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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Questions for Fellow Christians to Consider: Why Would God Stop Communicating with Man?

Have you ever wondered why God regularly spoke to prophets in ancient times but (allegedly) has stopped doing so in our day? This question is central to an interesting dialog reported by an LDS Apostle, Hugh B. Brown, in "Profile of a Prophet" from the Oct. 1967 General Conference. The dialog was held with "a very prominent English gentleman, a member of the House of Commons and formerly one of the justices of the supreme court of Britain." The man was puzzled how any intelligent person could believe something so ludicrous as the story of Joseph Smith. Since both had legal backgrounds, they agreed to something of a legal approach to the matter. Here is an excerpt:
Because of time limitations, I can only give a condensed or abbreviated synopsis of the three-hour conversation that followed. I began by asking, "May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?"

"I am."

"I assume that you believe in the Bible -- the Old and New Testaments?"

"I do!"

"Do you believe in prayer?"

"I do!"

"You say that my belief that God spoke to a man in this age is fantastic and absurd?"

"To me it is."

"Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?"

"Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that."

"Did he speak to Adam?"

"Yes."

"To Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, and to others of the prophets?"

"I believe he spoke to each of them."

"Do you believe that contact between God and man ceased when Jesus appeared on the earth?"

"Certainly not. Such communication reached its climax, its apex at that time."

"Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God?"

"He was."

"Do you believe, sir, that after the resurrection of Christ, God ever spoke to any man?"

He thought for a moment and then said, "I remember one Saul of Tarsus who was going down to Damascus to persecute the saints and who had a vision, was stricken blind, in fact, and heard a voice."

"Whose voice did he hear?"

"Well," he said, "the voice said 'I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.'"

"Do you believe that actually took place?"

"I do."

"Then, my Lord" -- that is the way we address judges in the British commonwealth -- "my Lord, I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to men."

"I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era."

"Why do you think it stopped?"

"I can't say."

"You think that God hasn't spoken since then?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"May I suggest some possible reasons why he has not spoken. Perhaps it is because he cannot. He has lost the power."

He said, "Of course that would be blasphemous."

"Well, then, if you don't accept that, perhaps he doesn't speak to men because he doesn't love us anymore. He is no longer interested in the affairs of men."

"No," he said, "God loves all men, and he is no respecter of persons."

"Well, then, if you don't accept that he loves us, then the only other possible answer as I see it is that we don't need him. We have made such rapid strides in education and science that we don't need God any more."

And then he said, and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war, "Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why he doesn't speak."

My answer was, "He does speak, he has spoken; but men need faith to hear him."
The two then discussed the characteristics that one might expect a modern prophet to have, and Elder Brown then explained how those apply to Joseph Smith. Concluding, Elder Brown wrote:
I said to my friend, "My Lord, I cannot understand your saying to me that my claims are fantastic. Nor can I understand why Christians who claim to believe in Christ would persecute and put to death a man whose whole purpose was to prove the truth of the things they themselves were teaching, namely, that Jesus is the Christ. I could understand their persecuting Joseph if he had said, 'I am Christ,' or if he had said, 'There is no Christ,' or if he had said someone else is Christ; then Christians believing in Christ would be justified in opposing him. . . . Joseph said to the Christians of his day, 'You claim to believe in Jesus Christ. I testify that I saw him and I talked with him. He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. Why persecute me for that?'

"When Joseph came out of the woods where he had this vision, he had learned at least four fundamental truths, and he announced them to the world: first, that the Father and the Son are separate and distinct individuals; second, that the canon of scripture is not complete; third, that man was actually created in the image of God; and fourth, that the channel of communication between earth and heaven is open, and revelation is continuous."

The judge sat and listened intently. He asked some very pointed and searching questions, and at the end of the interview he said, "Mr. Brown, I wonder if your people appreciate the import of your message. Do you?" He said, "If what you have told me is true, it is the greatest message that has come to earth since the angels announced the birth of Christ."

