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RS/MP Lesson 9: “Prophets of God” (Gospel Princples Manual)

Posted by NathanG on May 2, 2010

Quick comment on the organization of these lessons.  We have just learned about the Holy Ghost and prayer in the last two lessons, will learn about prophets this week, and scriptures next week.  This is the nuts and bolts of how we communicate with God and how God communicates with us.  Probably some degree of order of importance.

Prophets Are God’s Representatives on the Earth

The manual begins with an interesting question:

“What powers and gifts does a prophet have?”

My very first thought (I’ll admit, slightly odd) when I read this was related to the question asked of Samuel by the elders of the city when he went to Beth-lehem at the time he met David.  “Comest thou peaceably?”  (1 Sam 16:4)   What were they worried about?  What was the reputation of the prophet?  Were the people afraid of Samuel for some reason?

When we answer this do we automatically think about our experience with modern prophets?  Do we think of the stories we read about in the scriptures?  Which scriptures?  Book of Mormon prophets or Old Testament prophets?  We’re finishing up with Moses in Gospel Doctrine.  What stories from the modern prophets compare with the miracles performed by Moses leading the children of Israel from Egypt?  Do you agree there are differences between the Old Testament prophets and the modern prophets?  If you do, why do you agree?  Here are a few thoughts.

  • We don’t have the faith the ancient Israelites had, and do not get to receive those blessings.
  • God has changed his ways.
  • We have a more comprehensive priesthood organization.  Many miracles that may have been performed by the prophets anciently are done by rank and file members of the church who hold the same Priesthood authority, and these are simply not recorded or published for the general consumption of the church.
  • We are more focused on missionary work today than the ancient Israelites were (who had great difficulty staying away from the strange gods of the Canaanites).  God can’t go destroying the people that we are trying to convert.  Besides, miracles were not often effective in converting people (think of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and he is still rejected.).  The prophet now uses his gifts and powers to direct the worldwide efforts to preach the gospel and bring souls to Christ.
  • Satan has changed his attack.  We are not contending against strange gods and superstitions anymore.  We contend with philosophies driven by science, political correctness, progressivism, etc.  God does not need to have his prophet showing mighty miracles, but needs his prophet to make reasonable, philosophical arguments based on eternal truths.

 

The lesson then quotes the often used verse from Amos 3:7

Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

This is often used to show that God uses prophets, but what is the extent to which this verse applies?  What is God’s secret?  The verses preceding this verse seem to be setting up a warning against the Israelites.  When God’s people are wicked, his servants will prophesy as to what may come.  This pattern is repeated throughout the scriptures and usually the message is a conditional message:  If you do not repent, then (fill in the blank).

What secret is being revealed today by the prophets?

The manual then discusses the blessing of having a prophet today to speak the will of God to the church and the world over.  Many faiths believe there are no longer prophets.  It states “[Many people] believe that the heavens are closed and that people must face the world’s perils alone.”  This is an interesting claim and it would be interesting to get perspective from converts on this point.  I would imagine people would say something more along the lines of the scriptures are complete and we now must study the scriptures to know God’s will. 

A laundry list of what a prophet does is then given.

  • God’s mouthpiece
  • Special witness of Christ
  • Teaches truth and interprets the word of God
  • Calls people to repentance
  • Receives revelations and directions from the Lord for us
  • Foretell the future

 

There’s a brief comment on terminology that can be confusing.  What is meant by a prophet or the prophet as we speak in the church.  Joseph Smith taught anyone with the testimony of Jesus is a prophet for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, answers to sundry questions. P 119).  The quorum of the twelve and the First Presidency are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators.  When we refer to the prophet, though, we refer to the President of the church, the presiding high priest.  Scriptures in the D&C relating to there being one prophet apply most appropriately to “the prophet”.

Through the Ages God Has Called Prophets to Lead Mankind

In what ways have the prophets guided God’s children in the past?

What have you learned from the lives and teachings of the prophets?

