Priesthood Authority vs Inter-Personal Reasoning

June 9, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 1:55 pm   Category: Personal Revelation,Truth

“All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it…”

-D&C 93

I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.

-History of Church 7 Vols. 1:338, 339

Consider the not unusual case in which two people who, having searched, pondered and prayed in all faithfulness and earnestness, come to two different conclusions regarding how they ought to believe, speak and/or act.  The first way of resolving this disagreement would be with an appeal to priesthood authority in which one side acquiesces to the presiding authority of the other.  The second way would be with an appeal to inter-personal reasoning in which, very roughly speaking, the less persuasive side acquiesces to the more persuasive side.  The chart below summarizes many of the central differences which underlie these two mechanisms for resolving differences in prayerfully considered positions.

 

Priesthoodvsreason

 

The first difference I would like to discuss between these two mechanisms for resolving disagreements in prayerfully considered positions is their respective origins.  Priesthood authority is an ancient institution which is considered pre-modern in nature.  Its major influences in western society and culture trace their lines back through Christianity to the ancient Hebraic religion of prophecy found in the Old Testament.  Inter-personal reasoning, on the other hand, largely traces its modern influence back through the scholastic institutions of philosophy which originated in democratic Greece.  The sense in which inter-personal reasoning is less ancient than priesthood authority is that the former had never gained sufficient cultural clout amongst the masses to be considered a serious competitor to the latter until the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The root of many of the difference between these two mechanisms lies in the different ways in which they are structured.  Priesthood authority is structured hierarchically such that no two people have the same authority over some group of people.  Each group of people has one and only one presiding authority which is authorized to speak for and direct that group.  This stands in stark contrast to inter-personal reasoning which has an egalitarian structure such that no two people have differing authority over some group of people.  Each person within the group is granted full and equal access to the truths that represent and guide the group.

Within both of these two differing and incompatible structures, disagreements are seen as problems of sorts, but the nature of these problems as well as what counts as a legitimate solution to them differs greatly between the two structures.  Within priesthood authority, a disagreement between two prayerfully considered positions is a problem because no two people are equally authorized, not only to publicly advocate any given position, but to receive celestial guidance on the issue in question.  Accordingly, at least one person must be speaking beyond the limits of their priesthood stewardship and must thus be a false prophet.  Within inter-personal reasoning, however, a disagreement between two prayerfully considered positions is a problem because two contradictory positions cannot both match whatever God’s position is.  Accordingly, at least one person must either be deceived or deceitful regarding their access to heavenly information.

What a solution to the problem of disagreement in prayerfully considered position looks like also differs greatly between these two differing traditions.   Within a priesthood organization, the solution to public disagreement is characterized by a unity free of all outward competition and contention between people.  In most cases it is clear which person is uniquely authorized to receive answers to any prayers regarding the issue at hand, thereby leaving nothing to be worth arguing about.  Within inter-personal reasoning, however, the solution is characterized by a consistency which can only be reached through a process of competition and contention between positions.  Furthermore, most cases in which prayerfully considered positions disagree, it is not at all clear which positions is most free from contradiction with other truths, thus leaving much to argue about.  Whereas priesthood authority is primarily geared toward minimizing tension between people rather than positions, inter-personal reasoning is primarily aimed at minimizing tension between positions rather than people.

The structural differences between priesthood authority and inter-personal reason also lead to very different conceptions regarding the scope of the heavenly truths which we receive in answer to our prayers.  Within priesthood authority, we are only allowed to receive answers to prayers regarding issues that are a part of the stewardship to which we have been publicly called.  Any suggestions, advice or corrections which come outside the proper priesthood channels, then, must either come from mortal men or from the devil, but not from God.  Since, on the other hand, stewardship is not at all relevant to inter-personal reasoning, all people equally have heavenly access to the universal and timeless truth regarding any and all issues.  Consequently, any suggestions, advice or corrections from any person have every right to be equally inspired by God and thus merit consideration and attention.

This difference in scope for the answers we receive to prayers entails significant differences in the loyalties that we express to the Lord’s prophets.  Within a priesthood organization, what matters most is that we sustain and follow our living leaders, the leaders which have actually been ordained and set apart to have stewardship over us in the here and now.  It is in this way that our living prophets are (other things being equal) able to correct, trump or supersede those prophets which have led other people in different times and places.  Inter-personal reason, however, sees all true prophets (indeed, all people!) as having equal access to timeless and universal truth.  In this way, it is very much possible that the prophets that have or will lead other people in different times and places are able correct, trump or supersede the living prophets which happen to currently be appointed over us.

Such differing perspectives between the relationship between the prophets of differing places and times naturally entails a difference in perspectives regarding the nature of the truths receive from heaven.  From the perspective of priesthood authority, the answers to our prayers are typically a kind of guidance which we will always need so long as we are separated from God’s presence.  Revelation in general is likened unto a compass or path which leads us in the right direction no matter where or when we live.  From the perspective of inter-personal reason, however, the answers to our prayers are typically an uncovering of timeless and unchanging truths or heavenly data which give us more information about the nature of the earthly and celestial realms.  Revelation, then, is more like a picture, mirror or map that remains constant regardless of where we live, when we live or what destination we would like to pursue.

