05) DOCTRINE: Who has the right to declare doctrine for the Church?

Questions answered: When are the statements of our leaders to be considered scripture? Should we put absolute confidence in our leaders?  How can we be sure we are not being led astray?

Prophetic Statements

Joseph Smith

I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught. 1

“When I speak as a man it is Joseph only that speaks. But when the Lord speaks through me, it is no longer Joseph Smith who speaks; but it is God, and let all Israel hear.” 2

Brigham Young

#1:

Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties of his or her calling according to the Priesthood and capacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat. 3

#2: 

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self- security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. 4

#3: 

I do not want men to come to me or my brethren for testimony as to the truth of this work; but let them take the Scriptures of divine truth, and there the path is pointed out to them as plainly as ever a guideboard indicted the right path to the weary traveler. There they are directed to go, not to any Apostle or Elder in Israel, but to the Father in the name of Jesus, and ask for the information they need. Can they who take this course in honesty and sincerity receive information? Will the Lord turn away from the honest heart seeking the truth? No, he will not; he will prove it to them, by the revelations of his Spirit, the facts in the case. And when the mind is open to the revelations of the Lord it comprehends them quicker and keener than anything that is seen by the natural eye. It is not what we see with our eyes-they may be deceived-but what is revealed by the Lord from heaven that is sure and steadfast, and abides forever. 5

Joseph Fielding Smith

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.  6

Wilford Woodruff

I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: “You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.'”

When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, “Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the written oracles and the written word of God.'”

Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost to our day. And now,” he said, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued.

When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.” 7

Harold B. Lee

#1: 

It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everyting they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer and revelator–please note that one exception–you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them “standard”–it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by the same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it.  8

#2: 

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as a revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.

Only the prophet will receive revelation for the Church. How can we know when those holding these positions are speaking by the mind and will of the Lord? May I read to you something that has been written for another occasion. We must have in mind that there is only the President of the Church, the presiding high priest, who has the right to receive revelation for the Church, either new or amendatory or to give authoritative interpretation to the scripture which shall be binding on the Church. He is the sole mouthpiece on the earth for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true church. He alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer or any other church in the world has this high right and lofty prerogative. So when any other person, irrespective of who he is, undertakes to do any of these things, you may know that he is not moved upon by the Holy Ghost in so speaking, unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church.  9

#3: 

The scriptures are the standard by which to measure truth. All that we teach in this church ought to be couched in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works. If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth.

Measure doctrinal truth by the scriptures. We have the standard Church works. Why do we call them standard? If there is any teacher who teaches a doctrine that can’t be substantiated from the standard Church works – and I make one qualification, and that is unless that one be the President of the Church, who alone has the right to declare new doctrine – then you may know by that same token that such a teacher is but expressing his own opinion. If, on the other hand, you have someone teaching a doctrine that cannot be substantiated by the scriptures, and more than that, if it contradicts what the standard Church works, you may know that that person is teaching false doctrine, no matter what his position in this church may be. The President of the Church alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer nor any other church in the world has this high and lofty prerogative. When the President proclaims any such new doctrine, he will declare it to be a revelation from the Lord.

The standard works are the only accurate guide. In this day men, women, and young boys and girls have been laying their own foundation. They have been charting their own course and claiming that they have the right to say what is right and what is wrong. Abraham Lincoln said: “God’s greatest gift to mankind is the Bible.” And we add to that the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine and Covenants. Except for the standard Church works, there is no accurate guide as to what is right and what is wrong on the earth. 10

#3: 

“We [must] measure every teaching to be found in the world of book learning by the teachings of revealed truth, as contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we find in a school text claims that contradict the word of the Lord as pertaining to the creation of the world, the origin of man, or the determination of what is right or wrong in the conduct of human souls, we may be certain that such teachings are but the theories of men.” 11

#4: 

I say that we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren’t able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false—it is as simple as that. But the unfortunate thing is that so many of us are not reading the scriptures. We do not know what is in them, and therefore we speculate about the things that we ought to have found in the scriptures themselves. I think that therein is one of our biggest dangers of today.

When I meet with our missionaries and they ask questions about things pertaining to the temple, I say to them, as I close the discussion, “I don’t dare answer any of your questions unless I can find an answer in the standard works or in the authentic declarations of Presidents of the Church.”

#5: 

The Lord has given us in the standard works the means by which we should measure truth and untruth. May we all heed his word: “Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church” (D&C 42:59) 12

#6: 

All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth. 13

#7: 

How do we measure whether or not one’s teachings are true or false? If anyone teaches beyond what the scriptures teach, we may put it down as speculation except one man who has the right to bring forth any new doctrine­that is the one man who holds the keys — the prophet, seer, and revelator who presides in that high place. And no one else. If anyone presumes to bring forth what he claims to be new doctrine you may know that it is purely his own opinion and you label it as such regardless of his position in the Church. If it contradicts something that is in the scriptures, you may label it immediately that it is false. That is why we call the scriptures, our four Standard Church Works. They are the standards by which we measure all doctrine and if anything is taught which is contrary to that which is in the scriptures, it is false. It is just that simple. 14

Scripture

D&C 68:2-4

And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth–

And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

D.C. 18:2-4

Behold, I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true.

And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written;

For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.

D&C 52:9

And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith. (see D.C. 18:32-33.)

D&C 49:4

And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants; and by so doing I will bless him, otherwise he shall not prosper.

D&C 50:13-24

Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question–unto what were ye ordained?

To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?

Behold, ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, cloth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

If it be some other way it is not of God.

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth.

Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

D&C 68:4

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto Salvation.

Supporting Statements

Bruce R. McConkie

The books, writings, explanations, expositions, views, and theories of even the wisest and greatest men, either in or out of the Church, do not rank with the standard works. Even the writings, teachings, and opinions of the prophets of God are acceptable only to the extent they are in harmony with what God has revealed and what is recorded in the standard works. When the living oracles speak in the name of the Lord or as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, however, their utterances are then binding upon all who hear, and whatever is said will without any exception be found to be in harmony with the standard works. The Lord’s house is a house of order, and one truth never contradicts another. 15


References:

  1. History of the Church 6:366
  2. Andrus, Hyrum L. and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, pg. 84
  3. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7 p. 277.
  4. Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150.
  5. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 429-430; Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (SLC: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997, Melchizedek Pr’d book for 1998-1999), pg. 318.
  6. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 3: 203.
  7. Wilford Woodruff, quoted by Ezra Taft Benson in “14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophets,” from Conference Report, October, 1897, pg. 18-19.
  8. Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” address to Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Personnel, BYU, 8 July 1964, p. 14; Church CES Manual, Living Prophets For A Living Church, 1974, p. 66
  9. Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 544.
  10.  Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 149.
  11. Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975. p. 73
  12. The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 153.
  13. Harold B. Lee, “Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, January 1969, p. 13. (Scripture Study Fundamentals: Instructor’s Guide. Religion 315. SLC: Church Educational System, 1992, page 2.)
  14. Harold B. Lee, “Viewpoint of a Giant,” (Address to religious educators, 18 July 1968, p. 6.)
  15. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pg. 765.

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