Between 1829 and 1844, Joseph Smith received hundreds of revelations. He produced the Book of Mormon, a tome of more than 500 printed pages. Guided by the inspiration he claimed came from God, he revised the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. In the process, he produced the Book of Moses which contains much information not covered in the Genesis account. Many, but not all, of his revelations were compiled and printed and are now contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. And he produced the Book of Abraham, a book apparently received by direct revelation and not through any traditional means of translation. Whatever one may conclude about the source of Joseph Smith’s inspiration, continuing revelation was the principal identifying characteristic of the religion he founded. Joseph Smith said “if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; [we] are not the people of God.” HC 5:237.
such revelation continued in the church from Brigham Young to the present day
is a fundamental tenet of the modern church:
We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord. . . .
. . . Expecting the spectacular,
one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I
say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning
testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet
of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is
continuous, a light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a
continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half
there has been no interruption. Conference Report at 115 (Apr.
1977); Ensign at 78 (May 1978)
But stark is the contrast between the revelations promulgated by Joseph Smith in the 15 years or so he served as the leader of the church and the “revelations” received in the last 160 years since his death. The last major revelation to be canonized was announced by church president Spencer Kimball in a press release issued in 1978 extending priesthood ordination to men of black African descent. This revelation ended a practice that had no revelatory basis in the first place.
Gordon Hinckley has been President of the church for ten years. During that time, he has been interviewed numerous times, made appearances on the Larry King television program, appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace, and has given dozens of official talks in church conferences. He has also provided church magazines with many messages for publication. In none of these fora has President Hinckley ever asserted that he has received the revelations that he presumably ought to be receiving as the “only man on the face of the earth who holds all the keys of priesthood authority.” I can only conclude that either Gordon Hinckley does not receive revelations or that, if he does, he chooses not to share them with a church anxious to receive them and a world in desperate need of the same.
Hinckley has spoken on the matter. His statements on continuing revelation differ from both Joseph Smith’s and Spencer Kimball’s. An excerpt from an interview by David Ransom that was published in Compass, an Australian periodical:
GBH: Now we don't need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.
DR: And this is a revelation?
GBH: This is a revelation.
DR: How often have you received such revelations?
GBH: Oh, I don't know. I feel satisfied that in some circumstances we've had such revelation.
The Hinckley administration’s theme has been “carry on” and has been remarkably free of innovation or dynamism--hallmarks of the religion founded by Joseph Smith. President Hinckley has made pronouncements against such cultural affronts to morality and virtue as women wearing more than one earring per ear, small-stakes home poker games, and tattoos.. If he is receiving revelations, it would appear that Jesus is more interested in the number of earrings the women of the church are wearing than such weighty matters of our time as war and our response to terrorism, political corruption, social injustice, poverty and famine, and human rights, subjects about which Hinckley has said little or nothing of substance.
To his credit he has given some advice and counsel that one might consider wise, such as his counsel to avoid pornography, obtain an education, and get out of debt. Of course, none of these words of wisdom necessarily requires any special revelation from God. Suze Orman tells people to get out of debt and provides advice on how to accomplish it. Is she a prophet? Most people of faith agree that consumption of pornography is not in harmony with a life of faith and devotion. Are they all prophets, too? Is not the value of having a prophet found in the things he reveals that would not otherwise be known? If he merely quotes previous scripture or touts truisms found in the conventional wisdom of the day, how is he any different from all the other religious leaders who speak to their own congregations? What good is having a key to a treasure chest of revelations, if you never use the key to open the box?
Can someone give me one substantive statement from Gordon Hinckley that is new and unavailable from other conventional sources? What sense does it make to have a prophet who does not prophesy?