Mormonism is ultimately built on the authority of an inner, spiritual experience or “testimony.” Mormon missionaries instruct people to pray about whether or not the Book of Mormon is a true revelation of God. They are to pray about whether the Mormon church is true or if Joseph Smith is a true prophet. If the person receives a positive, inner, spiritual affirmation of these things, they are to trust that this is a testimony of the Holy Spirit of God. Ironically, at the October 2022 General Conference of the LDS church, a Mormon apostle accidentally (but accurately) refuted this foundational experience on which all of Mormonism rests.
Should We Pray About These Things?
I have written previously about why it is actually unbiblical and inappropriate to pray about whether or not the Book of Mormon is true. In that article, I explained:
“it is wrong to ignore what God has already plainly said and to presumptuously pray for your own personal revelation on something to which God has already spoken.”
Unsurprisingly, Latter-day Saints have taken issue with my article, and with this statement in particular. But recently, a public figure stepped in to echo my warning to the LDS people. Ironically, it was none other than Dale G. Renlund, one of the Mormon Church’s twelve apostles. Speaking in his official capacity as one of the general authorities of the LDS Church in a formal teaching to the whole church at the recent general conference, Renlund said:
“When we ask for revelation about something God has already given clear direction, we open ourselves up to misinterpreting our feelings and hearing what we want to hear. A man once told me about his struggles to stabilize his family’s financial situation. He had the idea to embezzle funds as a solution, prayed about it, and felt he had received affirmative revelation to do so. I knew he had been deceived because he sought revelation contrary to a prophet, contrary to a commandment of God. The prophet Joseph Smith warned, ‘nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the spirit of God’”1
On this particular point, I actually completely agree with Renlund. However, if he were to actually follow his own advice consistently, he could no longer be an “apostle” (or even a member) of the LDS church. I dare say, if all the Latter-day Saints listening were to actually follow his advice, Mormonism would cease to exist.
Praying about prophets and revelations
Now, why do I say this? Well, again, the entire basis of the Mormon religion, its whole justification for existence, is that the Book of Mormon is a real revelation from God, that Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God, and that their church is the true church. And how do they substantiate these claims? By asking you to pray about it and receive a spiritual testimony.
Yet, just here they run into a problem. God has already plainly spoken about how we are to evaluate someone who claims to be a prophet or to bring a revelation from God. Indeed, God has commanded us to test prophets and their revelations in a particular way. To try to go around God’s clear instructions and instead to pray and trust whatever spiritual experience follows is exactly what even Mormon apostle Renlund himself recognized to be a foolhardy approach that sets one up only for deception!
God did not tell us to pray about the truthfulness of prophets and their alleged revelations. Instead, he gave us specific instructions, such as:
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
Many LDS will point to this and say, “Yes, see? And look how generous our church is? How much our church donates to charity and all that our church gives to the poor? Isn’t that good fruit? Doesn’t that prove our prophet is true?” Ironically, earlier in the same sermon, Jesus warned:
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:2-3)
Thus, by pointing to their very public and visible giving and charitable work, drawing your attention to it and trying to get you to think well of them for it, they are behaving as Jesus said the hypocrites do! This also shows us that this cannot be the fruit that Jesus meant. No, indeed, such public deeds and wholesome outer image are exactly the “sheep’s clothing” Jesus warned us not to be deceived by. We need to know what is inside. How do do that? Pray about it? No, again, there is an objective standard. we look at the fruit. What is the fruit? Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34-37).
Thus, we see beneath the sheep’s clothing and evaluate the true nature of a prophet not by observing the outside but by evaluating the words, which are a window to what is within. We examine the teachings and prophecies of a prophet, just as God explicitly commanded:
“But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
As you can see, God has given a clear command and plain standard. Examine the prophet’s predictions made in the name of the Lord. If any of them fail, he is a false prophet. Yet, even if they all come true, there is a further test that God commands:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
So, even a prophet who appears to have the miraculous ability to predict the future is nevertheless a false prophet if he leads you to worship any god other than the God of the Bible. Further, if he presents a gospel other than the gospel preached by Jesus’ apostles and found in the New Testament, he is likewise false. As Paul wrote:
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).
