Revelation Overview, Part 4: Personal Revelation
In the last three overviews I’ve outlined how revelation has worked in church, looking at how revelations and prophecies were backdated into the Book of Mormon, how Joseph Smith used and created revelations during his time founding the church, and how those revelations have practically stopped entirely since his death.
This final overview on revelations looks at an aspect of revelation that is not as much about the leaders, but our ability to receive personal revelation from God. After the overview on spiritual witnesses and testimonies I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but the reality is that our personal revelation is limited to the information that we already possess and is again heavily controlled by the church’s teachings.
I remember being told as a member that we were entitled to the same capability for personal revelation that the leaders received, and that is of still true. What I did not know at the time, however, is that the idea of personal revelation comes from within us and not from a higher power – even for the leaders of the church. In other words, we have the same capability for personal revelation as the leaders do because there is no direct revelation from God – not because we have access to the same revelations that Joseph Smith was able to receive, which is obvious when you look at how when followers of Joseph Smith claimed revelations that contradicted him, those members were shot down. We’ll cover that below, but keep that in mind with the current leaders as well.
As I’ve said before, I realize how triggering that statement can be to a believing member, but ask yourself when you’ve ever said a prayer about something that had not happened yet and you received a revelation that foresaw specific details of future events (i.e not simply a bad feeling that ended up being true, but actual details or answers to questions we can’t possibly know). Now compare that to all of the times we’ve gotten bad feelings about things that might come to pass that didn’t. I remember my young kid one day came up to me and said “Dad, I had this feeling that something bad is going to happen to you or mom today.” Had it come true it would’ve been treated as a personal revelation even though it was entirely vague from the start.
One of the greatest tricks that psychics use is that they ask you a ton of questions to get you to lead them to some “bullseyes” which give them an opening to make you think they’re correctly seeing information about you that only you could know. When you’re done, you leave thinking about the “bullseyes” while ignoring all of the misses along the way. This is similar to how we’re taught as members to focus on Joseph Smith ‘predicting’ the Civil War while ignoring the many problems with that revelation which were covered in the previous overviews on revelations.
The reason that the Book of Mormon is very specific about revelations that happened prior to the production of the book (Christopher Columbus, the Martin Harris visit to Charles Anthon, and Joseph, son of Joseph) but incredibly vague for the prophecies in the Book of Mormon after the 1829 timeline is because the gift of revelation does not actually exist with the prophets of this church – no one has been able to actually predict specific events in the future, which is why apologists and believing members fill in the gaps to fulfill prophecy such as we’ve seen during the COVID pandemic.
Personal Revelation in the Church
If you Google the term “personal revelation,” the entries are almost entirely from church sources because this is a mostly unique idea in Mormonism. Then if you search “personal revelation” on the church’s website, you can find a slew of talks that discuss personal revelation and how members can receive and cultivate it for themselves.
Not surprisingly, the definition of what personal revelation actually is varies from leader to leader, but the general idea is that as members of the church we can receive direct instructions from God if we pray sincerely and with a real desire to do God’s will. This is most commonly illustrated by Moroni’s promise in the Book of Mormon:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:3-5)
In other words, personal revelation is a feeling we get that confirms the truthfulness of what we are asking, which has a lot of overlap with a spiritual witness. The main differentiation to me is that a spiritual witness confirms truth where as personal revelation gives us answers to questions we have, which is the (admittedly subjective) differentiation I am making within these overviews. While I feel like this overview is an extension of the spiritual witness overview, I think it’s important because it again shows that the church has slowly but consistently watered down their own claims over time as the evidence shows they just do not work.
