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What They Believe 19

15 Jun

Authority in the Mormon Church

Within the Mormon Church authority flows from the top down. The organization is structured in what might be called a classical pyramid shape, with the point upward. The President of the Church (always a man), with his counselors (usually two, always men), together called the First Presidency, are at the point. The President also is called a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. He is the only one in the Church who has full authority and “keys,” and the only one who can speak for God and receive revelation for the Church. Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, said: “He is the earthly head of the kingdom of God, 4 the supreme officer of the Church, the ‘President of the High Priesthood of the Church.… ’ His duty is to preside over the whole church and to be like unto Moses … ” (p. 591).

The men who are the top leaders in the Mormon Church under the Prophet are called the General Authorities, 5 and each gets his authority for assigned responsibilities from the President/Prophet.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, twelve men, just under the Prophet, also have the same authority and “keys” as the President, but can only partially use them as authorized by the President. President Joseph F. Smith, in Gospel Doctrine, said: “What is a key? It is the right or privilege which belongs to and comes with the Priesthood, to have communication with God” (p. 142). They can be fully used by the Apostles only when there is no President, and that historically has seldom happened for long periods.

The Quorum of the Seventy forms the next level below the Apostles. As of this writing there are seventy-seven men in this body (quorum), but vacancies sometimes go unfilled for a period of time.

Within the Mormon Church only men can hold the priesthood. They are the only ones with the formal authority to act in God’s name.  (But the role of women can be considered significant in that the priesthood-holder cannot reach exaltation unless married to a woman in the temple for time and eternity.) Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, said: “ … priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things for the salvation of men” (p. 594).

At the local level is a Mormon congregation called a branch or a ward. A branch is a congregation, headed by a branch president, not large and/or stable enough to support all the usual activities. A ward is a congregation headed by a bishop and his two counselors and is the level at which the Mormon Church carries out most of its programs. Several branches and wards form a stake. A stake is similar to a diocese in the Catholic Church and is led by a stake president and his two counselors.

Mormon View of the Bible

The reader must also understand where most Mormons are coming from, what is their point of reference. To most Mormons the Bible is an incomplete document, and that is why their other scriptures are needed. To them it ranks below these other scriptures in reliability and completeness. Some Mormons may not want to admit at first that they hold this view of the Bible, but if you demonstrate your knowledge of the subject, some will soon confess that this is their view. The LDS position on the Bible is illustrated in the following references.

The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations. (An open letter from the First Presidency [Presidents Benson, Hinckley, and Monson] dated May 22, 1992, to all members of the Church, in Church News, June 20, 1992, p. 3)

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.… (Articles of Faith #8, in the Pearl of Great Price)

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of a great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.… because of the plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, whose formation thou hast seen.… because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb.… (1 Nephi 13:26, 32, 34)

Mormons who hold the Bible in lower esteem can more easily conceive of its having contradictions than their own unique scriptures.

MORMON PRESIDENTS COMPARED

The President of the Mormon Church is the highest leader in what is claimed to be the one true Church that Jesus Christ “restored” in 1830 through Joseph Smith. Including Smith, a total of fourteen men have held the office. They have been the only ones with “authority” to receive revelation for the Church and to instruct the Church. 1 In order to understand the importance and status of the position, let us examine what some of these thirteen men, other top Mormon leaders, official Mormon Church publications, and Mormon scriptures say about the importance of listening to what the President says. 2

Mormon Standards for Following  Top Mormon Leaders

The Importance of the Teachings by Mormon Prophets

The first five items are from Search These Commandments, Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide, published and copyrighted (1984) by the Mormon Church. It is a teaching manual for Mormon men. The sixth item is from a similar 1983 manual titled Come Follow Me.

The words of the President are more than the advice of man.

Elder George Albert Smith noted: “When we are instructed by the President of this Church, we believe he tells us what the Lord would have us do. To us it is something more than just the advice of man” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1930, p. 66). (p. 272)

We have our marching orders.

President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “Therefore, the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the Prophet contained each week in the Church Section of the Deseret News and any words of the Prophet contained each month in our Church magazines. Our marching orders for each six months are found in the general conference addresses which are printed in the Ensign magazine” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets,” 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1981], p. 27). (p. 273)

We have God’s will for us.

President Ezra Taft Benson has pointed out that “the most important prophet, so far as you and I are concerned, is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets,” 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1981], p. 27). (p. 275)

The Lord will never permit the President to lead us astray.

President Wilford Woodruff gave the following assurance, “I say … the Lord will never permit me nor any other man who stands as the President of this Church, to lead you astray” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 212). (p. 276)

Our eternal life depends on his word.

At the conclusion of one general conference, President Kimball said: “Now as we conclude this general conference, let us all give heed to what was said to us. Let us assume the counsel given applies to us, to me. Let us hearken to those we sustain as prophets and seers, as well as the other brethren, as if our eternal life depended upon it, because it does!” (Spencer W. Kimball, in Conference Report, April 1978, p. 117; or Ensign, May 1978, p. 77). (p. 276)

The Prophets speak the mind, will, and voice of the Lord and the power of God unto salvation.

