“What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?”

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What ought we to do if we believe we have received revelation that differs with the united voice of the First Presidency and Twelve apostles?

One of the great strengths–and arguably one of the defining features–of LDS doctrine as a belief in on-going revelation, both to Church leaders and individuals members. Members understand that the revelation they receive is only for their areas of stewardship and responsibility.

What should we do, then, in the case where we sincerely believe we have received revelation that tells us that the highest councils of united Church leaders are mistaken?

I here suggest five important principles drawn from apostles and prophets about such situations, which have blessed my life.

  1. As a first step, we ought to seriously consider whether we are mistaken or misled.

Elder Oaks taught that some things can disqualify us from revelation until we make them right:

We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost—the medium of individual revelation—if we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against God’s chosen authorities.[1]

Note that there is no exception that says, “Unless you are right and they are wrong.”

  1. We should pray to have our heart changed if this is necessary.
    Marion G. Romney, later of the First Presidency, had an experience very like this. Harold B. Lee described it:

In the political field where so much pressure is exerted on men to compromise ideals and principles for expediency, party workers early learned to admire Marion G. Romney’s intense loyalty to his own conscience as well as to the advice of his Church leaders, whose pronouncements on vital issues affecting the welfare of the nation he accepted as divinely inspired even though it frequently brought him into sharp conflict with leaders of his own political party. On one such occasion when Church leaders in a tersely worded editorial had denounced the trends of the political administration then in power, he confided in me something which it might be well if all loyal Church members in public life could emulate: “When I read that editorial,” he told me, “I knew what I should do—but that wasn’t enough. I knew that I must feel right about following the counsel of the Church leaders and know that they were right. That took a whole night on my knees to accomplish.” I submit in that statement the difference between “intelligent” and “blind” obedience. Marion G. Romney, while never disloyal to authority over him, could never be rightfully accused of being “blindly obedient.” (62-16, p. 742)[2]

Thus, it was with difficult personal experience that President Romney would later teach:

Some members assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and direction they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent. . . . Those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the prophets are assuming an indefensible position. Such a spirit leads to apostasy.[3]

President Romney also said:

If we are to be on the side of truth, we must have the Spirit of the Lord. To the obtaining of that spirit, prayer is an indispensable prerequisite. Praying will keep one’s vision clear on this question of loyalty as on all other questions. By praying I do not mean, however, just saying prayers. Prayers may be said in a perfunctory manner. Access to the Spirit of God, which is a directing power, cannot be so obtained. The divine injunction to pray is not to be satisfied in a casual manner nor by an effort to obtain divine approval of a predetermined course. A firm resolve to comply with the will of God must accompany the petition for knowledge as to what His will is. When one brings himself to the position that he will pursue the truth wherever it may lead, even though it may require a reversal of his former position, he can, without hypocrisy, go before the Lord in prayer. Then, when he prays with all the energy of his soul, he is entitled to and he will receive guidance. The mind and will of the Lord as to the course he should take will be made known unto him.

I assure you, however, that the spirit of the Lord will never direct a person to take a position in opposition to the counsel of the Presidency of His Church. Such could not be….[4]

There is a very important point here—President Romney describes the necessity of being willing to be changed. This is really an act of consecration—of putting something we dearly love and value on the altar (our political convictions, our moral convictions, our deeply considered views, our social comfort, or the fact that we are going to be required to do a complete about-face on our views).

Only when we get to genuinely being willing to do this can we hope for the blessing. Faith precedes the miracle.

  1. We should be patient

Brigham Young talked about the first time Joseph Smith taught something that he didn’t and couldn’t believe. It happened when Joseph taught about 3 degrees of glory in heaven. Said Brigham:

I was not prepared to say that I believed it [3 degrees of glory], and I had to wait. What did I do? I handed this over to the Lord in my feelings, and said I, ‘I will wait until the Spirit of God manifests to me, for or against.’ I did not judge the matter, I did not argue against it, not in the least. I never argued the least against anything Joseph proposed, but if I could not see or understand it, I handed it over to the Lord.[5]

Note that Brigham does not “blindly follow” Joseph. He does not start believing the doctrine simply because Joseph preached it. Brigham insisted that he have his own witness prior to believing.

