Mormon revelation marks Mormonism as a Restorationist religion. This is hardly controversial or surprising since it grew out of the Restorationist enthusiasm formed during the Second Great Awakening of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Restorationism is one of two very influential movements to come out of the Great Awakening whose influence we still see today, the other being Adventism.

Mormonism is just one of any number of movements founded on the idea the church had watered down, adulterated the message of Jesus, and only a full restoration of first century doctrine and practice would right this wrong. This is a kind of Christian Primitivism. Other groups include:

The Christadelphians – founded by John Thomas (1805-1871)

Swedenborgianism (the New Church) – Founded England 1787, America 1789

Irvingites – founded by Edward irving (1792-1834)

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Founded by Charles Russell (1852-1916)

Mormon Revelation

Mormon revelation and Restorationism is founded on the restoration of an Apostolic church structure, based on a passage in Ephesians:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.’ Ephesians 4:12-14

There is much to be said about Mormon claims to having ‘living apostles and prophets,’ and if you follow the link you can find out more. I want to look specifically at the claims Mormons, and others today, make to receiving revelation, as did the Apostles of the first century and ask three questions:

Mormon Revelation – What’s the Point?

Biblical Revelation – What’s the Point?

Restored Revelation – What’s the Point?

Mormon Revelation-What’s the Point?

Mormon revelation is ‘Restored’ revelation. Groups claiming to have restored revelation, apostles and prophets, claim that the discord and denominationalism in the churches came about because of a lack of prophetic leadership. ‘Ad Fontes! Back to the fountainhead,’ is the familiar cry of the Restorationist.

It was all in God’s plan, who anticipated Apostasy and made provision for a restoration, the re-establishment of ‘biblical’ leadership, ‘biblical’ church structure, daily words from the Lord, and miracles so plentiful as to be normative. When we see compromise, discord, and damaging denominationalism what else are we to do?

Joseph Smith

In his official biography Joseph Smith claimed:

‘My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Later in his history Joseph Smith claims to have been visited by an angel:

‘He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.’

There you have the classic formula for Restoration thinking; abominable creeds, corrupt professors, lip-serving believers, phony godliness, and a prophet called to a great work, whose ‘name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.’ In other words, its all about the prophet, follow the prophet, only in this is there safety and assurance. A man, a woman, an organisation, it doesn’t matter, just be sure you are on the right side of God’s purposes.

Mormons view their leaders today as ‘prophets, seers, and revelators.’ It’s worth noting, ‘Formerly, in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ for today’s prophet was formerly called a seer’ 1 Samuel 9:9. Not a major point but, biblically, ‘prophet, seer, and revelator’ is a tautology. It tells us something about the institution that its prophets don’t understand that.

Mormons value their leaders because:

‘As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to be led by living prophets—inspired men called to speak for the Lord, as did Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Nephi, Mormon, and other prophets of the scriptures.’ Gospel Topics Manual

One does wonder if Restorationists of all stripes ever read their Bible. The New Testament Church certainly did have apostles and prophets, but did you read Paul’s Corinthian letters? His letter to Galatia? The Lord’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation? Would Restorationists like to be like the 1st century church and receive those 1stcentury letters?

I am not saying 1st century apostles were ineffectual, I am saying they were challenged, like us, by the same things, yet they preached the same gospel of Christ as the fulfilment of all prophecy. Perhaps the 21st century church would be in a better place if it paid more attention to those 1st century writings and less time chasing after ‘living prophets.’

The Gospel Topics Manual goes on:

‘We can always trust the living prophets. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord…Our greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church. The Lord warns that those who ignore the words of the living prophets will fall. He promises great blessings to those who follow the President of the Church.’

The point of Mormon prophets is Mormon revelation, God’s guidance today through living oracles, men who bring us the will of God, the ignoring of which brings disastrous and eternal ruin; though see The Mormon God Doesn’t Thunder Any more

Biblical Revelation-What’s the Point?

The most recent Mormon Missionary Discussions start with this:

‘From the beginning of the world, God has revealed the gospel to His children through prophets.’

If the purpose of God is that prophecy and revelation are meant to continue in an unbroken line in the lives of God’s people, have God’s purposes been seriously frustrated over the past two thousand years? Is Restorationism evidence of failure on the part of God?

