the Spirit Watch
LDS Church, “Officially Speaking”
By Randy Rogers, Spiritwatch Ministries
The purpose of this article is two-fold in nature as I attempt to help the reader understand what Latter Day Saints mean when they referring to LDS doctrinal sources as either “official” or as “unofficial”. This frequently comes up in discussions that LDS Church members have with non-members or "investigators" of their religion. Because of my own experiences in dealing with LDS missionaries and other members of the church and having this phrase repeatedly brought up, I have discovered that the Mormons are trying to have their proverbial cake and eat it too. As I began to research this project, I came across very little information on the subject, although I knew full well what the LDS church accepts as inspired and official material. My prayer and hope for the reader is that he or she will gain a far better understanding of the word games that are used by the LDS members to avoid discussion of their lesser known yet controversial teachings. This is important because even the prophets of the LDS church have promised us that whatever they say will not lead people astray.
“I say to Israel, 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 program. 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. God bless you”.
I wish to now recount an experience of mine that sparked my interest in this topic.
I was asked to meet with a personal friend of mine in Atlanta who had already had around 5 to 6 visits with LDS missionaries and was not having much luck in trying to get them to see where my friend was coming from as a believer. Before I went, I photo copied literally hundreds of papers and books and other works that were solely produced by the LDS Church as vehicles of doctrine and practice: when I quoted from them, it would be the citing of doctrinal teachings produced entirely by their own leaders and prophets that would clarify the differences between orthodox Christian teaching and erroneous LDS teaching. When these two young men tried to teach me the gospel of Mormonism, they seemingly had no problem at all quoting unofficial church material to me. This is done on a grand scale by every missionary I have talked to.
After about 30 minutes, I decided to ask them about some controversial questions and teachings that were made by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and are recorded in LDS sermons and early church lectures. One of the best sources for these is the LDS Journal of Discourses (JOD) because in those volumes of writings, such statements as the "Adam-God doctrine" brought forth by Brigham Young, as well as other teachings about our Lord being married at the wedding feast as recorded in John 2, Jesus having children and being a polygamist as well can be located. The missionaries will never bring up these issues with potential converts. I don’t blame them either. But, because they claim to be representing the "one true church", as was Brigham Young at the time, I decided to ask them about these sermons recorded by their church. Immediately, I was accused of promoting “yellow journalism”.
I can assume that this accusation is made because what I quoted was not in the lesson plan they had intended for us. They also accused me of reading too much "anti-Mormon material" as well. This problem was overcome by the fact that I had copied pages right out of the JOD that their church produced! If it was indeed “yellow journalism” and “anti-Mormon”, it was the LDS who was to blame. After a while of going around and around with them, they finally fell back upon the typical LDS response to those confronted by LDS doctrinal sources: whatever I quoted was not considered official by the church and for that reason, they were free to not believe it. Another way of putting it is that they claim freedom from being bound doctrinally by anything stated that they would not consider "official material." They claim, as do many LDS Church members today, that the JOD is merely a collection of church talks from the past that were never considered to be one of "the standard works" that define doctrine and practice - therefore, they were not "official" sources of church teaching.
In spite of their claims, let's now look at how early LDS members viewed the Journal Of Discourses. The JOD is a 26 volume compilation of LDS sermons delivered by early church presidents and prophets, covering about 35 years. There were several men who were officially assigned by the LDS Church to record the talks. Volume One of the series contains a letter from the LDS First Presidency (Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards), dated June 1, 1853, authorizing the publishing of the sermons and requesting that all LDS Church members "co-operation" by purchasing and selling them (scanned reproduction here) as a work of "mutual benefit".
The Journal Of Discourses is listed as an official publication of the LDS Church in the following books:
Essentials in Church History, by Joseph Fielding Smith, published by the LDS Church, p.674.
Deseret News 1989-90 Church Almanac, p.188, published by an LDS Church owned business.
- The J&D is quoted repeatedly in LDS publications and conference reports. For example:
Doctrines of the Gospel, Student Manual, Religion 231 and 232, published by the LDS Church Educational System, 1986, p. 83.
Ensign Magazine (official publication of the LDS Church) May 1996, conference talk by James E. Faust, of the First Presidency, p.7.
Ensign Magazine, May, 1999 p. 81, Bishop Keith McMullin quoted from the J&D in the April 1999 LDS Conference.
As we have seen, it is inconsistent for Latter Day Saints to question the accuracy of the JOD while their leaders continue to quote from them. In all of these accounts, there was never a disclaimer about the accuracy of the account. This is a double standard that Mormons are consistent in using. They are always considered "unofficial" when something is quoted they are embarrassed about.
In addition to the four standard works considered "official" (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl Of Great Price) by the LDS Church, the "inspired" words of their living prophets are also considered as official scripture, and are conveyed to the LDS membership through the use of publications formally disseminated at various levels of the Church's leadership structure.
