A Nation of Prophets

July 30, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 1:28 pm   Category: Personal Revelation

It is one of my favorite topics as of late and it came up again in the extended debate that has been going on in my last several posts about revelation: God and his prophets want the church to be a Nation of Prophets.

Now it is true that the term “prophet” can be used to mean different things, so let me define how I am using it. I believe God wants all of us to be regularly and even routinely engaged in real dialogue with him; that when we ask him about future events he often gives us insights into them; that when we need any of the gifts of the spirit we are granted them. He wants us all to be so good at dialogic revelation that we have a testimony of him that is truly independent of any other person on earth.

I have talked about most of this before of course – how we all should be prophets, seers and revelators, on how to get started down that path, on actually seeking the gifts of the Spirit that are rightfully ours, on wasting our Mormonism if we don’t do that.

I am becoming convinced that Joseph Smith had specific tasks to accomplish as the opener of this great last dispensation and that as one of those tasks he consciously laid the foundation for the formation of a nation of prophets. Through him was restored the necessary authority, ordinances and covenants, gifts (especially the Gift of the Holy Ghost), and the necessary instructions for each of us to become prophets (in the sense I am using it). The task now is entirely left in our hands. If we fail to become mini-prophets I fear it will be to our own condemnation.

Sadly, many Latter Day Saints seems to be looking to church leaders to get their revelation for them. I believe that looking to leaders for this revelation is really defeating the entire purpose of our church membership. Attaining Eternal Life requires that we know God personally, not just follow someone who knows him. That means we must make the effort to communicate with Him and do what we must to hear back from him clearly and unequivocally. If that means we need to work even harder than Enos did then we should do it. I cannot think of a more important thing to do in life. How can we expect to sit down with Abraham, Moses, Joseph, or other great prophets if we never bothered to become good at getting revelation after all the tools have been provided for us?

Joseph and the early brethren seemed to know that nothing short becoming such prophets was sufficient truly know God. Consider this quote from the (formerly canonized) Lectures on Faith:

How do men obtain a knowledge of the glory of God, his perfections and attributes? By devoting themselves to his service, through prayer and supplication incessantly strengthening their faith in him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they obtain a manifestation of God to themselves. (Q&A 2:147)

But on the other hand, in recent comments the idea was brought up that perhaps some church leaders have gone as far as to discourage us from becoming this nation of prophets I believe we are supposed to be. Roasted Tomatoes said:

It is my feeling that the church leadership has long decided not to encourage us to become a nation of prophets. We have been told to avoid inquiring about issues that are not already part of our well-known gospel package. Furthermore, those who do inquire and, why not, seek revelation that illuminates still-obscure issues about God are asked not to discuss their ideas in public and, if they persist, they are sometimes asked to leave. (See how understated I can be?)

He then suggested that if there has been a conscious decision to discourage us from becoming a nation of prophets it might have been a good one to stave off chaos.

It is a provocative question. I suspect a few misguided leaders have indeed discouraged our becoming a nation of prophets (though I haven’t searched for any hard evidence to support that suspicion). But I think that primarily we are reminded to not overstep our authority and stewardships with our revelations. But what do you think? Does God really want us to become a nation of prophets as I have suggested or not? Are we encouraged to become such by current leaders or not?

25 Comments »

  1. Geoff, I think this could be a very touchy situation. If the brethern encourage us too much to be a “prophet” and “obtain a manifestation of God” as Joseph suggests then we run the risk of failure. Many would make an effort, feel that it was effort enough without getting a manifestation and then become discouraged or worse. And if those who do become a prophet and obtain a manifestion and share their experience, it makes others jealous, or again feel like a failure.

    I do think the encouragement is important as long as there isn’t too much pressure on the end expectation. I’ve always felt more comfortable with “Progression is more important than perfection”. If I’m better today than last week, if I can look back and see that I am making progress to becoming more Christlike, that’s what I want and need. The manifestation will come automatically in due time, just keep progressing.

