Two Forms of Revelatory Policy Changes

I am currently in Israel visiting family, and decided this morning to go on a walking tour of Jaffa. On the tour, the tour guide spoke of the events that led Cornelius the centurion to Peter and culminated in the opening of the Gospel to the gentiles.

In light of the debate over whether current policy changes are inspired and truly the will of the Lord, I reflected on this most monumental shift in policy ever occurred in the history of the Church. Before Peter’s vision, only those who were Jewish by descent or laborious conversion could be baptized into the nascent Christian Church. After his vision, the scope and power of the Church of Christ dramatically changed as the message spread to all mankind.

There were two key revelations regarding the Church’s policy towards the gentiles, and I believed that looking at these two different policies helps to reveal how God guides his Church today.

The First revelation came to Peter in the vision regarding eating unclean animals. After this vision, Peter knew God’s will decisively and he knew that the Gospel could go to the gentiles. This was a direct revelation of a very specific nature , and Peter immediately shared this vision with the whole Church so that it would know that the instruction came from God.

But after this vision, there still remained the difficult work of figuring out how to implement the newly revealed policy of preaching to the gentiles. In Act 15, we read about the great counsel where the Apostles and Elders came together under the direction of the First Presidency to consider what limitations should be placed on newly converted Gentiles. Peter and James lead this meeting and seek the guidance of the Lord. And from this meeting comes a divinely inspired policy that “seemed good to the Holy Ghost.” This policy revelation involved no clear “thus saith the Lord” moment. Peter didn’t receive a vision, James didn’t speak in the name of the Lord. Yet, there is no question that Peter and James received binding revelation which was accepted by the whole Church as inspired policy.

These  two models of revelation still exist in the present Church. Sometimes, policy is revealed through a dramatic vision or through “thus saith the lord” revelation. Other times, it is instead revealed through inspired and prayerful contemplation and under the guidance of the First Presidency. Both are inspired and both are revelatory. If we demand the former type and reject anything revealed through the latter model as uninspired, we will be doing a grave disservice and sowing the seeds of doubt and dissension.

17 thoughts on “Two Forms of Revelatory Policy Changes

  1. Of course it took the ancient church about 40 or so years to actual implement the change. We seem to be a lot better at that in the current era.

    Modern day examples of both would be the 1978 revelation on priesthood (a “saith the Lord” moment apparently), and the current policy change (it seems good – to the apostles anyway – moment).

    Forty years from now I suspect the policy will have been updated several times, but just like the priesthood revelation hasn’t changed in almost 40 years I suspect it won’t change in the next forty. Thus saith the Lord moments tend to get added to scripture and have staying power, “seems good” moments tend to be moments.

    Just my opinion.

  2. I’ve been in priesthood councils where differences of opinion were exchanged on ecclesiastical courses of action. Some in the council claimed to feel the Spirit to go in one direction. Others in the council claimed to feel the Spirit to go in the other direction. In the end, the presidency made the final decision, depending upon which way they happened to feel the Spirit. Then the council all prayed together, and the Spirit confirmed that particular decision made by the presidency, even if the Spirit had confirmed something else to them previously.

    My take away from this is that the experience of the spirit can be somewhat subjective, and this is the pattern the Lord sets for revealing His will to His people. We all have different perspectives, opinions, cultures and beliefs, and these beliefs influence our experience of the Spirit. This could be the reason why some prophets emphasise certain “themes” and others emphasise different ones. But God needs this diversity of perspective, wherein different prophets and apostles speak differently, to the diversity of Saints (the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of thee.)

    When priesthood leaders come to consensus around a revelation, it is not because the revelation necessarily represents the immutable, unalterable will of God written by His finger in tablets of stone. It is because the authority of His senior apostle is immutable and unalterable, and God wants us to respect that authority. God says “if you are not one, you are not mine” not because that “one” is some kind of singular, definitive, unique truth, but because unity itself is the truth, unity around a particular course of action which has been revealed, however subjectively, to the senior apostle. That is the pattern described by Elder Nelson. It is “the will of the Lord” inasmuch as the Lord has declared “whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” God adopts the will of His servants as His own, for He knows, as He knew with Nephi in the Book of Helaman, “you will not ask amiss.” He gives His leaders His trust.

  3. Oh Jaffa! That’s where many Bulgarian Jews live. One day I want to go there.

    Second, I love this perspective.

  4. I think most of us would say that several of the sections in the D&C are more the latter sort of revelation rather than the former.

    D&C 124, for example.

    On the other hand, there have been some revelations of the former category that haven’t been canonized.

    We are all sowing, it’s just a question of which type of seeds we are casting about ourselves.

