Pt. 1 – God’s Word and the Unpopular Notion of “One True Church”
The following is part 1 of a 3-part series. For part 2 click here.
It must be admitted that the least attractive contention in all of human history is one of one group’s claim of superiority over another. Supremacy belongs to God. At various times, God has established the truth through prophets, and prophets and their people existed in communities. Their claim was simple and always the same – the God of Israel reigns. The Bible states very simply, “one lord, one faith, and one baptism,” as a basis for one true faith (Ephesians 4:5). But who among us today makes similar claims? How would you receive that message? Does the Bible allow for more?
Another way to look at this topic is to ask yourself, “What makes one church different from another?”
For many Bible believers, these question seems less and less relevant every day. Christians and Americans, face a long history of division and argument, yet we possess a fortunate propensity for tolerance, despite our past differences. Still, there are many who seek out and are not afraid to ask unanswered questions. Others might favor leaving well enough alone. Considering the violent history that religion has arguably played a role in, this is a positive trend.
Another positive trend that coincided with this is the increased rate of literacy and human understanding. For a few centuries now, the average reader has enjoyed the ability to explore God’s words or ignore them, in an environment without fear of imprisonment, expulsion, or death. If there were ever an environment where claims of the past can be investigated without such fear, it is now. The claim of a true church today can air out its claims for all to see and any amount of rejection is free from archaic and inhuman subjugation.
Matthew 24:11 taught that many false prophets will appear and deceive many. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and 11, Paul testified that divisions existed among the saints of his day and exhorted them to be unified. Ephesians 2:20 taught that the church is built upon a foundation of prophets and apostles.
From these few verses we can glean the importance of 1) the warning of divisions and false teaching, deceiving many 2) that saints are to be unified, and 3) that the Church in ancient times relied on apostles and prophets to keep the body of Christ in check against division and false teachings. Considering these factors that existed 2,000 years ago, what application might we take away for our day? What else does the Bible say about the nature of God’s faith and people?
Consider for a moment, that twice a year members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather across the world for their semi-annual General Conferences. These events are held once in the Fall and again in the Spring, every year for the benefit of some 15 million Latter-day Saints across the globe. Tens of thousands will gather in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, UT, at any of the four sessions. Millions more will watch from home via satellite or streaming from their computers or tablets, while others tune in at their local meeting houses to hear the words of modern apostles and prophets.
These spiritual leaders (and all-male Latter-day Saints above the age of 12) hold the priesthood of God. But what exactly is the Priesthood of the Latter-day Saints? Why should this be of any significance to other Bible believers? Where do mainstream Christian leaders historically receive their own authority to administer? These questions are of great significance and the answers may change the dialogue and build bridges between Latter-day Saints and their Christian friends. As a young faith system, why are Christians reluctant to embrace “Mormonism” and its additional scripture?
Often we hear cries to “just read the Bible,” “don’t add to the Bible,” “there is only one Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” etc, as responses to anything that sounds like it might mistakenly “add to the Bible.” However, with such a superficial treatment, many mistakenly give “the Bible” credit where scripture does not lend it. The Bible, formerly various scrolls that circulated in the 1st Century, was not canonized by any apostles or anyone known to be commissioned by Christ. Centuries past well beyond the time of Christ before the scrolls were finally gathered and canonized. The true Church of the 1st Century relied on human authorities properly ordained, and this article (and the following two sections) will show how the LDS Church picked up where the original church left off.
Latter-day Saints and most of mainstream Christianity, outside of Catholicism, are only a couple of hundred years apart in their historical origins, and both are removed 1,500 years or more from the 1st Century Church. The Church of Jesus Christ is often viewed as a more recent creation, but considering the timeline, Protestant “longevity” is not a valid indicator of their legitimacy over the Church.
At issue then, is this question; was mere reform and increased access to the written word and literacy all that was necessary to bestow self-proclaimed pastors and preachers with the authority to administer to believers as described in 1st Century Church? Perhaps a restoration through prophets and apostles was necessary? How does the New Testament detail the responsibilities of authority and administration? This last question will be addressed in part 3.
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
LDS Article of Faith #5
Are Living Prophets Necessary for Today?
