DO MORMONS ACCEPT THE WRITINGS OF MORMON LEADERS AS AUTHORITATIVE IN DEFINING MORMON DOCTRINE?
A MORMON CRITICISM:
“For members of the LDS Church, the only sources of absolute appeal for our doctrines are the Standard Works. In looking at your website, I couldn’t help but notice that none of the answers to the questions posed are resourced to the LDS Scriptures. If you are attempting to provide accurate information about the LDS Church, why not cite the LDS canon?
In a Sunday School manual published by the LDS Church in 1968 entitled, Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the preface reads:
‘The four volumes of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price – are called the standard works. This is an appropriate designation for these scriptures because, of the many books written on the subject of Mormonism, these four alone are authoritative and acceptable sources of Church doctrine and practice. In this sense they stand apart in a class by themselves. …Quite a number of these books on Mormonism have been written by General Authorities, some under Church auspices and some privately for personal reasons. Men such as Orson and Parley P. Pratt, James E. Talmage, B. H. Roberts, and John A. Widtsoe – to mention only a few of those no longer living – have made valuable contributions to our understanding of the restored gospel and Church. Over the years many worthwhile lesson manuals and articles in the Church periodicals have also appeared under the auspices of auxiliary organizations of the Church. But none of these works, good as they may be, have ever been accepted as defining the official doctrine of the Church. Even such classics as Talmage’s Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ are to be read in the light of scripture; even they were conceived and written as expositions on the scripture.
Writings by General Authorities and those authorized by the Church through its priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations contain much that is informative and inspiring and can be studied with profit, but they are not the official authoritative sources of Church doctrine. They are to be read for whatever value may be found therein and are to be interpreted in the light of the scriptures, the witness of the Holy Ghost, the continued guidance of the living prophet, and our own best thinking and experience. Let it be said again: The four standard works are in a class by themselves; they alone have been accepted by the Latter-day Saints as the written word of God to them.’ ”
Thank you for sharing with us your concern about the fact we quote the writings of various LDS leaders, instead of using the Standard Works (four books of LDS Scripture: Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) alone to define Mormon doctrine. While it is true that we often cite the writings of authoritative leaders of the LDS Church (such as James Talmage, John A Widtsoe, and Orson Pratt), it is certainly not true that we ignore the Standard Works of the Church. On the contrary, we strive to reference the Standard Works whenever possible to back up the citations we reference from Church authorities. One prime example of this is found in the following article where all of our claims about Mormon doctrine are derived solely from the Standard Works of the LDS Church:
- QUESTIONS FOR LDS ON THE IMPOSSIBLE GOSPEL OF MORMONISM — A Verse-by-Verse Presentation from LDS Scripture
While we strive to reference the Standard Works whenever possible, there are times when we must cite the publications of the LDS Church or the writings of various LDS leaders to provide a view of Mormonism that is unclear or completely absent in the Standard Works. While individuals, such as yourself, may criticize our use of these resources, we can’t help but notice the inconsistency in this criticism as you did the same thing when you wrote to us about your Church’s position on what constitutes “Scripture” for Latter-day Saints. You cited a Sunday School manual, instead of the Standard Works! Can you see the inconsistency in criticizing our use of LDS Church manuals to define the position of the LDS Church on certain matters?
Where in the Standard Works of the LDS Church does it say that the Standard Works (four books of Scripture) are “the only sources of absolute appeal” for the doctrines of Mormonism? On the contrary, LDS Church Manuals and the Prophets and Apostles of the Mormon Church have consistently affirmed the Mormon belief in “continuing revelation” through living Prophets and Apostles whose “words” become “scripture” for Latter-day Saints. Note the following quotes from LDS writings:
“Words of Our Living Prophets In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders.” –Chapter 10 “Scriptures”, Gospel Principles, 1995, p. 55
“WHAT IS SCRIPTURE? When one of the brethren stands before a congregation of the people today, and their inspiration of the Lord is upon him, he speaks that which the Lord would have him speak. It is just as much scripture as anything you will find written in any of these records, and yet we call these the standard words of the Church. We depend, of course, upon the guidance of the brethren who are entitled to inspiration. There is only one man in the Church at a time who has the right to give revelation for the Church, and that is the President of the Church. But that does not bar any other member in this Church from speaking the word of the Lord, as indicated here in this revelation, section 68, but a revelation that is to be given as these revelations are given in this book, to the Church, will come through the presiding officer of the Church; yet, the word of the Lord, as spoken by other servants atthe general conferences and stake conferences, or wherever they may be when they speak that which the Lord has put into their mouths, is just as much the word of the Lord as the writings of the words of other prophets in other dispensations.”—Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 186
“The Standard Works and Living Prophets Must Be Accepted or Rejected Together We should regard both the standard works and inspired declarations of living prophets as valid and necessary sources of truth. Occasionally misinformed members of the Church will maintain that, although they accept the standard works as divinely inspired, they are reluctant to give equal credence to pronouncements of the living prophet. Such individuals are pursuing an inconsistent course and ‘err, not knowing the scriptures’ (Matthew 22:29), for the scriptures themselves plainly testify of the fact that we must give heed to the living prophets. …Prophets have the right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded. …Must a Prophet Always Preface His Remarks with ‘Thus Saith the Lord’ for Them to Be Binding upon the Church? Unfortunately, some Church members place limitations on prophetic statements. Some will not accept anything as a genuine prophetic declaration unless it is prefaced by the phrase ‘thus saith the Lord.’ President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., demonstrated the fallacy of such a position: ‘There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord declares, “Thus saith the Lord,” the message may not be taken as a revelation. This is a false testing standard. For while many of our modern revelations as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants do contain these words, there are many that do not.’ (‘When Are Church Leader’s Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?’ p. 10.) ‘The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.” —Teachings of the Living Prophets, 1982, pp. 20-21
“Must a Prophet Always Preface His Remarks with **Thus Saith the Lord** If It Is to Be Binding upon the Church? A FALSE TESTING STANDARD There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ the message may not be taken as a revelation. This is a false testing standard.”—Living Prophets for a Living Church, 1974, p. 68
As you can see by the above quotes, our use of citations from General authorities within Mormonism to define and clarify Mormon doctrine is consistent with the LDS view of receiving “continuing revelation” from authoritative leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
This post is also available in: Spanish