Seven years ago, a FAIR conference presentation identified a harmful ideology among some members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It claims that God gives revelations, visits, and special priesthood ordinations to individuals outside of church leadership, and that faithful church members should follow and obey those individuals, and believe the truth of their purported visions and revelations, either along with or instead of actual church leaders. It often criticizes church leaders for being uninspired, or else claims one must read between the lines of leaders’ statements because most church members are too uninspired or unrighteous to receive greater light and deeper understanding. At the time, some of the major proponents of this ideology were Julie Rowe and Denver Snuffer.
Since then, this spiritually elitist ideology has become far more widespread than a few “remnant” groups. Our culture’s obsession with “authenticity” and personalized truth, along with confusion about scriptural principles of revelation, have made a lot of us susceptible to very harmful ideas that undermine our faith and ability to truly commune with God.
In the April 2022 General Conference, Elder Renlund reviewed some principles that clarify how we should approach our own desire for revelation and others’ claims to have received it. He emphasizes that revelation doesn’t work through activism and public pressure. “Speculation will not lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead us to deception or divert our focus from what has been revealed…Ever since God appointed prophets, they have been authorized to speak on His behalf. But they do not pronounce doctrines fabricated ‘of [their] own mind.’…Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive.”
Elder Renlund seems concerned by those who say prophets ought to be receiving revelation on specific topics, topics like Heavenly Mother and same-sex marriage, which dominate online Latter-day Saint communities. Just because a subset of church members are interested in or even genuinely distressed by a given doctrine, doesn’t mean the Lord will jump to accommodate them. Prophets don’t dispense content on demand. This is especially true when the doctrine at issue is foundational and will not change.
When church leaders don’t respond to popular urging by dispensing the desired revelation, it’s tempting to turn to other sources–after all, don’t we believe that we all have the Gift of the Holy Ghost? Might others besides church leaders be able to provide new knowledge and understanding when the prophets aren’t speaking in the ways we happen to want? Doesn’t God ask us to seek and promise to answer?
The answers to these questions are in the scriptures. The Doctrine and Covenants are full of revelations given to Joseph Smith in response to similar questions he faced: Hiram Page claimed to receive revelation for the church through his seer stone (Section 28), and a woman we know only as Mrs. Hubble claimed to receive revelations for the church (Section 43).
When Hiram Page, a Book of Mormon witness, claimed to receive revelations through a seer stone, his teachings weren’t grotesque or obviously evil. They pertained to the organization and location of Zion, and were persuasive to prominent church leaders like Oliver Cowdery and the Whitmers. False revelation can be very difficult to distinguish from true scripture, because the devil is subtle and smart. He might even inspire teachings that are basically true, just to build our loyalty and willingness to listen to an illegitimate source. It suits his purposes to affirm our true beliefs for a bit longer, just to get us in the habit of hearkening to the wrong influences. Soon enough, they’ll start mingling errors with the truths and lead us carefully along to accept greater and greater evil.
Joseph Smith’s responding revelation to Oliver Cowdery established an important principle: no one, except the prophet, is appointed to receive commandments and revelations for the Church. This principle has been strengthened and refined as the Restoration progressed and established a First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators: revelation is received, confirmed, and taught by those united quorums. We can and should get personal revelation that applies revealed truth to our specific circumstances and stewardships, but it won’t override or contradict the prophets’ teachings, or authorize us to proclaim doctrines the prophets haven’t revealed.
But we don’t believe prophets are infallible. What if the prophet rebels and loses his connection to God? What if he just isn’t interested or loving or righteous enough to receive the truth God wants to give him? Shouldn’t we look for revelation elsewhere?
When Mrs. Hubble proclaimed her false revelations–and hers weren’t any more outlandish or obviously evil than Hiram Page’s had been–the Lord responded with more important principles in D&C section 43:
“There is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he [Joseph Smith] be taken, if he abide in me. But verily, verily, I say unto you, that none else shall be appointed unto this gift except it be through him; for if it be taken from him he shall not have power except to appoint another in his stead.
And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any that shall come before you as revelations or commandments. And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.” (Emphasis added.)
