Revelation, Regularity, and Monotony

April 2, 2004 | 41 comments
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In a few days, we will have the privilege of hearing from our leaders in General Conference. And they will discuss . . . well, we can’t say for sure, but it’s a pretty good bet that they will mostly discuss the same things that were talked about at the last General Conference. (Though Russell may think otherwise).

Every month we also get the Ensign. It is extolled as the words of the living prophets. And every month, it seems to repeat, more or less, many of the same messages and ideas as it did last month, or the month before.

This can be embarassing to us as church members. We eagerly explain to our non-member friends that we have a living prophet who tells us what God is saying. The inevitable question is then, “What has he prophesied lately?” And the letdown answer is, “Well, um, we need to pray, read the scriptures, and do our home teaching.”

Are we expecting too much? Can revelation be dispensed at regular intervals (monthly, semi-annually) without becoming repetitive or monotonous?

A reader remarked that the Ensign is a boring magazine. As bad as that sounds, I find it hard to disagree. There are times — many times — when I’ve gone to the mailbox to see the Ensign and Sports Illustrated, or the Ensign and the New Republic, or the Ensign and U.S. News, arrived together. Guess which magazine I inevitably seem to read last?

The current canon of scripture does not show a tendency towards regular doses of revelation. The Book of Mormon skips over periods of hundreds of years, and then suddenly stops to concentrate on a few individuals. The Doctrine and Covenants was received at very sporadic intervals.

At times, I wonder what would happen if we didn’t have general conference. We would be forced to rely on our scriptures, on the Ensign (if we had that), on our bishops. And if Gordon B. Hinckley ordered that the members convene to hear the leaders speak, it would be a big deal. A huge deal. Not the “yawn, is it really time for general conference again? yawn” that it seems to have become for many members.

Perhaps Nate can enlighten us on the history — when did the church start meeting in regular general conferences? On a broader level, is this a good thing? Why is is that we are willing to bear the risk of monotony, of losing members to complacency and boredom, in order to provide a steady drip of communication from church leaders? And how do we reconcile our vivid scriptural images of prophecy with the sometimes monotonous reality?

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41 Responses to Revelation, Regularity, and Monotony

  1. Adam Greenwood on April 2, 2004 at 11:45 am

    I believe it was Dr. Johnson who observed that mankind needs repetition far more often than it does instruction.

    I for one look forward to general conference and to the Ensign because I find a heightened sensitivity to the Spirit makes old truths seem new. I realized that before I had been carrying around an intellectual proposition, but now I am understanding truth. This process repeats itself.

    If I do put off reading the Ensign, it’s for the same reason I put off reading the scriptures. It requires too much of me, it’s too much like work.

  2. Scott on April 2, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Our vivid scriptural images of prophecy? Aren’t most of those images of old men calling a people to repent, telling them to turn to God, and warning them of stiff consequences if they fail to do so? If that isn’t a perfect description of General Conference, I don’t know what is.

    Granted, hearing the same messages over and over again can be boring. But, as a people, we are not listening. As long as we’re enamoured with a particular sin, we can expect to hear it condemned. As long as our salvation is threatened by immoral environmental suasions, we can expect to hear them identified. The world and our sinfulness (in the aggregate) don’t have complete turnover every six months.

    I guess I don’t understand what you expect from a prophet. Stock picks? Metaphysical noodlings about the resurrection of viruses? Topical political opinions? If you were in charge of General Conference this weekend, what would the program look like? Take out all the boring, usual stuff about repenting, praying, reading scriptures, and recognizing that salvation only comes through Christ. Take out the tedious, recurring, topical themes (e.g., staying out of debt, avoiding unwholesome entertainment, etc.). We’re going for novelty–something that, when your magazine subscriptions arrive, you’ll reach for *before* The New Republic. What would it be?

    Scott

  3. Russell Arben Fox on April 2, 2004 at 11:51 am

    You’re forgetting the power of ritual. Regular general conferences may impose a kind monotony on our reponses to prophetic guidance, but they also have a role to play in binding and entrenching our appreciation of and responsiveness to the church as a whole. As I’ve written before, I certainly wouldn’t mind more spontaneity in the speakers at general conference, but I like the conferences themselves as a regular feature of our church-wide community.

