Routine Prophecy in a Church

In the lifetime of Joseph Smith, there were more than 100 revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.  In the past 120 years, we’ve had only the vision of Joseph F. Smith (section 138), and 2 Official Declarations added–the Manifesto, and the elimination of the ban on black members to receive the priesthood.  There are many on the bloggernacle that complain that we don’t have enough revelation.

On the other hand, the RLDS has continued to add to their version of the Doctrine and Covenants.  Most recently, they added section 164–a revelation on gay marriage and recognition of non-RLDS baptisms into their church.  The 164 Sections of the Community of Christ’s Doctrine and Covenants break down as follows:

  • Sections 1–113 (includes 108A) — From the presidency of Joseph Smith, Jr. (1828–1844)
  • Sections 114–131 — From the presidency of Joseph Smith III (1860–1914)
  • Sections 132–138 — From the presidency of Frederick M. Smith (1914–1946)
  • Sections 139–144 — From the presidency of Israel A. Smith (1946–1958)
  • Sections 145–152 (includes 149A) — From the presidency of W. Wallace Smith (1958–1978)
  • Sections 153–160 — From the presidency of Wallace B. Smith (1978–1996)
  • Sections 161–162 — From the presidency of W. Grant McMurray (1996–2004)
  • Sections 163–164 — From the presidency of Stephen M. Veazey (2005– )

The following sections are not revelations, but letters, reports, statements, and so forth: 99, 108A, 109–113, and 123.

Based on the above, the number of revelations (accounting for sections that are not revelations) presented by each Community of Christ prophet, are as follows:

  • Joseph Smith II: 107
  • Joseph Smith III: 17
  • Frederick M. Smith: 7
  • Israel A. Smith: 6
  • W. Wallace Smith: 9
  • Wallace B. Smith: 8
  • W. Grant McMurray: 2
  • Stephen M. Veazey: 2

Bill Russell gave some interesting insights about the RLDS version of the Doctrine and Covenants in a 1993 Sunstone speech.  (The RLDS Church changed their name to the Community of Christ in 2001.)  I wanted to share his insights.  While a visible member of their church, he is hardly orthodox as you will see from the comments below.

During my childhood and college years, I was convinced that the church I became a member of by accident of birth happened to be the one true church on the face of the earth.  What luck! [audience chuckles]

I had a fascination with numbers.  Arithmetic was my strongest subject and it led me to calculate with the sense of awe, and I was about 6 when I did this, the statistical improbability of a person being fortunate enough to be born to the true church of Jesus Christ headquartered in Independence, Missouri.  I marveled at this.  In the RLDS Church we have weeklong family camps in the summer which provide some spiritual highs which were often called Mountaintop Experiences at the daily Prayer and Testimony meetings.  There is often a heightened, a gradual heightening of spiritual awareness and receptivity through religious experience that in past eras of American religion was called enthusiasm.

It was common for there to be at least one Prayer and Testimony meeting, usually late in the week in which one or more people would get up and utter a prophesy:  Thus saith the Lord unto my servant Roy Muir…. a buddy of mine that called really early, and Brother Muir would be told the good Lord’s current opinion of him.  Usually, the Lord was pleased with Brother Muir.  What an embarrassment it would have been if the Lord had been irked at Brother Muir and said so right in front of all of those people!  [audience chuckles]

The giver of the message from the Lord would usually be a high ranking church official, like a Stake President or Bishop, or a Seventy, or Patriarch.  Often the recipient of a prophecy would be a young man who had a potential to be a star in the church. Women weren’t often spoken to.  Men did the important stuff and they held the priesthood only in those days.  At the age of 19 I was called to the office of Priest in such a prophecy in a big camp meeting, a big church camp.  That first priesthood call isn’t automatic in my church, I got my call directly from On High in front of about 400 people.  But I have gained more self-awareness and religious insight as I reflect upon a prophecy given about 10 years earlier in a camp when I was about 9.

My father was the full-time paid pastor at the time at the 3 congregations in St. Joseph, Missouri.  He was having a difference of opinion with his Stake President, whom he considered a lazy bag of wind.  During a prayer service when the spirit was getting high, and prophecies were starting to flow, one high priest who was closely associated with the lazy bag of wind, got up and began to prophesy to my father: Thus saith the Lord unto my servant Melvin Russell….

