During a recent panel discussion Mormon apologist Scott Gordon talked about the Mormon doctrine of continuing revelation. He said,
“Continuing revelation means the Church learns and grows as well. And I think what we do is we often go back to the Evangelical fundamentalist viewpoint that if you go back far enough, you’re going back to the original source documents of the Bible, you will find the truth. You have to always look back, back, back, back, back. And in the LDS Church we have too many members that do that where we say you have to look back, back, back, back, back; when really, we’re trying to go forward, forward, forward, forward, forward and cast off our old things that we didn’t know. We’re trying to grow and learn from it and move forward. And so, I think [what] we have to do is focus on the recent comments [from Church leaders], the more recent comments, and give more weight to those than the older comments. I think it’s just the opposite we tend to do.” (1:07:42-1:08:26. See embedded video below.)
Mr. Gordon’s remarks bring a couple questions to mind. If Mormonism were, as it is claimed, a “restoration” of first-century Christianity, wouldn’t it be appropriate – indeed, necessary — to be looking back? Isn’t that what restoration means? To return something (go back) to what it once was?
Additionally, does it seem wise for “the only true and living church” to “cast off” old things by looking forward and not looking back (or minimizing what came before)? Doesn’t this run the risk of the Church moving away from the original teachings of the apostles and drifting into apostasy?
If we do look back to the teachings of the biblical prophets and apostles we find that looking back is exactly what God calls us to do. From Deuteronomy to Revelation God bids us “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children…” (Deuteronomy 4:9). “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3).
The apostle Paul had much to say to Timothy about looking back. In both of the letters Paul wrote to the young leader he entreated Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted” to him (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14). Paul wanted Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words” that he had previously heard from Paul (1 Timothy 1:13). And not only was Timothy to guard that truth that had already been delivered, he was to pass that truth on – to “entrust [it] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Citing the example of people who have the appearance of godliness yet do not love God, people who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth,” Paul exhorts Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:7, 14-15).
Timothy was to keep people from teaching “any different doctrine” so that they would not “devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Some people, Paul explained, had “swerved” from sound doctrine and sincere faith, and had “wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:3-7).
In His Word God tells us to hold on to and contend for the faith that was “once for all” delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) because “ungodly people [will] pervert the grace of our God.” We are commanded to guard and keep this faith – look back – “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23).
God calls us to look back to His promises, to God’s unchangeable character, holding fast to the hope set before us. This, God says, is our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:13-20).