Rejecting Living Apostles and Prophets: A Deceptively Easy Path to Righteousness

One commenter here at Mormanity explained how Mormons are in an untenable position due to our belief in modern prophets and divine authority, for we have to defend EVERY prophet from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, and each one did dozens of things that can be questioned. One slip, one false prophecy or wicked act, and the show is over, for the prophet is proven false and the whole house of cards comes falling down. He, on the other hand, informed us of his much more enviable theological position with a faith that could not be so easily assailed, for all he needed was Jesus and the Bible.

In Jesus’ day, of course, all people needed was Moses and the scriptures from before the time of Christ–not heretics like Jesus or His followers, and certainly not His ordained but fallible apostles who could be and were rejected or criticized on numerous counts.

Elijah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Moses, for example, all were easy to criticize and reject.

Rejecting the messengers the Lord sent is a deceptively easy path to righteousness, or rather, an easy path to self-righteousness. False prophets need to be rejected, of course, but the common instinct to reject the very notion of modern prophets and apostles does not necessarily put you on the winning side of this debate, and may put you among those spoken of by Jesus:

Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city…
— Jesus Christ, in Matthew 23:34

Rejecting modern prophets and apostles avoids the challenges of unsanitized, recent history. Recent history comes with the burden of conflicting accounts and witnesses, such as the witnesses who claimed to have seen the Resurrection faked or who claimed that Jesus was a sinner, or who could not accept that the son of a local carpenter could also be the Son of God. It comes with accounts of those who knew and disliked Peter or Paul or Moses. Claiming to need nothing but Jesus also avoids the challenges of dealing with mortal weaknesses in leaders and prophets. No need to explain or excuse the apparent blunders of Peter, Paul, or Moses. It’s much smoother sailing with nothing but Jesus.

Ironically, the “nothing but Jesus” mantra does not come from Him, just as the doctrine of “nothing but the Bible” is a most unbiblical addition to the words of scripture. Christ told us that he would send prophets. His Church was organized with apostles and prophets in it for a sacred purpose:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

The day of unity has not yet come, thus there remains a need for prophets and apostles in His Church. The world despises modern prophets, as the early prophets and apostles knew so well. But Paul warned against these, teaching us to “despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). The principle of ongoing revelation through living prophets is an ancient and true pattern in God’s dealings with man. Indeed, Amos wrote that “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

It is comforting to think that we don’t need to look to any other humans for help or guidance, that it’s just us and Jesus, a viewpoint which I fear may be a step close to human self-sufficiency than its proponents will admit.

Jesus, on the other hand, made a great point of organizing disciples and establishing the principles of authority and ongoing revelation to guide His Church. “As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). Prophets and prophecy were important before He came. They were important while He was here. And the scriptures tell us they will continue to be important right up to the end. For example, in the book of Revelation, in chapter 11, there is a prophecy of what will be happening in the last days in Jerusalem, right before the Second Coming of the Lord. Two witnesses of God will be killed in Jerusalem. These two witnesses are described as prophets, and they will be prophesying. Most people will reject them. Will you? Will you be among those who say that there can’t possibly be any more prophets from God, and that you don’t need further witnesses/prophets and their message because you’ve already got the Bible and Jesus and need not a word more?

Prophets and prophecy will still be going on right up to the end. Angels will still be involved in the work of bringing the Gospel message to the earth (Rev. 14:6) – something even more sure to be mocked and rejected than the concept of prophets. Pity the Church that dares to declare that angels still speak and that prophets still speak. Worst of both worlds. In fact, something not of this world at all.

Yes, as a Latter-day Saints there are many angles from which modern prophets can be attacked, and there are reasonable points of view among those who have examined the Church and rejected its claims. I would say that the arguments commonly used to reject Joseph or Gordon B. Hinckley or others can be effective – so effective that they could also reject fallible mortal prophets of the past like Abraham the polygamist, Joshua the easily tricked (see Joshua 9), Jonah the irritator of endangered whales, or Paul the annoyingly long speaker who killed a man from speaking too long. Don’t forget to add Jesus to that list, the Man who offended many and was found guilty of serious crimes by the most respected political and religious leaders of His day. He did not live up to the preconceived notions others had regarding a prophet or the Messiah, and the combination of paradigm-breaking words and deeds coupled with conflicting reports, allegations, and theological misunderstanding made following Him a difficult matter that required great faith. It’s still that way today.

Feel free to reject the very concept of modern prophets and believe it’s just you and God, or even just you, but don’t be deceived into thinking that you have a theologically fireproof position or that you have nothing to defend. Rejecting those whom God sends does not somehow give you a pass or make you spiritually superior.