These questions accompany a sampling of prophets throughout the scriptures.

We Have a Living Prophet on the Earth Today

Why do we need a living prophet today?

I can think of a number of popular stories to accompany this question in other lesson manuals of the church, but this lesson does not have much by way of stories.  It would be interesting to hear a discussion relating to this question.  Accompanying questions may include:

What would we lose if we no longer had a living prophet?

What would happen to the church if tomorrow we no longer had a prophet?  (Not so much what would happen if the prophet died, for this isn’t a question about succession, but if there were no longer prophets.)

What would happen to you if tomorrow we no longer had a prophet?

Perhaps the most important immediate influence the prophet has is from the 4th sentence in this section.  ‘He holds “the keys of the kingdom,” meaning that he has the authority to direct the entire Church and kingdom of God on earth, including the administration of priesthood ordinances.’  The right to exercise priesthood by priesthood holders would be disrupted if we no longer had the keys of the priesthood on the earth.

We end this section with President Wilford Woodruff’s statement that the Lord will never permit the man who Stands as President of the Church to lead the church astray.

We Should Sustain the Lord’s Prophet

 

What can we do to follow and sustain the prophet?

If this question had simply been asked, “What can we do to sustain the prophet?” I think answers would include we can follow him.  Is there some difference between following the prophet and sustaining him, or are these essentially the same? 

It’s a blurry line to me, but the lesson manual separates follow and sustain this way:

Sustaining includes praying for him.  We should study his words through conference and church publications.

We follow his inspired teachings completely.  We don’t pick part to follow and discard the rest.

This section opens with the statement “Many people find it easy to believe in the prophets of the past.  But it is much greater to believe in and follow the living prophet.”  This may be a comment that is easy to externalize.  People outside the church don’t want to acknowledge that there may be living prophets “A Bible, a Bible” they may say.  How do we do with this statement within the church?  Is it easier for us to study and interpret the scriptures on our own?  Or do we take to heart one of the roles of the prophet stated above “Teaches truth and interprets the word of God”.  If our interpretation of scriptures differs, is it easy or hard to discard an incorrect interpretation of scriptures?  Same with counsel on how to live today.  Is it easy to say Joseph Smith never mentioned caffeinated beverages in the Word of Wisdom or acknowledge that the counsel is to avoid habit forming practices.  Other examples?

Great Blessings Follow Obedience to the Prophet

D&C 21:6 is quoted in the manual.  Sounds like a pretty good set of blessings.  The church as a whole also benefits greatly as the church is to be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.

What experiences have you had when you have obeyed the counsel of the prophet?

14 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 9: “Prophets of God” (Gospel Princples Manual)”

  1. JJ said

    Great outline. I especially like the last question asked because it will be a good discussion/testimony builder.

    One question: We know that prophets are still human and don’t speak every word for God. Any ideas for how to discern when it is truly God’s word spoken?

  2. Mary W. said

    JJ, we have our own access to personal revelation to confirm or deny all the words of the gospel, scriptures, and prophets. The purpose of the Holy Ghost is to testify to us of truth. So I suppose the very best way to access the Holy Ghost’s help is to do what it takes for him to be with us. Follow the commandments, avoid the things and places you know will keep the Holy Spirit away, and pray pray pray to know what is right. If you still don’t receive an answer, you go to the next level–where no one but you can tell you what to believe. It’s possible that God wants you to sacrifice more and search harder, or maybe the prophets words in question don’t matter to your salvation. I suspect it will generally be the first option. But that is up to you only to decide; especially not a fellow internet friend. :) Good luck in your search!

  3. JJ said

    Very true Mary. I was merely speculating. I think of Nephi when he wanted to know further about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. He did as you said, and the spirit manifested the truths unto Him.

    • Ryan said

      “I think of Nephi when he wanted to know further about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.”

      I love the Ensign article in the March 2010 edition on p.16 “Digital Detachment & PERSONAL REVELATION”, which most likely Nephi took these steps to recieve personal revelation to know about Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life.

