Mormonism and doctrine/Prophets are not infallible

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The fallibility of prophets

Summary: Are prophets considered infallible? Critics sometimes impose absolutist assumptions on the Church and hold inerrantist beliefs about scriptures or prophets. Critics therefore insist that any statement by any LDS Church leader represents LDS doctrine and is thus something that is secretly believed, or that should be believed, by Latter-day Saints.

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Question: Do Mormons consider their prophets to be infallible?

Latter-day Saints do not believe that prophets and apostles are incapable of error, despite being called of God and receiving revelation

Some people hold inerrantist beliefs about scriptures or prophets, and assume that the LDS have similar views. This leads some to assume that prophets are infallible. [1]

Joseph Smith himself taught that ‘a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such’.[2] The Church has always taught that its leaders are human and subject to failings as are all mortals. Only Jesus was perfect, as explained in this statement from the First Presidency:

The position is not assumed that the men of the New Dispensation —its prophets, apostles, presidencies, and other leaders—are without faults or infallible, rather they are treated as men of like passions with their fellow men."[3]

Lu Dalton, writing in the Church's periodical for women, explained:

We consider God, and him alone, infallible; therefore his revealed word to us cannot be doubted, though we may be in doubt some times about the knowledge which we obtain from human sources, and occasionally be obliged to admit that something which we had considered to be a fact, was really only a theory.[4]

Other authors have long taught the same thing:

1887 B. H. Roberts, Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48 (November 28, 1887): 760-763; a portion of which reads: “Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible” (762)

1889 Charles W. Penrose, Editorial: Judge Anderson and ‘Blood Atonement,’ Deseret Weekly 39. 25 (December 14, 1889): 772a-773c. [Editor is Charles W. Penrose; in his response to the lengthy statement by Judge Anderson, he quotes from the same pamphlet which the Judge had quoted from: Blood Atonement, by Elder Charles W. Penrose, published in 1884; Penrose quotes a statement which the Judge had not] “’The law of God is paramount. When men give their views upon any doctrine, the value of those views is as the value of the man. If he is a wise man, a man of understanding, of experience and authority, such views are of great weight with the community; but they are not paramount, nor equal to the revealed law of God’” (773ab)

1892 21 March 1892: Elder Charles W. Penrose, at the time a counselor in the Salt Lake Stake Presidency: "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet . . . we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God." Millennial Star 54 (21 March 1892): 191

1902 Joseph F. Smith to Lillian Golsan, July 16, 1902. "[T]he theories, speculations, and opinions of men, however intelligent, ingenious, and plausible, are not necessarily doctrines of the Church or principles that God has commanded His servants to preach. No doctrine is a doctrine of this Church until it has been accepted as such by the Church, and 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 as a religious body. 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 until proper permission is given.” - 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), page 121. Bergera indicates it is a letter from JFS to Lillian Golsan, July 16, 1902.

1907 March 26, 1907. [The following was first published in “An Address. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the World”, in Millennial Star 69. 16 (April 18, 1907): 241-247; 249-254; also in Improvement Era 10 (May 1907): 481-495; reprinted also in Messages of the First Presidency, Volume IV, compiled by James R. Clark (Bookcraft, SLC 1970): 142-157; “We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs, or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations and by our own actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith”, page 154.

1921 B.H. Roberts: As to the printed discourses of even leading brethren…they do not constitute the court of ultimate appeal on doctrine. They may be very useful in the way of elucidation and are very generally good and sound in doctrine, but they are not the ultimate sources of the doctrines of the Church, and are not binding upon the Church. The rule in that respect is—What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine. When in the revelations it is said concerning the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator that the Church shall “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them—for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith”—(Doc & Cov., Sec. 21)—it is understood, of course, that his has reference to the word of God received through revelation, and officially announced to the Church, and not to every chance word spoken.[5]

The prophets are not perfect, but they are called of God. They may speak as men, but may speak scripture as well. Every person may know for themselves whether they speak the truth through the same power that their revelation is given: the power of the Holy Ghost.


Question: Can a prophet make mistakes?

The principle that the Lord will not ever allow the President of the Church to lead the Church astray means that He will not allow that man to lead the Church into apostasy

One part of knowing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true is knowing whose Church it really is and that our Savior lives and leads the Church today. It is knowing that he has entrusted a living Latter-day Prophet with all the keys necessary to direct, act, and receive what is needed to guide and direct the Church under the Lord’s direction whose Church this is.

Many Latter-day Prophets have taught that the Lord will not suffer the President of the Church to ever lead the Church astray. This is a true principle, but it only makes sense in light of the destiny of the Church as taught and revealed in Latter-day Saint scripture. Unlike previous dispensations, the Lord’s Church on earth today will not fall into apostasy, speaking of the body of the Church as a whole and not individuals.

