I was interviewed on Shawn McCraney’s “Heart of the Matter” internet TV show about this site and the fellowship movement.
I was interviewed on Shawn McCraney’s “Heart of the Matter” internet TV show about this site and the fellowship movement.
That depends on how you define the term.
The LDS people have their own definition of what a prophet is. They use, as their standard, a statement made by one of their church presidents:
The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2., included as a footnote to Official Declaration 1).
They also refer to a parenthetical insertion in verse 7 of the revelation contained in D&C 132, which states:
(…there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred). (D&C 132:7).
They use this reference to tie the role of a prophet to that of the president of their church exclusively, and create a hierarchy of the role that makes all other prophets, including their own apostles and seventies, subordinate to their one true “Prophet”. They suggest that only the president of their church can be a fully active “Prophet”, while all others are either barred from using the gift of prophecy, or are only allowed to use it if it doesn’t contradict the President, or if the use of it is constrained within the confines of their limited roles, callings, or within their own family.
Neither Official Declaration 1, nor the footnotes from addresses made by Wilford Woodruff, have been accepted by the LDS Church as canonized scripture, despite the text being published as appendages within their standard works. Publishing them there, however, has caused the membership to regard those declarations and writings as scripture without officially voting them as such.
There is evidence also that the parenthetical insertion in D&C 132:7 was added later at the request of Brigham Young, but that’s beyond the scope of this post. Instead, simply contrast that parenthetical afterthought with an earlier revelation given by Joseph Smith, where the Lord appoints Hyrum Smith to hold the sealing blessings of the church while Joseph Smith continued to be a prophet to the church:
First, I give unto you Hyrum Smith to be a patriarch unto you, to hold the sealing blessings of my church, even the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption, that ye may not fall notwithstanding the hour of temptation that may come upon you. I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet. (D&C 124:124-125).
Despite the plainness of language in the D&C 124 revelation, the LDS have created a complex practice of delegation where “sealers” in LDS temples act only under the authority of the highest ranking priesthood holder in their church. Because of their confusion about the Lord’s intentions for the role as revealed through Joseph Smith, the LDS have projected modern organizational concepts onto past practices, and have convinced themselves that Hyrum and Joseph held roles similar to ones defined today to support their acceptance and interpretation of D&C 132:7 as it stands in their version of the Doctrine and Covenants.
On the other hand, the scriptures outline the role of prophets and their status as the seed of Christ with an important clarification. Abinadi says the prophets are the seed of Christ if they have not fallen into transgression (Mosiah 15:13). So, in Abinadi’s definition, a prophet cannot be permanently considered the seed of Christ until they have finished their course on this earth and have avoided falling into transgression. Denver has agreed with this assessment of the title and its application throughout his writings and lectures:
In my view, the word and the title of “Prophet,” is something hallowed and sacred. Like the name of the Son of God, it is something that ought not to be repeated too often. And I don’t think you can take the measure of a man until he finally lays his life down. How he lays his life down matters in the aggregate, as well. I don’t think someone who fares sumptuously and receives accolades during his lifetime is ever much in a position to understand the rigors of obeying God and the difficulties of being thought as merely a wild man, or preposterous, or everything that you are not. Read Paul’s description of the prophets: “―And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were astoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11: 36-38.) If Joseph suffered prison and was slain for the faith he worked to restore, it takes more than we generally give to have the same faith as the ancients. This is why I spoke of Faith in Idaho Falls. The conditions are the same in every dispensation. So when we use the term “Prophet” casually, to me, it seems to take something that ought to be spoken of with a great deal of care and turns it into something like a mere calling card. I find it offensive. I think it cheapens something, and it troubles me. When I think of the word “beloved,” I think of it exclusively in the context of our Savior. “This is my Beloved Son.” The One doing the loving in that context is the Father. This makes the term all the more something to be used with extraordinary delicacy and reserve. When you take those two words and you couple them together (“Beloved Prophet”), my sensibilities are such at this point in my life, that when you use the terms in that manner you are not appealing to me. Instead, you are repulsing me. You are not persuading me, you are offending me. You are not converting me, you are driving me away. I don’t say this to be critical of anyone. I say this because despite everything that I would like to be able to tolerate, despite my best efforts to try and make allowances, there are some things which when I hear, I simply cannot control. My repugnance at the notion that there is one who walks among us, who ought to be called “Beloved Prophet,” is something that I just cannot control. I don’t invite you to join me in that, but I want you to understand that in some respects we talk across a gulf. I say it in part to try to influence those who use the term to be more circumspect. I think the general population would be more persuaded by our missionaries if the terms were used with more caution. I also think applying extraordinary titles are less impressive than having a man preach the truth. If the content of his sermon is prophetic, then everyone can decide for themselves the measure of the messenger.(Denver Snuffer, 40 Years In Mormonism: Zion, p. 24).
