In the Children’s Songbook, there is a song, Follow the Prophet, the chorus being the key lesson the song is teaching our Primary children:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,Follow the prophet; he knows the way.
What prophet? The song lists Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and Daniel. Interestingly this LDS song does not mention anyone from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, or the Restoration. The last verse of the song seems to say that we live in confusing times and should listen to these Old Testament prophets today. Yet the March, 2012 Liahona uses this song to teach children to follow the living prophet. While this may seem odd to some, as members of Christ’s restored Church, this actually makes perfect sense.
While this is a nice song and teaches our kids a simple form of the truth, as adults we must dig deeper and ask, when and how do we follow the prophet? Before we get into this, let us first answer the question, what is a prophet?
While everyone with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a prophet, seer, and revelator; The Prophet, in Latter-day Saint terms, is the president of the Church. He, his two (or more) councilors and the twelve (or more) apostles all hold the same keys to the kingdom. Only the President of the Church is authorized to use all of the keys to govern the whole of the Church. In this sense, the prophet is like the bishop, he can call people to positions in the Church and make policy. Yet, he is also imperfect and unless he introduces new scripture, what he says is just his opinion and may or may not be from God.
To tell when the President of the Church is speaking as a man; as an inspired man; or prophesying, seeing or revelating, the Scriptures can help guide us.
“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 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.” – Deuteronomy 18: 18-22
This scriputre clearly marks the prophet and the Lord’s safety nets as for when and how to follow him.
- God will put His words in the prophet’s mouth
- When the prophet speaks God’s Word, that is Law to all followers of Christ
- If the prophet claims he is speaking God’s words but is not, or speaks the words of another god, God will kill him (this prevents him from leading us astray, however it is unclear is this is speaking of literal death or spiritual death)
- Not all words of the prophet are from the Lord
- If the prophet is wrong, but doesn’t die, then the Lord didn’t tell him to say it
- We shouldn’t fear or follow the prophet (making his words scriptures) when he is speaking as a man
The prophet has authority over the church and will be held accountable for his mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we should make them too. As an example, Joseph Fielding Smith was was clearly not inspired when he said that “blacks” couldn’t hold the priesthood due to premortal sin,
“That the negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born.” – Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way To Perfection, p.43
We know this to be false as the scriptures are clear that we all kept our first estate and that it is this life where we prove ourselves, not the last (Abraham 3: 25-26). We were all equally perfect when we came into this world (D&C 93: 38), it is our intelligence that differs (Abraham 3: 19). Even Brigham Young acknowledged this, stating that “Negroes” were not neutral during the War in Heaven.
“there were no neutral [spirits] in Heaven at the time of the rebellion, all took sides. All spirits are pure that came from the presence of God” – Journal History, 25 December 1869, citing Wilford Woodruff’s journal
How then can we know that the prophet is speaking for the Lord? Simple, it becomes doctrine. LDS doctrine is defined, by the Church, as the scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price), Articles of Faith (we have 13), and Official Declarations (we have 2). For anything to become binding on the Church, it must be sustained by the members in a General Conference. This has only happened six times:
- 1830, Bible and Book of Mormon were officially accepted with the organization of the Church
- 1835, Doctrine and Covenants, first 103 sections were officially accepted
- 1880, Doctrine and Covenants additional 32 sections were accepted along with the Pearl of Great Price
- 1890, Polygamy was temporarily repealed until man’s laws change (Official Declaration 1)
- 1976, Doctrine and Covenants sections 137 & 138 were officially accepted
- 1978, The priesthood was made available to all worthy males regardless of race, clarifying a grievous error in policy that was not doctrine (Official Declaration 2)
(This list excludes times when items in the Peal of Great Price were removed before becoming scriptures or moved to the D&C as they were still doctrine; nor does it include the Lectures on Faith, they were once a part of our scriptures but removed rather than voting to keep them in when it was realized they were never officially canonized.)
Some members try to claim we have more scriptures than this, more doctrine. Yet we do not. Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie is not doctrine. None of the books written by church leaders are doctrine. Conference talks are not doctrine. Church news papers and magazines are not doctrine.
“With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.” – Church Newsroom
Many now pretend that THE FAMILY A Proclamation to the World is scripture, but it is not scripture, nor is it new revelation in any way shape or form. It is not bad or evil. We shouldn’t throw it out, yet we also should not make it more than what it is. If we wish to share our doctrine in matters within this document, we should look to the Standard Works and quote from our scriptures.
The Scriptures are the Word of God, and they are all we have to stand by. They are the record kept among us recording the words from God to us though His seers, translators, prophets, apostles of Jesus Christ, elders of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (D&C 21: 1). They are “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4).
This isn’t to say that Church leaders are not wise or that we should reject their councel. It is to say that we should let the Church make its mistakes, as the Lord does, and think for ourselves – making sure not to make the same mistakes. We are all responsible for our own sins (Articles of Faith 1: 2).
How then do we know what to do? Our doctrine provides these answers.
- It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true (John 8: 17, referring to Deuteronomy 17: 6)
- by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh (1 Nephi 22: 2)
- would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them (Number 11: 29)
- Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5: 39)
- This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Joshua 1: 8)
- Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2: 15)
- learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them (Deuteronomy 17: 19)
- And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deuteronomy 6: 7)
To summarize this list, we must look for two or more witnesses. This does not mean that if the prophet says it and so does one of the apostles we should know it is true, both are one witness as neither are doctrine yet both are living prophets of the Lord. We should remember that we too are prophets, and thus are entitled to receive receive our own witness. This can be the first witness of the truth they are speaking. The second can be the scriptures. But to know the scriptures, we must study them, meditate on them, and teach them. They must be a part of us. The devil can quote scripture, thus we must know God and His meaning behind His words. Sharing and teaching the gospel helps us to understand His Word. Lastly, be obedient to the Law as you know it and the Lord will expand your knowledge.
To share a personal example; for some time now, every prophet has stated that every male (this later changed to every worthy male, and now female) needed to go on a mission. It has been pushed all of my life. When I graduated from High School, I planned to go on a mission. Then I prayed about it. I was told not to go. How could I not go? I asked myself. I would be rejecting the words of the prophet. A year or more later I was in my Bishop’s office and he was pushing me to go on a mission. I told him I could not. I explained that I had been told by the Lord not to. He opened his mouth to rebuke me. Instead he stated that if the Lord said I shouldn’t go, then I shouldn’t go. This surprised both of us. Yet, I now had my two witnesses. This could not have happened, I could not have followed the Lord, had I simply “followed the prophet,” as the song says.
God has told me to seek Him both in Spirit and in the Scriptures to know what is true. He has instructed me not to follow any man or woman blindly. I cannot speak for anyone else, we all must go to God for our personal answers as salvation, grace, and revelation are personal things. That said, we do not have to follow anyone that is telling us to go against our current doctrine. Even if he is the president of the Church. Even he and the apostles can be excommunicated for teaching false doctrine, it is just VERY unlikely. It is up to each of us to befriend the Holy Ghost and let this member of the Godhead be a part of our lives. If He is, we will not be lead astray. We are a Church of revelation. Investigators are asked to pray on the Book of Mormon and follow the Spirit. There is not reason not to keep doing what we know works.