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.
The LDS Church makes a lot of use of councils and committees. From the Ward level all the way to the First Presidency, projects and ideas are discussed, debated, and planned ad nauseum until, generally speaking, consensus is reached. In the higher councils, unanimity is required based on scriptural precedent (see the D&C 107 verses below). Yet, many decisions contradict scriptural absolutes, and much time is wasted in meeting after endless meeting, until mediocrity wins out, and until debate gives way to settling on the least common denominator, or the path of least resistance. At other times, a strong-headed chairman/chairwoman makes the final decision despite whatever good advice the council comes up with, making it even more of a waste of time as the heavy hand of a leader with an inflated ego imposes his or her will. It leads one to ask, is there any use to councils and committees in the first place?
In the fellowships of Mormon Christians who meet outside of LDS jurisdictional control, there is sometimes the perfectly understandable and natural response to reject all things LDS, to allow for a fresh start at preserving the Restoration. Yet, this approach can easily throw the baby out with the bath water. If we took the time to forgo the initial revulsion we legitimately feel concerning recent wounds and fresh memories of things done the wrong way, we might see some important elements that ought to be included in what we are trying to preserve, instead of discarding them outright.
Here are some scriptures supporting councils and work in committees:
And all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen. (D&C 26:2)
And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—A majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise—Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men. (D&C 107:27-29)
The second reference is in the context of introducing the duties of the councils of the various bodies of General Authorities in the LDS Church, but it shows a useful procedural option for any relevant council, if unanimity is the chosen standard. Another procedural option is the democratic approach, with a majority ruling. Unanimity has the attractive quality of ensuring nobody goes home disappointed, and to outsiders, it looks very impressive when a council achieves it. This fact has the very real danger of puffing up the members of such a council to prideful boasting and self-congratulatory rhetoric about the soundness and quality of their decisions. Therefore, to alleviate this danger, the scripture in section 107 further states:
The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord. (D&C 107:30-31)
The fact that the decisions need to be righteous is so important that the revelation includes provisions for vetoing bad decisions.
And in case that any decision of these quorums is made in unrighteousness, it may be brought before a general assembly of the several quorums, which constitute the spiritual authorities of the church; otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision. (D&C 107:32)
The phrase “otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision” should not be read as there is an expiration date on the veto power for any given decision, but that this is the only procedure by which to obtain a veto against decisions by quorums of General Authorities in the LDS Church. Also, “general assembly” should not be read as an assembly of general authorities only, but a general assembly that is church-wide, such as a general conference, where all the members can vote (even though this is not in practice in the LDS Church today). We touched on these points before, but keep the principles in mind as we discuss their application to fellowships where there are no offices and no general authorities.
Presiding Authority in Councils and Committees
Even by the time of the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary, the word “preside” had become corrupted.
PRESI’DE, v.i. s as z. [L. proesideo; proe, before, and sedeo, to sit.]
1. To be set over for the exercise of authority; to direct, control and govern, as the chief officer. A man may preside over a nation or province; or he may preside over a senate, or a meeting of citizens. The word is used chiefly in the latter sense. We say, a man presides over the senate with dignity. Hence it usually denotes temporary superintendence and government.2. To exercise superintendence; to watch over as inspector.
Christ mentioned this as a phenomenon among the Gentiles.
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28).
However, the word history shows the prefix and suffix denote “to sit before.”
preside (v.) 1610s, from French présider “preside over, govern” (15c.), from Latin praesidere “stand guard; superintend,” literally “sit in front of,” from prae “before” (see pre-) + sedere “to sit” (see sedentary).
In some circles, “preside” takes on the original definition of “to sit in council,” and functionally, they are discussion facilitators, with the role switching on a yearly basis. Frankly, this role can switch from meeting to meeting. The person who presides is not allowed to vote during their tenure. They are supposed to announce the will of the council once consensus is reached, without modification, and see that proper principles are employed in the decision making that all have agreed to beforehand (like the doctrine of Christ, for instance…they only veto if the decisions go against that).
The president, since they are excused from voting, has a role to watch and see that D&C 107:30 is carried out, that, “The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.”
In other words, a group can pick someone to watch out for deviances from the scriptures, while the rest are free to openly discuss and debate, and they switch off who “watches” over the scriptures from time to time. This fits the model of a teacher, with not all being spokesman at once (D&C 88:122), as found in the pattern of a president in a school of the prophets: “And this shall be the order of the house of the presidency of the school: He that is appointed to be president, or teacher, shall be found standing in his place, in the house which shall be prepared for him” (D&C 88:128; see also vs. 127-141).