The apostle John echoes this:
“We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6)
If a prophet prophecies contrary the words of the apostolic writers of the New Testament, the spirit behind him is a spirit of error. If he teaches a different gospel than Paul and the apostles preached, he is accursed. If he leads you to worship another god, he is a false prophet. And all of this is true even if he makes miraculous predictions and displays signs and wonders. If his predictions don’t come to pass, all the easier! He is to be rejected! Having these commands from God, this is how we are to test prophets and their revelations. If we ignore the process God has already clearly laid out and instead pray that God give us a direct personal revelation on the matter, we (as even Renlund recognized) “open ourselves up to misinterpreting our feelings and hearing what we want to hear” and, even worse, we risk giving ear to a false, deceitful spirit and mistaking its spiritual influence for the voice of God.
But do the Mormon prophets fail these tests?
While we cover the various unbiblical teachings in far more detail elsewhere, it is worth briefly noting a few points here. First of all, note the very fact that the Book of Mormon and the LDS prophets recommend praying about their revelations and trusting your inner spiritual experience rather than evaluating them based on God’s plainly established (and commanded) standards. This should already be a major red flag. In this very approach they are asking you to violate God’s word on how to test prophets.
But there is more. Once we do apply those standards, problems arise immediately. Take, for example, the numerous, documented examples of Joseph Smith’s false prophesies. To take one instance, Smith made the following prediction in the name of the Lord on April 11, 1838:
“Verily thus saith the Lord: It is wisdom in my servant David W. Patten, that he settle up all his business as soon as he possibly can, and make a disposition of his merchandise, that he may perform a mission unto me next spring, in company with others, even twelve including himself, to testify of my name and bear glad tidings unto all the world.” (D&C 114:1).
The meaning is pretty straightforward. David W. Patten would be part of a team of 12 who would be sent out on a mission to preach the LDS gospel to all the world. What Joseph Smith’s supposedly all-knowing god didn’t see coming was that David W. Patten died later that year. He never made it to next spring. He never served a mission. Joseph Smith prophesied falsely. And this is just one example. When I lived in Kansas City, I frequently drove by the empty lot in Independence, MO where Joseph Smith prophesied a temple would be built in his generation (D&C 84). No temple has ever stood there, and even if the LDS church eventually owns the property and builds one, they will not have done so in time or in the context that Smith predicted.
In addition to his prediction of future events, Smith offered up his alleged ability to translate ancient documents by the gift and power of God as a sign of his being a prophet. This sign also failed. His attempt to translate the Bible provides demonstrable evidence that he had no such power, not to mention his alleged Book of Abraham and even the almost humorous incident of the “Kinderhook plates.”
Thus, on the biblical test of Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Joseph Smith fails (and, therefore, so does his claim to supernaturally translate the Book of Mormon from an ancient record). He offered up signs, both in predictions of future events and of supposedly translating texts by the gift and power of God. In both categories, his signs did not hold up, and God commands us to reject such a prophet. Is that something we nned to pray about? No. God has already plainly spoken on the matter.
But even if this were not the case, Smith fails the subsequent tests as well. Did he teach his followers to worship a different God? Yes. He may claim that the god he presents is the God of the Bible, just as Aaron and Jeroboam did of their golden calf idols (Exodus 32:3-5, 1 Kings 12:28, respectively). But the God of the Bible is not a man (Numbers 23:19), does not change (Malachi 3:6), and has always been God (Psalm 90:2). But Smith says of the god he preaches:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345)
The God of the Bible says that no God existed before Him nor has any other God been formed after Him (Isaiah 43:10). He alone is God, there is no other (Isaiah 45:22). But Joseph Smith said of his god:
“God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 373)
“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345)
So, Joseph Smith bids us worship an exalted man who was once like us, who was not always god but rather had to become god, who was brought forth by his own heavenly father, a god before him (who in turn would have a god before him as well, and on and on backward forever, infinite gods before Smith’s god was ever born.) Like one of the golden calves in the Old Testament era, Smith claims this god is the God of the Bible, but it shares nothing in common with Him at all. Like a modern–day Jeroboam, Smith says “here is the god who brought Israel out of Egypt,” but he points to an image of his own making. Smith beckons us to worship a different God. Deuteronomy 13 is clear on what that means. This is not something we need to (or ought to) pray about looking for a different answer.
We get the same results when we compare the Mormon gospel with the biblical gospel. They are worlds apart. Does it matter that Joseph Smith says he received it from an angel of heaven? God’s word in Galatians 1 says it does not. Praying about it will not change God’s mind. He’s given you the test. Bypassing God’s method will only open you up to deception. Ironically, even Mr. Renlund’s advice would indicate as much!
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