoms unto a man having a field, and he sent forth his servants into the field to dig in the field. (52) And he said unto the first: Go ye and labor in the field, and in the first hour I will come unto you, and ye shall behold the joy of my countenance. (53) And he said unto the second: Go ye also into the field, and in the second hour I will visit you with the joy of my countenance. (54) And also unto the third, saying: I will visit you; (55) And unto the fourth, and so on unto the twelfth.

(56) And the lord of the field went unto the first in the first hour, and tarried with him all that hour, and he was made glad with the light of the countenance of his lord. (57) And then he withdrew from the first that he might visit the second also, and the third, and the fourth, and so on unto the twelfth. (58) And thus they all received the light of the countenance of their lord, every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season— (59) Beginning at the first, and so on unto the last, and from the last unto the first, and from the first unto the last; (60) Every man in his own order, until his hour was finished, even according as his lord had commanded him, that his lord might be glorified in him, and he in his lord, that they all might be glorified.

(61) Therefore, unto this parable I will liken all these kingdoms, and the inhabitants thereof—every kingdom in its hour, and in its time, and in its season, even according to the decree which God hath made.

(62) And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near— (63) Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you….

As I said, there is an odd silence surrounding this parable. It doesn’t even have an agreed-upon name. I am calling it the Parable of the Twelve Servants, because that seems less of a mouthful than “The parable of the man sending his servants into the field and visiting them in turn,” which is the phrase used in the chapter summary of our current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. There are no footnotes or cross-references to the main body of the parable; and, so far as I am able to discover, it has not been cited in general conference since Orson Pratt used it in the 1870s and 80s to make a case that there were children of God inhabiting planets besides our own. Pratt  has been followed by a few other commentators since then in making this same point in various publications, but no one has ventured beyond that to guess at the real point of the story. Why this stunning lack of attention? Is there something disquieting about it that we would rather not talk about?

At the time this revelation was given, Joseph Smith was preparing a people to enter into the presence of the Lord. In 1829 he had received priesthood authority from heavenly beings. The following year he had revealed that the Lord intended to gather his Saints in Ohio so that that they might be “endowed with power from on high” (D&C38:32). In 1831 another revelation contained “a promise. . . unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears and humble yourselves before me. . . the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am“ (D&C 67:10). In 1832, just a few months prior to the “Olive Leaf,” a revelation on the priesthood (D&C 84) made clear that “the priesthood held the sacral power to bring people into the presence of God” and that “in the ordinances thereof the power of godliness is manifest”[2]. Then, with the “Olive Leaf,” all of the anticipatory language of the previous revelations crystalized into a “great and last promise” (D&C 88:66–68) that the Lord was willing to appear personally to those who became sanctified and had their eye “single to God.”

With all of this as background, the parable of the twelve servants, preceding this promise as it does, serves to highlight the specialness of the opportunity that the Saints at that time were being afforded. The Lord, it seems to be saying, makes his rounds, from one kingdom—meaning from one world or planet—to the next; and while he is ministering in person to one kingdom, the others must of necessity wait their turn. With the calling of Joseph Smith and the opening of a new dispensation, and now with a temple being built, the message to the Saints was to prepare themselves, because their turn to enjoy the actual presence of the Lord was soon coming. It was a window of opportunity that would open for a time and then close again. In the spring of 1836, upon the dedication of the Kirtland temple, the day of the Lord’s appearing to some of the Saints did come, attended by other heavenly manifestations to many others.

But if there is a positive aspect to the parable of the twelve servants—namely, that the Lord will come in person to visit each of his kingdoms in turn—there is also the more troubling indication that, after a period of time (an hour, in the parable, but perhaps something less definite in Earth time), he would withdraw and be absent from that kingdom as he went on to another. Perhaps what makes us uncomfortable in this parable is the intimation that the season of open visions and apocalypses has passed for the Church, and that we are to be treated just like every other dispensation in having to pass through a period of testing, just doing our best with what we have been given for a while.