Patriarchal blessings are given to members of the church by church patriarchs, and include revelation from God to these patriarchs about your lineage along with revelations about the life ahead of you. From the Gospel Topics manual:
“Every worthy, baptized member is entitled to and should receive a patriarchal blessing, which provides inspired direction from the Lord. Patriarchal blessings include a declaration of a person’s lineage in the house of Israel and contain personal counsel from the Lord. As a person studies his or her patriarchal blessing and follows the counsel it contains, it will provide guidance, comfort, and protection.” (Patriarchal Blessings, Gospel Topics Manual)
The key phrase from the church here is that you will receive “personal counsel from the Lord.” There is no mincing words here – these blessings are direct revelation to you from God through the men that the church calls as patriarchs. This has become incredibly problematic because throughout the church’s history, these blessings have been riddled with failed prophecies, and this is a very good indication that personal revelation does not actually exist within the church.
Look no further than the patriarchal blessings in Joseph Smith’s day that told member after member that they would see Jesus Christ return before they died, which of course never came to pass. In fact, there are 57 known, recorded patriarchal blessings in the 1800s that specifically said the church member would live to see the Second Coming, and 51 that revealed that they would see the last days. (Dialogue)
A few examples of patriarchal blessings to key early members (and two prophets) that made such promises:
Edward Partridge, April 4, 1835: "The Lord will preserve thy life till a good old age, and thou shalt also live to see the heavens opened, for thou hast desired this thing, and shalt see the Son of man in the flesh"
Lorenzo Snow, December 15, 1836"Thou shalt have power to stand in the flesh and see Jesus come in the clouds"
Wilford Woodruff, April 13, 1837: "Thou shalt stand in the flesh and see the winding up scene of this generation." (Entries from Joseph Smith Sr.’s patriarchal blessings)
These of course never happened, and now today the church has watered down patriarchal blessings so that they are not as easily falsifiable as they once were. In fact, they even had a direction in the 2016 patriarch’s handbook that told the patriarchs to avoid making such promises:
“He should avoid sensational or extravagant promises. For example, he should not make references to ... the timing of the Second Coming.” (Patriarch's Handbook)
If the patriarchs of the church are receiving revelation for these blessings as we are all led to believe, then why do they need guidelines at all? Why does the church feel the need to tell the patriarchs how to filter the “personal counsel from God” that they proclaim patriarchal blessings to contain? The only reason the church would need to tell the patriarchs to not make references to the timing of the Second Coming is because they know it’s happened many times before and failed every time, and that they know these are not true personal revelations but boilerplate blessings given by men who have lived long enough to receive the calling.
There are many modern patriarchal blessings that tell women they would have children only to find out they have trouble conceiving children, never get married (or get divorced), or have tragic miscarriages. The pain that has caused women (and men) in the church to not be able to have children after getting blessings that they would raise righteous children is immense, and it comes from patriarchs not being able to receive those promised personal revelations, but instead repeating patriarchal blessings in a ‘Mad Libs’ style format with limited customization to the personal information that you give them or they already know from prior events or relationships.
The website Fuller Consideration has a database of 387 patriarchal blessings that they analyze, and as you look through them you can see how they are produced in a ‘cookie-cutter’ manner, especially as we’ve gotten into more modern times. As you learn that the church’s truth claims do not hold up to the evidence, reading your patriarchal blessing again can be a very different experience as you can see just how incorrect sections are, how bland others are, and how powerless the men who are called as patriarchs actually are when it comes to predicting your future.
Watering Down Personal Revelations
Just as I tried to detail in our last overview how the revelations received by prophets, seers, and revelators have been greatly watered down throughout the church’s history, the way personal revelation is supposed to work has been watered down even more.
Look at how Joseph Smith explained personal revelation to early members:
“The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (Joseph Smith History, p. 191)
Here Joseph Smith is making clear that researching books will not give you answers, but that God will give you the answers through prayer and personal revelation. This is important because as I’ve tried to illustrate throughout these overviews, feelings are simply not a reliable way to discern truth. More important to this overview, however, is that Joseph Smith is making clear that we can receive information through revelation that teaches truths beyond just a ‘still small voice’ that confirms to us what we already know.
