Wendy Watson Nelson, in a recent interview, shed light on the revelations her husband President Russell M. Nelson is receiving.
Since Russell M. Nelson became the prophet earlier this year, the revelations have been coming fast and furious.
- Changed a long standing tradition of always retaining a First Presidency counselor in good health
- Modified home and visiting teaching programs to home ministering and changed so young women can be home ministers, similar to young men had done home teaching in past
- Eliminated ward level High Priest groups and combined High Priest and Elders into one quorum
- Changed the Sunday schedule of LDS church meetings to 2 hours from 3 hours, eliminating a 100+ year tradition of weekly priesthood, Relief Society, and Sunday School
- Ended a 100+ year association with the Boy Scouts of America
- Announced a new edition of the LDS Hymn book
- Released new guidelines concerning bishop interviews with youth allowing for parents or another adult to sit in on interviews
- Set new policy to eliminate the Church identifying itself with the nickname “Mormon”, changed the name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and set in place plans to eliminate all other Church usage of that name, including mormon.org, mormonnewsroom, etc. Church owned Deseret News changed ldschurchnews.com to thechurchnews.com
- Announced plans to eliminate pageants like Hill Cumorah Pageant and Manti Pageant
If you think that’s a lot for one year, Pres. Nelson in an interview this week in Chile let us know more is on the way.
Wait till next year, and then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It’s going to be exciting!
I think this is a great. We are a church of progress with continuing revelation. Discussion in the bloggernacle has been surrounding the idea of what should be called revelation. For sake of discussion, I will use a simplistic, binary model to dive into this.
Fundamentalistic View of Revelation
- implies a very strong, clear communication from God
- very little human component, just as if God said it, ie like a boss gave instructions to an employee
- unchanging and difficult to understand when it seems to overturn past revelation
- sometimes called Revelation capital R
Moderate View of Revelation
- very strong human component
- is trustworthy and worth engaging seriously but is not infallible
- can be reversed by future prophet without much consternation
- more like “the prophet’s best guess of God’s will” than God’s direct and unmistakable communication of his will
- some members would argue there is no such thing, and this should be considered inspiration or impression and the word revelation should be reserved for high view revelation
- sometimes called revelation lower case r
It’s been a bit confusing to members of the church is how to view all the revelations of the last year, should it be treated as this fundamentalistic God breathed definition or the more moderate “humans intersecting with the divine” view.
Modern prophets and apostles, including Pres. Nelson have described the revelatory process in very humanistic terms. Pres. Nelson said:
Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.”
Pres. Hinckley in 1997 said:
Let me say first that we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received. Now, if a problem should arise on which we don’t have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind. I liken it to Elijah’s experience. When he sought the Lord, there was a great wind, and the Lord was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was not in the earthquake. And a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. But in a still, small voice. Now that’s the way it works.
Some of the things Pres. Nelson is receiving revelation on are things that have been on his mind for a long time. For example, the Mormon Church thing he spoke about in 1990. As a junior apostle, he spoke on the importance of using the full name of the Church and that we shouldn’t use the name Mormon. Six months later, the acting leader of the Church Pres. Hinckley clarified that we are very comfortable using the name Mormon, and we choose it as a name to self identify as. Then later in both his and Thomas S. Monson’s presidency, the Church worked hard to develop the “I’m a Mormon”, “Mormon Helping Hands”, and other Mormon related brands.
Faithful LDS understand and support Pres. Nelson’s new direction, but it seems to be more comparable to a business setting where a new management team comes in with new ideas than God changing his mind so quickly. That’s fine, right?
But, from a fundamentalistic perspective, there is evidence that it should be treated as if God himself was speaking to us:
Pres. Nelson used very strong language to introduce the revelation on eliminating the nickname use of “Mormon”.
Some weeks ago, I released a statement regarding a course correction for the name of the Church. I did this because the Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…
Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended…
To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan.
So, if there is so much evidence for this more moderate view of the meaning of revelation, why is Pres. Nelson speaking in a way that implies he is directly speaking to and for God in an unmistakable, infallible sense? I think the answer lies in a phrase in the chapter headings of the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi: “Isaiah speaks messianically”.
