However, in the earliest church, the Christians looked to such inspired men as Peter, Paul, Matthew, James, John and the other apostles for their understanding of salvation. As such, it was the words of these divinely inspired men which guided the church. However, it is commonly taught today, that upon their death, such inspiration through divinely appointed men ceased to exist. Therefore, instead of the church being led by living prophets and apostles, as was done in the beginning, it is believed by nearly all Christian faiths that we are now to be led only by the words of the ancient dead prophets and apostles as contained in their writings.
Because of such a belief, nearly all Christians today see no more need for prophets to help us find truth and salvation. One reason for this belief is because many feel that prophets cannot add anything new to our knowledge of God that isn't already contained in the Bible. And it is because of this conviction that they have concluded God now speaks to man only through the Bible rather than through prophets. However, the role of a prophet isn't necessarily to tell us things we don't already know. In fact, most of the time their responsibility is simply to remind us of what the Lord has already said.
But there are some who may ask, "Isn't that the responsibility of preachers?" And, indeed, the reason why we go to church is to be instructed in the ways of godliness. Since nearly all churches don't believe in the need for prophets, yet all of them have preachers, it becomes important for us to understand what the difference is between these two positions.
In Isaiah 29:10 we read, "For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered." Isaiah prophesied to his people that the time would come when the Lord would close their eyes, spiritually speaking. When that time came it would be as though the people were in a deep sleep. But how was He going to do this? The Bible specifically states that the eyes of the people were their prophets, rulers, and seers, not their teachers.
The apostle Paul explained that "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers" (1 Cor. 12:28). Notice that apostles come first, followed by prophets, and last on the list is teachers. Furthermore, Paul explained that the church was "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). What the Bible tells us then is that the apostles and prophets were the leaders or head rulers of the church, and without them to guide us, we become spiritually blind.
We know what prophets and apostles are, but what is a seer? The Bible explains, "Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer" (1 Samuel 9:9).
From this we learn that a prophet is another word for a seer. The word "seer" is usually pronounced as "sear." As accurate as that pronunciation may be, it is misleading. A better way to pronounce that word would be "see-er." For example, a person who looks at things is a "looker." A person who drives a car is a "driver" A person who speaks to others is a "speaker." In the same way, a seer is someone who sees things. But the things he sees are those that have been shown directly to him by God. Thus a seer is someone who has seen things of God that others haven't.
Perhaps we can illustrate this by way of an example. Imagine a community of farmers living in a valley surrounded by tall mountains. Since these mountains obstruct their view, they are not able to see beyond the limits of their valley. That means they can't see approaching storms until they break over the top of the mountains, nor can they see any danger or resources that may lay just on the other side of the mountains.
Now imagine that these farmers selected someone from among their own to climb to the top of the highest nearby mountain. From that vantage point such a person could see for hundreds of miles in all directions. He could not only see what was happening in the distant sky to help better forecast the weather, but he could also see what was happening down in the valley, as well as what was happening many miles away on the ground on the other side of the mountain.
The person on top of the mountain is no different than the people down in the valley, except for his position. He is positioned higher than they are and therefore has a clearer view of things than those below him. Thus, he becomes the look-out person for the valley people. He is their eyes. As such, he is their see-er. When he sees something that he feels is important for others to know he then communicates that information to them. However, that fact that he is at the top of the mountain doesn't make him any more special than those in the valley. The fact that he doesn't always have something to say doesn't make his job any less vital to the community below.
Now imagine someone in the valley trying to tell others that they don't need a see-er to watch out for the community. Imagine this person trying to convince others they can look up and see the sky and predict for themselves what the weather will be. Imagine someone trying to argue that the person at the top of the mountain can't see any more than the people down in the valley, or that just because he is an ordinary man like everyone else that we should not believe anything he might tells us.
Yet this is the same kind of argument many of today's Christians use to convince others that we no longer need prophets or seers to guide us. They claim that modern-day prophets can't tell us anything more than what is already contained in the Bible. They contend that all we need to do is read the Bible for ourselves to discover what God wants us to know. They further argue that so-called modern-day prophets are merely ordinary men with faults and weaknesses just like the rest of us, and have no greater understanding of God's word than we have, so we shouldn't put any faith in what they have to say.
But Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the other prophets were also ordinary man. More than that, they likewise lived at a time when Israel already had God's word as written in the Law of Moses to guide them. Even so, God still sent prophets to deliver His message. Peter was an ordinary fisherman, yet he had a vision that revealed that the gospel was to be given to the Gentiles (Acts, chapter 10). The apostle John was likewise just an ordinary fisherman, yet in a revelation on the island of Patmos, he saw things far into the future that we have still yet to see happen.
Even though prophets are ordinary men, that doesn't prevent God from revealing knowledge to them that is not readily available to most others. Consider the incident when Jesus took three of his closest, ordinary disciples – Peter, James, and John – "up into an high mountain" where, with their own eyes, they witnessed the transfiguration of Christ and were permitted to see and hear Elias and Moses talking with Jesus. They also saw "a cloud that overshadowed them" and heard "a voice [come] out of the cloud saying, This is my Beloved Son: hear him" (Mark 9:2-7). And it was because of experiences such as these that they were filled with a knowledge about God that other ordinary people didn't possess.
Even when the message prophets give is something we've heard before, that doesn't do away with the need for us to listen to what God has to say through them. It's even possible that prophets may not fully understand the importance of the message they deliver, yet that doesn't diminish the fact that what they have to say is still necessary for us to hear. We see this most clearly in the book of Revelation. Many of today's biblical scholars believe that some of the things John describes in this book sound very similar to airplanes, missiles, nuclear bombs, and other 20th century weapons. Although John saw a vision of wars that would take place in the distant future, the modern inventions he witnessed were far beyond his ability to fully comprehend. Nevertheless, the message God gave him was still important for us to have. What we find, then is that whenever a prophet delivers a message from God, their words are added to the words of all the other prophets and are equally revered as God's revealed word to man.
On the other hand, preachers are ordinary people whose knowledge comes solely through their study of God's word. They are not seers, nor have they been divinely called to speak authoritatively in the name of the Lord. The message they bring is their own. As such, the words they speak, no matter how eloquent or informative they may be, are not added to the words of the prophets.
But, if it is true that living prophets today couldn't tell us anything that God hasn't already revealed, then why did God send prophets in the first place? Why didn't He merely give mankind a written record of His words from the beginning instead of spending centuries revealing His will to and through ordinary men known as prophets? And if that method of leading people to the truth worked so well for thousands of years, even when they were already in possession of God's written word, then why did God change His method of communicating His will to man?
The answer that most Christian faiths give is to quote Hebrews 1:1 which they say tells us that Jesus was the last prophet, and that after him there were to be no more. However, that can't be correct because the Bible clearly shows that there were prophets who came after Christ. (For a more in-depth study of this subject, read "The Authority of God" )
However, if we are to believe that we no longer need prophets, then why do we need preachers? In other words, if God no longer speaks to man through the use of other men as He did anciently, and everything we need to know today is found in the Bible, then that same argument also condemns the need for us having preachers as well because they can't tell us anything more than what God's word has already revealed.
But the truth of the matter is, the reason why we go to church and listen to the preaching of others is precisely because they give us more insight and understanding into God's word. Through the use of non-biblical examples, stories, illustrations and other teaching techniques, they help clarify, emphasize, explain, and broaden our outlook and understanding of God's holy word. Thus, the reason why we still need preachers today, nearly two thousand years after the Bible was written, is because they help us gain a better understanding of what God's word says. But if preachers are still needed, then, by the same reasoning, prophets, apostles and seers are even more important for us to have because that is what Paul says the church is built upon, and what Isaiah referred to as our eyes.
