Relief Society Lesson 16: Revelation and the Living Prophet
Since this is a lesson about revelation, I would suggest consciously putting this lesson to prayer. As a teacher by trade, I think a lot about my role in facilitating the revelation process in others. I want to create an environment that is safe enough for participants to experience thoughts and feelings that are personally meaningful. Ninety-nine percent of class discussion takes place inside people’s minds – and never gets said aloud. As a student, I have had many many “ah-ha” moments during lessons and lectures, but shared very few of them with the whole class. Moments of clarity, of . . . personal revelation. So when I pray about teaching, I often ask that something in the lesson will touch someone who needs to hear it, today. And I trust that this happens, even if I never hear about it.
OK, onto the manual.
God has always guided His people and His Church through revelation.
Joseph Smith is an exemplar of a life steeped in revelation – from visions, to dreams, to quiet thoughts, to feelings, to blessings. We are a church built upon a belief that God speaks and has a special concern for the growth and vibrancy of this work.
Articles of Faith 1:9: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
Question: Break that sentence into three parts – and its three tenses. What has God revealed? What does He now reveal (how does God speak with us now)? What does it mean for us that “He will yet reveal many great and important things”? (For me, it’s comforting to realize that we don’t have everything yet, that there is more truth “out there” – that this is a growing, living faith).
For fun, compare this article of faith to the words of the Savior in 3 Nephi 10:4-6:
“How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings . . . . how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings . . . “
“We never can comprehend the things of God and of heaven, but by revelation. We may spiritualize and express opinions to all eternity; but that is no authority.”
What does this mean? Is there a hint of warning in this statement?
“Jesus in His teachings says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ [Matthew 16:18.] What rock? Revelation.”
In what sense is “revelation” a “rock?”
The President of the Church is appointed to receive revelation from God for the Church; individuals may receive revelation for their own responsibilities.
“Jesus … set in the church firstly Apostles, and secondly prophets, for the work of the ministry, perfecting of the saints, etc.; … the grand rule of heaven [is] that nothing should ever be done on earth without revealing the secret to his servants the prophets, agreeable to Amos 3:7.”
I’ll admit that this scripture from Amos has often perplexed me some – because clearly things happen here on earth that come as a surprise to prophets; we don’t consider them to be direct TV antenna, constantly being bombarded with tomorrow’s headlines. So what does this mean?
It might seem like an obvious question to ask, Why does only the prophet receive revelation for the whole church? (obvious answer: for the sake of order). But it’s a good segue into this story about Joseph and Emma encountering a community that had been taken in be alternate claims of revelation:
In September 1830 Joseph and Emma Smith moved from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to Fayette, New York. When they arrived, they found that some Saints were being deceived by claims of false revelations: “To our great grief, … we soon found that Satan had been lying in wait to deceive, and seeking whom he might devour. Brother Hiram Page had in his possession a certain stone, by which he had obtained certain ‘revelations’ concerning the upbuilding of Zion, the order of the Church, etc., all of which were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as in our late revelations. As a conference meeting had been appointed for the 26th day of September, I thought it wisdom not to do much more than to converse with the brethren on the subject, until the conference should meet. Finding, however, that many, especially the Whitmer family and Oliver Cowdery, were believing much in the things set forth by this stone, we thought best to inquire of the Lord concerning so important a matter; and before [the] conference convened, we received the following:”
The result of this chaotic episode, however, resulted in a few of the more profound dictums in our faith:
“ ‘And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; for I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead. …
“ ‘For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.’ [D&C 28:2–3, 6–7, 11–13.] …
This points out that 1) someone would succeed Joseph as a prophet and leader of the church – it wasn’t “all about him” (e.g. “until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead”) 2) revelation and changes in the church “must be done in order and by common consent.”
What does “by common consent” mean? What role do we play in church-wide revelation?
“… It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.”
What I love about this passage is not its logic in terms of organizational structure – but its implicit message that we may each very well have “visions or a visitation” or other such revelation “for [our] own benefit and instruction.” So the church operates on the principles of revelation – and so do our own lives.
But of course, this brings up a difficult question – one that, depending on your comfort level, may yield some truly meaningful discussion: What do we do if we feel our personal revelation is in conflict with council from “those in authority” – be it the prophet, the bishop, or the primary president (if we are one of her teachers)? When is it appropriate to share these perceptions with them?
This is a practical dilemma that many grapple with. Here are a couple of threads that addressed this issue – one from a bishop’s wife on how to provide constructive help and one from Caroline on how to share concerns charitably.
In that spirit, I’d end the lesson with this great quote from Eliza R. Snow, which encourages us to support the prophet . . . (and keep an open mind)!
Eliza R. Snow recorded: “[Joseph Smith] said, if God has appointed him, and chosen him as an instrument to lead the Church, why not let him lead it through? Why stand in the way when he is appointed to do a thing? Who knows the mind of God? Does He not reveal things differently from what we expect? [The Prophet] remarked that he was continually rising, although he had everything bearing him down, standing in his way, and opposing; notwithstanding all this opposition, he always comes out right . . .