Doctrine & Covenants Lesson 37  – that could have been…

Good morning.  Nice of you all to stop by this morning during General Conference.  It would nice if we could wear sweats and T-shirts to church every week, but I’ll settle for an acknowledgement that white shirts are not “the uniform of the priesthood.”

What did you think about conference yesterday?

Did any of you watch any of it?

Tamy, you watched President Hinckley’s opening remarks?  What did you think?

Like you, I found his reference to people doing family history work multiple times for the same people at different temples to be potentially a cover for what the Braithwaites had indicated was the reuse of the same names over and over again for temple work for the dead.

Yes David, I do mean the names for which the proxy work is being done.  Thanks for clarifying.  It is interesting.

Today’s lesson is on prophets.  As we head into the lesson, think about what a prophet is or does, then think about whether or not our prophets fit that definition.  Okay, there is a lot to cover in the lesson, some of which seems a bit stretched from a lesson manual perspective.  This lesson is a lesson that could be covered over a few weeks, but we will work on keeping it within the allotted time.

First Question: Why do we need a prophet today?

Yes, Sally.  I do think it would be a good idea to understand what the word prophet means.  We each have our common understanding of the word, perhaps colored by our life experiences.  Here are some common themes that I have from the background of a Utah raised, lifelong member of the church.  A prophet is a seer and a revelator and the spokesperson for God on earth.  The prophet is the person to whom God speaks on a regular basis to give guidance for all people on earth, as they are all of God’s children.  Tom, there is a dictionary on the shelf there, would you please get it and look up the definition for prophet.

Hmmm, that is interesting insight, so according to this dictionary, a prophet is someone who speaks by divine inspiration; someone who is an interpreter of the will of God.  That seems to have a little different twist to it that the definitions from my life experiences.

So back to the question, why do we need a prophet today?

Sam.  To receive the guidance from God for all people.  Okay, thanks.

How have people survived without guidance from God?  According to Judeo-Christian tradition, there has essentially always been a Chosen people to whom God speaks through his prophets.  Christian tradition indicates that such communication essentially stopped shortly after the death of Christ.  Do we have any less of a need now than any other point in history?  What about the other people who were not Chosen?  Did they need guidance from God?

Yes, Teresea.  It would seem we have a pretty dire need now, based upon our perceptions of world events.  But in the world, there are a relative minority of people who believe in the Judeo-Christian God.  Even within that tradition, there are many definitions of God.  In fact, even within the LDS tradition, the definition of God changed pretty significantly during the first ten years of the church.

Yes, Bob.  You are right, we are getting off topic, and you are right that the initial description of God in the Mormon context was that of the traditional Christian Trinity, but it evolved over about an eight year period of time, one step at a time, to the current representation.  Kind of odd isn’t it.  Since Joseph claimed to have seen God and his Son in the grove, how could he have been mistaken?

Yes Tom, right again.  The version of the First Vision is important when trying to understand the description of God.  Whatever it is, we apparently need a prophet to help us find the way in a troubled world.

Wonderful insight Teresea.  Fowler indicated that church’s operate best when a majority of the adult members are Stage Three.  Among other characteristics, the Stage Three believer looks to the leaders of the church for definitive guidance.  Perhaps it is these Stage Three believers that actually create the need for a strong central figure, like a prophet.  This view is congruent with what we see in other religions and traditions throughout the world, not just in the Mormon or the Judeo-Christian traditions.  Let’s move onto the next question or we will never get done and never get a chance to sample the mocha ice cream I made early this morning.

Question two: what are the roles of our living prophet?

Back to you Tom.  Yes, the prophet speaks for the Lord and reveals His will.  So what has he revealed lately?

Oh, come on, he has to have revealed something…

Thanks, Sam.  Yes, he has told us to stay out of debt, stay away from pornography, and to have a year’s supply of food.  That seems a little wimpy to me in terms of revealing the Lord’s will.  I can read about staying out of debt in hundreds of places.  As for staying away from pornography, is the prophet the only place you ever hear that?