However, to say that prophets can't tell us anything more than what is in the Bible is not entirely true. Even when one prophet sees the same vision that others have, he normally doesn't explain it exactly the same way someone else would. That means, each time we hear the same message repeated by different seers, we gain a little more added information that we didn't get from the previous prophet. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the telling of the life of Jesus. Why do we need four gospels? Since we have Matthew's story of Christ's ministry, why do we also need Mark, Luke, and John's account as well? The reason is because all Christians readily admit that each of these four gospels gives us some additional information about Christ's life that none of the other three offer. Thus, they say they are all needed to give us a more complete picture. The apostle Paul wrote fourteen epistles (i.e., letters) and all of them say basically the same thing. Then why do we need all fourteen of them? The reason is because, in varied ways, Paul uses different words and provides different examples that helps us gain a clearer understanding of the message he is trying to deliver.
This is no different than what today's preachers do. The basic steps for becoming saved are very simple and few, and yet, week after week, year after year, for nearly two thousand years, ministers keep finding new and interesting ways to explain the same message over and over again. Each sermon basically delivers the same information, but it is presented in countless different ways. Furthermore, when preachers want to explain a biblical principle, they usually don't quote just one verse of scripture and expound upon it. Instead, they normally quote numerous related scriptures found throughout the Bible and bring them all together into one sermon to help make that particular doctrine become clearer and more understandable to their congregation. If it weren't for the many times the same doctrine was stated in different words and in different ways by the writers of the Bible, we wouldn't be able to understand its message as well as we do.
Perhaps we can illustrate this principle by way of an example. Let's say that someone in America wanted to learn more about the city of Rome in Italy. They could go to the library and take out a book about Rome. That would give them some information, but they would become even more knowledgeable about the city if they took out four, five, or more books. Even though each book would mainly cover the same topics, each book would give additional information that was not found in the others or explain the same things differently, which would then help clarify what was found in the other books.
Nearly all Christian churches base their entire understanding of God's ways on one book - the Bible. By way of contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only uses the Bible but it also relies on the words of other divinely called prophets as found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. Those who say we shouldn't have any more of the word of God are limiting their knowledge of salvation to reading just one book, while members of the LDS church are able to use four books to broaden their understanding of God message.
It may be argued that the Bible is a library in itself because it is not one book but a collection of sixty-six books combined into one volume. Therefore, it can be claimed that we already have enough of God's word that we don't need any more. But, if having sixty-six books about God is good, then why wouldn't sixty-seven or seventy, or one hundred books not be even better? And if sixty –six books are more than enough, then why do we need so many preachers explaining the Bible to us each week and why do we need a growing number of Christian bookstores filled with an ever increasing number of books written by an ever growing list of new authors?
However, no matter how many books a person may read about Rome, even if those books are filled with actual photographs of the city, that's not the same as being there. Imagine how much more someone could learn by talking to a traveler who had actually been to Rome, even just one time! For that traveler, their knowledge doesn't come from a book. Instead, it comes from having actually seen the city with their own eyes and experienced it in person. Now imagine someone saying, "There's no sense talking to that traveler because they can't tell us anything different than what's already in the book." I seriously doubt anyone would honestly think that such advice is wise counsel.
Someone who has been to Rome may indeed tell us the same as what is in the books, but they can also tell us so much more. For example, they might look at a picture in a book and say, "I've been on that street, and I can tell you what you don't see in this picture. Right around that corner is an old bakery shop that sells the most delicious rolls you've ever had. See this one child on the street in this picture? That's somewhat misleading because in reality this area is full of children. They play all up and down the streets because they have no other place to play. Not only that, but this neighborhood is very noisy and crowded with people. What you can't tell from this picture is how the doors on those homes have wide cracks in them that let in the wind and the cold." Those are the kind of details that a picture can't tell us but are available from someone who has been there and seen the place with their own eyes.
A preacher is not a prophet because they are not see-ers. They have not been called up to the top of the mountain and shown things that others in the valley have not been permitted to see. Preachers rely strictly on God's written word for their understanding, while prophets speak from a knowledge that comes from outside the pages of the Bible. Preachers are people who gain their knowledge from what they read in books. Prophets, on the other hand, are like the traveler who has gained their knowledge from personal experience.
