Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Concept of Infallibility – Part II

Continuing with the misconception among some members and many critics and theorists of the infallibility of early Church leaders. 
    It should be no surprise to anyone that men, no matter who they are or what calling they hold, are men, subject to the frailties of men and human in all respects. That some, when called to important and sacred positions rise, for the most part, above their frailties is remarkable, but not to be misconstrued to mean that they rise above the point of making mistakes, either in their words or actions.
When the Lord called Moses, the 80 year old soon-to-be prophet replied, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Like many today, Moses was unwilling to serve when first called—he did not want to go and told the Lord that surely there was another who could fulfill such a calling.
    Even the greatest among us are still men with human feelings and concerns. Leaders and Prophets do not always speak for the Lord.
    As B. H. Roberts stated: “Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible” (Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48, November 28, 1887, pp760-763, quote from p762).
As editor, Charles W. Penrose (left), in his response to a lengthy statement by Judge Anderson, quotes from the same pamphlet which the Judge had quoted from (Blood Atonement, by Elder Charles W. Penrose, published in 1884), quoting a statement which the Judge had not: “’The law of God is paramount. When men give their views upon any doctrine, the value of those views is as the value of the man. If he is a wise man, a man of understanding, of experience and authority, such views are of great weight with the community; but they are not paramount, nor equal to the revealed law of God’” (Editorial: Judge Anderson and ‘Blood Atonement,’ Deseret Weekly 39. 25, December 14, 1889, pp772a-773c, quote from 773ab).
    Joseph F. Smith on July 16, 1902 stated to Lillian Golsan, "The theories, speculations, and opinions of men, however intelligent, ingenious, and plausible, are not necessarily doctrines of the Church or principles that God has commanded His servants to preach. No doctrine is a doctrine of this Church until it has been accepted as such by the Church, and not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority–the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints as a religious body. The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated until proper permission is given” (cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth, Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005, pp221–222. Also in Statements of the LDS First Presidency, compiled by Gary James Bergera, Signature, 2007, p121. Bergera indicates it is a letter from JFS to Lillian Golsan, July 16, 1902).
    On March 26, 1907 in the Millennial Star: “We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs, or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations and by our own actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith” (“An Address. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the World”, in Millennial Star 69. 16, April 18, 1907, pp241-247; 249-254; also in Improvement Era 10, May 1907, pp481-495; reprinted also in Messages of the First Presidency, Volume IV, compiled by James R. Clark, Bookcraft, SLC 1970, pp142-157, quote from p154).
Regarding the printed discourses of even leading brethren, B.H. Roberts (left) in 1921 stated: “they do not constitute the court of ultimate appeal on doctrine. They may be very useful in the way of elucidation and are very generally good and sound in doctrine, but they are not the ultimate sources of the doctrines of the Church, and are not binding upon the Church. The rule in that respect is—What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine. When in the revelations it is said concerning the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator that the Church shall “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them—for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith”—(Doc & Cov., Sec. 21)—it is understood, of course, that his has reference to the word of God received through revelation, and officially announced to the Church, and not to every chance word spoken” (Brigham H. Roberts, “Answers Given to ‘Ten Reasons Why Christians Can Not Fellowship with Latter-day Saints,’” discourse delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 10 July 1921; Deseret News, 23 July 1921, 4:7; Roberts' previous reply to the same pamphlet also appeared in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 5 pp134-141; first published in Millennial Star 58 (July 22, 1896): 417-20; 433-9).
    In addition, we find from the LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine": Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
Some of the information about the Church, no matter how convincing, is just not true. There was a controversial article published in 1985 in Time Magazine entitled: “Challenging Mormonism’s Roots.” It spoke of a recently discovered letter, supposedly written by Martin Harris, that conflicted with Joseph Smith’s account of finding the Book of Mormon plates (see Richard N. Ostlings, “Challenging Mormonism’s Roots,” Time, May 20, 1985, p44). The article quoted a man who said he was leaving the Church over the document. Later, others reportedly left the Church (See Gordon B. Hinckley, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, p52). Friends asked if this new information would destroy the Mormon Church; however a few months later, experts discovered (and the forger confessed) that the letter was a complete fraud.
    Unfortunately, some people question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church, one taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.
Even Jesus' apostles were not always perfectly humble or modest. They once disputed over which of them would be the greatest in heaven (Mark 9:34). Once again, men are men everywhere, including in the Church, no matter their calling—they are not perfect and do not claim to be. Nor do they claim that every word out of their mouth is the Word of God, though, depending on the position, some members seem to think so. We need to keep in mind, not even a prophet is a prophet unless he is acting as one, and what he has to say is ratified and voted upon by the Church.

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