“That’s Just His Opinion”
© Spotlight Ministries, Vincent McCann, 2004
Often, when Mormons are presented with statements from their leaders that could cause some difficulty for them, many will respond by saying something like “Oh, that’s just his opinion. Its not the official view of the Mormon Church.” Often, when Mormons talk about official doctrines of the Church they usually mean the Standard Works: The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Although many Mormons do not view other LDS writings as official Scripture (for example, The Seer or The Journal of Discourses), it should be remembered that many of these writings consist of the words of very prominent leaders in the Mormon Church. As such individuals commanded great respect they were certainly influential over the rank and file. Their statements must have carried some weight. Mormon leaders in prominent positions, like Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, and Bruce R. McConkie, influenced those who looked to them for leadership. The words of these early LDS leaders did not just go out into a vacuum, they went the hearts and minds of the Mormon people and were incorporated into their beliefs.
It would also seem that many Mormon leaders have tended to view their words as carrying a great deal of weight. For example, regarding the sermons of Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses it is interesting to look at some of Young’s words himself as to how he viewed what was contained in the Discourses:
“I know just as well what to teach this people and just what to say to them and what to do in order to bring them to the celestial kingdom, as I know the road to my office…I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.13.p.95. Also see vol.13.p.264).
Even though it is fashionable for today’s Mormons to say that they will not accept statements which are not officially classed as revelation, or Scripture, I came across the following quote of a BYU professor which I thought was interesting regarding this very issue:
“…While certain doctrines are enunciated in the standard works and some doctrinal issues have been addressed in formal pronouncements by the First Presidency, there is nothing in Mormonism comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Augsberg Confession. Few of the truly distinctive doctrines of Mormonism are discussed in official sources. It is mainly by unofficial means — Sunday School lessons, seminary, institute, and BYU religion classes, sacrament meeting talks and books by Church officials and others who ultimately speak only for themselves — that the theology is passed from one generation to the next. Indeed it would seem that a significant part of Mormon theology exists primarily in the minds of the members… the absence of a formal creed means that each generation must produce a new set of gospel expositors to restate and reinterpret the doctrines of Mormonism.” (Peter Crawley, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1982).
Related to the above observations from the BYU professor, it can be pointed out that there are some doctrines of Mormonism that are simply not found in the official Standard Works. The LDS doctrine of their being a “Mother in Heaven” is one example. Nowhere is this doctrine found in any of the official Standard Works of the Church. However, such a doctrine is vital in the Mormon concept of eternal progression. If God was not married to His wife in Mormonism then He could never have become God in the first place.
Some Mormons will object that unless a statement by an LDS Church leader opens with the statement “Thus saith the Lord”, then it can be set aside as the mere opinion of the speaker. However, not everyone would agree with this. In 1980 prominent Mormon leaders gave a speech which contained the following words:
“SIXTH: The Prophet Does Not Have to Say “Thus Saith the Lord” to Give Us Scripture. Sometimes there are those who haggle over words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obligated to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you.” (D&C 21:4.) And speaking of taking counsel from the Prophet, in D&C 108:1, the Lord states: “Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Lyman: Your sins are forgiven you, because you have obeyed my voice in coming up hither this morning to receive counsel of him whom I have appointed.” Said Brigham Young, “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.” (JD 13:95.)” (Following the Brethren, Speeches By Mormon Apostles Ezra Taft Benson and Bruce R. McConkie, March 1980. Full speech online at the following link: Following the Brethren).
Furthermore, the popular, and widely distributed, LDS Church manual Gospel Principles clearly states that the inspired words of the living prophet are supposed to be accepted as scripture by Latter-day Saints. (Gospel Principles, p. 55).
Another objection that some members of the Mormon Church may bring against the words of past LDS leaders is that it was all in the past and that the Church has moved on since then. But the problem with this view is that the entire existence of the Mormon Church is based on the historical events that it appeared in in the early 19th century. Also, modern officially endorsed Mormon publications such as the books in the series entitled: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, contain prolific quotes from early Mormon publications. So past LDS leaders are still influencing modern Mormons even though the quotes that are given are given selectively.
The conclusion of all this is that it is too easy for Mormons to brush aside something uncomfortable that they might hear from a Mormon leader as “just his opinion”, but the truth is that the words of these leaders do carry great weight and influence over the rank and file. In addition to this, as the quotations in this brief article demonstrate, there are Mormon leaders who feel that writings and speeches by Mormon leaders are authoritative even though they may not be contained in the Standard Works.