This was a learned judge speaking, a great statesman, an intelligent man. He threw out the challenge, "Do you appreciate the import of what you say?" He added: "I wish it were true. I hope it may be true. God knows it ought to be true. I would to God," he said, his voice trembling, "that some man would appear on the earth and authoritatively say, 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
The role of prophets and apostles was clearly meant to endure in the Church of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-14), as well as prophetic gifts. When mainstream churches today declare that there is no longer a need for prophets, I can understand their desire to justify themselves, but such a statement flies in the face of the Bible and utterly defies logic. How great is our need to hear the voice of the Lord, to receive divine counsel through His prophets in our day. Prophets have been called, God does speak, but as in days of old, faith is required on our part to hear the word of the Lord. Ignore it if you will, but God's work has not stopped, His means of speaking has not changed, and His words have not ceased. How grateful I am for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including the ancient offices of prophets and apostles appointed by God and divinely authorized to lead His Church.

28 comments:

Brian Duffin said...

Wonderful post, Jeff. I think sometimes we as Latter-Day Saints fail to fully appreciate the import of the message of the Restoration. I hope and pray that all Latter-Day Saints will be dilligent in sharing the message of the Restoration and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

On another online blog, I brought up the need for prophets on the earth today. One catholic poster replied:

To believe a man, any man, on his own, to claim he speaks for God goes against Heb 1:1, which states in olden times God spoke through the prophets, now God speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. How does Jesus speak to us today? The same way Christ did once He Ascended; via The Church, that is, if we are to believe the Bible.

That's the only explanation I've ever heard from a non-mormon. I replied to the person, but I'm interested to see how some of you would reply to that.

Anonymous said...

Extra credit for locating the latest over-the-pulpit record of 'Thus saith the Lord.'

Who and When was this last said?

Walker said...

If Hebrews 1:1 REALLY meant there was no more revelation, what was Paul doing writing the letter in the first place? If he was just another believer in Christ, then why would the Saints have valued his testimony more than good old Apollos next door ("Apollos" being the equivalent of "John Doe)? Paul was not, as he later points out (in the same letter, no less) that a man must be called of God. If Paul was not, then he was committing an act of high hypocrisy. Bottom line: If Heb. 1:1 limits revelation to Jesus Christ's mortal ministry, then Paul is cutting his own throat, theologically speaking.

will said...

Jeff, President Brown's talk is certainly interesting, but don't you think it poses some problems vis-a-vis our recent prophets? Do they all meet President Brown's minimal requirements, including:

- He will boldly but humbly declare, "God has spoken to me."
- He will simply but earnestly tell what he has seen and heard.
- He will boldly declare, "Thus saith the Lord!"
- He will predict future events in the name of the Lord, events that he could not control, events that only God could bring to pass.
- He will do superhuman things, things that only a man inspired of God could do.

Anonymous said...

I think the Compass Article published in Australia in 1997 with the Prophets interview says a lot about how our current Prophet receives revelation and guides the Church.

AlexG said...

Anon@4:15 & 4:37

Who wrote Heb1:1? Didn't Paul speak directly with Jesus Christ, after the resurrection? Did not Peter received a revelation on preaching the gospel after Christ had risen? Did not Christ said that he would send prophets and that we were to receive them? Did not Agabus prophesied on a drought and Paul's imprisonment? And furthermore, does not the Book of Revelation state that there will be two prophets in the land of Jerusalem that would die and resurrect? I would further ask, who speaks for Jesus Christ? The whole Church? The whole point of Hebrews 1:1 is precisely to convince them that prophets would still come to the Earth. Paul also mentions this to the Ephesians. The Church was founded on apostles and prophets so that the Church would not be tossed away. Consider the first Christians in Antioch. There are more prophets to come.

The extra credit would take an interesting view. I believe that the announcement of the Perpetual Education Fund, together with the construction of smaller temples could qualify for this, even though the phrase Thus said the Lord was not utilised.

Will, I believe that all modern day prophets have done that, in their own words. Consider Howard W. Hunter admonishing the Saints to hold a temple recommend. Said he: It would be pleasing unto the Lord that each member carried and possesed a current temple recommend. Or consider how Official Declaration 2 was given. Consider the edition of the Scriptures done by the Church. Now, if after those examples you do not believe that we have a living prophets that speaks to God and receive his will, I do not know what will satisfy you.