  4. cooper on April 2, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Scot mentions the “staying out of debt” admonition. It has been a theme repeatedly for many years. My husband and I had a discussion on this topic recently. Why the pressure to be out of debt? The obvious answers are there. And it is monotonous if that’s as far as you go. However, if you look at it from a different place, are we not also being admonished to get out of debt spiritually? To put our house in order? Puts a whole new spin on it. Of course we won’t ever be able to pay back the sacrifice of the Savior but we can get Satan cleared off the books.

  5. Kaimi on April 2, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    I suppose I’m just wondering about the entire idea of a monthly magazine. Once that form is taken, it becomes in many ways like any other magazine. And _as a magazine_, it looks boring.

    I may be thinking that the grass is greener (perhaps pre-Ensign saints longed for a monthly magazine). But it seems to me that if there were no monthly Ensign, if it was _unusual_ for me to see revelation in the mailbox, and then I got a letter from Gordon B. Hinckley saying “All Saints must do their home teaching” it would seem much more important than seeing another Ensign article on home teaching.

  6. Scott on April 2, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    Kaimi,

    So if the prophet spoke to us less often, we’d be more likely to do what he says?

    Would that work as a parenting technique also? I mean, if every time your kid walks out the door you tell him to avoid strangers, button his coat, and look both ways before crossing the street, he’ll just get bored and tune you out. The trick is just telling him those things maybe once every couple of years. Then, as the door closes behind him, he’ll think, “Wow! Dad just took the time to tell me something. It must be important. I’m going to button my coat, look both ways before crossing, and avoid strangers for the rest of my life!”

    I’ll pass the word along to my EQ President. If we limit our admonitions to do home-teaching to maybe one a year, our stats will go through the roof.

    Scott

  7. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Kaimi – By your argument, partaking of the Sacrament, reading the scriptures, attending the temple, getting physical exercise, telling your wife and children you love them, eating food, and even breathing air would seem more significant and monumental if we only did these things once in a very great while.

    I think the point of the Ensign, and General Conference, is to give us access to the modern prophets in a way that allows us to take in a little bit every day. While conference can seem overwhelmingly monotonous when you sit through each session back to back, when we listening to one conference talk per day, the small doses of the truth being told build up in our minds and hearts over time. It gives us some of the fortifying spiritual nourishment we need every day.

    I recently started listening to last conference on CD in my car as I commute into DC each morning, typically one or two talks and an occasional choir hymn per morning. It has become a truly worthwhie habit that I have learned to love and appreciate. Each talk, when separated from the others is not quite so boring and really helps me start my workday off on a spiritual note.

  8. John David Payne on April 2, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    I think this is a very interesting question. The one good example that occurs to me (which I have thought of many times in the years since) is President Hinckley’s talk in October 1998 Priesthood session telling us to get our houses in order.

    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-22-20,00.html

    “Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.”

    Not too long after this, the dot-com bubble burst and a lot of people found out they didn’t have their houses in order. On the other hand, I remember that my roommate Andrew Griffard got out of a dot-com and into another paying job after this talk. Another roommate at the same job stayed and was in dire straits when the company tanked.

    That’s just one example. Perhaps there are more.

    JOHN

  9. Kaimi on April 2, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Scott,

    I think I made it clear — I’m wondering, thinking through ideas.

    Do you never find the Ensign to be dull? Do you never find yourself falling asleep (or watching the clock) during General Conference?

    There is clearly a need for regular instruction. (I think I’ve made that clear). The question I’m working through is whether the prophet is the best way of giving regular instruction, or whether perhaps regular instruction would best be left to less-important channels, so that we would take the prophet more seriously when he does speak.

    Are normal telephone calls important? Yes. Do we tie up the 911 lines with them? No.

  10. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Kaimi – One of the things I enjoy so much about conference is hearing President Hinckley speak. Every time I hear him, I get a powerful feeling of love–that he loves me, that he loves the members of the church, that he loves the Lord, that the Lord loves me. I think that at least part of that feeling comes from a sense of familiarity with him. I feel like I know him, and I imagine that in some meaningful way, he knows me.

    I wonder, if President Hinckley spoke to us less often, if I couldn’t instinctively recognize his voice and imagine it in my head when I read his words, if I didn’t feel like I knew him, would I get that feeling that he loves me? Would his counsel mean as much to me and motivate me as much if he wasn’t so familiar to me? I doubt it.

  11. Steve Evans on April 2, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    I agree with Kaimi that repeatedly hearing the same message in a similar way can be a little boring. I’m not against what gets said, nor do I think that we have no need of the message. But the delivery mechanics need to be shaken up. This is just sound pedagogy — sheer repetition without variation makes Steve a dull boy.

