From the beginning of time, God has communicated with mankind through prophets. He chose prophets from among the people and taught them new doctrine to share with their followers and also issued instructions for things specific to their time. Their messages were generally for the world, not just followers—all were accountable for what was taught. For instance, when God sent Noah to preach repentance, it made no difference whether or not people chose to follow Noah. The message was for everyone and everyone was responsible for finding out whether or not Noah was a prophet and then for deciding whether or not to follow the counsel. When they chose not to follow him, they faced the consequences. Following the prophet is a choice—the consequences are not.
From time to time, God took away the blessing of prophets because the people rejected them. During those times, they were forced to decide for themselves what was true and how to live. They had no communication from God to protect or guide them. However, after a time, God has always returned the gift of prophets to the earth.
After Jesus died, His apostles continued to receive revelation from God. Acts 15:32 says, “And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.” However, after Jesus’ apostles were dead, God did not send new prophets for a very long time. The world had shown an alarming resistance to Jesus Christ and to the concept that God wanted to continue talking to His children after Jesus died.
Of course, without a prophet, when doctrinal disputes arose, religious leaders had no choice but to use other means to make decisions about truth. Even in Biblical times, followers had wandered off into incorrect teachings– Paul rebuked members for believing there would be no resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15), and the Galatians for their lapse into false teachings. He also chastised the Colossians about their growing false belief in Gnosticism. Once the apostles were gone, this situation grew worse, because now no one could receive revelation from God that would correct false teachings. When church members disagreed with one another on what the Bible meant, they simply started a new religion. We see the results of this confusion and lack of direction in every city as we observe the large number of churches, most calling themselves Christian churches that follow the Bible, while disagreeing on what the Bible teaches.
In 1830, God began the process of restoring prophets to the earth. As the last days approach, prophets are needed to help prepare the earth and allow people to sort out truth from confusion. A teenager named Joseph Smith, who saw, as do many today, the confusion of churches with conflicting doctrine, went into the woods to pray about which church to join. He was following the counsel given in the Bible, in James 1:5, which said that if you lack wisdom, you need only go to God in prayer and you’d receive the knowledge you needed. During this prayer, he had a vision in which God and Jesus appeared to him and instructed him not to join any of the churches, because none had the complete gospel.
When he became a young adult, God sent an angel to prepare him to become the first prophet of the restoration. Since that time, there have always been prophets on the earth, and God will continue to send them until Jesus Christ returns.
It is important to note that Joseph Smith was a prophet, not a god. Mormons do not worship him or place him over Jesus Christ. He is considered a prophet in the same way Moses or Noah are prophets. Christians believe Moses and Noah were prophets, but they do not worship them. Nor do Mormons worship Joseph Smith or any other prophet.
The role of a prophet is to testify of God and of Jesus Christ and to speak for them when commanded to do so. Only a prophet can receive revelation for the entire church.
How do Mormons view their prophets? How might having a prophet impact Mitt Romney’s presidency if he is elected? Mitt Romney, Mormon candidate for president, is a practicing Mormon. This means he views the current Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson, as a prophet. It also means he is mindful of the Church’s teachings on political neutrality, which includes not dictating to political leaders, regardless of faith. They offer opinions and encouragement, but political leaders represent their constituency, and therefore that is their priority.
Of course, every politician has standards of some sort and those will play into their work. They all obtain their standards from somewhere, whether it is from God, a political party, parents, friends, or popular culture. No source should be outlawed, since the ability to choose our beliefs freely is a basic principle of democracy. However, the prophet will not interfere with how a politician does his job. There are Mormons in both major US political parties and there are Mormons on many sides of most issues, including ones on which the Mormons have taken an official stand. A review of Mitt Romney’s life and leadership will help voters decide how he will behave in another leadership position.
Mormon prophets come from the ranks of ordinary Mormons. They are not trained in a theological seminary and therefore they held ordinary careers prior to becoming full-time church leaders. Their training comes from years of experience serving in a lay church. The work in the Church, even the work of a bishop (pastor) is done by volunteers who serve “callings.” Callings come from God and people change callings regularly in order to have a variety of experiences and to gain a wide range of skills. The calling of an apostle or prophet is one of the few full-time positions, and those who hold the job are unpaid if they can afford to do so. Otherwise, they receive a modest stipend that comes from the church’s for-profit businesses, not from tithing money. President Monson lives in a modest suburban home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Every word a prophet says is not considered prophetic or even official. Prophets, as are other Mormons, are permitted to have personal opinions on subjects that are not canonized doctrine. They often speak of these opinions even in official talks, so it is important for students of Mormonism to understand what constitutes canonized doctrine. Many of the teachings attributed to Mormonism by outsiders are actually personal opinions of members, not official doctrine. Other listed doctrines were once commonly believed, although never canonized, and no longer hold wide support.
The LDS Newsroom is a good source of official information, although there are some sections clearly marked as commentary. In addition, the Articles of Faith, the scriptures, and official declarations accurately proclaim canonized doctrine. In recent years, high-ranking church officials have made a greater effort to clarify which of their statements are official and which are expressions of personal opinion. It is important to look for the most recent statements by church leaders, since one purpose of a prophet is to give teachings for our own time.
There are several ways to learn more about God’s prophets. One way is to read the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. Both give insights into how prophets work and what to expect from them. To learn about modern Mormon prophets, visit these websites:
An unofficial website done by Mormon members to teach about the current Mormon prophet: President Thomas S. Monson.
Addresses by Thomas S. Monson: A list of talks (speeches) given by the current prophet. Find out what prophets today want the world to know.
An unofficial site about Jesus Christ by Mormons. This site includes many teachings by modern Mormon prophets on Jesus Christ.