LDS--Why is it acceptable for prophets to ever teach error?


#1

On previous threads discussing LDS issues, it has often come up how previous LDS prophets have publicly taught error in their capacity as “prophet, seer, and revelator” of the Mormon church. Some LDS posters have explained this away by claiming that Mormons are not bound by anything but LDS scripture, and therefore a prophet can make such mistakes without affecting his status as a true prophet. They have pointed out that sometimes past prophets have interjected their own opinions into their teachings, occasionally expounding upon things that really haven’t been revealed, and which have since been rejected by the church or dropped altogether.

My question to Latter Day Saints is therefore this: How do you separate authentic prophetic teaching from a prophet’s mere opinion? Also, if a prophet can publicly teach error, what guarantee do you have that other doctrines they have taught are not also erroneous? And I guess the really big question is what good does it do to claim that you have a real no-kidding prophet at the head of your church if past prophets have occasionally publicly taught error to the masses?


#2

I think that the “new” prophet can change doctrine set by the past prophet. Each prophet can declare his revalation to be true and it can change with each prophet.

Love and peace,

Mom of 5


#3

[quote=Mom of 5]I think that the “new” prophet can change doctrine set by the past prophet. Each prophet can declare his revalation to be true and it can change with each prophet.

Love and peace,

Mom of 5
[/quote]

Are you saying that what is true for one prophet may be untrue for the next one to come along? So, if the next prophet declares that God revealed that polygamy is once again AOK, does that make the practice acceptable again?


#5

[quote=Tsuzuki] To prevent confusion, prophecies and knowledge that are of major importance to the church as a whole are only given through the prophet, but each member must confirm it for him- or herself through the Holy Spirit.
[/quote]

Let me see if I understand this:

“prophecies and knowledge that are of major importance to the church as a whole are only given through the prophet”

I assume these are prophesies presumably from God, right (I mean, a prophecy that doesn’t come from God isn’t really a prophecy, it’s what we call a guess, right)? And, therefore, they must be true.

Now, “each member must confirm it for him- or herself through the Holy Spirit”.

What if the member comes up with a “Holy Spirit-inspired” conclusion that disagrees with the Prophet? Who’s wrong, the Prophet inspired by God, or the member, inspired by the Holy Spirit?

And if the two can’t contradict (i.e., if the Prophet’s infallible, and the Holy Spirit makes the member infallible), why does the member need to confirm it for himself at all? Why can’t he just accept it, since the Prophet is infallible?


#7

[quote=Tsuzuki]The concept of Papal infallibility is alien to Mormonism.
[/quote]

I didn’t say papal infallibility.

The Old Testament prophets who were receiving their prophesies from God were infallible in terms of the prophesies themselves.

So why aren’t the prophesies of Mormon Prophets infallible? Are they inspired from God (infallible) or are they just pronouncements from the man, and therefore susceptible to error?


#9

[quote=Tsuzuki]The Holy Spirit is required by the individual members to confirm the truth of a prophecy. Once it has been confirmed by the members at large, it is then canonized. I suppose this was the same method used to canonized the Old Testament prophecies. I’m sure there might be some from back then that didn’t quite make it either.
[/quote]

No, when Moses prophesied that there would be 10 plagues on Egypt, he didn’t put it to a vote.

It was inspired of God, infallible, and it came to pass.

Why do the Mormons call their Prophet a prophet if he’s so unsure about his prophesies that he has to get the OK from the general population?

Do they think God is unsure, and needs validation/confirmation?


#11

[quote=Tsuzuki]I’m sure that later rabbis had some say as to what went into the canon. As a Catholic, you should understand this. Was not the Catholic Church inspired as to which gospels to include? Did the bishops not have the spirit of prophecy when they put together the canon?
[/quote]

First of all, the Catholic Church did not put the canon of Scripture to a general vote, so that once it had “been confirmed by the members at large, it [was] then canonized.”

So your analogy doesn’t apply.

Please, let’s get back to the question of this thread:

Why do the Mormons call their Prophet a prophet if he’s so unsure about his prophesies that he has to get the OK from the general population?

Do they think God is unsure, and needs validation/confirmation?


#12

[quote=Tsuzuki] Did the bishops not have the spirit of prophecy when they put together the canon?
[/quote]

There was no prophecy of future events with the canon. It was a question of inspiration, which gets back to our belief in infallibility of the Pope, and the bishops in conjunction with him (a whole 'nother thread).

But the Mormons don’t believe in that kind of infallibility, so the question as posted in the OP and my last posts still stands.


#15

[quote=Tsuzuki]I didn’t say it was a one-to-one analogy, but there was some desicion making going on, wasn’t there?
[/quote]

There’s a huge difference between “decision making” and prophecy.

Because the spirit of prophecy is given to all, and it would be kind of lame if we didn’t use it.