    As for Kaimi’s idea that regular instruction be dedicated to less-important channels, I’m not sure that’s a correct step for the Church, but I haven’t worked out a different methodology. Maybe we just need a different message delivery system than the standard conference talks. It’s historically very important, but it’s a method of message delivery ill-suited to today’s ADD LDS.

  12. Nate Oman on April 2, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    Interestingly, general conference is older that Sunday meetings. The Church had formalized all Church conferences and regional conferences long before it had formalized Sunday meetings.

    Also, Church magazines are almost as old as the Church itself. Reading some of the old Church publications can be a trip. There is some interesting stuff in there as well as some pungent (literally) rhetoric. (John Taylor was not above making potty jokes at the expense of anti-Mormons when he over saw church publishing in Nauvoo.) However, a lot of the stuff was pretty clearly space filler…

  13. lyle on April 2, 2004 at 12:55 pm

    Or…perhaps we just need to humble ourselves & be grateful for what we have…and try to see what “we can get out of Conference/Ensign/Elders’ Q/RS” as opposed to what “Conference, et al., will just give us for the mere sitting like a stone and doing other things rather than listening with 110% of our hearts, eyes, mind & soul.”

    :)

  14. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    Perhaps for the value of what is being said by whom, it is worth the sacrfice of struggling through a little boredom. To steal a phrase from another thread, it’s not “gospeltainment.”

    Like all work, spiritual work is still work. But we are blessed and benefitted by struggling to put in the spiritual work necessary to find the spirit and hear the real message sent during those long broadcasts.

    Perhaps its the audience, and not the format that needs to be shaken up. I seriously doubt the intoduction of powerpoint or other revolutionary educational techniques would really make much of a difference in having the spirit touch someone’s heart.

  15. Jim F. on April 2, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    I don’t know that it is behind what Kaimi is thinking, but sometimes when people complain about the repetitive quality of Church instruction of various sorts, lurking behind their remark is the idea that the propositional content of preaching is what is most important: “I never hear anything new.” As Russell notes, the ritual aspect is equally important (using “ritual” in a broad sense rather than to refer only to ordinances). In a similar vein, the activity of teaching and preaching are themselves important, not just their doctrinal content. It is important that someone preach the gospel of repentance, and it is important that someone hear it. Paul says “So: faithfulness from what is heard, and what is heard through the word of Christ.” (I’m relying here on the Nestle-Aland edition of the text rather than on older texts used by the KJV translators, thus “Christ” rather than “God.”)

    The Greek word that Paul uses here for “word” (rhema) almost certainly reflects the meaning of the Hebrew word “dabar,” a word that _The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament_ says cannot be disassociated from power. (Melissa, Julie, or one of the other Old Testament or New Testament specialists will have to be counted on for real accuracy here.) In other words, the word that one hears isn’t just a matter of content, it is a matter of power, something that can affect one. I take it that the important thing about hearing the Word preached is the effect that preaching has on us, not the content of what is said. –A very long-winded way of Adam’s point that the point of our participation is the reception of the Spirit.

  16. Jim F. on April 2, 2004 at 1:09 pm

    That’s Romans 10:17. Sorry for omitting the reference.

  17. wendy on April 2, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with Kaimi. The Ensign is very watered down, and quite stale by the time it gets to you. No new announcements are made there — those are made to bishops, in conference or by press release. The pictures and illustrations look like they are straight out of the Watchtower. The faith-promoting stories are pretty corny. I don’t remember anyone ever saying on this or any other Mormon-themed website “that reminds me of a great Ensign article I read last month.” Beyond getting the conference talks out to people in print and the HT/VT messages, I think it has outlived its usefulness, at least for anyone with the Internet.

    As far as livening up conference, even if the messages are repetitive, the presentation does not have to be. They could give the talks outside somewhere, with palm trees behind them. They could dress down occasionally, so it’s not a sea of black suits on the stand. Maybe broadcast a roundtable discussion of GAs talking about a certain topic. Maybe walk down into the audience and talk to people directly. Or answer some questions that were emailed in the months before conference. Some variety, spontaneity, would be a nice change.

  18. Dave on April 2, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    Kaimi,

    Yes, I too have noticed the steady decline of the Ensign. The latest contribution to that process is displacing interesting topical articles by variously talented lay members with what are essentially Primary talks written by Junior GAs. The magazine has become about as interesting as the average Stake newsletter. [Okay, I suppose I'm exaggerating for effect.]

