This scripture has been used by many Christians as evidence that the Bible teaches that after the death of Christ God no longer sends prophets to the earth and that if anyone comes claiming to be a prophet, these verses explain that they are false preachers of Christ. Among the many Christian faiths in the world today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands unique in its claim that God has sent prophets to the earth again to speak to man as He did in ancient times. In fact, they assert that not only is the president of their church a prophet along with his two counselors, but twelve other men, known as apostles, are also revered as prophets.
The argument is made that prophets prophecy but Latter-day prophets very rarely foretell of coming events. In the Old Testament whenever an Israelite king, went into battle, he would consult with God's prophet to know what he should do, or how the battle would go, or have the prophet offer a sacrifice to God that they would be successful in defeating their enemy. But today's LDS prophets are never consulted about future events nor do they even offer any such prophesies.
Ancient prophets also prophesied about the coming of Christ but since that event has already happened more than two thousand years ago, modern Christians contend that even this function of a prophet is no longer needed. Therefore, in their eyes, this is further proof that there is no more need for God to send us prophets.
However, what we do see LDS prophets doing is preaching. Twice a year, in April and in October, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds a two day event known as General Conference where all the prophets of the LDS church preach on various subjects pertaining to the gospel of Jesus Christ and salvation.
But it is pointed out that this is not much different than what other Christian churches do. The Southern Baptist Convention holds a conference once every two years where various pastors speak on issues that are affecting their Church. The Jehovah Witness holds a large convention once a year which is called their Annual General Meeting. Yet these denominations don't call their speakers prophets.
Therefore, if LDS leaders are primarily preachers, then why do they call themselves prophets? Furthermore, there are other preachers who teach the same message of believing in Christ and often times they do so with much greater eloquence than do LDS preachers. In fact, LDS prophets can sound a little dull and boring in comparison to some of the more animated Christian evangelists who speak with dramatic flair and passion.
When LDS missionaries teach people about their church they emphasize the fact that there are living prophets on the earth today, but if these prophets don't prophesy and are no different than preachers of other faiths, then why are they called "prophets"?
There are a number of reasons why, but all of them are often overlooked by people of other faiths, even though these reasons are clearly found in the Bible.
When Jesus was alive on the earth He chose twelve men whom He called apostles. All Christians honor these men as special leaders who held a high and revered position in the Christian faith. Yet, with very few exceptions, they didn't make any great prophetic statements (although a few did). Instead, the commission that Christ Himself gave them was not to prophecy but to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15, emphasis added). Therefore, their first and foremost duty, was to preach the gospel of Christ to the world.
If that is so, why isn't everyone who preaches the gospel of Christ called an apostle? Obviously, there was something that set these twelve men (Matthias being chosen to take the place of Judas - see Acts 2:22-26) apart from all the other gospel preachers. (For more detail on this subject see "Succession of the Apostles").
When there was a dispute in the early Christian church, it was the apostles who people turned to as the final word on the matter. In fact, even today, no matter how great a preacher may be, Christians still turn to the words of these ancient preachers for our understanding of Christ's message. Therefore, it was the apostles who presided and watched over the church, not only in what they believed but how they were organized. As such, they governed it with divine authority, meaning that their word was viewed by members of Christ's church as if coming from God Himself. In fact, even today, that is how we view even the letters these men wrote.
This is also exactly how the Catholic Church views its head, the Pope. According to Catholic doctrine, they believe that Christ made Peter the head of the church, giving him the keys to either seal or unseal anything on earth and in heaven. Since Peter became the first bishop of Rome, Catholics are taught that each succeeding bishop of Rome likewise inherits the mantle of authority that Peter had. That's why on the Pope's crown is written "Vicar of Christ" meaning "he presides in the place of Christ." In other words, he is Christ's spokesman to both the Church itself and to the world.
This is the same understanding that the LDS Church has about the president of its church. He is not just a preacher but has the same divine responsibility and authority that Peter had as head of the Church in his day. It is his responsibility, along with the other twelve men called to be apostles, to watch over the Church of Christ, strengthen it, and help it to grow. However, twelve men can only do so much, and as the church began to increase in members, their responsibility to preach the gospel throughout the world did not lessen. But how can they preach the gospel to the world and still take care of all the affairs of an ever increasing church all by themselves?
In the book of Acts we read where the apostles originally were the ones who personally collected food and money that they then distributed to the poor and needy, but as the church grew, the demand on their time and energy became too great so they chose seven men and put them in charge of overseeing this work (see Acts 6:1-6). In the same way, in the early history of the LDS Church it was the apostles who went throughout the world preaching the gospel, but as the Church began to grow and the missionary effort began to spread, the work was more than twelve men could possibly accomplish by themselves so they called others to go serve as missionaries while they oversaw the work of spreading the gospel and making sure that it was being done effectively. In this way they are still carrying out their responsibility to preach the gospel to the world but they are doing it by directing and overseeing the missionary efforts.
Then, once someone has become converted to Christ and His Church, it is the duty of the church to spiritual nourish and strengthen these new members. But, like with missionary work, as the church grew, this task became too large for just twelve men to handle, so they called men to serve as bishops and stake presidents, then later as regional and later still area authorities to assist them in fulfilling their responsibility "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12,13).
The apostle Paul did the same thing except in his day the Church of Christ wasn't very large. But as he traveled from place to place preaching the gospel he would set apart men to be bishops who would remain in the area, acting as a representative of Paul. Then Paul would write letters to these bishops, giving them instruction on how to carry out their duties. This is what the epistles of Titus and Timothy are all about. So the role of prophets and apostles are not just to be preachers but to oversee the programs of the church as it carries out its mission of salvation.