    What about our second annointing, or having our calling and election made sure? These were talked about by the early brethern, are important goals….but today’s brethern never mention them. Are they less important than becoming a prophet and obtaining a manifestation?

    Comment by don — July 30, 2005 @ 6:13 pm

  2. According to the Law of Witnesses found many places in scripture and taught by Ezra Taft Benson, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, all truth must be established “in the mouth of two or three witnesses.” (D&C 6: 28) As I understand these scriptures and the teachings of the modern prophets, it means that one man’s personal revelation is not enough to establish the truth of any matter. It must be confirmed by the same revelation given through other legitimate sources. This is why it won’t wash when an overheated RM tells a BYU co-ed that the Lord has revealed to him that she is to be his wife. She has to receive the revelation too, or the “revelation” is bogus. This is also why overheated religious nuts in the Church cannot establish doctrine leading others off to fundamentalist cults or the worship of Heavenly Mother.

    But this is also why it is so important for us to carefully listen to the living prophets. They can share truth with us, which we can then confirm through our personal revelations. Usually living prophets will go even futher than that. When they testify of true doctrine in General Conference, they will refer us to the specific scriptures in which the Lord has provided yet another witness. Then we have three witnesses: 1) the scriptures, 2) the living prophet, 3) our own personal confirmation. Most true doctrine is witnessed or testified to by many scriptures and many modern prophets, both living and dead. If a doctrine is taught only by one witness, it is suspect. It is not established.

    I do not believe there is any contradiction between the Lord’s commandment that we must be a nation of prophets, and his commandment that we should follow the prophets. The two commandments are not a dichotomy. Rather they are complimentary. We need to keep both commandments simultaneously. If we don’t see that these are complimentary commandments, then we need to learn more about the Law of Witnesses. We can learn more by searching on the string “two or three witnesses” and “Law of Witnesses” at GospeLink or on any of the CD-ROMs that contain the scriptures and the teachings of the modern prophets. There is also an excellent article on the “Law of Witnesses” in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

    Comment by John W. Redelfs — July 30, 2005 @ 11:18 pm

  3. I think this is a very provocative set of ideas with some provocative comments that make great sense. John W. Redelfs belief that following the prophet and becoming a “prophet” are complimentary rings true with me. Anyway, if we are truly recieving revelation from the Lord, it isn’t going to be contradictory to the words of the prophets. (and I doubt there are many who would recieve exclusive revelation that they are, for some reason or other, supposed to keep secret from the rest of the members)
    This kind of thing makes me re-evaluate how I’m doing in that area and how diligent I am at seeking and/or maintaining the gifts of the Spirit promised to me.

    Comment by Bret — July 31, 2005 @ 12:01 am

  4. I Think thwere may be alot of confusion about the Word “Prophet”, most Church Members think of a Prophet as a mouthpiece of the Church. I know we can recieve revelation for ourselves or family but I don’t call myself a Prophet, I am just the father of my family receiving revelation for that family. I have always felt that we personally need to be “Born Again”, become like Christ and Live like Christ and recieve Revelation Like Christ. I feel a better term would be for us to become a Nation of Saviors of others and our families by teaching them of Christ and his teachings. A Friend, Jim

    Comment by Jim Younkin — July 31, 2005 @ 9:45 am

  5. Don,

    You bring up some good points that have given me a lot to think about. Here are some responses.

    I think this could be a very touchy situation.

    I hadn’t considered this, but perhaps you are right. But I think this is one of those potentially painful subjects that cannot be ignored. The scriptures make it clear that Christ’s sheep, and only Christ’s sheep, hear his voice. In fact, it appears that the very definition of a sheep of the Good Shepherd is a person that hears and obeys his voice. As soon as we stop hearing and obeying his voice we are no longer his sheep. (I gave a talk on this recently and will turn it into a post soon so you can see the references for yourself).

    If the brethren encourage us too much to be a “prophet” and “obtain a manifestation of God” as Joseph suggests then we run the risk of failure. Many would make an effort, feel that it was effort enough without getting a manifestation and then become discouraged or worse.

