Thursday, April 22, 2010
The traditions of men, part 2
Originally, the view of personal revelation or any visionary experiences was quite different than what many believe today. In fact there are those who claim that ANY vision, visitation or revelation not received by the Prophet (meaning the president of the church alone) should be viewed as false. God speaks to the Prophet, and only to the Prophet, and we are to wait to hear what God wants us to know from the Prophet. This is an extension of the adoption of the term "Prophet" and the resulting cult of personality.
During Joseph Smith's time, he welcomed the revelatory experiences of others. He neither discouraged them nor felt threatened by them. His enthusiasm for what others told him of their revelations, and the acceptance of others' revelations is readily apparent in the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers. Today the tradition is quite the contrary. Today, if anyone has a revelation they are advised to keep it to themselves. When others hear about them the cautionary attitude adopted is - 'if it were something important then the Prophet of God would have told you about it.'
The effect of the adoption of the term "Prophet" for the living church president has been far ranging and dramatic. There has been a dramatic change in people's expectation of personal revelation, as a result of this title shift. The result is, of course, if you do not expect revelation you are not going to receive it. The expected charismatic gifts of the Spirit during the early church is now replaced by the assumption that charismatic gifts are driven by office and position. Bishops get revelation for wards (and by extension no one else does or can). Stake presidents get revelation for stakes (and by extension no one else does or can). Mission presidents get revelation for missions (and by extension no one else can or does---except in the notable case of the recent earthquake in Chile, as I mentioned before). What has always been true is that presiding authorities alone are the final say on revelation or guidance for their calling. What is not true is that no-one else can, has or does get revelation. Revelation comes to those who are prepared. It comes in response to seeking, asking, knocking, and not automatically as a result of a new office or position. Now someone called to office may humble themselves, begin seeking, asking and knocking and then get revelation. But the revelation was always available, and the same information is available to all, "even the least of the Saints" as Joseph Smith put it. The proposition that there is a control over available revelation is one of the results of the post-1955 development of the cult of personality centered on the President as the Living Prophet of God.
Another change now firmly in place is the administration of temporal affairs within the church. For example, the Presiding Bishop's office controlled the operations involving all the church's construction projects until the David O. McKay presidency. As a result of some problems (beyond the scope of this), the First Presidency decided to take construction over as part of their duties. One of the members of the First Presidency got involved in some difficulties (again beyond the scope of this), and to placate the Quorum of the Twelve, the responsibilities were shared. The result was that the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve now have budgetary involvement with the church's building program. This is a massive undertaking. It involves worldwide construction of church facilities. It is a major duty devolving upon these men. However, it was one time an Aaronic Priesthood assignment, and the duty of the Presiding Bishop's office. Temporal concerns are associated with that order of Priesthood. On the other hand, the higher Priesthood is involved primarily with the spiritual concerns of the church. It's all in the D&C. But the shift of Aaronic/temporal concerns onto the shoulders of the Melchizedek Priesthood leaders has its effect. The extent of that effect has been reflected in comments made by those who serve in the Twelve or First Presidency. They hardly have time to do more than move from one meeting to another. One said he never had time to reflect or meditate.
The original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation were given a charge by Oliver Cowdrey that their ordination was not complete until they had received an audience with Christ. That audience was what would entitle them to be a witness of the resurrection. The charge was given to newly ordained Apostles from the time of the first called Twelve until 1911, when the charge was discontinued. It was discontinued because so few of them had ever received an audience with Christ. Since then the Apostles have been encouraged to bear a witness of Christ based upon their spiritual conviction that He lived, died and rose from the dead. The manner in which this is done is to suggest an actual witness of His resurrection. But the words are carefully chosen.
When he was put under oath by the Senate Confirmation Committee, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he was a "prophet of God." His response was, "my people sustain me as such." The senator asking the question didn't understand the answer, and asked again. After some back and forth, President Joseph F. Smith was asked directly if he had ever had a revelation; to which he responded that he had not. He added a bit later that he, like all other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet and Jesus Christ had appeared to him.
[Now as an aside, this testimony was in 1905. Later, in 1918 President Joseph F. Smith received the vision now published as Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants; the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.]
The church holds the tradition that the First Presidency and Twelve are sustained as "Prophets, Seers and Revelators" and as a result of that sustaining vote they must necessarily have all seen Christ. This idea/tradition is so widespread that even when the brethren clarify what their testimony consists of most members of the church won't listen to, or accept what they say. I've posted about President Packer's talk on his own testimony a little while ago in another post. There are those who don't believe him, and insist he is holding back because such things are just "too sacred to be revealed." However, the calling of an Apostle, as set out in Section 107, is to bear witness of Jesus Christ. There isn't anything "too sacred" about bearing testimony of Him that would prevent an Apostle from stating without equivocation they are a witness by having seen the Risen Lord. President Packer has been truthful, forthcoming and honest. I accept what he says at face value and I respect and sustain him all the more because of it. He is indeed an Apostle of Jesus Christ. And he is also an honest witness of Him. However, he has essentially explained what his testimony consists of honestly, truthfully and fully in General Conference. People continue to ignore his words and substitute the myth for the reality.