If that is not clear enough, here is one more quote from Joseph Smith that again confirms every member can receive the same revelation from God that Joseph Smith himself claimed to have received:
June 27, 1839: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, 'Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him who, remain from the least to the greatest.” (History of the Church, Volume 3, p. 380)
Again, this is Joseph Smith teaching that every single member can receive the full truth from God that is no less than what Joseph himself could receive. It is important to establish this baseline because the church since Joseph Smith’s time has continually watered down the personal revelation we are all taught that we can receive.
In 1982, Elder Boyd K. Packer declared the following:
“These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears.” (“That All May Be Edified” (1982), p. 335)
Again, what Elder Packer is saying here is that we don’t receive the words of God in the way that Joseph Smith claimed to receive them, but that we receive feelings that guide our thoughts. This is much different than how the church used to claim that revelation occurred, and again fits more with spiritual confirmation than it does personal revelation.
This is again the reason that prophets do not record revelations in the voice of God anymore, because they know full well that they are not receiving divine text in the way that Joseph Smith claimed to receive as he dictated either from his seer/peep stone in a hat or directly in a state of prayer. In the most unintentional of ways, Packer here is completely undercutting Joseph Smith’s credibility by stating that revelation simply doesn’t work the way that Joseph Smith claimed it did while recording and claiming so many revelations.
We can look to a 2017 “Face-to-Face” event with Dallin H. Oaks and M. Russell Ballard which tells us exactly what the leaders truly believe when it comes to both their ability to receive personal revelation and how they want to control and define the way that we interpret our own personal revelatory experiences.
As I have mentioned previously, the church holds many of these youth events where they teach them ideas that I find extremely manipulative and controlling, with this one being no different. Here is a question from a young member from Utah:
“How do I truly come to know and believe for myself the things that I have been taught? I pray for answers and a confirmation of the Spirit, but the answers don’t seem to come.”
The answer from Elder Ballard is extremely telling about the ability to receive the direct revelation from God that we are raised to believe these prophets, seers, and revelators have:
“And then in those quiet moments, you don't hear voices, you're not going to have a vision, that's very unusual, but really the things you feel within your heart are the way Heavenly Father ultimately answers prayers. What your feelings are is the process of conversion.”
To be clear, this is one of the men sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator who is explicitly admitting that you don’t hear voices or have visions when praying to God for answers. The reality here is that Ballard is unintentionally admitting that these leaders of the church do not receive revelation this way, so you should not being expecting it that way either. While this again fits with the pattern we’ve laid out in these overviews on revelation, it still is stunning to hear Ballard’s quote here against the way the revelation is certainly implied by leaders today including Russell M. Nelson’s description of the November 2015 policy of exclusion and the subsequent reversal of that revelation via another revelation.
The second part of this answer is just as problematic as the first, because Elder Ballard is telling these young members that feelings are the entirety of personal revelations. As I tried to illustrate in the overview on spiritual witnesses, this is simply a terrible way to discern truth, but works in the church’s favor to encourage confirmation bias to kick in and have these young members feel that God is confirming to them the church is true, when it reality it is just themselves wanting to experience that warmth in deep prayer.
Again, when you limit personal revelation to just feelings, it certainly makes it much easier for the church to then define those feelings as confirmation that the church is true. If you ask members to put in the research about the church, pray about what you’ve learned, and expect actual instruction from God, the church is going to fail just about every time.
How the Church Controls Your Personal Revelations
In the overview on spiritual witnesses and testimonies, I tried to point out ways that the church both defines and then manipulates our emotions against us. When it comes to spiritual witnesses, the church defines our emotions to us from birth and then uses those definitions to create equations that keep us from leaving the church.
For example, if we have good feelings about the church, the leaders teach us that those are God confirming the truthfulness of the church to us. If we have negative feelings as we, just as an example, read these overviews and discover the church is not true, the leaders teach us that those are ‘the adversary’ trying to lead us away. As I pointed out before, the church has created the ultimate “heads we win, tails you lose” scenario regarding your emotional responses.
With personal revelation, we see the exact same equation being taught by the church, which was definitely seen in the latter part of Elder Ballard’s answer above about personal revelation being watered down to just “feelings” that we experience.