What might that mean? It might mean that for the time being we will need to rely—both as individuals, and as a people—on the scriptures we have and on the very subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit that Christ promised he would send his disciples when he left them in Jerusalem. It might mean that the Church’s unprecedented use of new communication technologies and travel to weave the global Church together will prove crucial. And it might deepen our gratitude for science, the arts, and other faith traditions, since these can be a means of gaining insight and knowledge to address timeless needs, discover beauty, and enrich our spiritual lives. For me, it lends a more solemn hue to the recent emphasis on councils at all levels in the Church as a means of collectively detecting and triangulating the Spirit’s whisperings. There is something remarkable in the way Joseph Smith, or the Lord through him, prepared his people well in advance for the day when the charismatic moment of the restoration would pass. He did this by establishing, during his lifetime, a system of councils for the governance of the Church that is still in place. The Prophet’s relief at being able to roll off the responsibility for the kingdom from his shoulders to that of the Twelve has been well documented.

So, I don’t believe we should be afraid of failing this test, if that is what it is. There are rich promises held out to people of covenant in this dispensation. By it’s very presence in our canon, the parable of the twelve servants assures us that, even as the pattern of God’s presence and quiescence continues, Christ has not left us comfortless, and the master will come round again. But until then, we are also on notice that if we begin to set aside or even simply misinterpret the subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit, there is no guarantee that God will come thundering from the heavens to set us straight. It behooves us, therefore, to watch and pray always.

NOTES

1. Scofiled Reference Bible (1909), 5; Arrington, F.L., “Dispensationalism,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1988).

2. Richard Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 310–15. See D&C 109 & 110.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I really like this, Morgan. I’m not fond of the presumption so common among our people that the Apostles have weekly afternoon tea with the Savior. I prefer to think that that Apostolic witness of the Christ is similarly available to us all.

  2. Adam Ellsworth says:

    This is a very timely and insightful post for me. Like your friend, I, too have been troubled by the apparent lack of genuine “revelatory” revelation (as opposed to what I call “revelation-by-tradition,” where we treat something that has gone on a long time as a revelation from God). I don’t know if this post is the right answer and that we are in a period of relative withdrawal of God from us to try us, but it is a good answer. I do believe that God has a pattern of withdrawing from us as individuals, and he may do the same, to some extent, as a Church to try us.

  3. kaphor says:

    God has not withdrawn we have, is the other end of the spectrum. The truth lies someone in the middle. Or has the day of miracles ceased?

  4. Morgan, this is a beautiful post and much of it resonates with me. Still…from personal experience, as well, personal discussions with others, it is clear that charismatic experiences still occur. The interesting question for me is what has led the great shift from public testimony of such things to keeping them “sacred,” both by the lay members as well as by those who are in authority.

  5. Jim, your comment might go some distance to answering the concern I hear in kaphor’s response (echoing Moroni 10:8–26), and I agree with you that such gifts do seem to be still with us, though, as you say, on a much more private basis. Why so, indeed? Might the shift turn out to have been necessary or inevitable? Or merely practical?

  6. I much appreciated this. It reminds me of Mark 13:34, and your message of watch and pray always reminds me of Mark 13:35-37–

    Mark 13
    34 For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.

    35 Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:

    36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.

    37 And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.

  7. Excellent post. In the early days of my blogging (2005 is decades ago in Internet time), I wrote a bit about keeping divine knowledge quiet, which relates to charismatic experiences.

    http://www.millennialstar.org/revelation-and-keeping-your-mouth-shut/

  8. Howard says:

    Spiritual gifts vary greatly, some are given more or different gifts than others and some work harder or select different paths to obtain them but these gifts are not conferred by the process of ordinaing and sustaining. The great Prophets were selected and trained by God himself. So profound spiritual gifts and experiences can threaten the seniority driven administrative hierarchy of the church because ordainig, sustaining and seniority cannot ensure that the President is also the man with the greatest spiritual gifts.