That role has definitely been corrupted in the LDS Church. Even still, the president suggesting scriptures that are being deviated from can only suggest and the council takes up their suggestions in their debate…a president still shouldn’t vote–ever. It doesn’t elevate anyone to fill that role no more than it does to pick someone to record the minutes of the meeting. That’s how the United States’ Constitutional Conventions were run at times, but the rules of order that developed reverence and respect for the role of the “chair” have led others to believe that puts honor on the person itself, and not the role, and even the President of the US is now more powerful than he ought to be. Today in the LDS Church, D&C 107:30-31 is ignored out of ignorance and out of an idolatrous worship of unanimity. Unanimous voice is useless without D&C 107:30-31, and becomes an iron band, with all future councils respecting the decisions of past councils, no matter how erroneous, until a reformer swindles their rhetoric to make it sound like they are still in conformity (So let it be written, so let it be done). They never realize they can discard unrighteous decisions by assembly of other quorums to recognize the faults. There is no need for unanimity for unanimity’s sake. But, there is a need to be unanimous in the principles of righteousness as they apply to any council decision at hand, even if that means undoing previous council decisions as they are discovered to be unrighteous. It turns out that the Lord’s example is the most righteous, with presiding “authority” being synonymous with servitude, and not decision-making power.
No Offices Needed
In this suggestion, there is no need for offices in the fellowships. I think each individual fellowship is getting better, but when we communicate across fellowships, it is sometimes the wild west. The problem is, when more than one fellowship is involved, committees could be an efficient way to facilitate cross-fellowship projects, but committees face the same problems we had in LDS world. To avoid potential abuse, committees could be seriously limited in their power by making them temporary, and by shifting responsibility, with common consent being fixed in general conferences of the fellowships. There would be no offices, only functions and assignments. There are various ways to organize that fit well within certain contexts. Manifestations of organizational particulars are changeable, but scriptural principles for how to organize are more intriguing. Today in fellowships, we are opting for less efficiency, which means a lot less risk. It doesn’t mean we can fault the scriptures for advocating the opposite in different circumstances. We can fault the abuses that have crept up around them, and point to a better scriptural precedent, and leave efficiency behind to a large degree. Efficiency is incredibly tempting (note the storyline in Star Wars with Senator Palpatine getting Senate support for Clone War military powers for efficiency’s sake, but never relinquishing those powers after the emergency). However, we have so much to do to organize our own personal lives first. Denver Snuffer rightly observed: “Rebuild faith through repentance. Once the inward part has been cleansed there will be time to worry about the outward part” (Preserving the Restoration, p. 230).
However, we don’t need to be completely inefficient when we organize. Anytime something smacks of being LDS 2.0, people raise a cry of “You are correlating,” or “You are worshiping Denver Snuffer.” Sometimes fear of change stifles all change. It is clear efficiency is a risk / reward scenario. The greater the efficiency, like concentrating decision making into smaller groups of people, or in one individual, the greater risk for abuse. We should be wise if we think there is any benefit to temporary committees. Being “president for a day,” or having a committee exist until a task is complete, means no offices are needed, and the potential for abuse is limited. Or, shorter terms, such as one year, or for the duration of a project, can be adopted. Personally, I like having some chaos, and the slow inefficiency of switching roles each meeting, so as to allow for anyone interested to fill a role and learn something from it. It is more like a “function need” than an office. However, sitting around like the Quakers with nothing facilitated until someone is moved to say something can become stagnant and boring. Any ideas generated under this model often get squashed quickly by contention and unbelief, with the consensus moving towards not saying anything at all, and not getting anything done.
Here are some of the ways Joseph Smith tried to tackle ecclesiastical balance of power:
TPJS,>>>By Mutual Consent
Section One 1830-34, p.23
The matter of consecration must be done by the mutual consent of both parties; for to give the Bishop power to say how much every man shall have, and he be obliged to comply with the Bishop’s judgment, is giving to the Bishop more power than a king has; and, upon the other hand, to let every man say how much he needs, and the Bishop be obliged to comply with his judgment, is to throw Zion into confusion, and make a slave of the Bishop. The fact is, there must be a balance or equilibrium of power, between the Bishop and the people; and thus harmony and good-will may be preserved among you….
Therefore, those persons consecrating property to the Bishop in Zion, and then receiving an inheritance back, must reasonably show to the Bishop that they need as much as they claim. But in case the two parties cannot come to a mutual agreement, the Bishop is to have nothing to do about receiving such consecrations; and the case must be laid before a council of twelve High Priests, the Bishop not being one of the council, but he is to lay the case before them.
We don’t have to recreate Joseph Smith’s organization style that pandered to a desire to implement the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church. We can and should use, however, principles from the Restoration to organize in ways that are more mature, and less structured.
Secrecy in Councils and Committees
And lastly some thoughts about common consent, and the justification for temporary secrecy in a council, even though the danger of secret combinations are evident throughout the scriptures (i.e., it’s the purpose of the secrecy that counts). There is a dichotomy between being secretive for the right reasons versus being secretive for the wrong reasons, which hinges around the purpose for the secrecy, and the duration of the secrecy. If a general conference of the fellowships decides by common consent to create a committee, the committee is accountable the whole time to the general assembly of people, but this model sometimes engenders too much strife and efforts fall flat due to lack of motivation and opposition.