Although I can’t find the references now, I remember reading that Joseph Smith and his family often refused the title “Prophet” for Joseph, depending on the context of the use of the title, but either way, in our estimation, he certainly earned the title at his martyrdom. On the other hand, Balaam had the spirit of prophecy and spoke with the Lord (Numbers 22-25), and prophesied true prophecies concerning Shiloh (Numbers 24:15-19), but he was not considered the seed of Christ. Peter described Balaam as someone who proved to love the wages of unrighteousness as opposed to being a true prophet (see 2 Peter 2:15).
Despite Denver and Joseph’s hesitancy to apply the title to themselves, the scriptures use the term “prophet” more generally, as in the Lord’s parable about fruits of true versus false prophets (3 Nephi 14:15-20). The Old Testament even provides us this advice for testing each and every saying from a prophet:
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. (Numbers 18:21-22).
And the Lord Himself defines the limited role of a prophet by contrasting their function to Moses’ role at the time:
And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8).
Yet, we often want absolutes and fail-safes. The LDS Church uses the term “Prophet” with the implication that they are incapable of falling into transgression, or at least incapable of transgressing to the point of losing their favored status. So in effect, they believe their prophets qualify for Abinadi’s final definition of who can be called the seed of Christ, while denying Abinadi’s clause about their ability to fall into damning transgression.
For sake of brevity, let’s say the LDS use the term “Prophet” with a capital “P”, meaning someone who earns the title indefinitely, who is protected from falling. And, let’s say “prophet” with a lowercase “p” means anyone who exhibits the gift of prophecy, who might lose or re-gain the gift as time goes on, according to their righteousness. Moses hoped we all could be called “prophets” among equals (Numbers 11:29), so Moses’ use of the word in that instance would be “prophet” with a lowercase “p”.
The LDS have applied a near-permanent status for the term “Prophet”, and consider it the role of their sitting president while he is living. Perhaps to avoid the baggage that goes along with the term, Denver Snuffer has avoided calling himself that kind of “Prophet”. But, if we were using the “prophet among equals” term, perhaps Denver would agree to the designation. This might be what he meant when he said:
The LDS don’t use the term “prophet” like Moses did, so it seems better not to confuse Denver with the LDS version of “Prophet”, which is more like the term “Pope”, and for which the LDS have all sorts of confusion about. “Servant” seems more fitting for a title for Denver. Despite outside speculation, Denver Snuffer also categorically rejects the title of “the One Mighty and Strong” (see Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, pp. 403-404). There are too many references in his writings to worry about defending on that point.
Regardless, one of the big debates surrounding Denver is the claim that he said if you disagree with him you will be damned. The alleged source for this claim is the transcript of Denver’s 10th talk in Mesa, but a word search for “damned” or “damn” only produces a reference to Joseph Smith talking about John the Baptist and to the scripture in 3 Nephi 11 where one is damned for not listening to the Lord’s command to be baptized. In that talk, Denver did say the following, however:
I have never said this publicly, but because of what I think will ensue after this talk I am going to say it, not for my sake, and certainly not for the sake of anyone who believes the truth or who has the Spirit, but I say it only to benefit those who may view things completely otherwise. The Lord has said to me in His own voice, ‘I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.’ Therefore, I want to caution those who disagree with me, to feel free, to feel absolutely free to make the case against what I say. Feel free to disagree, and make your contrary arguments. If you believe I err, then expose the error and denounce it. But take care; take care about what you say concerning me for your sake, not for mine. I live with constant criticism. I can take it. But I do not want you provoking Divine ire by unfortunately chosen words if I can persuade you against it. (Denver Snuffer, 40 Years in Mormonism: Preserving the Restoration, p. 4).