These differences very naturally entail rather different conception of personal revelation.  For example, we are told that “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”  Within a priesthood organization, this is a wish that all levels within the organization were guided by revelation over their respective stewardships.  Furthermore, were all the Lord’s people prophets, personal revelation might very well lead some people sometimes to abandon or deviate from their priesthood leaders, but in no sense would such personal revelation ever be allowed to correct, falsify or oppose the words of the priesthood leaders.  That is the key difference between all the Lord’s people being prophets and some of the Lord’s people being false prophets.  From the perspective of inter-personal reason, however, this passage amounts an abolishment of authoritative leaders altogether.  Were all the Lord’s people prophets, then each person’s personal revelation would be in total harmony and there would be no need for priesthood leaders which are seen a human, and therefore fallible intermediaries.  Until then, however, inter-personal reasoning does allow for – even encourage – personal revelation to helpfully correct or loyally oppose/falsify priesthood leaders.

Which leads us to the very different ways in which these two traditions construe human fallibility. In the case of priesthood authority, the universal fallibility of men and women leads us to trust the Lord’s wisdom and guidance.  This, in turn, leads us to a greater trust in those priesthood leaders who have been uniquely authorized to receive revelation on various issues.  Their revelation may not be perfect, but it is still better than our unguided thoughts and preferences.  Inter-personal reason, by contrast, sees the fallibility of all men as a reason to distrust our priesthood leaders and hold them at a critical distance.  This means that we must continually seek to verify (and falsify!) the instruction that we receive from our leaders by praying for ourselves.  Thus, whereas the tradition of priesthood authority suggests that we trust the Lord’s revelation to his authorized leader over the arm of our own flesh, inter-personal reasoning urges us to trust in the Lord’s personal revelation to us over the arm of our leaders’ flesh.   To be sure, when it comes to personal guidance in our individual lives, both traditions basically say the same thing.  When it comes to church doctrine and policy, however, the two perspectives couldn’t be more different.

All these differences between these two mechanisms for resolving disagreements between prayerfully considered positions contribute to very different appraisals of dialectic debate and argumentation.  From the perspective of priesthood authority, the give and take of dialectical debate is a form of contention, strife, compromise and disharmony.  Dialectical debate is a power struggle in which the words and power of God are obscured, twisted and mingled toward the ends of men.  From the perspective of inter-personal reasoning, however, dialectic debate is a cooperative enterprise in the pursuit of honest communication and open dialogue regarding the eternal truths that we have each received.  If dialectical debate is indeed a form of power struggle, then inter-personal reasoning sees it as the means by which stratifications of power and the distortions to truth that they cause are dissolved.  One tradition sees dialectical debate as the greatest obstacle to divine truth while the other sees it as the most promising passage to divine truth.

Having gone to some lengths, now, to disentangle these two mechanisms for resolving disagreements between prayerfully considered positions, I would now like to emphasize the disharmony and competitive relationship which exists between these two mechanisms.  I have already shown how each mechanism sees the other as an obstacle or impediment to itself.  This is because one tradition relies upon social distinctions while the other relies upon an absence of social distinction.  Priesthood authority not only stands in judgment of inter-personal reasoning, but sees the reasoning of mortals as superfluous at best and an interference at worst.  Conversely, inter-personal reasoning not only stands in judgment of priesthood authority, but also sees the appeal to authority as superfluous at best and an interference at worst.  In other words, when it comes to the resolution of prayerfully considered positions there is an irreconcilable zero-sum-ness between these two incompatible mechanisms.

The most common way of reconciling these two mechanisms lies in the expectation that in the end the full consistency of beliefs and the full consistency of believers will be one and the same Truth.  I want to sideline this expectation, not because it is false but because it does not resolve any disagreement or answer any questions in this life.  In this life, there will never be a complete lack of contradiction between believers or their beliefs, which means that we will always be forced to make decisions in the here and now as to which or whose prayerfully considered position to endorse.  These choices must be made regardless of what harmonies will and will not exist in the hereafter.

65 Comments »

  1. Well done yet again.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 9, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

  2. There is a third way, following the spirit. There is a big difference between asking the spirit a few questions and following him. If you truly follow the spirit you become a disciple, lessons are then custom tailored using your frame of reference and they often contradict or exceed the official LDS envelope because there is little new to be learned within the LDS envelope and much to be learned outside it. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (Galatians 5:18)

    In the process you can know exactly what President Kimball knows, can speak with angels just as well as Joseph Smith spoke with them, and can be in tune with all things spiritual. BRM

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 7:29 am

  3. Howard,

    1) I’m sure you know that Galatians is talking about heals of Moses.

    2) I’m not sure you even read the post since it’s about reconciling prayerfully considered positions between at least two people.

