One of the unique characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our belief in a modern-day prophet. “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” (Article of Faith #6)
This belief is unique among mainstream Christian faiths who, for the most part, believe that revelation not only ceased after Jesus Christ and the New Testament, but that prophets were done away with as well.
What is a prophet?
LDS.org states that “[a prophet is] a person who has been called by and speaks for God. As a messenger of God, a prophet receives commandments, prophecies, and revelations from God. His responsibility is to make known God’s will and true character to mankind and to show the meaning of his dealings with them. A prophet denounces sin and foretells its consequences. He is a preacher of righteousness. On occasion, prophets may be inspired to foretell the future for the benefit of mankind. His primary responsibility, however, is to bare witness of Christ. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s prophet on earth today. Members of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators.”
As Latter-day Saints, we believe that Thomas S. Monson, current President of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a prophet who speaks for God and bares witness of Jesus Christ. He is neither a soothsayer nor a fortune-teller. His job description is not predicting future natural disasters or economic downturns – at least not while speaking as a prophet. However, as a man he is entitled to draw upon knowledge and experiences to express opinions and suppositions. The New Testament gives us a great example of one of God’s messengers speaking from personal opinion rather than for God when the apostle Paul gives his opinion in a discussion on marriage. In 1 Cor. 7:25-28 he plainly states, “ . . . I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment . . .”
Where do we lay our claim of post-Biblical prophets?
First it is important to understand the difference between reformation and restoration. Most Christian denominations are reformed churches, broken away from the Catholic Church. Men like John Wesley, John Calvin, and Martin Luther were reformists, men who were dissatisfied with specific tenets of their religion and broke away to start new churches. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restored church. With the many (documented) changes and doctrinal practices that had been lost since the death of the apostles of the early Christian church, a full restoration was needed. Basically this means that the LDS church restored (or brought back) original doctrines and practices that existed in the original church Christ organized.
One aspect of the original church was an organization of apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 2:20, 4:11) So in the spirit of full restoration we benefit from and enjoy the guidance of apostles and prophets today.
Can an imperfect man be a prophet?
Whether or not you believe that Thomas S. Monson is or that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that prophets even exist today, there is always the question in the back of most rational thinking people’s minds. Can a prophet – if there is or was one – make mistakes and still be a prophet? Great question.
The Bible has many examples of how although prophets are imperfect, fallible men they were still accepted by God as His messengers. Some faced serious consequences for their sins or transgressions that in many instances God took care of immediately. Read about Moses in Numbers 20:10-12, or perhaps reflect on Jonah spending some time at a ‘whale spa’ in Jonah 1:17 after trying to run away from a difficult assignment. Joshua was fooled by disguised men of Gibeon in Joshua 9:3-27. Prophets were (and are) men who have their own views, opinions, education, and preferences.
So, as Latter-day Saints, we believe in modern-day prophets who are good, honorable yet sometime fallible men with their own distinct personalities. Reverend J.R. Dummelow, in his book One Volume Bible Commentary said, “Though purified and ennobled by the influence of the His Holy Spirit, these men each had his own peculiarities of manner and disposition – each with his own education or want of education – each with his own way of looking at things – each influenced differently from one another by the different experiences and disciplines of his life. Their inspiration did not involve a suspension of their natural faculties; it did not make them free from earthly passion; it did not make them into machines – it left them men.
“Therefore we find their knowledge sometimes no higher than that of their contemporaries….”
And then the million dollar question:
What about false prophets?
This is an excellent and reasonable question to ask, especially in light of the events in Waco and of the arrest of Warren Jeffs. (Neither group is affiliated in any way with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although mainstream media erroneously referred to both groups as “Mormons”.) Both of these groups and events are not too distant in our memories.
The Bible distinctly warns against false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20) stating, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Fruits – how they live and what they preach.
In the Book of Mormon (our scripture which we use alongside the Bible) is a passage that says, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good.” (Ether 4:12.) In the New Testament we read, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit . . . every tree is known by his own fruit.” (Luke 6:43-44.)
False prophets? Doesn’t that presuppose a belief in true prophets? And the biggest question to ponder is that as we consider the eternal nature of God who provided guidance for His children in the first half of the world’s history, wouldn’t it be logical that a loving God would provide guidance in the latter half? We are still His children today. Our complicated and perplexing world is in need of guidance and help even more so today than ever before.