Monday, May 10, 2010

Charge to Twelve

This is really a "comment" in response to a question belonging to the earlier post on Elder Packer's Testimony.  However, it was too long to put in there as a reply comment, so will be put up here as a blog entry.  It is an interruption.  Sorry.  There is a fellow asking for it, and I delayed for so long that I feel I owe him a response.  I am really writing this to him.

Taken from Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power.  (A good book by Quinn.  He's written some bad ones, but this is not one of them.  I think he was stinging from criticism and in this book proved he was still a good historian.)

"In 1835 Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey emphasized to the newly organized Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that their calling was charismatic, evangelical and also institutional.  Of the three, the charismatic definition of the apostleship was the earliest, going back to 1829.  Cowdrey told the new apostles: 'It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God.'  Then he continued: 'That is more than the testimony of an angel ... Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face.'  Cowdrey acknowledged that most of the new apostles had depended on visions of others for their faith and suggested that some might even be skeptical of visions.  Thus it was not necessary to see Jesus to be chosen as an apostle.  However, once ordained each man had a lifelong obligation to seek this charismatic experience: a vision of deity.  Some apostles from 1835 onward reported having had such visions before their ordination.  Apostles in the nineteenth century referred publicly to their visionary witness.

"... some LDS apostles, including Orson Pratt and Heber J. Grant, felt inadequate because they had not had such encounters.

"In the twentieth century, charismatic apostleship changed in several ways.  First, the 'charge' at ordination no longer obligated apostles to seek visions.  Second, the Presidency and apostles began down-playing the importance of these experiences.  Third, apostles began speaking of a non-visionary 'special witness of Christ' by the Holy Ghost in terms which allowed listeners to conclude that the apostles referred to an actual appearance of deity.  Fourth, apostles were reluctant to discuss their visionary experiences publicly.  Fifth, evidence indicates that a decreasing number of apostles experienced visions before or after ordination.

"The change in the apostolic 'charge' apparently began with the appointment of Reed Smoot as an apostle in 1900.  General church authorities had long regarded him as 'reliable in business, but [he] has little or no faith.'  President Lorenzo Snow blessed him to receive 'the light of the Holy Ghost' so that he could bear testimony of Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.  That was an extraordinary departure from the apostolic charge as given since 1835.

"...Twentieth-century apostles began applying this 'as if' approach to their spoken testimonies.  Usually this involved wording their 'special witness' of Christ in a way that encouraged listeners to assume the leader has had a more dramatic encounter with the divine than actually claimed."

The full discussion ranges from pages 1 through 6 and would require too much typing to do it here.  But the above, taken only from pages 1-2, gives you some more particulars than my brief reference before.  The whole discussion is documented with references from the Church's archives where the writer reviewed the transcripts of the actual ordinations, etc.  They are all set out in the footnotes, which are omitted from the quote I have excerpted above.


  1. I should add that this book by Quinn was the second of two books in the "Mormon Hierarchy" series. The first titled "Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power" was NOT a good book in my view. In fact, I thought there were either lapses of good judgment or deliberate mis-characterizations made in the first volume and I would not recommend it unless the reader is independently acquainted with the history and able to read critically. The second volume was published during the time when he was being roundly criticized and it reflects a significant improvement in his judgment and writing of history. I can recommend it to any reader. It is well documented, relies upon materials in the Church's archives, and shows a fair interpretation of the material so far as I have been able to tell. There has not been any significant contradiction of the sources he cites by anyone else having access to the archive materials.

  2. Thank you for posting your sources regarding this topic. I've wondered where to go for more answers on questions I've had on this.

  3. I'm not sure I'd put my trust in Quinn as a source for anything. You probably don't agree with the FARMS review of this book, but one thing I did find interesting in the review was the mention of Elder McConkie's discussion of Oliver Cowdery's charge in his book The Promised Messiah.

    Elder McConkie discusses the charge to apostles that they must also view the face of God as the ancients did. He not only finds this binding upon the apostles of our day (it was written in 1978, after his ordination), but considers that charge binding on all the elders of the church.