    On the other hand, God is able to make use of many things to bring His will to pass. That’s the fun part of being omniscient and omnipotent.

    However He won’t force us against our will. That’s the tortured part of omnibenevolent (benevolent in this case meaning loving us so much He will allow us to decide, even if the decision means we cut ourselves off from Him).

  5. So many moments of revelation in the early church came because of questions or struggles the church or Joseph Smith was experiencing. I see this latest policy change regarding those in SSM and their children along those lines. The leadership had questions, took it to the Lord and their question(s) were answered. Members who question how the revelation was received and can not see the similarities are being willfully ignorant.

  6. “After this vision, Peter knew God’s will decisively…”

    A quibble here: From my reading of Acts 10 and 11, following the abstract vision, it doesn’t appear that Peter “knew God’s will decisively” for he doubted in himself what the vision meant. Not until his Cornelius’ strong demonstration of faith did God’s message become apparent that Peter exclaims, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” While the revelation was indeed direct, Peter needed to exert further faith in following God’s instructions and overcome his reservations and beliefs regarding the Gentiles. It was a revelatory process that lead him to his “Aha!” moment.

  7. I would say more that these are the two poles of a revelatory spectrum. As Tiger commented, sometimes there is a very distinct vision but time passes and events happen before the full meaning is understood. In the case of extending the Gospel to the Gentiles (to all the world), Peter initially rejected the idea that he would partake of the unclean animals but he was finally convinced. Then the meaning of the vision became clear when Cornelius’s servants appeared and told Peter about their master’s vision. Abraham, Nephi and Joseph Smith all had similar experiences at one time or another.

  8. I think the FP+Q12, and probably all GAs, are so in tune with the Spirit, that a “seemeth good to the Holy Ghost” kind of impression/inspiration is as clear a messge to them as an open vision or personal visitation would be.

    What some dissenters appear to ignore is that the Holy Ghost never goes (and never can go) against the will of the Father. A whisper of an impression (to do something, for example) from the Holy Ghost is as much the will of the Father as is a commandment delivered in person from the Savior.

    The “wrestling” part comes in finding the right question(s) to ask, or the right combination/permutation of options to put before the Lord when it is we who are seeking directions.

    One thing I learned from the D&C is that sometimes the Lord went to Joseph and said “Hey, Joseph, listen up. Here’s what I want you to do. …” But at other times, the Lord waited until Joseph made an inquiry.

    What the modern day dissenters are essentially admitting, when they say the Brethren are not being led by the Lord, is that they themselves (the dissenters) don’t believe the foundational truth claims of the church such as the prophetic calling of JS, the restoration of real priesthood authority, and the modern prophetic authority residing in the current FP+Q12.

    To believe, ie to have a testimony, in those things requires personal revelation. Therefore, the dissenters are implicitly admitting they have not received that personal revelation.

    Furthermore, by discounting the “seemeth good to the Holy Ghost” type of revelation/impresssion, and demanding “thus saith the Lord” pronouncements from leadership, the dissenters are admitting that they themselves don’t receive, or don’t pay heed to, impressions from the Holy Ghost. Otherwise, the dissenters would understand that that is most often how the Lord does give directions. If -you- receive revelations/impressions about your life and your callings, then you -know- that God can be leading and directing others in the same manner. If God helps out little ol’ me, a nobody, what must He be doing for/with the 15 men who lead the whole church? (And the bishop and the stake president.) If I, a struggling sinner, can still perceive an occasional whisper from the Holy Ghost, how much clearer must such whispers be to more holier men?

    Receiving personal revelation through the witness of the Holy Ghost is taught in the missionary lessons, in Gospel Essentials (investigators’ SS class), and I would suppose throughout primary and youth Sunday School classes. It’s taught in General Conferences. So it’s as if those who disbelieve the Brethren either just don’t “get” what being a prophet/apostle means, or they don’t believe the Brethren are apostles and prophets in the first place.

  9. Bookslinger, you get one thin wrong. The dissenters do believe they have received revelation–revelation that trumps the leaders of the church, who now need to get in line with them. They are apostates and heretics in the purest sense.

  10. I’m sure some of them are claiming revelation. However, most of what I’ve seen them assert online is that simple “reason” or “mercy” makes it “clear” that the Brethren are wrong on this issue. Jana Riess even makes the tacit claim that because she’s a member in “good standing” and “possesses a temple recommend” that her views should be just as valid as President Nelson’s.

  11. Owen, yeah, it takes all kinds. But like MT mentions, I was referring to the intellectuals who would put human reasoning (specifically _their_ line of reasoning) above all else.