    3) if you really believe that all we each have to do is follow the spirit then why do you bother participating in the ‘nacle? You can’t receive revelation for others, and their positions are just as prayerfully considered as yours. Consistency demands that you either admit that you are using inter-personal reasoning or remain silent regarding their beliefs.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 8:36 am

  4. *law of Moses.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 8:37 am

  5. One question I had is the idea that no two people have the same authority to access truth. Is this overstated? Like you and I for example. If the two of us are in a dispute over truth, we would seem to have the same authority as each other. At least in cases outside our personal and family lives.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 10, 2014 @ 9:14 am

  6. Jeff,
    Well if you want to time-limit Galatians 5:18 to the law of Moses don’t forget that includes the Ten Commandments. Prayerfully considered falls far, far short of a conversational relationship with the spirit which places one in the position of offering divine considerations to the discussion of two or more. Most people don’t realize following the spirit is the narrow way leading to the gate. What trumps being tutored and led by God, the 3 hour block, GC?

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 9:26 am

  7. Eric,

    Well, I guess lots of people have the same authority if we include no authority at all. When it comes to our own privately lived lives, I have exclusive authority and when it comes to running a church, quorum, etc I have none. Even the apostles are ranked by seniority to assure no competition.

    Howard,

    Why are you telling me this? Why don’t you just pray and be on your way like you say you do? Your comment sounds an awful lot like inter-personal reasoning.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 9:38 am

  8. Well, it gives me something to do since I haven’t been translated yet.

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  9. Maybe that’s due to an overuse of interpersonal reasoning and an inability to admit it. *L*

    Seriously, though, Jeff. Great post.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good question to ask why the prayerfully-considered but incompatible guidance needs to be reconciled at all? The answer to that, in my mind, reveals something of God’s ways.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 10, 2014 @ 11:06 am

  10. Howard,

    All snarking aside, I kind of feel like I’ve got you pegged in this post. Naturally, I do expect you to resist my depiction, but Im very interested in hearing why I might be wrong.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 11:41 am

  11. All snarking aside Jeff I don’t think you have much of anything pegged here. A prophet is only a prophet when speaking as a prophet. Given the SWK OD2 experience it’s quite apparent that true revelation through the President of the church rarely happens and inspiration is far more man than God. Elder Oaks acknowledges exceptions exist to the general advice the brethren dispense. Peanuts are healthy for you! (unless you’re allergic to them)

    So what exactly is the value of authority in the absence of actual revelation?

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

  12. One of the major points I make is that authority is the only place where revelation happens. At least all the revelation thats open to discussion. If a person doesn’t have authority then we can be absolutely sure that they have not recorded any revelation worth discussing. And this make false property’s out of a lot of the bloggernacle. Surely that kind of information is worth having in this life.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

  13. *received

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  14. And *prophets

    Stupid new phone.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  15. Hmm, not worth discussing? James E. Faust:

    the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

    It seems you’ve stepped beyond your authority and stewardship here Jeff.

    Your trademark argument is unimpressive. Given the church’s tiny slice of the world’s population it’s safe to say most revelation is taking place outside of LDS priesthood authority. His spirit is poured out upon the world.

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

  16. In a certain sense, you’re kind of right, but not in the sense that really gets at the heart of the issue. To be sure, all those guys might have been inspired just as much as you might be. So what? I have not denied this.

    What I can say is that their inspiration (and yours) is not binding on anybody beyond themselves. “All truth is independent in sphere which God has placed it.” We can go even further though. We can be absolutely sure that those people who think they are inspired regarding what the church leaders should or should not be praying about, what the church should and should not be saying about it’s history, etc. are not inspired by God.

    Yes, you might very well be inspired by God when you raise your hand to object to rather than sustain our leaders. There is nothing wrong with a person doing whatever way they feel is right in the privacy of their own personal lives. But blogging in the ‘nacle is not limiting oneself to the privacy of their own lives. As soon as you go online and use your personal revelation as license to advocate a position which is contrary to that of the prayerfully considered positions of the priesthood leaders, we can all be sure that your revelation is false.

    Again, I don’t see anything that you say as being a counter-example to this order of heaven, as it has been called. Furthermore, I can’t for the life of me see how what so many progressives do in the ‘nacle is explicitly contrary to this order of heaven. I really am trying to understand what, exactly, you think is wrong with my post but I can’t.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

  17. Again, nobody is denying that all people are or can be inspired. What I am denying is that all people are or can be inspired about things outside of their stewardship. I can’t receive inspiration about how you should live your life or what you ought to believe, but your bishop can. The apostles can and receive revelation about what you ought to believe, which is why we quote them. You, however, cannot receive revelation about who the church ought to ordain in the present or past. Indeed, no protester can receive inspiration regarding what the church leaders ought to be praying about. All such people are paradigmatic examples of false prophets.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  18. I’ve said nothing about binding but how do the words of inspired pholosophers become binding to the extent that they do? Reformers of the past enjoyed a portion of God’s light but today’s do not? Your argument lacks basis, it is circular beginning and ending with “authority”.

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

  19. I’m still not understanding what your objection to my argument is. Where exactly do you find a problem? I first show that there are two incompatible ways of vetting the prayerfully considered positions which people advocate. I then describe the logic and values which structure each of these ways. I think that one of these ways fits much better with Mormon doctrine than the other. I also think that progressives in the bloggernacle (such as yourself) are much closer to the “other” way.

    Do you agree with any of these things? How would you correct my descriptions of the two ways? Your comments have not been very helpful so far.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 10, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

  20. Jeff,
    You tend to conflate God’s words with the words of the brethren as if nearly every word they speak is propheticlly the word of God, but given the rarity of true revelation this assumption must be wrong far more often than it is correct. So to borrow from computer lingo, garbage in – garbage out. I have not critiqued your logic here because in practice it is irrelevant.