    I’m not sure what would a lot worse than not being the sheep of the Good Shepherd. And I think that you might be inflating the potential dangers of pulling “an Enos”. It seems extremely unlikely to me that putting intense effort into fasting and praying to receive some form of communication from God would end up with horrible results.

    However, I do think that it is important to set proper expectations. The scriptures make it very clear that at the beginning manifestations from God are things like “speaking peace to our minds”. In fact, the Lord said to Oliver:

    Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:23)

    Over time we can improve our spiritual ears and receive more and more information with greater and greater clarity. These were the points I made in one of my previous revelation posts.

    And if those who do become a prophet and obtain a manifestation and share their experience, it makes others jealous, or again feel like a failure.

    Envy is indeed a problem in mortality, but that certainly is no reason to refrain from seeking the best gifts. Perhaps it is reason to refrain from blabbing and bragging when we attain those gifts, though.

    I’ve always felt more comfortable with “Progression is more important than perfection”.

    I completely agree with this sentiment. I think it is a true doctrine. However, we are talking about members of the “only true and living church” here. Is it too much to remind them that they ought to be actual sheep? It seems to me that if we, as Latter Day Saints, are not involved in regular dialogue with God then we are effectively no better off than our other Christian friends who once felt the revelatory influence of the Spirit and concluded from that single experience that they were saved. We have the Gift of the Holy Ghost — if we are not going to use it then perhaps the earth will indeed be wasted at His coming.

    What about our second anointing, or having our calling and election made sure? These were talked about by the early brethren, are important goals….but today’s brethren never mention them. Are they less important than becoming a prophet and obtaining a manifestation?

    My answer is “yes” — at least when it comes to the ordinance of the earthly second anointing. In order to be Celestial we have to be Celestial to the core. No earthly ordinance will do that for us. However, it seems to me that through this process of getting better and better at our dialogue with God, which requires constant repentance and improvement, it seems likely that we could indeed end up with a personal visitation from Christ and in that we could have our calling and election made sure. But all of this is at the end of a long journey down the road of being the mini-prophets I think the Lord is advocating we all become.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2005 @ 10:01 am

  6. Jim Y,

    Good point about confusion that arises from using the term “prophet” here. Your idea about using “saviors” has merit but I fear that the term savior is a bit too broad — after all firemen and policemen are often heralded as saviors too. Perhaps we would could use “a nation of revelators” instead. That is very descriptive but does not carry the same implication that the word “prophet” does with us 21st century Mormons.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2005 @ 10:07 am

  7. John R.,

    I think your contributions are quite useful. In order to really know that the teachings of modern Prophets are indeed from and/or approved of by God we need to receive revelation from God ourselves — thus we must be prophets (small p) to appropriately follow the worldwide Prophet. This is very much in harmony with my comments about Christ’s sheep, by definition, are those that hear his voice.

    My only concern is that this law of witnesses would be dangerously easy to over-apply (I’m not saying you have done so, BTW). While it is true that we need revelation to know with certainty that the Church is being guided by true Prophets (ie those with the authority and approval to run God’s church), it does not follow that we are only allowed to receive personal revelation on things the leader of the Church has openly preached about. We can personally receive all sorts of mysteries of God — indeed we are commanded to do so. We as members are just not authorized to preach as doctrine such mysteries we receive or believe to the Church.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2005 @ 10:42 am

  8. One major dilemma with respect to the law of witnesses is, of course, what we do when the church leadership is wrong. The men who occupy top positions are certainly not immune to error–they remain human and have admitted teaching false doctrine from time to time.

    So, when we do receive personal revelation that contradicts the messages of the church leadership, the law of witnesses becomes unhelpful. If witnesses disagree, the large number of them adds confusion rather than clarity.

    If, of course, we adopt a rule stating that, in the case of a disagreement among multiple information sources, we will always rely on information source X, that has an implication for the law of witnesses. Specifically, it implies that we aren’t ever really using it. If source X is always to be accepted in the case of a conflict between sources X, Y, and Z, then that means that source X is the only witness we actually rely on. When push comes to shove, all the other witnesses are disregarded.