In the earliest days of God’s dealings with man God spoke through the heads of families, the patriarchs. Think of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions (the numbers are debated) left Egypt, a large enough number to make a nation. Family and clan heads could no longer filled that role, and God raised up Moses, the archetypal prophet, to lead this embryonic nation. The prophet’s job is primarily forth-telling not foretelling and Moses filled that role.

Moses is known as the law-giver, a prophet who organised, led, and governed God’s people, teaching them God’s Law, summed up in the revealed Ten Words of Exodus 20:1-17. The Torah, the five books of Moses, are an unpacking and application of these commandments to God’s people. The Law is the canon, the standard for God’s nation. He warned of punishment and exile for disobedience, and predicted a coming Messiah who would reconcile man to God – Genesis 3:15.

Following the death of Moses, God’s people were led into the land by Joshua. In their children’s presentation, Old Testament Stories, the Mormon church teaches:

‘The Lord called Joshua to be the new prophet after the prophet Moses was taken to heaven. While the Israelites camped near the Jordan River, the Lord said it was time for them to move to the promised land.’

Joshua was Moses’ successor but he was not a prophet, he was a military and political leader, and a judge, as Gideon, Jephtha, and Samson after him were judges. Samuel was the last judge. Leaders filled different roles, Deborah and Samuel being prophets and judges, Eli and Samuel were priests and judges, Samuel was both a priest and a prophet. Then came the kings, David being a prophet and king.

Whichever character you look at in the Old Testament, they looked back to Moses and forward to Christ. They warned Israel in light of their disobedience to Moses and urged Israel to look forward to the coming Messiah. Two fixed points in the purpose of revelation, the giving of the Law and the coming of the one who would fulfil the Law.

Prophecy is revelation, revelation is entirely of God, and is either entirely true or entirely false. Mormon prophets, especially Joseph Smith, have a long history of failed prophecy. Many others, since Smith, have come along making similar claims to revelation. All have proved to fail the test of a prophet. Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:2-22

Terryl Givens, Mormon academic and apologist (who, no doubt, doesn’t speak officially for the church. Who does these days?) said of Joseph Smith’s prophetic skills:

“Some of his prophecies and revelations turned out not to be terribly inspired. And I love Joseph Smith’s response, which was just kind of a casual, ‘Well, some revelations are of God, some are of the devil, and some are of man.’” (See this YouTube clip)

That attitude to false prophecies is frighteningly casual, given what the Bible has to say about such things.

So, where do false revelations come from?

‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.’ Jeremiah23:16

False prophets often enter a religious reverie, and allow their imaginations to run amok on those issues that most interest them, it’s a sort of fantasising that we all know is not going to take us anywhere good (Joseph Smith was very interested in women, wealth, and power). Think how the Devil could use such a person.

The Old Testament describes two modes of divine revelation. In both, it is God who initiates the communication, not the imagination of man.

God spoke to Moses, ‘face to face as a man speaks to his friend.’ Exodus 33:11. This is modelled for us in how Moses and Aaron worked together. God told Moses, ‘You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.’ Exodus 4:15-16

The Pentateuch is liberally punctuated with the phrase, ‘The LORD spoke to Moses.’ Later, God reminded the rebellious Miriam and Aaron of Moses’ exclusive role:

‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly and not in riddles…’ Numbers 12:6-8

There are ordinary prophets through whom God speaks in visions and dreams, then there is Moses. In both, the revelatory experience is clear and unambiguous. If we cannot judge a prophecy on the basis of clarity, accuracy, and faithfulness to God’s written Word we are in trouble.

Restored Revelation – What’s the Point?

In 1966 Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson, making the case for Mormonism’s Apostasy and Restoration narrative, said:

‘But as generation followed generation, no additional scripture came forth to the children of men. Without additional revelation to guide them, men began to interpret the Bible differently. Numerous churches and creeds developed, each using the Bible as its authoritative source.’ The Gift of Modern Revelation

There are several hundred Mormon ‘denominations,’ both historically and today, each calling the others apostate, breakaway groups. A lot of mutual excommunication has been going on over the years. I refer you to what I wrote earlier about the challenges in the 1st century Church, even though there were apostles and prophets. If only there was a book.