As the Lord began to articulate his thoughts concerning Melvin Russell, Melvin Russell began to recognize that this high priest was telling him that God wanted him to knuckle under to the position that he was differing on with this lazy bag of wind stake president.  Well his prophecy might well have been labeled ‘Follow the Brother.’  My dad began to get hot under the collar, so hot that he got up and walked out of the large tent while the message of God was still in progress.  [audience chuckles]

Thus saith the Lord unto my servant Melvin Russell, Melvin ([shouts]) MELVIN!!! [audience chuckles]

Without saying so explicitly, my dad taught me specifically that claims to revelation should be critically examined.  If they don’t make sense to you, don’t believe them!  Trust the intelligence and judgment that God gave you, even over authoritative pronouncements allegedly issuing from on high.  More than once, when someone would prophesy at a reunion, dad would quietly tell family members, ‘I wouldn’t pay any attention to that.’  [audience chuckles]

My dad often criticized the revelations added to our Doctrine and Covenants, considering them not revelations at all.  In that tradition I have twice counseled our current president, W. Wallace Smith to cease having revelations.  [audience chuckles]  But do you think he would listen to me?!  On more than one occasion, dad chewed out the apostle who was his immediate supervisor in the church organization, the boss in other words.  He recognized that all church officials are sinners too.  They are very fallible, whatever their position in the church.  And that is fundamental for me, and why First Amendment freedom of inquiry and belief is so important, so my first pillar is that all religious pronouncements must be subject to critical scrutiny by the individual even if that pronouncement is in holy writ, or by ecclesiastical official, or by a spouse who thinks he is superior because he has a penis and/or priesthood office.  I say that because happily in my church, the former is no longer a requirement for the latter.  [audience applauds]

I say listen to the brethren, and then do what you think is right.  Don’t be intimidated by ecclesiastical actions, be it silencing from priesthood office, which is the main sanction that the RLDS church uses, or excommunication, the main threat in your tradition. I believe my own dignity as a human being is more important  than my status in a mere church organization, and I want to look at myself in the mirror and not vomit.

When I graduated from Graceland in 1960, (that ages me), I was offered a position on the editorial staff at Herald House, the RLDS publishing house.  I loved the job, and I began attending a nearby Methodist seminary on a part-time basis.  Seminary was the most intellectually challenging time of my life. I gained a great appreciation for the Bible, but I also recognized more than ever, its fallibility.  Perhaps the biggest eye-opener was my study of the four gospels. On the one hand, I found them very inspirational as I read about the life of the Galilean who they nailed to a tree.

But on the other hand, Lindsay Farragot, the best teacher I ever had, helped me to see that the four gospels were partisan propaganda.  Each evangelist has his own agenda when he wrote.  Matthew and Luke were written at least in part to correct what they saw were Mark’s errors.  The fourth gospel has very little in common with the other three, until we get to the Holy Week.  The author of Luke-Acts has a clear political agenda.  So I appreciated both the humanity and inspirational qualities of the four gospels.  I also fell in love with the Epistles of Paul.  The RLDS Church has traditionally emphasized the law too much.  Paul’s radical rejection of the Mosaic Law was liberating for me, as was his focus on salvation by grace, rather than by works, and of course, Paul was engaged in a mighty struggle with the General Authorities, in case you haven’t read Galatians.

He didn’t cower before the greater ecclesiastical authority of the original apostles who had by far the best possible credentials: they had been with Jesus from the baptism until the crucifixion.  Yet Paul didn’t knuckle under to those superlative apostles as he sarcastically referred to them.  Paul fought them and he won, and if he hadn’t won, we would not be here today.

His next comments were recorded in my previous post.  I got a real chuckle out of his imitation of his father walking out during a revelation.  While many lament that we don’t see revelation in the LDS church more often, I wonder if we would be jaded as Bill is if revelation was more routine.  What do you think?

14 comments on “Routine Prophecy in a Church

  1. I pretty much agree with you. Everyday revelations would inevitably reduce them from the sublime to the mundane (and ignored) if they were used to control every aspect of the church operation.
    I think that “full blown” revelations are reserved for matters of greater importance to the church. The leaders of the church, in my opinion, mostly rely upon inspiration augmented by their wisdom, experience, and intellect.
    I think there is a fine line between revelation and inspiration.

    Then there is maybe too many of us who are guided by desperation.


  2. My best friend and I were talking about this just today. I said (coming off of a high after teaching one of those SS lessons in which people really participate and add wonderful stuff) that we aren’t taught doctrine in our faith, we’re taught the behavior to obtain doctrine for ourselves. (With the exception of the occasional correction here and there or a personal doctrine -like 138- that becomes widespread because a prophet receives it.) She (heading for a high because of a workshop the Stake RS is preparing for teachers) commented that the whole purpose of our teaching in the church is to prepare people so that they won’t be “beaten down by the storm at the last day” – “that the storm cannot penetrate to them” – that they will be “in the hands of the Lord of the harvest and they are his” (Alma 26:6-7). We (not obviously the first people to state this) decided that the reason there is not more official revelation is that that isn’t the best way. When people receive it for themselves it has a profound effect on them. Nobody was ever saved by reading doctrine, but we’ve sure been saved by having it revealed personally to us. Nice quote. I really enjoyed reading that.

