I was able to watch or read most of Conference this past week. I listened carefully hoping to be inspired by messages delivered by those we call prophets, seers, and revelators.
I thought some of the talks were okay. It seemed as though there was an added emphasis on the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith which for me is always a good thing.
Below are a few observations of things from Conference that did not overly inspire me.
- Elder Ballard’s reference yet again to the Same Ol’ Ship Zion. (He just seems to really cling to themes, i.e. Counseling With Your Counsels, Raising the Bar, and now Same Ol’ Ship.)
- Elder Ballard promised “In the name of the Lord, that the God would never abandon His Church.” Some may argue that this was a “powerful and bold witness” from a prophet, who needs to do nothing but speak the scripture that comes to him. But some of us are left wondering then why the Savior would quote Isaiah and other prophets in making such proclamations. Or why the D&C would say that if the Nauvoo Temple was not completed the Lord would reject us as a church, if in fact such a thing was impossible. Brigham Young also made some pretty bold statements (most of which I don’t agree with btw) about the Lord rejecting the church and the priesthood for things we have now allowed, i.e. ending polygamy and giving priesthood to all worthy males. Where are we promised that this church or any church can never fall? In the Book of Mormon? Just the opposite. In the D&C? Nope. Maybe His Kingdom, which has never been of this world will never fall. But not a church, even the very one Jesus restored. Otherwise God would cease to be God for He would take away the agency of man.
- I dislike it when the brethren endlessly quote each other. Although I noticed that no one quoted the living prophet when discussing the Book of Mormon. Instead a couple of different GA’s quoted Ezra Taft Benson, a dead prophet, likely because the living prophet has said very little of the Book of Mormon in his tenure. But why does Elder Ashton need to quote Elder Christofferson for the most mundane of ideas? For example: “this ‘power of godliness’ comes in the person and by the influence of the Holy Ghost.” Why not quote Moroni? Or the Savior? It feels so unnecessary, idolatrous, and patronizing. Jesus quoting Isaiah regarding the fulfillment of ancient prophecy shows much more humility and is very different than men quoting their colleagues higher in rank than themselves.
- I did not like the part from Sister Reeve’s talk where she referenced a sister missionary from her and her husband’s mission who thought she could “circumvent the repentance process” and try her hardest to serve a valiant mission and then confess her sins a few days before leaving the mission field. She said her confession “lacked Godly sorrow.” First of all, why would the mission president’s wife know anything about a missionary’s confession given to her priesthood leader? Is that information NOT meant to be kept confidential? Secondly, how do you think this poor sister feels hearing this talk? Is that how you help someone who is struggling? Kick to the face. How many missionaries just never confess their sins? Especially since Elder Ballard raised the bar? I can promise you that many missionaries lie to get out, lie to stay in and lie when they get married in the temple. What if this sweet sister had confessed her sins to the Lord? I assume she pleaded day and night with Him! Dedicating her service to Him! And what does she get when she confesses? A mission president who breaks her confidence and blabbers her “lack of Godly sorrow” to his gossiping wife. What if God actually does forgive sin without the need to confess to some dishonest priesthood holder and his wife? I vote that the church edit her talk and fire the guy from the Correlation Department who was responsible for approving it.
- Elder Christoffersen suggesting that God’s love is not unconditional. What kind of message does that send?
- Elder Holland’s talk calling out the home teachers who left when they saw the family was “busy.” Why lead with a bad example of someone else, who is hopefully listening to your talk? Isn’t that a little ruthless and unkind? I prefer hearing someone tell of their own failure to prove their point. While I was moved by his second story of the man who lost his child tragically, I did not love that Elder Holland made his talk about home teaching. Why not just talk about loving our neighbor, period. Did the Savior turn his parable of the Good Samaritan into a talk about home teaching or some other church program? No, his talk, funny enough, was about how the non-member (the loathsome Samaritan) stopped when the two leaders from the Church (Priest = bishop, Levite = temple worker) did not. They were apparently running late for home teaching or to their temple shift. Maybe the real message from our Savior is to have compassion on ALL of God’s children and to make time to do what we can to help people especially in distress, WHO WE ARE NOT ASSIGNED TO, who we happen upon along our way.