    Comment by Howard — June 10, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

  21. This is all very interesting and somewhat true as far as it goes. But of course it has no relevance to the operation of priesthood within a marriage, because as we know from President Oaks’ teachings on the differences of priesthood in the home and family, priesthood in the family is NOT heirarchical and the marriage partners are to be equal.

    Moreover, since women have primary responsibility for the nurturing of children, and that can be the main topic of concern and conflict for families for decades. So the male may preside, using his priesthood to serve his family, but the mother has the stewardship that entitles her to revelation about the rearing of the children.

    Also, where does church policy fit into this? Because according to the handbook, a bishop cannot decide who a YW or RS president’s counselors should be: He only has the assignment to approve her recommendations. He can deny her recommendation, but per the handbook he does not have the authority to put a new name in the place. Yet we hear all the time of bishops who do that.

    Yes, the bishop is over the ward and may know folks in the ward better than anyone. And he may offer counsel as to possible counselors. But it does not mean that name is the person that the Lord would have serve. It just means that the Lord wants the bishop to offer that counsel. It is within the stewardship of the YW president to make that prayerful determination.

    Similarly, as a mother of grown children, I receive revelation as to counsel that I should give my adult children. But I do not delude myself that this counsel is what the Lord wants for my adult children. It is only what they should hear as they prayerfully make up their own minds. Sometimes there is value in having something considered and actively rejected.

    But I do not think that the Interpersonal Reason column is quite as negative as this chart portrays. After all, interpersonal reason is a big part of what goes on in church councils. Just as the Lord does not expect us to reject modern medicine and rely only on blessings of healing, I believe we are to use all sources of truth in our service. And frankly, a lot of priesthood leaders would serve more effectively if they improved their interpersonal reasoning skills while still making final decisions on their knees.

    Comment by Naismith — June 11, 2014 @ 7:34 am

  22. Howard,

    What you say seems perfectly in keeping with my paragraph on fallibility. If we are talking about personal revelation for what we each should believe, say and do in our individual lives, then we are pretty much telling the same story.

    When it comes to what I should believe, say and do in my life, I do not think that the words of the leaders are one and the same with the word of God…. although there is some overlap. One the other hand, when it comes to what I should believe, say or do in my life, there is exactly zero overlap between the words of the bloggernacle (unless they are quoting or defending priesthood leaders) and the word of God since they have no stewardship over me.

    Do you accept this principle as articulated by the Joseph Smith quote at the beginning of my post? Do you reject that people can receive revelation regarding issues and courses of action that are outside their stewardship? This question is pretty important, since it restructures the entire debate.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  23. Hey Naismith, welcome back!

    I actually think that you and I are very close to being on the same page here. The only part that I think might use some clarification is that open, two-way communication (and even some debate) is very important and useful up until the Lord speaks to the uniquely authorized individual. What my post is against is attempts to find some human way of negotiating, compromising or harmonizing two different people’s answers to prayer. This is the way that I see inter-personal reasoning a polluting heavenly messages.

    But of course each person is entitled to revelation regarding their own course of action, as in the case of the YW president. What is not allowed, however, is for the YW president to receive revelation about what the bishop ought to be praying about or the answers that he ought to be receiving to those prayers. I see this as being very similar to our being prompted to raise a hand in objection to some ordination, something which does not allow us to suggest somebody different or even deny that person their calling. Our stewardship ends with raising our hand, the only choice which we are authorized to make.

    Regarding the relationship between this post and the structure of the family, I’m sure you can see how the two are connected in my mind. Nevertheless, I don’t think that any particular family structure necessarily follows from this post, so I would just assume leave that topic for some other thread.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 9:02 am

  24. Well I think we vary a great deal in practice from your fallibility paragraph.

    “Thus saith the Lord” revelation is channeling the Mind of Jesus Christ through a prophet. The Lord is saying what ever he has on his mind that he wants to tell us. Inspiration is hugely limited compared to this where the President of the church thinks up a yes/no question or two to ask God. To begin with this limits the communication to what the President wants to talk about rather that the broader things God may on his mind. So we like to say they and we are guided in our callings but that guidance is quite limited, we are only guided within the options we offer up to God unless we start to become a disciple in which case we will be taught much more sophisticated ways of divine communication.

    The problem is SWK’s OD2 experience is well documented and it was a wordless “revelation” so the limited canon plus the evidence we have concerning revelation after Joseph strongly suggests that the brethren are limited to Magic 8 Ball or Hot/Cold types of divine communication. And this may be why they prefer unanimous quorum inspiration today given they lack the specificity of true clear revelation.

    I know others who enjoy much more sophisticated divine communication than that. While it’s true the bloggernacle doesn’t have “stewardship” over you it is a place to learn and share ideas just as school is a place learn and share ideas about philosophy extended by the great inspired philosophers. When bloggernacle ideas are good or inspired or divine they begin to take on a life of their own and in many cases this begins a dialog with the church. I believe God loves these conversations and debates, it it one of the channels he uses to pipe light into the world and into the church. No one says you have to accept them.