In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (2)
In a November 3, 1999 e-mail dialog between myself and an apologist for the LDS church, he had this to say: “If we find something that agrees with our official doctrine, then we can say that we accept it. If it is true and matches our Official position, then I suppose you could say it is “authoritative.” To give even further insights on just how fluid LDS theology and theological formation really is, consider these other remarks by prominent Church authorities on just how "official" LDS doctrine is both formulated and then promulgated in the church:
“Whenever new doctrines are to be introduced, they are first presented by the President to his counselors and then to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a meeting of the council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. If unanimously approved, they are then presented to the membership of the Church at a general conference for a sustaining vote.” (3)
B.H. Roberts has said:
“I do not think the world should require such perfection of us as to insist that our religious teachers always deliver the inerrant word of God! In any event it must be allowed by us that many unwise things were said in times past, even by prominent elders of the Church; things that were not in harmony with the doctrines of the Church; and that did not possess the value of scripture, or anything like it; and it was not revelation. Moreover, no revelation even becomes the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until it is accepted by that Church by formal action; it must be accepted by official vote of the Church before it becomes the law of the Church. (4)
Joseph Fielding Smith had this to say on the subject:
“It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by authorities of the church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted”. (5)
In a conference, Harold B. Lee stated:
“If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl Of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by the same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.” (6)
In light of the glaring contradictions above, one is left to wonder how anything is ever considered official belief by the LDS church. This is surprising because all these men claim to speak for God and the one true church, but the historical record clearly shows they have all at one time or another contradicted all others who were leaders or prophets.
It has once been said that the only thing official in the Mormon church is that nothing is official. I concur with this statement. I believe the following statement by a Brigham Young University professor sums it all up well when he said this:
“...While certain doctrines are enunciated in the standard works and some doctrinal issues have been addressed in formal pronouncements by the First Presidency, there is nothing in Mormonism comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Augsburg Confession. Few of the truly distinctive doctrines of Mormonism are discussed in official sources. It is mainly by unofficial means—Sunday School lessons, seminary, institute, and BYU religion classes, sacrament meeting talks and books by Church officials and others who ultimately speak only for themselves—that the theology is passed from one generation to the next. Indeed it would seem that a significant part of Mormon theology exists primarily in the minds of the members... the absence of a formal creed means that each generation must produce a new set of gospel expositors to restate and reinterpret the doctrines of Mormonism.” (7)
So far we have seen that even when something is considered official by the church, someone can and often does come along and state that whatever was said previously is no longer to be believed. This is why it is hard to ever nail them down on anything because each member has his or her own definition of what is to be believed. Now that we have laid the groundwork in explaining the problem of LDS double-talk, let us now turn our attention to the task of finding out how we or even the Mormons should determine truth.
Many members of the LDS church turn to outside sources all the time to find doctrine. Consider the following statement by Joseph Smith:
“I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such”(8).
That phrase by Smith can nowhere be found in the four standard works and Mormons claim doctrine can only be found in them. Many of the strange doctrines of the Church were given at general conferences and are still believed such as the doctrine of a “Heavenly Mother”. This doctrine is not found in any of the four standard works and yet it is believed by all LDS members I have encountered. Early LDS leaders felt that what they were putting forth was very important just like the leaders of today: consider Brigham Young's self-assured qualification: "What man or woman on the earth, what spirit in the spirit-world can say truthfully that I ever gave a wrong word of counsel, or a word of advice that could not be sanctioned by the heavens? "(9).
And Mormon Apostle James Talmage wrote this:
“We believe that God is as willing today as He ever has been to reveal His mind and will to man, and that He does so through His appointed servants-prophets, seers, and revelators-invested through ordination with the authority of the Holy Priesthood. We rely therefore on the teachings of the living oracles of God as of equal validity with doctrines of the written word”. (10)
We have seen how truth can change with each and every LDS prophet, then this leads us to believe that Mormons are trusting in mere mortal men. The Bible tells us to do just exactly the opposite in Jeremiah 17:5 which reads, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.”
In light of this, how are Mormons to sort out their theology? What about continuing revelation that contradicts previous revelation? This is the very fabric that runs throughout the LDS Church and the missionaries only repeat these same glaring inconsistencies. In conclusion, we must say that it is irrelevant to say that these teachings should not be given serious consideration because they are not in the standard works. I have often asked Mormon missionaries if these men were telling the truth or not when they spoke either officially or unofficially. If they were telling the truth, it doesn’t matter if its not found in the standard works. If they were not telling the truth, why should I believe anything they say or admit that they are speaking on God’s behalf? Remember that most LDS missionaries are not accustomed to having these concepts brought forth by someone outside the church.
The Christian does not have this predicament because he accepts the Bible as the final word of God in all matters of faith and practice. Our beliefs do not change with each new church leader, but rather we are grounded in the fact that God spoke through holy men in times past and we have the confidence that God is the same yesterday and forever and He does not change.
(1) Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212-213
(2) Articles of Faith, 1982 ed, 1:9. ?????
(3) Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, p. ????
(4) Defense of the Faith and the Saints, Vol. 2, p. 458.
(5) Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 2, p. 113-114.
(6) The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Munich Germany, August 24-26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, p. ????.
(7) ????? Autumn 1982 quoted from Peter Crawley.
(8) Documentary History of the Church 5:265
(9) Journal of Discourses 12:127-128
(10) Articles of Faith, 1982 ed., p. 7. ????
(NOTE: The ???? symbols designate lost reference information that Randy has mislaid: revisions will be made ASAP)
Back To The SpiritWatch Home Page Back To The LDS Church