If you are a serious Christian but, for various reasons, reject Joseph Smith and what I believe to be the restored Church of Jesus Christ, I think it would then be appropriate to consider where to look to find authority and modern revelation on the earth, rather than assuming that we must not need prophets and apostles anymore just because we don’t seem to have them. Perhaps you will look to Roman or Orthodox Catholicism, or some other source. But I suggest you look, think, and search with an open mind, and not fall into what I consider to be the deceptive trap of thinking that you need nothing more than what you have. Keep seeking!

Author: Jeff Lindsay

101 thoughts on “Rejecting Living Apostles and Prophets: A Deceptively Easy Path to Righteousness

  1. This post just takes the cake. Well said, Jeff!

    Forgive me for my adolescence, but I think this calls for an, "Oh, snap!"

  2. Jeff, very cool post. Thanks for the care you used in writing this.

    From my perspective in our instant world we often expect results on our own terms wherever we go. Opening up to new ways of seeing the world is valuable (even for those of us who think we've found "it").

    As for the path to righteousness — rarely easy in my experience. (And I'm just crawling along mine, one scraped knee at a time.)

  3. While I agree with the post, I also see the extreme opposite perspective and thus the need for balance. I fear too many members of the Church put TOO much faith in "the Bretheren" or in "the Church" and not enough in our perfect Savior. While I appreciate and respect living prophets, simply having a calling or position of authority in the Church is not synonymous with speaking for God.

  4. Nice post Jeff!!
    Clean cut, how ironic is it that the teachings and our understanding of our perfect Savior comes to us through these imperfect men. There is nothing penned by Christ himself and yet it is if it was.
    ironic don't you think?

  5. Very true.

    It is also a human tendency to jettison, as quickly as possible, the "hard doctrines" such as Jesus once mentioned.

    Makes for easier theology, for example, when your God is reduced to some passionless essence that no man has supposedly ever seen.

    Or when the canon is closed so that no one can pick apart new scripture or count the years from the most recently canonized revelation.

    It's like having crackers for dinner instead of the bother of a four-course gourmet meal. You won't hear from PETA. But oh, how beautiful and nourishing is the full gospel — sweet ambrosia for the soul.

  6. Awesome post. I'd add that there's a huge flaw in this commenter's logic: if every prophet's every action must be defensible, or the whole thing fails, then he should throw out the Bible, too. The Old Testament is full of stories of prophets' mistakes: pretty much every "hero" of the Old Testament, whether considered a prophet or not–from Abraham, to Noah, to Moses, to David, to Jonathan, to Joseph, to Jacob–made some morally ambiguous choices.

    Since Noah lazed around in his tent drunk and naked, Moses had a serious crisis of faith and, for at time, rejected God, Jacob lied to his parents and disinherited his brother, etc. etc. etc., does this mean that these men weren't divinely inspired, had no wisdom, and weren't part of God's plan? What about the fact that virtually all of the Old Testament prophets were polygamists?

    Only one man has ever been perfect, and none of us–including our prophets–are Him.

    Jesus said, "wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am"–he DIDN'T say, "wherever a Bible is sitting, there I am".

  7. For a long time I accepted modern prophets. Then I found out that not everything a prophet says is revelatory. That’s how we respond when confronted with evidence that the prophet said something that later turned out not to be true. (Presumably that is how LGT enthusiasts explain Joseph F. Smith’s rejection of LGT, for example.) Prophets are allowed to make mistakes. Sometimes they even misunderstand the scriptures.

    So how do we know prospectively whether what a living prophet says is revelatory or not? Apparently you have to use your own judgment, and that puts you on a slippery slope where you can pick and choose which of the prophet’s words to believe. I slid down that slippery slope. Not all the way, but almost.

  8. So if a prophet says to jump off the roof of a building you are going to do it?

    Prophets are men. Do not trust in the arm of flesh.

  9. At 12:37 PM, January 28, 2010, Anonymous said…

    So how do we know prospectively whether what a living prophet says is revelatory or not?

    Exactly which statements of President Monson are you having questions or doubts about? Or for that matter, which statements of President Hinckley?

    What have either of them said that you're having problems with?

  10. Regarding questions about Monson or Hinckley:

    I don't know what to make of the fact that Pres Hinckley claimed not to know much about the fact that God was once like us, or that we can be like Him. That seems fairly fundamental and I learned that in Primary.

    I don't know whether God really cares how many earrings or tattoos someone has, or whether that is just a generational preference.

