|Personal Responsibility: fill our own lamps with oil|
In the Church at present, we assert that obedience to certain mortal officers is the same thing as obedience to God, and thus, that our salvation will be assured if we obey those mortal officers. Meanwhile, there are teachings in our history which adamantly reject that worldview. Here are a few of them:
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 237-38).The basic predicament that exists is as follows: if a member feels that the Holy Ghost is impressing him with the knowledge that a particular policy/doctrine within the Church is not inspired and shouldn’t be obeyed, should he stand his ground, or should he abandon what he feels, and yield to the Prophet?
“If we have presidents or apostles or anybody that we do not like, let us vote them out, and be free men, and cultivate and cherish in our bosoms the principles of liberty.” (John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48.)
“We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the President. I will confess to my own shame that I have acted contrary to my own judgment many times. I mean hereafter not to demean myself, to not run contrary to my own judgment. When President Young says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider that all we should do is to say let it be so.” (Elder Orson Pratt, 1847; see Conflict in the Quorum, Gary James Bergera 2002)
“We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak”. (President J. Rueben Clark, CN-7/31/54)
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:3; also see 2 Nephi 28:21, 24-25, which warns us about “carnal security”, and warns us against being complacent in Zion. Might these warnings be referring to excessive trust in mortal officers?)
In August of last year, I presented this question to several thousand of my fellow members via email, and received 401 replies. Of those respondents, 12% answered that they would stand their ground, 26% answered that they would yield to the Prophet, and 62% chose a third answer: that neither option was satisfactory to them, thereby manifesting their unhappiness with of the wording of the question, or simply their unwillingness to answer it.
For a longer discussion about personal responsibility within the Church, see here.
Raised mostly in Utah, Joe Murff is a transplant to Massachusetts. A technical writer by trade, his avocations include gardening, carpentry, and trying to keep up with his wife and two daughters. After serving a mission in Milwaukee Wisconsin, he attended the University of Utah and completed an English degree.