    I think the biggest difference in our approach to this is you value authority over truth and I value truth over authority. You seem to argue that authority is the only source of truth. If so what is the authority of the great philosophers above? I argue that implicit in having access to God’s power is the authority to use it. While the church retains authority, a comparison to the church under Joseph clearly shows that it has lost most of it’s power precisely because today it substitutes inspiration for “Thus saith the Lord” revelation. Other areas of large loss include plural marriage and the Law of Consecration both of which help refine a people to a level of selflessness resembling Christ. So while I understand your desire to tout authority since it what the church has left my desire is to nudge us into the realization that the church has regressed and is now standing still in that regressed place with the hope of regaining the lost power and moving ahead in spiritual growth.

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 9:44 am

  25. So to summarize priesthood leaders who have been uniquely authorized to receive revelation on various issues simply don’t! And that fact makes your argument and assumptions largely irrelevant!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 10:21 am

  26. “I think the biggest difference in our approach to this is you value authority over truth and I value truth over authority. You seem to argue that authority is the only source of truth. If so what is the authority of the great philosophers above?”

    This is definitely one of the places where we are speaking past one another. It’s not that I authority as the best path to truth, as if these were two separate things. It’s not that I see authority rather than individuals as competing approaches to truth. Rather, I see truth itself as being an ambiguous concept in need of clarification. Furthermore, arguing for which definition of truth is the true one, sets us down a strange path. Thus, I choose to sideline the pitfalls of thinking in terms of truth and choose instead to think in terms of the rules for belief. Instead of asking “which doctrine is true?” I ask “which doctrine ought we believe and advocate?” There are many rules which govern which doctrines we ought to believe and advocate, but one of them is that we ought to believe that which is taught us by uniquely authorized leaders. Thus, believing authorized leaders isn’t something that I think leads us to a separate something else which we call truth. Rather, believing our authorized leaders partially constitutes truth itself. But that’s a topic for another time.

    Your relationship to the church leaders seems ambivalent, to say the very least. I can’t remember if I asked you before, but are you LDS? I only ask because before leaving the church I dabbled with a lot of fundamentalist literature and much of what you say sounds familiar.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  27. It’s not that I [see?] authority as the best path to truth

    Okay *best path*! I agree provided an authoritative path on specific issues is actually being provided (as Joseph did for example. But I don’t consider silence when revelatory silence has been the default for many years to be an answer or a path. Nor do I consider Elder Oak’s legalistic priesthood brief more than a Pharisaical opinion. That would assume the younger missionaries is the only message God has for the world in 2014! Instead, it’s self evident the heavens are closed to the brethren when it comes to revelation and L. Tom Perry was quoted saying as much at a SoCal ward not long ago. So given this, when they speak it is highly unlikely their words are God’s words unless they are quoting prior revelation.

    I see truth itself as being an ambiguous concept in need of clarification.

    Indeed! But truth is not illogical or we would not have been encouraged to study it out in our minds. Instead religion is the mortalization of spirituality and as a result much is lost in that translation and in the dumbing down required for us to catch a glimmer. These facts contribute greatly to the uselessness of inspiration as compared to clarity of “Thus saith the Lord” revelation.

    we ought to believe that which is taught us by uniquely authorized leaders.

    Sorry but the correlation dept. amounts to men further dumbing down what God already dumbed down. Have you ever played telephone? Do you believe Joseph was a monogamist? Belief for the sake of belief has value but studying it out in our minds has even more value. Believe and follow your authorized leaders all you want but today they aren’t leading you anywhere, you are just marking time marching in place.

    Yes, I’m LDS and no I have no involvement with or interest in the fundamentalist sects, instead I am a sell what you own, give it to the poor and follow him disciple of more than 10 years now. Thanks for asking.

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 11:19 am

  28. Great post.

    The only thing I half disagree with is that the Interpersonal Reason approach is, in fact, egalitarian. In theory it is of course, which is why I only half disagree with it. But in practice the winning argument is almost always the one that comes from the person who is most capable of arguing persuasively. The best debaters can take opposite sides of an argument at different times and win them both, so the victory demonstrates skills of persuasion, but tells us nothing of truth. Consequently, any appeal to this form of persuasion is really no more than accepting champion debaters as our modern prophets. Why do we think the lawyers were at the front of the anti-prophetic attacks in the Book of Mormon? Because they’re professionally trained in winning arguments. It didn’t do them or those who followed them any good though….

    Comment by JeffC — June 11, 2014 @ 11:57 am

  29. Okay, but your evaluation of the revelation that others have or have not received is, again, something that is beyond your stewardship. Thus, these things could not have been revealed to you, even if you had been guided to reject many church teachings.

    This brings us right back to the Joseph Smith quote. Do you accept it or not?

    If you do accept it, then most of what you say is totally beside the point. Even if the church leaders don’t receive very much revelation compared to other times, this does not change the fact that they are the only one who can receive such revelation at all. Since you can’t know for sure what the church leaders have and have not received from God (since it’s not part of your stewardship), and since no other group or person can receive revelation for the church (since it’s not part of their stewardship), then following the church leaders’ direction of the church is only source of revelation which can guide us as a whole. You may not think that they give us all that much, but this does not change the fact that they are still the only ones who can receive any at all.

