Developing a Testimony of Modern Prophets

June 24, 2006 | 18 comments
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I have a friend who is thinking about joining the Church, but he does not have a testimony of the prophet. As far as I can tell, his concerns are not specific to Gordon B. Hinckley. It’s the idea of a modern prophet that bothers him.

My friend is a Catholic, and some of his concerns stem from the inevitable comparisons between the Prophet and the Pope. He has been attending Mormon services regularly with his wife and children for years. He even has a calling! As a result of his longstanding association with the Church, he has asked all of the usual investigator questions, and heard all of the usual answers.

A couple of months ago, I challenged him to get serious about baptism, to find out whether he wanted to join the Church before his children were at the age when they would want to be baptized. He has taken my challenge seriously, reading the Book of Mormon and praying. Next week I would like to speak with him about prophets.

This is where you come in. I would be interested to hear your stories. (Where the Gospel is concerned, I prefer narratives to arguments.) How did you gain a testimony of modern prophets?

My story is simple and perhaps not very useful to my friend. I joined the Church at BYU. Shortly after my baptism, I attended a fireside by President Kimball in the Marriott Center. As he entered from the side, the audience of 20,000+ BYU students fell silent. Then we sang, “We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet.” Watching President Kimball, I simply knew that he was a prophet.

I was comfortable with the notion of modern prophets prior to my baptism. (If you believe in God, why not prophets?) But that was the moment when I gained a spiritual conviction of modern prophets, and that conviction remains with me.

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18 Responses to Developing a Testimony of Modern Prophets

  1. danithew on June 24, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    It might be useful for him to listen to or watch talks by LDS prophets. Listening to a prophet gives the Spirit the opportunity to testify to the listener of the prophet’s divine calling.

  2. Clair on June 24, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    My testimony of our modern prophet grows whenever he speaks in conference “as one having authority”. He is the law-giver in a way, while the others are law expounders.

  3. Julie M. Smith on June 24, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Clair, I really like that distinction between law giver and law expounder.

    And I agree with danithew.

  4. Gordon Smith on June 24, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    I like the idea of watching Conference talks, too. Any quick recommendations on a talk by President Hinckley? I am thinking that Forgiveness might be appropriate.

  5. Sarah on June 25, 2006 at 7:33 am

    Gordon, I don’t remember where you live — I finally saw a General Authority speak in person for the first time (excluding President Hinckley, who was several hundred feet away the day I saw him speak in 1999, and that was mostly an announcement about the new Columbus temple, which was “cooler” in some ways, but not as much of a testimony builder for me) about three months ago, and it helped my testimony both of Prophets and the Church substantially.

  6. elizabeth on June 25, 2006 at 8:27 am

    I think what you need to do is go back into his own religeous roots.
    If he has been in the church for years, that he’s been there and done that.

    Go andsearch on google what the catolic church thinks about prophets wath is the real purpose of the pope etc.
    Then start with him in the Bible and read one prophet at a time and talk with him the purpose of these prophets.
    Make it a journey and not a hurry hurry thing.

    I cannot say that I am gung- ho at the moment about lds prophets. But I do know from the bible that women and men prophets where used by God to lead His people here on earth and/or to teach us about the gospel.

    My recomandation is go to the roots
    Go and sitt and read and study the bible about prophets

    And most of all do not push him into a testimony.

    good luck

    Elizabeth ( your favorite dutchie)

  7. Kevin Barney on June 25, 2006 at 9:45 am

    I have a suggestion that may seem counterintuitive at first. Suggest that he read the (first) biography of Spencer W. Kimball.

    If he has been attending services for years, he may get the idea that we think our prophets have to be perfect men. The Kimball bio will convey what a wonderful, but definitely imperfect, man he was.

    There is also a bit of a semantic problem here. None of his successors has been a “prophet” in quite the same sense as Joseph Smith (not even Brigham Young). Increasingly over time, the role of the prophet is more administrative and ministerial rather than charismatic. It might be helpful for him to think of “prophet” in current LDS usage as in large measure a synonym for “president.”

  8. Susan M on June 25, 2006 at 11:00 am

    Is it necessary to have a testimony of modern prophets to be baptized? I didn’t really when I converted. I had a testimony about very little in the gospel. But I was willing to let the testimony I did have carry the rest, and boy did my testimony grow over time.