This statement does not mean that the Lord's servants are perfect or that they will never make mistakes, display weaknesses, sometimes be irritable, have bad breath, or display the characteristics of old age

The principle that the Lord, who is the head of the Church will not ever allow the President of the Church to lead the Church astray means that He will not allow that man to lead the Church into apostasy. It does not mean that his servants are perfect or that they will never make mistakes, display weaknesses, sometimes be irritable, have bad breath, or display the characteristics of old age.

In a discourse to the Saints on March 21, 1858, President Brigham Young asked:

Can a Prophet or an Apostle be mistaken? Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time, but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs, and so may you. But I overlook your weaknesses, and I know by experience that the Saints lift their hearts to God that I may be led right" [6]

We should receive and follow the counsel “words and commandments” of the current President of the Church “in all patience and faith”

There is also another principle involved here that we should receive and follow the counsel “words and commandments” of the current President of the Church “in all patience and faith” with great promises attending (Doctrine and Covenants 21: 4-9).


Question: How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [7]


The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[8]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, “Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost.” And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [9]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [10]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. Brigham Young presented no formal revelation for implementing the priesthood restriction and there is no scripture that can justify the ban's existence. When the prophets haven't received revelation and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28), then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. But again, we don't know and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.


Neil L. Andersen (2012): "A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine"

Neil L. Andersen:

A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.

The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Ether 12:6)[11]—(Click here to continue)


"Approaching Mormon Doctrine," LDS Newsroom (May 2007): "Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine"

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. 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. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted. —(Click here to continue) [12]


Charles W. Penrose (1912): "Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?"

Charles W. Penrose:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[13]


Question: How are Church members protected against error by leaders?

The Church's system of councils provides protection against the fallibility of a single man or leader

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:

An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be.[14]

Dallin H. Oaks explained how the Lord allows all His children to grow through struggling with problems:

Revelations from God . . . are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior's sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening, . . . the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of his Spirit.[15]

The Lord will not help his children avoid all stumbling and error; He will protect them from permanent harm to His work, as Boyd K. Packer taught:

Even with the best of intentions, [Church government] does not always work the way it should. Human nature may express itself on occasion, but not to the permanent injury of the work.[16]


Question: Should Church members simply have "blind trust" in their leaders?

Lorenzo Snow: "because each member of the Church has a right to have that measure of the Spirit of God that they can judge as to those who are acting in their interests or otherwise"

Hardly, says President Lorenzo Snow:

There may be some things that the First Presidency do; that the Apostles do, that cannot for the moment be explained; yet the spirit, the motives that inspire the action can be understood, because each member of the Church has a right to have that measure of the Spirit of God that they can judge as to those who are acting in their interests or otherwise.[17]


Question: Were Biblical prophets infallible?

The Bible itself does not support this claim

Some critics will protest that this standard is not applied to Biblical prophets, yet the Bible itself does not support this claim. One Bible commentator noted that the Biblical authors were not perfect, and that they made errors of expression even in the Biblical record:

Though purified and ennobled by the influence of His Holy Spirit; men each with his own peculiarities of manner and disposition—each with his own education or want of education—each with his own way of looking at things—each influenced differently from another by the different experiences and disciplines of his life. Their inspiration did not involve a suspension of their natural faculties; it did not even make them free from earthly passion; it did not make them into machines—it left them men. Therefore we find their knowledge sometimes no higher than that of their contemporaries.[18]

Paul’s accounts even contain a contradictory account of his vision

Paul’s accounts even contain a contradictory account of his vision (Compare Acts 9:7 & Acts 22:9). Paul and Barnabas disagreed severely enough for it to disrupt their missions Acts 15:36–39. Peter and Paul also criticized the other’s writing 2 Peter 3:16 and behavior regarding the Church Galatians 2:11–16.


Question: How do Biblical prophets compare to modern prophets?

Biblical prophets and modern prophets are divinely called, but clearly are not perfect

To get a better idea of how prophets are limited yet still divinely called, it can be helpful to look at some examples of Bible prophets and compare them with modern prophets.

Bible prophets Modern prophets
Moses disobeyed God's instruction to speak to the rock and instead hit it. He then attributed the miracle to himself and Aaron, saying, "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" He was chastized by the Lord afterward. (Numbers 20:)
Joshua was deceived by Achan, who did so in order to obtain money. Achan's actions even resulted in the death of some people. After investigation, Achan was discovered and sentenced. (Joshua 7:)

Joshua was also deceived by the inhabitants of Gibeon when they claimed to come from a far country so they could get a peace accord with Joshua. Then the Israelites found that instead of living a long distance away, that people from Gibeon lived among them. (Joshua 9:)