If a group does good of their own desire, keeping it secret doesn’t mean it has to represent an insider clic or evil secret combination…it could represent their desire to work unimpeded from the temptation to not complete the task. As soon as you announce you are doing something, the motivation to complete it waxes cold, or opposition and contention and misunderstanding can quash it.
After the task is complete, like Denver Snuffer’s example of a prophet completing the task to be able to later be given the title “prophet,” then all can consent to the finished work as “good” or acceptable. Thus, common consent is preserved, and the dilemma of a committee being appointed by a general conference, that fails to produce the desired outcome, is avoided. We wait until we get the desired outcome from independent fellowships or smaller cohorts and–after the fact–consent to accept their production. An example of this dilemma is found in the Council of Fifty records, where a committee was appointed to revise the United States Constitution. They hemmed and they hawed, gave excuses for its lack of completion, then finally asked Joseph Smith to take over by being on their committee, to which he refused. Then, the revelation that the whole council was the Lord’s “Constitution” (as opposed to Joseph Smith singularly) came, and the project ended as later Joseph Smith was martyred in part over their presumptuous appointment of Joseph as a king to the council. Obviously many judged Joseph Smith for having secret Council of Fifty meetings, and Anointed Quorum meetings, all while others used the secrecy to promote legitimacy for the spiritual wifery doctrine.
We ought to steer clear of judging others as being presumptuous for trying to do good. Let God judge the motives, and let common consent judge the outcomes. To judge them beforehand is to provide opposition to a potentially good endeavor, and squash it before it has born fruit. Or, in Joseph Smith’s case, produce a martyr instead of the kingdom of God.
If it is a wicked endeavor, the fruits will display themselves soon enough, without our meddling. Let’s consider how difficult it is to complete something for the Lord with Satan opposing us at every turn…consider how hard it was for Joseph Smith to bring forth the Book of Mormon, then apply that logic to the Council of Fifty.
On the other hand, an example of this working well is the production of the Spanish version of the Second Comforter. Also, the production of some good conferences, including the one in Boise. Doubtless, some of our efforts will fall flat, but there is no need to condemn those who have failed in some material aspect. We get to try again.
Another project that’s been announced is the compilation of a pure form of standard works scriptures set. We ought to uphold those involved with our faith and prayers, (even if we don’t know who is working on it), since they’ve announced their intentions at the last general conference. It sounds like a huge undertaking, and we should assume the best of those involved, and judge only the product after they are done. We can always accept or reject their efforts, but praying for them allows for the best possible outcome due to our combined faith. Sure, it would be nice to know everything everyone else is hatching up, but let’s consider how difficult it is to complete something for the Lord with Satan opposing us at every turn…again consider how hard it was for Joseph Smith to bring forth the Book of Mormon. Sure, it would be easy to say every effort is an attempt to rush up the pass, to use Denver’s vision metaphor, but there are many things to do at the bottom of the pass that don’t constitute rushing up the pass (like the examples above), even if some efforts obviously fit that description.
More Quotes from Joseph Smith
As I’ve been reading the Council of Fifty records…the very first day the council met, we have this gem from Joseph:
The brethren then began each to express his views of the subject set forth in the letter. It was encouraging to witness the union of feelings which prevailed on the subject [ . . . ] Pres. Joseph said he wanted all the brethren to speak their minds on this subject and to say what was in their hearts whether good or bad. He did not want to be forever surrounded by a set of ‘dough heads’ and if they did not rise up and shake themselves and exercise themselves in discussing these important matters he should consider them nothing better than ‘dough heads.’ He gave some good advice which seemed to have due effect. The meeting was prolonged being occupied by several of the brethren speaking their views untill [sic] a late hour when upon motion the meeting adjourned untill [sic] tomorrow at 9 o clock A.M. [p. ]. (Sunday, 10 Mar 1844, The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846, p. 39. It is William Clayton narrating from crib notes that he copied and expounded on starting the year after Joseph’s martyrdom. The account is of the first meeting,which began earlier in the day and continued in the afternoon).
A month later, the Council of Fifty received a report from a committee that had been assigned to re-draft the Constitution of the US and perfect it to include more reference to pure principles from heaven. They didn’t get anything done due to the absence of one of the committee members, Parley P. Pratt…and it sounded like he was traveling away from Nauvoo for a while. Joseph said:
Pres. Joseph arose to give some instructions to the council & especially to the committee. He commenced by showing, that the reason why men always failed to establish important measures was, because in their organization they never could agree to disagree long enough to select the pure gold from the dross by the process of investigation. He said that it was right always to judge in favor of the innocent, and it was wrong always, to judge in favor of the guilty He wanted to see a constitution that would compel a man to execute justice in favor of the innocent. (Thursday, 4 April 1844, The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844-January 1846, p. 79).
In a temporary council or committee, you can avoid giving a president abusive powers by having a president watch over the scriptures and not vote, who only has veto power based on their understanding of the scriptures, but no decision making power…this would throw the decision back to the council to provide a more persuasive decision that is in righteousness.
