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Monday, June 24, 2013

They flee when none pursueth: Debunking prophetic infallibility

Prophetic infallibility has been a recurring topic at LDSBlogs.org. A recent example is this Times and Seasons post: "And shall not lead astray: the Church and ‘infallibility’." Today, I would like to share some of my own thoughts about prophetic infallibility.

During more than 65 years as a Church member, I've never heard the Church claim its prophets are infallible. I've never heard any prophet claim to be infallible. I've never met a fellow Church member who believed that prophets are infallible. Therefore, I don't understand why some LDS bloggers feel the need to debunk prophetic infallibility. In my view, they flee when none pursueth.

It's true that Church members have high esteem for the words of the prophets, but that does not mean members view the prophets as infallible. Church members take seriously this scriptural command: "For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (D&C 84:44.)

On the day the Church was organized, the Lord gave instructions about how members should treat the words of the Prophet: "Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth." (D&C 21:4-5.)

Scripture warns of the day when "they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people." (D&C 1:14.)

The President of the Church is mortal, he is fallible. Yet he is sustained as the "prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." His counselors in the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles are also sustained as "prophets, seers, and revelators." When these fifteen men deliberate a question and come to a decision, that decision is sent forth by the Prophet. Then, as Nathan Eldon Tanner succinctly and correctly said, "the debate is over." (Ensign, Aug. 1979.)

God speaks in our day by the mouth of his servants the prophets. Those servants are the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Of them God says: "Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:38.)

Wilford Woodruff taught that the Prophet cannot lead the Church astray. He didn't say this was because prophets are infallible, rather he said the Lord simply would not allow it, the death of His servants being in the power and control of the Lord. Said Woodruff:

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty." (Official Declaration 1.)

Prophetic infallibility is false doctrine. There is no such thing. Members of the Church can hear God's word in the voice of His servants without believing those servants are infallible. They who debunk prophetic infallibility are fleeing when no one pursueth.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all comments that appear on this blog represent my opinion. Comments critical of the Church or its leaders are occasionally allowed for discussion purposes. Publication is not necessarily endorsement.

R. Gary

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6/24/2013 03:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does that include prophetic statements on evolution? I like your post. I just wonder if you haven't short-circuited yourself.

6/24/2013 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

I don't have a problem with any apostolic statement the Church has ever published about evolution. Because they are called of God to be his special witnesses, following the apostles and prophets is always a good idea.

6/24/2013 07:29:00 AM  
Anonymous James said...

How exactly are you defining "infallibility?" The T&S post goes into great length to parse out how Catholicism defines it, but it sounds like you're using it to mean something like "unable to sin." The actual meaning of infallible isn't far off from the LDS quotes you provided, so I don't think there's anything wrong with examining the similarities and differences between how Catholics and Mormons view authority just because we don't use the same word for it.

6/24/2013 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To support your statement that "prophetic infallibility is a false doctrine", do you have any examples of prophetic fallibility to share?

6/24/2013 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

James: Many times while we were raising our nine children we said, "Because I said so!" Whether by some logic we were right or wrong didn't matter. It was solely a question of authority.

God is our Father and whether by some logic we think He is right or wrong doesn't matter. We accept the prophet's words as if from God's own mouth because the infallible Almighty God has told us to.

Personally, I've never been too concerned about Papal infallibility. Heard a lot about it while in Germany on my mission. More important seems to be knowing who is authorized to speak for God.

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Anonymous: One example of prophetic fallibility would be Joseph Smith being rebuked by God for allowing 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript to be lost. (D&C 3:7.)

6/24/2013 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous James said...

Sounds like you believe in prophetic infallibility add long as we don't call it that.

6/24/2013 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff G said...

The Liahona wasn't infallible by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, Lehi's family was never counseled to simply travel in whatever direction they happened to think was right.