Yet, Brigham did not go too far the other way either. He did not engage in learned debate, or publish an “alternative” newspaper (today such folks would probably start a blog or post on Facebook!) detailing all the reasons why he did not believe what Joseph was teaching. He conformed his outward behavior in accordance with his covenants, but he did not abdicate his inner responsibility for his sincere doubt and uncertainty. He waited for revelation, but he did not let that which he did not know destroy that which he did know.

If he had not taken this approach, he would never have gotten a revelation. Faith precedes the miracle, and this can include the faith to simply wait.

Cautioned President Packer:

There are those within the Church who are disturbed when changes are made with which they disagree or when changes they propose are not made. They point to these as evidence that the leaders are not inspired.

They write and speak to convince others that the doctrines and decisions of the Brethren are not given through inspiration.

Two things characterize them: they are always irritated by the word obedience, and always they question revelation. It has always been so.[6]

  1. If, after all this, we still believe we are being told that the leaders of the Church are wrong, we are still not authorized to publicly preach or urge a different course of action or teaching.

President George Q. Cannon noted:

We could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the Authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him, and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.[7]

  1. We may be taught things by revelation that are true, and for our comfort, but it is still not our place to spread them publicly, or use them to advocate for change, and so forth.
  • Brigham Young: “Should you receive a vision or revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it . . . as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for he cannot safely reveal himself to such persons.”[8]
  • Joseph F. Smith: “Not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority—the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints. . . .The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated [i.e., taught and distributed/published] until proper permission is given.”[9]
  • Joseph Fielding Smith: “If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. . . . the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church.”[10]

Thus, we might say that an urge or willingness to use such supposed revelation for public consumption or advocacy is additional evidence that our revelation is not from God. Those with true revelation will be at peace, and have confidence that the Lord will respect the lines of responsibility that He has established for His Church.

Conclusion

I sympathize with those who struggle with such a situation. But, I think our duty is clear. Perhaps we have not yet been able to be convinced that what we have been asked is right. Perhaps we need, like Brigham Young, to simply wait longer. Perhaps all we can do, for the moment, is sustain the prophets and apostles with our silence. Is all this difficult? It certainly can be. But, this should not surprise us either. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned,

If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.[11]

Beware of false prophets. But, beware lest you become a false prophet. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught in October 1999 general conference:

When we think of false prophets and false teachers, we tend to think of those who espouse an obviously false doctrine or presume to have authority to teach the true gospel of Christ according to their own interpretation. We often assume that such individuals are associated with small radical groups on the fringes of society. However, I reiterate: there are false prophets and false teachers who have or at least claim to have membership in the Church….

Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self–appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well–being of those whom they seduce. Like Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon, they rely on sophistry to deceive and entice others to their views. They “set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Ne. 26:29).[12]

We need the prophets and apostles so desperately. I don’t think we treasure them enough. The political philosopher Leo Strauss was perhaps more right than he knew when he wrote:

True prophets, regardless of whether they predict doom or salvation, predict the unexpected, the humanly unforeseeable. What would not occur to men [or women], left to themselves, to fear or to hope.[13]

The more I study and see, the more convinced I grow that the battle of our generation is over prophets—it will be about whether God has spoken, and whether those with his authority and they keys exist or not. I am a witness that they do. And, notwithstanding any weaknesses they might have, we and this world are lost without them. God be praised that there are again apostles in the land, and a prophet in Israel.

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ENDNOTES

[1] Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign (March 1997): 14.

[2] Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 84.

[3] Marion G. Romney, Conference Report (April 1983): 21; also in “Unity,” Ensign (March 1983).

[4] Marion G. Romney, “Loyalty,” Conference Report (April 1942).

[5] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 18:247 (23 July 1874).

[6] Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign (November 1989): 16.

[7] Deseret News editorial, George Q. Cannon, editor, impression of 3 November 1869; reprinted in George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974), 493.