In that same “Face-to-Face” event, there was another question that follows the earlier one:
“How can I differentiate between the Holy Ghost and my own thoughts and feelings?”
This question comes right after Elder Ballard tells these young members that personal revelation from God is effectively just feelings, so now the differentiation much be made between ‘feelings from God’ and ‘feelings from ourselves.’
Elder Oaks answers this question first, and to his credit he does reference that confirmation bias often plays a role in our feelings:
“It’s well to remember that the scriptures teach us that inspiration comes in the ‘still, small voice.’ It doesn’t come in the urgent impulses of doing what we want to do or reaching out in bias for a confirmation to our personal opinion. I have found it helpful to use that test of bias when I’m trying to sort out the difference between a desire to be confirmed in what I want to do already and what the Lord might want me to do, and if I get an impression to do something I don’t want to do I think that’s a lot more authentic than to report an impression that I’ve been confirmed in what I wanted to do anyway.”
This is a pretty striking statement in terms of a journey throughout faith. In other words, President Oaks is telling us that if we receive a confirmation that contradicts our previously held beliefs, it is more likely to be an authentic revelation from God confirming truth. In other words, if you read these overviews and begin to feel that they are correct – that the church is not true – then getting a feeling confirming that is more likely to be true because it is not just confirming the biases created throughout your life in the church.
On the flip-side, Oaks’ statement is also problematic towards Moroni’s Promise. By stating that personal revelation that confirms what we want to be true is not nearly as powerful, he is telling every member of the church who wants the Book of Mormon to be true, which would be most members as they grow up, that their personal revelation of truth is likely influenced by the fact that they wanted it to be true in the first place.
A real world (and admittedly oversimplified) example of this is how my kid would ask if Santa was real, I would ask what he thought, and he would reply with “I believe he’s real.” The reality is that he was raised to think that Santa Claus was real, so when he was confronted by others about the reality of Santa, he would fall back to the happy and comforting feelings he had about Santa which then confirmed the truthfulness of Santa to himself. In other words, my kid wanted Santa to be real, so Santa was real in spite of his ability to begin thinking about the problems with the Santa story.
But before I get ahead of myself, Oaks does explicitly state how the church defines our personal revelations and then uses them to make sure the leaders are always privileged above our own feelings and personal revelation. From the rest of his answer about how we can know if the personal revelation is coming from God or ourselves:
“If we get an impression contrary to the scriptures, to the commandments of God, to the teachings of His leaders, then we know that it can’t be coming from the Holy Ghost. The gospel is consistent throughout.”
This answer is designed specifically to make sure that members cannot trust a personal revelation that contradicts the current leaders of the church, which just so happens to include Oaks. Oaks is using a the ‘power of three’ literary technique here to equate the “teachings of His leaders” with both the scriptures and the commandments of God, because while the leaders of the church often claim that they are not infallible when talking about tricky issues, they absolutely want to obey and listen to them as if they are.
Again, just think of what this means:
-If you received a personal revelation up until 1978 that the priesthood and temple ban on black members of the church was wrong, that personal revelation was from ‘the adversary.’
-If you believed during that small window between November 2015 and April 2019 that the church’s policy of exclusion towards the children of LGBT members or that labeling those in same-sex marriage was apostasy was wrong, that personal revelation was from ‘the adversary.’
-If you believe the science that DNA shows that the Native Americans came from Asia and not Jerusalem, a key truth claim of the Book of Mormon, then that personal revelation (and study) is from ‘the adversary.’
-If you believed that the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax up until the 1980s (just 40 years ago), your personal revelation was from ‘the adversary’ because the leaders still taught that they were authentic until just 40 years ago.
-If you believed that Adam was not our God during Brigham Young’s time as a prophet, your personal revelation was from ‘the adversary’ and even contradicted the Lecture at the Veil in the temple!