Mormons believe their prophets bring new words from God, new Scripture, and without prophets they would be lost concerning God’s purposes. Is this the case?

I have said that in the Old Testament, whichever character you look at, whatever word they bring, they looked back to Moses and forward to Christ. There were prophets after Moses, but they did not add to, or take away from Moses.

This idea is summed up clearly by Paul in his letter to the saints in Galatia:

‘Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.’ Galatians 3:19-26

This is familiar territory to any serious Bible student. We can’t be saved by the Law, the Law is there as a guardian until Christ.

A Covenant People

God’s people are a covenant people, and the purpose of of the covenant is that we should be in direct covenant relationship with God. What needs to happen for that covenant relationship to be established is that God himself comes. As long as we have a prophetic mediator bringing us God’s Word, that unity cannot be realised. We are a people in guardianship until Christ, imprisoned by law until faith comes, ‘that we might be justified by faith.’

In Christ, the end of prophetic revelation is arrived at. Consider the significance of the Transfiguration. In that holy place Moses and Elijah appear with the glorified Jesus. Peter, James, and John witnessed the Law and the prophets recognising their function coming to an end and the voice of God the Father confirming the role and identity of Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’

The writer to the Hebrews affirms this:

‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world.’ Hebrews 1:1,2

The one who was there in the beginning with the Father, who walked in covenant relationship with Adam, has now come into the world to re-establish that relationship with all of Adam’s offspring who come by faith. What does that covenant relationship look like? In his High Priestly Prayer Jesus says of those who believe:

‘They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ John 17:16-26

Leadership today is pastoral, discipling in the re-established covenant relationship we have with God through Christ, who is, ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.’

Mormon Revelation and the ‘Do Not Add’ Texts

Remember, Prophecy is revelation, revelation is entirely of God, and is either entirely true or entirely false. If it is false we are to reject it, if true – it is Scripture. There is no sub-Scripture revelation. The Bible carries dire warnings for anyone who would add to Scripture, but anyone who has brought up Revelation 22:18,19 with a Mormon may have heard, ‘O, but it says the same in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32’

Indeed, and for good reason; the canon of the Law was closed. This is why Moses goes on to warn God’s people against false prophets Deuteronomy 13:1-18. The story of the Old Testament is the story of God’s people and their faithfulness or otherwise to the Law. No one is to add to or take away from what God had revealed through Moses, and no one did. Prophets pointed God’s people back to their covenant relationship with God, established by revelation through Moses, and forward to the coming Messiah.

Just as with Moses and the prophets, so with Jesus and the apostles. The New Testament is about God’s people and their faithfulness or otherwise to the message of the New Covenant in Christ, revealed in the gospels. The apostles now point us back to the gospel and forward to his return.

John Stott, in his book Jesus the Controversialist, writes:

‘The Old Testament is a book of hope, of unfulfilled expectation. From beginning to end it looks forward to Christ. Its many promises through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets are fulfilled in Christ. Its law, with its unbending demands, was our guardian until Christ came, keeping us confined and under restraint, even in bondage, until Christ should set us free. Its sacrificial system, teaching that without the shedding of blood there could be no forgiveness, looked forward to the unique blood-shedding of the Lamb of God. Its kings, for all their imperfections, anticipated the Messiah’s perfect reign of righteousness and peace. And its prophecies are all focussed on him. Thus Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman who would bruise the serpent’s head, the offspring of Abraham through whom all the families of the earth wold be blessed, the star that would come out of Jacob and the sceptre that would rise out of Israel. Jesus Christ is also the priest of the order of Melchizedek, the king of David’s line, the servant of the Lord God who would suffer and die for the sins of the people, the Son of God who would inherit the nations, the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven, to whom would be given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him forever. Directly or indirectly Jesus Christ is the great theme of the Old Testament. This is how he was able to explain to his disciples ‘what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’

Any system, prophetic school, apostolic quorum, priestly class, governing body, gnostic elite, secret caste, revelation-delivering claim that comes along and stands between God and his people, between Christ and his bride, is a step backwards and stands between the faithful and what John Stott has just described; God dwelling in his people in covenant relationship by the indwelling Spirit, led by Spirit-filled leaders teaching from the illuminated Word of Scripture. If that isn’t enough, you have not understood.