    I'm not sure that a greater reluctance on behalf of the Quorum of the Twelve to speak openly of their personal experiences necessarily means that none are having them anymore. I find it more likely that the general membership of the church is not prepared to receive such testimonies. We seal the heavens with our unbelief and casual attitude about spiritual things.

    I really don't like Quinn's accusation that the current Apostles adopt an "as if" approach to their testimonies to hint at things they know they haven't experienced. That is a charge of intentional deception that I do not believe. Are GAs, Apostles and Prophets infallible, no, but I don't believe they would intentionally mislead and attempt to deceive the membership of the Church as Quinn seems to indicate.

    I just finished listening to the past General Conference again, and those fallible, institutional leaders giving correlated talks somehow still manage to have the spirit of the Lord with them as they preach the simple gospel.

    Are they perfect, are we perfect? No of course not.

    Sometimes I wonder, though, if the discussions here sometimes make it seem as if the problems are really bigger than they really are and make some lose confidence that the Lord is still behind the general work (not every single particular) of his Church.

  4. I will add some quotes from the recent book on President David O. McKay and, of course, Elder Packer's General Conference talk I've referred to previously. Also the testimony of President Smith before the Senate. You needn't rely on Quinn alone. There are other sources. But that will be later, I don't have time this morning.

  5. The entry of March 28th on President Packer's Testimony explains what his testimony consists of. I do not think he was understating or overstating anything. I believe he was being absolutely candid and truthful. You can read anything miraculous into it you want, but he did not put it there. It was honest, plain and simple, and as he put it, 'much the same as you would hear in any fast and testimony in the Church.' I'm not going to repeat it here. You can look it up on this blog if you want.

    From David O. McKay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 6: "He had misgivings that stemmed from unresolved doubts about the work he was being called to perform." (Speaking of his call to the Twelve.) Then, quoting Hugh Nibley on page 7 and referring to a talk to missionaries, including Nibley: "His whole talk was about how skeptical he had always been about the gospel. He said he had never believed it for most of his life and was very skeptical. And, of course, he was made an apostle, and he was an apostle at that time. He did believe it, we assumed. He showed a side of skepticism, at least different from all the others. I don't think the others had ever been as skeptical as he was ... When he was made an Apostle, a lot of people were shocked. 'David O. McKay, an Apostle?' Because he had been quite open and honest in expressing his doubts about things."
    I'll continue with another block.

  6. From President Joseph F. Smith's testimony before the Senate of the US:
    "Sen. Dubois: Have you received any revelation from God..?
    Mr. Smith: Since when?
    Sen. Dubois: Sine you became president of the Church.
    Mr. Smith: No sir; none whatever."

    There is a dialogue about the meaning of revelation in which President Smith suggests it can be broad enough to include, when a person is living right, an "influence of his Spirit, his mind, and his will. That would be a revelation to that individual." After this dialogue the testimony included this follow-up:

    "Sen. Dubois: Have you received any individual revelations yourself, since you became president of the church under your own definition, even, of a revelation?
    Mr. Smith: I can not say that I have."

    Then a bit later President Smith adds this comment:

    "If I live as I should in the line of my duties, I am susceptible, I think, of the impressions of the spirit of the Lord upon my mind at any time, just as any good Methodist or any other good church member might be. And so far as that is concerned, I say yes; I have had the impressions of the Spirit upon my mind very frequently, but that are not in the sense of revelations."

    The transcripts have been published in the recent book: "The Mormon Church on Trial: Transcripts of the Reed Smoot Hearings."

  7. Now, I am only answering a question here and providing information I've been asked to provide. The raw information should not be, in a stand-alone sense, used to reach any conclusion other than the fact that these men's personal experiences are not the endless stream of regular visits every Thursday in the Temple with Christ which some people have asserted. This does not mean they aren't Apostles. They are. They hold an office titled Apostle, with the associated duties and responsibilities. However, their testimonies should be taken at face value and nothing should be read into them.

    The idea that an witness of Jesus Christ should never affirm He lives, and was resurrected from the dead, and that they have seen Him is, in my humble opinion, utter foolishness. I do not think the Lord makes Himself known to then have the fact kept secret. I disbelieve that notion completely. And the idea that such a witness ought to be coy, evasive, or unable to affirm directly that He lives, for the witness has seen Him is, in my view, utterly incredible.

