Shall we begin with an uncomfortable topic?
The Bible was written so long ago by so many different authors and translated so many times that it is hard to know what is applicable to us in this time period and what is, well . . . not.
There are a lot of topics that seemed pretty important at that time. There were a lot of “rights” and “wrongs.” Here is a short list: circumcision, baptism, priesthood authority, animal sacrifice, polygamy, sodomy, adultery, forgiveness, homosexuality, and that women should have long hair and remain silent at church.
Which teachings of the Bible should we apply? Which should we ignore? If some verses of the Bible don’t fit in with modern society what do we do? Just skip them? And if our reasoning for believing this and not that is because we think that some of it is doctrine and some of it was just the social custom of the day, how do we decipher which is which? And once we’ve interpreted it to our own satisfaction, what if others of our same church come to the opposite opinion? Perhaps the easiest thing to do is just throw our hands up in the air and try to not think about death.
Prophets Then, Prophets Now
In the Mormon church we believe in all the prophets of the Bible. We revere them and honor them and we tell their stories to our children over and over. However, we believe that the most important prophet of all is the one that is alive now.
The structure of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is patterned after the way Christ built His church while He was on the earth: with prophets and apostles. That is why we sometimes call our church the “restored” church.
The Purpose of Living Prophets
Like the past prophets, living prophets help us apply God’s laws and doctrines to society’s constantly evolving morality. He does not change church doctrine to reflect the current social standards, but instead guides us on how to use the doctrine to sail through the changing tides . . . and sometimes against the tide. He provides the confidence and stability we need when we are in doubt or are confused. To do this he also needs to have authority from God (which is a topic for another day).
However, there is . . .
The Downside of Being Prophet
Part of the burden of a prophet is that people think you are crazy.
It happened over and over in the scriptures, so it is no surprise that it happens now. Just pick a prophet: Noah, Moses, Elisha in the Old Testament. Peter and Paul in the New Testament. Lehi, Nephi, Abinadi, and Samuel the Lamanite in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the most vicious unbelievers were members of their own families.
Those who find a prophet’s words hard to stomach are quick label him as old-fashioned, senile, stubborn, or fallen. That is because prophets have a hard task: they tell people to repent and change their ways. That is not exactly the fastest way to win friends. Here is how one ancient prophet put it:
“…If a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil. But…if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.” Helaman 13:26-27
If Ye Believe These Things . . .
Believing the prophet is one thing, following him is another. There have been times in the history of the Mormon church when it would have been more tolerable to light yourself on fire than do what the prophet asked. Take polygamy, for example. Contrary to what you may have heard, the early Mormons were not jumping up and down to start practicing polygamy. It went against everything they were previously taught. It went against all the social norms. Even Joseph Smith and the other apostles recoiled at this revelation from God. But Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were not just prophets, they were seers. As in see-ers. A seer is someone who sees more than we can see. Someone who has a clearer understanding than we have. Polygamy changed the church in a way nothing else could. I can bet money that most of the people in the modern LDS church are decedents of polygamous ancestors (I am) and if they are not decedents, then they were baptized by someone who was a decedent. We don’t know all the reasons why the church had to briefly live the law of polygamy, but in many ways, polygamy is what made our church what it is today.
Does The Prophet Speak To God Face-to-face?
I don’t know. I’ve never heard a modern prophet say so in those words. I don’t think he would tell us if he did, since that would just make people think he was even crazier, and they would want proof, as people always do.
But we believe God spoke to the prophets of old, and I believe He spoke to Joseph Smith, and since our world is a lot more confusing than it was back then, I don’t see any reason why He shouldn’t speak to a prophet now.
Prophets or Wolves
What is the difference between a prophet whom some think is crazy and a man who really is crazy? They are out there, you know. Those people who say they are prophets. How is one to know the difference?
1. First, judge them “by their fruits.” When members of the church follow the direction of the prophet the church flourishes. It stands to reason that if the Savior created a church on this earth to be “His” church it would be a church that is growing, not shrinking. It would be a church that is alive, not dead. But the real fruits of our church are the lives of the members and the blessings that come into our lives as we live the gospel. It is pretty incredible, actually.
2. Personal revelation. If the prophet speaks and it causes conflict inside of us, we are not expected to blindly follow. But we are expected to search the scriptures and pray about it. We are encouraged to ask God for ourselves if what the prophet says is true. If it is of God, the Holy Spirit will let us know. Sometimes the words of the prophets and our own opinions clash so much that we just have to trust. Sometimes we have to be like the widow who served the prophet Elijah. She and her son were starving and Elijah asked her to make him a cake with the very last of her flour and oil. That didn’t make any sense. But she was obedient and trusted him. After he left her house her casks of oil and flour were never empty again.
Back to the Bible
Back to our original dilemma: What should we believe about the Bible and what do we ignore? And if we are picking and choosing what we are willing to believe, is the book useful to us at all?
Since God is the author of order, not confusion, there is a prophet on the earth today who does have the authority to highlight what is most important for us to know and do right now. He makes it clear what in the scriptures is still very relevant and what is not.
This is a big claim, I know. Especially since what the prophet says is not always in vogue. But when has a prophet ever been in vogue?