Joseph Smith once relayed a message that he had received from an angelic visitation that declared, “that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (Joseph Smith - History 1:33)
While we probably have a long way to go before all nations, kindreds, and tongues will have mentioned Joseph Smith in either a positive or negative light; it seems that this prophecy carries some weight. Certainly wherever Joesph Smith’s name has been proclaimed, the truth of that phrase has been evident. Some receive his message, and others abhor it.
The reason I bring that prophecy up is because of its accuracy. Whether it was used responsibly or not, I do believe that Joseph Smith was given a gift to see and hear the supernatural. I believe that he had a genuine call from the Lord towards prophetic ministry, and even to build a prophetic movement.
He lived in a day where the gift of prophecy did genuinely need to be restored to Jesus’ Church. He was very gifted, very charismatic, and an incredibly strong leader; and I honor the gifts that the Lord placed in him at an early age.
So... why don't I follow his teachings?? I'd like to try to explain just one of the reasons:
In 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, the Holy Spirit through Paul says, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."
I believe there’s a reason that Paul says first apostles. To understand why the apostolic is placed at the head, we must understand the nature of apostolic ministry. We generally view those in these positions as overseers. As a priest or pastor looks over a single congregation, an apostolic figure would look over many congregations. But what, then, is their primary task?
Athanasius once referred to “the actual original tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic church, [catholic meaning all-encompassing] which the Lord bestowed, the apostles proclaimed and the fathers safeguarded.” I believe this hits upon the role of apostolic ministry. The original Apostles of the Lord had a special anointing to proclaim the message that Jesus had bestowed upon them. Their successors, the ones who would carry apostolic authority in their stead, 'safeguarded' that same message. That was and is their primary role. To preserve,and to carefully pass on the same message that Jesus bestowed and the Apostles proclaimed.
The reason apostles come first in Paul’s list is because it is the apostolic figures that are responsible for ensuring that the message of the gospel remains pure. All other ministries are to be submitted to that authority. Within that structure, the prophets and apostles have a unique relationship. They walk together in a special way. The prophets hear what God is saying now, and the apostolic authorities measure that against what God has always said. The prophet asks “What is God revealing today?” The apostolic figure asks “How does what God is revealing today line up with what God has already revealed?”
What that all boils down to is the basic truth that God cannot contradict himself.
Paul gives this kind of order to the ministries of the Church as a safeguard. The message of the gospel must remain pure. First apostles, second prophets.
Joseph Smith began his public ministry with a battle cry. He claimed that all of the churches were corrupt and that all of their creeds were an abomination! (Joseph Smith History 1:19). The Mormon Church is founded upon this revelation. This revelation that contains within it an attempt to reverse, or to overthrow the model of Church order that was put in place by the Apostle Paul.
Smith elevated prophecy above apostolic authority. In Mormonism, what God is speaking now is considered more important than what God has spoken in the past.
The creeds of the Christian faith were not just made up on a whim. The creeds came about primarily in response to heresy. As Jesus warned us, false teachers began to come into the Church. In response to that, the apostolic leaders of the day – the men responsible for 'safeguarding' the message of the gospel – got together, to speak, debate and work on a statement of faith that could help explain to the common man what the essential beliefs of our faith are. The creeds are a ‘safeguard’. Not everybody had access to the Scriptures, or could even read; but if they knew the creeds, then the message of the gospel could stay pure.
So, about 318 of the apostolic leaders of the fourth century got together to fight against a heresy that originated with a man named Arius. The result of that work is the Nicene Creed. Joseph Smith, the prophet, spent some time in prayer alone and received a revelation that all the creeds are an abomination to God.
Now, suppose for the sake of argument that he heard right? What if that was true? Remembering Paul’s words, 'first apostles, and second prophets', what should be done? How do you handle a revelation like that responsibly?
- Well, first of all, he should probably seek further revelation on what it is that actually makes the churches corrupt. What is it exactly that makes the creeds an abomination? Where do they depart from the gospel message proclaimed by Jesus and the original Apostles? A lot of very intelligent and God fearing men gave up a good portion of their lives to combat heresy and compose these creeds. They did so in good faith, and they did so in reverence for Christ and for the Scriptures. I’m not suggesting that that is reason enough to stay with them, but if we’re going to depart from them, then we need to understand why.
- Secondly, what are the points that are unmoving? If the creeds are wrong, then what’s right? Is Scripture reliable? Because the Creeds are based on Scriptural truths, and it was basically the same group of men that canonized Scripture as composed the creeds, (just a few generations apart). If Scripture is not reliable, and the Creeds aren’t reliable, and the Church is not reliable, then what’s left? Is there any solid ground that we can stand on? What are our foundations? What do we know about God that is true, and what is the source of that revelation? Is that source reliable?
I could be wrong, but that, I believe, would be the beginning of an apostolic response to the revelation. And already you can see that it has begun to fall apart. There’s nothing really left.
I’ve asked many Mormons those questions, (Why are the creeds corrupt? Where exactly do they depart from the gospel that Jesus proclaimed?), and I’ve never received a straight answer back... And I get the impression that it doesn’t even matter to them... Because what God is speaking now is more important and more valid than what God has spoken in the past.
Do you see the dangers in that?
If what God is saying now is not interpreted in the light of all that God has already revealed, then there is no absolute truth. Everything is variable. If even God's Word is changing, then what can possibly be relied upon? We have no sure foundations. There is nothing left. In the words of Mormon chapter 9, God becomes a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing. And this is not the God of miracles, this is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and this is not the God of creation. Mormon 9:9-11 – A god who changes is no God at all.
This reversing in order of holding what God is saying today to be more valid than what God has always said has trickled down from the leader that originated it, to be at the very forefront of Mormonism, and the greatest thing that continues to advance it.
Before someone becomes Mormon, they are asked to pray. Pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith was really a prophet. In response to your prayer, you are assured that you will receive a confirmation by the Spirit, (this promise is found in Moroni 10:3-5). Once received, your entire faith is built around this testimony. “I know it’s true because the Spirit himself told me”, “I know it’s true because I felt it”. That’s powerful stuff!!!
Is the experience valid? Sure it is! Something spiritual is happening. Should the experience have more weight than the things which God has already revealed? No! God does not contradict himself. If you have a spiritual experience that testifies to the validity of a prophet, and yet the tests of Scripture confirm that the prophet is false – Scripture wins. Every time. If Scripture does not carry more weight than your experience, then every truth is subject to change. You've lost all sense of foundation. There is no absolute truth. If the message of the gospel is to be safeguarded in this generation, then our prophetic experiences must be submitted to apostolic authority.
I began by speaking about the genuine prophetic gift of Joseph Smith. When I think about his life and the impact that he had on the world, I can’t help but think that this is maybe one of the greatest tragedies in all of Christian history. What if Joseph Smith had submitted his prophetic gifting to true apostolic authority? How would that have affected the Christian world? A restoration of the gift of prophecy to Jesus’ Church, and a restoration of proper order – a healthy relationship between apostolic and prophetic ministries. The humility of Christ exemplified in a prophet that could say to an apostolic authority, “This is what I’m hearing from the Lord today; could you help me interpret it in the light of all that God has already revealed to us?”
Imagine if Joseph Smith had asked those kinds of questions. Where would we be now? How much more united would Jesus' Church be? How much healthier? How much closer to Jesus' return?
Mormons, grieve the loss of Joseph Smith at his martyrdom in Carthage. As a Christian, I grieve the loss of Joseph Smith in the grove.
Please take a moment to pray for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Thank you.