“Figured I should share my thoughts on my social media fast: Follow the Prophet.”
A simple, three-word testimony: Follow the Prophet. And the first response out of the gate?
“Or you can just follow Jesus.”
It sounds beautifully simple, and somehow wise, but the intention of this post is to explain why that concept doesn’t really fly. There are lots of reasons, but let’s talk about four.
1) Been there, tried that.
For almost 2,000 years after the death of Christ, people, churches and ministers tried to follow Jesus. The result? Today we have approximately 33,000 Christian denominations scattered across the globe that claim to “Follow Jesus.” Within those denominations there are a bit more that 2.2 billion people (roughly 30% of the world’s population.”
This means that there are 33,000 different “official” interpretations of what it means to “Follow Jesus,” and probably billions of individual interpretations. The truth? They all can’t be right. Even Jesus himself said, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
Not only has the free-wheeling interpretation of what it means to follow Jesus caused much dissension and confusion, it has also resulted in rebellions, Crusades, Witch Trials, Inquisitions, etc. Some very barbaric deeds have been done in the name of following Jesus. In some cases, like if you needed a quickie divorce, you could just start your own Church and appoint yourself the head. (English History, anyone?)
This very confusion was the catalyst for the fourteen-year-old, future prophet Joseph Smith to question how it had gotten to that point. He said in his history:
“My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? “(Joesph Smith History)
The vast assortment of denominations and personal viewpoints clearly illustrates that the Bible, while true, brilliant, and a gift from God is simply inadequate to bring us to a common faith and doctrine.
Which brings us to the next point:
2) Jesus employs Prophets to communicate with we mere mortals, and the heavens are not closed.
After Christ’s death, Peter was appointed the Prophet and leader of Christ’s Church. The idea of a prophet at the helm was not a new concept by any means. For thousands of years Jehovah had communicated through prophets to lead and teach his chosen people. The prophet Amos made it quite clear, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7)
Peter explained that the communication from God worked this way: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21) (Now don’t get ahead of me here!)
Being a prophet is not a job that anyone can apply for. All of the theological schools and seminaries in the world cannot prepare a man to be a prophet – it has never worked that way.
The idea of a living prophet is hard for some to wrap their heads around, but to those of us who have a lifetime of watching, listening, and following a prophet, it makes total sense. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
3) Jesus sends the Holy Ghost to communicate with his prophets and us as individuals.
No matter how often you hear it, or how cool it sounds, Jesus does not attend baptisms, sacrament meetings, or help with sporting events. First, he is a resurrected, glorified, Celestial being. His brightness and glory would probably be noticed, if not lethal to most of us.
In the Old Testament, Moses wrote that Jehovah told him, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Which doesn’t make a ton of sense, because there are times where prophets have seen him and did not die. Thankfully, one of those prophets, Joseph Smith, corrected this idea by adding this to the previous scripture: “And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also and I destroy thee and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.” (Exodus 33:20 JST)
See the difference a modern prophet makes to our understanding of Biblical texts? (Obviously I am not qualified to see Christ and live.)
Those Christ visitations are either very rare, or held very secret and sacred, but there is so much that needs learned and done. Instead of making personal appearances, Christ sends another member of the Godhead to assist him: The Holy Ghost. He is a spirit, which allows him to touch our hearts and minds, and be carried with us. As he was leaving his ancient apostles, Christ promised that he would send the Holy Ghost for several reasons:
“Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:17)
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
Even Christ taught through this scripture that what he taught was not “the end,” but that there would be more taught to the apostles via the Holy Ghost. And that is one of the Holy Ghost’s jobs.
Christ communicates to his modern prophets that same way- through the Holy Ghost. Thankfully, we can receive similar enlightenment and revelation through the Holy Ghost as individuals. The difference is that the Holy Ghost can speak to the prophet in context of the world and the entire Church and its membership. When the Holy Ghost speaks to us, it is specifically for us, and/or the people we have responsibility over. No matter how tight I am with the Holy Ghost, he will never tell me how to run the Church. (That is a sure sign of a false prophet.)
Here’s the catch: To receive the gift of Holy Ghost, it must be done by those who have authority – which necessitates both a priesthood and a church. Because, as Paul taught regarding the Priesthood, “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Hebrews 5:4) It is clear that you can’t wake up one morning and say to yourself, “I think I’ll start a church and start baptizing people,” and expect Christ to give it his stamp of approval. It doesn’t work like that. Never has. This brings us to the next point:
4) Christ has a Church on the earth today. A Church.
Any honest reading of the New Testament shows that Christ organized a Church, which the apostles tried to continue after his death. It worked for a while, but then slipped away – including the authority that went with it. We refer to this as the Apostacy. The Apostasy ended when the heavens were reopened with the calling of a new…prophet.
Joseph Smith, the same boy who wrestled with the contention between denominations became that prophet. As in times of old, he saw Jehovah. He also saw God the Father. He received new and important revelation and scripture to help straighten out many of the conflicting viewpoints of Christianity that had emerged during the Apostacy.
Even more, he was given the power and authority (Priesthood) to bring back the ordinances of baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost – much as the apostles of old received on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2)
Through the prophet Joseph Smith, we received the light, and clarity, as well as the ordinances required to actually “Follow Jesus” in the way that Jesus condones.
And a Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I admit it sounds wildly arrogant to claim that the Church is the only church on the earth endorsed by Christ, and bearing his priesthood…yet there it is. To say that there is more than one makes Christ a God of confusion and in conflict with himself.
This enlightenment and authority has been passed down from modern prophet to modern prophet, intact, and sanctioned by Jesus. Today, we sustain President Russell M. Nelson as the Prophet, Seer an Revelator that Christ has installed to lead the Church and receive revelation on behalf of the Church and its membership.
Back to the beginning: When I see someone say “Follow the Prophet,” I know from experience, AND personal revelation that it is always a wise thing to do. If I hear someone say, “Follow Jesus,” I am a little muddled as to what that might mean to them, as there is no uniform answer outside Christ’s church.
If anyone mistakenly suggests that Latter-day Saints follow the prophet instead of following Christ, they simply don’t understand the relationship between the two. If they suggest that we worship Joseph Smith or President Nelson, they truly don’t understand our doctrine.
One of the single most important points of doctrine revealed in modern times is this: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)
If we receive a personal witness of this concept: That the voice of the prophet and the voice of the Savior are the same, life and faith gets a lot easier and more stable.
That said, I am trying to follow Jesus. Thankfully, I have a prophet that I can look to to help make that happen. He receives revelation and enlightenment on my behalf. He also has authority from Jesus to help me partake of the gift of the Atonement to truly follow him. Without those sacred covenants, so much of following Jesus would be in vain and not recognized by the Savior.
Don’t think for a minute that my desire to follow the prophet diminished what I feel for my Savior in any way. I know that, ultimately, it is him the I must follow. If you would like to read my feelings about the Savior, and what he has done for me, please click here: “My Savior.”
If you are still with me, here is a joke by the comedian Emo Phillips that helps illustrate some of what I am talking about:
Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
He said, “A Christian.”
I said, “Me too! Protestant or Catholic?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too! What denomination?”
He said, “Baptist.”
I said, “Me too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Baptist.”
I said, “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
I said, “Me too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
I said, “Me too!”
“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
I said, “Die heretic!” And I pushed him over.