But if it’s not unanimous, who’s wrong: the Prophet? the Holy Spirit?

The non-belief in that kind of infallibility and the belief in personal confirmation is the answer to the OP.

What exactly is the Mormon definition of “prophecy”?

And it doesn’t answer the question of the OP, which was:

Also, if a prophet can publicly teach error, what guarantee do you have that other doctrines they have taught are not also erroneous? And I guess the really big question is what good does it do to claim that you have a real no-kidding prophet at the head of your church if past prophets have occasionally publicly taught error to the masses?


#16

Let’s not forget that the Mormon canon changes as well. Those changes are not always put to a vote either. (LoF is one example, BoM changes are another). I would also challenge this :

That is NOT true. Gordon B. Hinkley stated that while members may hold their opinions they are NOT free to promote their opinions or act on them when they contradict the LDS leaders. LDS who “do as they please” when disagreeing with the offical church position are subject to excommunication. (Examples would include D. Michael Quinn, Lavinian Fielding Anderson, practicing polygamists and many others)


#17

I thought this was such a fair question that I posted it on FAIR-LDS. See the following link:

fairboards.org/index.php?showtopic=14200

It’s gone three pages already, so I guess the question was well thought out.


#18

When I was LDS I made sense of it this way:

  1. Earlier teachings of the Church can be changed with a new revelation. God, in his wisdom, knows what his children need, and may change the doctrines of the church to facilitate growth, protect the Church, etc.

  2. The teachings of the Prophet are not open to private interpretation. They are the word of God. Personal revelation must be seen as regarding me only, and the decisions that affect my life alone. If I haven’t yet received a “testimony” regarding the Church and the Prophet, I only need to keep praying and living a good life and it will come.

To answer Chris’ original question:

How do you separate authentic prophetic teaching from a prophet’s mere opinion? Also, if a prophet can publicly teach error, what guarantee do you have that other doctrines they have taught are not also erroneous? And I guess the really big question is what good does it do to claim that you have a real no-kidding prophet at the head of your church if past prophets have occasionally publicly taught error to the masses?

  1. LDS pretty much take everything the current Prophet says publicly as Gospel. They don’t try to distinguish between his opinion and God’s opinion.

  2. Most LDS don’t believe any prophets taught “error”. They believe God wanted his Church to teach or emphasize different doctrines at different times for some of the reasons(and more) that l stated above.

What it really comes down to is faith. LDS put incredible faith in their Prophet and their Church and believe that God will never lead either astray. The Church could teach just about anything and the faithful would follow. It often takes something pretty jarring to get a faithful LDS to look at their Church in an objective way.


#19

I think it’s important for this discussion that we come to a common understanding of “prophecy.” I think both LDS and Catholics agree that “prophecy” refers to all inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not just a revealing of future events. All scripture in that sense is therefore “prophecy.”

What I am driving at in this thread is the idea of teaching infallibility on the part of the leader of the church. If you don’t have some sort of a guarantee of infallibility when it comes to teaching doctrines of the faith, then there is no assurance that a prophet isn’t leading his flock astray. Prophets are human beings who make mistakes in their lives, but if they are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, those mistakes cannot be in the area of teaching doctrine. For if they do teach false doctrine, then they are a false prophet. I believe this applies to certain LDS prophets in the past who have publicly taught doctrines that were later reversed or dropped altogether. I’m not talking about small nit-picky issues, but rather major doctrinal teachings that have a profound impact in how we understand the nature of God Himself.

We have very good records of the public teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, for example, that are no longer held by the CoJCoLDS as authentic doctrine. How can this be? How can you accept certain things taught by these men and reject others? Yes, they are human and they make mistakes. So does the pope. But even our lousy popes who lived shady personal lives never taught false doctrine. They never changed the teachings of the church, which in itself is really a miracle considering their character flaws.

In my opinion, if the LDS cannot claim infallibility for its prophets when it comes to teaching doctrine, then calling these men “prophets” becomes meaningless. Without infallibility, the authority to teach correct doctrine and proclaim the true faith is non-existant.


#20

[quote=flameburns623]I thought this was such a fair question that I posted it on FAIR-LDS. See the following link:

fairboards.org/index.php?showtopic=14200

It’s gone three pages already, so I guess the question was well thought out.
[/quote]

I read that and man there are some really out there explanations. Check out Magyars interpretations of Bigham Youngs famous proclamation against mixing your seed with that of cain’s, it’ll make your head spin, the mental gymnastics required to follow his interpretations.

He claims that this:

*“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”

-Brigham Young*

Has nothing to do with race, but with spiritual adultery. I don’t know about you but the words “African race” clued me in. Again serious mental gymnastics.

Someone else said that you should follow the living prophet, and the living prophet can contradict a past prophet without issue. I don’t get that at all.

I agree that if someone is at the top calling the shots, he better be infallible on matters of doctrine or what real good is he as a prophet? If he can make mistakes in matters of doctrine then he’s just some guy he leads the Church and not a prophet.