    Obviously, for many members, this conflict among different sources of information may be a relatively rare experience. But thinking about such limit situations is a necessary philosophical exercise because it teaches us about our own thought process.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — July 31, 2005 @ 11:10 am

  9. “Sadly, many Latter Day Saints seems to be looking to church leaders to get their revelation for them.”

    I agree with this statement, however I strongly object to your use of it.

    Can we talk about personal revelation is class? Is personal revelation binding in any way on anybody else? Of course not.

    These are BIG differences between the revelation which we seek for ourselves and that which we expect of church leaders. I know whether my life is guided by revelation, but this doens’t have any say at all as to how much the church is guided by revelation. We often preach that our church is guided by revelation. My personal revelation has nothing to say on this matter whatsoever. Are you suggesting that we stop placing so much emphasis on the church as a whole being guided by revelation? If so, you are going to lose a lot of your followers.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 1, 2005 @ 9:43 am

  10. Jeffrey,

    And what if the revelation current church leaders are receiving is simply saying “carry on”? I believe that is exactly the revelation they are receiving. I also believe that God wants to give us the chance to get to know him personally through our own revelation — to become a nation of prophets — and that he is instructing our leaders on how to keep the church steady and righted in order to all us to do so.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 3:51 pm

  11. “And what if the revelation current church leaders are receiving is simply saying “carry on”?”

    Then let’s see those revelations! The church has always received the most revelation when it was most righteous, not the other way around.

    “I also believe that God wants to give us the chance to get to know him personally through our own revelation.”

    What does this have anything to do with the prophets giving us revelation? I don’t see how their giving us more information is going to somehow keep us in the dark in any meaningful way.

    I simply can’t believe that the revelation is “continue on in your vast ignorance of so many important issues.” I would venture that the world we live in is just as different from the one Joseph lived in as Joseph’s world was from Christ’s. If he needed more revelation, then so do we.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 1, 2005 @ 4:23 pm

  12. Then let’s see those revelations!

    I suggest we do see that revelation by the actions of the leaders of the church. Now perhaps you are skeptical and doubt that the thing God is revealing to our current leaders is “carry on”. You will have to get your own revelation on the subject to know for certain won’t you? God will not let any of us off the hook when it come to getting our own revelation.

    I simply can’t believe that the revelation is “continue on in your vast ignorance of so many important issues.”

    It’s not. Go get that revelation on those important issues that matter so much to you. Start this evening. You have all the tools so what’s stopping you?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 4:49 pm

  13. “the actions of the leaders of the church” are not revelations of anything other than their interpretation of what they should be doing whether such is received by revelation or not.

    “You will have to get your own revelation on the subject to know for certain won’t you?”

    Stop trying to change the point. Who cares what I am doing? That is not what this discussion is about. We are talking about the church, not my life. Thus we are talking about its leaders, not me. Stop trying to divert attention from them onto me.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 1, 2005 @ 4:58 pm

  14. Revelation is always about us personally. One can only understand revelation through revelation. As members of the restored church you and I are given all the tools to receive personal revelation. We are suppoesed to become a nation of prophets. We can never understand prophets or our great Prophet, Priest and King (Jesus Christ) unless we become prophets of a sort. So of course it about us and not about them. How are we to know who the real prophets are if not by receieing revelation on the subject?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 5:21 pm

  15. I feel that you are intentionally avoiding the issue at hand.

    “How are we to know who the real prophets are if not by receieing revelation on the subject?”

    Of course one needs personal revelatin to know that a prophet is a true prophet of God, but God has never asked us to pray about every person we meet to see if they just might happen to be a prophet whether they claim so themselves or not. Instead, we pick out the people that claim to be prophets and then pray about them. My point, as you should well know by now, is that they aren’t publically claiming the gift of prophecy anymore.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 1, 2005 @ 5:26 pm

  16. Perhaps we are just not completely agreeing on what the issue at hand is. I thought I was dealing specifically with the issue a hand (this post is about how we all need to be prophets after all).