The duty of the council or committee is to achieve either unanimity or democratic majority, whichever is chosen for the task at hand, perhaps based on importance. They will also be striving for a righteous decision, but there can be a benefit to having someone sit out of the debate so they can facilitate the discussion and pay more attention to the list in D&C 107:30: “The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord.”
See Robert’s Rules of Order for good notes on how a president can facilitate the decision making process of the council or committee members.
A committee can be organized on smaller scales, and be kept secret until they produce good work, and then present their work in a general conference for acceptance, or a general conference can appoint a committee for a specific general cross-fellowship task and receive periodic updates and reports. Once the tasks are complete, the committees can be dissolved.
Also, there is no use to have a committee or council if the tasks can be accomplished reasonably without them.
For today’s post-LDS gospel dispensation, the servant of the Lord instructed: “How does the authority to baptize come? Because John the Baptist laid his hand on Joseph and Oliver, we have continued the practice to lay hands to confer Aaronic Priesthood. We should continue to respect that tradition. No one should baptize until they have had Aaronic priesthood conferred on them by someone who can trace their authority back to John the Baptist, through Joseph and Oliver.” (Denver Snuffer, “Preserving the Restoration,” p. 508).
The LDS Church doesn’t keep a record of Aaronic Priesthood lines of authority; nor does it keep a record of the date of the conferral of a particular priesthood, only the record of significant ordinations to office, which are subsequently traced as their version of a line of authority (see https://www.lds.org/help/support/request-a-priesthood-line-of-authority?lang=eng). An ordination to an office often occurs on the same day and at the same time as the conferral of priesthood. As the LDS typically ordain men first to the office of “elder” when conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, the line of authority for an elder will be the one closest to their priesthood conferral date, as opposed to an ordaining as a seventy, high priest, apostle, or patriarch. If you have record of a pre-April 2014 LDS priesthood conferral for Aaronic Priesthood and want to use that for your entry in the line, then that would seem sufficient. You will likely have trouble obtaining the dates for all of your prior line members for the same, however, because of what was mentioned above about the lack of records for Aaronic Priesthood lines.
However, in beautiful parallelism and in somewhat of a chiasmus, the LDS temple ceremony used to call the Aaronic Priesthood the “lower level of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” at the same time as calling their Melchizedek Priesthood the “higher level of the Aaronic Priesthood” (see Anderson, Devery Scott, “Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History,” p. xxxiii). This is, of course, in a different context than Denver Snuffer’s descriptions of priesthood categories in chapter 5 of “Preserving the Restoration” titled “Priesthood,” but it is fitting for the context of this post. Therefore, the date when one obtained what the LDS call “Melchizedek Priesthood,” (again, provided this is before April 2014 general conference), could be considered the culmination of their receipt of the Aaronic Priesthood (and, of course, only in terms of it being an authoritative invitation to obtain power from God to perform service in his name). The notes in our post here describe how to confer the priesthood with authority subsequent to the LDS Church’s apostasy, and won’t be repeated here.
But, as far as passing on a line of authority goes, if someone in the line was ordained legitimately in the LDS Church, one could reckon their date from their latest office ordination (as the LDS Church does), or choose the date for their ordination as an elder to tie it closer to the latest conferral of priesthood, or choose the date of the Aaronic Priesthood office, if that is all that is available (or, if that is what is considered preferable). Then, at Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s level in the line, tie the line to the conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood through John the Baptist, or to the date at which the voice of God conferred on them the Melchizedek Priesthood in the chamber of old Father Whitmer in June 1829 (see D&C 128:20-21 and History, 1838-1856, volume A-1 [23 Dec 1805 – 30 Aug 1834], pp. 26-29), or mention both.
Such a line would look something like this:
LINE OF AUTHORITY
BRIAN ZANG received the Melchizedek Priesthood and was ordained an elder February 22, 1998.
[Full name] was ordained an elder …1977.
[Full name] was ordained an elder …1967.
[Full name] was ordained a high priest …1952.
LE GRAND RICHARDS was ordained an apostle April 10, 1952.
DAVID O. McKAY was ordained an apostle April 9, 1906.
JOSEPH F. SMITH was ordained an apostle July 1, 1866.
BRIGHAM YOUNG was ordained an apostle February 14, 1835.
THE THREE WITNESSES, OLIVER COWDERY, DAVID WHITMER, and MARTIN HARRIS were called by revelation to choose the twelve apostles February 14, 1835 (D&C 18; http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minute-book-1/153).
JOSEPH SMITH, JR. and OLIVER COWDERY received the Aaronic Priesthood on the banks of the Susquehanna River on May 15, 1829 from John the Baptist (JS-History 1:68-72).
JOHN THE BAPTIST (D&C 84:27-28).
JOSEPH SMITH, JR. and OLIVER COWDERY received the Melchizedek Priesthood in the chamber of Old Father Whitmer and were ordained apostles by the voice of God in June, 1829 (JST, Genesis 14:25-29, History, 1838-1856, volume A-1 [23 Dec 1805 – 30 Aug 1834], pp. 26-29; D&C 18; D&C 128:20-21).