Gordon B. Hinckley was deceived by Mark Hofmann, who had done so in order to obtain money. Hofmann was even responsible for the death of some people. After some investigation, he was discovered and sentenced.
Gideon repeatedly asked the Lord for signs even though the Lord has said, "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign." (Judges 7:; Matthew 12:39)
Nathan told David that the Lord approved of his desire to build a temple, and that he should commence the project. The Lord later told Nathan that such was not His desire, and that he was to tell David that the temple would be built by another. (2 Samuel 7:) Bruce R. McConkie and others advanced explanations for the priesthood restriction such as that blacks would only receive the priesthood in the Millennium. Their explanations turned out to be wrong; the Lord later told His prophets to extend the priesthood to blacks, long before the time period that some prophets had supposed it would happen.
Jonah felt some personal prejudices against Assyrians, to the point of expecting the Lord to give them fewer blessings than to Jews. (Jonah 4:1) Brigham Young felt some personal prejudices against blacks, to the point of expecting the Lord to give them fewer blessings than caucasians.
Jesus' apostles were not always perfectly humble or modest. They once disputed over which of them would be the greatest in heaven. (Mark 9:34) Joseph Smith was not always perfectly humble or modest. He once said he had "more to boast of than ever any man had."[19] (See here, though, to learn how critics misinterpret this event.

A person could spend all day looking for examples of the Lord's chosen servants making mistakes, but such an activity does nothing to edify or strengthen people. In all of these situations, a prophet's weakness or mistakes do not make him any less a prophet, called of God to do His work.


Question: When, if ever, is it okay to disagree with Church leaders?

Introduction to Question

The current First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Russell M. Nelson as President (center), Dallin H. Oaks as First Counselor (left), and Henry B. Eyring as Second Counselor (right).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large and well-established organization of leadership. This video outlines that leadership in detail:


The President of the Church, considered to be a prophet of God, receives revelation on behalf of the entire Church. Each person receives revelation for his or her own position and correlative sphere of influence in the Church. The more general the leader, the more general their stewardship. An Elder’s Quorum President can receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, a Bishop might be able to receive revelation to direct the Elder’s Quorum, but the Elder’s Quorum President cannot receive revelation on behalf of the whole ward like the Bishop can.

Occasionally in the Church, it is asked when it is ever okay to disagree with the decisions and/or teachings of local and/or general Church leadership.

This article will outline those occasions when it may be okay to disagree with leaders of the Church.

Three Important Initial Considerations

Before we get into the occasions when it may be okay to disagree with Church leaders, it is important to keep three things in mind.

The Ideal: Agreeing with and Defending as Much of Leaders’ Words and Actions as Humanly Possible

First, we should lay out what the ideal is for every Latter-day Saint in relation to all leaders (both general and local) of the Church. That is:

We should try and agree with, defend, and live out the words and actions of all leaders of the Church as much as humanly possible.

This is what it means to sustain a leader: to uphold their influence in human hearts as much as possible. When we disagree with them or criticize them, they can start to lose their influence either in our own hearts, the hearts of other people that hear our criticism, or both.

Particularly in regards to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, we are told over and over again in the scriptures that they are holy.[20] We should try and treat them and their words as such.

We are also told in scripture to receive all the prophet's words as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith.[21] Additionally, we are told that if we do lift our heels against them and say they have sinned when they haven't, that we will be cursed.[22] Latter-day Saints who have gone through temples to receive their endowment have covenanted to not speak evil of the Lord's anointed.

This is absolutely not to say that we make an assumption that the leaders of the Church (both general and local) are incapable of error. The scriptures expressly declare that the prophets are capable of error. The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants declares that when leaders make errors, it shall be made known.[23] It also declares that when they sin, they will be chastened so that they will repent.[24] All this means, again, is that we agree with and defend them as much as possible so as to uphold their influence on human hearts and minds.

We're trying to get the whole human family into a relationship of one heart, one mind, with no poor among us, and everyone dwelling in righteousness by living the Savior's law of love.[25] We can't accomplish that task unless the human family trusts God's appointed spokesmen to accurately relay how we can all achieve that type of relationship with one another given the world's circumstances.

Recognizing a Fault or Mistake vs. Criticizing and Backbiting

Prophets and apostles have consistently taught that there is a difference between the type of differences of view that members can have with Church leaders and criticism or backbiting. Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that there is a difference between the type of criticism that is "the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything" and "the act of passing severe judgement; censure; faultfinding" which Church members are to refrain from in relation to Church leaders. Elder Oaks notes that the latter is condemned repeatedly in scripture.[26] There is a large difference between recognizing that what some Church leader said is mistaken or wrong and openly criticizing them and faultfinding. When we have disagreements, we can do the former and not the latter.