Whether or not anyone believes that the Lord actually said that to him is besides the point. In this quote, Denver says to feel free to disagree with him, contradicting the common claim against him mentioned above.
Others have issues with how Denver Snuffer expounds scriptures, such as when he learns more and updates his views on tangential topics like polygamy (but it should be noted, he has been against it throughout), or when he suggests non-traditional interpretations of old passages. Their problems stem from the idea that it is the role of a prophet to speak in absolutes at all times, and that he must be as knowledgable as the God he has met and/or talked with. Because of the glaring absence of this absolute in the scriptures (besides the footnotes that the the LDS reference from Wilford Woodruff above), this argument is weak. True prophets often challenge a culture steeped in degraded traditions, and their arguments resist popular opinions and interpretations. If we take John the Baptist as an example of proper expounding, the record shows that he taught things very similar to the Sermon on the Mount, which was radical in his day for suggesting what the true intent of the Law of Moses was on all of the commandments he covered (see Luke 3). It appears the Lord honored John’s “wild” expounding by making it a large part of His central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, showing that He, the Lord, had the same mind as John on the subjects that he expounded on. Concerning the relationship between the mind of God and the spirit of prophecy manifested by the prophets when they appropriately expound on scripture, it is enough to understand the following quote from the Lord in Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Because of Denver Snuffer’s exposition on the scriptures and his sharing of the spirit of prophecy given to him, some who fellowship together in the way Denver has suggested can’t help but call him a “Prophet” with a capital “P”. This may be zeal without knowledge. It is certainly an impulse that is carried over from LDS culture. As LDS, we have done the same to LDS General Conference addresses and the speakers there, and it is easy enough to see that some are just doing the same to Denver now, despite Denver’s repeated rejection of that type of adulation. When the Lord has given Denver Snuffer or any other prophet something with which to expound on, it should be evident enough to those who know the voice of the Good Shepherd, but how well Denver or anyone else relays that content in their weak state as mortals remains to be seen by the test of time. Many do not consider it possible that a true prophet could make the following claim about their teachings (which again stems from their assertion that a prophet must be infallible, which is, as we have seen, a false premise):
Although what I say this evening represents my current thinking on the material, I could not have given this talk ten years ago. Nor do I expect that ten years from now I would give the same talk. My understanding changes over time, and this is a snapshot of my understanding taken from a moving picture. I hope it is useful to you. (Denver Snuffer, A Talk About the First Three Words Spoken Spoken By The Players In the Endowment, p. 1).
Unless they are quoting the Lord directly (for instance, Denver has proven he intends to portray even the bad grammar the Lord condescends to use, when he corrected the record after mis-quoting one word from the Lord once, see 40 Years In Mormonism: Christ, p. 6), we have to rely upon Denver or any other prophet to accurately convey the information they have been given when they put things into their own words, and teaching is a much more difficult task than one might think. We call the Lord the “Master Teacher” because the rest of us are quite sub-par in this category, including all the prophets and all current servants. Denver seems to rely on the scriptures a lot to avoid the disconnect, and invites us to get the original message for ourselves from the Lord, unsullied, and pure. We have probably read James 1:5 by now, and have hopefully become aware of the benefits, as well as the limitations, of scriptures and messages through messengers, which only cause us to “think” we have eternal life (see John 5:39). If Denver doesn’t portray the content the Lord has provided for him correctly, he says the Holy Ghost will be the last witness to determine that for you:
First, I explained in everything I’ve written, beginning with The Second Comforter, that it is the role of the Holy Ghost to prepare and bring us to Christ. Without the Holy Ghost we cannot come to Christ. Further, in that same book I acknowledged the Holy Ghost’s foundational role by telling the reader that they must receive a witness from the Holy Ghost as they read the book or they do not have the required two witnesses. Without the Holy Ghost’s ratifying confirmation, I tell the reader to discard what I’ve written. Far from denegrating the Holy Ghost’s role, I have made it a central part of the process, without it no person can come unto Christ. (http://denversnuffer.com/2011/09/response-to-question/).
