A New Living Prophet: Any New Changes?
Last week Russell M. Nelson, became the new president and living prophet of the Mormon Church. The former president, Thomas Monson, who had been quite sick for months, recently died. Nelson was chosen because the Mormon practice is to choose the apostle with the most seniority as the next president.
This results in the unusual situation that the Mormon Church is headed by very elderly men. For example, President Nelson is 93 years old (he is reported to be in good health). The next man in line for succession is 85 years old.
Since Mormonism teaches that living prophets can receive direct revelations from God, even affecting doctrine, should we expect any new changes with a new living prophet? First of all, history says no. In the last 50 years, there has not been one significant doctrinal change handed down by the living prophet. The last one was in 1978 when President Kimball declared that blacks could hold the priesthood – something denied them until then.
Another indication that there will be no changes with President Nelson at the helm is an analysis of the talks he has given. Especially pertinent is the talk he gave at the last General Conference (October 2017). It is especially relevant because President Monson was too sick to attend and had not been able to attend hardly any other meetings. It was clear to everybody he was dying. Therefore, from one perspective, we could say his talk set the tone for his presidency.
It was entitled, “The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without it?” Not once does he quote the Bible. Rather, in a variety of ways, he enforces the Mormon view that the Bible is unclear and unreliable. “It (the Book of Mormon) expands and clarifies many of the ‘plan and precious’ truths that were lost through centuries of time and numerous translations of the Bible.” Again: “It abolishes forever the false concepts that revelation ended with the Bible.”
Instead, he continually praises the Book of Mormon. “My brothers and sisters, how precious is the Book of Mormon to you? If you were offered diamonds and rubies or the Book of Mormon, which would you choose?” Again: “This is the book that will help to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ.” (emphasis in the original).
Even more striking, is the fact that he hardly mentions Jesus, except as identifying himself as one of Jesus’ apostles or a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is one brief sentence where he quotes a person who says the Book of Mormon helped her understand that the Savior not only suffered for her sins but He can heal her pains and sorrows. That’s it.
Previous talks by President Nelson echo classic Mormonism. Last October, I blogged on his story of how his departed great grandfather appeared to his grandfather to convince him Mormonism is true (“Open the Heavens”). Even more sobering is the fact that his wife, Wendy, wrote the book for children entitled “The Not Even Once Club”. Its premise is that a child can never even sin once in order to enter the club. For a fuller analysis, see the blog I wrote about it last year.
If anything, the evidence suggests President Nelson will emphasize even more strongly the classic tenets of Mormonism. If so, this could burden even more Mormons and create more opportunities to tell them the drastic different and wonderful message of the Bible of the true God who sacrificed fully for us and now eagerly forgives people.