This phrase “speaks messianically” can be taken a couple ways.
a. the traditional Jewish-Christian definition means that the content that is referred to as being messianic is referring to The Messiah. For Christians, this is Jesus Christ. Messianic literature usually is talking about a Savior figure who will redeem Israel and usually also contains judgment, restoration, and end-of-the-world themes.
b. an additional meaning which based on my rudimentary research seems like it might be unique to LDS and stemming from these BOM chapter headings is generally “to speak in first person for The Lord as if The Lord is speaking”.
Google search turns up various LDS commentary and blogs.
“Here Isaiah again is speaking messianically, as though he were the Lord” source
“as if the Savior was speaking to us” source
“Isaiah has this sometimes confusing talent for speaking as himself, speaking as God, speaking as Christ, or speaking as the entire house of Isreal, etc., sometimes all at the same time. And he’ll change from one to the udder without any warning or commercial interruption. So, as you begin 2 Nephi 7 (or Isaiah 50), you’ll read ‘I did this’ and ‘I said that’ and whatever, and in this case, Isaiah is speaking as Christ, or Messianically.” source
“Isaiah speaks Messianically. This means he speaks the words the Messiah speaks, so this chapter sounds as if the Lord wrote it himself. He also talks about things to come as if they already happened.” source
And here we have Elder Holland using it in the same context.
When Isaiah, speaking messianically, wanted to convey Jehovah’s love, he invoked the image of a mother’s devotion. “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” he asks.
Elder Holland is clearing attributing Isaiah as the author of this verse, not God. He’s not quoting God. He’s conveying something for God. He’s invoking an image that he himself created in his mind to convey God’s love.
Isaiah doesn’t frame it like “this is totally just my thought, but what if we could imagine God’s love as being similar to a mother to a child.” He speaks boldly in first person as the Lord. Isaiah 49:15
15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Joseph Smith framed his revelations in a similar way. Many are written in that first person “messianic” style. For example D&C 6:2
2 Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words.
Joseph collaborated with intellectuals in the restoration like George Robinson, Sidney Rigdon, Warren Parrish, and others to refine and edit the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants and even the First Vision. A dictated message from God wouldn’t need editing. They were putting this in King James Bible language and in the Isaiah messianic style, and Joseph relied on some of his more educated peers to help make it sound right.
President Nelson is obviously very immersed in the scriptures. He recently spent six weeks in an exercise to study attributes of the Savior and identified over 2,200 verses. Being immersed in this messianic style speaking with prophets speaking in the first hand for God, I believe he is imitating that pattern.
Another way to describe what is happening, acknowledging the humanistic , but also looking at it through faithful lens is what I call the push vs pull concept of prayer/revelation. I can’t explain the power of God. No really, I can’t. I believe in it. But I can’t explain it. I can’t explain why upper middle class Mormon youth in Bountiful can pray to find her lost car keys, and God answers her prayer. And I believe he can and does answer those prayers. But in the meantime, a child in Africa is starving and God is apparently helpless. I can’t explain why there seems to be a transcendent power that when I really try to tap into and access, I sometimes feel like I am. But at the same time young girls are getting kidnapped and sold into sex slavery or kids are born with AIDS. God is here. But he’s not here. I can’t explain it. But the best I can is with the push/pull concept. Prayer answering and revelation is not a push, down from God to us. Answers to prayers and revelation are pulled down by humans through faith and effort. What humans pray about, they find answers. Issues that LDS prophets seek answers for, they receive revelation.
Finally, the money quote from Sister Nelson’s recent interview sheds the most light into this.
It is as though he’s been unleashed…He’s free to follow through with things he’s been concerned about but could never do. Now that he’s president of [the Church], he can do those things.
This definitely points to the more moderate definition of revelation. My intention with this post is to show that one can view revelation in the LDS Church as having a highly human, fallible element while loving, accepting, and sustaining the prophet.