Also published here: https://unexaminedfaith.blogspot.com/2019/03/speaking-as-man-is-not-good-defense.html
the blog version includes footnotes, references
When a General Authority of the LDS Church is discovered to have taught something that in retrospect turns out to be nonsense, one possible apologetic tactic is to suggest that he was “speaking as a man” and not as a prophet (apostle, etc.). In this post I suggest that this tactic ought to be deeply unsatisfactory to the LDS faithful, in that the “speaking as a man” defense means precisely the same thing as claiming the he was teaching “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture,” which is, in Mormonism, a central characteristic of apostate religions.
According to the canonized 1838 reconstruction of Joseph Smith’s First Vision , the very reason that the LDS Church even exists is that “all” other Churches are wrong, corrupt, and according to the Lord Himself, are abominations in His sight (Joseph Smith History 1:19).
As a sincere and dedicated believer of the LDS faith, I regularly attended the Temple and participated in the Endowment ceremony. Out of respect for family and friends who remain practicing members of the Church, I’ll not disrespect the ceremony, nor reveal its details. However, it is not telling tales out of school to say that there has been a series changes made to the delivery of the ordinance over the years, or that prior to the many significant revisions around 1990, the state of non-LDS Christianity was exemplified in the portrayal of a Protestant clergyman, college educated for the ministry, and in the employ of Lucifer. When asked about the religion that is taught by his Protestant Minister, Lucifer answers that “We teach the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.”
In this brief encounter, we learn a number of characteristics of these purportedly apostate religions: the ministers of them are (i) educated specifically for the ministry, (ii) paid for their labors, and (iii) profess the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. These three characteristics are by no means an exhaustive description of the apostate state of Christianity, but they are, according to the LDS Temple ceremony, characteristics of apostate religion.
LDS General Authorities (GA’s) tend to be drawn from a pool of lawyers and businessmen, not from those trained in divinity, theology, ethics, philosophy, or counselling, so there is no fear of LDS GA’s being accused of being trained for their ministries.
Since the leak of the fact the GA’s of the LDS Church are paid (and relatively well) for their services, it is clear that the Church shares at least one characteristic of those religions that are abominations in the sight of the Lord.
But in this post I am more interested in positing an equivalence between “speaking as a man” and the third above characteristic—“the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.”
According to the current Gospel Principles manual , “the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us…; When the Lord’s servants speak or write under the influence of the Holy Ghost, their words become scripture (see D&C 68:4).”
So the words of the prophets are scripture. But why are they scripture? Because, according to the Lord “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38), and so we are to accept the words of the prophets “as if from mine own mouth” (D&C 21:4).
This being the case, it is incumbent upon the believer to identify who exactly we ought to follow as prophets who speak scripture.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to be led by living prophets—inspired men called to speak for the Lord… We sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator—the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church. We also sustain the counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.
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.
According to uncontested reports by attendees of a 2015 meeting with Apostle David A. Bednar, a Sister Missionary, apparently unsatisfied with the Apostles answer to a question on women and the Priesthood, asked “Are there any scriptures that talk about this subject?” To which Elder Bednar retorted, “I am scripture.”
It is therefore clear that for the LDS faithful the words of the top 15 GA’s—the President and his counsellors, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—are scripture. But do these leaders also speak the philosophies of men?
What are “the philosophies of men?” There is clearly not any sort prohibition against philosophy in LDS tradition. Church owned schools have departments of philosophy. LDS scriptures exhort us to “seek…out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study…(D&C 88:118), ” and tell that God doesn’t want to command us in all things (D&C 58:26-29), making it necessary to study things out in our own minds, and not to just ask Him (D&C 9:7,8). What is it to “study it out in your mind” if not philosophy? It ought to be quite odd for anybody who believes in a God to be opposed to philosophy because, as Galileo so eloquently put it: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended for us to forego their use.”
Quentin L. Cook suggests that those who adopt the philosophies of men into Christianity do so out of embarrassment at the simplicity of the gospel, and they “refuse to accept simple gospel truths for what they are. [S]ome people reject the gospel of Jesus Christ because in their view it doesn’t have adequate intellectual sophistication."”
Hartman Rector Jr uses the phrase “philosophies of men” in the same breathe as “our own ideas or the mysteries of the kingdom.”
Bruce R. McConkie speaks of philosophies that “are not in harmony with the mind and will and purpose of the Lord[,]” and “out of harmony with the Standard Works…” even though they appear to be “seemingly rational and logical explanations.” In his influential “Mormon Doctrine,” Elder McConkie (quite incorrectly) suggests that “philosophy is in effect a religion, ruling out revelation, attempts to decide eternal realities by reason alone.” (bad grammar in the original).
"The wisdom of the world results from the uninspired reflections, research, and discoveries of men. It is composed of partial and fragmentary truths mixed with error. Theorizing and hypothecating commonly accompany it. This type of wisdom includes the philosophies and learning of men which are destructive of faith."
Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any authoritative source that actually spells out what is meant by the phrase “the philosophies of men.” The above insights from Cook, Rector, and McConkie are suggestive, but do not offer any kind of definition. The lack of authoritative definition seems to indicate that a definition is not necessary, per se, that either the meaning of the phrase is somehow self-evident, or at least accessible to common sense.
It seems to me that when we hear “the philosophies of men” we are to interpret it as something along the lines of the apparently rational and logical views and opinions individuals, derived from reflections, research, and discoveries rather than revelation and the standard works, focused not on the simple gospel message, but on the mysteries of the kingdom, adding in unnecessary intellectual sophistication.
Or in sum, the “philosophies of men” are, as Elder Rector puts it “teaching our own ideas.”