    For me, my full-blown, rock-solid testimony of modern prophets came when I saw President Hinckley speak in person. It was at a an area conference in a large stadium with about 11,000 people there. When President Hinckley walked in, I felt the Spirit like I never had before. It filled that giant stadium and was so strong I immediately started crying. My husband, who was inactive at the time, said it was almost painful.

    He was also a smoker at the time, and had heard me say how I’ll sometimes hear a speaker in church say something that was obviously inspired and intended for me to hear. He said he’d never had that happen to him. President Hinckley spoke about smoking that day. So you can bet I was digging my elbow into my husband’s side.

  9. Ben H on June 25, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Well, maybe arguments mingled with narrative is the best I can do, Gordon, but here goes . . .

    For me, my testimony of modern prophets is closely tied to my testimony of personal revelation, and Joseph Smith is a perfect example of both. When I was in the MTC, I realized that I believed in Christ, believed the gospel, and felt these were very important for pretty much everyone to know about. I realized one day I was less sure about modern prophets, and anyone in particular. If people know the gospel, why do they have to believe Joseph Smith in particular was a prophet? I prayed and pondered. Within a couple of days I was listening to a speaker (I think on Joseph Smith), and it hit me that he is paradigmatic of all of our search for knowledge of the truth. He had the Bible, but he had to know which of the many churches based on it was true. He prayed, and God told him. We need a prophet today because we all need to hear God’s message, in a way that addresses the particular needs and questions of our time (I think of Alma 29 here), whether addressing the church as a whole or each of us individually, the principle is the same.

    From what I understand, Catholics believe no further revelation is needed today, because all truth was revealed long ago in the Incarnation: God himself revealed himself to us, so what more is there to reveal? I say, well, in a way, nothing. But human channels of transmission are never adequate to convey that overflowing Truth. We have to keep connecting with the source, to fill out our inevitably partial understanding with those elements we especially need at any given time. We need prophets, and we need our own access to God, for much the same reasons.

    In Japan my mission companion and I went with our ward mission leader to meet a preacher he knew who lived around the corner. The man quite impressively knew the story of Joseph Smith. He said, “Why do you go around believing what some other man said about God? Joseph Smith went to God himself, and got the message intended for him straight from the source. That’s what you should do.” He was right. The trick is that I did go, and part of what God told me is that what Joseph revealed was true.

    The Catholic understanding of faith, at least what is reflected in the encyclical Fides et Ratio, is also quite different, in a way that reflects their view of prophecy: faith is reliance on human transmission of true belief, trusting those who have gone before. But my view is that we need some of that trust, but it can never suffice. As D&C 50:19-20 says, “he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.” To keep us on track, we always need the truth refreshed, through the Spirit, and through prophets.

  10. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 25, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    There is also a bit of a semantic problem here. None of his successors has been a “prophet� in quite the same sense as Joseph Smith (not even Brigham Young). Increasingly over time, the role of the prophet is more administrative and ministerial rather than charismatic. It might be helpful for him to think of “prophet� in current LDS usage as in large measure a synonym for “president.�

    Sometimes we tend to hero-worship too much, and since “prophet� today just means “leader who has outlived all the others� it is meaningless.

    These statements, in my mind, undermine our prophets. President Hinckley is more than an old man; he is more than a president. He is the ONLY person on the earth who has all the keys necessary for the salvation of the world. There is nothing administrative and charismatic about that. He also is a man of vision, and has receive revelation that has furthered the work in tremendous ways (for example, small temples). The high councils of the Church are also receiving revelation, such as the Proclamation on the family. Of course we don’t have the same level of restoration taking place as with Joseph Smith, but that is to be expected. That by no means removes the prophetic nature of our prophet’s (and prophets’) callings.

  11. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 25, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    There is nothing administrative and charismatic about that.

    That came out wrong. What I meant is that this goes way beyond administration and charisma.

