I was just musing on how different it is today than in Joseph Smith’s day. In Joseph Smith’s day one might ask the prophet, who one would likely know personally to at least a small degree, to look into the Urim and Thummim and receive a revelation from the Lord about what he would like one to be doing (in later days the prophet stated that his mind had become a Urim and Thummim and he no longer needed to use one). If there was a doctrinal matter in the church, and the existing scripture didn’t address it clearly enough, the prophet would return with a revelation of the “thus saith the Lord…” variety.
There was a distinctive difference between these revelations and the revelations we usually hear about now. The revelations now are often decisions, e.g. does the church approve of such and such practice? The answer will be yes or no along with some explanation. There is also much revelation that is in the form of light and knowledge being poured out upon the church in conference talks. A notable example is the proclamation on the family, which is an entire document and is an official proclamation to the church. But even then there is a difference. Yes, the document is absolute gospel truth. No, the document isn’t’ the same as many of the revelations Joseph Smith received. It is not dictation from the Lord. It doesn’t use language like “Thus saith the Lord….” and refer to what the Lord has literally spoken.
The church guidance under Joseph Smith is even different from what one generally reads about among the book of Mormon people. There are occasional points that are similar through the Book of Mormon. There are the two hundred years which are far more abundant in revelation than Joseph Smith’s day, followed by a spiral into apostacy. But, taken as a whole, the Book of Mormon prophets seem to lead the church in a way that is very much like the way it is led today, and less like the way it was led in Joseph Smith’s day.
Now let me be perfectly clear that I am not saying the church is not led by revelation. Without hesitation I affirm that the church is led by revelation today. But Brigham Young was very much aware of the difference I have pointed out, and for some time after Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young led the church only as the chief apostle. If Brigham Young was aware of this difference, there is no reason I need to be embarrassed by it. Brigham Young and all the prophets since are every inch prophets of the Lord. They are the chosen vessels of the Lord who lead the church under the direction of Jesus Christ.
But still, the difference is there, so it is worth saying a bit about why.
Joseph Smith was, to use Elder McConkie’s words “a prophet among prophets”. Even standing among prophets, he stood above them in light and knowledge and led the way in the same way prophets generally stand above the regular membership in light and knowledge and led the way. That is not surprising, as he was not just a prophet, he was the head of a dispensation. After the resurrection Joseph Smith will preside over the other prophets of this dispensation. In the spirit world he already presides over the other prophets of this dispensation who have passed on.
This is worth mentioning because it seems to be being forgotten. I posted a comment on a post by a good and respectable man who has served as bishop. My comment was a statement to the effect that Joseph Smith knew more than anyone else in this dispensation. My comment was not a criticism of anyone. In the context it was purely praise for Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, my comment was deleted by the author of the post, likely because he felt that I was slighting the current prophet.
That is ridiculous. I wonder if it would have been equally displeasing to him if I had written:
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. (D&C 135:3)
Yes, I will frankly assert that Joseph Smith, the man who produced incomparably more scripture than any other man in this dispensation, much of which is actual dictation of the mind and will of the Lord, also knew far more than anyone else of this dispensation. How else could that have possibly happened?
Joseph Smith did more for the salvation of men than anybody in this dispensation save Jesus only.
Joseph Smith produced incomparably more scripture than anybody in this dispensation.
Joseph Smith knew incomparably more than anybody in this dispensation.
Those three facts are all closely linked, and they do nothing to discredit the living oracle, they only further support the true church that he is the head of.
Yes, the other prophets of this dispensation are genuine 100 percent valid prophets. Yes, the church is led by revelation. But we should not be embarrassed about the fact that Joseph Smith was a prophet among prophets. And that is not a slight on the living oracle, whom I fully support as the head of this church under Jesus Christ and the president of the Melchizedek priesthood on the earth. I also fully support the revelation by which he leads the church.
We have forgotten that for years the phrase “The Prophet” in general conference was frequently used simply to refer to Joseph Smith, no matter who the living oracle was at the time. This was done by people who were, themselves, prophets and apostles.
When Adam was alive, did he not know more about God that any of the rest of his dispensation? Yes. Does that slight them in some way? No. Was it offensive in the days of Peter, James, and John, to state that the previous leader (Jesus Christ) knew more about the gospel than they did? No. Did it mean that they weren’t apostles, or that they weren’t leading the church by revelation? No. Do the years of a Zion society being visited often by Christ among the Nephites mean that the church wasn’t being led by revelation in the previous 800 years among the Nephites? Of course not.
Saying no prophet of this dispensation knows a small fraction of what Joseph Smith did no more questions the authenticity and complete faith we place in the living oracle that to say that no prophet of Jesus Christ’s dispensation knew a small fraction of what Jesus Christ knew. In fact, Joseph Smith, Adam, Abraham, Adam, Enoch or all of them taken together don’t know a small fraction of what Jesus Christ knows. It is still his church led by revelation even if the current head knows less than the dispensation head does as is usually the case.
When the other prophets of our dispensation discuss Paul, they talk about what Paul wrote. When Joseph Smith discussed Paul he said: “He is about five feet high; very dark hair, dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion. He was a good orator, active and diligent, always employing himself in doing good to his fellow man.” Joseph Smith didn’t offer mere opinions about Paul’s meaning, because Joseph Smith was acquainted with Paul.
We as a church have not yet really acted upon what the Lord has already given to us. We must prove faithful to what the Lord has given as a church, in order to receive more. There is no purpose in the Lord dictating further revelations to mankind when most of the questions being prominently posed among the membership are not seeking for further light and knowledge, but attempts to deny and alter the plain teachings of the scriptures, e.g. should women have the priesthood, or is homosexuality really immoral. We don’t need more than a “no, we still believe in the scriptures” or a “no that is still wrong, we still believe in the scriptures” for questions like that.
I fully support Thomas S Monson as the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as every other prophet of this dispensation in his time as president. Without hesitation I affirm that they each led the church under the direction of Jesus Christ, and that it is led by Jesus Christ today. But I am not hesitant to affirm that if Brigham Young knew that he was not as knowledgeable as Joseph Smith did, that did not mean that Brigham Young was not the prophet, or that the church was not led by him by revelation from Jesus Christ. The stream of revelations that Joseph Smith had were possible because he was such an astonishingly good man, but even the Book of Mormon prophets don’t generally teach the people with one revelation after another, each being dictation of the mind and will of the Lord. We should keep that in mind and be grateful for the head of our dispensation, Joseph Smith. If we do that properly it will affirm, not deny, our belief in our living oracle. Truth always supports truth better than our foolish corrections to it will.