Gut Check: an evaluation or test of a person’s resolve, commitment, or priorities, typically with respect to a particular course of action.
It is an interesting time to be alive! I doubt there has ever been a time in human history where so many people, with so little actual knowledge, have claimed and shared such imagined expertise with anyone who will listen. Often this ignorance is shared with rancor and aggressiveness. Hard to behold.
Next weekend is General Conference, where we have the opportunity to receive counsel and wisdom from those who actually are experts, and present their messages with gentleness and love.
Quite a contrast.
Personally, I am always excited to hear what is taught in General Conference, even though the counsel often seems to be aimed directly at me.
But not everyone feels this way. Some watch conference and walk away angry, disheartened or accusatory. How we react to General Conference, and the teachings of the prophets in general, comes down to one specific thing- the “Gut Check” scripture. Do we believe in this one verse of scripture, or not? Because that one verse makes all the difference. Here is that one verse:
“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) (emphasis added)
That is the gut check, and the Lord knew it was necessary, even from the beginning of the restoration. When the Lord had Joseph Smith compile the modern revelations he had received to date, He dictated a preface to the prophet, now known as Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Why is that verse so important? Because it directly affects how we perceive who is teaching, and what is being taught in General Conference. To help understand, let’s back up.
Many religions of the world see Jesus Christ as the Son of God, a God, and the Savior of all mankind. However, other religions do not see Him as Deity, but merely as a teacher with much wisdom to share. That is a big difference – a life altering difference.
Similarly, if we believe what is taught in D&C 1:38, then we believe that the teachings of the Brethren in General Conference carry the same weight as if Christ, himself, were doing the talking. “It is the same.”
So it boils down to two choices. Either:
- We do believe that the voice of the prophets is the same as the Lord’s voice, or,
- The Brethren speaking to us are merely wise, elderly men, sharing their opinions with us and the world.
It is a significant, and important distinction.
If I don’t think that the prophets speak for the Savior, and represent a conduit for the Lord to share His will with His Church, then everything gets a little messy.
Now might be a good time to check where we stand regarding this concept. Elder Neil A. Anderson said this:
“In the commotion and confusion of our modern world, trusting and believing in the words of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is vital to our spiritual growth and endurance. President Henry B. Eyring once said: “The choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future…Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way. Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety.” (link)
Seems like a pretty good time to know if it what we are hearing is sacred counsel or not, right?
Personally, if I didn’t have a testimony that the Lord speaks through His prophets, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing this. Being a member of the Church would seem like a colossal waste of time. For me, ours would be a very difficult faith to embrace if this specific element were in doubt.
But it’s not, and I do have that specific testimony: I know from both experience and the Spirit that the Lord speaks through prophets. From Joseph Smith through to Russell M. Nelson, the Lord has had His prophets leading the way, and representing Him as a conduit for His voice.
While there are necessary preparations for participating in General Conference, (such as snacks and activities to keep the little-ones occupied) the best preparation we can make is to settle in our hearts how we feel about D&C 1:38. If we believe it, Conference can be a time for the Lord to share His truths with us via his designated mouthpieces.
I, for one, am totally in.
BUT WAIT! How can you possible believe they speak for Christ when they are mortal, and can make mistakes? What about the dumb things Brigham Young said back in the day?
Good question. I’ll answer it this way, better yet, I’ll let Elder Anderson answer it:
A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. (link)
The Church weighed in on this and issued a statement to help clarify what doctrine is precisely:
“Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.” (link)
For example, when Elder Russell Ballard taught that we shouldn’t let kids have computers of televisions in their bedrooms, it was wise and timely counsel (still is), even inspired. But it did not rise to the level of doctrine. Why? It was one concept being taught by one leader.
In contrast, during a previous Conference, President Dallin Oaks gave a powerful talk on “The Great Plan” of Salvation, which was wall-to-wall doctrine, as supported by scripture, proclamation, and modern revelation.
The first example is inspired counsel for one of the Lord’s servants, the second is doctrine. Do you see the difference?
I picked the talk by President Oaks specifically, because after that paticular Conference ended, I saw comments on the internet saying things like this:
“I really enjoyed Conference, except President Oaks’ talk.”
“I cant believe Oak’s went there.”
Of course, we can always choose to believe what we want to believe, but when we pick and choose which doctrines we agree with, or which prophets to “like,” we necessarily distance ourselves from the whole truth.
Rather that watch Conference with an attitude of picking and choosing which truths to believe, I prefer going into Conference with an open heart, primed with the testimony that these brethren do teach true doctrine, on behalf of the Savior.
My experience – which cannot be contested – has taught me that I am always blessed when I follow the counsel of the living prophet. If we accept that the Lord runs His church the way He wants to, and the leaders that are in place are standing in for Him, AND that we accept them as Him. There would be so much less grumbling, unhappiness and apostasy, and the outlook for personal and collective spiritual growth would be enhanced.
Blind faith? (Chuckle) Hardly. This is the hard-won, eyes-wide-open kind of faith.
Here’s the thing: If anyone who wants to find out if the Lord’s servants speak for Him, they CAN find out. Through obedience, and through the Holy Ghost.
If we want to know the “truth of all things” we need to ask. (Moroni 10:5)
Opinions, policies and procedures (Mine, yours, everyone’s) can change with the weather, but doctrines are sacrosanct. When we are participating in Conference, we need to listen for those doctrines and embrace them. We need to fight the temptation to pick and choose which doctrines we like, and discard those we don’t. Because it is just that: a temptation. The adversary would love nothing more for us to be inconsistently committed to 1:38.
Conference starts in less than a week. Plenty of time for a gut check as to how we feel about Modern Revelation and D&C 1:38.
Are you in?
Note: I will be continuing my tradition of Conference commentary immediately following each session. See you there!