It’s good to be a Prophet. You can get things done.
Russell Nelson is President of the Mormon church and therefore a Prophet. He had since 1984 been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second most powerful governing body in Mormonism. During that time, Nelson had expressed concern about the conventional nomenclature by which the Mormon church is commonly identified – specifically the use of the word ‘Mormon’. Then in January 2018, he became President of the Mormon church. The President and two appointed councilors form the First Presidency, which is the most powerful governing body in Mormonism. And the President is ex officio set apart as the Prophet.
Now I suppose it is true that all fifteen Apostles (First Presidency plus the Quorum) are considered prophets, seers and revelators. Yet lesser prophets can’t presume to lift themselves above greater prophets. Whereas in the past Russell Nelson had found himself as one prophetic voice in a crowd, he now found himself with both a platform and authority. For years the Lord had impressed upon him the importance of the revealed name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Suddenly those impressions took on a divine imperative. Prophesy can be like that. A man wants to do something, and then when he gets authority, he suddenly receives a revelation that agrees with exactly what he always wanted to do. One might reasonably ask why this became so important in 2018 as opposed to (say) 1998. Wasn’t there a Prophet in 1998? But the Lord moves in mysterious ways, I suppose.
So, on 16 August 2018, Russel Nelson issued a statement. The strength of this statement must not be overlooked. This is not just Russell Nelson’s opinion; it is divine revelation rooted in the authority of God:
The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.
A style guide has therefore been released to give guidance on names that may be used. The long and short of the matter is simple. It is no longer permitted to use the term ‘Mormon’ when referring to church members. Nor is it permitted to use the short reference ‘LDS’. Members may be referred to as “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “Latter-day Saints”. In addition, the church may no longer be referenced as the Mormon church. Instead it should be called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “restored Church of Jesus Christ” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” or just or “the Church”.
Nelson claims that this is not a change but is instead a correction. Will this correction have any legs? I doubt it. The word ‘Mormon’ is too deeply embedded in the culture to be removed by fiat. Just consider the irony of the Mormon News Room declaring that the word ‘Mormon’ is no longer allowed. This direction might receive some formal obedience from the church membership during Nelson’s lifetime. If, however, his successor is not interested in the subject, then the old usage, at one time tossed out the front door, will creep back in through the rear window. Non-Mormons might, out of respect, decline to use the term in conversations with Mormons, but non-Mormons will still use the term amongst themselves. The alternatives are too cumbersome to function as useful replacements. So then, if it’s doomed to fail, then why do it? The answer to that question is theological.
Mormonism claims to be the “restored” Christian church but in fact it teaches doctrines far removed from orthodox Christianity. There is Christian terminology in the Mormon church but there is not Christian truth. When a Mormon refers to the Gospel, he is not referring to salvation from sin by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone; he is referring to the progression of man to godhood. This is the desired destiny of every Mormon man – to become a glorified god. If he keeps the precepts of the Mormon church, he may be exalted to deity with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities that accrue. There he may join with the company of gods and as divine father receive the worship of his own children.
This doctrine is expressed in the statement “As God once was, so I am. As God is, so I shall be.” It declares that God and man are ontologically of the same origin. God is no longer separate and other, a distinct being apart from His own creation. He is instead of the same substance of creation and is therefore himself a part of it. This reality establishes the fundamentally pagan nature of Mormonism. The Mormon envisions deity as glorified man, a concept no different from that of Zeus or Apollo. Christians have effectively identified these ontological differences and so ‘Mormonism’ does not convey a denomination of Christianity. It instead conveys a separate and distinct religion that is beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy. ‘Mormon’ is, after all, a designation imposed on the church by its enemies. To remove the term is to lessen the semantic distance between Mormonism and its claims to orthodoxy. It deletes a label that tends to historically isolate the Mormon church from its publicly declared identity as the repository of Christian truth.
If the ontological differences associated with the word ‘Mormon’ constitute the Yin of this decision, then the Yang constitutes the exclusive claims inherent in the proposed recommendations. Make no mistake, the recommended titles are replete with theological implications. Mormonism does not claim to be a different Christian denomination: it claims to be a restoration of the true Church that had otherwise literally disappeared from the Earth. Examine the Title as declared in Doctrine and Covenant 115: the Mormon church is “The Church”. It is singular and unique: all other churches beyond its doors are false and apostate. The Mormon church is “The Church of Jesus Christ”. Again, this is a claim to be singular and unique. It alone is the church of Jesus Christ. All other churches have lost their connection to Christ because they have abandoned the true gospel. As a result, they have suffered divine rejection. The Mormon church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”. And who are they who inhabit the true church? Those who have followed after the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith, to whom was given the restored priesthood. The purpose behind this correction is bold and straightforward. It is an assertion of the Mormon view of Mormonism’s place in the ecclesial universe. There is no compromise here. There is no confusion. Mormonism knows what it purports to be, and makes no apologies for the claim.
The truth of this claim ultimately depends upon the credibility of Joseph Smith as a prophet, for everything in Mormonism proceeds from him. If he falls, then the Mormon church falls with him. And his failure is only as distant as the test of a prophet. Every Mormon will agree with this test:
When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (Deut 18:22).
In 1835, Joseph Smith acquired a collection of Egyptian mummies and in addition some papyri found with the mummies. He claimed to have translated these documents (written in what was then an unknown language) by divine agency, and discovered that some of the manuscripts contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph in Egypt. These translations eventually became the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four cardinal Mormon scriptures. It is however a blessing of Providence that some of the manuscripts acquired by Joseph Smith still exist. They were discovered in 1967. They even possess his notes written in his own handwriting. When the manuscripts were translated in 1967 by Egyptologists (it being no longer an unknown language), they were found to be copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Smith’s translation was manifestly false.
Since they were false, Joseph Smith is manifestly a false prophet. It’s black letter law. You may read the Mormon response for yourself: make of it what you will. Sophistry comes to my mind. One may summarise the argument as: “Yes, the translation does not agree with the manuscript but here is why you may ignore that fact.” Ultimately this argument depends on assuming exactly what the test is intended to demonstrate. Only grant that Joseph Smith was a prophet and you will have no trouble proving he was a prophet.
The Mormons don’t visit my house anymore – not since the mid-90s. I have watched the Missionaries walk by on the sidewalk. You may not know this but the Mormons keep a large database on people for their missionary efforts. I learned this from a Mormon friend of my daughter. My daughter was curious why missionaries didn’t ever come to our house, so her friend said he would look us up in the database. We had been banned. I’m not sure what I did the last time Mormons visited, but it must have been bad.
Or good, depending upon your perspective.