  9. marginalizedmormon says:

    This is very well done, and I generally agree. I could do without the reference to Schofield. I can’t take him seriously as a scholar–
    Many Christians do not. If I were to mention his personal life, someone would come back and say that anti-Mormons say the same things about Joseph Smith.
    I am aware that LDS scholars have taken him seriously, however, which is why Arrington used his reference ‘bible’ or his commentary.
    The fact is that the word dispensation is used in the bible, as well, so it isn’t necessary to rely upon Schofield to get the point.
    It is used in the D&C, too, of course. Schofield may have altered the meaning somewhat. He had a powerful influence on protestant Christianity. LDS should have enough without Schofield.

  10. Very interesting. Thanks. Your interpretation of this parable matches well with the talk by Elder Eyring in the “Come Follow Me” materials for the month.

    “My three-year-old granddaughter illustrated the power of innocence and humility to connect us with God. She went with her family to the open house of the Brigham City Temple in Utah. In one of the rooms of that beautiful building, she looked around and asked, “Mommy, where is Jesus?” Her mother explained that she would not see Jesus in the temple, but she would be able to feel His influence in her heart. Eliza carefully considered her mother’s response and then seemed satisfied and said, “Oh, Jesus is gone helping someone,” she concluded.

    No pavilion obscured Eliza’s understanding or obstructed her view of reality. God is close to her, and she feels close to Him. She knew that the temple is the house of the Lord but also understood that the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ has a body and can only be in one place at a time.3 If He was not at His house, she recognized that He must be in another place. And from what she knows of the Savior, she knew that He would be somewhere doing good for His Father’s children. It was clear that she had hoped to see Jesus, not for a confirming miracle of His existence but simply because she loved Him.”

    Whether He is on another planet or with someone else on ours, we have to wait for our turn and rely on His oneness with the Holy Ghost until then.

  11. Excellent thoughts, Morgan. I think your conclusions match our overall scriptural canon much better than the assumption that all apostles and prophets must have personal visits from the Savior to be real apostles and prophets – and I want revelation and powerful spiritual manifestations to flow widely among us, not be limited to the top few. I believe that is what happens now.

    I think we tend to want extremes – easy answers – all or nothing. It’s harder to accept that most growth occurs between the extremes, especially since the middle and all its ambiguity and apparent inequity is harder to understand.

  12. spiritual gifts differ from the fruit of the Spirit and these living witnesses have the fruits ! Magnificent post! We have enough revelation to guide us but are we that obedient to receive more?

  13. Howard says:

    Obedient? That’s the key? This is a strange concept more of a rationalization I think. Mormon’s in general are as obedient as they come. Were they more obedient in Joseph’s day? I doubt it but they enjoyed abundant spiritual gifts.

  14. Howard, I think obedience is the key – IF we are talking about obedience to the revelations we believe we receive personally and to the dictates of our consciences as we sustain, support and follow others. I believe obedience to God is the first principle of growth (as framed above) – and I believe in allowing others that same privilege of obeying God according to the dictates of their own consciences. I also believe that, eventually, as we become like him, following the dictates of our own consciences will equal obeying God.

    Obeying other people simply for the sake of obedience to authority? Nope. That was Lucifer’s plan.

  15. Howard says:

    Ray,
    Your comment seems to be addressing a different point than I was making. IHAV was linking revelation as a church to the obedience of it’s members suggesting additional revelation is available but witheld because we are less than obedient enough.

  16. whizzbang says:

    Something I wonder about is the term ‘Special Witness’ I guess I read that to be different witness or a more then what others get witness, but I find that this isn’t always the case and what is available to the Apostles are available to you and I. So, what does it mean, ‘Special Witness’ and how is it different fom what we get? Great article!

  17. And I was saying, Howard, that I can agree with that statement, but only according to what “obedient enough” means to me.

  18. Great post. I would add that — as per the scriptures — the gentiles will receive the gospel through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost.

  19. Howard says:

    Pretty confusing.Ray, he’s talking about revelation for the church and you’re addressing personal revelation. Please tie them together clearly so it makes sense.