For example, very few people have actually been to heaven or seen it in a vision. The only way we know what heaven is like is from what we read in the Bible. However, if someone could gaze into heaven for just five minutes, they would gain a clearer understanding of what it is like than they could from reading all the books that have ever been written on the subject.
In one of his letters, Paul inferred that he had been "caught up to the third heaven... and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12:1-4). Before his conversion to Christianity, he was a devoutly religious Jew who had become a dedicated studier of the Bible. Yet it wasn't until he had a vision on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians that his eyes were truly opened to what God's word really meant. And it was because of these kinds of revealed experiences that he was able to expound and explain the scriptures in a way that no one else could. The same was true of all the other apostles. They had actually seen the resurrected Christ with their own eyes. They had touched His resurrected body with their own hands. They had sat and ate with Him after He had risen from the grave. As such, they saw things that the average person had no idea even existed.
And it was because of this personal, eyewitness experience of theirs that they could say, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 John 1:3). "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14). From that time forth, whenever the apostles quoted the words of God to others, they could say, "I know what this scripture means, not because I have devoted my life to studying the Bible, but because I've seen with mine own eyes the same visions that the ancient prophets have had. And it is because of those visions that I can authoritatively tell you what God's word means. Furthermore, I can provide you with greater details on the subject than what is found in the Bible."
That was the way Jesus Himself taught. He declared, "And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape" (John5:37). "I [on the other hand] speak that which I have seen with my Father" (John 8:38, emphasis added). "for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15). It was because Jesus had both seen and heard the Father and had been sent by Him that He was able to teach as someone who had authority (Matt. 7:29).
Preachers may claim they have had the eyes of their understanding opened by God's Spirit as they have read the Bible, but that is not the same a being a prophet who can say as the ancient apostles did, "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20, emphasis added).
To illustrate this point, consider this vision which the apostle John had. "And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:2-8)
What did John see? All we know is what is written in these short six verses. Now imagine if someone else had also seen that same vision. It would be ridiculous to say that they wouldn't know any more than if they had just read what is found in the Bible. For example, John said he saw a throne set in heaven. What did the throne look like? The Bible doesn't tell us, but someone who had actually seen it could most certainly give us the answer to that question. John said that the person who sat on the throne looked like jasper and a sardine stone. It is unreasonable to believe that someone today who saw that same vision would use those exact words to describe the person on the throne. And the reason why is because most of us don't know what jasper and sardine stone looks like. Therefore, most people would be forced to use a different comparison than what John did. And it is precisely because they would use different words to describe the same scene that we would gain a clearer understanding of what John saw.
John tells us that there were twenty-four elders who were wearing white raiments and gold crowns on their head But what was the person sitting on the main throne wearing? Obviously, he was wearing something, but John didn't tell us, even though he could have. Yet, if someone else saw that same vision, they would be able to answer that question. Just because John didn't include something in his account doesn't make any additional information false or unreliable that another see-er could tell us.
The third beast John saw in this vision had the face of a man. What did that face look like? Was it old or young looking? What kind of an expression was on his face? What did the rest of his body look like? The fourth beast John saw had six wings about him and were full of eyes within. Where were these six wings located on the body? What kind of appearance did the wings have? What does it mean that the wings were full of eyes within? What were all of these eyes for?
If God were to allow someone to see the identical vision that John had, they would be able to easily answer each of these questions and could add even more details than we would even think of asking. To say that we would know nothing more by seeing this vision ourselves than what we could learn from reading John's account is absurd!
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that there are living seers on earth today who can better teach us God's word than any preacher could ever do. These prophets are not just students of the Bible but have been divinely called by God to proclaim His word to man. Although these prophets are ordinary men with faults and weaknesses like everyone else, they have been called to the top of the mountain and have been permitted to see and learn things that the rest of us down in the valley have not had the privilege to experience. To say that we no longer need divinely called seers today because we already have enough of God's word as contain only in the Bible and that we couldn't learn anything more from their words is just as absurd.
If we say that the Bible is the word of God, which is designed to be our spiritual guide in life, then it seems that we should follow its advice when it says, "Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us the way that we should go" (1 Samuel 9:6).