(I do not even pretend to know Latin, so correct me if my title isn’t quite right.)
Over at Times and Seasons, I mentioned the passage of the New Testament where Jesus says:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” -Matt 23: 2-3
This is an incredibly powerful claim on Jesus’ part in that he is saying that even though the scribes and Pharisees were unrighteous men, because of the priesthood offices that they held, their teachings should still be obeyed! This, I suggested, strongly undermines the common tendency to dismiss any argument that even remotely resembles prophetic infallibility. After all, these priesthood leaders were not only imperfect in the typical cognitive sense (not unlike every other mortal), but they were also flawed in a deeply moral sense…. And yet the apostles were still told to obey what these immoral men taught!
To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m willing to go all the way down this path, nor is it clear to me that Jesus himself goes all the way down it. What is clear, however, is that he makes the moral and intellectual fallibility of priesthood leader totally irrelevant to our obedience to their teachings. (At no point within gospel teachings is our obedience to priesthood leaders conditioned upon their being infallible, certain, morally or intellectually pure, etc…. which is the primary point of this post.)
While the KJV above is the official version for the church, a commenter named “perturbed” did point out that Joseph Smith’s version of that passage reads differently (note* This is found not in the JST, but in the “Inspired Version” that is not officially endorsed by the LDS church):
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, *that they will make you observe and do*; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works:; for they say, and do not.”
Notice, however, that while the reading is different, it does not contradict what the KJV version (the version that the church takes to be official) says. Thus, it could be argued that this is not an open and shut case in either direction.
It was at this point in the thread, however, that BradL, who I’ve interacted with before, chimed in with the rather cliche accusation that I was preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility”. I finally challenged BradL to find any place where I have suggested that priesthood leaders are never (let alone incapable of being) wrong or that I have suggested that we ought to obey our priesthood leader no matter what. Indeed, I challenged him to find ANYBODY who has taught these things, a standing challenge that I offer to all readers.
To be sure, one can easily find statements that we should not publicly oppose or correct priesthood leader, or that we should not trust our own reasoning/understanding over the teachings of priesthood leaders, but I have never heard of anybody ever teaching that you should obey priesthood leaders even if God Himself tells you otherwise. This is what “blind obedience” or “prophetic infallibility” amounts to and nobody ever teaches it. It is a bugbear of the intellectuals’ own making.
I do admit, however, that it may be the case that somebody, somewhere actually has taught one or both of these things. There are lot’s of people who have said lot’s of pretty incredible things, so I can’t be 100% sure on this point. What I can be sure of, however, is that the vast majority of church members or bloggernacle participants who have ever been accused of teaching these things have not, in fact, done so. The closest that I have ever found to somebody actually teaching these things is Jesus Himself in the passage above.
I thus propose the following as a new rule that I will call “Reductio ad Infallibilum”:
Whenever an LDS blogger accuses another LDS blogger of preaching “blind obedience” or “prophetic infalliblity” within some debate, they have automatically lost the debate in question. Such a person has used the sloppiest of human reasoning to defend a trust in human reasoning and is thus no longer worth reasoning with.
To be sure, there may well be exceptions to this rule (just as there are to any rule) in that it may be the case that a person actually has insisted that priesthood leaders are incapable of error or that we ought to obey what they say no matter what. It is possible that such people do exist. I, however, have never found such a person.