Anonymous said...

How is President Brown able to relate a conversation in such colorful detail given the fact that it occurred 28 years earlier?

Anonymous said...

Journaling immediately after the fact.

will said...

AlexG, I do believe that we have a living prophet that speaks to God and receives his will. I note, however, that Joseph Smith would seem to meet all of President Brown's minimal requirements, while his successors do not, which leads me to conclude that they are not prophets in the sense that President Brown is describing.

Which raises the point that Jeff's question isn't really hypothetical. Why doesn't God communicate to us through President Hinckley in the same way that he did through Joseph Smith? And why has he not communicated with so many people who have lived in times and places that preclude accessibility to a prophet? If Jeff has an answer to his titular question, I'd be interested to hear it.

Ian said...

I think that the lord could speak through President Hinckley the way he did through Joseph Smith or any of the other Modern Day Prophets, but he chooses not to. I think that the time for prophecy like Joseph Smith received it is not currently needed. There is other work for the modern prophets to do. It seems that each Prophet has had their own distinct mission. There may come a day when the current prophet will prophecy in the same manner that Joseph Smith did.

Besides, the presidents of the church are not only Prophets but seers and revelators as well. Just my two cents.

Bookslinger said...

Ian,
Why doesn't Pres Hinckley prophesy like Joseph Smith? Look where it got Joseph Smith.

Even Brigham Young didn't prophesy like JS. I think Brigham Young said something like Heber was better at prophesying, or that Heber was his prophet.

In "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Brigham Young" he said something like "Blessed is he who obeys a direct commandment, but more blessed is he who obeys without a direct commandment."

And I think it would follow that the punishment is greater for disobeying a direct "thus saith the Lord" type order than for disobeying what the prophets encourage or urge us to do.

Did anyone catch Pres Hinckley's choice of words a couple years ago in regards to family home evening? (italics mine) "We encourage parents in the strongest terms possible to keep Monday night sacred."

Bookslinger said...

Actual quote was: "And we urge, in the strongest terms possible, that fathers and mothers regard most seriously this opportunity and challenge to make of Monday evening a time sacred to the family."

October 2002 conference, (Nov 2002 Ensign), and also in First Presidency message in Ensign March 2003.

AlexG said...

Will:

Good points you raise. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that much of the revelation received after Joseph Smith was 'tactical', i. e., it enables the Church to operate within the needs of the day. Much of the doctrinal revelation was received when the Church was established. I guess that Joseph, as the head of this dispensation, received an overflowing of revelation and doctrine that was needed in order to establish the Church and restore the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not think that revelation ceased with him, but he got the majority of it down. Still, Official Declaration 1 and 2 did not come to Joseph Smith. David O. McKay would have loved to receive the permission to lift the ban on the priesthood but, alas, it was Spencer W. Kimball. Lorenzo Snow prompted the Saints to pay full tithing to bless themselves and the Church. Joseph F. Smith received the vision of the preaching of the Gospel to the dead. I do not measure the importance of a prophet in the number of revelations. Consider how Christ refered John the Baptist as the greatest of all the prophets. I think that the minimal requirements President Brown was discussing were intended to Joseph Smith and his calling as a prophet. Since his counterpart did not believe that God would speak to a man such as him, President Brown was making the case for Joseph Smith, not necessarily for all latter day prophets.

A while ago, a friend was investigating the Church and raised a similar issue. What makes a prophet a prophet. He said that Moses drove out of Egypt the children of Israel, Noah built an Ark, so what was the measure of a prophet. The answer was that God has a specific task for each one and none can be consider greater for the magnitude of their task.

I have often pondered on President Howard W. Hunter's ministry. It was so short, but it was sufficient to make people realise the importance of the temple and make people have a temple recommend. President Hinckley once said that his biggest fear is to be remembered as the prophet no one heard. It would be tragic if it were true.