Latter-day Saints have prophets and apostles, Catholics have their equivalents in popes and cardinals, while the rest of mainstream Christianity relies on their local pastors and preachers and scripture as the final authority. Mainstream Christians demand that prophets and apostles are no longer necessary.
One particular passage of scripture mainstream Christians often cite in support of their position, of God ceasing to call prophets, is found in Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. Paul states, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1).
This interpretation ignores a significant and Biblically obvious fact. Is Paul, an ordained administrator and apostle of Jesus Christ (equivalent in power and authority to an Old Testament “prophet”), merely making reference to the prophets of the Old Testament and has now also spoken through His Son? Or is Paul declaring that God will never call or speak through prophets or apostles again? The latter is the claim critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lean on to explain why their own faith systems lack the authority of a Moses, Peter, or Paul who conveyed God’s will to man and to keep the church in the unity of belief and doctrine.
Ephesians 4:11-13 reads:
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Similarly, Ephesians 2:19-22 says,
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye are also builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
You see, of all the major faiths that emerged out of the reforms movements, which will be further discussed in part 2, none claim to continue the Biblical pattern of administration and authority like the Latter-day Saints do.
The authority of mainstream churches is assumed without explanation or clarity beyond the fact that God, at one time, spoke through prophets in the Old Testament and again through His Son in the New Testament (and apostles who followed). The Bible is believed to be above any human authority (www.evangelicalbeliefs.com). Some Evangelicals might preface that the gift of prophecy still exists, but again, they do not claim to have a Biblical equivalent of Moses, Peter, or Paul in our day.
The Difference in Prophets and Personal Revelation
I want to make the distinction here between the Biblical figures, or prophets, and the individual member’s ability to converse with God in private – what Latter-day Saints refer to as personal revelation. I believe this is key in going forward. Latter-day Saints do not claim exclusive rights to whom the Spirit can touch or to whom may be taught wisdom. What Latter-day Saints do claim to possess, and others do not, is that God has literally called and ordained prophets and twelve apostles today exclusively to establish, administer, and bring His Kingdom on Earth in unity.
What does the Bible teach about the priesthood, revelation, authority, and the administration of His faith? What is a prophet (or apostle) and what is revelation? One might ask, how are current LDS leaders equivalent to the Biblical figures?
Aren’t prophets supposed to show signs, wonders, and miracles? Aren’t prophets and apostles limited to the scope of time of which they recorded, and thus no longer needed? Aren’t they supposed to predict the future? Do Latter-day Saints openly claim that our living prophets, or has do they themselves, claim that they often have Biblical epiphanies? Is that the only requirement to be a prophet? To explain, the Church’s Bible Dictionary defines the characteristics of a Prophet. This is important because this is how Latter-day Saints view their leaders and the nature of their role described in scripture:
-Acts as God’s messenger and makes His will known.
-Is part of the prophetic office to preserve and edit the records of the nation’s (church’s) history.
-Is given the duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs.
-Above all, is a preacher of righteousness.
-When the people fall away from a true faith in Jehovah, a prophet tries to restore that faith and remove false views.
-In certain cases, predict future events, such as the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah’s kingdom; but as a rule a prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller.
One thing that should be noted at this point, in reference to prophets and miracles, in Deuteronomy 34:10-11 it explains that “there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face…In all the signs and the wonders.” This admission and the characteristics listed above are important to keep in mind as you consider the role of modern prophets and what you might imagine or expect them to be.
In this section we summarized the Biblical claim of “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” the past and present usage of prophets, and the priesthood authority as understood by the Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, and the Latter-day Saints. As you think of the past usage of prophets, their role and their characteristics, the next posting (Part 2) provides a brief history of the departure of many Christians from a thousand years of Catholic domination and a more thorough exploration of the Bible. The next section will also provide some historical context for the emergence of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ.
Scott Thormaehlen received his Master’s in History in 2016 and taught U.S. History in the Lone Star College system in Houston, Texas and for Alvin Community College. His writings have appeared in Accuracy in Academia, the Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies at Sam Houston State University, LDS Living, Meridian Magazine, and East Texas History – a project by Sam Houston State University.