I recently finished listening, then rereading, portions of Saints, Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth, and was struck by the rampant apostasy by prominent church members during the early restoration period. I wasn’t surprised by any of it, per se, I knew of the stories individually, but hadn’t really pondered on the ramifications of it all. Imagine what it would be like if we had multiple members of the First Presidency and other prominent leaders leave the church within a decade or so.
This actually occurred. But why? A passage at the end of the book answered that question and penetrated my heart, causing me to reflect and ponder about my level of commitment to the prophet:
“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God, but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly like pieces of glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.”Joseph Smith, 1844
The thirst for a living prophet was real. Many Saints searched for their entire lives looking for a church led by a prophet called by God and organized as Christ’s Church has been in times of old. See Wilford Woodruff:
Despite their recognition of Joseph’s divine calling, and knowing the need for a modern prophet, most of the time with a spiritual witness, many fell away when their traditions were challenged. Significant apostasy occurred after Joseph Smith revealed doctrine that we hold dear in our days:
- The Vision of the three degrees of glory
- The doctrine of the Godhead
- The divine nature of God (including the doctrine of exaltation)
- The doctrine of eternal marriage, including plural marriage
I was reminded of the children of Israel after they had left Egypt. They had witnessed miracles and knew that Moses had been sent to deliver them from Pharoah. Yet, they couldn’t leave traditions that had been ingrained in their culture from generations of living in Egypt. It wasn’t until 40 years passed and new seed was raised up that they were permitted to enter the Promised Land.
New doctrine oftentimes has to be given to us in language with which we are already familiar. The Protestant tradition ran deep with Saints in the United States and the British Isles. Even now, we can mix traditional understanding with Latter-day Saint doctrine. Here is an interesting podcast I listened to recently that talks of this, including a fascinating story with Elder Neal A. Maxwell (around 16:00). It is critical that we have a firm understanding of our doctrine to avoid confusion.
Late in the Nauvoo era, Hyrum Smith gave a sermon where he held up the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. “Everything more than these is of man and is not of God,” he declared. Imagine! That sounds an awful lot like some of the evangelical preachers we inevitably have run-ins with as missionaries! According to “Saints, Vol. 1: The Standard of Truth,” Brigham Young took the scriptures from Hyrum and laid them out in front of everyone to see:
“I would not give the ashes of a rye straw for these three books without the living oracles of God.”Brigham Young
In these, the Latter-days, we understand and embrace the words of a living prophet now as tradition. However, do we only follow them out of tradition? Are there other traditions that we cling to that would keep us from following the Lord’s anointed servants with exactness? Or, on the other hand, do we put words in their mouths that haven’t been revealed or project revelation which hasn’t been given? The words of the living prophet and apostles trump all prior revelation – are we living their counsel faithfully, or do we walk in lockstep with a worldview that isn’t doctrine, to traditions that aren’t ours, or embrace values the world declares as truth?
Following the prophet and sustaining our leaders means following to the letter their counsel as is currently given. We are judged according to our adherence to the laws and commandments given as they are revealed. We follow Christ, not past traditions or modern trends. We change and adjust as more light is given, and as we have been proven ready and worthy for it, but we don’t project counsel or doctrine that hasn’t been given. To sustain and to follow means to embrace what is commanded with exactness. Any other attitude leaves us open to “fly like pieces of glass” when the right trial comes upon us.
“The Living Prophet: Our Source of Pure Doctrine” -Elder Merrill C. Oaks, October 1998
“Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey” -Elder Robert D. Hales, April 1995
“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” – President Russell M. Nelson, April 2018
You can follow Dustin on Twitter at @dmturner1232.