Recently I was preparing for a lesson with my Sunday School class of 16-18 year olds. We’re studying the New Testament this year. I found it interesting that in the early Christian church, there was continuous revelation. The example in this lesson is found in the book of Acts chapter 15.
In this example, Paul and Barnabas come across some church members who are still requiring circumcision as in the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas are not certain if that should be a requirement, so they go to Jerusalem and meet with the apostles for guidance on the matter. After the apostles discuss the matter, they make a decision through guidance by the Holy Spirit (verses 19-28) and then they write an epistle for Paul and Barnabas to bring back to the church members for sustaining (verses 22-31). They also send an apostle (Judas) back with them to deliver the message.
This process of revelation to the church is similar for the LDS church of Jesus Christ. From what I understand, apostles contemplate an issue, pray for guidance by the Spirit, come up with a decision, then present it to the church for sustaining. On occasion, there will be a letter sent out to congregations from the apostles and read by the local bishop, or the apostles or prophet may read it to the whole body of the church in General Conference (or General Relief Society Conference as President Hinckley did with the Family Proclamation).
Rarely will revelation actually be canonized. Over the last 150 years, I can only think of a few revelations that were canonized: Official Declaration 1: that announced the disbanding of polygamy in the 1890s, Doctrine and Covenants section 138 that addresses a vision given to President Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) regarding where our spirits go after we die, and Official Declaration 2 that announces that the Priesthood can be given to all worthy males (prior to this revelation black men could not hold the Priesthood).
I have seen Mormon church antagonists take off-the-wall things that a prophet (usually Brigham Young) said or wrote in a book and highlight that as official church doctrine. LDS apologists will be quick to answer that in that situation, the prophet wasn’t inspired and spoke without the Spirit on that occasion and since it isn’t canonized it is not official revelation.
However, there are many things that Mormon prophets and apostles have officially stated either through a letter to congregations or announced in General Conference that are not necessarily canonized. Therefore, I can see how it could be hard for members of other faiths to see a distinction between what is revelation and what is opinion.
Personally, I feel that revelation is official as it is outlined in the New Testament example I shared. If the apostles have gathered together, prayed, and received guidance from the Spirit on a matter, then announced it to the church officially through writing, it is “official”. If an LDS leader decides to write a book, or say something off the cuff that’s wacky then that is not official revelation.
What are your thoughts?