  20. No, this is one I’m going to try to explain in more detail. I’m talking about both revelation for the Church and personal revelation (and their inter-play) – and I’ve addressed both.

  21. *not* going to try to explain in more detail

  22. JohnnyS says:

    Interesting post. Ray, your comments make me wonder about my own struggles with authority. If someone is a special witness (i.e. apostle), does that automatically grant them more authority than my own conscience when it comes to making decisions? This question is raised for me quite a bit when I hear President Packer spoken of because of how I disagree with him on the gay marriage issue and with what he has to say about homosexuality in general. I’ve often thought that individual revelation/conscience is a convenient way around thorny doctrinal issues; that is, it’s sort of a loophole that allows one to make choices/commit acts that aren’t exactly approved of by the church but that could fall under the aegis of individual conscience/agency rather than the larger church hierarchy. Wiggle room, I suppose some could call it. I’d be curious to know how other folks deal with this when they feel diametrically opposed to the words of an apostle. I’d welcome any thoughts.

  23. “If someone is a special witness (i.e. apostle), does that automatically grant them more authority than my own conscience when it comes to making decisions?”

    Yes, in authority of scope; no, in authority of personal conscience. Again, Lucifer’s plan was, essentially, that we would do exactly what we were told to do and, therefore, neither sin nor transgress – and, thus, never grow and progress.

    JohnnyS, I support and sustain the Church leadership in their right and authority to speak for the Church – as I do local leaders within their more limited spheres. However, I have disagreed with certain things that have been said at all levels of the Church at various times, and part of how I see sustaining and supporting is being honest about those times of disagreement when I am in a position to express my personal view. The Church is supposed to work through the council model – and councils don’t exist in the absence of differing opinions. That is nothing but an echo chamber, and the world-wide leadership training in November 2011 made it crystal clear that councils are not supposed to be rubber stamp arrangements to implement leaders’ existing opinions. I have expressed differing opinions multiple times in such councils to my leaders, but, in the end, I have accepted the decision of the council. The only time I would do otherwise is if I was convinced the decision was going to be disastrous – and I would talk privately with the individual leader about my concern and why I felt that way.

    Also, there has never been unanimity on all issues and questions at the top leadership level in the Church. Therefore, if they can disagree with each other, sometimes intensely, I am comfortable facing God and stating, humbly, that I tried to live the best I could according to the light and knowledge I had throughout my life.

    I have neither occasion nor inclination to make an issue of any kind with any disagreement I might have with any individual apostle. They are human, just like me, and, while I believe firmly that they make their decisions based on more knowledge than I have and with sincere hearts, there are issues where I do disagree with individual apostles and, sometimes, even the official position of the group as a whole. That’s fine. I can live my individual life and work within my individual sphere according to my own conscience and still support them in their callings and accept their authority to operate in their sphere.

    If you are interested, I posted the following on my personal blog yesterday:

    “Teaching Children to Build a Faith that Will Last: Disagreeing with Something Said at Church”
    (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/05/teaching-children-to-build-faith-that.html)

  24. Howard says:

    Sorry Ray but a gallon of Mormon Speak paint and a broad brush says nothing useful to me even as it comforts the TBM base.

  25. Howard, if you think my comments are meant to comfort those of whom you speak disparagingly, you’re wrong – and we’ve talked enough in the past for me to realize we don’t see these things the same way and you don’t understand my perspective. I’m fine with that.

  26. Howard says:

    Ray,
    I’m simply asking you to clearly explain your perspective.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    I just can’t tell who I want to shut up first here. Howard comes first alphabetically, I suppose.

  28. It’s good to have you back, Steve. Sorry.

  29. Emily, thank you for your contribution. I love that story from Pres. Eyring, and I agree it speaks wonderfully to this topic. I take it as another example of how Church leaders are gently trying to tell the truth about the nature of their own spiritual experiences as well as helping Church members have reasonable expectation for their own.

