But in spite of evidences of mortality among the prophets, we still maintained that they, like mortal and fallible Peter of old, were called of God, and that God does indeed speak in these days. This claim of a Restoration involving living prophets makes the Latter-day Saints stand out among Christian religions of our day. Our critics, on the other hand, almost universally insist that there is no need for prophets or a Restoration, that God has finished His work, that there was no Apostasy or loss of authority, that all we need is the Bible (mingled with their own diverse interpretations and extrapolations of its meaning to give us authoritative guidance from God), and that the Church of Jesus Christ has always been here on earth since New Testament times (just diffused in several thousand different forms, but most truly defined by that version that began in a corner of northern Europe during the sixteenth century).
So, for those critics who deny the need for a Restoration, here's a question I'd like to pose: If there was no apostasy in the Church of Jesus Christ, then what happened to prophets? They were a crucial part of the original Church. Why do we not have them today?
Some Christians claim that there was no need for prophets after the coming of Jesus Christ. This is a terribly misinformed belief, for the New Testament clearly and repeatedly reports that prophets and prophecy were integral parts of the original Church of Jesus Christ after Christ had ascended to heaven. For example, consider Acts 13:1-3:
1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.Using the gift of prophecy, leaders in the original Church received revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost - praying and fasting to be in tune with the Spirit - and received guidance about which people to put into certain callings in the Church. Those who were called were "separated" or set apart (that's the modern LDS term) through the laying on of hands. This little episode is characteristic of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, as it was characteristic of the original Church, and points to the importance of prophets and prophecy in the operations of the Church. Why don't we have anything like this in the other churches of the world that claim to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ? (Note: Some groups, such as Catholic and Orthodox churches, do have a form of laying on of hands for ordination, and a faithful Catholic writer explained to me that "prophets" in a sense still exist in that faith, though not as people who receive revelation from God, but as faithful people who "prophecy" by making statements of faith. I don't accept that definition as consistent with the Bible, but it is a factor to consider.)
2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Other Christians, being familiar with the obvious fact that prophets were present and active in the original Church, admit that they were needed then, but argue that we no longer need them nor new revelation of any kind now that the Bible is "complete" (see my Mormon Answers (LDSFAQ) page on the Bible for some tough questions on that issue). Observing that there churches no longer have prophets and apostles, or the gift of revelation, it's understandable that they would take this rather self-serving position. Any other position would imply that their form of Christianity was missing something -- that maybe there had been an apostasy or corruption of some kind in the past. But this is not a doctrine one can logically extract from the Bible, but a man-made doctrine to explain away an annoying problem.
Ironically, the belief that prophets and revelation aren't needed anymore now that we have the Bible is utterly unbiblical. Look at Ephesians 4:11-13:
11 And he gave some, apostles [i.e., some were ordained to be apostles]; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;Paul in Ephesians 4 explains that prophets and apostles are an integral part of the Church for the work of the ministry, and are needed until they succeed in bringing all the Church to a unity of the faith--something that clearly has not yet been achieved. Therefore, they are still needed, and in this day of lies and corruption and confusion, they are needed more than ever! (See also Amos 3:7.)
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
In Matthew 23:34, Christ also prophesied that he would send prophets to the people, but that these prophets would be rejected and killed (something all too familiar in LDS history):
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city...To clarify the time frame over which prophets would be on the earth, Revelation 11:10 also prophesies of two prophets in particular who, in the last days, will be killed in Jerusalem and be revived miraculously. If there are yet to be two prophets who will be killed in Jerusalem before the Second Coming of the Lord, who can anyone maintain that God would not have prophets on the earth after the time of Christ or after the "completion" of the Bible? How can anyone say that Latter-day Saints are unbiblical for believing that God would have prophets on the earth in these last days, when that's perfectly consistent with prophecy in the Book of Revelation?
One of the earliest Christian documents after the New Testament, The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (available in The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., translated by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by M.W. Holmes, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1989, pp. 149-158), shows that early Christians after the time of the New Testament still understood the significance of apostles and prophets. This document tells its readers to deal with "the apostles and prophets . . . in accordance with the rule of the gospel" (11:3, p. 155). It also speaks of prophets as "high priests" (13:3, p. 157), and contains other LDS concepts such as striving to become perfect (1:4; 6:2), reviewing basic doctrines with those about to be baptized (7:1), bishops and deacons who carry out the ministry of prophets of teachers (15:1), and enduring in faith to be saved (15:5). Apostles and prophets were a real influence in the original Church of Jesus Christ. Why should it not be the same today? Does any other Church offer this great blessing from the original Church, now restored on earth?
For more information, see my LDSFAQ page on prophets and prophecy. Also see my page on the Restoration.
Here are a couple of related bonus questions:
- Just where in the Bible does it say that there would be no more prophets after the Bible was complete?
- Just where in the Bible does it say that the Bible was complete? (And if you do point to a verse about the goodness and power of the scriptures, hoping to make it mean that the Bible was complete, why did God's servants keep writing additional verses, chapters, and books after writing a verse allegedly implying that the text was complete?)
- Where in the Bible does it say that God would cease following His ancient and well established pattern of speaking to man through His chosen prophets?