[8] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:288 (15 March 1857); reprinted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 41

[9] Joseph F. Smith Correspondence, Personal Letterbooks, 93–94, Film Reel 9, Ms. F271; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 221–222. Also in Statements of the LDS First Presidency, compiled by Gary James Bergera (Signature, 2007), 121.  Bergera indicates it is a letter from JFS to Lillian Golsan, 16 July 1902.

[10] Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report (April 1938): 65–67; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:288.

[11] Neal A. Maxwell, A Time to Choose (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1975), 46.

[12] M. Russell Ballard, “Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign (November 1999): 62, emphasis added.

[13] Studies in Platonic Political Philosophies; cited in Henry B. Eyring, “Faith, Authority, and Scholarship,” in On Becoming a Disciple–Scholar, edited by Henry B. Eying, (Bookcraft, Salt Lake, 1995), 64.

14 thoughts on ““What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?”

  1. Benny Johnson

    D&C 128:20, I have found that good people get revelation from the wrong spirit easily, it has happened to me once while conduction a sacrament meeting, and I said the wrong thing. Thank heaven it was not a big deal, but some times it can be. Since it happened to me, I look for it, and it does happen. You can know it at an instant, or it make some time. The Lord will reveal it to us as we repent while we say our prayers, then we can be forgiven for the mistake.

  2. dk

    Man, if only John the Baptist had these rules when we was an up and coming prophet….he might not have lost his head.

  3. Gregory L. Smith Post author

    I’m not sure I follow–
    1. John the Baptist was teaching orthodox, typical Mosiac-law doctrine on which marriages were allowed and which forbidden;
    2. John was killed by the political power (Herod Antipus at his wife’s instigation); this had nothing to do with prophets and apostles, or even the religious establishment of the day.

  4. ACMEAlan

    I grew up hearing quotes similar to President Romney’s:
    “I assure you, however, that the spirit of the Lord will never direct a person to take a position in opposition to the counsel of the Presidency of His Church”.

    There are two problems with this: 1- It creates the false perception of infallibility relative to the leaders of the church; and 2- It’s incorrect. All one has to do is to read the church’s own essays to come to that conclusion. Better yet, take a singular example of the correspondence between sociologist Nelson Lowry and Pres George Albert Smith in 1947 relative to blacks and the priesthood.

    http://mormonstories.org/other/Lowry_Nelson_1st_Presidency_Exchange.pdf

    We need to remember that these are good men with biases and weaknesses; they are trying to lead a large church and sometimes they get it wrong. I believe (also based on personal revelation) that the recently leaked position relative to gays and the children of gays is incorrect…not just incorrect, but damaging and dangerous. As a member of the church, I also believe that I have an obligation to help correct false policy. We need to remember that it’s our church as much as it is theirs (the leaders). Their responsibility is to serve us, not the other way around.

  5. Gregory L. Smith Post author

    “Their responsibility is to serve us, not the other way around.”

    Actually, their responsibility is to serve God, regardless of what we might think or feel about a given matter. They answer to him, not to us.

    Elder Robbins explained this in a recent conference, invoking some counsel from President Boyd K. Packer: “A Seventy does not represent the people to the prophet but the prophet to the people. Never forget which way you face!” [“Which Way Do You Face?“, general conference, October 2015.]

    President Packer learned this from President Lee:

    “[As a young supervisor of the seminaries]…You must decide, to begin with where you stand and which way you face. You must decide whether you are a delegate representing the seminary and institute men before the Brethren, or whether you will, as I think you should, represent the Brethren to the seminary and institute teachers.” [“Which Way Do You Face?” Unpublished address, 3 October 1979; cited in Mine Errand from the Lord]

    I do not think it implies infallibility. It merely asserts that the spirit will not urge us to publicly oppose or correct the leaders of the Church.

    You may well believe you have “an obligation to help correct false policy,” but I think you will search in vain for any validation in scripture of the teachings of the prophets and apostles of that duty via public opposition, campaigning, or the like. (You are, of course, free to do what you like.)

    But, it has been my observation and experience that those who go public with their complaints and corrections will not receive–or recognize–the revelation that might correct them.

    There are many things which one can do, but that is a different post. A good place to start is Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign (Feb 1987).