    Jeff G wrote an excellent piece on it here at M*:
    http://www.millennialstar.org/the-mormon-intellectuals-trojan-horses/

    He does a good job describing CCD, the “culture of critical discourse.”

    I started to note something in the matters of JD and KK (and those who support or aliign with them) over the past 9 or 10 years. Those who think CCD or human reasoning outweighs revelation don’t believe the foundational LDS truth claims in the first place. They don’t accept the divne callings and authority of JS through TSM; they don’t accept the authority and reality of priesthood.

    So when a believer wishes to verbally engage someone who criticizes the Brethren, the two have completley different frames of reference, and will just talk past each other. The believer sees the critic as ignoring a fundamental truth of how God interracts with the people of His church, and the critic sees the believer as ignoring “reason”. See Jeff’s Trojan Horse article for further insights along that line.

    That’s why you’ll see me come right out and ask if another commenter “believes”, because if they don’t, then the frame of the discussion has to take that into account. If they don’t believe JS and TSM are real prophets, then they don’t have the foundation upon which to have a faithful discussion on a blog that _does_ support the Brethren.

    I have compassion towards those who are sincerely seeking to know if JS was a prophet and etc. But the public critics we encounter nowadays, even ones who slyly claim to be “just asking questions”, are generally those who have _already_ decided in their mind that the church’s foundational claims are false.

    You’re right in the sense of apostate as a non-believer, or a believer who transitions to non-believer. This quote from JS is relevant whenever you see someone engaging in public criticism of the Brethren:

    “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 156–57)

    The public critics we see nowadays, JD, KK, a few of the TS/BCC/FPR folks, have already reached and gone past that point.

    It’s also interesting to note how the public critics are universally, with rare exception, politically progressives/liberals/leftists.

    Another quote:

    “The Progressives in their smirking self-righteous piety and grotesque self-imposed ignorance are henchmen of the devil. Some know it, most do not. They stand between a woman and her human nature, her happiness, her children, and they speak the selfsame lie. The source of your happiness is the barrier to happiness. Destroy the source of your happiness, toss happiness aside, and you will be happy.”
    John C. Wright,
    http://www.jrganymede.com/2014/02/19/progressives-are-henchmen-of-the-devil/
    agreeing with David Warren.
    http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2014/02/15/breeding-instructions-revisited/

    You can condense that quote down to: Progressives are henchmen of the devil.

  12. I believe the Prophet received revelation in regards to SSM. That said, I do not believe that all those with questions are apostate. Many are having an emotional crisis, which can veil what the Spirit would say. We are told that in the last days even the elect would be deceived. Guess what? These are among those deceived on this issue. I do not consider my friend Jana Rises an apostate, though we disagree on this issue. Instead, I pray for her, as I do for all who struggle with such doubt. It is not easy to love two Masters. No doubt that many of us may disagree or be uncertain regarding some this the prophets teach. For example, how many of you think Syrian refugees should not be brought here? Yet that does not make you an apostate necessarily.

    Let us support our prophets, but also strengthen those who have yet to gain a testimony of this new guidance. Remember, it took the early Church decades to accept and adapt to having Gentile converts. Peter and Paul argued over Peter eating only with the Jewish Christians, with Paul calling him a hypocrite. Perhaps we should be a bit more tolerant than Paul.

  13. Ram,
    Good point. We are talking about two major categories of “questioners” here. One group says “I don’t get why the prophet and apostles are doing this.” The other group says “The prophet and apostles are wrong.”

    It is commendable to be compassionate towards those with fragile, or shaken, or thinly stretched out faith. We all have our faith tried in ever increasing tests.

    The second group appears to have found the answer to their questions in concluding that church leaders really aren’t prophets and apostles. (Yet some of them pretend to still be “just asking questions” and they thereby “lie in wait to deceive.”) They are no longer mere questioners, but are actively opposing, or at least fomenting disbelief among others.

    (i have a comment in moderation due to links, and I’ve forgotten already what all I wrote. So please excuse possible repitition. 🙂

    But if someone wishs to engage the “questioner”, it really behooves the faithful responder to figure out where the questioner is coming from. If the questioner actively disbelieves the foundational truth claims of the church, and disbelieves the Q15’s authority, then the response, if any, needs to be very different than towards the believing questioner who merely “doesn’t get it” or has been bamboozled by crafty worldly lies.

    It really does frame the discussion and the response.

    Reason and spiritual witness have to go together. If someone doesn’t have (or has lost) a spiritual witness/testimony of the restoration and prophetic authority in the first place, then all the reason in the world won’t convince them of the truth.

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