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AUTHORITY: Who in Mormonism Is Authoritative?

Very often, a Mormon witnessing to a Christian friend will give away some interesting LDS book, tape, or video to encourage the friend to look deeper into their faith. But when a Christian uses that or some other material to question the Mormon regarding non-orthodox doctrine, the Mormon will usually claim that the referenced material is not authorized.

The Mormon will say that the authority being quoted is speaking for himself and not for the church. We are often told that the only material by which the church can be judged are the Standard Works and formal, direct statements from the First Presidency. Anything that would change eternal doctrine would have to come as a revelation and be voted on in General Conference.

This is an easy “out.” Most of the non-orthodox practices of Mormonism are found in none of the “official places.” For example, the details of the sacred LDS temple ritual are found nowhere in these documents. Nor was there any official announcement of recent revisions to the temple ritual. Nowhere is there a word in official documents about temple garments.

If you are a Christian who has hit this wall in attempting to dialogue with a Mormon, you need to understand something. The LDS church tends to deceive its own people as well as the general populace by not laying all its cards on the table; particularly those who are recent converts to the LDS Church and who have yet to be fully instructed are not immediately told the more odd doctrines of the church.

They are never mentioned to investigators of the church. The material the investigator and the new convert hears about and from the general authorities is all the “good stuff,” the faith-building stuff. The “bad stuff” we Christian apologists write about is hidden away from the new Mormons.

We often have to explain to these new converts what Mormonism really teaches in order to encourage them not to believe it. In fact, we are the first people to tell some Mormons about the bedrock doctrine of Mormonism: the law of eternal progression.

Once you get down to describing what their leaders have taught and still teach, you get right back to the problem of who and what are the real authorities of Mormonism.

Many of the blasphemies of early LDS “prophets” like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are dismissed with a wave of the hand as the chatty musings of their leaders on an off day.

But the fact is, these prophets of Mormonism believed and clearly stated that the sermons they preached were utterly gospel truth! In fact, Brigham Young stated the following:

I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually (Journal of Discourses, 13:950).

The Lord almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother’s arms as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray (ibid., 9:289).

Joseph Fielding Smith, another LDS “prophet,” proclaimed:

What is Scripture? When one of the brethren stands before a congregation of the people today and the inspiration of the Lord is upon him, he speaks that which the Lord would have him speak. It is just as much scripture as anything you will find in any of these records and yet we call these the standard works of the Church. We depend, of course, upon the guidance of the brethren, who are entitled to inspiration (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1954, vol. 1, p. 186).

Therefore it behooves us, as Latter-day Saints, to put our trust in the presiding authorities of the Church … no man ever went astray by following the counsel of the authorities of the Church (ibid., p. 243).

This clearly means that if Ezra Taft Benson, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, or any other apostle (such as Bruce R. McConkie or Orson Pratt) have written something or preached something, it will be doctrinally correct and as authoritative as the Bible or the Book of Mormon, according to LDS theology.

One way to successfully respond to this is to point out that the item referenced was published in a book or magazine sold at LDS owned bookstores and is the work of an official LDS general authority.

The question then must be asked and answered by the Mormon: Is the referenced leader telling the truth or is he lying? How could the church produce or sell the referenced item if it presented a doctrine that was opposite to the official doctrine?

Decker, E. (1995). Decker’s Complete handbook on Mormonism (60). Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.

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