President Russell M. Nelson gave as his first talk addressing the body of the Church, a talk titled Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives.
Church members are talking about the changes made in conference as revelations. The changes to how priesthood quorums are managed and the change from home and visiting teaching to ministering, for example. These are being lauded as revelations by some church members. This seems to really irritate other members, especially many of my Progressive Mormon brothers and sisters.
Definition of Revelation
I like this definition of revelation from Blake Ostler.
Revelation is the synthesis of the creativity of man responding to divine persuasion.
24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
Since humans produce revelation, and produce it through their weakness and in their language and understanding, human involvement is a given. We believe it to be a synthesis of the two, but the question could be how much is from man and how much is God.
If you believe revelation is very rare. Always 100% from God. Always perfect. And unchangeable. If you believe that about revelation, then I can understand why you’d be nervous about attaching the revelation label to all these things done at last conference.
But if you take this other definition of revelation, that I think the scriptures and our leaders are guiding us towards, we should have no issue calling things revelation. In this talk from Pres. Nelson, he clarified this quite a bit, and I think by following him, we can come to a better understanding of what revelation is.
President Nelson on Revelation
From his talk.
Each of these blessings has come as a result of seeking and heeding the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Said President Lorenzo Snow, “This is the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … that it is our right to have the manifestations of the Spirit every day of our lives.”
One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.
He is exhorting us to receive revelation on a daily basis. And he is saying God wants this gift for ALL his children.
Through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, the Lord will assist us in all our righteous pursuits. I remember in an operating room, I have stood over a patient—unsure how to perform an unprecedented procedure—and experienced the Holy Ghost diagramming the technique in my mind.
Pres. Nelson received revelation in his daily life in his career that had nothing to do with leading the Church. This is to illustrate revelation from God can be quite ordinary.
To strengthen my proposal to Wendy, I said to her, “I know about revelation and how to receive it.” To her credit—and, as I have come to learn, typical of her—she had already sought and received her own revelation about us, which gave her the courage to say yes.
Pres. Nelson appeared to pull the classic returned missionary move, “I received revelation that you should marry me.” Sly. But as prophet of God, again he is explaining to to us how we should understand the word revelation.
As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I prayed daily for revelation and gave thanks to the Lord every time He spoke to my heart and mind.
He received revelation on a daily basis as an apostle. He then went on to explain a fairly ordinary, mundane process for how the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency receive revelation. They talk about the issue. There are differing opinions. They use logical arguments and understandings they each have through very humanistic, scientific processes. They seek to persuade each other. They pray together. Through this process, they reach consensus, and it is deemed a revelation. This happens over and over on a regular basis.
Some Progressive Mormons are worried about the overuse of the word revelation. I think this is the logic. They’re worried that if something is labeled as a revelation, members are bound to receive it as coming from God, and that it will be difficult to change in the future. So, it should only be used in rare occasion for very special revelations.
I actually think this is an anti-progressive view and has a little bit of a fundamentalistic side to it. Fundamentalistic religion is a view that prophets speak directly for God, and scripture is literal and perfect. If you don’t want to call these simple policy changes revelation because revelation is more rare and so much bigger and more important, then what you’re doing is defining revelation in a very “high view” kind of way, where revelation is a fundamentalistic, infallible, perfect channel to God. So, even though you call it rare, you’re giving it more absolute authority than it should have.
Revelation should be seen as somewhat ordinary. It’s humans attempt to interact with the divine and perceive the best course of action for ourselves, or those we have stewardship over. Do we trust it? Yes. Do we have responsibility to accept it when it comes for us from our Church leaders? Yes. Is it perfect? No. Can it be overridden later? Absolutely. Can it be wrong? Yes. Some might not agree it can be wrong, so I’ll modify that. Can it be right for the Church now, but not right for the Church later? Yes.
President Nelson is helping us understand there’s nothing magical about revelation. Something we need to break up and get rid of from our consciousness is this idea that revelation is perfect and special and rare. Revelation is a gift from God. But it should be understood as usually being somewhat mundane and ordinary. President Nelson is getting us prepared to expect a lot of it.
I could see fundamentalist types not pleased with this talk because they would call it another step of “liberalizing the church”. I have seen them criticize the Church for normalizing scholarly views like Richard Bushman who they think are describing Joseph’s translations and revelations as more of a humanistic, creative, contributory process than purely as a receptacle for divine input.
Revelation is needed to make changes in the church that many Progressive Mormons are hoping for. Changes in our LGBT policies and doctrines. Changes to make things more equitable for women. If we can reinterpret the concept of revelation the way I think Pres. Nelson is coaching us to do, then I think it becomes less dramatic to expect revelations. They’re not something that happen once every hundred years. They happen on a daily basis.