    Here’s a stab at an explanation: Good copy comes from good editing. I don’t think the staff there has the authority to really edit (i.e., reject or rewrite a boring article by an Important Person).

    General Conference is a different matter. I confess that I kind of enjoy it. I find it much more interesting now that I “listen critically.” I actually enjoy the choir music. When I see panning shots of Utah, I get a deep sense of gratitude that I don’t live there.

    And there’s something cool about seeing conference in that huge, huge Conference Center. I think it has become my favorite Church building. There’s something oddly moving about seeing a building that big that doesn’t have a basketball floor or a hockey rink center stage. I saw it once when it was empty, and got that odd feeling of awe that doesn’t hit me very often. It’s the closest thing we have to a cathedral.

  19. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    Wow. . .

  20. Kaimi on April 2, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    Wendy wrote:

    “Maybe broadcast a roundtable discussion of GAs talking about a certain topic.”

    That would be _so cool_. Like a symposium or presentation, but the apostles — wow, that’s an exciting idea.

  21. Kingsley on April 2, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    Whenever I see that the Ensign and the National Review, or the Ensign and the Weekly Standard, or the Ensign and Commentary have arrived together, I generally read the political mag first, because it is vastly more entertaining, and the Ensign second, because, as Mr. Greenwood noted, it feels like work. I find that Fundamental Things generally do feel like work: e.g. working out, keeping a journal, cleaning house, gardening, earning a living, raising a family, caring for ailing grandparents, etc. I also find, however, that keeping up with Fundamental Things keeps you fundamentally sound, sane, happy. And occasionally, you know, the monotony of it all is pierced by what C.S. Lewis calls Joy, or a recognition of Truth accompanied by indescribable delight, peace, and longing. But the piercings only come after a lot of toil. Lewis thought that even one such piercing more than rewarded his labors; and I have come to feel similarly about the Ensign and General Conference: X hours of dullness for one revelation from the Holy Ghost is worth it. And of course the OVERALL sense of wellbeing and health brought by disciplined doses of Fundamentals is more than wildly worth it.

  22. Nate Oman on April 2, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Sorry, I think that broadcasting a roud table discussion by general authorities in lieu of general conference is an AWFUL idea. I want to be preached to by someone in authority behind a pulpit. The church would be cooler if it were like a graduate seminar or an episode of the McLaughlin group line of thinking misses the point. We have graduate seminars and the McLaughlin group. Where else do you get hours of sermons and preaching.

  23. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    Lets just take a moment, once again, and try to remember that the vast majority of the church is not as hyper-intellectual as many of the posters to this blog. While the Ensign may appear “watered-down” and the personal stories in it may come off as “corny” to some of us, lets try to remember that the overwhelming majority of the Saints are entirely unlikely to attracted to, let alone spiritually fed by a hard-hitting scholarly journal which critically examines LDS theology.

  24. Steve Evans on April 2, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    Agreed that Wendy’s idea of a roundtable discussion is the most exciting prospect I’ve heard in a long, long time. Just the idea of watching the G.A.s batting around ideas is great. Maybe a Utah version of “Bouillon de Culture”?

    OK, so that was elitist. sorry…

  25. Kingsley on April 2, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    If you want to get a feeling for the profound sanity and beauty of the General Conference format, just switch over to one of the Evangelical stations for a moment…

  26. Jim F. on April 2, 2004 at 1:40 pm

    Steve, if you don’t get your tongue out of your cheek, you’ll soon find yourself with a terrible wound from biting it.

  27. Charles on April 2, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with Thom on this one. General Conference is not a talk show. Its not about showing how much an everyday Joe the apostles and general authorities are.

    It is a time to discuss the issues that we as a membership need to hear. Worldwide.

    I believe that there have been changes. I know that in the late 90′s, I forget the exact year. Gordon B. Hinkley had what many have refered to as his “prophet of doom” talk. He stressed the need to put our houses in order, citing Joseph and the 7 lean and fat years. Food storage, debt, and other personal preparations. It was our charge then to prepare.
    He may not have drawn attention, but wasn’t last conference missing this same message. The time for preparation is over. To me thats a pretty big change. Not so much for what was said, but for what wasn’t.