I could go on all day, but I hope you can see why this is such a massive problem. We have constantly been taught ideas by the leaders of the church that have been proven wrong, yet are simultaneously taught that having a personal revelation that they are wrong through study and prayer means we are being taken over by the adversary, even though many members have had personal revelations that ended up being church policy/doctrine just a few years later.
This was a tactic that the missionaries used on me after I had begun my deep dive into research. They showed up ‘just by random chance’ a few weeks after I encountered all of this information, and as I talked to them about what I found on the church’s website they said that my “spirit was out of tune” and that if I turned back into the church I would receive confirmation of the church’s truthfulness and that those problems would be resolved.
When I told them that I had really thought about and studied these issues using the church’s own documents and that I wanted them to go over them with me using just those church-sourced documents, one of the missionaries told me that “that adversary had a hold on me.”
This is nonsense, of course, but this is how personal revelation is taught in the church. If you have revelation that confirms that the leaders speak for God, then it is applauded and nurtured in the church because it elevates the authority of the men above us.
If you study these issues but come to the conclusion that the church is not true, you are told that the adversary has gotten a hold of you and those thoughts are not from God. Even worse, if you talk about what you’ve learned publicly you will be disciplined by the church for doing so.
On the other hand, if you never actually research any of the church’s truth claims, just accept the church’s teachings uncritically (the definition of indoctrination), and get a warm feeling that it’s true, then it’s God giving you that personal revelation that it’s true.
As I said above, this is the ultimate “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario where the church is using your own feelings against you to stack the deck in their favor. It’s not only used to define your experience, but to define the experiences of others who might speak out publicly about what they’ve discovered.
A great example of the above problem is from the very same “Face-to-Face” that Dallin Oaks and Russell Ballard held for the youth. This was the last part of his answer that any revelation that contradicts the leaders can’t be from God. From Oaks:
“I had an experience once with some members who sought my counsel in this circumstance: They said “Our parents have told us that they have gotten a revelation that they don’t need to pay tithing and they don’t need to attend church anymore. What do you think of that?” I said, “Well, I don’t question your parents revelation, but they got it from the wrong source.””
In other words, if you do your work and study the church and get a confirmation that the church isn’t true because you believe (as I do) that the evidence is overwhelming against it, your research and hard work will be dismissed as being from “the wrong source.” As I’ve pointed out in the overview on doubts, this is why the church works so hard to keep members from looking at uncorrelated material from sources outside of the church.
Oaks does not mention why the parents did not feel they needed to attend church or pay tithing anymore. Perhaps they researched the church’s truth claims, discovered it was not true, and received a confirmation that they no longer wanted to attend and pay tithing. Or maybe it was that they discovered the church is worth hundreds of billions of dollars and decided to donate money locally to charities that will actually use the money to help the community. We don’t know because Oaks doesn’t want to tell us the reason.
Just as they do when they talk about those with doubts, leaders of the church never actually give the reason for why members have doubts or stop attending because they are terrified that members will begin to realize that the problems are real, and as the current prophet Russell M. Nelson said on Easter Sunday, we are not allowed to rehearse doubts with others who also have come across this information.
The Problems with Personal Revelation as Feelings
In the overview on spiritual witnesses I covered some of the problems with using feelings to discern the truthfulness of Mormonism and I don’t want to rehash all of those here. The bottom line is that feelings have never been a good way to discern truth, and the spiritual witness video I linked in the spiritual witness overview is a perfect example of how every religion has a different confirmation for what are very different beliefs.
But I want to look at this problem from another standpoint. The leaders today tell you, as outlined above, that personal revelation isn’t God talking directly to us or a vision from an angel, but merely feelings.
If God is the same today as in the 1820s, this becomes problematic for the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith as well. Let’s apply what Elder Ballard and Oaks said in their Face-to-Face with how Joseph Smith produced both the Book of Mormon and his vast amounts of revelation during his life as founder of the church.