GOD THE FATHER.
You can also include places if you want, and each line above has unique elements that can be adjusted for each member of the line given the information you have (such as conferred priesthood, or ordained office, or date and place, who each person was ordained by as opposed to just listing the officiator on the next line, etc.). In the above example, it is not known which of the Three Witnesses were voice in ordaining Brigham Young, although it appears all three had a hand in ordaining him. If your priesthood line goes through another apostle, the reference above may include more details for them. At this point, there is no uniformity in describing priesthood lines of authority besides what the LDS Church has inherited through their traditions, so all lines will of necessity reflect that tradition to some extent, seeing that they maintained an authoritative commission for a period of time. Given the new dispensations’ emphasis on a few principles, such as the durability of the Aaronic Priesthood, the different categorization of Melchizedek Priesthood to align more closely with the scriptural teachings about its receipt by the voice of God alone (see JST, Genesis 14:25-29), and new ordinations being conferrals to the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God (with God deciding which degree of priesthood power is conferred in each case), the preceding recommendations have been made as suggestions for language that hopefully begins to move towards a new standard. This is a minor procedural matter and could be rightly taken up as a short topic of discussion for common consent in a future general conference of the fellowships, if diversity in opinion ever becomes problematic. Hopefully, though, the principles involved here will be self-evident and the lines of authority produced and passed on in current ordinations sufficient to defend our claims to priesthood conferral. If there is any room for doubt about your full line of authority back to John the Baptist or God Himself, you can always get re-ordained in the fellowships and receive a new line from the authorized administrator.
During my LDS mission, a line of reasoning was advanced from an experience of Orson F. Whitney that was quoted in LeGrand Richard’s book, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,”
“Many years ago a learned man, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, came to Utah and spoke from the stand of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. I became well-acquainted with him, and we conversed freely and frankly. A great scholar, with perhaps a dozen languages at his tongue’s end, he seemed to know all about theology, law, literature, science and philosophy. One day he said to me: ‘You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between Catholicism and Mormonism. If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg to stand on. For, if we are wrong, they are wrong with us, since they were a part of us and went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. If we have the apostolic succession from St. Peter, as we claim, there is no need of Joseph Smith and Mormonism; but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was necessary, and Mormonism’s attitude is the only consistent one. It is either the perpetuation of the gospel from ancient times, or the restoration of the gospel in latter days.’” (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Deseret Book Co., 1950], pp. 3–4.)
This line of reasoning tries to prove a valid point about the need for a gospel restoration with a false premise. The so-called learned Catholic here assumes that their church has the authority to remove priesthood when they excommunicate someone. The LDS Church assumes the same power. However, God has not given such power, only the right of churches to remove individuals from offices particular to their organization. Even if their church had a hand in conferring priesthood on an individual, the relationship that is established thereafter is between the individual and God alone. If a church deems it necessary to cut off a priest, for instance, then that priest may lose membership in that church, as well as the right to serve as a priest in their congregations, but their priesthood continues. If the church cut them off for good reason, meaning the priest was wicked, then the only thing that would follow them as a result of the church’s decision would be “the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption” (D&C 104:9), which, when duly considered, includes the rightful shame they would have acquired from being out of favor with their fellow man (which is likely what Satan will mock them about). If, however, the church cut them off unjustly, then they would be merely suffering persecution, and their priesthood would continue even if they were unrighteously denied membership and/or priestly status. The only way priesthood is lost is as explained in D&C 121:36-44: that is, according to principles of righteousness, as an individual departs therefrom, and God alone judges it to be so, which maintains a proper balance of power, or else mankind could use priesthood removal to threaten the righteous into submission.
Therefore, the above story is a compelling set of logical arguments, but wrong in its assumptions of jurisdiction and authority. There is a third option to the learned man’s propositions: if the Protestants in question lived during a time when the Roman Catholic Church had a commission from God to confer authority (if it ever did), then the Roman Catholic Church could’ve cut off righteous Protestants, and their right to claim the priesthood would’ve continued outside of the Catholic Church, because a false excommunication would not be recognized by God against a righteous priesthood holder. The only thing God would honor is the Catholic Church’s wishes that those priesthood holders no longer minister in their church, and they would likely be called to minister elsewhere where they were accepted.
These are more quotes from Denver Snuffer’s book “Preserving the Restoration” and are used by permission.
Basis – Incrementally & Not in Theory Only
“Can we be ‘one’ because we believe in the theory of equality? Can we be one if we believe in the theory of sharing with one another? Is belief enough? Or must there be action? [James 2:14-18]. If James’ letter was good enough to begin the restoration, his advice can help solve our present conundrum. There is an enormous gulf between what was revealed at the beginning of the restoration and the religion practiced now. That gulf needs to disappear. We are never trapped because of belonging to a church. It does not matter if the FLDS church, or the Community of Christ (or the RLDS) church, or the Church of the Firstborn refuse to obey revelations given through Joseph Smith. All of us remain free to practice the restored faith, even if no one else joins in the practice with you. Getting from where we are to where we need to be cannot be accomplished inside institutions that have trapped our minds. Honor and worship inside your churches, but by degrees, begin the process ‘by your works’ to show real faith. Instead of consecrating, we tithe. ‘Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.’ [This is where the notion that tithing is ‘fire insurance’ comes from. If you are tithed, you will not be burned at His coming.] ‘For after today cometh the burning–this is speaking after the manner of the Lord–for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon. Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today’ (D&C 64:23-25). We should all pay tithing.” p. 255-256.