If the prophet doesn’t “abide in [God],” enough to maintain his ability to fulfill God’s purposes, God will never leave us hanging without clear direction whom we should follow. Furthermore, God has never placed on us the responsibility to discern (1) whether the prophet is still in good standing, still receiving valid revelation, or (2) if he’s not, who is his replacement. Even a fallen prophet retains the authority to designate his successor.
This might sound silly to one who doesn’t believe in prophets and these revelations–why would you trust a fallen prophet to designate a legitimate successor?—but it makes good sense if you trust in a God who is smart and powerful enough to lead His church. God will never leave us to face a revelatory free-for-all where we have to pick apart a cacophony of conflicting claims to discern who is legitimately called of God to reveal His will.
Some of today’s dissidents would probably argue against applying this scripture to our situation. They’re not saying the prophet is fallen, just that he’s…lagging. He’s still the prophet, he’s just standing in the way of the revelation God wants to give us. But that’s logically incoherent. A prophet who impedes the will of God, whether through bigotry or rebellion or impertinence or inertia, is not “abiding in [God].” He is not fulfilling his most basic function: revealing God’s word. And in all these revelations that directly address this issue, there is no support whatsoever for the conclusion that individual church members should follow the prophet, sort of, except for where they judge him to be lagging. That’s motivated reasoning to justify faithlessness when we don’t happen to like the prophet’s teachings. The Lord has strong words for such an attitude:
“[T]he day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth fold and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:14-16.)
People who publicly oppose the prophet on important issues aren’t judicious discerners who are sifting out the true from the false. They’re dissenters who are stifling their own and their audience’s ability to receive any spiritual influence at all. Lehi’s vision is strikingly explicit on this point. The fall of the great and spacious building is the symbol of those who fight—not God or Christ, as we might expect—but “ the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11:36, emphasis added).
But we believe all confirmed members of the church have the Gift of the Holy Ghost and can receive revelation. Why shouldn’t I seek more knowledge for myself or from others who are inspired? Mrs. Hubble’s Instagram feed inspires me so much more than General Conference!
The Lord answered this in Section 43: if you want more revelation, look to the prophet. If you want mysteries and understanding and greater light, look to the prophet. Verse 12: “If ye desire the glories of the kingdom, appoint ye my servant Joseph Smith, and uphold him before me by the prayer of faith.” Verse 13: “If ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide for [the prophet] food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him.” President Nelson doesn’t need us to send him food and clothes, but he needs our prayers, loyalty, and consecrated efforts to build God’s kingdom. President Nelson himself quoted George Albert Smith on what the prophet needs from us:
The obligation that we make when we raise our hands [to sustain the prophet] … is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means … that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.1
This isn’t to say that our faith will result in President Nelson dispensing new revelations, but rather that you cannot qualify for personal revelation if you aren’t sincerely and actively sustaining the prophet.
Anyone who tries to influence your beliefs or secure your loyalty via claims of revelation that contract the Lord’s anointed is a false prophet. If you try to influence others that way, you are a false prophet.
Alma taught the essential principle: “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him” (Alma 12:9).2
This means if you think God has revealed a truth to you that goes beyond or contradicts what has been generally revealed by the prophet, you are not authorized to teach it. If God really had given Mrs. Hubble or Hiram Page more knowledge or different knowledge than the prophet Joseph, they would have been commanded not to publicize it. If today’s Mrs. Hubbles and Hiram Pages really were receiving more knowledge or different knowledge than our fifteen prophets, seers, and revelators, they would not be posting it on Instagram. They would not be publishing books or amassing followers or building movements.
There are only two choices for true prophets: be properly ordained as a prophet, seer, and revelator, sustained by the whole church and “com[ing] in at the gate,” or keep it to yourself. We can add our own spiritual witness to confirm what prophets have taught, but never claim revelation contradicting or superceding church leaders.
Why? Because God works through predictable order, not popularity. If instead we were turned loose into a noisy free-for-all of revelatory claims, with real and pretended revelators all calling lo here and lo there, it would mean constant spiritual danger to everyone who isn’t expert at discernment between truth and error–which is all of us. God gave us clear revealed standards so that even the least spiritually-experienced church member can be certain of what is true.