The strongest word that the scriptures use in relation to addressing the faults of top leaders is admonish which means "[t]o warn or notify of a fault; to reprove with mildness."[27] That word is used twice in scripture in relation to leaders of the Church and only directed to people that have close relationships with the prophet. In the first instance it is with Oliver Cowdery in 1829 before the organization of the Church:

19 Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity.[28]

In the second instance it is given to Thomas B. Marsh who was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

12 And pray for thy brethren of the Twelve. Admonish them sharply for my name’s sake, and let them be admonished for all their sins, and be ye faithful before me unto my name.[29]

In this latter scripture, it does say to admonish "sharply." But, again, it's used in relation to someone who is already in high positions in the Church. Also, "sharply," in this context, more than likely means "with plainness, truth, and clarity" rather than "with harsh censure." Such has been argued persuasively by Kent P. Jackson and Robert D. Hunt.[30]

Five procedures to follow if you have differences with Church leadership

Elder Oaks gave five things that members can do when they have differences with Church leadership.

  1. Overlook the difference
  2. Reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference
  3. Take up our differences privately with the leader involved.
  4. Communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression.
  5. Pray for the resolution of the problem.[31]

These procedures, as Oaks astutely observes, help one to address the point of pain while also keeping in accordance with the principles of moral truth outlined in scripture—thus allowing an individual to keep the Spirit of the Lord with them.

There may be times where we believe that personal revelation has told us something that contradicts the prophet’s revelation. In these cases, review the principles and procedures outlined in this article.

Occasions When One May Disagree With Church Leaders

Now we list the occasions in which one may disagree with Church leaders. These are not automatic exceptions. Disagreement should be handled in a spirit of charity, prayer, and seeking the good of the Kingdom of God.

1. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when what they teach is out of harmony with the Standard Works

The first place where it would be okay to disagree with any Church leadership is when they say something that is out of line with the standard works. Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church.[32] This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet (the only one authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church),[33] submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,[34] and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification.[35] Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that members judge every person's doctrine against. This article explains in more detail how to read the scriptures.

Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

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 teachings 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 the authorities of the Church as standards of 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.[36]

It's important to remember that just because a doctrine doesn't immediately and explicitly pop up in scripture, doesn't mean that that teaching isn't inspired. For instance, President Russell M. Nelson taught the following at the October 2017 General Conference of the Church:

My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life. I promise that as you daily immerse yourself in the Book of Mormon, you can be immunized against the evils of the day, even the gripping plague of pornography and other mind-numbing addictions.[37]

This is a promise connected to a specific action. This promise and action are never explicitly laid out in scripture, but the Lord does bless us as we treat the prophets as holy, are anxiously engaged in a good cause of our own free will without God's revelation (like sustaining the prophet by lovingly accepting his challenges),[38] and receive the words of the prophet as if from the mouth of God in all patience and faith as we are bound to do by the Doctrine and Covenants.[39]

2. It is okay to disagree with Church leadership when they try and claim revelation for something that is outside the bounds of their stewardship

As mentioned before, Church leaders have a specific sphere of influence that they are given with their calling and they are only allowed to receive revelation for that calling.

Elder Oaks taught the following. His words are supported by scripture (cited in the footnotes):

First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.” Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed."[40] This principle applies to revelation. Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. “There are counterfeit signals.”[41] Satan is a great deceiver, and he is the source of some of these spurious revelations. Others are imagined. If a revelation is outside the limits of your specific responsibility, you know it is not from the Lord and you are not bound by it.[42]

3. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when their decisions don’t come from revelation

Members may disagree with Church leaders' decisions when those decisions do not come from revelation. When a decision, new doctrine, new policy, etc. is claimed to come by revelation, this adds a confirming, divine witness on that action and disagreement with that decision may very likely be disagreement with God. Since revelation almost always comes from God through the Holy Spirit, it follows that when the Holy Spirit does not touch us, that we are usually not receiving revelation.

As the Lord told all prospective missionaries in 1831, we are inspired when the Holy Ghost touches us:

3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.


4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.[43]

Here we echo the above caveat to not immediately reject a teaching, policy, promise, and/or other action that is not explicitly laid out in scripture/not explicitly said to have come by revelation.

Plato and Aristotle in discussion, by Luca della Robbia (1437)

4. It is okay to disagree with Church leadership when their conduct clearly does not fall in line with the moral standards and other statutes laid out in scripture

Another area in which members can disagree with Church leadership is when their conduct does not clearly fall in line with the moral standards and other statutes laid out in scripture. What are the moral standards laid out in scripture? See this article for an informative yet non-exhaustive summary.

