When the Prophet Speaks the Debate is Over

On July 24th (2008), at a sunrise service commemorating the first Mormon pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, LDS Seventy Earl Tingey talked about some of the admirable traits of those first settlers. In addition to doing their duty, being willing to sacrifice for their beliefs, and raising “a righteous posterity” with faith and vision, Mr. Tingey praised these people for being “obedient to their prophets.”

Two weeks earlier (July 8, 2008), the BYU NewsNet web site published an article titled “Follow the Prophet.” In this editorial it was argued that “active Mormons” cannot and will not “disagree with the Prophet’s counsel.”

The context for the editorial was the June 29th statement by the LDS First Presidency asking Church members to do all they could to support California’s proposed marriage amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Some members had publicly disagreed with the Church directive; hence BYU NewsNet’s clarification of what it means to be an “active Mormon.”

The editorial stated,

“Regardless of their rationale for disagreeing, any ‘active Mormon’ sustains President Thomas S. Monson as the prophet, seer, revelator and mouth-piece of God. ‘Active Mormons’ raise their right hand during General Conference and sustain him and the other 14 apostles as the leaders of God’s church on the earth today. In sustaining, they are not voting for them or agreeing with their position, they are promising to support and listen to them.

“Consequently, ‘active Mormons’ know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over. No matter how diligently someone reads their scriptures, attends church or pays a full tithe, unless they sustain President Monson, his counselors and the other 12 apostles, they are not ‘active Mormons.'”

The idea expressed in the editorial, that when the prophet speaks the debate is over, likely came from an address delivered at a Church-wide fireside meeting in 1978. There, Elaine Cannon, Young Women President, told the women of the Church,

“Personal opinions may vary. Eternal principles never do. When the Prophet speaks, sisters, the debate is over.” (Ensign, November 1978, page 107)

The idea rang true with Church leadership for in the August 1979 First Presidency Message N. Eldon Tanner titled the message “The Debate is Over” and wrote,

“I was impressed by that simple statement [of Mrs. Cannon’s], which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us…

Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over.” (Ensign, August 1979, page 2).

Mrs. Cannon’s words also appeared in “Lesson 12: Follow the Living Prophet,” from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, page 39.

This is all in keeping with what an LDS prophet has spoken. President Heber J. Grant once said,

“Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it…” (quoted by Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1960, page 78).

It’s hard to accept as good counsel the directive to do what the LDS prophet says “even if it is wrong.” Of course, if Mormons understood the prophet to be infallible, that would be one thing. But the Mormon-on-the-street is quick to tell critics that the prophet is just a man, capable of giving his own opinion without identifying it as such. In that case, doing whatever the prophet says “even if it is wrong” becomes of serious concern. President Grant seemed to think, though, that the prophet was infallible; for after giving the above counsel he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”

Heber J. Grant died in May of 1945. The following month the LDS magazine Improvement Era had the following:

“Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the ‘prophets, seers, and revelators’ of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy….It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to ‘do their own thinking.’…When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.” (June 1945, page 354)

This sounds a lot like “‘active Mormons’ know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” If these teachings are to be believed, any Latter-day Saint that does his own thinking is not only unworthy of the title “active Mormon,” but he is unwittingly cultivating a spirit of apostasy.

You might consider bringing this up the next time a Mormon objects to the teachings of a Latter-day Prophet with, “That’s just his opinion.”

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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109 Responses to When the Prophet Speaks the Debate is Over

  1. falcon says:

    authority (cont)

    So what is Biblical hermeneutics. Simply, it’s the art of Biblical interpretation. It is a science and an art. It’s a science because it’s guided by rules within a system. It’s an art because the application of the rules is by skill. It’s not by mechanical imitaiton. So the goal is to determine what God has said in the Bible; what do the scriptures mean. The Bible is looked on as “sola fidei rugla” by protestants which means that the Bible is the only authoritative voice of God to man. Catholics and the Eastern Oriental Church accept the Bible as the first or primay authority but also consider moral unanimity of the Fathers, the ancient Creeds, the decisions of the ecumenical councils, and oral tradition.
    Now here’s the bottom line, cults and sects employ one or more specialized principles of Biblical interpretation which makes their basic hermeneutics a different species from that of the reformers and historic Protestantism. It’s important in “getting it right” to have an understanding of the science of Biblical hermenutics. Mormons don’t have this. What they have is “revelation” confirmed by feelings supposing these feelings are from the Holy Spirit.
    The bottom line: When it comes to the interpretation of the Bible Christians have already determined, who wrote the book (being examined), when it was written, if the contents are authentic, and if the book is a literary unit or not. Now having established this then the exegesis of the text begins. That is the study of 1) the canon determines the inspired books 2) the study of the text determines the wording of the books 3) the study of historical criticism gives the framework of the books 4)hermeneutics gives the rules for the interpretation, and 5) exegesis the application of these rules to the books. The result is a systematic theology.
    I know it’s a lot more fun and emotionally rewarding to go on “revelation” and “confirmed feelings”.