I just have to add that the format and tradition of Conference is not one that I like. Talks read from teleprompters practiced and rehearsed countless times, delivered by those whose hairs and clothing and makeup are all in perfect order. The format seems to make people nervous. One poor brother looked like he might die, seemingly paralyzed by complete stage fright.
And yet, these men and women travel the world giving speeches and hopefully interesting messages to members everywhere. But in Conference, I believe because of the rigid format they are required to follow, many of them freeze up and become boringly robotic.
I suppose the inspiration behind reading talks from a teleprompter, approved by Church curriculum is to make sure no one deviates from Church doctrine or says anything controversial that has to be changed and apologized for after the fact. Of course some will also argue that General Authority talks are scripture and must be read as to not deviate from the revelation they have received and recorded.
Either way, I find the format stifling. At least in the olden days when someone like Apostle Matthew Cowley would speak, no one was sure what interesting ideas might be shared. He’s the one who was told as a new General Authority to never prepare a talk. His talks often included firsthand accounts of incredible miracles he witnessed over his lifetime, especially with the Maori people in the many years he served in the South Pacific.
This idea of not writing and reading a talk seems to better conform to the commandment from the Savior to His disciples:
Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. (D&C 84:85)
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:11)
Joseph Smith as far as I know, did not prepare 20 minute long talks that he read word for word. Joseph, like most prophets in scripture, spoke for hours at a time, with some notes I assume, but with an emphasis on the words given from the Holy Ghost in the very hour. When Joseph spoke, even if at a funeral, he was expounding doctrine, and saying interesting and insightful things that challenged and inspired the saints, without any teleprompter or script. I can’t imagine those talks were boring. They certainly aren’t as I read and study them 190 years later.
Is anyone else not bored with the format of today’s Conferences? I challenge you to be honest, at least with yourself. I’m concerned we have created a culture of such fear of men that we are not honest with how we truly feel. Don’t get me wrong, the messages are “nice” enough at times, but I ask in all sincerity, where is the power? Where is the prophecy? Where is the excitement? We are living in the Last Days! Where is the urgency to repent? To prepare? To be sanctified? To be endowed with Priesthood power so as to survive the Burning that will come?
Do we as Latter-day Saints take the Savior’s charge to judge the fruits of those who call themselves prophets? Honestly, do we? Or are we too lulled and complacent to do so? Too fearful that doing so puts us on the highroad of apostasy?
Below are some very interesting excerpts from Hugh Nibley from his The World and the Prophets. As you read, I invite you to ask yourself if today’s LDS prophets pass the test of what a prophet will teach and if they are generally received by the world and the church as were true prophets of old.
In the dealings of men with each other, any assumption of infallibility or even superiority is sheer arrogance; we mortals are highly fallible. For that very reason, Peter insists, it is all-important to prove that a prophet is a true prophet and not one of the swarming impostors. We must, he says, “before all things try the faith of the prophet by every possible test.” A prophet is no ordinary person; he makes no ordinary claim; and he does not ask people to believe him, but to test him. God is no authoritarian: He asks no one to believe; but invites the world as the prophets do, “Prove me herewith.”
When the Lord was upon his earthly mission, he greatly angered and upset men by forcing them to decide whether he was a true prophet or not. Early in his mission he was met by certain devils who begged him to leave them alone: “They cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” The devils could not ignore him; his mere presence was a “torment” to them. And it was the same with men, for when the people of a nearby town heard what had happened, “behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts” (Matthew 8:29). Apparently his presence made men uncomfortable as it did the devils, for while the Lord was in their midst, they could not be neutral regarding him. Only after he had left the earth could Christians have an “open mind” regarding Christ’s mission. Of such people he said through his prophet John, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). The Lord insists that we make up our minds one way or another regarding his calling.