Yes, Sally, the billboard in front of the church a couple of blocks down the street a couple of weeks ago it said, “Be reborn, stay away from porn.”  So our prophet is not the only source of that.

As for the year’s supply of food, it seems that President Hinckley is talking about it less than President Lee did 30 years ago, so it is not something new.  Anything else?

Yes, Sally, another role is that he testifies of Jesus Christ and teaches the gospel.  As you have indicated, he seems to do that fairly regularly, but these past few months he seems to have become a little more focused on Joseph Smith and less on Jesus Christ.

Yes, Teresea, another role is that the prophet is a seer.  What the heck is a seer?

Yes, Brent.  It’s nice to have you say something.  Yes a seer is a person with unusual powers of foresight.  Would a seer do something like foresee unusual calamities?  How about providing insights into world changing events?  How about foreseeing events and informing God’s children as to how to protect themselves both physically and spiritually?

Yes, Teresea.  I tend to agree with you.  I’m having a hard time remembering when any of the prophets during my lifetime have really done any of that.

Yes, Sally, I am aware of that faith promoting story about how the Tabernacle Choir was protected from the subway bombing in London.  But how about the church members in New Orleans, were they warned?  Was the London incident and random event cloaked in the clothes of a faith-promoting story?

Yes, Tom, God does love all of his children and is no respecter of persons.  You are right, it should not matter whether a person is a member of the church or not, since the prophet represents God for all of his children, the prophet should be providing guidance for people in Utah, Botswana, Tibet, everywhere.  So why, as a seer, did he not provide warning of the tsunami in Indonesia?  What do you think, with your mind and with your heart?

Okay, let’s move on.  What about the prophet being an example of Christ-like love?

Yes, Tamy, many of our prophets have indeed shown examples of Christ-like love.  Being the public figures that they are, they have great opportunity for those examples to shine through as well.  Are there others who are not prophets who also show example of Christ like love?

Tamy, let me say, that you are an example of Christ-like love, perhaps even more strongly than the prophet.  I have seen you quietly serving those around you, not because of your position, but because of who you are and because of the intent of your heart.

We are running out of time, but let’s look at a couple of other items that the lesson manual brings up.  What about the idea that the prophet will never lead us astray?  The lesson manual provides us with this quote from President Benson, while he was serving as an apostle: “Keep your eye on the Prophet, for the Lord will never permit his Prophet to lead this Church astray” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 123; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1966, 1145).  I think it is interesting for us to compare and contrast this quote with other guidance from prophets.  This quote is attributed to Joseph Smith, “We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them even if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” (Millenial Star, Volume 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595).

Lastly, and I find this rather amusing, the manual refers to the prophecy of Joseph Smith in D&C, Section 87, regarding the Civil War.  First off, what do we know about this?

Yes, Brent.  We do know that about two weeks before the revelation was given that appearing in the local newspaper, there was a prediction from the editorial staff that there would be a civil war starting soon, beginning in South Carolina.  It was a commonly held opinion that if and when civil war ensued, it would begin in South Carolina.  So Joseph’s revelation was in line with commonly help opinions of the time and place in which he resided.

Yes, Sally.  You are right on that as well.  Although there was a civil war as the revelation predicted, there were several elements of the revelation that never came to pass at all.  Let’s list them briefly.  First, the war was not poured out upon all nations.  Careful reading of Joseph’s other comments at the time indicate that he believed the Civil War would culminate with the Second Coming, after the world had been ravaged by war.  Second, the slaves did not rise up against their masters.  That simply did not happen.  Lastly, the “remnants,” or Lamanites, or Native Americans did not vex the Gentiles with a sore vexation.  So even though we like to point out this revelation as an example of Joseph’s prophetic abilities, closer examination shows that he was profoundly wrong about the biggest part of this revelation and wrong about most of the details.  The biggest element of which he was wrong was that the Civil War would lead to a “…full end of all nations.” (D&C 87:6)

Okay, we are out of time.  Let’s break and move onto the sampling of the mocha ice cream.  If you don’t like mocha, I have some vanilla as well…