    If you do not accept the Joseph Smith quote, then you truly do reject most of the things in my post and we probably don’t have all that much to talk about.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

  30. JeffC,

    (Sorry, the post above was for Howard)

    I absolutely agree that neither mechanism in implemented perfectly. Rather, I see them as the rules of two different games which, as is the case in most games, tend get broken from time to time. I think this holds for both mechanisms, so I wouldn’t fault either one for that.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

  31. Okay, but your evaluation of the revelation that others have or have not received is, again, something that is beyond your stewardship.

    No, that’s not true. The truthfulness of prophetic revelation is indeed squarely in each of our stewardships and encouraged by BY. I have the right and I am encouraged to check it by studying it out in my mind and asking the spirit if it be right. And I’m allowed to discuss that with you and with others. And it is not uncommon for it to be in conflict with the brethren, many have reported this regarding the ban on blacks, the spirit fleeing and proposition 8. Today conflicts are being reported regarding women and gays.

    they are the only one who can receive such revelation at all

    No, that’s not true!!! You are creating folklore here and you couldn’t be more wrong. The President (not the brethren) is the only one who can receive revelation *for the church*. Each of us can receive revelation for our stewardships but our stewardships include ourselves so even according to BRM I can know exactly what President Kimball [or TSM today] knows, can speak with angels just as well as Joseph Smith spoke with them, and can be in tune with all things spiritual. Exactly what TSM knows!

    So the absolute best source of truth is our personal relationship with the spirit if we have one. My Bishop even agrees the spirit trumps all. In the absence of the spirit we should follow the prophet, in the absence of a answer from the prophet we should follow scripture.

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

  32. Howard,

    Do you accept the Joseph Smith quote above or not?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

  33. Jeff, I’m loving your arguments up until this: “Since you can’t know for sure what the church leaders have and have not received from God (since it’s not part of your stewardship)…”

    It was an integral part of missionary teachings that each individual CAN pray and know for themselves if they truly have received revelation from God. And they can testify to that point to others.

    I don’t think you meant to say otherwise, but it sounds like it from your arguments. At the risk of putting words in your mouth, I’d refine the statement a little further.

    We most definitely do have the stewardship to decide whether or not a prophet is of God, and the responsibility to preach what we know. There is a problem, however, with the idea that we can know that a prophet is of God, but then think that we can dictate how that prophet receives revelation. While there are more complex methods of communicating with the Spirit, whether or not someone truly is speaking on behalf of God is a Boolean T/F choice. We don’t have the luxury of answering like it’s an essay question.

    If we say “True,” then it would do us good to follow what is said and to support them in every way possible, including not trying to undermine their teachings by pretending we are more in tune than they are. If “False,” we need to stop following them altogether because no matter how much truth is mixed in with error, we will never come closer to Christ by following false prophets.

    It is extremely prideful and clearly Adversarial to say “yes, I believe that the prophets are called of God, but they aren’t 100% in tune with the Spirit, so we’re not really supposed to follow them unless we have a clear revelation to do so.” That shows a gross ignorance of God’s ways.

    God works through imperfect beings in order to accomplish His purposes. This means that for Him, the people are worth far more than perfect accuracy. And that goes for all of us in whatever calling we are extended.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 11, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  34. That was exactly (albeit far less eloquently) going to say, but I kind of feel that Howard has been dodging the question regarding the J.S. quote. Once we get his feedback regarding the quote, it should be much easier to parse out the differences between personal revelation which sustains or objects to the church leadership and revelation which places itself in competition with that of the church leadership.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

  35. The is soooooo much more available in our communication with God than T/F! The church and prophets are far more than a simple T/F question/answer. Your answer is primary level SR.

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

  36. Jeff,
    The quote was received at a time when THE Prophet Seer and Revelator was hand picked and personally trained by God, a time of feast in revelation for the church not a time of famine. It enforces a power structure hierarchy aimed at bring order and reducing duplication.

    But what happens to the *economy of God* during a time of revelation famine when prophets seers and regulators are ordained and sustained instead of personally training by God to receive revelation? Isn’t it possible that truth must enter the church from outside if the church becomes incapable to receive it for herself?

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

  37. I take it, then, that you do not accept the J.S. quote as an accurate description of the church today.

    I answer, “yes” because even in the time of extreme famine, the Lord would not allow J.S. to organize or direct the church until he had been ordained by angelic visitors. Under this view, then, the 1st vision was probably not as important as were the priesthood restorations which were always witnessed events.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

  38. Oops! I didn’t mean to bold print that much. Oh well.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

  39. Take a look at a grayscale SR. Select two gray dots sitting next to each other at the center. Those two dots are nearly identical, they vary ever so slightly in value. Now convert them to black or white. One moves to the black side and the other to the white side. That’s what you do to the truth in your primary example. You truncate and polarize the truth and call the result of that post processing belief!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

  40. Jeff,
    The problem with the church is that while it retains authority via. a succession of laying on of hands it is easy to see by comparison that it has lost the ability to receive revelation and has substituted inspiration and group inspiration for it.