However, when I hear Temple Lucifer state that the religion he and his ministers teach is “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture,” what jumps out to me as the poisonous component is not “the philosophies of men.” No, the insidious part of that description for me is “mingled.” When the minister fails to distinguish personal views from scripture, the listener will accept the personal philosophies of the speaker on the same authority as the scripture.
Speculating, theorizing, or opining cannot in and of themselves be problematic because, as per D&C 9, we are to study things out in our own minds. The problem arises when the listener is unable to disentangle the personal views of the minister from the scripture.
With all of the above in mind, when we consider that Joseph Smith clarified that "a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such” it leaves room for the defender of the faith to respond to repudiated teachings of previous GA’s by asserting that there are times when the Prophet is not speaking as a Prophet, but is speaking as a man.
But what could speaking as a man actually mean? If the implication is that the speaker is making errors and not revealing the mind and will of the Lord, then speaking as a man can only mean “teaching your own ideas.” Such ideas might seem sophisticated, rational and logical, might even address the mysteries of the kingdom, but are derived from reflections, research, and discoveries, rather than revelation. The ideas put forth while “speaking as a man” are nothing less than “the philosophies of men.”
I would suggest that speculating, theorizing, and opining are not problematic in and of themselves. However, there is, in LDS scriptures, a specific prohibition against it: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14. Italics added).
When prophets and apostles speak under the influence of the Holy Ghost, they speak scripture, but there are also times that they are speaking “as a man”/“philosophies of men.” The more significant issue arises when these modes of discourse are “mingled.” If the listener is unable or unwilling, or is instructed by Church leaders, to not disentangle these modes of discourse, then the prophets and apostles are teaching “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.”
To be fair, there have been a few occasions where members have been encouraged to figure out for themselves whether a GA is speaking scripture or philosophies of men.
Brigham Young, for example, said: “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. This has been my exhortation continually.” And “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied.”
And President J. Rueben Clark said:
How shall we know when the things they have spoken were said as they were ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost?
I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: 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. (italics added).
However, there is a much more dominant theme that emerges from Church leadership.
Ezra Taft Benson: “We can always trust the living prophets. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord…; Our greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church.” (italics added).
“[T]he greatest single lesson we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and His children obey, they will always be right.”
Brigham Young said: "I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture.
"[I]f the President makes a statement it is not our prerogative to dispute it.”
"When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy"
Russell M. Nelson quotes Gordon B. Hinckley as saying “It is important … that there be no doubts or concerns about the governance of the Church and the exercise of the prophetic gifts…;” then assures us that “[c]ounterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray.” (italics added).
“According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect, or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right.”—Carol F. McConkie. (italics added).
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.”—Wilford Woodruff
Marion G. Romney reports that President Heber J. Grant echoed President Woodruff’s sentiment:
"I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’"
President N. Eldon Tanner warns members specifically not try to decide which prophetic counsel to keep, and which to dismiss:
"The Prophet spoke out clearly on Friday morning, telling us what our responsibilities are …
A man said to me after that, “You know, there are people in our state who believe in following the Prophet in everything they think is right, but when it is something they think isn’t right, and it doesn’t appeal to them, then that’s different.” He said, “Then they become their own prophet. They decide what the Lord wants and what the Lord doesn’t want.”
I thought how true, and how serious when we begin to choose which of the covenants, which of the commandments we will keep and follow, we are taking the law of the Lord into our own hands and become our own prophets, and believe me, we will be led astray, because we are false prophets to ourselves when we do not follow the Prophet of God. No, we should never discriminate between these commandments, as to those we should and should not keep."
Ezra Taft Benson informs us that the words of the living prophets take precedence over the words of past prophets. Perhaps more surprisingly, President Benson asserts that the words of the living prophets even take precedence over the scriptures, then refers to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to support his claim:
"Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living 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,’ said he, ‘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.’” (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18–19.)
I hope that the reader is recognizing a pattern start to emerge from the above sentiments. There is a longstanding tradition in the Church that we are to accept everything said by the living prophets, (even if it’s wrong).
Revealingly, President Benson explicitly states that the prophets are under no obligation to indicate when they are speaking scripture and when they are speaking the philosophies of men:
Sixth: The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.
Sometimes there are those who argue about words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obliged to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you.” (D&C 21:4.) (italics in the original).
President Benson is clarifying that the prophet will offer no indication as to whether he is speaking as the Lord’s mouthpiece, or of his own accord, essentially conceding that the listener is to expect the prophets to mingle the philosophies of men with scripture.
There are even warnings against failure to follow the Prophet. D&C 1:14 warns that “Those who will not give heed to the words of prophets shall be cut off [,]” and President Harold B. Lee offers the following cautionary tale:
The story is told in the early days of the Church—particularly, I think, at Kirtland, Ohio—where some of the leading brethren in the presiding councils of the Church met secretly and tried to scheme as to how they could get rid of the Prophet Joseph’s leadership. They made the mistake of inviting Brigham Young to one of these secret meetings. He rebuked them, after he had heard the purpose of their meeting. This is part of what he said: “You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.”
Considering this well established tradition of not questioning what the prophets have to say, I think that it is fair to say that there is clear guidance from LDS Church leaders to not follow the counsel (of Presidents Young and Clark) to distinguish between discourse inspired by the Holy Ghost, and times that the prophet is speaking as a man. This being the case, if we not to differentiate between the two, then the prophets and apostles are guilty of mingling the philosophies of men with scripture.
So, apologist brethren, if in your defense of the faith you are required to defend a prophet or apostle for teaching something that has since been repudiated, please do not succumb to the temptation of asserting that they were speaking as a man. To do so is to accuse them of teaching “the philosophies of men mingled with scripture,” the very form of religion that Satan inspired his apostate ministers to preach.