I've just finished reading chapters 2-8 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology (see my previous post) about God’s word, scripture, and prophets. The simplest response to these chapters is to say that we agree with nearly everything he says, but that I have something to add to it. Let me first summarize the key points that we agree on (mostly from the chapters 2-3 about the Word of God and the Canon of Scripture):
- Scripture is God’s word, revealed through authorized servants who were called of God, and recorded that we might benefit from it.
- Only God can add to scripture, and he does so through prophets. Throughout history, God has followed a pattern of speaking through prophets--men called and ordained of God to teach his word. Though every individual has the right to receive personal revelation for himself, the prophet is the only one authorized to receive revelation for everyone collectively.
- There have been periods in history when there was no such authorized individual (prophet) on the earth (such as the time period between the Old and New Testaments). When this happened, people needed to rely on what had been revealed and recorded previously.
- After the death of the apostles in first century there was no longer anyone on earth who was authorized to receive revelation for the entire church/world (those who hold the office of apostle are also prophets).
- This meant we would need to depend on the scripture previously revealed (the Bible) until God again chose to speak to the world as a whole.
The author of the book notes that “the writing of Scripture primarily occurs in connection with God’s great acts in redemptive history” and concludes that no new scripture will be given until Christ’s second coming. This is where we differ slightly and where I'll add something to the author's points above.
- We believe that, just as he did anciently, God has again called a prophet and blessed us with additional scripture in preparation for the second coming. The power of the priesthood, the church, and the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored to the earth (this is the “restitution of all things” spoken of in Acts 3:21 that needs to happen before Christ returns).
So, rather than turning to scholars, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get their Biblical interpretation from men they believe to be prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ, just as when doctrinal doubts arose in New Testament times.
Now, this is a big deal. The men who lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim to be apostles and prophets, acting as directed by Christ himself. They are either 1) exactly who they say they are or 2) the false prophets the Lord warned us of in the New Testament. So how do you know? Jesus tells us how in Matthew 7:15-20:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
What are the fruits of what we claim as the restored Church of Jesus Christ? Feel free to look into that yourself and let me know what you find. My initial thoughts led me to general statistics about strong families, quality of life, and humanitarian efforts. Aside from the lives of church members, perhaps the most obvious “fruit” is The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It is a history written by prophets in the ancient Americas that the Lord brought forth to be a companion to the Bible and as evidence that he had again called a prophet on the earth. I know the Book of Mormon is scripture because I have read and prayed about it and I invite you to do the same. So does the author of Systematic Theology (although by his comments I would be surprised to learn that he himself has read it). On page 69 he says, “Compare the effect these writings have on you with the effect [the Bible] has on you… Is the spiritual effect of these writings on your life positive or negative? How does it compare with the spiritual effect the Bible has on your life?”
In their final addresses, both the first and last prophets to write in the Book of Mormon also extended the same invitation. Nephi urged all readers to “hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness” (2 Nephi 33:10-11). Moroni said, “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” (Moroni 10:4).
I can add my testimony to theirs. Those who read the Book of Mormon and pray, honestly seeking to know if it comes from God (and, by extension, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by Christ as it claims, rather than being a big, elaborate sham), will receive an answer. Because each one of us is unique, the manner in which that answer comes may differ, but it will come through the Spirit. In Galatians we learn that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Gal 5:22). Those are the things that I feel when I read the Book of Mormon or study the words of the modern day apostles, just as when I study the Bible.
I really like the way Grudem phrases things and I think his comments about the epistle to the Hebrews apply to the Book of Mormon as well. “The majestic glory of Christ shines forth from the pages...so brightly that no believer who reads it seriously should ever want to question its place in the canon.” And, “the words of these books would have been self-attesting; that is, the words would have borne witness to their own divine authorship as Christians read them.”
Now, one last quote from Grudem. He says about the process of deciding what is scripture, “two factors are at work: the activity of the Holy Spirit convincing us as we read Scripture for ourselves, and the historical data that we have available for our consideration.” A witness from the Holy Spirit is certainly the most important way to know that the Book of Mormon is scripture, but I want to address the second factor he mentions just for fun. My next post (when I get around to it) will be about the historical data that supports the Book of Mormon.