For myself, I have attended almost every lecture of his 40 Years Series, re-read the transcripts, and read the book “Preserving the Restoration” which removes the personal anecdotes and focuses on the scriptures and the interpretations. I’ve made myself a personal index of all the claims I find important, and I’ve asked the Lord if he vouches for Denver as His servant and if the course the lectures outline for us to pursue to preserve the restoration is pleasing to His will, after experimenting upon it for over a year now, and longer if you count prior books. I have heard from the Lord that it is pleasing to Him, and Denver is an authorized servant. As far as Denver’s mistakes and updates on historical facts, (especially considering that all of us are subject to sources that have been tampered with as an LDS cover-up until the more recent Joseph Smith Papers project has exposed the original record more), “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ” (Book of Mormon title page, and see http://denversnuffer.com/2014/05/damned-again/). If anyone searches Denver’s claims as seriously as they hope an investigator would search the Book of Mormon, they could know the same thing. If the Holy Ghost doesn’t confirm it, discard it. But, if you take a lazy approach, and make a man an offender for a word even after a long reading session mixed with skimming, and don’t experiment and sacrifice to learn about it, then you may not have given it a fair shake. You might end up like the CES instructor that finds contradictions all over the scriptures and has given up his faith in God, saying about the contradictions, in effect, “They can’t be explained.”
We’ll close with just one final note about what fruit to be looking for in a true prophet: Joseph Smith possessed the principle of love, and gathered many Saints, and to this day, even though the LDS Church is in apostasy, the LDS are good hearted, virtuous people. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the Book of Mormon is the fruit of the ancient Nephite and Lamanite prophets, while Joseph Smith’s fruit is his own labor of love for Christ and His people. That is Joseph’s fruit. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is how Christ identified his disciples, as those who love one another (John 13:34). Even the RLDS are great folks. The Fundamentalists are not short on their own virtues as well, and even though they are largely Brigham Young’s fruit, many are opening up to the Lord’s word through Joseph Smith instead because of their good hearts, as they discover Brigham’s mistakes in representing what Joseph Smith said. It is those who practice priest-craft in any of the off-shoots who have become hardened. However, those who have taken the message of the true prophets to look to Christ have become Christ’s fruit, who loves us all (see Mosiah 15:10-12). No one “follows” Denver without suffering the same fate as those who follow any man (see 2 Nephi 4:34). The scriptures speak for themselves and Denver is not very important beyond a certain level. With God’s approval, we can all preach and teach like John the Baptist, correct ourselves when we learn more truth, and move on in faith. Besides, the meekness characteristic of a prophet compels them to guard their words carefully so as not to take the name of the Lord in vain, and to establish when they are speaking opinions or provoking inquiry and thought. Casual perusal of Denver’s writings clearly evidences this pattern of meekness. We ought to be careful not to become accusers, which is Satan’s role. Errors in doctrine may be discussed and corrected, but a man’s character ought not to be questioned except by positive evidence of misconduct.
A priesthood holder has authority to do whatever God commands, and any ordinance when commanded, except they can’t do any ordinance on behalf of the LDS Church unless they have an office in that Church (see our posts here, here and here). The fruits are the improved lives of the people, as opposed to a Pharisaical evidence-test that a prophet teaches completely without error. Because of a fear of making mistakes in teaching, the LDS correlate everything and demand compliance. As a consequence, outsiders are often nicer to them than they are to themselves. There are none who dare to molest or make afraid in their congregations. A true prophet, on the other hand, possesses the principle of love, and a pure love of Christ, and adherence, as a minimum, to the doctrine of Christ in 3 Nephi 11. But, true prophets are also fallible men, and they may make many teaching errors when exploring the vast resource of knowledge which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith said the following concerning an excommunication trial drummed up against an elder with strange interpretations of the book of Revelation:
I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:340).
And, Joseph Smith said the following about relying on a prophet too much leading to a darkened mind:
President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842-43, p.237).
Any casual observer of LDS General Conferences can see that General Authorities make as many teaching errors as LDS lay members do in their congregations. If perfect teaching were the standard, then all General Authorities ought to be excommunicated for saying they are prophets and teaching errors. As for Denver Snuffer, we rejoice when God condescends to use a servant to expound the true meaning of the scriptures revealed in our day as the Standard Works, and pray to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!