    All one can say to an objection such as this, ultimately, is what Elder Oaks recommended:

    “This counsel will be anathema to some. I invite those who are troubled by it to consider it in terms of the teachings of the scriptures rather than in terms of their personal preferences or the canons of any particular profession. Those who reject the authority of the scriptures or our latter-day prophets cannot be expected to agree with what I have said.”

  6. Dan

    The first thing I noticed was that not a single scripture was referenced. What do the scriptures say on the matter?

  7. Rob Osborn

    Its entirely possible that church leaders may not get every detail about doctrine correct the first time. But, as we have all witnessed, by line upon line, we do get to the truth. In the case of the recent policies regarding SSM, the only dissenters claiming the apostles and prophets are wrong are the very ones who were already set in their position before it all happened. It tells me that some really dont seek the prophets counsel, or rather- only seek it when it fits their worldview.
    In my own studies regarding revelation, I know that no one receives revelation for the members of the worldwide church besides the apostles and prophets who are set apart to do such. We may, through our own study come to a truth about a topic that the church isnt correctly teaching, but the revelation that it is wrong will only come after we seek out the correct leadership and let them receive revelation on the matter and then after their response we may receive a confirmation from the spirit that it was true. My own blessing tells me that I will find truths about the gospel but that only through going to the leadership so that they can receive revelatiin will I be able to have my findings confirmed by the spirit it is true.

  8. Christopher Nicholson

    Also, contrary to the words that people keep trying to put in the Church’s mouth, its essay does *not* disavow the priesthood ban or claim that it was a mistake. It merely disavows the theories that were taught in support of it, and provides the historical cultural context, and apparently lets members draw their own conclusions. It also mentions a fact that many readers have consistently chosen to ignore because it doesn’t fit their paradigm – namely, that David O. McKay prayed for years to a revelation to lift the ban, and God consistently told him no. Doesn’t sound like his biases and weaknesses were the issue there (unless we assume that he just kept misinterpreting God’s answer, and in that case, what a shame that God made a mistake in not choosing one of the clearly much wiser and more in tune members to be the prophet!)

    It is neither our church nor the leaders’. It is the church of Christ. And if God already agreed with everything that was politically correct or otherwise popular, there would be little need for prophets in the first place. If they ever ceased to be controversial and unpopular, *that’s* when I would be worried.

  9. Jarrod

    Rob,

    I agree with the premise of your second paragraph–only those in a position of stewardship would receive revelation for those under their charge. I would not receive any revelation for someone outside of that sphere.

    I do, however, want to push back slightly against your first paragraph. I am an individual who has been active in the church my whole life, experiences same sex attraction, and have tried to live in accordance with my covenants. I have really been trying to be humble, but this policy has been very difficult for me personally. I have really struggled to find God in it, and I am still figuring out what my place is–or is not–in the church. I believe that the leaders of the church are kind men who are sincerely trying to follow God’s will. I also believe that they have their own biases and weaknesses, and that sometimes that is a process. I believe they love the members of the church and are trying their best. I guess I just wanted to share my personal story as someone who is struggling with any faith in the church leaders, but who is sincerely trying to not be set in my position. You are right, there are a lot of people who were actively in opposition to the leaders prior to this, but there are also real people who have been hurting and struggling as we have tried to find our place.

    I appreciate you sharing your experiences, and they are helpful to me as I struggle to discover what God wants for me and where I fit in. Thank you!

  10. Gregory L. Smith Post author

    I have all the time in the world for people in your situation. As I said, I think these moments are Abrahamic tests of sorts, moments of consecration. (President Nelson seems to have used a similar type of imagery or idea last night.) They can be very difficult–and as Elder Maxwell says, we will all be eventually asked to do that which is most difficult, if we are trying to keep covenants. John Taylor used to quote something Joseph Smith told the Twelve:

    ‘You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried [even] as Abraham and other men of God, God will feel after you, and He will take hold of and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.’ [Journal of Discourses 24:197.]

    There is no shame in being so tried. But, the approach we take can make all the difference in the outcome. As Elder Maxwell said elsewhere, it helps to know who is doing the wrenching.

    God bless you in your efforts.

  11. Gregory L. Smith Post author

    “first thing I noticed was that not a single scripture was referenced”

    There are doubtless many scriptures that apply.

