Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Identifying a True Prophet
There have been many times when I was telling someone about my church when, in response to my statement that we had a living prophet leading the church, they gave me a skeptical response. I think most people, when they hear the word "prophet" immediately think of people like David Kuresh. They only know of "prophets" that brainwash or control their followers. Their immediate reaction is that there is no such thing as a true prophet. Then there are some who in theory believe there could be prophets, but don't have faith that we could have one today. Many others don't see the need for a living prophet.
The Bible warns of "false prophets". "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. " Matt. 7:15 But the Bible also teaches us, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." Amos 3:7 The Bible does mention some prophets by name, such as Jeremiah, (Jer. 28:5) Hananiah, (Jer. 28:12) Elijah, (1 Kings 18:22) Nathan (1 Kings 1:8) and Iddo (Zach. 1:1) to name a few. Even Jesus lamented that the prophets who had come had not been accepted. He said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" Matt. 23, 37
I think we first need to distinguish between the "spirit of prophecy" and an ordained prophet of God. The "spirit of prophecy" is a gift of the spirit. (1 Cor. 12:10). Revelations 19:10 further teaches us that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." I believe that anyone who is worthy can have this gift of the spirit to direct their own personal life, and also receive guidance for their family. But an ordained prophet is one whom the Lord calls to guide the church. An ordained prophet receives revelation from God, and carries out His will on the Earth.
So how can we tell a true prophet from a false one? Here are a few suggestions:
--Prophets give us messages from God. Pres. Ezra Taft Benson taught: "A revealing characteristic of a true prophet is that he declares a message from God. He makes no apology for the message, nor does he fear for any social repercussions which may lead to derision and persecution." (Ezra Taft Benson, "Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation," Ensign, Mar 1994, )
--The things of which he prophesies, come to pass. Pres. Benson further taught: "The ultimate test of a true prophet is that when he speaks in the name of the Lord his words come to pass. That standard was explained by the Lord to Moses in these words: "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously" (Deut. 18:22). (Ezra Taft Benson, "Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation," Ensign, Mar 1994, )
--His works will show he is a prophet. One of the greatest tests of a true prophet could be found in this counsel: "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). What kind of a person is the prophet? What works does he do? What does he teach? Ephesians 2:11-14 teaches us, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;" So many people are quick to point out that false prophets lead us astray, but fail to remember that true prophets keep us from being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.
--He won't be seeking for personal gain. I couldn't think of a Bible scripture to support this next idea, but I believe that a true prophet of God will not be seeking to accumulate wealth for personal gain through his ministry. Someone who has their eyes set on becoming rich through their ministry is too easily tempted by the devil. Our church has a lay ministry. Our church leaders serve out of duty to God, and love of fellow men, not for money. The Book of Mormon teaches, "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion." 2 Nephi 26:29
--God will give confirmation that the prophet is His. The ultimate test for me of whether or not someone is a prophet, is to take this counsel. "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..." (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8,9) We can pray to God to know if someone is a prophet. You will note that this scripture gives us some council for how to pray. It suggests that we must first study the thing out in our minds before asking if it is true. For example, if a person were to pray to know if the Book of Mormon were true, without having first read it, how could they be mentally prepared to accept any answer they might get? So too, we should educate ourselves, then ask God if the decision at which we have arrived is right.
My testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith has come in many ways. My original testimony came in a powerful way, but every time I study about him, my testimony is strengthened in new ways. One way it was strengthened was when I went to visit the home that he lived in, in upstate New York. As I walked to the sacred grove of trees where he had his first vision, the thought came strongly to me that I knew it was possible for Joseph to get miraculous answers to his prayers, because I had gotten miraculous answers to my own. I am thankful to have a living prophet on the earth today. Thomas S. Monson is the ordained prophet of God that leads our church today. All of the apostles are set apart as "prophets, seers, and revelators", but Pres. Monson holds all of the Priesthood keys necessary to carry out God's work on the earth. I encourage all to strive to follow God's prophet, and pray to know that he is a true prophet of God.