We now know that Joseph Smith did not translate directly off the gold plates, but instead used the same stone he claimed to locate buried treasure with to translate the book via oral dictation with his head buried in his hat. In other words, the entire Book of Mormon was ‘translated’ by Joseph Smith receiving direct revelation from God off the rock itself, with the words being illuminated on the seer/peep stone inside Joseph’s hat and Joseph would read the words to Oliver Cowdery.
But if God doesn’t give personal revelation in this manner, and the current leaders of the church have admitted as much, then this very clearly points to Joseph Smith as the author of the Book of Mormon. This actually aligns greatly with the evidence that we have, given that Joseph Smith incorporates a lot of the events around him directly into the Book of Mormon along with vast amounts of material from the King James Bible which would not be written until long after the Book of Mormon plates were claimed to be finished and buried.
The reason this makes so much sense is that the text makes clear that Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Mormon – there are just too many fingerprints on the text that show not only that it was written in the late 1820s, but that it could not have been written by anyone but Joseph Smith.
This also follows Joseph Smith’s revelations to Oliver Cowdery, where he uses the voice of God to tell Oliver that he can’t translate the Book of Mormon and needs to stop asking to do so. From D&C 9:
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
10 Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.
In this revelation, Joseph Smith is stating that the process of writing the Book of Mormon is to study the text in your mind, write it down, and then wait to see if you get the burning in the bosom to affirm it is true.
Put another way, if Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Mormon as the evidence states, it is possible that he was following this pattern as he wrote. Joseph Smith would think about what text he wanted to write as he would go on walks between the hours of dictation (or the night/morning before), then he would orally dictate the text to Oliver, and then he would ask God if it was right and wait for a feeling of confirmation.
This method actually makes the most sense in the translation process if we want to give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt that he thought on some level that the text was inspired by God. Not only does this method match the translation accounts pretty well, but it also fits the method that Joseph is telling Oliver in the voice of God in D&C 9.
And not only does this method match the translation accounts, but it matches the methods of personal revelation that the leaders of the church have stated in our time. Beyond that, it shows that Joseph Smith had the same insecurities about others having personal revelations that could override his authority just as leaders do today.
In the above example, Joseph Smith is using revelation to shoot down Oliver Cowdery’s desire to help translate the Book of Mormon. In D&C 8, Joseph Smith is telling Oliver in the voice of God that Oliver can receive any information he desires via personal revelation, claiming that he holds power through his “divining rod,” which is changed twice in edits to this revelation to remove the folk magic, to receive this confirmation from God.
However, Joseph Smith shuts this down in D&C 9 when Oliver Cowdery wants to help translate the Book of Mormon. In other words, Joseph Smith is telling Oliver (through the voice of God) that he can receive answers to anything in D&C 8 only to immediately shut it down once Oliver’s desires are to have revelations that could contradict what Joseph Smith was writing in the Book of Mormon.
Another great example of this is Hiram Page and his seer stone. As I covered in the overview on Joseph Smith’s revelations, Hiram Page claimed to be receiving revelations through his own seer/peep stone, and they were believable enough that both Oliver Cowdery and David Whitner, two of the original three witnesses for the Book of Mormon.
Because Hiram was receiving revelation that even two of the original three witnesses believed were from God, Joseph Smith had to put a stop to it or else his authority would be in question. Thus Joseph Smith promptly recorded what is now known as 28, which immediately says that Hiram’s revelations were not from God, but from Satan. From D&C 28:
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses."
11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him."
If this sounds familiar, it is because this is exactly what Oaks is telling the youth about personal revelation that does not match with the current leaders of the church. Here Joseph Smith is telling Hiram Page that his revelation is from Satan because it is encroaching on the leader and founder of the church, just as leaders today will immediately discipline anyone that claims to have revelations that go against the teachings of the church.
The leaders of the church want you to think that you are able to receive personal revelations because it helps to build testimonies if you feel a connection to the divine that is being cultivated by the church, but the problem is that you cannot receive any information that lessens the power of those above you. Joseph Smith’s revelation to Hiram Page makes that clear when he says that “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith.”