I do not measure any prophet against another, it is quite futile. All men called to be prophets have had a specific task the Lord imposes on them.

Bookslinger said...

Do we really want more "thus saith the Lord" type pronouncements from the 1st Presidency? Would we obey them?

We already make excuses for not doing what the prophets admonish us to do. If we neglected to do those things even after the prophet used the "thus saith the Lord" prefix, we would have no excuse, and greater condemnation would come upon us.

Like someone mentioned recently, we would probably turn it into a "Simon Says" game, rationalizing: "He didn't say 'Thus saith the Lord' about the earing thing, so I don't have to do it."

The more I think of it, the better the current way of prophets speaking to us is. We get more of a blessing by following the prophet's counsel without a direct commandment, and if we disregard it (for whatever reason) the condemnation is less.

On the other hand, if we were commanded, the blessing would be less, and the condemnation greater.

will said...

I'm not questioning the authority or effectiveness of our modern prophets. What I'm doing is pointing out some fundamental problems with President Brown's argument:

1) The argument rests on the claim that it would be unreasonable for God to stop sending prophets, but the Apostacy gives the lie to that claim.

2) Recent prophets don't meet all of President Brown's requirements.

Walker said...

Will:

1) Simply because we didn't have prophets for a long period of time during the apostasy does not compromise God's standard operating procedure. Indeed, Brown himself noted that one possible reason God does not send prophets is because "we don't need him anymore." While Brown was using this argument in a different context, one definitely juxtapose this argument to the time period of the Nicene creed (often cited as the epitome of the great apostasy, though it obviously was not the beginning), as the philosophizing at Nicea was more result of theological machinations than it was prayerful revelations.

2) All but (perhaps) the thus saith the Lord characteristic are arguably true. Now keep in mind, Brown was probably had this in mind, as he himself had not heard such a revelation with his own ears. Obviously, he was referring to something different than a mere utterance of "thus saith the lord"

will said...

Walker,

1) President Brown's argument was a reductio ad absurdum in which he assumed that God had stopped calling prophets and then showed that the assumption was absurd. By positing a reason for God to stop calling prophets, you render Brown's argument invalid.

2) I'm interested to know how the requirements I mentioned in my first comment apply to our recent church presidents. Of course, it's possible to dilute Brown's definition of a prophet by interpreting the requirements very broadly, but then how would those requirements distinguish Joseph Smith from other religious leaders?

Regarding President Hinckley as prophet, it seems to me that the only clear distinction between him and everyone else is that he is authorized to lead the church. But this definition of prophet seems very different than President Brown's.

Walker said...

Will:

You overgeneralize (and might I say, absurdify) his arguments. Please note that Brown himself was simplifying his 3-hour long brief for the confines of a 40 minute talk. Also note his audience--thousands of BYU students most of whom understand the principles of the Apostasy as they were taught since childhood. Brown had no need to discuss the fact that God had once stopped calling prophets, as that was a given. I would be very willing to suppose, on the other hand, that Brown discussed the Apostasy in some depth with the jurist. It would odd if he did not, considering that he discusses Saul and Joseph Smith without ever connecting the two. If we can take Brown's story at face value (which I believe we should), then a jurist of such intellect would hardly let such a major question of the Apostasy slip under the rug.

Additionally , at no time did Brown suggest that a cessation of the prophetic mantle was fundamentally opposed to God's standard operating procedure. Rather, Brown was focusing the prophetic profile of the recent past, an entirely appropriate method given his purpose of teaching the nature of prophets.)

As to our recent prophets, President Hinckley fits all of your criteria. Example ("God has spoken to me"): when Pres. Hinckley spoke of the need to increase convert baptisms, he referred to his fear of taking back such low numbers to the Lord. While not a verbatim restatement of Brown, it fits the concept of personal communion with Deity, which is what we are really looking for.

As to the "thus saith the Lord" concept, I have not heard President Hinckley repeat those words verbatim. But that is not what Brown's talk requires conceptually. It requires that he "speak in the name of the Lord" which I have heard President Hinckley do on several occasions (using the phrase, "in the name of the Lord, I bless you..." etc.)