    To pick just one, you have the case of Oliver Cowdery, second Elder of the Church, who in the very beginning of the restoration insisted that Joseph had done something wrong in a revelation he wrote. And, Oliver told Joseph in stern terms to fix it.

    The Lord’s reply was fairly stark in D&C 28:6-7.

    6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
    7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.

    It does not, note, say, “No, Oliver, Joseph got this one right.” Nor does it say, “Thanks for pointing out the error, Oliver.”

    It simply says that it is not Oliver’s place to correct/command the President of the Church. Joseph holds those duties, and Oliver does not. The revelation doesn’t even address the rights/wrongs of the dispute between Oliver and Joseph. It simply tells Oliver, in essence, to mind his own business.

    I think if God can tell you or me that the Prophet is wrong and should be contradicted in public (a dubious claim, as I’ve suggested) then He is quite interventionist enough to straighten the prophets out without my or your help. (There’s an inherent contradiction in those who assure us that God has told them differently, but remains so laissez-faire that he is completely unable to get through to the fifteen members of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve.)

    There’s also the associated episode with Hiram Page.

  12. Rachel

    At the risk of being reductionist, here is what I gather from your post:

    1) You are probably wrong
    2) Hope (and pray) you are wrong
    3) Be patient
    4) Be quiet
    5) No really, be quiet

    I don’t disagree with numbers 1-3. But do you really believe that if we genuinely feel something is wrong and it is hurting people we love we should say nothing? That’s not how I was raised – nor is it what I was taught every Sunday in church. There is a lot of room between negative criticism and faultfinding of church leaders and a thoughtful discussion of whether a policy truly could truly come from Christ. Such discussion can evolve ideas, encourage personal searching, communicate the needs of church members to the leadership, and most importantly tell someone who is quietly struggling that they are not alone.

    And incidentally, I am grateful for every individual who challenged the priesthood ban, including Orson Pratt in front of the Utah Legislature.

  13. Gregory L. Smith Post author

    Rachel:

    I don’t know if your summary is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I’ll treat it as serious. I would summarize (again, as you say, risky) as follows:

    1) Remember that you are at least as likely to be wrong as the fifteen you claim are in error;
    2) Be genuinely willing to be told you are wrong, if you are.
    3) Patience
    4&5) Abandon the pretense that public distension, critique, complaining, pressure tactics and such are derived from revelation to you from God. These things simply don’t fit with LDS doctrine of how revelation works regarding such matters.

    One may very well have a different view of how revelation works–but then one must, I think, be honest about it and confront the fact that one is acting (and encouraging others to act) in a way that is at variance with long-standing and well-established Church teaching on the matter. (That doesn’t mean, a priori, that you are wrong–I’m just recommending the intellectual honesty of admitting to oneself and others that one is doing this.) What one cannot do, it seems to me, is insist that what one is doing is simply business as usual, “what the Church really teaches us to do,” etc. It simply isn’t. Now, the Church and its leaders could be wrong about all that as well–but, if they are, let’s be honest and open about the degree of problem with which we are now faced.

    You say that you think “there is a lot of room between negative criticism and faultfinding of Church leaders and a thoughtful discussion of whether a policy truly could truly come from Christ.” It is not clear to me what that room is, when the President of the Quorum of the Twelve has declared that the policy did, in fact, come from Christ. To say that it did not, and to say that we have revelation to that effect, cannot be anything but a criticism and fault-finding with them. Exactly what ideas could we expect from such a claim that would “evolve,” save to evolve the view that they are wrong? What can “thoughtful discussion” add if we are claiming that God has told us they are wrong?

    There are, as I noted above, many things that members can do. Elder Oaks discusses many of them; I recommend his article. If you want to inform your leaders of your views, there are ways to do so: a letter to your stake president can be forwarded, or you can write a letter to Church headquarters.

    In conclusion, I wonder if President Kimball was grateful for “every individual who challenged the priesthood ban”? He, of all people, is the best placed to tell us whether such behavior was helpful or desired or proper.

    Stay tuned for another post on precisely that question. Thanks for reading!

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