How do I know if someone says they are a prophet, if they’re right?
I had the opportunity recently to fly from Utah to California for a getaway trip with Lane. Before we left, I prayed that I would be able to be in the pathway of someone who was searching for the gospel that would want me to share what I know.
I sat next to a woman who slept immediately after the plane took off. Later she told me she had gotten up very early to be ready to pick up some family members for their flight at 4:30 am. I could understand why she was so tired!
When she woke, she was very amiable and turned to me to visit. She said she was on the way to her grandson’s wedding in a Mormon temple. I knew that chances were that she was not a Mormon, and that perhaps this was an answer to my earlier prayer. I listened further as she asked me why temple weddings are private and non-members are not allowed to attend.
I happily explained! I noticed how loving and supportive she was towards her grandson for his choices as he had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when he was 18, served a mission for the church, and now was getting married in a Mormon temple to his fiancée. This grandmother was not resentful that she would not be able to attend the sealing. She listened attentively as I shared our beliefs about eternal families and how the ceremonies we perform in the temple are sacred to us and as ancient as the Old Testament in which sacred ordinances are described.
She then shared with me about her church. Her beliefs included those shared by other religions, including reincarnation, messengers, revelation, prophets, and survivalism. The prophet of her church was a close friend, and they had worked together and raised their families together. She had served in executive positions within her church. I could tell that she has a deep love of her family and God and this friend.
Our conversation left me wondering: how does my new friend define truth? Her religion seemed to accept many dogmas yet reject others. So I wondered: On what basis did they determine what was truth and what was not? How could she prove that her friend was a true prophet? How had she personally determined that? How did she know that her friend didn’t just invent what she was teaching as truth? (Our flight ended, so I didn’t get to ask her that.)
I reflected on our conversation as I read aloud to Lane in the car different articles on the internet about her church, as she had invited me to do. Lane and I talked about the clear patterns that God has established and revealed during many generations of his children on earth. These patterns are verifiable in the records He instructed messengers that He chose to write down (i.e. the Bible, e.g.,Amos 3:7). These records provide a basis, a structure, against which claims can be examined–a standard. It is very logical. While there are passages within the Bible that can be confusing, the overall patterns are very clear. It makes sense that God would provide additional scripture as time progressed, just as He has always done, and that He would follow patterns that He set up long ago. God is not a god of confusion, but of plainness, clarity, and simplicity, so that his children can gain an understanding of their relationship to Him as beloved children.
When we say we know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, for example, we not only say that we know this truth borne of spiritual witness, but also of a logical and verifiable examination against the standard that God established. Prophets never choose themselves. They are called of God. And they are given a power beyond their own abilities to accomplish their work. That power bears the same kind of fruit that previous prophets’ teachings bore. It is a simple pattern, and we can look at anyone’s claim to be a prophet to see if it matches up to the standard God gave.
Here is the pattern: God gave priesthood authority to act in his name to Adam. That same line of authority has had to be given to other prophets in exactly the same way as Adam gave it to others: by the laying on of hands. Joseph Smith received his authority from Peter, James and John, who received it from Christ. Our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, received it from the prophet before him who received it, going back and back, from Joseph Smith. It is an unbroken line direct to Christ, and then to further back to Adam. It’s very logical and simple. And verifiable. Documented. Does it require faith? Yes. You have to ask God to know that it’s true, to have that conviction in your heart, to get the answer revealed to you.
I know that the best test of knowing whether Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God or not is the Book of Mormon. If you read it, you can simply ask God if it’s not true. Bottom line. And if you ask sincerely, with real intent to act on the answer and do what God asks, then you will get an answer. It’s God’s promise, not mine.
It’s very logical. Very simple. Plain. True. It’s how I know. And I’m grateful that it isn’t complicated or shrouded in confusing mystery. Daylight from darkness. That is God’s promise: that the truth is as easy to discern as the day from the night.
I wanted to write this post because Lane and I want our children so much to THINK about things rationally, logically. To CAREFULLY EVALUATE. Not just to follow. Just like you are taught at home and in college. Don’t believe everything you read, simply because it is printed on paper or on the Internet! Don’t believe everything someone says, just because they are nice or charming or beautiful or persuasive or appears powerful or talented or because it makes you worried. Remember the advice my mission president gave me about getting married: “Fall in love with your head first, and then see if your heart follows.” (Or I would say the same advice in reverse: If you are intrigued or smitten, see if your mind follows! Check it out! Be certain your mind and heart agree AND THEN that you get a confirmation from God.) We want our children, when they are presented with an idea, to evaluate it: logically, rationally. Test it out. What are the patterns? How does this claim match up with what is logical and proven over centuries? What are the fruits of this claim?
I think one thing to remember in evaluating truth is that ALL truth supports other truths. They are connected and helpful to understanding other truths. For example, in visiting with this new friend, I learned that she believes the Holy Ghost can purify us and help us heal from past injuries. I know that the Holy Ghost can purify us and that the Savior can heal us. It matches up with scripture and teachings of living prophets. I have experienced it in my own life. Knowing this doesn’t make me a prophet, though. Writing about it on my blog doesn’t make me a prophet, nor does it mean I have authority to start a church. As a wife and mother, I have received personal revelation to help my children and husband, which is a tremendous gift to us in nurturing my family. As children of God, we can all receive revelation to help us through life, regardless of our gender or religion or background, if we follow the pattern for receiving revelation from God.
But receiving revelation for ourselves is different for receiving revelation for others, because God has established patterns for that. He calls those whom He trusts to lead others, and this is super important, because who we follow will make all the difference in our lives! As a wife and mother, I receive personal revelation to help my children and husband, which is a tremendous gift from God in helping me to nurture my family. I had just read this scripture as I began our flight: “And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith”(Jarom 1:4).
If we don’t study God’s words, we won’t know whether an idea is true or false, or a combination of both. We have to study and pray and search.
If it’s not logical, if it doesn’t match up to established patterns, if it doesn’t bring “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal.5:22-23), if their works aren’t good (Moro.7:5), if it doesn’t invite you to do good or believe in Christ, we can know it’s not of God (Moro.7:15-16).
That’s the thing I want my children to remember, what I want to remember: Think. Check it out. Ask God.
(What are patterns that God has recorded in the scriptures about prophets? I’m going to make that a point of study this week, and I’ll try to share some of the things I find in some of my upcoming posts.)