As mentioned before, the Doctrine and Covenants expressly states that when Church leaders make errors it will be known. It also states that when they sin, they will be chastened so that they will repent. No one is exempt from the laws of the Church given through prophets by God via revelation. All must be held accountable before the appropriate authorities for their transgressions.[44] The Doctrine and Covenants even provides a procedure for excommunicating the President of the Church.[45]

5. It may be okay to disagree with Church leadership when their words do not accord with science

This last one is perhaps the most fraught with difficulty and complexity. We absolutely do not want to make science our idol. We do not want it to have higher authority than revelation or the prophets. We do not want to reject doctrines of the Church just because the current scientific community accepts something that might be at odds with Church doctrine and other moral standards placed upon us by the Church.

However, we also do not want to be hostile to science either. We want to have science inform our perspectives on things pertaining to the Gospel as much as possible. Take, for instance, the words of the revelation given to Joseph Smith when organizing the School of the Prophets:

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.


78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.[46]

It is clear from the revelation that our theology is expressly not hostile to science. We welcome it in order to be better instructed in things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. Thus, we will have to do a continuous dance with our scripture and the academy: seeing how revelation and science converge. For instance, we can see what miracles, characters, and other events in scripture that we must logically see as literal and historical and which we do not. We might be informed about other things about the nature of those miracles, characters, and other events.

As President Brigham Young taught:

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.[47]

Conclusion

It is the hope of the author that these principles and ideas will serve productively to show that there is room for disagreement in the Church without undermining the (very) essential governmental structure and holy authority of Church leaders.


Question: How does official teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view those that receive revelation that contradicts that of the Prophet?

Introduction to Question

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in living prophets—men who literally can speak for God in our day.[48] They boldly and proudly proclaim that the heavens are open and that God speaks today on behalf of the entire human family through these prophets. Prophets speak for God by way of revelation. This revelation can sometimes constitute the Church's policy on something, a commandment given by God to the Church, and can sometimes indicate what Latter-day Saints believe to be eternal, unchanging truths.

Members of the Church enjoy the opportunity to hear from the prophet. They are encouraged to seek revelation of their own to know if God calls prophets today and if the current president of the Church is God’s authorized prophet. They are also encouraged to seek revelation as to how best apply the words of the prophets into their daily lives.

Occasionally within the Church, there are claims by those who affirm to be members of the Church (and sometimes by those even outside of official Church membership) that they have received a revelation that contradicts revelation claimed by the prophet on behalf of the whole Church. These claims to revelation are spread publicly and often stir controversy among Latter-day Saints because of the opposition the person enacts against the Church leadership.

These claims are all too familiar for mature Latter-day Saints. Such claims are heard frequently and to hear that revelation contradicts the prophet can cause some dissonance for those that are seeking to understand what Latter-day Saint doctrine can inform these epistemological discussions and provide answers to resolve these seemingly difficult problems.

This article will seek to identify principles and procedures that people can follow if they believe that they have received revelation that contradicts that of the President of the Church, the First Presidency, and/or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These will be sought for from the official scriptures and teachings of the leaders of the Church.

Five Things to Do in Case of Belief of Contradictory Revelation

1. As a first step, members ought to consider whether they are mistaken or misled.

Many members of the Church who find themselves in this situation ought to consider if they are simply wrong. There are a few ways in which members might be wrong.

1. Can’t have Spirit if in transgression or if in rebellion of Church leaders. President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

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.[49]

His words are supported by the official scriptures. According to them, the Spirit of God cannot abide in unclean hearts (hearts of people who have willfully sinned and/or rebelled against God) and to receive the First Presidency is to receive God.[50] If Latter-day Saints are in purposeful rebellion towards the leaders of the Church, it is believed that they may be in great danger of being deceived by false Spirits.[51] The scriptures teach clearly that hearkening unto the revelation received by prophets is how members will not be deceived in the last days before Christ's second coming and how they can become like God--thereby achieving salvation and exaltation.[52] Several scriptures address how to discern the difference between true and false Spirits.[53] This may seem surprising to modern Latter-day Saints that evil and/or unclean spirits might have influenced them to believe something false, but the Book of Mormon documents how this very thing happened among the Nephites.[54]

Latter-day Saints would also know that there are people who may intentionally want to be led by false Spirits--people that will spiritual experiences to pass that convince them of their own prophethood, so to speak. There are also those that might claim to have had a spiritual experience telling them that the prophets are wrong (when they haven’t actually had any revelatory experience) simply for the purpose of stirring up contention, mocking the epistemology of the Saints, and/or to simply troll. These are those that might be said to “pervert the Gospel.”[55]

2. Seeking revelation on everything can make us susceptible to self-deception or influence of false spirits. President Oaks had another thing to say on this regarding those that seek revelation on everything:

Closely related to this example is the person who has a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but who unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of false revelation. Revelation from God is a sacred reality, but like other sacred things, it must be cherished and used properly so that a great strength does not become a disabling weakness.[56]

The scriptures confirm his teaching. We are told in Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28 to not be commanded in all things and are bring about righteousness through our own agency.[57]

