STEVE - I am a a life long member (over 30
years). During the last year I have taken a real
interest in Church History. Unfortunately, this has
given me more questions than answers. I am
really struggling with things that latter day
prophets have said and done. Many prophecies just
have not stood the test of time. I thought
my study of Church History would strengthen my
testimony. However, I find myself looking at Church
Leaders and feeling that their teachings
are more opinion, and less prophecy. Do you have any
insight that might help me reconcile the imperfect
teachings of prophets with my image of
a prophet that teaches only God's truths? I really
am sincere in my question.
JOEL - Of course the easy solution to your problem is to stop reading about church history. ("Doctor it hurts when I do this!" "Then don't do that") :-)
Seriously now, some historical events and stories will strengthen testimony, some won't.
Church history is composed of the lives and doings of imperfect people which, if our expectations are too high, can dissappoint and confuse us at times.
On the other hand, God's perfect doctrines and commandments inspire faith and build our testimonies as we reap the blessings obtained by living them. The primary source of our testimony should be from obedience to the laws, doctrines, and teachings of God; not church history.
I am sure you have heard it said before; "I do not have a testimony of church history; I have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
See this article
A lot of how one reacts to Church history depends on attitude. Those who go into it with the attitude that nothing they read will ever shake their testimony, can study and gleen those things that are helpful and put those things aside for now that might be questionable; knowing that in the end God will straighten it all out.
Others who do not treat it this way may allow those few questionable things to plant destructive doubts in their minds that may enlarge to the point where those things become more important than the gospel itself.
You say, "I am really struggling with things that latter day prophets have said and done." I'm sure President Monson himself has felt the same way about some of the things he has said and done during his life.
Part of the problem we have sometimes is unfairly expecting perfection from Church leaders. Even divinely called prophets are still mortal human being subject to errors. God does not completely take over a prophets mind and cause him to do and say everything perfectly. They do not receive a steady stream of direction from God on every trivial matter. Some may think that our prophets are constantly having visions and are cummunicating with God face to face on a regular basis; but that's just not true. Prophets and other Church leaders must also live by faith just like the rest of us.
One of the reasons why there is a First Presidency and 12 Apostles is so that when the prophet does receive new revelation, it can be confirmed by the other 14 prophets, seers, and revelators that it is truely God's will for the church.
As we learn from the Bible, prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ can make mistakes, commit sins, and be deceived by others. Your "image of a prophet" might not be consistant with that described in the scriptures. Paul said:
"For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Cor. 1:26-27).
There are many examples of foolish and weak men who were called to be prophets. For example:
- Noah lay naked in a drunken stupor (Gen. 9:21), and yet he is described as "a just man and perfect in his generations" (Gen. 6:9).
- Moses, violently killed an an Egyptian (Ex. 2:11-14), and was pohibited by God from entering the promised land, yet he was God's choice as the redeemer of Israel.
- Jonah, who fled from God's presence (Jonah 1:3), was nevertheless the man whom God chose to deliver his message to Nineveh.
- Peter's pitiful denials of the Master (Luke 22:54-62) didn't prevent him from becoming the leader of the new church.
Joseph Smith said:
"Although I was called of my Heavenly Father to lay the foundation of this great work and kingdom in this dispensation, and testify of his revealed will to scattered Israel, I am subject to like passions as other men, like the prophets of olden times." [History of the Church, Period I, vol. v, p. 516.]
In light of Paul's observation that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23), we must realize that we imperfect people are all God has to do his work.
We sometimes also judge the conduct of past church leaders based on today's current culture, doctrines, and comandments. There were a lot of things members of the early church did that we don't do now, based on the "line upon line" method that God uses to govern His children. For example, Joseph Smith and other early church leaders drank wine and beer on occaision. Joseph Smith even had a bar in his home to offer drinks to traveling visitors. But it wasn't till long after Joseph Smith died that God asked us to more strictly live the Word of Wisdom as we do now.
In February of 1843, Joseph Smith corrected someone who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet," instead explaining that "a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such"(Joseph Smith History). Sometimes church leaders might not be acting as a prophet when they express an opinion. The only source of official church doctrine and prophecy is found in the scriptures and what our prophets tell us at General conference or what we read in official church lesson manuals. Many other things might be merely opinion that would be in our best interest to follow. A prophet does teach God's truths when he is acting as a prophet and even his opinion may be God's truths as well. However, this we must discern ourselves by study and prayer to receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost to know how such opinions correctly apply to us.
There are many subjects about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders, both past and present. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.
These opinions and personal interpretations can lead to "imperfect teachings" as you say. I am confident however that God will not allow any incorrect opinions to impede our journey towards salvation.
You would have to be a little more specific as to which prophecies you believe "have not stood the test of time". Perhaps you just need to give them a little more time?
When a prophet is acting as an inspired prophet of God none of his prophesies will fail and no revelations will be wrong. However, we may not recognize how or when the prophecy is fulfilled nor understand the full meaning of a revelation until at a later time.
We also must remember that God has the final say, and can change how things come about to suit His purposes. There are instances throughout the Bible where prophesies of Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah, Jesus, and Paul appeared to be unfulfilled.
For example, Jonah prophesied that the people would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4) - no loopholes were offered, just imminent doom. God changed things, however, when the people repented and He chose to spare them - much to the chagrin of that imperfect (yet still divinely called) prophet, Jonah. Jonah, in fact, was "displeased ... exceedingly" and "very angry" (Jonah 4:1) about this change from God, perhaps because it made Jonah look bad. In spite of an "incorrect" prophecy and in spite of the obvious shortcomings of Jonah, he was a prophet of God and the Book of Jonah in the Bible is part of the Word of God.
I hope some of what I have said was helpful. I also have studied church history, but I do it cautiously; knowing that what I read may have been influenced by the following:
- the source of the information
- missinformation, inaccuracy, inuendo
- people promoting their own agendas
- exagerations or outright lies
- faulty or selective memories of those writing things down many years after the fact.
- historical myths
- personal opinions, perceptions, and bias of the author
- information taken out of context
- the time, culture, conditions of the church and people at the time.
- progress of the church and established doctrines at the time it was written
- my own opinion, personality, and understanding and interpretation of what I am reading
Realize that all I have said here is my opinion based on my own expereince and study. My advice is to continue to study church history if you want; but as I said earlier just don't try to let it be the source or foundation of your testimony.
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