Thursday, September 10, 2015

Revelation, Authority, and Popular Prepper Prophets

I recently had a rather disturbing conversation with a friend. Through people in his LDS ward, he has begun listening to and reading material of an alarming nature regarding cataclysmic events that are prophesied to occur in the very near future. Prophesied by whom? In the answer to that question lies the rub.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a long history of being guided by divine revelation. The church's earliest origins lie in revelation. Today revelatory experience is encouraged and is to be relied upon at every level in the church from the youngest Primary child to the president of the church.

This central feature of the church, however, comes with a qualifier. It is not simply revelation that is important. It is authoritative revelation that is the church's guiding principle. In D&C 132:8 the Lord said that His house (i.e. church) "is a house of order ... and not a house of confusion." Accordingly, church members are authorized to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom they have authoritative stewardship, but not for others. Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
Revelation continues in the Church: the prophet receiving it for the Church; the president for his stake, his mission, or his quorum; the bishop for his ward; the father for his family; the individual for himself.
Of course, revelation doesn't just come to men. Last year Pres. Henry B. Eyring explained how his mother received revelation for her family. A few days ago I listened as a ward Relief Society president described revelation she had received for those for whom she has responsibility.

My friend finds some of the people to whom he has been listening to be very convincing as they describe their revelations and give their interpretations of those revelations. I do not doubt that these people have received revelations. But I do question their sources and their insistence on broadly publishing their experiences.

Joseph Smith had to tackle the problem of well meaning church members teaching unauthorized revelations when the Church was less than half a year old. The Lord revealed how this was to be handled in D&C 28 (consider especially verses 2-3, 6-7, 11-13). Joseph Smith taught (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 21):
[I]t is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one [else], to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.
Later in D&C 42:11 the Lord said:
Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
My friend is quick to point out that the prophets he has been listening to — he didn't call them prophets, but they fit the definition of a prophet — admonish church members to listen to their priesthood leaders. They say they are only telling people to get their emergency kits and food/clothing storage ready, just as church leaders have admonished for decades.

Oh, and "listen to me and buy my stuff." Even if fortune is not involved, fame surely is. I doubt my friend would countenance my crass take on the matter, insisting that these people only want to use the gifts the Lord has given them to help others. But there is a name for setting oneself up as a light outside of the authorized pattern. It is called priestcraft.

Elder Boyd K. Packer also warned, "Know this: There are counterfeit revelations which, we are warned, “if possible … shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (JS-M 1:22)"

Over the years I have seen many popular but unauthorized prophets come and go. Frequently they have forecast dire events in the near future, often right after the next general conference. I think the first time I listened to one of these people was in the late 1970s. This person interpreted their visions in the framework of the Cold War, insisting that it would become a hot war that would doom all but the few that were prepared. It worked out differently.

In the 1980s I became aware of several of these prophets that foresaw the rapid demise of the US monetary system. When Black Monday 1987 shook up investment markets, followers of these prophets were certain that the prophecies were coming true. I watched one man destroy his retirement savings in an attempt to ensure that his family could weather the coming storm. He achieved the exact opposite of what he intended.

These prophets sometimes suggest that the church is undertaking unusual emergency preparations. From time to time Church spokespeople have denied that the church was doing anything other than what it has always prudently done. But this does not stop the popular prepper prophets from regularly popping up and drawing a following, often preaching to standing-room-only crowds. It seems that Paul was right about church members turning away from "sound doctrine" to those that they think can scratch their "itching ears" (1 Tim 2:3-4).

Church leaders have made it clear that even when people do receive revelations that seem to be useful to others for whom they have no official stewardship, it is incumbent on them to keep it confidential within their stewardship. Some may have grand and glorious visions, but these are generally given for the private enrichment and perhaps for close family members.

Those that receive such revelations open themselves and others up to Satan's deception when they publish these private experiences. At any rate, we ought to see red warning flags anytime we see somebody violating this principle. One church leader has suggested that "God does not reveal himself to blabbermouths."

FAIRMormon has a good page that deals with this topic. Among the quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith listed on the page are the following:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There have been individuals, from time to time, who have been invited to go into the wards, in the sacrament meetings, priesthood classes, Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement organizations, and at times, for their special benefit, cottage meetings have been held where they might come and relate remarkable visions or revelations claimed by these individuals to have been given to them. All this is wrong.
One of the reasons that personal revelations are private is that telestial beings are rarely qualified to interpret them for others. It has been helpful for me to think of our telestial faculties as existing in a two-dimensional realm, compared to celestial beings that exist in a three-dimensional realm. Yeah, I know that's a very imperfect analogy, but bear with me here. After all, I am dealing with a telestial brain.

When God grants a revelation to a human, it's as if that 2D person is granted a limited glance into a 3D space. Not only does their 2D mind have difficulty comprehending it, they lack the 3D vocabulary to adequately describe it. Even prophets have challenges with this. That's why Lehi and Alma II said said, "... methought I saw ..." when describing their visions (see 1 Nephi 8:4Alma 36:32). Some revelations were crystal clear to Joseph Smith, yet our finest scholars still don't understand parts of them. Joseph puzzled about other revelations for years. Some he never recorded or spoke of to others.

When I received my patriarchal blessing (a revelation for my personal benefit), the patriarch explained that no one other than me — with divine aid — was qualified to interpret the words of the blessing. That included him (the patriarch), my bishop, my parents, and even the prophet himself. The same is true of other revelations given for personal use.

Nor do revelations that seem crystal clear always mean exactly what the prophet sees. A quick read of the Revelation of John ought to sufficiently reinforce this concept. John Taylor recorded an apocalyptic 1877 vision that certainly was never fulfilled as he clearly saw it. The Lord often communicates in symbols, analogies, and metaphors. Just as the patriarch was not qualified to interpret the blessing he gave me, those receiving private visions are likely unqualified to interpret their visions for others.

I can't say that the people my friend is listening to have it all wrong. Maybe the world will go down the tube right after October general conference. At any rate, it doesn't hurt anyone to prudently put together emergency plans and supplies as church leaders have long taught. Unless they are acting out of fear rather than faith.

But even if these people are right, I still have a problem with listening to them and giving them credence, because their pattern goes against the order of God's Kingdom on earth. Satan has a lot of practice leading people astray with large doses of truth promoted in the wrong way.

These popular prepper prophets may have the best of intentions. I can't see into their hearts. But I can say that their methods are problematic. My counsel to my friend is to leave the unauthorized prophets alone and cling to those the Spirit has confirmed to him to be the real thing.

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