3. Over-interpreting a heart flutter. It may be that an emotional reaction to something can be over-interpreted as a spiritual impression. Latter-day Saints should seek more dynamic confirmation if they are unsure they’ve felt the Spirit. Prophets have warned us about mistaking emotion for revelation. President Howard W. Hunter taught:

Let me offer a word of caution. . . . I think if we are not careful . . . , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.[58]

4. Can’t receive revelation outside of stewardship. Lastly, members should remember the concept of stewardship. For example, only the President of the Church may receive revelations on behalf of the entire Church.[59] Only those members of the Church that are appointed to a particular office may receive revelation for that office. Again from Elder Oaks:

First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.” Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, where his servants are commanded to “act in the office in which [they are] appointed."[60] This principle applies to revelation. Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. “There are counterfeit signals.”[61] Satan is a great deceiver, and he is the source of some of these spurious revelations. Others are imagined. If a revelation is outside the limits of your specific responsibility, you know it is not from the Lord and you are not bound by it.[62]

The First Presidency wrote in 1917:

When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. … In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others. … The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by imposters or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom.[63]


Members may feel some discouragement that it takes such effort to receive and recognize revelation; but this is, in a somewhat ironic way, strictly in line with the Lord's requirement for his people to be "tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that [he has] for them, even the glory of Zion[.]"[64] Learning to receive and recognize revelation would logically not be an exception to such a requirement.

In order to guard themselves against false revelation, members should seek to understand what is already laid out in the revelations contained in scripture. Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church (D&C 42: 12-13, 56-60; 105:58-59). This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet: the only person authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church (D&C 21:4-5; D&C 28:2), submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (D&C 107:27), and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification (D&C 26:2; 28:13). Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that they judge their spiritual impressions against. This article explains how to do this in more detail.

2. Members should pray to have their heart changed if this is necessary.

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi didn’t understand the meaning of his father Lehi’s vision. He was given the opportunity to either reject his father’s words or accept them. As a result of the confusion Nephi felt, he prayed to God to have his heart softened if necessary. All Latter-day Saints can learn from this example that Nephi set.[65] There may be things with which they do not fully agree with or understand at this moment. We learn from the Book of Mormon that a witness comes after the trial of faith.[66] We also learn that as one continues in light, that light can grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day.[67] Thus if we disagree with something right now, we may at some point grow in understanding of what has been revealed by prophets that we can reject the influence of false ideas and, yes, even false spirits that may have influenced us into believing something that wasn't true. A time of personal disagreement is fine. What isn’t fine for a person committed to the truths of Latter-day Saint theology is to not consider that one may be wrong and/or not approaching God with an honest heart seeking an answer from him when they have these types of questions. He promises that if we ask, we will receive.[68]

3. Members should be patient.

Closely related to this last point, members should be patient. For Latter-day Saints, the answer to prayer as to if something is right may not come until a bit later.

Consider a case from President Brigham Young. 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 three degrees of glory in heaven. Said Brigham:

I was not prepared to say that I believed it [three 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.[69]

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 building his testimony by confronting 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. There is an old adage in Latter-day Saint culture that says "faith precedes the miracle." Perhaps this can include the faith to simply be patient for revelation that we need.

President Boyd K. Packer cautioned:

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.[70]

As mentioned previously, in The Book of Mormon it is taught that one receives no witness until after the trial of their faith.[71] Latter-day Saints might consider this in their efforts to be patient in receiving the light and knowledge they need to be in line with the authorities of the Church.

4. 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 observed:

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.[72]

Dallin H. Oaks gave five things that members can do when they have differences with Church leadership.

  1. Overlook the difference
  2. Reserve judgment and postpone any action on the difference
  3. Take up our differences privately with the leader involved.
  4. Communicate with the Church officer who has the power to correct or release the person thought to be in error or transgression.
  5. Pray for the resolution of the problem.[73]

These procedures, as Oaks astutely observes, help one to address the point of pain while also keeping in accordance with the principles of moral truth outlined in scripture—thus allowing an individual to keep the Spirit of the Lord with them.

It’s important to know that Latter-day Saints can have differing opinions as to the efficacy of policy. Policy is a different matter entirely from revelation that teaches truths about heaven. Latter-day Saint scripture teaches that they are meant to seek all that is "virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy" and use all disciplines to be better instructed in the Kingdom of God.[74] We may find things that may be helpful in supplementing the already good principles being used by the leaders of the Kingdom in building it up. As matters of policy and, more particularly, policy that is not claimed to have come by revelation, Church members may be free to agree and disagree and opine on ways the Church might improve through constructive dialogue. As matters of revelation that teach eternal truths, however, it’s difficult to conceive of a member that would go against revelations as received and approved by the top counsels of the Church. Such seems to be bad epistemology. It’s to ascribe a certain amount of self-delusion to the top leadership of the Church even when they’ve followed all necessary steps for making something official. The Doctrine and Covenants is explicit that a person cannot "lift up [their] heel" against the President of the Church and the other leaders and believe that they have sinned when they haven’t.[75] Are we sure that we want to deny that someone has received revelation when 15 people confirm the same thing? This type of theology also speaks to the ability that humans have in general to receive revelation from God. If humans can be wrong about receiving revelation even when unified in claiming that they have in regards to any particularity, then how much more ability does a regular person have to receive revelation that doesn't simply confirm their own biases? It’s to make it so that God’s word is not, in Latter-day Saint scriptural vernacular, "sharper than a two edged sword" and make it so that "the law hath no claim on the creature."[76]

