Supremacy of Revelation

Here is a post I wrote on my straight and Narrow Blog that I think should be discussed again. It is an important topic because Mormonism is founded on Revelation and claims the continuance of same. Recognizing and seeking it in our daily lives can be difficult.

One of the more interesting ideas in By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens is the idea that the Book of Mormon introduces a form of revelation that is rejected by most Western religions. He states that almost all Christians have described the word “Revelation” as a metaphorical transmission of God’s revealing Himself. There is no actual concrete information that is given to a person who contacts the Divine entity. The argument seems to be that to claim a direct communication of actual words is to 1) ascribe anthropomorphism to God who is not human and 2) be open to fanaticism and heresy. However, the Book of Mormon explicitly introduces “dialogic revelation” as a true sign of faith and spiritual development. It should be part of the lives of everyone:

The Book of Mormon here becomes a study in contrast. Through chiastic form, thematic structure, numerous textual examples, and a final concluding instance of readerly invitation, the scripture hammers home the insistent message that revelation is the province of everyman. As a consequence, in the world of the Book of Mormon, concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration, mystery find powerful and substantive redefinition. That may well be the Book of Mormon’s most significant and revolutionary – as well as controversial – contribution to religious thinking. The particularity and specificity, the vividness, the concreteness, and the accessibility of revelatory experience – those realities both underlie and overshadow the narrated history and doctrine that constitute the record. The “knowability” of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within the record and invite reenactment outside it. (Givens, pg. 221)

This presents for Mormons a very strong challenge. It is not enough to simply feel good about spiritual experiences and consider us enlightened. Receiving revelation must take a step beyond the metaphorical and become literal. As Joseph Smith explained, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TJS, pg 151). Ultimately, the purpose of “dialogic revelation” is to bring Salvation by bringing us into the very presence of God with the knowledge gained. Again, as Joseph Smith has said, no one can be saved in ignorance. This is more than a prescription to book learning, but direct instruction to search out Heavenly communication for our own eternal welfare. Indeed, it is the key to that most forgotten subject of much speculation; the Second Comforter.

It is often stated by Latter-day Saints that the return of Revelation and Prophets is the central originality of Mormonism. What is perhaps less acknowledged is that personal revelation is as important a theological teaching as any corporate claim of authoritative pronouncements. Of course, it has been taught almost from the beginning that no revelation is accepted outside of a person’s authoritative jurisdiction. That still leaves room for the equally necessary individual communication with the Divine. Despite what Givens says about the Bible having almost no discussion of personal revelation, Mormons often quote Numbers 11: 24-29 as instructive:

24 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.

25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.

28 And Joshua the son of Nun ,the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.

29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

With so much emphasis on Revelation, there is still less practical applications observable in the lives of Latter-day Saints. This is not to say that many don’t hold the concept in high esteem as theory. Yet, when asked what was the last revelation a person remembers having, many if not most Mormons would probably point to the time they gained a testimony or a missionary story. Two possibilities are that revelation is not recognized when received or it is not easy to obtain. Considering the importance placed on communicating with God, it might be time to practice recognizing the intimations of the Spirit in a more “enthusiastic” tradition. Not a simple task, but essential to Salvation.

16 thoughts on “Supremacy of Revelation

  1. Great post jettboy! My favorite of yours so far. I love reading Givens – what a great scholar.

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  3. Joseph Smith taught:

    we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c—we are entitled to the same blessings, Jesus, revelations, Just Men &—Angels &c. &c. (The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 15.)

    Its importance is also taught in the precursor to the quote above that “no one can be saved in ignorance”:

    The more sure word of aprophecy means a man’s knowing that he is bsealed up unto ceternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood. (D&C 131:5)

  4. Well written. Personal revelation is definitely central to Mormonism, but is often overlooked by others as they view us as only approaching God through the revelations of our prophets.

  5. Jettboy,

    I hate you and may you rot in you-know-where for making such a great post and making mine look pathetic.

    I challenge you to a dual or duel to redeem my honor. 😉

  6. Geoff, 8: no, I think he meant “dual,” as in “write a second (i.e., dual) post to prove this wasn’t a lucky fluke.”

  7. Love this post. Thank you.

    Reminds me of Elder Oaks’ most recent talk on the two forms of revelation and how necessary and interdependent they are.

  8. I really like your last bit.
    “when asked what was the last revelation a person remembers having, many if not most Mormons would probably point to the time they gained a testimony or a missionary story.”

    I have found this to be true in my life when I am really doing my best to live up to (magnify) my church & priesthood responsibilities. When I do that, revelation flows into me, as much as I open the door to it. What I mean by that is, I need to be taking the time to be worthy to receive it (study, meditation, prayer, general conference, hymns, etc). It almost never came to me as a result of being a good person.

    Then as I no longer have those callings or responsibilities I notice the revelations begin to ebb, similar to what you describe for post-mission stories.

    What this post made me think of, however, is that we all still have (more) important responsibilities than whatever we were called to that “sparked” those revelations. If you’re no longer on a mission, no longer RS Pres, or an Instructor, etc. you still have an important responsibility you can approach with the same zeal. Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Son, Daughter… Home Teacher, Visiting Teacher, Neighbor. There is not a church member among us, that does not have a very weighty stewardship, which we should be taking seriously and actively seeking, and being worthy and prepared to receive revelation regarding.

    In that sense, I gain a greater understanding of Moses’ sentiment, even in the context of Christ’s true church. Would that all men (and women) were Bishops! (or RS/EQ/YM/YW Pres. etc!). And the wonderful thing about this church is, at some point we all are. And when we’re not, we shouldn’t treat our sacred obligations any less!

  9. However, the Book of Mormon explicitly introduces “dialogic revelation” as a true sign of faith and spiritual development. It should be part of the lives of everyone:

    Many figures, including King David, in the O.T. also had dialogic revelation with the Lord. Moses said he wished everyone would be a prophet, when someone complained about 2 guys prophesying who weren’t with the main group.

    The Book of Acts illustrates the apostles receiving revelation, but the only N.T. reference I can readily think of where everyone is supposed to prophesy and have spiritual gifts is in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14.

    Among modern Protestantism, the Evangelicals and Pentecostals also explicitly believe in ongoing personal and “dialogic” revelation. Here’s a cool, very close to Mormon-ish story by Evangelical pastor Beth Moore that illustrates personal revelation, or two-way conversation in prayer:

  10. I am coming to appreciate that dialogic revelation is as central to establishing the Kingdom on earth as for salvation.

    I can calculate (not prophesy 😀 ) that things will become too complex for hierarchial prophesy to be sufficient to keep up. The response to the Spirit will have to become more instictual, no matter how scary and risky that seems.

  11. Extraordinary dispensations aside, I believe that the general challenge with revelation is that one has to be prepared to recognize, receive, and understand it. And that means doing your homework.

    Many people talk as if revelation is a substitute for rationality, when most of the time the opposite is the case. Revelation is the peak of rationality, and without proper groundwork tends to rise no higher than the level of general unease or comfort. That’s my experience, for what its worth. Inspiration is hard work.

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