I don’t know I still can’t get my arms around it.


#22

[quote=Chris-WA]I think it’s important for this discussion that we come to a common understanding of “prophecy.” I think both LDS and Catholics agree that “prophecy” refers to all inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not just a revealing of future events. All scripture in that sense is therefore “prophecy.”

What I am driving at in this thread is the idea of teaching infallibility on the part of the leader of the church. If you don’t have some sort of a guarantee of infallibility when it comes to teaching doctrines of the faith, then there is no assurance that a prophet isn’t leading his flock astray. Prophets are human beings who make mistakes in their lives, but if they are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, those mistakes cannot be in the area of teaching doctrine. For if they do teach false doctrine, then they are a false prophet. I believe this applies to certain LDS prophets in the past who have publicly taught doctrines that were later reversed or dropped altogether. I’m not talking about small nit-picky issues, but rather major doctrinal teachings that have a profound impact in how we understand the nature of God Himself.

We have very good records of the public teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, for example, that are no longer held by the CoJCoLDS as authentic doctrine. How can this be? How can you accept certain things taught by these men and reject others? Yes, they are human and they make mistakes. So does the pope. But even our lousy popes who lived shady personal lives never taught false doctrine. They never changed the teachings of the church, which in itself is really a miracle considering their character flaws.

In my opinion, if the LDS cannot claim infallibility for its prophets when it comes to teaching doctrine, then calling these men “prophets” becomes meaningless. Without infallibility, the authority to teach correct doctrine and proclaim the true faith is non-existant.
[/quote]

Chris, I’ve had many conservations with LDS on this topic and this is my understanding:
LDS believe that their prophets are infallible because they are teaching what God wants them to teach. It doesn’t matter what was taught 100 years ago because the living prophet is teaching what God wants taught AT THIS TIME. Current doctrine supercedes previous doctrine. No continuity is necessary. Once they have a “testimony” that the LDS president is indeed God’s prophet, doctrinal continuity becomes a moot point.

Unless you can get them to see that this type of thinking would mean God was schizophrenic, they will find no problem with the contradictions.

I agree with you that:

Prophets are human beings who make mistakes in their lives, but if they are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, those mistakes cannot be in the area of teaching doctrine. For if they do teach false doctrine, then they are a false prophet. I believe this applies to certain LDS prophets in the past who have publicly taught doctrines that were later reversed or dropped altogether. I’m not talking about small nit-picky issues, but rather major doctrinal teachings that have a profound impact in how we understand the nature of God Himself.

That’s one of the reasons I’m no longer LDS. In my first post I was simply responding to the question posed at the beginning of the thread. Perhaps I was out of place. I think an actual member of the LDS Church could give a better response.


#23

[quote=Tsuzuki]“I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied…Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.” (President Brigham Young - Journal of Discources 3:45)

“What a pity it would be, if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken the influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” (President Brigham Young - Journal of Discources 9:150)
[/quote]

What is the point of your post? Brigham Young is saying that people need to get an answer from God, for themselves, as to whether truth is being taught by their leaders. This is completely subjective and requires no objective thinking in any way. All they have to do is pray, wait for a certain feeling, and presto!, they have the proof they need. Most active LDS have done this and consequently have a testimony regarding their church and prophet. This is exactly why LDS are so devoted to their prophet, and why they tend to feel, rather than think, their way through doctrine.

There is no contradiction between my post and what Brigham Young said.


#24

My hubby, ex-LDS, tells me that if you disagree with an LDS teaching, you better keep it to your self. Open dissent is not tolerated and you will be ex-communicated and at the very least, talked to severely. He says that you are told to continue to “pray about it”, then you WILL get the answer to agree with LDS teachings. There is no room for questioning the “prophet” whether you agree or not.

Love and peace,

Mom of 5


#25

Interesting enough I have written quite a bit about this topic on CA over the last 15 months. Feel free to browse the collection. It was a fun little trip through memory lane, compiling this list.

Guidelines for weighing doctrinal sources and importance to salvation
1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Doctrinal Development – comparative (other learning models and ECFs, RCC, NT, OT)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

DD – Blacks and the Priesthood
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

DD – Polygamy
1 2 3 4 5



#26

DD – Nature of God
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

textual (transmission or translation) errors or changes in scriptures
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Dealing with errancy in LDS scriptures and leaders
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

individual truth-seeking through evidence-based rationality and personal revelation
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


#27

The role of common consent in making doctrine "binding’
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

The nature of revelation and its human element in recording it
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

relationship of doctrine to practice
1 2 3 4

close re-reading of scriptures allow current LDS to form different opinions than past leaders on secondary matters
1 2 3

some quotations from LDS leaders need to be carefully weighed by solid historical source evaluations before drawing conclusions
1 2

–fool


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