    Revelation is far more God than man. Inspiration is far more man than God. Over time depending on inspiration alone introduces a lot of error and explains things like the ban on blacks fiasco.

    Blacks can. Backs can’t. Blacks can. =/= The prophet can’t lead the church astray!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

  41. Howard,

    It’s not in your stewardship to reveal such changes in the economy of heaven. This is false prophecy at its finest.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

  42. No prophecy involved Jeff, just deduction via open eyes!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

  43. The arm of the flesh it is, then.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 3:16 pm

  44. And the resent revelation proving the arm of the flesh wrong? 18/19 year old missionaries or OD2? Which do you prefer for this argument? The secularly popular now 36 year old correction to the ban on blacks fiasco or the profound new leadership advice to the the world that younger missionaries and younger marriages is the way to go?

    Any word on minutia like new gospel truths, world peace, feeding the world or the savior’s return?

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 3:25 pm

  45. Just the endless repetition by authorized prophets who warm us not to trust in the arm of flesh.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

  46. Sure, when your leaders speak the thinking has been done!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

  47. Never thought I’d see the day when Howard would defend human reason as the best path to understanding the economy of heaven. I’m genuinely surprised.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 4:42 pm

  48. Reason is a valuable tool, I’ll bet even God uses reason!

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

  49. Howard,

    A little offurther topic, but was that your comment over at “our thoughts”?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

  50. *off

    Seriously, I’m getting a new phone tomorrow.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  51. I don’t think so. What is “our thoughts” or “off thoughts”? Link?

    Comment by Howard — June 11, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

  52. If it wasn’t you, it doesn’t matter.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 11, 2014 @ 7:20 pm

  53. Jeff, I think this is my favorite formulation of this argument yet. Nice table.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 12, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

  54. Thanks Jacob. Charts like these really help me see things more clearly, so I’d like to try and incorporate them into more of my posts. I just wish I could make them look a little prettier in WordPress.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 13, 2014 @ 8:37 am

  55. Howard, of course there is so much more in our interaction with the Spirit than T/F. However, there is only really a T/F answer to the question “Is this person truly speaking on behalf of God?” That is what I said. I’m not going to waste my time arguing strawmen analogies. If you have genuine rebuttals to my actual comments, please feel free to present them.

    In order to try to understand the difference between your perspective and mine, my question to you would be: What is a prophet?

    Comment by SilverRain — June 13, 2014 @ 10:11 am

  56. SilveRain:

    there is only really a T/F answer to the question “Is this person truly speaking on behalf of God?”

    This is not at all a T/F question and your suggesting it is is dumbs it down to primary level simplicity! That may be their intent, they may be doing their best to express what they understand God to mean but there are so many places for meaning to be lost or go astray in that transfer and it must go through the speaker’s filter so after all the interpretation along the way they may end up saying something very different than God originally intended. Do you believe God intended our “prophets” to spread all that folklore rubbish about blacks that is now repudiated by the church? This is why “Thus saith the Lord” revelation is so important, it’s accuracy and meaning cannot even be approached by inspiration, “Thus saith the Lord” revelation comes much closer to conveying God’s intent.

    What is a prophet? There is quire a range to that answer just as there is to revelation. But we don’t call an EQP or a RSP prophets, so just inspired stewardship for a given calling doesn’t seem to qualify, does it? And I doubt you would disagree that Joseph or Moses were Prophets. So a prophet would have somewhat more access to God’s mind than an inspired steward and somewhat less than JS or Moses, wouldn’t he/she? And the closer they come to a Joseph type of conversational relationship with God the better guided the church will be.

    Comment by Howard — June 13, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

  57. Here is an example of the inefficiency T/F divine guidance can bring. Does this explain why blacks could, couldn’t and now finally can?

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=549236911851790

    Comment by Howard — June 13, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

  58. You’re misunderstanding the question. I didn’t ask “is the person perfectly transmitting God’s words?” or “is the person 100% in tune with exactly what God wants?” The question is “is this person truly speaking on behalf of God?” To rephrase, “Has God truly called and authorized this person to speak for Him?”

    You addressed, but never answered my question, so I’ll try to rephrase: “What is the purpose of a prophet?” or “Why does God call prophets?” or “What is a prophet to God?”

    It feels like you’re trying to dodge the questions by overcomplicating them. Will you answer them directly?

    Comment by SilverRain — June 13, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

  59. Howard,

    I know that the (in)correctness of priesthood ban seems very obvious to you. It does not, however, seem so obvious to those of us you disagree with you. This makes it a very poor premise to argue from. Do you perhaps have a different set of shared premises from which to approach the issue?

    Comment by Jeff G — June 13, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

  60. I think you’re absolutely right that the crux of this issue goes to how things change in the church. OW believes the answer is to lobby for change. The brethren feel differently. Part of the problem appears to be an understanding of the revelation on the priesthood as it affected blacks. There apparently is a belief that expression of dissatisfaction with that teaching led to the change, whether a revelation as such was involved or the brethren realized there was no initial revelation declaring the ban to begin with. That encouraged OW to make the stand it has now made. I’m sure they feel they are marching in the same footsteps as those from the 1960s and 1970s who called for a review and change of policy. The difference is, under the question of ordaining women, no real harm is being done to sisters, since they are not required to be ordained to any priesthood office to obtain any eternal blessing.