  28. Julie in Austin on April 2, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    Let’s say I was given the following assignment:

    Give a talk or write an article that (1) expresses the will of God (2) can be easily translated into 68 different languages (3) will make as much sense (and not confuse) someone in Ghana who has been a member of the Church for two months and someone in Texas who has an advanced degree in Biblical Studies.

    I think I would crawl under my bed.

    The problem, I think, is that what makes the ‘same old’ talk on repentence interesting is maybe an excellent metaphor, personal story, vivid language, etc. These things are very hard to translate. So we end up with very basic statements with no interesting embroidery. Maybe this is the (very small) price we pay for an international Church.

    BTW, I discovered that the secret to loving GC is to have something to do with my hands and not just SIT for 8 hours.

  29. Adam Greenwood on April 2, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    Mr. Kingsley,
    That ‘Mr. Greenwood’ has earned you my undying acclaim. Not to mention that I was touched by your post.

    Roundtablers:
    Gaa! We’ve got a thing going, a ritual if you will, and I like it the way it is.

  30. Thom on April 2, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    Not that there would be anything wrong with a roundtable per se, outside of General Conference.

  31. lyle on April 2, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    Why is the answer always change?
    Isn’t there revelation in continuity?
    Why not post on the ideas & experiences that have built us up spiritually at GC rather than…well…how to turn GC into the next Donahue for kicks & giggles.

    1. re: President Hinckley’s talk re: 7 years of famine/feast + advice to get house in order…as The HOUSE OF PAYNE put it on a related thread here…the dot com bubble burst shortly thereafter. Coincidence? And for those that moan about the economy & our Wacko president…I wonder if there is just as much energy put into getting prepared for the calamity that must be surely upon us.

    2. I think GC has alot more to do with attitude than content. If you want the Spirit to speak to you…it will. If you are hoping for a sign, vis-a-vis some ‘new’ revelation, policy, etc….then it should be no surprise to end up bored, i.e. stricken ‘deaf’ to the Spirit.

    Now…this is just one liberal hard-liner to another mind you.

  32. Steve Evans on April 2, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Jim, not EVERYTHING I do is insincere. I really was struck by my own elitism there, a mix of pride, satisfaction, and pity for the poor slobs who don’t watch ‘Bouillon de Culture.’

    I agree w/ Julie that doing something with your hands during G.C. is a good tip. Banging them against my own forehead, clenching them into fists of rage or perhaps wrapping them around a Nintendo Game Boy Advance are all great ideas.

    Just kidding Julie — your idea really WAS a good one.

  33. Susan on April 2, 2004 at 3:19 pm

    In the earliest conferences only the men were listed in the minutes. So a few things have changed. Ironically, it takes polygamy to have women really begin coming into view in the rituals, theology of the early church.

  34. John David Payne on April 2, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Hey, what happened to the “Ensign is boring” sub-thread? I was eager to join in the complaining. Personally, I haven’t enjoyed the Ensign since they changed the “Mormon Journal” section to “Latter-day Saint Voices.” Yuck.

    And the “I Have A Question” section has changed, too. It used to have tough doctrinal questions, seemingly designed to stump the general authorities. Now the questions sound like they come from the correlation committee. “How can I pray more in accordance with the will of the father?” “How can I continue my courtship after marriage?” Give me a break. What happened to “Where is the Garden of Eden?” Now it’s called Questions and Answers and it only shows up about three times a year.

    The magazine just feels like it’s produced by automatons on loan from Hallmark. Blecch.

    HOUSE OF PAYNE

  35. Kingsley on April 2, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    I think the question of Eden’s whereabouts is probably more worthy of a “give me a break” than the other two. If you want your intellect tickled there are places to go for that. How to communicate en mass with the worldwide Church is a complex question, and what to communicate is just as difficult. Broken marriages and ineffective prayers are a more crucial problem than kitsch–surely there is a way to deplore the second without turning up our noses at the first?

  36. John David Payne on April 2, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    Yeah, I guess you’re right.

  37. Matt Evans on April 2, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    I was probably 24 years old before I came to grips with the fact that it was unlikely there would be any *big news* at conference. When I was a kid, I distinctly remember expecting to have the prophet say that we need to pack for Missouri, or use the Sword of Laban in an object lesson, or that God was going to destroy the Soviet Union and Las Vegas by fire if their inhabitants didn’t repent.

