The problem was simple yet profound. How do I make sense of life? I remember thinking “Is this it?” In the words of one of my favourite films, “Is this ‘as good as it gets’?” The Mormon answer seemed profound yet simple - “God speaks today!” Of course, with benefit of hindsight I can identify myriad problems with the Mormon message. But I remember the thrill of hearing that message for the first time, “God speaks today”, and the thrill of anticipation – what is God going to say to me?
The message of Mormonism centres on “living prophets”. John Taylor, third Mormon president, wrote, “the principle of present revelation…is the very foundation of our religion” (Journal of Discourses, p.371). Elder Joseph W. McMurrin was one of the First Seven Presidents of the First Council of the Seventy from Oct.5 1897. In a General Conference address in April 1902 he said:
“…the same divine authority, the same inspiration that came from God, our Father, which enabled the Prophet Joseph Smith to speak of the future history of this work, is with the Israel of God today. A Prophet of God stands in the midst of the people now, clothed upon with every gift, key, power, and authority, that was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that same inspiration, that same power to penetrate the future, to comprehend the purposes of the Almighty, is with the Priesthood that is in our midst today.”
In 1977 Spencer Kimball, 12th Mormon president declared in a General Conference address, “I bear witness to the world today that more than a century and a half ago…the heavens were once again opened, and since that time revelations have been continuous.”
The missionary discussions present it in this way:
“One important way God shows His love for us is by calling prophets, who are given the priesthood – the power and authority given to man to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children. Prophets learn the gospel of Jesus Christ by revelation. They in turn teach the gospel to others…The teachings of the prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures.
Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets…they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy. When widespread apostasy occurs, God withdraws His priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel.
To end each period of general apostasy, God has shown His love for His children by calling another prophet and giving him priesthood authority to restore and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ anew…Such periods of time headed by prophetic responsibility are called dispensations.
After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. Without Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted…Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures…False ideas were taught as truth…The doctrines…became distorted or forgotten. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.
When the circumstances were right, Heavenly father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through Him the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth….A living prophet directs the Church today” (Preach My Gospel, A Guide to Missionary Service, p.p.32-37, Pub. LDS Church, 2004, emphasis added).
That message still excites many today and fills them with the same anticipation I felt all those years ago. “What will the living prophet say?” The words of a Mormon hymn sum up well the typical Mormon’s attitude to it:
The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day, Majestic rises on the world.
Has morning broken? Have shadows fled? Does God speak today through living prophets?
Testing Mormon Prophets
Testing a Mormon Prophet