  2. germit says:

    Cluff: “don’t make the mistake of concluding that Christ Himself is the foundation of the church, he is just the cornerstone” First of all, you don’t know your building practices: if the cornerstone is wrong, everything else that follows is wrong, that is why the greatest possible care was used in choosing it. That stone was of supreme importance in seeing the building go up correctly. Hold that thot: and now it’s ‘Bible day” for Mr.Cluff. Defend away , sir.
    1Cor3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. v11: FOR NO ONE CAN LAY ANY OTHER THAN THE ONE ALREADY LAID, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST. Matt 21:42 “the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone (better translated ‘cornerstone’, see NIV margin) the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes” Cluff, you are really SO sure that the foundation is NOT Christ?? Why put the emphasis on PETER, why not the CORNERSONE upon WHOM he trusted, who is greater, Peter or Christ?? 2cdPet2:4-8 “As you come to Him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood (and this epistle was addressed to WHOM, exactly, men only???),offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame…”a Stone that causes men to stumble and a Rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message- which is also what they were destined for. Not a WHIFF in here about the kind of priestly authority that you are selling: the holy priesthood mentioned above,whatever it is , is extended to Peter’s ENTIRE AUDIENCE, INCLUDING WOMEN. The big deal, as usual, is Jesus Christ Himself, nothing or no one else. Show me different from the Word. Your serve: GERMIT

  3. falcon says:

    The lack of a systematic means of looking at scripture in favor of “divine revelation directly to a prophet” is the reason Mormons are blown all over the lake by every whim and capricious statement by their leaders. This only works in a leadership structure where the words of the leaders are complied with and obeyed without question. That’s why in one generation Mormons have plural marrage with married women and girls complying with the prophets demand to submit to his sexual needs and the prohibition of blacks in the priesthood and subsequent generations the prophet gets a message that, oops, do over, god doesn’t want us doing this stuff any more. That’s why teachings like Adam-God from the prophet Young are bedrock in one era and tossed on the doctrinal scrapheap in the next. That’s how you get a traditional view of the nature of God in the BoM and subsequently changed to god was a man, mother god, celestial marrage, progression to godhood instituted by revelation.
    We’re not talking about little bitty things here. Tied up in this whole fiasco, is the unquestioning authority and acceptance that the prophet speaks for god. The head nodding faithful will go along with anything once they accept that proposition. That’s how the abomnnible behavior of Joseph Smith get’s rationalized, accepted and even embraced.

  4. susan says:

    Berean –

    How can you say that the prophetic statement that Joseph made is self-fulfilling? A self-fulfilling statement is one in which the person making it then goes out and ensures it happens. Joseph Smith has been dead for over 164 years. How in the world can you say that our still speaking of him in 2008 is “self-fulfilling” on his part. That seems mighty illogical to me.

    germit –

    GRCluff has it exactly right – the true church is built upon ongoing revelation given through the prophet. This ongoing revelation was completely lost during centuries of apostasy and not restored until 1830.

    So, in your oppinion, what happens with the salvation of all those people who followed the traditions of their fathers and were good Catholics during centuries of oppressive Catholic rule and false doctrine? Those very humble and uneducated working class people who didn’t have any access to the true word of God in the Bible and who believed in the false priests and popes because they had nowhere else to turn? Where are they now?