    Though I eventually realized that my parents and Primary teachers had set me up for disappointment, I’m still confused about the need for “living prophets”. It’s always seemed to me that the main value of living prophets is their not being dead, so we’re not limited to what was said before. But most of the defenses of the Ensign have suggested that the whole point of a monthly magazine is to tell us things that are in the scriptures. It could be that the Prophet is necessary *in case* God has big news, and that most of the time God doesn’t have any big news, so we just hear yesterdays news.

    Here’s a thought experiment I’ve grappled with for some time. Imagine a Mormon, I’ll call him Gilligan, who since 1950 hasn’t received a single communication from the church. All he’s had access to for the past 54 years are pre-1950 LDS publications AND a few monthly magazines from conservative Christian churches. In what ways would Gilligan’s life be worse for want of the words of the living prophets?

  38. Julie in Austin on April 2, 2004 at 9:39 pm

    Matt-

    Well, one obvious one is that if there are any people of African descent hanging around Gilligan, he won’t ordain them.

    Gilligan will probably be basically fine, if the rest of his world matches the conditions of 1950. But if he has any questions about new reproductive technologies, etc., etc., he’s in trouble.

    I think one of the most important functions of prophets in our time is to help us deal with emerging technologies.
    I think one of the reasons

  39. Matt Evans on April 2, 2004 at 9:57 pm

    Julie, which emerging technologies are you thinking of when you say the prophets would have told Gilligan something different than he learned from his conservative Christian magazines? It seems to me that our church’s position to technological and cultural issues has closely paralleled that of other conservative Christian churches.

  40. Adam Greenwood on April 3, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    Matt,
    There is a world of difference between deciding to do something because you think it’s what God wants, or because God has told you. Conservative Christian denominations are like the child who has learned from another child the answer to an involved question. We, ideally, our like the child who asked the teacher, was told to get the answer from little Johnny who’d already asked the same question and been answered, and then comes back to the teacher after asking little Johnny and has the teacher confirm the answer.

    As the above example shows, frankly the Gospel is about personal relationships. It’s one thing to read about a prophet calling people to repentance and deducing that you too must repent. It’s another to have a prophet in front of you, calling you to repent.

  41. Ethesis on April 3, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    Well …

    Listening to Prophets

    When we listen to a prophet’s voice at general conference there are five things we can expect to hear.

    1. The Prophetic Witness or Testimony of Christ.

    2. The Call to share and act in the love of Christ.

    3. Call to repent of our sins.

    4. Prophetic warnings of (a) particular sins and (b) specific dangers.

    5. Changes in procedure or course appropriate to our time.

    Of these, the testimony of Christ is probably the most important. Paul goes so far as to say that the testimony of Christ is the Spirit of Prophecy. Central to being a prophet is what is known as “the prophetic witness” — a testimony and knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is the core of the plane of salvation, the only name by which man can be saved and the good news of the gospel — which is the gospel or church of Jesus Christ, and no other.

    This prophetic testimony or witness of Christ has three parts. First, that Christ is real, he exists, he lives. “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony last of all which he give of him: that he lives!” [

    In every age the prophets have testified that the promised Messiah, Jesus the Christ, is real, that he lives, and that he is living water with a tangible presence and true certainty.

    The second part of the testimony of the promised Messiah is that he is the path of salvation. If there was no salvation, an anointed Savior would be meaningless. Christ's reality has meaning to us because he is not only the author and finisher of our faith, but because our faith in him leads to salvation. "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but to redeem the world." "That whosoever believeth on him, though he were dead, yet shall he live."

    The good news or gospel is that there is a Christ and that he can save us.

    The third part of a prophet's testimony of Christ is the command to be like him. As Howard W. Hunter said on October 1, 1994 "I invite all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ ..." "Let us study the Master's every teaching and devote ourselves more fully to his example."

    The second message a Prophet brings, after the prophetic witness of the reality of Christ, is the message that we should and must receive and act in the love of Christ. In the New Testament we have Paul's sermon on Charity in 1 Cor. 13 "the greatest of all"

    In the Book of Mormon we have the sermon captured in the 7th chapter of Moroni. Modern prophets have told us to be like Christ.

    I THINK THEY WILL KEEP TELLING US THIS UNTIL WE GET THE MESSAGE [remember how Brigham Young preached that the Saints wouldn't get any more revelation until they lived up to what they had received?]