Paying Tithing to Current Institutions
“If satisfied in paying to your particular church, then continue doing so. Tithing is an offering to the Lord. There is no need to worry about what happens to it once it is donated. Those in charge of the tithes are accountable before God. For us, it is an act of faith. For those who receive it, it is a matter of accountability. Even in Joseph’s day, the poor were a challenge for the church. Today the problem is worse than ever, and this at the same time the LDS church has more wealth than at any time in her history. This is a problem that cannot be addressed directly and not through an institution which may or may not use the resources wisely.” pp. 256 – 257.
Reasons Why Some Don’t Pay Tithing
“Excommunicated members are not allowed to pay tithing to the church of their choice. Some members refuse to pay tithing because they do not trust how their church uses the funds. Some believe their church has neglected the poor and choose not to pay. Some refuse to pay because their church refuses to be accountable and open with donations. Some are offended because the LDS Church treats the return on tithing as ‘investment income,’ which is then used to build shopping malls, and establish vast commercial enterprises unnecessary for a church. The Lord anticipated churches would call some of His money ‘investment income’ in one of His parables: [Matthew 25:14-17]. [He owns all of it; the interest, the investment, and His tithing. In this parable there is no such thing as ‘investment income.’] There is nothing divine in neglecting the poor.” pp. 257-258.
Paying Tithing in Local Groups of Common Believers
“The primary purpose of collecting the tithes and the yield upon it is to bless and benefit the lives of those in need. Given the commandment to pay tithing, and the Lord saying ‘Organize yourselves,’ one small step that might be taken would be to collect our own tithing in local groups.
In any tithing group not only should women have an equal voice, but the women have a great role to fill. When we think of ‘love unfeigned’ in a religious sense, who is more compassionate, and loves more, the man or the woman? When it comes to the home and hearth, the needs of children, women have innate competency worth trusting.” p. 259 (bullet point format added).
“If money is administered directly to the poor, there is no qualified 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) tax deduction. The benefits were always intended to be for the poor, not those who give. [Reward for the giver in this life consists only in the act of giving. Recognition for anything more than that in this life and you ‘have your reward’ (Matthew 6:2) now and ‘ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:1.)] Christ had something to say about paying taxes: [Matthew 22:17-21]. There may be negative tax consequences from practicing religion this way. The beneficiary may be disqualified from some government program eligibility because of the help they receive from a group. [Done informally such assistance is more akin to a wedding shower present, or birthday gift, than institutional assistance. Nevertheless, there may be tax or other consequences, and if there are ‘Caesar should be honored,’ and taxes should be paid. It is better to let ourselves be taxed than to become entwined with government-conferred benefits which can produce institutional servitude, as will be more fully discussed later.] Do it anyway. Become independent.” pp. 260-62.
Poor Not To Be Idle
“There may be those who, because they have nothing, cannot give. They should remember D&C 42:42: ‘Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.’ [If you are the beneficiary, not only should you be grateful, but do what you can in turn.]” p. 261.
“Do not pay one another for service.” p. 261
Pragmatic Experience to Become One, Opposition Will Be Encountered
“This is a pragmatic experiment to see how difficult it is to become ‘one.’ This world greatly opposes the idea of Zion. You will learn through criticism from others to suffer for your Lord’s sake. You may lose fellowship with those who do not agree it is your obligation to care for the poor. You may lose a temple recommend, church calling, or even church membership. You will learn that churches care for money above all else. You will also learn how weak we all are. You will experience the same problems that existed in Joseph’s attempt to establish Zion. The scripture explains: ‘there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them’ (D&C 101:6). Even in a small group there will be challenges and failures. This opportunity, if taken, will provide an accurate barometer of ‘what lack we yet’ (See Matthew 19:20)? pp. 261-262.
Participation From the Inactive
“The overwhelming majority of baptized Latter-day Saints are inactive. The LDS Church measures ‘active’ by counting attendance at one sacrament meeting every 90 days. There are between 9 and 11 million completely inactive Latter-day Saints. Although these disaffected saints seem utterly disinterested in the LDS Church, they may still be interested in Mormonism. Perhaps some, or many, of them can find renewed life and vigor practicing the religion they once accepted in this manner. We ought to be interested in the stray sheep. Inactive LDS, disaffected RLDS, strays from the Community of Christ, and even the various fundamentalist Mormons who once accepted Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon should be invited to participate in this experiment.” pp. 262-263.