    So regarding current church leaders, they are still claiming to have the gift of prophesy, they are also claiming to be seers and revelators to the world. They claim to have all the keys and authority that were restored to Joseph.

    We have only one way to know if those claims are true or not — we must receive revelation from God on the subject. One could complain that President Hinckley has not brought forth any new scriptures (or whatever) to pray about but that is moot — we can ask God if President Hinckley is a prophet, seer, and revelator and if he has all the keys that Joseph had or not regardless of that.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

  17. “this post is about how we all need to be prophets after all”

    Let’s not kid ourselves. These posts are all given in an attempt to respond to my paper. If you don’t want to address that anymore that’s fine by me, but let’s not think that these posts come as some sort of “refutation” of any kind. If they don’t address the issue at hand then they certainly don’t refute it.

    “they are still claiming to have the gift of prophesy,”

    Where? Where has anybody claimed that a statement that they themselves were making was actually a revelation of anykind? I’ve been waiting for this for a while now. They certainly claim each other to be prophets and the like, but such claims are loaded with equivocation on the word “prophet”. When has anybody prophecied? Seen anything? Revealed anything? If we have no answers to this then we must be working with some esoteric definition of prophet, seer and revelator which should be properly defined.

    “They claim to have all the keys and authority that were restored to Joseph.”

    I don’t deny this, so let’s not mention it any more.

    “those claims”

    What claims? They certainly claim to hold the priesthood and be PSR’s in terms of authority, but this doens’t change the fact that the gifts aren’t being claimed. There is a difference which you seem to insist on ignoring between gifts and offices. They certainly hold the offices of PSR’s, but there is simply no evidence of the gifts being excercized.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 1, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

  18. Certainly this particular post was spurred by the ongoing debate that we have been having over revelation. However, this topic is one that I had been posting on long before I ever saw your paper (as you can see by the links in the post itself). I brought up this concept again because I think it helps explain what is going on in the church today and why our current church leaders would not be asked by God to give us new canonized scripture or startling new prophesies right now. I think it is all God’s doing and thus nothing to feel nervous about. If there is anything to feel nervous about, it seems to me that it should be if we personally are not receiving any revelation.

    I said current church leaders claim the gift of prophesy because they ask us to sustain them as prophets, seers, and revelators. Now this idea you propose that there is a difference between the office of “prophet, seer, and revelator” and the gifts of prophesy, seership, and revelation is an interesting one. I have never heard anyone try to make that distinction before. Do you have any sources to back you on that? It seems to me that in the absence of any prophets saying that the office does not automatically entail access to the gifts we must assume that it does. I do assume that all who we sustain in those offices have the gifts; therefore I conclude that God is giving the church all the revelation that he wishes the church to have today.

    BTW — I forgot about another post I put up some time ago about what the voice the Lord sounds like. (Though I see you commented on it so this link is mostly a footnote to anyone who sees this exchange.)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 6:41 pm

  19. Jeffrey made the following excellent comment at the previous post:

    Not all have the spirit of prophecy. What are they supposed to do? I apparently don’t have that gift. What am I to do? Where are the words which I am supposed to believe on? Why is nobody prophecying in order to benefit the church as a whole?

    This is an excellent point and set of questions. I suspect lots of saints ask themselves these same things. One thing we all are commanded to do is follow Paul’s instructions and seek earnestly the best gifts. I don’t think one needs to prophesy of future events to receive mighty revelations of the truths and mysteries of God. The scriptures make it pretty clear that those are available to all of us if we learn how to get them. That is why I focus so much attention on the subject of personal revelation.

    But what if President Hinckley did make some big new prophecy tomorrow — What would you do? You could study it out in your mind and then ask God if it was right. And God could reveal to you a clear “yes” or “no” as a result. Ok great. How does that help you really know God? It is well and good to know that God is close with someone else but in the end it does not mean you are close with God. Knowing about God is not knowing God. Knowing God requires personal revelation. There are no shortcuts in the eternities. No one else can know God for us — we must know him personally.