  5. jackg says:

    GRC,

    You said, “On this rock, the rock of revelation, I will build my Church. As long as revelation and priesthood authority is on the earth, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”

    The rock upon which Jesus built His Church is not revelation, but Himself. By adding your words, “the rock of revelation” (these are not in the text), you are putting your views into the text, which is eisegesis. I understand that verse 17 leads you to believe this. The revelation referred to is specific to that of Jesus being the Messiah–nothing more. The context of the passage is that the disciples have witnessed Jesus feeding thousands of people and walking on water. The emphasis on verse 17 is that none of these miracles were the reason Peter came to faith that Jesus was the Messiah; he came to this faith because God revealed it to Him. That is how Christ’s Church is built, by personal revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. His Church is not built on revelation that the BOM is true or that JS was a prophet, only on the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah. JS and BOM are not a part of this equation. Again, you put your views into the text when you add “as long as revelation and priesthood authority is on the earth, etc.” But we’ll go with that. Peter, himself, teaches us that we are a royal priesthood: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5); “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him whou called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). The priesthood exists on the earth as long as there are Christians because it is a priesthood of believers, a priesthood to

  6. jackg says:

    (cont’d)

    offer spiritual sacrifices (a different sacrificial system than that found in Leviticus) and to serve the unbelievers of Christ, that they might come to the knowledge of His redeeming grace, love, and mercy. That’s the function of the priesthood as set forth in the NT. It is not the priesthood designed by JS. That’s the context from which we come to understand the nature of the priesthood. It has never left the earth because Jesus wasn’t a liar when He said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church; this means that there could be no apostasy as Mormons claim, and no restoration through a false prophet named Joseph Smith. Everything he did contradicted the Bible. You can follow him and defend him as you wish; as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    Whatever you want to call that prophecy about him being an enemy to people and other faiths, it doesnt matter. One would know full well that if you tried creating a “new Christianity” among traditional Christianity, that you would be talked badly of. Especially when you come up with off the wall doctrines and challenge the very divinity of God by saying that God was once like us, possibly a sinner, and that one day we will become Gods, eventually even with greater power than he has at this time.

    So that prophetic statement is rather weak. Anyone who starts any new religion can expect opposition and making a statement like that one is like “shootin fish in a barrel.”

  8. GRCluff says:

    Wow, I really got some response on the foundation of Momonism topic– Don’t you guys have “real” jobs on Monday morning?

    I got the day off work because it’s my Birthday. Wish me happy birthday everyone. 48 today.

    I just have one question. What would happen to the wall and the roof of the house you are in if the foundation was ripped out from under?

    That is exactly what happened to “real” Christianity when prophets and apostles were rejected by the kingdoms of the world.

    You can start you Biblical hermeneutics with this verse:

    Amos 8:11 ¶ Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
    12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.

    I pulled in Eph 2:11 in an effort to comply with Biblical hermeneutics. Just how many supporting verses are required?

    I found 7 bible verses that supported the concept of pre-earth life and the pre-existance of men’s spirits as the offspring of God. Was 7 not enough? Most of them set the proper context very well.

    falcon:
    I found you comments on the “leadership slots in the Mormon Church” very entertaining. I knew a Bishop once who was a janitor at the local High School. It happens.

    Can we help it if the most qualified men happen to dress well? That qualification has more to do with the practice of faith, obedience and disipline than having 5 kids. Although 5 kids in the Mormon church very well could me an act of obedience. It would be obedience to personal revelation, not church standards, since the Chruch has never insisted that 5 is the standard. (I happen to have 5 myself, so I got a chuckle)

    The real leadership standard is the same as this thread– the abiltiy to recognize and obey the Word of God as it was always intended – personal revelation.

  9. Sharon Lindbloom says:

    Happy Birthday, GRCluff! May God grant you many more.

    I had an interesting conversation while in Nauvoo last week. The attendance at the Nauvoo Pageant has steadily declined over the past few years. Some believe it is because the Nauvoo Pageant is not as appealing to people as the pageant it replaced – The City of Joseph Pageant. As I spoke with a local LDS woman about this, she told me that many people “struggle” with liking the new pageant. But, she said, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve directed the writing of the new pageant and continues to approve each and every script change that comes up. Though the new pageant is not as fun or entertaining as the old one, the Brethren know what they’re doing, she said. Therefore, “I decided I’m just going to like it.” I questioned the lady regarding the freedom to decide for ourselves what we like and don’t like, which she readily affirmed. Nevertheless, since the prophet says the new play is better, for her, the debate is over.

    And, discussion on this thread is also over. We’ve pretty much abandoned the topic, notwithstanding Berean’s and Jeffrey’s heroic efforts to get the conversation back on track. Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion.

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