Before considering the test of a true prophet, we must make clear the fact that a prophet is a witness, not a reformer. Criticism of the world is always implicit in a prophet’s message of repentance, but he is not sent for the purpose of criticizing the world. Men know the world is wicked, and the wickedest ones often know it best. To denounce human folly has been the avocation of teachers and philosophers in every age, and their reward, surprisingly enough, has not been death but usually a rather handsome fee. The age of Christ, like the nineteenth century, was a remarkably tolerant one as far as ideas were concerned. On the one hand we find quacks, impostors, and miracle mongers flourishing throughout the Roman empire; and on the other, traveling philosophers and high-powered professors indulging in the most unsparing and outspoken criticism of all established institutions, sacred and profane, while the world applauded. It was not the Sermon on the Mount that drove men to crucify the Lord. It was not for their moral tirades that the prophets of old and the Apostles were stoned. In the age of Apollonius and Dio Chrysostom people liked nothing better than to sit in fashionable congregations while being scolded by picturesque crackpots. No Christian writer ever made such devastating attacks on prevailing manners as the pagan satirists did; no Christian apologist ever debunked heathen religion as effectively as Cicero did—with perfect safety….
What, then, did Christ and the Apostles do and say that drove men into paroxysms of rage? They performed tangible miracles such as could not be denied, and they reported what they had seen and heard. That was all. It was as witnesses endowed with power from on high that they earned the hatred of the world, of which John speaks so much: “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness” (John 3:11).
…To come down to modern times, why were people so furiously angry with Joseph Smith? It was not for being a reformer or rebuking a naughty world. In his day, the most popular preacher was the one who could denounce the manners of the times most fiercely and paint the most lurid picture of the wrath to come. Nobody led militant campaigns against even the most rabid preachers of hell-fire or swore to drink their blood. We have said that the world in which Jesus lived was full of quacks and and impostors who carried on unmolested. So in the time of Joseph Smith, the country was full of strange separatist cults as the Mormons were falsely accused of, but no one thought it virtuous to burn their settlements or shoot them on sight. In what did the modern prophets’ deadly offense consist? In the summer of 1833 a much-publicized mass meeting was held in Missouri to protest the admission of Mormon immigrants into Jackson County, and this was the official objection: “The committee express fears that … they will soon have all the offices in the county in their hands; and that the lives and property of other citizens would be insecure, under the administration of men who are so ignorant and superstitious as to believe that they have been the subjects of miraculous and supernatural cures; hold converse with God and his angels, and possess and exercise the gifts of divination and unknown tongues.”
… Before we even consider the question of whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet or not, the uniqueness of his position deserves respectful attention. Because, true or false, he was the first man since the days of the Apostles to claim the things that real prophets claim. The modern prophets who excited the laughter and contempt of the world exactly as the ancient prophets shocked and amused the friends of Justin were the first men since ancient times to talk of what they had seen and heard in the presence of God and angels. What could they expect but a prophet’s reward?
And so I ask you, as nice as Conference may have been, did any of those we call prophets speak with power and authority? Did they speak of their visions or revelations from Angels or from God? Did they speak in tongues or share their own prophesies? Did they reach out to the throngs of people who stand when they enter and stand and wait when they depart, to heal the sick and afflicted?
I don’t ask these questions to be gratuitously critical. I ask these questions because we are commanded by the Lord to prove and test those who call themselves prophets and who speak in His name.
I think it’s fair to say that today’s messages are much less hell-fire and damnation as perhaps they once were, as that has become perhaps politically incorrect or seen by the world as uneducated and unrefined. Today’s messages are nice sermons which gently call for reform while encouraging virtues. One could argue that the Savior did likewise on the Mount.
But, the Savior did not stop there, nor does any true prophet in the recorded history of the world. They bare solemn and unmistakable witness of seeing Him and knowing Him, testifying to the world that He and His Angels have physically ministered to them.
And they performed open miracles for many if not all to see. We will be judged on how we judge and discern these things.