    Comment by DeepintheHeart — June 16, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

  61. Jeff G: I can think of at least a few examples of how priesthood authority trumping interpersonal dialog has played out poorly.

    Husband and wife, with kids, under some current and anticipated future financial pressure and need to make a smart investment. Wife has a Masters Degree in Geology, husband has a Bachelors in Music. Husband has well trusted associate, a cousin, who offers an attractive investment opportunity, in a mine.

    Husband shares information with wife, who does some research and based on geology expertise concludes the ambitions of the mining entrepreneur can’t possibly pan out.

    Husband has priesthood stewardship over the whole family, wife’s opinion is given tremendous consideration, but after praying for insight, husband is inspired to pursue the mining investment, which goes bad and the investment money is lost.

    From a faithful perspective, one could suggest maybe the Lord had this financial challenge planned for the family, it was a trial of faith. Perhaps it was even a direct challenge of the wife’s faith in her husband and the priesthood authority he has over the family.

    Or, one could look at this as a misapplication of priesthood authority and trusting in the spirit (too much?) in making important decisions regarding the family’s financing.

    I think most LDS couples would avoid this result, if in the same situation, but I’ve known a small number of men who were unquestionably devout and very in tune with the Holy Ghost, and got (I think) sort of “intoxicated” on the signals they were receiving, or maybe they got caught up in the emotional rush of making a large amount of money, with this kind of result.

    They certainly were not unworthy or practicing unrighteous dominion over their families, which I think points back to an over reliance on personal revelation, or maybe there were other things that will be revealed later, perhaps after this life.

    Most things in life are grey, in my experience.

    Comment by Mark — June 24, 2014 @ 7:33 am

  62. Mark,

    I agree that all the things you bring up are not only plausible, but occasionally actual. One need only look at Joseph Smith’s own life and the early history of the church to see these exact same things happening on larger scales.

    I guess it really boils down to one’s faith. In my posts I pretty much assume that I am talking to people who have, or at least strive to have a strong testimony in the church. In the difficult cases you bring up, the world exerts strong pressure on us to bring some kind of peer review to such cases whereas the church says something along the lines of “God’s ways are higher”.

    Thus, we are left with a choice to make: will we frame the world and our actions in it as the world does or as the church does? The aim of my posts is to help us see this choice for what it is so that we do not attempt to dissolve our own personal accountability for this choice by weighing evidence, reasoning and other such processes which are symptoms of having already made the choice without even realizing it. Unsurprisingly, choosing to evaluate our options and frame our choices in the world’s terms leads us to side with the world, and the same ting can be said for choosing to evaluate our options and frame our choices in terms of faith.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 24, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

  63. Jeff – thanks for the response.

    I think we’re looking at things a little differently, but there is probably a lot of overlap and agreement.

    Here are two modern examples of faith vs temporal reasoning that I think speak well of the LDS faith:

    1. A fundamentalist Christian couple in Wisconsin put their faith to the test in how to treat their diabetic child, and relied on the power of prayer over medical treatment, ie, insulin. The young child died, the parents were convicted of some level of homicide.

    Just about all the LDS I know would not take this course of action, taking perhaps a more “worldly” approach and using the best medical treatment available, *combined* with faith and prayer. This seems like an intelligent, pragmatic approach that doesn’t counter LDS faith in any way (at least as near as I can tell).

    2: There’s a new version of the old TV series “Cosmos” which was originally hosted by the astronomer Carl Sagan (remember Johnny Carson mimicking Sagan talking about “billions and billions of stars”? That guy).

    Anyway, the new version is produced by Carl Sagan’s widow, and hosted by an extraordinarily impressive astro physicist named Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who does a great job of conveying complex scientific knowledge & theories in a way that is understandable.

    That plug for “Cosmos” aside, there’s now an ongoing battle between Tyson and Christian fundamentalist scientists, who take great offense at some of the series’ claims, such as the Big Bang occurred 13.9 Billion years ago, and the Earth is about 4.5 Billion years old.

    The fundamentalists claim the Earth is only about 6600 years old, they have theme parks that depict dinosaurs & humans living together, etc. On that point, Tyson aptly makes the claim that we know the Earth is not 6600 years old, because we’re just now receiving light from parts of the universe much further away, in light speed.

    There are a whole bunch of points where Tyson and the Fundamentalists are clashing, and I immediately thought I know of many faithful LDS scientists who would not be caught in such a foolish showdown. They’re able to reconcile scientific discoveries (in general) with a more nuanced reading of scripture – was it 6 days the Earth was created in, or 6 eras? – and there’s just no problem accommodating information that is troubling for other religious groups.

    I work in health sciences, with a fair number of LDS scientists, and Evolution, which much of current healthcare research is based on, is not in question, nor is it problematic, for LDS Biology PhDs.

    I certainly share the LDS notion that science and faith are not irreconcilable. It’s a pity that the extreme views of some religionists make some scientists turn completely atheist.

    Comment by Mark — June 24, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

  64. So what I would like to know is: Who is Howard? Like, really?

    Comment by Michael Towns — June 27, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

  65. I suspect he’s a duck.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 28, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

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