The terms "prophet, seer and revelator" come from scripture where the president of the church is to "be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God." (D&C 107: 92.) The way this is read in the church today is that any person who holds the office of President of the High Priesthood is ipso facto a "seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet." Meaning the office defines the gifts. What if that is not the intent of the scripture? What if the scripture means, instead, that a person who is these things is the only one to be called to the office? That is, unless the person "be" such a person possessing these gifts, he is not and cannot be the President? Such questions are not even possible to be asked today. They are, according to the current reading of that verse, evidence of weak faith and evidence someone is headed for apostasy. Therefore a discussion about this verse's meaning and possible differences of meaning are excluded and no other view is possible to be discussed.
President David O. McKay did not get a testimony of the church until sometime after he had been called as an Apostle. President Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked about revelation, said "I don't know that we need much revelation anymore." President Packer has defined revelation as when the presiding authorities reach an agreement. President Nibley (a counselor in the First Presidency and Hugh Nibley's grandfather) said if an angel were to appear to him he would jump out the window. There are other examples, but the point is that there are many statements which have been made by the highest authorities in the church which contradict the popular myth that the Lord has and does regularly appear to, meet with, and speak face to face with the presiding authorities. Despite this, there are people who presume the Lord is in the weekly meeting in the Temple, every Thursday, telling them how to run His church. In contrast, President Young said when he asks the Lord for guidance and then he receives nothing, he will make his best judgment and proceed. And the Lord is bound to sustain him in his decision, since he asked for guidance. That approach is healthy, and allowed President Young and others to move forward. However, it is one thing for men of good faith and decency, who are making honest and worthwhile efforts to manage the church to have our prayers, faith and confidence; and quite another to assume these men quote the Lord with their every breath. As a church this subject is just not discussed. As a result those who suspect that the brethren are making great efforts and are good men, but who may not have had an audience with the Lord are kept from asking the question. When a Gentile reporter has the impertinence to ask such a question, they are rebuked and told things like that are sacred.
A Prophet of God is not required to have seen Him. A prophet can and has been inspired to speak for the Lord by the inspiration of the Spirit. But when the scriptures use this phrase "and the word of the Lord came unto me, saying..." This formula assures the listener that the words which follow originate from the Lord and not a good and honest man's best advice. All this has happened in the past and therefore you cannot discount a prophet's calling because the word of the Lord comes by the Spirit, rather than from a personal visitation. Visitations are rare. However, the calling of a prophet in scripture was not institutional. The Lord was directly, personally and individually involved. Moses was told by the Lord, directly, as the Lord stood in a pillar-cloud at the door of the tabernacle: "Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream." (Numbers 12: 5-6.)
When the Church was led by a president (from the death of Joseph Smith until 1955) there was no cult of personality around the church president. He was the presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood. When the title shifted, things began to change. Today a discussion about this process is not possible because the subject matter is too charged.
The difference between good men doing good things in good faith, who are entitled to our support in their calling and efforts on the one hand, and a prophet of God whose words are questioned at the peril of eternal damnation on the other hand is the overwhelming difference which now plagues the church. We cannot have a discussion that questions the wisdom of church policies, procedures or decisions. When even obvious mistakes are made, people who notice are not to speak of it, and if they do they are told that they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy. Criticism is essential to a healthy mental state. Without feedback and criticism you cannot raise a normal, healthy child. Try raising a child to whom you lavish only praise, and to whom you say, without regard to how bad, poorly or evil an act they commit: "You are inspired! You are right! It was good of you to have done that! God Himself inspired that act!" What you would raise up would be a monster. Without criticism and challenges to decisions made, no-one can ultimately become anything worthwhile.
We have a church in which those who love it the most, and whose perceptions may be the keenest, are required to take a host of questions, suggestions or criticisms and never give them voice. The only negative feed-back must originate from either outside the church, or if inside they are cast out because they are weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy. This was the inevitable evolution from the cult of personality. It is still unfolding. It will progress in a funnel which narrows over time until, at last, when the work has been fully completed, we will have a Pope who is infallible. Not because he is always inspired, but instead because he holds the keys to bind on earth and in heaven, and as a result God is bound by whatever he does. History assures us this will be the case. UNLESS, of course, we open things up to a more healthy way of going about our Father's business.
Well, this is too long. I'm not done. But I'll add more later.