A great article on the topic of the role of a prophet is by Robert Sonntag, and is well worth the read: What is a Prophet – 10.30.2014.
Several years ago, the LDS church president spoke of their ambition to make things less complicated in their church:
I need not tell you that we have become a very large and complex Church. Our program is so vast and our reach is so extensive that it is difficult to comprehend. We are a Church of lay leadership. What a remarkable and wonderful thing that is. It must ever remain so. It must never move in the direction of an extensive paid ministry. But we know that the administrative load is very heavy on our bishops and stake presidents, as well as some others. An awareness of that fact has led the Presidency and the Twelve to hold a number of meetings, some of them long and interesting, in which in effect we have taken the Church apart and then put it together again. Our objective has been to see whether there might be some programs we could do away with. But as we have analyzed these, we have not seen much that could be dropped. To drop one is like giving away one of your children. You haven’t the heart to do it. But I wish to assure you that we are aware of the burdens you carry and the time you spend. In this priesthood meeting I wish to mention a few of the items we have discussed. I think you will note that we have made some progress, although it may be small. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Men of the Priesthood,” October 2002 General Conference Priesthood Session).
When he said, “in effect we have taken the Church apart and then put it together again,” although outwardly a commendable notion, there is no consideration to the idea that programs could well be chosen and administered, or abandoned altogether, on the local level without central oversight.
Speaking to his twelve disciples of old, the Lord said:
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:25-27).
Perhaps it is for this reason that the only result of the LDS meetings to reorganize their structure was, “…that we have made some progress, although it may be small.” Progress towards what end? Perhaps it could be said, instead, that giving up one of their centrally correlated programs was like giving up one of their idols…which throughout history has been ironically difficult for mankind to do, despite the absurdity of worshiping vain things that cannot provide salvation. Without fail, religions that once thrived from direct blessings from heaven, have all eventually dwindled to the point of clinging to their buildings, programs, structures, and traditions when apostasy has set in.
It is evident from the scriptures that the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes sacred oral traditions replete with ceremony, ordinances, and consistency (see Alma 12:9-11). But, care should be taken with temple rites, as much mischief can be done by their misuse (consider Cain vs. Abel, Brigham Young’s polygamy and blood oaths, and see Helaman 6). But, in the proper context, correct rituals can be uplifting, and even essential for our exaltation:
Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 308).
An altered form of the oral tradition that Joseph Smith began in Nauvoo is available in LDS temples or online for review (see caution below). Because it has been altered over the years, it stands in the category of apocrypha, along with many other works that give insight into the ancient oral tradition of the Gospel (see Masonic rituals, and The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, especially his work on the Lord’s 40 day ministry, and the Egyptian Endowment, etc).
I used to be a Free and Accepted Mason, and I can say I believe Joseph Smith translated Masonry and restored what principles were lost into the beginnings of a format for use by the Priesthood in the last days, much like he translated the King James Version of the Bible…but we have lost much of what Joseph has restored.
There are no “keys” that give any man authority to change ordinances instituted before the foundation of the world, for the Priesthood, that are not intended to be changed. Therefore, changes in the endowment ceremony by definition make the ceremonies, to the degree of change involved, apocryphal, and inclusive of “interpolations by the hands of men” (D&C 91). The word history/definition of the verb form of “interpolation” is:
interpolate (v.) 1610s, “to alter or enlarge (a writing) by inserting new material,” from Latin interpolatus, past participle of interpolare “alter, freshen up, polish;” of writing, “falsify,” from inter- “among, between” (see inter-) + polare, which is related to polire “to smoothe, polish.” Sense evolved in Latin from “refurbish,” to “alter appearance of,” to “falsify (especially by adding new material).” Middle English had interpolen (early 15c.) in a similar sense. Related: Interpolated; interpolating. (see here).
Section 91 expresses principles revealed by the Lord on how to treat Apocrypha, and is worthy of a careful review before attempting to study any text about temple rituals, or to attend an LDS temple itself. In fact, because the rituals are intended to be transmitted in person with heaven’s approval, care should also be taken in reviewing online or written materials. For those who have already received ordinances with heaven’s approval, they can be a useful way to review, especially if the LDS Church has unjustly taken away your temple recommend.