    I accept the testimony of the Twelve and First Presidency. I read absolutely nothing into them which they do not put into their testimonies. And I accept them as true.

  8. Finally, Ben, yes I read the review and several others as well. I read it critically, meaning that I noticed what highly selective criticisms were made and how entirely evasive those selective criticisms in fact were. They were deliberately put in a way to make them seem to be more sound than they were, and left almost all of the text quoted by Quinn without any response. But if read uncritically (as FARMS often intends their readers to do), then you have the impression that they've actually answered Quinn's materials. They haven't. They haven't even started to undertake that. They found a few trifles, and roundly condemned them. Then left the overwhelming balance of the book completely unaddressed. In many ways, FARMS' reviews reveals a great deal more about them than the books they review. But you must read them critically, thinking as you go along, and with your own reasoning kept as you do.

  9. I don't agree with this Denver. I posted a visit Hugh B. Brown had from the Savior under your blog entry Elder Packer's Testimony. I don't recall him ever stating anything of the like publicly. He may have, but if he did, I haven't heard it. He shared the visit with N. Eldon Tanner and he said something after Elder Brown passed away. I think many of the brethren have had the visit, if not multiple ones. Either way, what happens to any of them has no bearing on me personally. My experiences depend on me and me alone. Anyone else's experiences should never be a sufficient substitute for our own.

  10. It is not at all necessary to agree with me. I am only explaining my view, not advocating to persuade.

  11. I think the elipses and missing pieces from Joseph F. Smith's testimony shed more light on what he really was answering and what he meant. As far as personal experiences with revelation, its clear Pres. Smith plain isn't going to answer them in the way that they would like.

    "Senator Dubois. Have you received any revelation from God, which has been submitted by you and the apostles to the body of the church in their semiannual conference, which revelation has been sustained by that conference through the upholding of their hands?"

    Mr. Smith. Since when ?

    Senator Dubois. Since you became president of the church.

    Mr. Smith. No, sir; none whatever.

    Senator Dubois. Individual members of the church can receive individual revelations, can they not?

    Mr. Smith. If I may be permitted, the word "revelation" is used very vaguely here all the time. No man can get revelations at his will. If a man is prayerful and earnest in his desire and lives a righteous life and he desires information and intelligence, he will inquire of the Lord, and the Lord will manifest to him, through the presence and influence of his Spirit, his mind, and his will. That would be a revelation to that individual.

    The Chairman. What is the answer to the question ?

    Senator McCoMAS. Is not that an answer?

    Senator Foraker. I think it is an intelligent answer, and a very satisfactory one.

    Senator McCoMAS. It seems to me it is full.

    The Chairman. I want to hear what the question was. Mr. Reporter, will you please read it?

    The reporter read as follows:

    "Senator Dubois. Individual members of the church can receive individual revelations, can they not ?"

    Mr. Smith. I think I have answered that.

    The Chairman. Very well; if you think that is an answer.

    Senator Dubois. Have you received any individual revelations yourself, since you became president of the church under your own definition, even, of a revelation?

    Mr. Smith. I can not say that I have.

    Senator Dubois. Can you say that you have not ?

    Mr. Smith. No; I can not say that I have not.

    Senator Dubois. Then you do not know whether you have received any such revelation as you have described, or whether you have not?

    Mr. Smith. Well, I can say this: That if I live as I should in the line of my duties, I am susceptible, I think, of the impressions of the spirit of the Lord upon my mind at any time, just as any good Methodist or any other good church member might be. And so far as that is concerned, I say yes; I have had impressions of the Spirit upon my mind very frequently, but they are not in the sense revelations.

  12. Denver - Thank you very much for responding to my request. I just came back and read it today. I am familiar with some of Quinn's other works, but not the one you mention here.

    In regards to the discussion on this post, I hope the following posts are helpful. They are not intended to make a point one way or another - see Partakers of the Divine Nature and Apostolic Witness.


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