5. Members may be taught things by revelation that may be true, and for their comfort, but it is still not their place to spread them publicly, use them to advocate for change, and so forth.

Another point closely related to this is to know how revelation that gives us a mystery not yet known to the general body of the Church is to be taught. The Book of Mormon teaches that there will be times when people will receive revelations that may provide them instruction about the mysteries of God. Nevertheless, whenever they’re given mysteries, they are, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, to not preach that as revelation until such knowledge is given to the whole Church through the appointed prophet.[77]

Doctrine and Covenants 28:4-5 tells us that:

4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;


All this begs the question of how we'll know it's the Spirit that prompts us to share. We will recognize that the Spirit is the one that prompts us to share when we feel that it doesn't motivate us to share it as factual knowledge. It will also not motivate us to go spread the information and stir up contention and strife among the Saints or stir up malice against the Church.[78] There may be times when the Spirit can prompt us to share our knowledge with someone, but it will likely be on a very individual basis and in private. You will likely not be bothered with the general rule being taught as the position for the entire Church.

Other Latter-day Saint prophets have taught similar things:

  • Brigham Young: “Should you receive a vision of 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 close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make 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..”[79]
  • 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.”[80]
  • 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.”[81]

As a matter of caution, it would be wise to again point out that the Book of Mormon records how Satan went about the land, stirring up contention among the Nephites with rumors, gossip, and false teachings. If there is a spirit that tells us that we should publicly disclose our revelation and seek to bring others to our side, this would likely need to be seen as coming from Satan. Members may be taught things for their instruction or their comfort, but they should not disclose those revelations unless the Prophet of the Church reveals the same thing.

Conclusion

It’s not uncommon to hear difficult questions such as this one being leveled against the Church by its more secularist critics as if this were some sort of slam dunk on its epistemology. Although many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may feel confused by these questions and some not as well read in order to provide answers to these questions, the reality is that these epistemological questions have been answered by the official scriptures and teachings of leaders of the Church since the Church's inception. Understanding the previous principles and being able to articulate them to others will provide an excellent “reason for the hope that is within us” and help us to live more as Zion—as “one heart and one mind.”[82]

