Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fourteen Fundamentals

President J. Reuben Clark taught: "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation.  If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed" (Quinn, The Church Years, p 24.)

Many of the revelations that were given to Joseph Smith, and which we’ve preserved in the Doctrine and Covenants, were specific to him or to another person or group of people.  We’ve taken too much liberty in applying many of those scriptures to those who lead the church today.  

Examples of this can be found in a talk that was given in 1980 by Ezra Taft Benson (found here).  In that talk he used many scriptures to teach principles about the president of the Church that were revelations speaking specifically about Joseph Smith.  Though it is possible the Lord had every successive generation and its leaders in mind when the revelations were given, that is not indicated by the scriptures themselves.

His talk was given before he became the president of the Church, and not given in general conference.  Those seem to be two things many members of the Church like to call upon in attempts at establishing the authority of statements made by their leaders.  Statements made by general authorities in general conference have somewhere along the way taken on the status of scripture.  Since this talk was given to a group of BYU students it shouldn't conflict anybody's soul for me to point out areas with which I disagree.  You are as free as any other person to discern the truth or error of a message.                

The talk, entitled "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet," contains misleading ideas and false doctrines.  During the next few posts I'd like to focus on several parts of that talk to discuss some of those ideas.  This talk gave roots to ideas that have grown in popularity in the Church for a number of years.  It is still quoted in our conferences today (see here for just one example).

To be clear with words then, when discussing the "fourteen fundamentals" put forth in the talk I will replace the phrase "the prophet" with "the president of the Church," because that is what was meant by Elder Benson.  For example, the first "fundamental" he suggests is a "grand key" is that "The prophet [i.e. the president of the Church] is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything."  It should be clear to the reader that none of his points are referring to Joseph Smith when "the prophet" is used.  He is referring instead to the president of the Church.    

Whether you sustain the church presidents as prophets or not this distinction is helpful in understanding the ideas in the talk.  It will aide in your interpretation of the scriptures that he used to support his points.  

Before looking at this talk I will say this - President Benson's talks on the importance of the Book of Mormon are the best we have on record from any president of the Church.  Prayerfully considering those talks changed my life while I was serving as a missionary.  It is apparent to me he loved the Book of Mormon.  From those talks it appears he took seriously the warnings contained in the Book of Mormon given to the latter-day Gentile church.  It eludes me, however, how someone who appears to have taken the message in the Book of Mormon so seriously could teach so emphatically reliance upon the arm of flesh.    

You can read the talk on your own if you wish.  I will include large quotations from the original talk and offer commentary at the end of each post.

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