Friday, July 20, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 3

“How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel?  By His contradicting a former revelation.”  -Joseph Smith (TPJS, p. 214).

It is important to examine the time period after President Woodruff’s death. His statement that the President would never lead the saints astray becomes problematic to any serious student of Church history.  It is problematic retrospectively, as we have discussed, but also prospectively.  It later becomes problematic, for instance, when President Heber J. Grant changes the way the priesthood is given to the men in the Church.  That change remained in place for over two decades until a future president of the Church changed it back. 

Woodruff’s statement is also troubling when considering the changes that are subsequently made to the temple ordinances; not additions to, or clarifications only, but the removal of certain of the higher ordinances, and alterations to portions that we are taught are most sacred.
The Church leadership later returned to the original way in which priesthood was conferred, fearing the procedure had been changed in error.  It also once again began administering the higher ordinances of the temple after much concern among some of the apostles and a temple president.  Their concerns were a matter of continued discussion in meetings of the twelve.

I’ve wondered what President Woodruff would say about President Kimball’s statement regarding Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings.

“We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some General Authorities of past generations, such, for instance is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine" (President Spencer W. Kimball during Priesthood session of general conference, Church News, 9 Oct 1976).

I’d be particularly interested to hear how President Woodruff would respond (I have a good idea how Brigham Young might respond) to this statement from Bruce R. McConkie:

“Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation…If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines we are making an election that will damn us" (From a letter to Eugene England dated 19 Feb 1981, p. 6).

I cannot presume to speak for him, but I cannot believe that President Woodruff would have agreed with these statements.  He had actually taken part in disciplinary councils considering the excommunication of Elder Orson Pratt for teaching the very same things that President Kimball and Elder McConkie taught (These trials and controversies cover an extended time frame and are well documented in Bergera’s Conflict in the Quorum).  

If, therefore, what President Woodruff intended to convey by saying that the Church President would never lead the saints astray was that no Church President would ever teach false doctrine, then he himself (and you and me) would have to conclude that he was wrong.  For, regardless of who was right or wrong, two Presidents taught two completely opposing ideas, and declared authoritatively what they were teaching to be the truth.  They cannot both be correct.  There are many other examples that could have been chosen.     

It’s also interesting to note that Bruce R. McConkie very apparently did not believe that the Church President was necessarily always going to be doctrinally accurate.  He believed and taught that Brigham Young was in error (noted above).  He also said that if we "choose to believe and teach the false portions of [Brigham Young's] doctrines we are making an election that will damn us."  Eliza R. Snow, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young are among the group who are, therefore, damned.  Yet, surprisingly, Elder McConkie didn’t teach that Brigham Young had led the Church astray by teaching false doctrine.  How is it that the Church President can teach a thing which, if believed, will damn a man, and not be leading the Church astray?  How far then would one have to go to lead the Church astray?  Who is the judge of this?  Can we really believe in this idea?

In using these examples from our history, I am not siding with one leader over another, or faulting one or the other, but illustrating contradictions.  The contradictions were real - they happened - are well-documented, and can teach you a whole lot about your religion.  They are the ones who were critical of and faulted one another's teachings.  

It may be difficult to some reading this to consider this discussion.  The reason that it is difficult is because we are confronted by the truth about these things, and the truth is not consistent with our expectations.  Our expectation is that we're led by men who will never lead us astray.  We should reconsider this belief.  It has no potential of bearing good fruit.  Christ has never advocated it.  It is called "trusting in the arm of flesh" in the scriptures.  Joseph Smith taught that when men advocate such "extreme notions" it is usually because they have it in their heart to do wrong themselves (Millennial Star, Volume 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595).


  1. JST Mark 9:40-48 seems to argue strongly for the proposition that those who see for us can be mistaken.

    Thanks for the blog and your comments.


    1. Not only can they be mistaken, but JST Mark 9:40-48 provides guidance on what we should do, if we find ourselves in the situation where those who see for us are mistaken.

      JST Mark 9:46
      46 And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.

      JST Matthew 23 is also informative:

      1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.

      2 All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, they will make you observe and do; for they are ministers of the law, and they make themselves your judges. But do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.

      Together, Mark 9 and Matthew 23 clearly place the "burden" on the individual to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21