But there is another aspect of their role as preachers. Even in the early church, there were many who went about preaching the gospel of Christ. In fact, a man named Barnabas was one of them. He was Paul's first missionary companion who later went on to do missionary work on his own, yet he was not considered to be an apostle. Today we read the gospel of Mark and Luke and view their writings as being inspired by God but they weren't apostles or prophets either.
As we study the scriptures we see that prophets are primarily preachers but not everyone who preaches is a prophet. And the same is true of the position of an apostle. Therefore, it is clear that there is something more that sets these men apart from the other believers in Christ.
In his letter to Titus Paul said there were some in the Church who were preaching false doctrine, whom Paul described as being "unruly and vain talkers… whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not" (Titus 1:10,11). And the same situation existed in the city of Ephesus, where Timothy was the bishop (see 2 Timothy 2:14).
In the churches of Galatia there were Christian preachers who were leading the people astray so quickly that it amazed even Paul (Galatians 1:6). Peter likewise complained about false teachers in the church who were teaching "damnable heresies" (2 Peter 2:1) and the apostle Jude made the same complaint (Jude 1:4). What we see is that the apostles weren't just ordinary preachers but were the ones who were responsible for making sure that the message of salvation that was being taught was true and correct.
And this leads us to yet another reason for the need of prophets. There are literally tens of thousands of different Christian denominations in the world today with each one having preachers who are teaching things that are in conflict with the beliefs of all other denominations. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discovered this for himself in 1820. As he listened to various Christians sects preach different doctrines he later wrote: "so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong" (Joseph Smith history, 1:8).
God is a God of order. We see it in all of nature, and order dispels confusion. The apostle Paul wrote, "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Corinthians 14:8). If someone in the church, especially someone who can speak very eloquent and persuasively, teaches a false doctrine, how would we know it? This very thing happened in the Catholic church in 325 A.D. when a man named Arian taught that the Father is greater than the Son and that there was a time when the Son did not exist.
Many in the church at that time were appalled by this doctrine, saying it was heresy! But there were just as many who felt that Arian's arguments made logical and biblical sense. For this reason, this dispute became so heated that it threatened to split the Christian church in two. And it was this fear that caused Emperor Constantine to call a council of bishops to meet in the city of Nicea to discuss and peacefully resolve this conflict of ideas. However, this council of bishops was anything but peaceful and the final resolution was imposed by force rather than by reason or compromise.
Then how is someone to know with certainty who is preaching correct doctrine, who is teaching things that are not quite right, and who is saying things that can truly be labeled as false doctrine? That is yet another role reserved for prophets. In Old Testament times it was the prophets of God who men relied on to know what was true and what was false. In the early New Testament church, the members looked to the apostles to know what the correct message of Christ was. Even today, we rely on the written words of those same prophets to guide us. Therefore, when we come to know that someone is a truly, divinely appointed prophet from God then we can also know that what they tell is truth.
But it's not just that they teach the truth that makes them important, because there are many people who can likewise teach the truth, but it's also the message they deliver that is just as important. As the apostle Peter explained, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (1 Peter1:21). As we study both the Old and New Testament we repeatedly see that what the prophets spoke were the words that either God directly gave them to say or what they spoke was through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Today we accept as fact that the words that the apostles and prophets spoke and wrote in ancient times were indeed inspired by the Lord, but the same is true of prophets and apostles who live in modern times. These men seek for and receive divine inspiration to know what message is needed to be given at a particular point in time. Although there are people who can preach great sermons on a wide variety of gospel subjects, prophets, on the other hand, speak as they are moved upon by God. As such, their message is often targeted to the current spiritual needs of their church members.
For example, there was rampant sexual immorality in the days when the original apostles went forth preaching the gospel of Christ and not surprisingly the apostles had a lot to say about sexual sins, especially on the subject of fornication. In fact, the New Testament makes mention of this particular sin more than any other and that's because it was a major problem in their society at that time. But, in time, as this behavior no longer was a serious concern in the church, this subject didn't need to be given much attention by way of preaching.
Even up until the 1990s the LDS prophets said very little on this subject because it wasn't much of a problem. But today, as pornographic pictures have become more easily accessible, this subject has become a major moral problem in society as a whole, and among Christians of all denominations in particular. Therefore the LDS prophets have begun speaking about this subject more and more frequently.
Although they may not make official predictions foretelling coming events, prophets nonetheless give messages that are meant to help strengthen and protect people from some future evils long before they become a serious threat. For example, through divine inspiration, the LDS Church began talking about the need to strengthen marriages at a time when marriage was considered a sacred institution by nearly everyone in our society. In doing so, they were preparing people to withstand a future attack against marriage, as defined as the union of a man and a woman, which today is increasingly becoming discarded in favor of a more liberal or broader definition. And this divine inspiration is also given to help the prophets in fulfilling their duty to manage and help grow Christ's earthly kingdom here on earth as represented by His church.
Although there are many people who sincerely seek to do God's will, who strive to follow the teachings of Christ, who have been endowed with great gifts of the Spirit, and who have received personal divine inspiration, revelation, or deep spiritual understanding, what we see is that prophets aren't just ordinary preachers or men of godly, moral character, but are people whom God has personally chosen and called to be His special representatives to all of mankind. As such, they have received a special commission from the Lord that other men have not been given.
It is a great privilege to live at a time when God has provided us with living spokesmen who can help us securely stay on the straight and narrow path that leads to salvation, and we can come to better appreciate this wonderful gift when we come to better understand the role of a prophet.
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