Ezra Taft Benson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles at the time, gave a talk entitled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” (Address given Tuesday, February 26, 1980 at Brigham Young University).
His claims are somewhat contraversial. In fact even some relatively conservative members have ripped them to pieces of late, not just the DAMs. In fairness to him I thought it wise to do examinations of the claims of this talk. I won't do all 14 at once though.
It is neither my intention to defend falsehood on the one hand, nor to find fault where it doesn't exist, on the other. So I am seeking to do a realistic appraisal of his claims.
In looking at his statements I think we have to remember that he was talking at BYU. He wasn't anticipating that his words would be analysed under a microscope on the internet. Also I think the talk was anticipated to be simplistic, not used as a doctrinal backing for a particular line of thought (as has occurred).
Also we need to observe that, except for one, these qualities aren't entirely unique to the president of the church. He has only attempted to inform us what to keep in mind in following instructions from the president.
Brother Benson states the following, "Here then is the grand key — Follow the prophet — and here are fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet." He then qualifies that when he uses the term "the prophet," he means "the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." This qualifying of the title "the prophet" is important to the subject, as we view the claims.
First Claim: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
To support this claim he quotes the following
"In section 132 verse 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord speaks of the prophet—the president—and says:
'There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred.'
Then in section 21 verses 4–6, the Lord states:
'Wherefore, meaning the church, you shall give heed to all his words and commandments which he shall give to you as he receives them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word you shall receive, as if from my own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.'”
Firstly we have an incredibly ambiguous statement. It needs a LOT of defining. What does he mean; the president speaks for the Lord in "EVERYTHING?" For example, the president couldn't instruct on how to fly a Concorde. And we know Brother Benson's not implying he could. So we need to examine just what he is proposing.
His real meaning should be revealed by the references he's quoted.
The first one points out that only the president has the full set of keys (entitlement to automatic revelation for an office). The second reference informs us that WHEN a president receives revelation from God that revelation should be accepted as if God himself had said it.
In regard this latter I think it important to mention that this promise isn't unique to the president of the church.
"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." D&C 1:38
So if God speaks to ANY of his servants and they pass that message on, it is the same as if God himself has said it.
In regard to anyone sent forth to preach the gospel the D&C states,
"And this is the example to them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And whatever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." D&C 68:3-4.
I would further expand that and say that anyone who is moved upon by the Holy Ghost to say anything, is speaking for the Lord. And what they say in that regard is to be taken as if God himself were speaking.
It should be noted that the texts quoted by Brother Benson don't claim that all things the president says are the words of God. What they say is that IF he is walking in all holiness before God then the words God has GIVEN him come from God. Not everything that the president says has been received by revelation. He has many of his own opinions, as we all do.
So considering all the disecting that is going on, his first claim would be better to have stated,
"The president of the church is the only man who is automatically entitled to speak for the Lord in all things relative to the church organisation and its basic teachings. And he also joins all his brothers and sisters in that when any of God's servants are instructed of God they may speak as if God himself has spoken."
Second Claim: The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.
To support this claim he refers to a statement that was made by Brigham Young and supported by Joseph Smith, after an erroneous claim was made by a particular local leader. The claim was the following,
"You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them."
Brother Brigham got up and made a statement to the extreme opposite of this extreme statement. Amidst it he said,
"When compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books."
Are we serious? Did he really think before saying this or has he just gone off to the other extreme, to combat the nonsense he has just heard? I believe that if I spoke to Brigham today he would admit it was the latter.
The words of the Savior in the sermon on the mount are the most important things that can be said. Nothing ANY person speaking today says is "more vital". This is why he delivered the same message when he came to the Americas. This is why this same message is taught by disguise in the temple.
Yet, as God was restoring many truths to the earth at that time, it is reasonable to see Joseph Smith's message as extremely vital to Brigham. Yet Thomas S. Monson hasn't come up with any new doctrine. His use is in administrative areas within the church and encouragement.
Brother Benson's claim could have been better to have said,
"Continued revelation to a living president is vital, to keep the church and basic doctrines taught, where God would have them at this time."
You can find the other 4 sections to this posted on the following dates:
Part 2 Nov 29
Part 3 Oct 18
Part 4 Sep 19
Part 5 Aug 20