One of the most prominent differences between Latter-day Saints and mainstream Christianity is in how we each view the role of prophets. This in turn affects how we each view the scriptural cannon, where true doctrine comes from, and a score of other differences that are actually just different manifestations of this same issues. For members of the LDS Church, the concept of a modern prophet is perfectly acceptable and logical, and many bear testimony of how modern prophets have blessed their lives. Yet for some mainstream Christians, the LDS concept of a modern prophet can be anything from dangerous to absurd to just plain wrong.
Simon Peter and Joseph Smith
Ross Baron, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, set up what he called Community Firesides in his community of southern California, to respond to some anti-Mormon activities that were taking place in the area. His firesides were so successful that he has boiled his method down to ten principles that others can use to be successful.
He made a very important point in one of these firesides, a point that may help Christians not only see how Latter-day Saints view prophets, but also accept that the idea may not be as absurd or dangerous as they originally believed. Baron said,
“We were getting near the end of [a question and answer session]. The head pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church… stood up, and he said this:
He prefaced it by saying, “Well, I have the quote here that will definitively tell all of you here” –this is what he’s saying, kind of his opening statement– “about Mormonism and about how it’s false.” And he pulls out the quote from Brigham Young where [Young] said that unless we accept Joseph Smith, that we cannot gain salvation. And he said, “That’s utter blasphemy, and they claim to be Christians, but we know that that is absolutely false. How do you respond to that, Mr. Baron?”
I looked at him, and I said, “Well, can I ask you a question?”
And he said, “Certainly.”
And I said, “Imagine you’re living in AD 34. You’re in Jerusalem. It’s Acts chapter two. Peter is preaching about Christ and him crucified. You feel the spirit. Can you, sir, reject Peter’s testimony and accept Christ?“
And he went, “Um.”
And I knew I had him.
And I said, “That’s exactly how we feel about Joseph Smith: He’s a modern-day Peter. That’s exactly how we feel.”
Now, think about that. If he had said, “Yes, we can reject Peter and accept Christ,” then we throw the Bible out, right? If he says, “No, we can’t [reject Peter and accept Christ],” then he knows exactly the position Joseph Smith’s in.
The New Testament and General Conference
Twice a year, Latter-day Saints from all over the world will gather in meetinghouses and listen to the words from modern day prophets and apostles. It happens every six months, and it’s called General Conference. Members of the Church use this as an opportunity to, as David O. McKay said, “worship the Lord in sincerity and reverence, and to give and to receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction” (see “General Conferences Are Held for Specific Purposes“).
You can find similar purposes behind many of the books in the New Testament. In fact, most of the latter books in the New Testament are letters written to the various congregations scattered across the old world. The apostles on the earth at that time wrote those letters in order to do the exact same thing that modern apostles are doing with General Conference – to give and receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction. Latter-day Saints will look to their leaders who will declare, as did Peter of old, that “there is none other name under heaven given among men” than Jesus Christ “whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
And because we believe that they, like Peter, are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, we cannot accept the Savior while rejecting their counsel. We view them no differently than the original church viewed the apostles.
Accepting Joseph Smith
I thought it might be worthwhile to include a likely candidate for the quote reference by the Lighthouse Baptist Church above. In it’s entirely, it can be seen to be perfectly appropriate, and in line with the principles already discussed.
Brigham Young said,
“The time was when the test of a Christian was his confession of Christ. In the first Epistle of John 1 is written,
‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. And this is that spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is in the world.’
“This is no test to this generation, for all men of the Christian world confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This generation, however, is not left without a test. I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-Christ (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, pg 312-313).
President Young was correct. In this sectarian age, confession of Jesus Christ is not necessarily an indication that one has avoided false prophets, or that the church is of God. In this generation, the true test is whether or not we accept Joseph Smith, God’s chosen mouthpiece in this age, and each successive prophet since his day.