The best current resources for getting at the truth of what is contained in the Gospel’s oral tradition is to read the standard works, Joseph Smith’s teachings, and Denver Snuffer’s teachings (See Denver’s posts here and here where he says in part, “I’m acquainted with all the changes. I have found them all and studied them all. I know all of the many differences.”). Within their teachings are the Savior’s principles that must be applied first in order to prepare for higher, sacred knowledge. That is enough to build upon today. We cannot have more if we do not appreciate and live what we have already been given (see 3 Nephi 26:9 and D&C 88:33). In the chapter entitled “Preserving the Restoration” in Denver’s book of the same title, he says:
There is nothing special about us, but there can be. We do not need hundreds of temples, but will need one to which Christ can come. We will not need to perform endless work for the dead until there has been a covenant made by God with us. We must be first connected to the fathers in heaven. Only then can we do something to liberate the dead. (pp.526-527).
Having activities for youth are great and wonderful, but become an encumbrance and a hindrance to righteous living when idolatry is involved. Parents are not excused from their responsibility to be the primary teachers of the gospel to their children, so any other wholesome program for youth can be substituted for LDS Church programs as the parents supplement with Gospel teaching on their own. If you choose to wade through the idolatry included in LDS youth programs (that encourage youth to “follow the prophet” and to follow LDS leaders), then you face the challenge of contradicting their errors and persuading your children with truth from the scriptures to combat the evil influence of those programs. But, such a course may be worthwhile if you simultaneously want to take advantage of the good left in those programs. The choice is yours. Many parents organize activities for their youth with their friends in fellowships that are just as uplifting and productive. With many having served in LDS callings for years, it is easy to reproduce only the good parts of activities that are developed from wise, divinely inspired orderliness that the LDS have now commercialized and promoted to yield high tithing receipts and participation. It is perfectly OK to opt out of the LDS Church corporation’s versions of the programs and recreate them on your own, according to God’s will. Then you can pick and choose the parts that are the most uplifting and leave behind the dross.
Nothing needs to be chartered and officially sanctioned unless it involves more people than your immediate family. Follow wise principles and get heaven’s consent before important endeavors, and if you do involve a larger portion of the community, get their common consent and avoid getting trapped into false traditions and bureaucratic excesses. Be smart, be safe, be frugal, and be free. If you were once willing to put forth great effort for a calling and to get the praise of leaders, do it again for your family and for the Lord, where not much of your effort will get recognized publicly. This can include ordaining your young men (or old men) to the Priesthood outside of the LDS Church (see Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, pp. 509-515) and encouraging proper preaching, teaching, expounding, and exhorting (see 3 Nephi 14:6). The Lord may call them to service in good and worthwhile organizations that can take them on similar assignments paralleling LDS missionary service (see our post here). The Lord may inspire them to preach in ways more powerful than the limited approach of the LDS for their youth (see Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, pp. 519). Remember that this movement started with a 14 year old boy being visited by the Father and the Son, who became a 22 year old who began and finished the translation of ancient scripture.
Much of LDS missionary work is babysitting unconverted missionaries. It is an affront to the Lord and a compulsion for some who have no desires to serve God, but seek only to fulfill a family and cultural obligation. The notion that a mission is what a youth needs to get converted is a false and damnable idea. The pattern the Lord outlined is simple and profound: “If ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work” (D&C 4). If there is no desire, there is no call. That being said, there are still sincere, and miraculous efforts in the LDS missionary program from those who truly desire to serve the Lord, but remember, there was no MTC in Joseph Smith’s day, and what was likely Joseph’s sealing to Emma was outside of temple walls (see Denver Snuffer, Passing the Heavenly Gift, footnote 10, p. 18).
Although these are general guidelines, and not specific answers to some of the topics in the question, it should be evident by now in our posts that we do not seek to be the final answer on these questions, but to direct the learner to the scriptures and to the Lord. Hopefully you will see the spirit of the scriptures in these posts, and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd when it has been evident, and be able to face God correctly in your journey forward.