6/24/2013 09:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mormons do not believe in prophetic infallibility; in fact, the only person we know of that was infallible was Christ. By stating that the prophets are infallible, you are stating that the prophets are akin to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and they are not akin to Christ in that sense. Nor do I believe that R. Gary is trying to say that. In fact, he gave hard proof that Joseph Smith, one of the most famous prophets in church history, is fallible. Mormons do not believe that prophets are infallible, and we still believe that they are the mouthpiece of God, who is infallible. We cannot disregard statements of the prophets because they are fallible beings speaking for an infallible being. The prophets get direct revelation from God in all that they say to the Church, and they never make mistakes that God does not approve of without apologizing and changing the statement later on after the mistake has been made.

6/24/2013 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

I appreciate the last two comments (Jeff G and Anonymous).

6/24/2013 11:42:00 PM  
Anonymous James said...

You're not really addressing the issue here: Joseph Smith being chastened for losing the 116 pages isn't a relevant example because infallible doesn't mean incapable of sinning or doing wrong. Infallible means incapable of teaching false or incorrect doctrine when speaking in from the apostolic office. Many Catholics believe the pope is infallible by that definition. How is that any different than the standard you're holding LDS leaders to?

6/25/2013 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

James: The Times and Seasons post claims Mormons don't actually believe their prophet is fallible. That claim is false. Again, the issue is not whether the Prophet is incapable of error in expounding God's word. "For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth." (D&C 21:5.) It is God's responsibility to watch for and correct errors. It is our responsibility, even in the face of what we may think is error, to receive the Prophet's word as if from God's own mouth. There is no such thing as prophetic infallibility in the LDS Church, in any sense of the word.

6/25/2013 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous James said...

So in principle a prophet is fallible, but in practice he does not teach anything erroneous because God would not allow it. Am I interpreting you correctly?
Or are you saying that even if a prophet or apostle does somehow teach something incorrect, it's our responsibility to follow it regardless until God instructs a prophet or apostle to change course, and thus even a hypothetically erroneous doctrine is 100% reliable in terms of our salvation.

I'm just confused because it sounds an like you're saying "Prophets and apostles aren't infallible, they just can't teach false doctrine," which to me sounds like "Cars don't move fast, they just cover a lot of ground quickly." The concept is basically the same even if you choose different words!

So we're clear on our biases, I do accept that LDS prophets are fallible, and I believe there are instances where some leader or another has taught incorrect things (a tiny minority of the time, to be sure). You might disagree with my examples--in fact, I might be wrong because my interpretation of things if highly fallible! But to me, that's fallibility in practice, and I actually find it comforting, even if it complicates my religion. It means I don't feel obligated to harmonize every seemingly-incongruous statement that might come up, and it means that revelation is more meaningful because it can correct past errors. I get that your perspective may be different; I just feel like you're responding by rephrasing the same arguments.

6/26/2013 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

James: There is a difference between (a) the Prophet "does not teach anything erroneous" and (b) we accept the Prophet's teachings (right or wrong) as if from God.

In Mormonism, if the Prophet says, "Face east," the entire congregation turns to face east. In the following story there may have been members of the congregation who questioned the Prophet's morning sermon. But it would have been a form of spiritual rebellion to argue against it. These same members would surely have welcomed the afternoon sermon, but then those who had agreed with him in the morning may have needed extra faith in order to follow the Prophet in the afternoon.

Harold B. Lee: "There have been times when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you'd say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston's army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of general conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address the tempo of which was the exact opposite of the morning sermon." (Stand Ye In Holy Places, p. 110.)

Numbers 16, in the Old Testament, illustrates what I'm trying to say. (Click here for a Church lesson about Numbers 16.)

Neither the prophet nor his words are infallible. He may sin and his words may not correctly represent God. But if we are obedient to God, we follow the Prophet. Period.

P.S. At this point, I think we're both rephrasing the same arguments to some extent. But I appreciate your interest and persistence.

6/26/2013 05:46:00 PM  

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