    Your position makes me ask, why should I be a part of the church at all, if it is all upon myself to receive revelation? Why do I need leaders at all?

    When it comes to your exaltation I don’t think you do need them all that much. The do serve to nourish us with the good word of God and to keep us in the right way; to keep us continually watchful unto prayer; to keep us relying wholly on the merits of Christ who is the author and the finisher of our faith. And you do need the authority they hold and the covenants and ordinances they preside over. Plus the church community is an invaluable help in our process of getting to know God through service and whatnot. But in the end it is our responsibility to truly know God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 8:47 pm

  20. Geoff, I haven’t read any of the others comments. I have just read your commentary at the top. I must say – Spot on! I have wondered if there was anyone else in the bloggosphere that had these thoughts. Thank you for expressing them so clearly and concisely.

    Comment by chronicler — August 1, 2005 @ 8:59 pm

  21. Thanks chronicler!

    Comment by Geoff J — August 1, 2005 @ 9:35 pm

  22. “But what if President Hinckley did make some big new prophecy tomorrow-What would you do? You could study it out in your mind and then ask God if it was right. And God could reveal to you a clear “yes” or “no” as a result. Ok great. How does that help you really know God? It is well and good to know that God is close with someone else but in the end it does not mean you are close with God.”

    You are mistaken on many levels.

    1) I would pray to find out if its true.
    2) He wouldn’t give us a “big new prophecy” in order for us to know God, but in order for us to know the information he had to convey in the prophecy.
    3) How would him doing that NOT help me come closer to God? How would it keep me from God?
    4) Surely we don’t have time to receive revelation on everything in our lives. How does sharing the load with the church leaders not help?
    5) Are you really comfortable with the idea that the church doesn’t have to give us any revelation? This is against everything which Mormons preach.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — August 2, 2005 @ 8:36 am

  23. Jeff,

    I never implied that some new prophesy from President Hinckley would not be useful to us in general. I simply said that his getting a prophesy does not improve my personal dialogue with God. The point of this post is that it is our personal relationship and dialogue with God is the paramount of this probation. So yes I do think there is plenty of time (and plenty to spare) for us to get to know God through a rich and meaningful dialogic revelatory relationship. Further, yes, I am totally comfortable with the way the Church is being run today with the 12 and FP not revealing any strikingly new prophesies or revelations for decades on end. I think that is God’s doing and I think part of his reasoning is to provide the opportunity for all of us to get our own revelation and thus get to know Him.

    I understand that you may not agree with me on this and that is ok too.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 2, 2005 @ 9:03 am

  24. Geoff,
    The idea of a ‘congregation of prophets’ seems to be congruent with my simple understanding of the gospel. When Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves”, I have always believed this to be true. The prophets of the Church teach us correct principles–sometimes the principles are just re-iterated over and over again, but for me to properly apply the principle in my life and in the life of my family, I need revelation–I need some form of communication with my Father in Heaven to insure I am ‘governing’ correctly, namely revelation would suffice. The key to the revelance of my revelation is tied directly to my boundary of stewardship.
    Another idea that I have heard many of the visiting brethern teach at Priesthood leadership meetings is the principle of “how do we get the water to the end of the row.” Every visiting authority that has instructed our stake on this principle has said in effect, “we get water to the end of the row, by rain–not top down–not from the front of the row to the end of the row.” In other words, to grasp the vision and testimony of truthfulness of the gospel principle we get it by revelation and we cannot depend upon “mortal communication” to convey what the Spirit is trying to tell us in our hearts, no matter how technically advanced we think we are.
    These two points support and promote the idea of a “congregation of prophets.

    Comment by Leighton McKeen — August 3, 2005 @ 8:35 am

  25. Good stuff Leighton. Thanks!

    Comment by Geoff J — August 3, 2005 @ 9:27 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.