  3. I have to say I am a bit torn on this. One of the things I admire about the
    RLDS church is the more routine revelations they have, as well as their official desire to create “A prophetic people.” I think that’s pretty cool. But hearing it in practice, it seems to be not as wonderful as the ideal.

    What do you two think of the additional revelations added to the D&C? They’ve added 21 since our last one in 1978. It would seem their conduit to the heavens is more open than ours.

  4. We are a church with so many different ages of discipleship. I think the heavens are plenty open, but it doesn’t do much good for spiritually young eyes. Everyone has to make their own way back on the path and revelation is part of that journey. Line upon line. Zenos’ olive tree is gently freed of dead branches because new, tender shoots are coming up all the time. I don’t discuss my more profound spiritual experiences because it would serve no purpose, and I can’t imagine apostles should either. I’m completely fine with an “official” closed canon and a policy that the personal canon is open. It seems the best way to allow everyone to make their way.

  5. When I was on my mission we had one of the seventy come and visit us. A question similar to this was brought up. The missionary who aked had been questioned by an investigator that if we believed in continuing revelation why hadn’t the modern prophets added more often to the D&C.

    The Seventy replied that the general conference talks are revelations and scripture from the lord, as well as the First Presidency message in the Ensign each month.

  6. I just want to add, that in addition to Joseph F. Smith’s dream/revelation, Section 138, Section 136 in D&C is given through Brigham Young.

  7. And nobody mentions the “uncanonized” revelations given through Joseph Smith jr, Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor and and others compiled by Fred C. Collier.
    Some of the revelations them seem to be very “practical”, but seem to be direct revelations, “so sayeth the Lord”. Others seem to be lectures.
    I don’t know how trusworthy this collection is.

  8. Canute, interesting observations. As an aside, if I remember correctly, section 138 was added in 1978; I think it was in the PoGP prior to that.

    As for Fred Collier, he’s an interesting character. I think his scholarship is pretty good, so I don’t really question the uncanonized revelations (I’d like to see them.) He published the first version of the Nauvoo High Council minutes, though John Dinger recently published an additional volume that Collier didn’t know about. However, he is a polygamist prophet, and an anti-Semite as I learned when I attended his Sunstone presentation last year. I personally find a lot to dislike about the man, but I believe his scholarship is pretty good.

  9. Thank you, for interesting links.
    I did’t know, that Collier is a Fundamentalist, but have been suspisious, that he might be that. (A Presiding Patriarch of The Church of the Firstborn, I find out googeling him. Anybody who knows how many menbers they have?)
    Volume 1, part 25, pages 113-118 e.g deals with the Adam-God doctrine. And it seems, that he really taught that, but 5 lines in the manusript are missing…..
    I bought the “Unpublished Relevations”, volume 1 and 2 many years ago, and I haven’t read all of them. They can be ordered from many Inter-net stores, and it seems they can even be bought from BUY also.
    Apparently the content of the volumes, were smuggeled in and out of the LDS Church Archives (!).

  10. Sorry, for me not being exact. “Unpublished Revelation” part 25, pages 113-118 pertains to a revalation given to Brigham Young!

  11. Mormon Heretic: Your John Dinger link doesn’t work. But have googled him. A lot of interesting stuff from the Nauvoo period.

  12. Sorry Canute, I’m not sure why the link didn’t work, but here’s my review of Dinger’s book: http://www.mormonheretic.org/2011/12/18/nauvoo-city-council-minutes I also attended a presentation by Dinger and he referenced that Collier was missing one of the books that Dinger included.

  13. I would have to say that I do not consider Ensign articles and conference talks revalation or scripture. They can help to inspire however.

    I am also not sure I can count the two official declarations as revalation either. The first was given to stop polygamy, however polygamist sealings were still being performed by apostles for quite a few years after.

    The second declaration’s wording does not sound like a revalation. I can believe that maybe a revalation was received by the prophet chastising the church for not allowing black to have the priesthood, but the actual text of the revalation is not contained in the official declaration. It is also hard for me to see a need for a revaltion giving blacks the priesthood when there is no reason they shouldn’t have had it from the beginning. Actually they did, but that is a different article.

    I am not sure we as Saints are prepared to truly received more revalation as a whole. To be honest we are not doing a great job complying with what has already been revealed.

  14. Bren, I plan to talk about the non-verbal revelation in 1978. I think the account is very interesting, but haven’t had time to write about it yet.

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