Excess of Funds and Gathering
“Remember when it comes to the establishment of Zion, there is no such thing as ‘hastening the work.’ It cannot be done in haste: ‘For ye shall not go out with haste nor go by flight; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel shall be your rearward’ (3 Nephi 20:42). ‘This is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence’ (D&C 63:24). [This instruction from 1831 will apply when the Lord gathers once again. Just as it did before, haste will bring pestilence to the land of gathering.] [D&C 101:68]. [There will probably be excess funds from your collections. The excess can be used to prepare a place, but not in haste. Whether there will be a place prepared for you depends entirely on whether you prepare.] pp. 263-264.
“If you want to donate money to the Lord, then do it as part of a community of believers, and use the donations to relieve the needs of the poor among you. If you have no poor among you, donate to build a temple” (Denver Snuffer, Jr., “Doctrine of Christ,” Sept. 11, 2016, p. 17).
Impossible to Establish Zion Without This Tithing Experiment
“There is a great work to do. It is not all to be done in one step. Unless we are willing to experiment, live the Law of Tithing and govern ourselves, it will be impossible to make the transition. The people of God will do this. [D&C 65:5-6.] [When the Lord returns it will be to an existing kingdom set up on the earth. It must precede His coming. The question is whether we will act to accomplish what He has instructed must be accomplished. The window is now open.” p. 267.
“Zion must exist before these things happen. The Lord has decreed by covenant these things will happen, but there is no guarantee we will be involved. He can accomplish His work with us or with other people.” p. 269.
“…we need practical experience and not theory. The way in which the practical experience can be had is in gathering in fellowships and societies, collecting our own tithing, and then grappling with the fact that there is a pile of money sitting there, which is ever a temptation, and to deal with that in a responsible way. That forces individuals to confront their own self will, their own pride, their own desires, their own jealousy, their own envy, their own ambition, and their own covetousness. In the fellowships that have been organized there have been moments of profound breakthroughs in the kind of attributes required for Zion. One group, when they begin their meeting, gathers all the needs on written slips of paper and put all of the needs together in an unopened basket. Then they gather the money, which is always cash, into another unopened container. They don’t know how much cash there is. Without opening the cash then, they first open the needs. As a group they reason together and agree on what the priority of the needs are, so that they have a list of the most compelling, and on down. Once they know what the most compelling, the second, the third, the fourth are, they open and count the money. On one occasion, there was a married couple whose need could be satisfied because there was enough money, but they looked at the person next in line in priority behind them, and concluded that in their heart, they thought that need greater than their own. If they satisfy the next person’s need, there would be nothing left for them. So they voluntarily passed on their priority and took none of the money, and allowed it all to go to the next person in line behind them. That is a couple that I would willingly add to a community, because they’ve learned self-sacrifice. They are no threat, and are instead an ideal contributor. Someone who advocates incessantly, ‘We’ve got the live the United Order! We’ve got to have consecration,’ –because he intends to benefit from that change and better his circumstances—is unfit to be gathered. He would destroy Zion because he is selfish and thinking of what he can gain. Someone who says, ‘What can I give?’ at the cost of his own self-sacrifice, and yet is willing to live the Law of Consecration in order to bless and benefit others, not expecting themselves to be blessed or benefited but instead expect themselves to carry a burden, those people can be gathered. They present no threat. They can be “one” with others. They are willing to lose themselves, as Christ instructed. The way in which those people get identified is by practical experience, which is what the fellowshipping communities are designed, by the inspiration of God, to allow to now begin to take place. Every one of us theorizes themselves a great candidate for Zion. But go out and get some practical experience and see how great a candidate you truly are. You will be disappointed in yourself. Most of us would be anyway.” (Denver Snuffer Interview – Tim Malone 5/13/15, pp. 8-9).
The common LDS use of the term “familiar spirit” seems to imply a set of ideas that are ungodly because one takes them as truthful merely because someone else has vouched for them…hence you come under their influence due to nepotism, or “familiarity” with the speaker. The original sense of the term dealt with a sorcerer’s supposed familiarity with a spirit or spirits from the beyond, or rather, more precisely, a spirit’s willingness to obey and serve a witch or sorcerer. The LDS definition would be an accurate description of someone’s mindset if the person in question didn’t come to their own conclusions about each and every matter, and just accepted a thought because someone like a “Denver Snuffer” or a “Thomas Monson” said so, becoming in a sense, servants to these men. Further, the implication is that the “spirit”, or set of ideas conveyed, is false and ungodly in its own right. “Ungodly” has a specific set of criteria, or rather, “godly communication”, or “truth”, has a specific set of criteria that establishes the communication as coming from God, proving all other communications as evil or base. Those criteria are plainly discussed in the Lectures on Faith and in the Standard Works.
Furthermore, it is obvious in the scriptures that the priesthood of God has power over devils. The question is, when various workshops for hire crop up to teach how to overcome evil spirits, are the devils in question strong-armed definitively by such efforts (See Mark 3:22-30)? Or, does the devil of all devils laugh at them and play games with their minds, leaving them alone just long enough to convince them that they have some power and authority in these things, only to return and torture and tease them anew (see 2 Nephi 9:37 and Moses 7:26)?