Here Joseph Smith is making clear that no one but him is appointed to receive “revelations in this church,” which is a really important phrase that lets everyone know that whatever you might think God is telling you, it is not real unless it confirms what Joseph Smith is telling you believe or do for him. Again, I realize that sounds harsh, but think back to the revelations he gave to young women in polygamy using this very claimed authority, and you can see the patterns throughout that show how Joseph Smith created and then solidified this perceived power, and how the leaders today use those same tactics to keep you from questioning their authority now.
Personal revelation is such a tricky subject and I know how difficult it is to talk about because we all have lived experiences that we can point to when it comes to receiving an answer via prayer. What I am saying is that the history of the church gives us many clues that the people who we believe have the strongest power of personal revelation cannot predict the future any better than anyone else, and that we can all find examples of friends or family members who claimed personal revelation about an event, spouse, or job that clearly turned out to be a really bad decision.
When we look at the progression of personal revelation in the church, we can see that it has been watered down to the point where the only real personal revelations that are accepted by the church are revelations that are in line with the teachings of current leaders – effectively those that confirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and those that sustain the current leaders of the church.
The problem is that the church is constantly changing, which means that if you supported equality for the children of LGBT members in 2016 even after the November 2015 revelation against LGBT families, you were out of line with the leaders and thus were being deceived by Satan. On the other hand, after April 2019 those same revelations were then from God because they backed up the revelation that reversed the November 2015 revelation of exclusion against LGBT families and their children.
Do you see how confusing that is? We are taught that Mormonism teaches us plain and precious truths, yet we are also taught that personal revelation doesn’t come in ‘words’ or a ‘vision,’ but just a feeling that also needs to align with the leaders at any given time.
Throughout the history of this church there have been positions spoken of as doctrine by prophets that today are disavowed because of how embarrassing they are to the church. We have Brigham Young implementing the Adam-God doctrine directly into the temple ceremony which today is so taboo that apologists pretend it was merely an idea taken out of context. Brigham also implemented the temple/priesthood ban on those with African lineage which is now disavowed even as the scriptural basis for it remains in the scriptures of Mormonism.
Look no further than Russell M. Nelson’s description of the November 2015 policy as a direct revelation from God:
“And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process, and so is your privilege of receiving personal revelation.” (Becoming True Millennials, Russell M. Nelson, January 10, 2016)
Even the November 2015 policy is tied to the idea that we can all receive our own personal revelation from God, when in reality the very revelation Nelson is using as an example was such a disaster that the church needed a second revelation to remove less than 3.5 years later. Nelson here is telling you that they received confirmation of this revelation that he admits was created in reaction to the legalization of same sex marriage and was, as Dallin H. Oaks would say, a confirmation of their biases that led to an overreaction to the same sex marriage ruling.
If anything this example from Nelson is the perfect way to end this overview, which is to say that the prophets, seers, and revelators are telling us that they received direct revelation from God that was felt and confirmed by every one of them, yet it ended up being such a bad decision that it had to be removed less than 3.5 years later. I cannot think of a better way to say that feelings are a horrible way of discerning truth than to look at Nelson’s words after the November 2015 policy was enacted compared to the fallout that came from that decision which was put directly in the voice and will of God by Nelson.
This is yet another area where it becomes really easy to see how flawed the idea of personal revelation is once you’re on the other side, because you can then look critically at the personal revelations that not just you felt yourself, but that you saw others around you proclaim. Furthermore, it becomes really easy to see how the church cultivates an environment where they both define what personal revelations are and which ones are acceptable to control our mindset and to make sure their perceived authority remains unchecked.
And with that out of the way, we are now done with the four part overview on revelations. I realize how long these overviews are, but I also want to make clear that I’m not even scratching the surface here. If this is an area that interests you, I highly recommend studying the history behind these revelations and to understand how social and government pressures have helped change church doctrine along with how we can see so many fingerprints on these revelations from the men who created them in the voice of God.
Next Overview Topic: The Transfiguration of Brigham Young