      Which all of us here can recieve personal revelation just like the Prophet if we follow “these steps”.

      Recieving personal revelation helps US understand what the Prophet(s) were preaching, talking about, educating, etc…

      (I highly recommend every read this article as it will not be a waste of your time — I PROMIES!)

      –sorry this comment has nothing to do with the discussion at hand–

  4. kirkcaudle said

    I agree that we need to pray to know if the words of the prophet are true, however, how far does that go?

    For example, the argument can be made that once you truly have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the restored gospel then you should already know what the prophet says in General Conference is true. Therefore, no need to pray about something the prophet says that you personally take issue with. Why the need to double check with God about the words of the prophet?

    On the other hand, perhaps we believe that the prophet is “still human and [does not] speak every word for God” in all times and places (#1 JJ). I think this becomes particularly relevant when it comes to politics. People can very easily take issue with “official” church statements (from the prophet or otherwise) and wonder if they are truly “inspired.” These can be tricky. In these cases I go with Mary’s response in comment #2.

    IMO, prophets are easier to attack and discredit on historical and political issues than they are on a theological basis. I think this definitely seemed to be the case with the detractors (current and ancient) of Joseph Smith.

    Also, if we are truly following the Spirit of the Lord and have part in the blessings mentioned in D&C 21:6 then I think we will make the right choice.

    • Ryan said

      “Therefore, no need to pray about something the prophet says that you personally take issue with. Why the need to double check with God about the words of the prophet?”

      First, I should ask… Do you have someone in mind with this question OR is it just a general question, assuming some people are doing this???

      I can only speak from my own experience with doing something like this. I’m not praying to ask if it’s true… I’m praying to find out more info about that topic.

      BUT… Who am I commenting on your question. I’m just a white cracker… ;)

      • kirkcaudle said

        That is an argument I have heard from various members members, especially surrounding prop. 8 in CA (when that was a big deal). I talked with a couple of people that said they needed to pray and see if that was an inspired command. Others in the church responded with the comment about double checking with God not being a good thing. We should trust the prophet, not second guess his motives or inspiration.

        My personal thoughts?

        If we have a testimony, then I think we should pray for “understanding” and not ask God if the prophet is “right.”

        If we do not have a testimony, then I think we would go back to the scripture and do many of the things listed in Mary’s post (#2). It can be very hard to follow the prophet if you do not have a testimony in general. Therefore, pray and ask if the Book of Mormon is “true,” once you get that answer, then you can pray for “understanding” so that you may better follow the modern prophet.

        Hope that clears things up a bit.

      • Ryan said

        “If we have a testimony, then I think we should pray for “understanding” and not ask God if the prophet is “right.”

        Sounds like we’re on the same page. I didn’t say “understanding”, but was close enough, “I’m praying to find out more info about that topic”.

        If some people are saying/thinking, “ask God if the prophet is “right.”. My my personal opinion here, but their testimony is lacking in other areas. If they don’t know if the Prophet is the true prophet, then they most likely think the same thing with other things pertaining to our Church.

  5. Robert C. said

    I taught this lesson and ended up talking about the meaning of the word preside as it is used to describe the prophet in D&C 107. This term preside also occurs in Alma 6:1, coupled with the phrase “to watch over.” We then talked about servant leadership, and how presiding in the home often means serving, and/or not actually saying a whole lot. Then it was noted that Pres. Monson has only really given one address to the whole membership in the each of the past two conferences, and the addresses were not anything particularly profound, in the normal sense of the term (on the resurrection last conference, and on kindness the conference before that).

    I think this issue of not using the prophets as an excuse to develop for avoiding to develop our own testimony and to seek understanding ourselves is an esp. important topic. Hannah Arendt nicely discusses a related issue in relation to the Holocaust, how a culture of perfunctory obedience undermines individual initiative and thinking in general. I’ve heard arguments along these lines used as criticism of the leadership of the Church, but I mean this in an inverted sense: it is not the leaders that are at fault, but we the members are at fault for not seeking understanding, like Nephi did after hearing his father’s dream (as was mentioned above). Surely our leaders are not to blame for our own laziness in seeking understanding….