Perhaps unintentionally, the LDS Church promotes sorcery by claiming the temple rites employ ancient techniques of using rich symbolism to teach godly ideas (See Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings”), while offering virtually no support for discovering the meanings of those symbols. Superficial treatments on temple symbology are offered in sanitized and approved books that necessarily avoid discussing off-limit topics such as signs, tokens, key words, and really anything involving the wording in the rituals. Within the temples themselves, a culture of fear prevails masquerading as reverence (stemming from the days the LDS Church was scrutinized by the US Government over their secret temple rites), stifling all discussion about such symbols in places that are ostensibly deemed as the only appropriate venues for such holy conversations (in the beginning of the twentieth century, the LDS Church President stopped all conversations about symbols inside of temples because it was feared the US Government had infiltrated the temples with spies…hasn’t the time for the militaristic oversight passed yet?). Ironically, the Masons foster much more freedom amongst themselves to discuss similar symbology, which promotes an insatiable appetite for learning and strong camaraderie over treasured concepts, even if their rituals are only a degraded remnant of something in the past with many interpolations introduced over the years. So, in absence of even this cementing virtue of brotherly love through rich shared meaning and purpose, the LDS have devolved into a stalemate over the symbols themselves. Russell M. Nelson can say the following about the meaning of the symbols: “Teachings of the temple are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds” (Ibid.), because there are no cultural reasons for the leadership to avoid discussing the meanings; yet there are for lay-members, who are sometimes afraid to even ask God about them, or ignorant that there are any intended interpretations at all. Devoid of meaning, the symbols have become venerated in LDS culture as magic talismans that harbor mysterious power over the heavenly hosts, as well as over demonic forces. A simple arm raised to the square while invoking the name of Deity is thought to be the authoritative means by which to cast out evil spirits. In the absence of success with this simpler practice (see Acts 19:13-17), more elaborate rituals are concocted by the foolhardy, who prey upon others who pay money to learn all the extra dance steps involved. Such individuals display a hunger for contact with the divine or other-worldly (a natural impulse to be sure), but they hunger not for righteousness; and, those claiming to “live without a veil” also seemingly live without sense in these matters as well, despite how many legitimate experiences they might have had.
Jesus said the adulterous seek after a sign, but do not get them (except unto damnation, see Matthew 16:4); yet the believing, humble, and penitent souls receive signs constantly at his hand (D&C 68:10). Furthermore, he said that some evil spirits “goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Prayer is a two-way communication, as the LDS are wont to say, so it begs the question: what is being communicated by God when the case of casting out an evil spirit is presented before Him? A revelation in the D&C is instructive on this point:
Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God. And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith. He that receiveth of God, let him account it of God; and let him rejoice that he is accounted of God worthy to receive. (D&C 50:31-34).
Symbols have meanings. What is dramatized in an ordinance is not the heart of the matter involved, but merely a symbolic parable of an eternal reality. The eternal reality is not reached unless God reveals it to you (the things of the Spirit are only understood by the Spirit, see 1 Corinthians 2:11). Even if studying things out amongst fellow believers in sacred places is an advisable first step, every individual must learn their meanings from God alone. At that point, the use of a symbol becomes infused with power due to the understanding of the person using it, as that understanding is given to them by God. It becomes an extension of language and thought, and not merely a dance step or ritual. Even still, having trivia knowledge concerning symbolic meanings doesn’t mean a person is capable of acting on God’s behalf indiscriminately. The devils understand many meanings, and have no power with God (see James 2:19). There is no valid substitute for meekness (as in only doing those things the Lord asks, no more and no less) and keeping all the commandments of God, as the means by which to develop power with Him:
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46).
And, although coming from a second-hand account, I find this reminiscence about Joseph Smith’s interactions amusing:
I recollect a gentleman who came from Canada, and who had been a Methodist, and had always been in the habit of praying to a God who had no ears, and as a matter of course had to shout and halloo pretty loud to make him hear. Father Johnson asked him to pray in their family worship in the evening, and he got on such a high key, and hallooed so loud that he alarmed the whole village. Among others, Joseph came running out, saying, “What is the matter? I thought by the noise that the heavens and the earth were coming together,” and said to the man, “that he ought not to give way to such an enthusiastic spirit, and bray so much like a jackass.” Because Joseph said that, the poor man put back to Canada, and apostatized; he thought he would not pray to a God who did not want to be screamed at with all one’s might. (Ohio Reminiscenses About Joseph Smith).
Speaking about his experiences with the divine, Joseph Smith gave us all reason to pause and consider how dreadful a task it is to represent the Lord, a warning that we take seriously ourselves:
…had I inspiration, Revelation & lungs to communicate what my soul has contemplated in times past there is not a soul in this congregation but would go to their homes & shut their mouths in everlasting silence on religion, till they had learned something. (Funeral Sermon delivered at the Nauvoo temple site on August 13, 1843).
One cannot reemphasize the following passage from Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail enough:
A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137).
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).