  30. Geoff - A says:

    Morgan, I appreciated the post, very much. I agree with the idea that the Lord is less in evidence. The problem is that the Leadership and most of the members don’t admit that that is the situation. We are still claiming that we are better because we have a living Prophet (even though none have claimed to receive a revelation for decades.)

    So in the absence of revelation we are left with inspiration, and that seems to be filtered through culture.

    The other thing that I think is an influence is the age of the Leaders. When we have leaders under 60 we have revelation, or is it we have leaders under 60 when we have revelation? 10 of our top 15 are over 80 so their inspiration is filtered through culture from 50 years ago.

    Johnny, I believe that in the absence of revelation, our leaders can either seek revelation (when things get desperate like in 1978) or just give us their “inspired” view which is filtered through their culture. At present we have, for example, some Apostles who regularly use the term “ever darkening world” or similar, which I was told in HP means fear of gay marriage, and another group lead by Uchtdorf who think the world is getting brighter all the time, and presumably don’t see gay marriage as a big enough issue to darken all the other advances that brighten.

    If we were to admit that Apostles are not teaching by revelation we could value their teachings accordingly, at present there is still the suggestion that conference talks are equal to scripture.

    I believe the gay marriage issue will quietly disappear as the over 80 leaders die off, just like the inter racial marriage condemnation died off about 50 years ago when it became accepted in the community. The next issue will be ordination for all worthy members.

  31. JohnnyS says:

    Ray, thanks for your thoughtful comments. And Geoff, thanks for yours. I’m sort of with Ray on things in that I support the leadership to lead the church, but I’m disturbed by what the church says about a few things and I can’t quite figure out how to make it all fit, somehow. For example, I agree with you that in 30 years, the gay marriage thing won’t be an issue at all. What I’d like for us as a church to do, though, is to just be more truthful about things. When we say we believe that marriage is only between one man and one woman, in my opinion, we’re not telling the truth since we practiced polygamy in the past and it’s still very much related and relevant to temple marriages, for example. That’s far more disturbing to me than the lack of revelations. I suppose that’s because I generally feel responsible for my own access to the truth, so I don’t really depend much on other folks to do it for me.

    However, things like the priesthood ban and the church’s recent comments about how (I believe they said this; it’s from memory without any fact checking) there wasn’t a revelation and they literally couldn’t find where the policy originated (at least, that’s what the church spokesperson said, I think) to me indicate either that such things as the priesthood ban were never inspired or that we are somehow muddying the revelatory waters by conflating both revelation/inspiration and policy/doctrine. Such conflations are far more troubling/confusing, in my opinion, than the lack of titanic, world altering revelations being announced on a regular basis.

    I suppose I’m also troubled slightly by the fact that if we believe in continuing revelation, the church ought to be 300 years ahead of everyone else and be the most progressive church on the planet, not still stuck in the 19th century about some things. Just my two cents. What say ye?

    And, to finish, a general question. I’ve always been taught that conference talks ARE essentially scripture. Does the church have an official position on this? I mean, I know that talks aren’t canonized and made doctrine, but neither has the Proclamation on the Family, though many consider it to be “scriptural” or at the very least inspired. Any guidance anyone could provide on this issue would really be helpful.

  32. “I suppose I’m also troubled slightly by the fact that if we believe in continuing revelation, the church ought to be 300 years ahead of everyone else and be the most progressive church on the planet, not still stuck in the 19th century about some things.”

    Based on what? Is that how revelation works, in your experience? God hands out info to make his people the most progressive and enviable folks around? Driving flying cars and wearing the latest fashions and using nuclear reactors in their basements? Is that how you think revelation is supposed to work? And if so, where are you getting that idea, because I haven’t ever noticed that to be the case.

  33. JennyP1969 says:

    Thank you, Morgan, for good points well-made worth pondering. I’ve come to feel that the Holy Ghost has the Savior’s ear and can send pure revelation anytime, anywhere — or else why would the Savior tell us to draw near to Him and He would draw near to us? There has to be a way to fulfill that promise.