  6. Eunice Robertson said

    Thank you very much, all of you who comment on this blog. I always read through this before preparing my lesson, and I find that because we all come at the lesson from different personal viewpoints and, of course, with the help of the Spirit, it makes me think about aspects of the lesson that I wouldn’t.It really helps a lot.

    • Ryan said

      Be careful paying attention to my comments then. I’ve been called a liar while giving the lessons on the topics I comment about.

      I don’t want to be called a liar on this forum either ;)

  7. KirkCaudle said

    Glad you find it helpful Eunice. I also find all the different voices on this blog helpful while I am preparing to go to class (either as a teacher or student).

  8. GP Teacher said

    I realize I am picking this post up again more than a year after it was dropped but I enjoy reading back through these posts as I prepare for my Gospel Principles class. While I have been greatly enlightened by many of the previous posts and even more so by discussions that ensued, I can’t help but be a little disappointed with the quality of this weeks discussion. Kirk voiced his opinion (and correctly identified it as opinion only) that, “If we have a testimony, then I think we should pray for “understanding” and not ask God if the prophet is “right.” This kind of rationale may work in the case of Moroni 10 and if BoM is true, Joseph Smith is a true prophet and the church is true but I do not believe this kind of rationale can work in the case of if prophet is true, everything he says is true. This seems to be endorsing prophetic infallibility, a doctrine which we as a church do not endorse.

    Noel B. Reynolds said in his talk Reason and Revelation, “Brigham Young is reported to have warned the Saints many times not to simply rely on his word but to get confirmation of that word for themselves, that they might know his directions were from God.” While this is a second hand of a second hand, I firmly believe we have a duty to question and receive spiritual confirmation of everything a prophet says. The Church News released an article titled Approaching Mormon Doctrine in which it said,

    “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.”

    I believe this statement fully supports my belief that all prophetic counsel whether given over the pulpit or otherwise should be questioned by every member with a testimony to receive confirmation that what was said is true. In the light of these observations, I think this brings some very pertinent questions to the surface that should be addressed, namely:
    1. Current canonization process is for first presidency to approve, then 12, then 70, and finally a sustaining vote in general conference, this was how 1st and 2nd Declarations were added. This process doesn’t seem to have occurred for Joseph Smith or any prophet prior to him so is there an inherent difference between these prior prophets and prophets of our modern day (excluding Joseph Smith)?
    2. What is the difference between canonization and the prophet speaking the words of the lord?
    3. If what prophets say is “personal, though well considered, opinion” and not “binding to the whole church” (quoted from Church News article), is a prophet little more than the administrating and organizing head of the church with no greater capacity than we posses to determine truth?
    4. How could previous prophets speak the truth but current ones can’t or must we now question all canonized scripture and be left only to promptings of the spirit to guide us.
    5. Boyd K. Packers talk Cleansing the Inner Vessel, the proclamation to the family was referred to as revelation in conference but changed to guide in the written version. What is the difference between a guide and revelation? Could the moral reasonings of a non-religious philosopher be equally as valid as a guide?
    This line of questioning opens up a whole alternative view on the church and one that I am currently struggling to figure out. If anyone has any thoughts or insights about what the prophets role is in light of these ideas, I’d love to hear them. Also, if anyone sees and faults in logic or other quotes from authorities that might shed some light on these issues I’d love to hear them. Thanks again for the great posts!

    • Robert C. said

      These are some deep and pointed questions, and I don’t think there are easy answers. One place you might look for a couple of thoughtful essays related to this question is the following two articles by Nathan Oman:

      A Defense of the Authority of Church Doctrine, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (2007).

      Jurisprudence and the Problem of Church Doctrine, Element: The Journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (2006).

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