President Harold B. Lee [he was the President and Prophet of the Mormon Church at the time] once said at the close of a general conference, “If you want to know what the Lord has for this people at the present time, I would admonish you to get and read the discourses that have been delivered at this conference; for what these brethren 3 have spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost is the mind of the Lord, the will of the Lord, the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (in Conference Report, April 1973, p. 176; or Ensign, July 1973, p. 121). (p. 11)

Wilford Woodruff, Harold B. Lee, and Spencer W. Kimball were Presidents of the Church when they made these statements. The other two men were Apostles, the level just below the President of the Church, when they made their statements, and became President of the Church at a later date.

The Reliability of the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon is the most correct book.

President Joseph Smith on Sunday, November 28, 1841, said:

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book. (History of the Church 4:461)

Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith said in answer to a question about changes to the Book of Mormon:

In the case of the Book of Mormon, your attention is called to the fact that the publisher of it was unfriendly to the Church. It required the utmost care on that account. Being unfriendly, it would have been a natural thing for him to permit some errors to appear. A careful check of the list of changes submitted by these critics shows there is not one change or addition that is not in full harmony with the original text. Changes have been made in punctuation and a few other minor matters that needed correction, but never has any alteration or addition changed a single original thought. As it appears to us, the changes mentioned are such that make the text clearer and indicate that they were omitted. I am sure that the mistakes or omissions in the first edition were in large measure the fault of the compositor of the printer. (Answers to Gospel Questions 2:200)

A comparison of a first edition (1830) of the Book of Mormon with the present edition will show that many of the changes were indeed relatively minor, as Mr. Smith said, but many were not. A detailed analysis will show that almost 4,000 changes were made, and a number of them were significant. The original thought was changed, and the changes were not in full harmony with the original text. A full analysis has already been completed in the book 3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. They photocopied every page in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and clearly marked the differences between it and the 1964 edition. Some of the changes are illustrated below. The Tanners’ book, on page 17 of their text and page 26 of the photocopy of the Book of Mormon, discusses the change made to what is now 1 Nephi 11:32 (chapter 3, p. 26 of the original Book of Mormon). Using a photocopy of the original handwritten manuscript, they clearly demonstrate that the original manuscript and the first edition agreed. The printer of the first edition did not introduce changes that needed correction. It was the changes introduced later by the LDS Church that were significantly different from the original handwritten manuscript.

Many of the changes made to the original edition of the Book of Mormon were corrections in spelling, grammar, and arranging the book into chapter and verse. None of these types of changes will be included in the few examples given here. But if several of the witnesses to the events leading to the publishing of the Book of Mormon are correct, then one has to wonder why even these changes were needed.

How Was the Book of Mormon Translated?

David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses whose statement is found in the Introduction of the Book of Mormon, had this to say concerning how the Book of Mormon was translated from the gold plates:

I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man. (An Address to All Believers in Christ, David Whitmer, Richmond, Mo., 1887, p. 12)

This same quote is used and accepted by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his article “A Treasured Testament” in the July 1993 Ensign, page 62.

Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith, had a similar observation to share with her son Joseph Smith III when she said: “In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it … ” (Saints’ Herald, 1 October 1879, pp. 289–90; also in History of the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Independence, Mo.: Herald House, 1952, p. 356, as quoted in “The Translation of the Book of Mormon,” The Word of God, James E. Lancaster, Signature Books, 1990, pp. 98–99)

“The Translation of the Book of Mormon” also reports on page 103 that Oliver Cowdery’s widow, Elizabeth (David Whitmer’s sister), along with Michael Morse (Emma Smith’s brother-in-law), also supported the reports of Emma Smith and David Whitmer. This same article, on page 105, arrives at the conclusion that only the first 116 pages of the translation, the ones lost by Martin Harris, 3 were translated by the use of the Urim and Thummim, 4 and that the rest were done by means of the seer stone, as described above.

If the Book of Mormon were truly the product of such divinely guided translation work, it would seem reasonable to expect that no changes at all should be found in subsequent editions. With this in mind, consider the changes documented in the next few pages.

Code Names in the Early Mormon Scriptures

Code names were used in some early Mormon scripture verses in place of actual names of people and places. Even Jesus Christ had other names. Except for the Lord’s name, only the code names were used in certain sections of the 1835 D&C. Sometime later, newer editions of the D&C used the code names and real names together. Finally, in the 1981 edition the code names were dropped entirely. 2 By whose authority were code names used? By men, according to Apostle Orson Pratt. He reported that the code names were not in the original manuscript revelations but were added before printing because of “persecution” in Kirtland 3 and regions nearby (Journal of Discourses 16:156). Jesus Christ is allegedly the source of the D&C (see D&C 1:2–6). Couldn’t he in 1832 to 1834, when the revelations were allegedly given, anticipate that in 1835 code names would have to be used due to “persecution”? (It then took over 145 years to return the wording back to the original revelation.)

The present edition of the D&C 1:2 and the 1835 D&C 1:1 both say, “the voice of the Lord is unto all men.” In Luke 8:17 the Lord said, “Nothing is secret … neither any thing hid.” How could the 1835 D&C be unto all men if codes were used to hide information?

{D & C = The Doctrine and Covenants}

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