So yes, God is eager to tell you more! Ask, seek, and knock! But anyone who shares revelation improperly is setting themselves as a light in opposition to God’s prophets–that’s priestcraft, not prophecy.
This isn’t about any one particular group or ideology–right or left, conservative or progressive. This ideology is seemingly everywhere. It’s not just outliers like Julie Rowe making unusual claims about special revelation from God. It’s all of social media, all of our congregations, too many of us. Maybe you can easily see through claims that God revoked the priesthood from LDS prophets and set up a new “remnant,” but are these other claims more tempting?
Revelatory Claim: “The Spirit told me that God will change the church’s doctrine of marriage.”
Prophetic teaching: “Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed.” 3
Revelatory Claim: “God revealed to me that the COVID-19 vaccine is of the devil.”
Prophetic teaching: We are thankful for the [COVID-19 vaccine]. We have prayed for this literal godsend.” 4
Revelatory Claim: “Heavenly Mother is revealing herself through artists’ expressions about her presence in their lives.”
Prophetic teaching: “Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject.” 5
Revelatory Claim: “I testify that Christ-centered energy healing is God’s way of blessing and healing people.”
Prophetic teaching: “Church members are discouraged from seeking miraculous or supernatural healing from an individual or group that claims to have special methods for accessing healing power outside of prayer and properly performed priesthood blessings. These practices are often referred to as ‘energy healing.’ Other names are also used.” 6
Revelatory Claim: “The Spirit told me that my child’s sexual orientation is God’s deliberate purpose and is eternal.”
Prophetic teaching: “Same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seems to apply right now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.” 7
Revelatory Claim: “I received revelation that wearing masks in temples is a violation of our agency and offensive to God.”
Prophetic teaching: “For the time being [March 2022], masks will still be required in temples…” 8
Revelatory Claim: “When I was praying I felt that I should enter a same-sex relationship. This is what God wants for me.”
Prophetic teaching: “Danger lurks when we try to divide ourselves with expressions such as “my private life” or even “my best behavior.” … Even if “everyone is doing it,” wrong is never right. Evil, error, and darkness will never be truth, even if popular.” “Social and political pressures to change marriage laws are resulting in practices contrary to God’s will regarding the eternal nature and purposes of marriage. Man simply cannot make moral what God has declared to be immoral. Sin, even if legalized by man, is still sin in the eyes of God.” 9
Revelatory Claim: “God is giving you this business opportunity. I’ve seen miracles happen through this multi-level marketing product!”
Prophetic teaching: “We are also concerned that there are those who use relationships of trust to promote risky or even fraudulent investment and business schemes.” 10 “Members should not use or promote medical or health practices that are ethically, spiritually, or legally questionable. Those who have health problems should consult with competent medical professionals who are licensed in the areas where they practice.” 11
Revelatory Claim: “The Spirit confirmed my transgender identity to me, and that I was the other gender in the pre-mortal existence. You can’t deny that.”
Prophetic teaching: “No matter how intense your feeling of gender incongruence may be, it is just one aspect of your mortal experience.” 13 “Leaders also counsel against social transitioning. A social transition includes changing dress or grooming, or changing a name or pronouns, to present oneself as other than his or her birth sex. Leaders advise that those who socially transition will experience some Church membership restrictions for the duration of this transition.” 14 “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” “The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.” 15
Revelatory Claim: “The Spirit revealed my model of Book of Mormon geography is true.”
Prophetic teaching: “We have had speculation, for instance, on the part of some with respect to Book of Mormon geography, and it is plain, unadulterated speculation and not doctrine.” 16 “However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.” 17
Revelatory Claim: “You can use your own spiritual authority to decide not to wear garments.”
Prophetic teaching: “The garment should not be removed for activities that can reasonably be done while wearing the garment. It should not be modified to accommodate different styles of clothing.” 18
All of these claims try to use personal revelation to override what prophets have taught, and thereby violate the scriptures. Misusing revelation isn’t unique to any particular tribe or political worldview. It’s just a particularly dangerous way members of the church can carelessly replace truth with self-serving error. We all like to feel spiritually advanced, admired, and obviously correct. “I received revelation” is a powerful trump card among believers, because it’s superficially unfalsifiable, and positions you as not only correct in this instance, but spiritually superior in general.
Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that every single one of the above statements is true revelation for someone (as opposed to misunderstood revelation, non-revelatory strong feelings like enthusiasm, or false revelation from the devil), sharing it publicly still violates scripture. No one is obliged to accept, and everyone should in fact be deeply skeptical of, claimed revelation that does not come from the proper source and contradicts church leaders. No Instagram commenter has stewardship over you. No Facebook post is exempt from the “strict command” to keep exceptional revelation private. No eccentric in your ward (bless their hearts) has “come in at the gate” and been ordained to be a legitimate conduit from God. If you are allowing your understanding of God’s word to be shaped by improper claims of revelation, you are hearkening to the wrong source and placing yourself in spiritual danger.
Moreover, sharing purported “revelation” publicly in order to drive a wedge between members and the Lord’s servants is not merely misguided, not merely prideful priestcraft, but can cause devastating spiritual harm.
Claims of revelation put an opportunistic spiritual gloss on expressive individualism, dressing up “authenticity” with fake spiritual authority. Please don’t fall for it. Fill your mind with scripture, not social media, and you’ll be exhilarated to learn how much true revelation the Lord is eager to give you. Look to the prophet, and sincerely pray for confirmation of church teachings and policies, not fodder for your skepticism. Focus on plain old obedience, humdrum spiritual duties, and miniscule acts of ministering, and learn for yourself what the Lord promised:
“I, the Lord…delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end… to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
“Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.”
- Russell M. Nelson, “Sustaining the Prophets,” general conference, October 2014, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2014/10/sustaining-the-prophets?lang=eng
- President Joseph Fielding Smith expanded on this principle: “It seems that periodically it becomes necessary to call attention to the true order the Lord has given us in regard to revelation. During the past three or four months I have received a number of communications, coming from various parts of the Church, asking if certain purported revelations or dreams or purported visions are reliable and have the endorsement of the Authorities of the Church….”Now, the Lord will give revelations to this Church, and he will give commandments to this Church from time to time…but always in accordance with his own law; and we do not have to run around and invite individuals who are without authority to relate to us purported visions, or revelations or commandments, for the guidance of this people….”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. It is all out of order, in this Church, for somebody to invite him into a sacrament service to relate that to the Church, because 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….”Now, these stories of revelation, that are being circulated around, are of no consequence, except for rumor and silly talk by persons who have no authority….When you know God’s truth, when you enter into God’s rest, you will not be hunting after revelations from Tom, Dick and Harry all over the world. You will not be following the will-o’-the-wisp of the vagaries of men and women who advance nonsense and their own ideas.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report (April 1938), 65–67
- Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” general conference, October 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/decisions-for-eternity?lang=eng
- Russell M. Nelson, Twitter, 19 January 2021; cited in Tad Walsh, “President Russell M. Nelson and the COVID-19 vaccine: What the church leader has said and done,” Deseret News (29 April 2021), https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/4/29/22407953/president-nelson-on-covid-19-vaccine-comments-speeches-actions-prayers-shot-church-news.
- Dale G. Renlund, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/36renlund?lang=eng.
- Church Handbook, 38.7.8, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng
- Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, “Same-Gender Attraction”. Newsroom, Interview transcript, interviewed by Church Public Affairs staffers, Salt Lake City, Utah (September 2006), https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/interview-oaks-wickman-same-gender-attraction
- “As COVID-19 Restrictions Ease, Here’s How the Church Is Reopening,” 8 March 2022, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/coronavirus-update.
- Russell M. Nelson, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/let-your-faith-show.p23
- Russell M. Nelson, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/russell-m-nelson_disciples-jesus-christ-defenders-of-marriage/.
- Mark E. Petersen, “Revelation,” Address to religious educators, 24 August 1954; cited in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter–day Saints, 1982), 136–137; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 315.
- Handbook, 38.5.5, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/general-handbook/38-church-policies-and-guidelines?lang=eng#title_number234.