Notes

  1. Criticisms regarding assumptions of prophetic infallibility are raised in the following publications: John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 18. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 437.( Index of claims ); Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)
  2. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:265. Volume 5 link; See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 278. off-site
  3. James R. Clark, quoting B. H. Roberts, Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), p. xiv–xv.
  4. Lu Dalton, Woman's Exponent (Salt Lake City: 15 July 1882), p. 31.
  5. Brigham H. Roberts, “Answer Given to ‘Ten Reasons Why “Christians” Can Not Fellowship with Latter-Day Saints,’” discourse delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 10 July 1921. Deseret News, 23 July 1921, 4:7. Roberts' previous reply to the same pamphlet also appeared in His earlier response can be found in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 5:134-141. ; it was first published in Millennial Star 58 (July 22, 1896): 417-20; 433-9.
  6. “A Series of Instructions and Remarks by President Brigham Young at a Special Council, Tabernacle, March 21, 1858, Church Historical Department, in Richard S. Van Wagoner, ed., The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1418.
  7. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  9. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  10. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)
  11. Neil L. Andersen, "Trial of Your Faith," Ensign (November 2012).
  12. "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," LDS Newsroom (May 2007)
  13. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).
  14. Joseph Fielding Smith, "Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside," Ensign (July 1972), 88.
  15. Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign (March 1997), 14.
  16. Boyd K. Packer, "I Say unto You, Be One," in BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 1990–1991 (Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1991), 84.
  17. Lorenzo Snow, "A Serious ordeal, etc.," in Conference Report (October 1898), 54.
  18. James R. Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible: Complete in one volume, with general articles (New York : Macmillan, 1984 [1904]), p. cxxxv.
  19. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:408–409. Volume 6 link This statement, when understood in its proper context, doesn't appear to be a statement of personal pride at all. Joseph Smith read to the congregation 2 Corinthians 11 and then mimicked Paul in his "boasting." In its proper context, Joseph Smith was not acting in a proud manner at all but was using the rhetoric of Paul to defend his own authority as a prophet against those who were then proclaiming him a "fallen prophet." This statement, however, is used often in anti-Mormon literature as a criticism of the prophet and is used here only to show that even if he were in fact proud, it doesn't damage his authority as a prophet/apostles any more than it damaged Jesus' apostles' authority.
  20. For just three of dozens of references, see 1 Nephi 3:30; 5:13; 13:20
  21. Doctrine and Covenants 21:5. This revelation in context referred to Joseph Smith but easily applies to his successors.
  22. Doctrine and Covenants 121:16
  23. Doctrine and Covenants 1:25
  24. Doctrine and Covenants 1:27
  25. Matthew 22:34-40; Moses 7:18
  26. Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign 17, no. 2 (February 1987): 68. "Faultfinding, evil speaking, and backbiting are obviously unchristian. The Bible commands us to avoid 'evil speakings.' (See 1 Peter 2:1.) It tells us to 'Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you.' (Ephesians 4:31.) Modern revelations direct us to avoid 'backbiting,' 'evil speaking,' and 'find[ing] fault one with another.' (See [ Doctrine and Covenants 20:53–54 ]; 42:27; 88:124; and 136:23)."
  27. "Admonish," Webster's 1828 Dictionary, accessed June 16, 2021, http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/admonish. Emphasis added.
  28. Doctrine and Covenants 6:19
  29. Doctrine and Covenants 112:12
  30. Kent P. Jackson and Robert D. Hunt, "Reprove, Betimes, and Sharpness in the Vocabulary of Joseph Smith," Religious Educator 6, no. 2 (2005): 97–104.
  31. Oaks, "Criticism," 71–72.
  32. Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–13, 56–60; 105:58–59
  33. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 28:2
  34. Doctrine and Covenants 107:27
  35. Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13
  36. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:203–204.
  37. Russell M. Nelson, "The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life be Like without It?" Ensign 47, no. 11 (November 2017): 62–63.
  38. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29
  39. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6
  40. Doctrine and Covenants 107:99.
  41. Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign 9, no. 11 (November 1979): 19–20.
  42. Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," New Era 11, no. 9 (September 1982).
  43. Doctrine and Covenants 68:3-5
  44. Doctrine and Covenants 68:22–24; 107:81
  45. Doctrine and Covenants 107:82–84
  46. Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-80
  47. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young: Second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, comp. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954), 4. Quoting Journal of Discourses 11:375
  48. This article is largely adapted from Gregory Smith, “What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?” <https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2016/01/11/what-should-i-do-if-i-think-ive-received-revelation-different-from-apostles-and-prophets> (5 January 2019).
  49. Dallin H. Oaks, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign 27, no. 3 (March 1997): 14.
  50. Helaman 4:24; Doctrine and Covenants 112:20, 30.
  51. Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3.
  52. Moroni 7:20-25; Joseph Smith - Matthew 1:37.
  53. Doctrine and Covenants 50:31-33; 52:14-19.
  54. Helaman 16:22.
  55. Alma 30:60.
  56. Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign 24, no. 10 (October 1994): 13–14.
  57. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28.
  58. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  59. Doctrine and Covenants 28:1-7; Doctrine and Covenants 43:1-7.
  60. Doctrine and Covenants 107:99.
  61. Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign 9, no. 11 (November 1979): 19–20. See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-3; 50:31-33; 52:14-19.
  62. Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," New Era 11, no. 9 (September 1982).
  63. Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose, “A Warning Voice,” Improvement Era 20 (Sept. 1913): 1148–49. The canon of the Church is accepted as its official doctrine. Scripture is binding on all Latter-day Saints. See this page on the wiki.
  64. Doctrine and Covenants 136:31.
  65. 1 Nephi 2:16.
  66. Ether 12:6.
  67. Doctrine and Covenants 50:24.
  68. Matthew 7:7.
  69. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 18:247 (23 July 1874).
  70. Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign 19, no. 11 (November 1989): 16.
  71. Ether 12:6.
  72. 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.
  73. Dallin H. Oaks, "Criticism," Ensign 17, no. 2 (February 1987): 71–72.
  74. Articles of Faith 1:13; Doctrine and Covenants 121:16.
  75. Doctrine and Covenants 121:16.
  76. Doctrine and Covenants 12:2; Alma 42:21.
  77. Alma 12:9-10.
  78. 3 Nephi 11:29.
  79. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:288 (15 March 1857); reprinted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 41
  80. 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 Evaluating Doctrinal Truth (Roy, UT: Eborn Books, 2005), 221–222. Also in Gary James Bergera, Statements of the LDS First Presidency (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 121.  Bergera indicates it is a letter from Joseph F. Smith to Lillian Golsan, 16 July 1902.
  81. 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.
  82. Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:15; Moses 7:18.