  11. Once again, this is based on the faulty premise that JS was a true prophet of God. Sorry, but he preached a god that had a beginning and that there are grandpa gods out there. From my perspective, JS had a low view of the True and Living God to the point that he created a false doctrine that you guys can become gods. You see, it's not about accepting and following God's prophets; it's about rejecting self-proclaimed false prophets who don't believe that God can preserve His word, then make up an AOF as your #8 in an attempt to relegate the Bible to a secondary or even terciary document. How does one know if a prophet is true? You have to measure his words against God's Word. Oh, but wait a minute, God's Word (the Bible and not the rest of the Mormon canon) ISN'T authoritative for Mormons despite your claims that it is (however, in all fairness, Jeff did not take this position on the other thread, but merely proved why the Bible isn't authoritative for him). If it were, you would have to reject JS and denounce him as a false prophet. Sorry guys, but if you are so bold as to claim that he and the following LDS leaders are prophets and that the rest of the world better get on board, then I must be so bold as to claim that JS was a false prophet and that you all had better get off board with his program and on board with the real biblical Jesus WHO HAD NO BEGINNING AND CREATED ALL THINGS (please see Is.43:10, it's the passage God used to enlighten me regarding the doctrine that we will become gods…it just ain't happening). I know this will open up a can of worms in all sorts of areas; regardless, the bottom line is that JS was NOT a prophet of God, and neither is Thomas S. Monson a living prophet. I pray for all Mormons to come to the Truth of Jesus Christ and the power of His death to save EACH of us because we could not, cannot, nor could we ever save ourselves (gain exaltation in Mormon language) through our works or behavior. Works and behavior are merely the evidence of our faith, the fruits of a saved soul–NOT the prerequisite to salvation; otherwise, we could not claim that we are saved by grace and by the merits of Jesus Christ. How can anyone claim otherwise in light of God's Word on the subject?: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). JS brought into this world a backward theology. You have to deny biblical truth and theology to embrace what he taught.

    Praying for Mormons…

  12. Very well put. A man can be a prophet and still have human failings but he can' t be a true prophet if he teaches a contridiction to Jesus' teachings.

    JS and B. Young both taught false teachings (eg. Adam god theory for Young) and are thus false teachers.

    I see the Mormon argument that we aren't sure what young meant when he taught Adam-God but it is very clear if you study it. The second argument that some of the apostles during young's day disagreed while better than nothing still isn't enough. Mormons still had a prophet where a future prophet of the church made a direct statement saying young was wrong.

  13. jackg, thanks for your prayers. Really. Perhaps somewhere out there Mormons are praying for you, too.

    Regarding the "jump off the roof" question — if someone I trusted told me to jump off a roof (presumably because he knew something I did not, like that the building is on fire), I might do it. (I can't fathom that I, with my severe fear of heights would be on the roof in the first place, however.)

  14. Clean cut,

    You must not be a Mormon. It's common knowledge that the foundation for Mormons becoming gods is that their god had a god, who had a god, who had a god, etc., and that they all progressed to godhood from being mortals. Lorenzo Snow taught: "As God once was, man now is; as God now is, man may become." So, what is man? A sinner. What was God? A sinner. What is God? A god? What can man become? A god.

    Mormons will try to disclaim this teaching, but it's fundamental to their belief system, which is built on false teachings. They just can't grasp that God has always been God, and that there never was a time when He wasn't God.

    As for Mormons praying for me…what would they pray for? That I leave the relationship I have with Jesus Christ and enter into bondage? Why do I pray for Mormons? Because I was once a Mormon, and I still have family and friends who are Mormons. Mormons follow JS and not Jesus Christ. They follow the BOM, D&C, POGP, and NOT the Bible. When push comes to shove, the Bible is pushed down to a lower-level writing. See Jeff's response to me on the thread regarding the eight witnesses to see his defense for his reasoning why the Bible isn't authoritative for him.

    As for the path to righteousness: you can't attain it on your own; it's imputed and is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is so sad that Mormons do not have a high view of Jesus Christ, but a lower view is necessary in order to perpetrate the false teaching of becoming gods themselves.

    Praying for Mormons…

  15. I am curious what the following scripture means to evangelicals:

    Romans 8:16 – 17

    the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and join-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

  16. It's really odd to have people tell me that I follow Joseph Smith instead of Jesus, or that I don't believe in the Bible very much. Why do you waste electrons on that kind of silliness? Tell us what you believe, not what others believe. I already know what I believe, and you obviously don't.

  17. jackg, Some Mormons may pray for you (and the rest of us) to find peace.

    I appreciate that you have strong feelings having made a difficult choice, to change religions. That requires a great deal of effort. I know because I made a similar choice, though my direction was different from yours.

    As for me, though I may follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, it is Christ whom I worship. With my eyes wide open.

  18. Sorry to double-post…as for Isaiah 43, I don't think many Mormons would argue that Jesus Christ alone is the Savior of this world.