Here are some other noteworthy resources, including a piece about sincere missionary work and inspired resources on how to conduct marriages approved by heaven, matching earlier practices of Latter-day Saints in Joseph Smith’s day:
(Rock Waterman, Where I Went Wrong On My Mission)
(Article on Marriage from the 1835 D&C, section 101)
As other conditions arise that require direction from heaven on how to proceed, such as what to do about Patriarchal blessings, and other important items, heaven can be sought and revelation obtained as God grants it.
Concerning callings, the restraint and balance required of Hyrum Smith by the Lord in regards to preaching is noteworthy in D&C 11, but service to our fellowman is always commendable (See Rock Waterman, The Refiner’s Fire, and D&C 58:26-33).
That depends. In many cases in today’s circumstances, no you will not.
Excommunication is an ordinance just like any other. In the Book of Mormon, the ordinance consisted of blotting out the names of those who would not confess their sins, and baptizing or re-baptizing those who confessed and returned again (see Mosiah 26). Since these actions are performed by ordinances, that means that excommunication and reinstatement through re-baptism take abstract intangible concepts and spiritual realities, and put them into physical rites by the use of symbolism. Being cut off from your community, after a church trial and conviction, is a type or symbol of being cut off from the presence of the Lord, or being cursed so as to be unable to achieve redemption for a time, and to be barred from seeing the Second Comforter. A revealed pattern for conducting the trial is contained in D&C 42 and D&C 102. The scriptures describe excommunication like so: “Inasmuch as ye are cut off for transgression, ye cannot escape the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption” (D&C 104:9; see also D&C 78:12, D&C 82:21, and D&C 132:26).
In connection with excommunication being an ordinance, D&C 132 outlines how the Lord validates any action claimed to be performed by His priesthood:
And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. D&C 132:7.
Therefore, it follows that excommunication is only valid if it is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Excommunication must be done in righteousness, or else it is an abomination on the part of the leaders who so take the name of the Lord in vain by falsely accusing and convicting innocent members. A faulty excommunication would be as bad as baptizing little children (see Moroni 8). Perhaps the Lord’s exclamation would be fitting for those who so profane his name: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2).
In fact, the Lord is more explicit in section 121 (and consider that “anointed” has no reference to general authorities in particular at all, but to any person upon whom the Lord has poured out His spirit because of their innocence and sincerity in believing His word; and meaning none of the general authorities unless they, too, have had His spirit poured out upon them, since a physical anointing is meaningless unless it, too, is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise):
Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them. But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves. And those who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death—Wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house. Their basket shall not be full, their houses and their barns shall perish, and they themselves shall be despised by those that flattered them. They shall not have right to the priesthood, nor their posterity after them from generation to generation. It had been better for them that a millstone had been hanged about their necks, and they drowned in the depth of the sea. Wo unto all those that discomfort my people, and drive, and murder, and testify against them, saith the Lord of Hosts; a generation of vipers shall not escape the damnation of hell. D&C 121:16-23.
Ironically, the LDS do not believe that it is necessary to achieve an audience with the resurrected Lord in this life anymore, so the very ordinance they claim to have power to perform (see D&C 104:10) to cut people off from this possibility, has lost its symbolic meaning for them.
The Lord always has had veto power for all of the acts said to be done in his name. Furthermore, when a church loses it’s divine commission, excommunications from that institution become meaningless all the more.
If you are facing excommunication, or have been excommunicated by the LDS Church, how can you tell if you have really deserved that kind of treatment or not? In other words, how can you tell if the Holy Spirit of Promise has sealed a curse upon you because of sin, or how can you tell if someone you know has been excommunicated for the right reasons?
It all depends upon the manner of life that you or they live. King Benjamin said, “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).
You shall know by the fruits of the Spirit, or absence of those fruits…Lehi observed that Laman and Lemuel were being excommunicated by the Lord Himself, as he feared they would be cut off from the presence of the Lord:
My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever; Or, that a cursing should come upon you for the space of many generations; and ye are visited by sword, and by famine, and are hated, and are led according to the will and captivity of the devil. O my sons, that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord. But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever. 2 Nephi 1:17-19.
Thankfully, it appears the Lord spared Lehi from performing the ordinance of excommunication for his own sons, but suffered Lehi to merely prophesy about it, and performed the excommunications Himself. In all cases of legitimate excommunication, it is the Lord who finalizes the act anyway.