There are more examples, however I am pressed for time now.

will said...

Walker,

Your point about the cursory nature of President Brown's synopsis is a good one. As summarized, one could replace his thesis with the claim, "There never was an Apostacy," and his logic would apply equally well. I'm sure that he presented a more rigorous argument than this in his actual conversation.

Regarding Brown's (not mine) criteria, as I said before, they can be interpreted so broadly that they become impotent. For instance, if we can equate "Thus saith the Lord" with "in the name of the Lord", then I fulfill that requirement with every prayer I offer and every lesson I teach, and the requirement seems vacuous.

Walker said...

While I admit this question of "thus saith the Lord" is not as clear cut as Pres. Brown's talk, I do believe that Pres. Hinckley fits the criteria and in a very specified way. When I close my prayers, I am requesting a favor, contingent upon Father's will. However, when Pres. Hinckley promises something in the name of the Lord to the entire Church, that is quite a different matter. It is not a request of heaven, hoping that we will receive the blessings. It is a promise, only contingent upon our righteousness. I could never do such a thing with authority (at most, if I were in a position of stewardship, I could do so for my quorum, ward, stake, etc.)

Conceptual comparison is the key to understanding Brown's talk, in my opinion. If you hold up his "profile" to be an in-depth, nuanced catch-all description (which I don't think it was meant to be; the word "profile," after all does mean "outline), only then does it run into problems.

will said...

As we're now dealing with subjective interpretations, I'm going to bow out and thank everyone for the discussion and for putting up with my contrary attitude.

Thanks all.

Anonymous said...

At what point was this apostasy complete?

AlexG said...

Anon @3:37

The apostacy was a gradual period. There is no timestamp on which you can say that the apostacy was complete. Since early the first century, the early church fathers were dealing with the apostacy. Even in the Apostles' days. Consider the pauline epistle to the Galatians. Paul is charging them with preaching another Gospel, that was not in line with the apostles. Therefore, it is not clear when this ocurred.

My personal believe is that near the third or fourth centuries, there was such a division, such falling away from the original doctrines that that could be considered where the apostacy was 'complete'. It should be said that even though the authority was gone to receive revelation for the whole Church, not all truth departed from the Earth. I would have a conflict calling a 'complete' apostacy, because that would indicate that the truth left the face of the Earth. But certainly the authority and the possibility to receive new revelations, which is the fundament of the Church, was gone of the Earth.

Bookslinger said...

My understanding is that we draw a dividing line at the point when the last ancient apostle died, other than John who was translated. That is the dividing point at which the divine authority was gone.

But you're right that the loss of correct beliefs was gradual, and never 100% lost as some correct beliefs still remained.

Anonymous said...

DR: As the world leader of the the Church, how are you in touch with God? Can you explain that for me?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I pray. I pray to Him. Night and morning. I speak with Him. I think He hears my prayers. As He hears the prayers of others. I think He answers them.

DR: But more than that, because you’re leader of the Church. Do you have a special connection?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I have a special relationship in terms of the Church as an institution. Yes.

DR: And you receive........

Gordon B. Hinckley: For the entire Church.

DR: You receive?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Now we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.

DR: And this is a Revelation?

Gordon B. Hinckley: This is a Revelation.

DR: How often have you received such revelations?

Gordon B. Hinckley: Oh, I don’t know. I feel satisfied that in some circumstances we’ve had such revelation. It’s a very sacred thing that we don’t like to talk about a lot. A very sacred thing.

Q: But it’s a special experience?

Gordon B. Hinckley: I think it’s a real thing. It’s a very real thing. And a special experience.

ltbugaf said...

Anon @3:37:

"At what point was this apostasy complete?"

Answer: Some point before the Restoration. Prior to Spring 1820.

In my opinion that's the most complete answer anyone can give with authority, although there's plenty of evidence of apostasy being widespread long, long before that.

Anonymous said...

someone posted this statement and I want to know where they got it from, or when pres. hinckley said it...."President Hinckley once said that his biggest fear is to be remembered as the prophet no one heard."