One of the common topics of conversation among current true believing members revolves around the question- Have the apostles seen Christ? Go on social media to a faith promoting group and the topic comes up frequently. The 15 apostles who run the corporation would prefer not to discuss the issue but it is on the minds of rank and file. Apostles and Prophets who claim to have seen Christ fall into three general time periods. These three periods overlap one another and there is no clear demarcation line. That being said, there is a clear and distinct pattern that emerges when the exampled are viewed in a historic time frame.
The first period started with the early leaders such as Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, and others who claimed to have seen Christ. This was not considered unusual for many early converts who were raised in a culture of superstition and magic where magic rods and Juniper tailsman ruled the day. In fact, many Christians from different faiths during the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening reported seeing visions and Christ.
Wilford Woodruff told some of the Saints that Christ had appeared to him in the East Room in the Salt Lake Temple and told him that He had accepted the Temple and the dedication services.(Collected Discourses Delivered by: President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, edited by Brian H. Stuy, 5 vol. (BHS Publishing, 1987–1992), 5:225.; citing John Lee Jones biography (no date) and Minutes of Salt Lake Temple dedication on 6–24 April 1893, 16th session, 13 April 1893. I mention this example not because I think he actually saw the Savior but to show how leaders were more than willing to share their visions during that time period.
Rank and file members were also encouraged to seek the face of Christ.In 1833, members were told this in Doctrine and Covenants 93:1,
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.”
The second period began when Joseph F. Smith, the sixth Prophet was compelled to give an honest answer on this regard, when he testified before Congress. Society by this time was undergoing changes with the progressive era and the scientific world view pushing out the magic world view of the early members. This era was one where the Mormon Apostles and Prophets openly admitted they had not seen Christ. Even so, Smith had to appear before Congress to admit that truth.
Chairman: You have revelations, have you not?
Smith: I have never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations. I never said I had a revelation except so far as God has shown me that so-called Mormonism is God’s divine truth; that is all.
Chairman: You say that was shown to you by God?
Smith: By inspiration.
Chairman: How by inspiration; does it come in the shape of a vision?
Smith: “The things of God knoweth no man but the spirit of God;” and I cannot tell you any more than that I received that knowledge and that testimony by the spirit of God.
Tayler: You do not mean that you reached it by any process of reasoning or by any other method by which you reach other conclusions in your mind, do you?
Smith: Well, I have reached principles; that is, I have been confirmed in my acceptance and knowledge of principles that have been revealed to me, shown to me, on which I was ignorant before, by reason and fact.
As the Mormon Church moved into the twentieth century, this second era continued. Heber J. Grant, the seventh Prophet said in 1942 that he had never prayed to see the Savior.In fact, according to historian Michael Quinn, Grant said, “I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to Joseph Smith.”
David O.McKay, the ninth Prophet was interviewed after he became the Prophet by a reporter from the Sacramento Union named John Cook. Ted L. Cannon, the Church’s press representative attended the meeting. McKay was asked point blank if he had ever seen Christ.He replied he had not but had heard His voice.
It was during this era that Joseph Fielding Smith an apostle and tenth Prophet defined what being a special witness meant. He said, “Every member of the twelve apostles should have the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This does not have to come by direct visitation of the Savior.” Following his own definition, he never claimed to have personally met Christ.
The third period is the one the Church is currently in. This third period is marked by ambiguous dishonesty from the apostles. Unlike their predecessors, they want to have it both ways. David O McKay had no problem saying he had never seen Christ. Today, members are told not to ask the question because it is too sacred, then apostles give hints suggesting there is a possibility some may be seeing Christ.
Boyd K. Packer gave a talk on the subject in April 1971. The entire talk would be an interesting study in passive-aggressive language. At the end, he said he had “that” witness. When I talk to true believing members, half say he admitted he had seen Christ while the other half say he admitted he had not seen Christ but felt the prompting of the Spirit. Packer was an intelligent man. He knew the talk was vague and designed it that way.
Jeffery Holland in conference in April 2013, finished his talk with these words, “These things I declare to you with the conviction Peter called the “more sure word of prophecy.” TBM’s who have read Joseph Smith, thought Holland was telling everyone right there he had seen Christ with those words. He used the secret code words, “More sure word of prophesy” from Joseph Smith’s teachings. Joseph had taught this involved a personal visit from Christ Himself and urged all members to seek after it.Here is what Joseph said on the matter:
“The other comforter spoken of is of great interest…When the Lord has thoroughly proved him..then the man will have his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other comforter. Now what is this other comforter? It is no more or less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”
I have friends who heard that talk and are convinced Holland was telling them that he had a personal visit with Christ. Why wouldn’t they? They knew Holland was intelligent and had read Joseph Smith’s statement. Those who listened to Tom Phillips on Mormon Stories know what Holland was really saying was he had received his second anointing(secret temple ceremony) and it does NOT involve a visit from Christ.
Here is a quote from Boyd Packer in his book, The Holy Temple,
“Hidden away in the central part of the temple is the Holy of Holies, where the President of the Church may retire when burdened with with heavy decisions to seek an interview with Him whose Church it is. The Prophet holds the keys and the very literal key to this one door.”.
An interview usually involves meeting with a person face to face, especially the way it is described here. Why go this special room if it is just prayer? That can be done anywhere. On the other hand, members like to think of the temple as a special conduit to heaven where they are more receptive to the Spirit. This passage can be read either way. It is cleverly put together by our friend Packer. Speaking to members about this quote, about half think this involves a personal talk with Christ and the other half does not.
Why do the modern apostles not come clean and admit they are not seeing Christ? I can only offer a few suggestions:
- They live in a world where they are fawned over and put on a pedestal by members. It is very intoxicating. They don’t want to give that up.
- They have convinced themselves and used rationalization to say they can claim to be a”special witness” because they have a good felling, they refer to as the Holy Ghost. I am sure some of them, if not all are disappointed they have not seen Him and have tinges of doubt.
- By having an atmosphere of these things are too sacred to discuss, they hold out hope one or two of the other apostles might have actually seen the Savior(they haven’t).
- Their entire livelihood comes from the Church. They get free homes, education for their children, travel around the world with their spouse and body guard, and so on. If they admit they are just like any other member, tithing revenue may go down and their lifestyle may take a hit.
- The apostles are not theologians. They are usually business suits who have risen through the ranks and have learned to deal with cognitive dissonance with a little thing called confirmation bias, where they interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
It is time for the apostles to honestly admit that not a single one of them is having personal visits with beings from an unseen world.
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!”