  12. mullingandmusing (m&m) on June 25, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    Gordon, to your question, my testimony of prophets has come from a variety of experiences. My testimony of the Book of Mormon was the first element of that. Then came a specific testimony of Joseph Smith, which, until I was a missionary, had been tied to my testimony of the Book of Mormon (“Since I know the BoM is true, I know Joseph was a prophet”). That led to knowing that our living prophet is a prophet.
    I think what has solidified that for me is just listening to and trying to follow their words with exactness. As I do that, my testimony of them becomes more and more firm, more and more of a conviction. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17, from memory, so might not be exact). As I try to DO what the prophets teach, and accept their words as from the Lord, the Spirit can then let me know that they ARE from the Lord. I tend to think there is a lot more prophetic and inspired teaching that goes on than sometimes we think. I can’t think of anything that I haven’t felt was inspired from them. As I accept their words and try to implement them (not that I do that anywhere perfectly, but I try to do what I can), the Spirit burns in my life. And even when I speak of them in a supportive way, the Spirit confirms their divine callings.
    So, my thought would be that if your friend wants to gain a testimony of modern prophets, invite him to (as has been mentioned) become familiar with their words (and I’m talking about all our prophets, seers, and revelators) and then to try to follow what they say, and see how it feels. Try their words, like Alma’s experiment. See how he feels. See if the seed grows. If he tries the experiement by “doing His will” as though he already had the testimony of prophets, then I believe the Spirit can let him know that “it is of God” and they are not just speaking as just nice, charismatic, or old men. (Although Elder Bednar is anything but old; same with Elders Holland and Eyring.) :)

    If you want to share just Pres. HInckley talks, the one he gave in Priesthood in April was awesome. You could share a sampling of his talks, from the announcement about small temples to the talk on gambling, forgiveness, war…to the talk when he bore sweet testimony of the Savior. His addresses are varied. Some are humorous. Some are direct and “call-to-repentance”ish. Some address the growth of the work. Some address the foundations of the restoration.

    the idea of having your friend become aware of and familiar with the words of the prophets, the more he will have to work with. When their words are more in his heart, the Spirit will be more able to teach and testify to him that we are indeed led by prophets in these latter days. At least that has been my experience. I LOVE OUR MODERN PROPHETS! :)

  13. Gordon Smith on June 25, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Kevin, Good suggestion on the Kimball biography. I agree with you that it portrays President Kimball in a very human light.

    Susan, As noted in the post, I didn\’t have a solid testimony of modern prophets until after my baptism, but this is a hangup in this case.

    Thanks for excellent comments, Ben. Maybe you can stop by and talk to my friend?

    m&m, Thanks for writing your testimony here. I agree.

  14. DavidH on June 25, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    I believe in modern revelation and inspiration because I have felt or sensed it in my own life, in my own service in Church, and seen it in fellow workers and leaders. It is therefore not hard for me to believe that God can and does inspire general Church leaders in their responsibilities, and at times I feel a comfirming spirit as I listen or read particular teachings.

    I really like the slogan of the United Church of Christ: “God is still speaking” and its quoting Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

  15. Randy on June 25, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    I had a reverse experience. I saw something much less than prophet-status when Pres. Hinckley dissembled on national TV regarding LDS doctrine and in interview publications during the Olympics. God doesn’t need interlocutors, but teachers and wise men to inspire and guide. I am no longer enamored with the Prophet concept.

  16. anthony on June 26, 2006 at 10:04 am

    see if they like the advice. one of the things that is most refreshing about the lds prophets is that thirt writing is usually simple, accessible and fairly pragmatic, it doesnt have the history, or requirements of history that catholic encylicals or bulls do.

  17. Jeff Day on June 29, 2006 at 2:24 am

    Randy,

    Prophets can make mistakes. The key is using the Spirit in conjunction with the teachings of the Prophets to discern the Truth. Why do you think we are given The Gift of the Holy Ghost upon entering the Church, if not to give us divine assistance in our strivings to follow our mortal leaders?

    ~Jeff, a “Mormon Gnostic”

  18. Mark Butler on June 29, 2006 at 3:03 am

    I can’t say President Hinckley’s interview was a command performance, but he was in a very difficult situation – one practically inevitable for any church that has a sense of “deep doctrine” or mysteries not worthy of public discussion. I think that is why bivocality was invented – doesn’t work so well under cross examination though.

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