Those who are legitimately excommunicated do not watch their thoughts, words, or deeds anymore; they do not observe the commandments of God such as the Ten Commandments; they do not continue in the faith of what they have heard concerning the coming of the Lord, nor of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In a word, they perish. And, as the Book of Mormon points out about the early stages of apostasy: they “dwindle in unbelief”. (This has nothing to do with disbelieving general authorities, and has everything to do with disbelieving scriptures and the Lord. We have gone over the difference in past posts such as this one, but on with the current subject…).
On the other hand, no matter how many people believe someone has been excommunicated legitimately, and no matter how much they may not like that person; or even, no matter how much they believe their leaders’ excommunication decisions are correct and honored by God, if the person who has been excommunicated has done no wrong according to the scriptures, and if they keep the commandments, and continue in the faith they have received, it is more likely that the LDS Church has lifted up their heel against one of the Lord’s anointed, and cried they have sinned when they have not sinned before the Lord. The Lord will not honor such gross misapplications of His “courts of love”, but will instead, according to His word (see 1 Samuel 2:30), honor the person who was unjustly persecuted and shamed by the priestcraft of false leaders (see also 3 Nephi 12:10-12, as well other scriptural examples that are just too numerous to list, such as the Lord’s whole mortal ministry in the New Testament, and the Acts of the Apostles, and the beginning of the Book of Mormon, and all the prophets in the Old Testament who fought against the established “Church” of their day).
Temple blessings and baptismal covenants are untouched and in force in such cases of false excommunication. Who cannot see the logic in this? Little children can understand as much. Fear not. If you are excommunicated or are about to be, ask yourself, “Do I still have faith?” If so, then as Gordon B. Hinckley used to say, “Go forward in faith,” and continue to enjoy the blessings that a just God will never remove from those who are condemned by false brethren.
It can be argued that the clear commandments of God in scripture could be used to require that a person repent of specific sins before being allowed to be baptized, but in the case of the Word of Wisdom, the Lord expressly stated it was to be “without commandment or restraint” (D&C 89:1-3), making it a subject off limits for baptismal requirements.
Regarding tithing, it is a “standing law unto the church” (D&C 119:4). It is commonly thought that baptism makes one a member of the LDS Church. While valid and sincere baptism defines a member of Christ’s church, and establishes a relationship between the convert and the Lord, the association of that convert with other individuals requires that they be confirmed to an office called “member” and that they subscribe to the code of conduct of that body of believers. Confirmation can rightly require agreement to a code of conduct (including the paying of tithes to be considered a member in good standing), but baptism cannot specifically require anything other than the broad requirement of “repent of all your sins”, being those sins that you are aware of, and being that you forsake in your heart and confess the behavior as sinful, and not that you fully have modified your behavior yet (see our posts here and here).
Such modification comes after assistance from the Holy Ghost, or mind of God, as it is bestowed more fully upon the person who is baptized. Can’t you see how repentance only requires facing the right direction, and the heavy lifting comes from the Lord after one exercises their faith to be baptized? To expect a false interpretation of “forsaking sin” beyond merely a change of heart is to require the sinner to fully reform before having the grace of God to be able to do so. It is oppressive, and ungodly. To require a commitment to tithe before one is baptized (as opposed to requiring it before confirmation only) is to run close to priestcraft, and charging for ordinances. But, the LDS have merged baptism and confirmation as one ordinance, so hence the confusion (see our post here).
The novel (and more scripturally correct) idea is that you can be baptized first, and then confirmed much later if you are slow to reform your behavior after getting the mind of God. Confirmation needs a godly walk and conversation after baptism. The church articles are clear:
The duty of the members after they are received by baptism—The elders or priests are to have a sufficient time to expound all things concerning the church of Christ to their understanding, previous to their partaking of the sacrament and being confirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders, so that all things may be done in order. And the members shall manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it, that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord. D&C 20:68-69.
But, you can still be saved even if you are slow and don’t rise up to be a member yet. Therefore, get baptized and don’t fear! Let the increase of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost assist you in your quest to become more like God! Don’t worry about member status and obligations until you are ready. Consider also, that the Lord never intended the Word of Wisdom to be a requirement for membership, or temple attendance.