    “especially the love and hope and compassion he displayed. I pray that we will treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more forgiveness.” (Hunter, Oct. 1, 1994)

    The love that leads to forgiveness is essential to salvation. God has warned us that if we fail or refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us, he will not forgive us of our sins. He has also said “I will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

    Further, the Christ said “by this may men know that ye are my disciples, that ye love one another.” To be saved, to follow, to become disciples, we must have the love of Christ within our hearts. [expand as time permits]. Prophets teach us of Christ and then they teach us of love that we may come unto Christ and be his true disciples.

    After teaching us of the reality of Christ and of his love, prophets next call us to repentance for our sins — and call us to repent of our sins.

    “To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. The path of repentance, though hard at times, lifts one ever upward and leads to a perfect forgiveness.” (Howard W. Hunter, October 1, 1994. [note, that while President Hunter gave variations of that talk several times, the third and last delivery is by far the most complete]).

    Not only do prophets call us to repent of sins generally, at times they call on us as a people to repent of specific sins. For example … Isaiah and Ezra Taft Benson both warned in detail against pride. Nephi and Jeremiah preached against rebellion. Malachi was sent to preach about the failure to tithe. Abinadi was sent to call people — especially the governing establishment — to repentance from gross debauchery.

    Elijah warned the people against the worship of false idols. Jacob denounced the love of riches and immorality.

    As King Benjamin noted, the ways of sin are endless. But each age seems to have its favorite sins. Each age seems to grow comfortable with some sins, and as that happens, God sends us warnings when the familiar is still sin even though we have now embraced it as comfortable and normal.

    Prophets also cry out warnings to the people. That is the fourth thing they teach. Some times they warn us of sins. There are times when their warning passes “just” the call to repentance, times when we come close to crossing the edge where our sins prevent agency and cry out for destruction from God.

    At that time, God sends prophets first, to warn us. We are all familiar with the story of Jonah who warned Ninevah. We all know of the attempted warning of Sodom and Gomorrah. We all know of Noah who preached warning continually — all the while building the ark against the failure of his warnings.

    Finally, we have the story of Lehi who warned Jerusalem and then fled with his family. Thus prophets not only call on us to repent of sin in general, but they also warn us when our sins are about to bring about our destruction.

    Prophets also warn us of other dangers. The Word of Wisdom warns against tobacco. Jeremiah warned against military alliance with Egypt. Joseph gave warning of seven years of famine in Egypt. Prophets have warned against many other dangers, from encouraging food storage prior to the great depression, to the prophecies about the end of time. Prophets are indeed watchmen to warn the people as the scripture states.

    Last of the five things prophets teach us, prophets tell us of changes in the way things are or the way things are to be done. This message is the thing most people notice about prophets and the thing most people look to be told. It is the least important of the five messages prophets bring.

    Christ is the core of the gospel.

    Following the message of Christ is the message of his love, without which we are as hollow brass or vain noise, without hope.

    Third is repentance and laying hold of the love of Christ and remission of sins.

    Fourth is heeding the voice of warning and repenting lest we be destroyed.

    Finally, we have procedural revelation about how things are to be done. In Moses’ time that included the ten commandments and not eating pork, rabbits, lobster, shrimp or catfish. It included limiting the Priesthood only to the sons of Aaron and the tribe of Levi.

    In Paul’s time that included not eating meat butchered at pagan temples (in order to avoid offending members of the Church who were unable to accept the practice) and allowing gentiles to be baptized into the Church.

    In our recent time changes have included the consolidated meeting schedule, extending the priesthood to all worthy men, and the reorganizations in church administration. It will undoubtedly include many more things we do not yet even expect and which take us aback at first. After all, when Peter was told to “arise and eat” and partake of food such as pork, rabbit, lobster and shrimp, he drew back and remonstrated with the Lord.

    When gentiles were baptized, it caused a scandal. No doubt as time and needs change, God will surprise us again. And he gives us prophets so that we may know that these surprises are the mind and will of God.

    Bottom line, expect five things out of General Conference:

    1. The testimony of Christ, that he is, that he is the path to salvation, and that we should be like him.

    2. The love of Christ, both that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, and that we should love one another.

    3. That we must repent and return to Christ and his love.

    4. Specific warnings for our time, and

    5. Revelations regarding changes for our times.

    Boring, some of the speakers, yes. I never get much out of the talks to the young men.

    But I’ll be at the Priesthood session and over the last twelve or so years conference has provided a balm for my soul.

    Now, if I could only get my four year old to cope better with it.

    Stephen M (Ethesis)

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