    But clearly past leaders led us to believe that special witnesses saw the Savior in person, and they taught us that the prophet was different from the Pope precisely because the prophet conversed with God directly. So now we learn the reality that these things aren’t exactly…well…like that. I wish the 15 DID have tea with Jesus every week. The way things are in the world, I’d like to think the Savior was more directly running things. But I’m sure the Spirit can reveal messages as needed and as discerned.

    But most of all, I wish things were the way I was taught growing up, rather than how they really are. It’s so much easier to love, sustain, and follow an idealistic church when you don’t agree with key things. But when you find out it’s all so much more fallible, political, and mortal, it’s much harder to find joy in the Mormon journey. I used to just love being a Mormon, but not so much any more. I find my joy in endeavoring to be a disciple of Christ. I think it’s better this way — to put my trust in Jesus more than Joseph….I think I idealized and idolized the men of the church more than the God who called them. I didn’t realize I was doing that, but now I understand. Discipleship is far, far greater than Mormonship.

  34. Is it a demotion to receive the Holy Spirit instead of receiving the Savior? No! The Holy Spirit is still God. If my witness comes from the Holy Spirit, and someone else’s witness comes from the Savior, is his or her witness better than mine? No!

    I sometimes find it interesting to remember that in order to receive the Father, we must receive the Son — and in order to receive the Son, we must receive the Son’s servants. One cannot receive the Father while rejecting the Son, and one cannot receive the Son while rejecting his servants.

    How beautiful is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! I am so grateful for the abiding witness of the Holy Spirit.

  35. J. Stapley says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post for a bit. I think that historically there are two trends which are interesting and perhaps related. The first is, and I think this was first argued by Andy Ehat, that by Nauvoo, the promises of actually beholding the Lord were translated into the dramatic ritual of the endowment. Everyone beheld the Lord, but in a much more symbolic manner. Secondly is the idea of “natural seership,” which BY claimed not to hold (see here, e.g.). There was a very real categorical shift in gifts of the President after JS. I think his contemporaries realized this.

  36. J. the first trend you mention is not so appreciated as it might be. The revelations from 1820 to 1833 or so were often of that dramatic character we so often associate with JS. But there was a move afoot to transfer the individual charisma to the church at large. That meant councils and quorums that became symbols for the earlier happenings. Consensus revelation was taking the place of the vision and voice of the Divine. The endowment reflects this whole process as you note. In a way, natural seers became secondary as the oracles were delivered “to the church.” For me at least, it’s faith-promoting.

  37. J. Stapley says:

    Right on, WVS.

  38. Observing says:

    WVS, I find it the antithesis of faith-promoting. I believe it’s a literal fulfillment of D&C 84:55-56. How can councils and quorums be seen as an improvement over the literal vision and voice of the Divine? We are so darkened that we know longer understand how much vanity and unbelief exists in the church.

  39. Where two or more are gathered in my name…

  40. Vanity and unbelief are not faith promoting, for sure. But to recognize reality for what it is, to accept the prophetic move toward revelation through councils, instituted by Joseph himself and informed by the parable of the twelve servants, is the path of wisdom and safety.

  41. It’s interesting the them of tonights ysa fireside was “follow the prophet,” and in an hour’s speaking on Pres. Monson and his life, revelation or prophecy was not mentioned once. There was a lot of talk about inspiration, and God’s guiding hand, and many inspiring stories from his life. Is it because we have prophets more humble than Joseph and Brigham who are more cautious to speak in the name of the Lord? Or is it that the rest of the church is more in tune with the spirit and does not need a prophet to command in all things? Those are the two most optimistic explanations I could think of.

  42. OrkneyOctopus says:

    Given that so few of the “active” members of the church are willing to pay a full tithing, do their home / visiting teaching, maintain food storage, work on family history, attend the temple regularly, observe the Word of Wisdom, study the scriptures regularly, have family home evening, and keep the Sabbath day holy, limited experience with the more magnificent spiritual gifts can hardly come as a surprise.

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