The Heavens Are Closed? LDS Misunderstanding of Orthodox Views on Revelation

One of the foundational claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that of a belief in “continuing revelation”.  This belief has many forms, however it can be summarized by the 9th Article of Faith of the LDS Church:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. 

Within that belief, there are many specific points frequently made by Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons).  One is the belief in an “open canon”.  Latter-day Saints are open to further canonized scripture outside of the Bible.  Their “Standard Works” of scripture include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price (further subdivided into different texts), and the Doctrine and Covenants.  Canonized revelations have been added to the Doctrine and Covenants at times in LDS history, most recently in 1978, with Official Declaration 2, which opened the LDS priesthood to all worthy males, when previously males of African ancestry were restricted from ordination to the LDS priesthood.

Mormons also believe that that God calls prophets to lead His people.  Latter-day Saints sustain the 3 men in the First Presidency, as well as the 12 men in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles as “prophets, seers, and revelators”, who can receive revelation to guide and direct their Church.

Latter-day Saints also believe that individuals can receive personal revelation from God to guide their own lives, their families, and those they have stewardship over, such as in Church callings.

So, are these beliefs different from how traditional Christians view God and His interactions with mankind?  LDS leaders certainly think so.  Many LDS prophets, apostles, and other authorities have spoken on their belief that with the calling of Joseph Smith as a prophet, with his “First Vision”, where God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him not to join any church, because they were all wrong (JS-History 1:9), Heaven was opened again, implying that it was closed prior to that moment.  Many LDS leaders and those bearing their testimonies have used the words “the Heavens are open” or “God still speaks”.  Further, LDS leaders have taught that because traditional Christians believe that the canon of scripture is closed, they therefore believe that God no longer speaks, is silent, etc.  Here are a few quotes:

“The third truth that Joseph Smith learned was that God still speaks to man today—that the heavens are not closed. One need but ask three questions, once proposed by President Hugh B. Brown, to arrive at that conclusion (see “The Profile of a Prophet,” Liahona, June 2006, 13; Ensign, June 2006, 37). First, does God love us as much today as He loved the people to whom He spoke in New Testament times? Second, does God have the same power today as He did then? And third, do we need Him as much today as they needed Him anciently? If the answers to those questions are yes and if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as the scriptures so declare (see Mormon 9:9), then there is little doubt: God does speak to man today exactly as Joseph Smith testified.-Tad R. Callister, of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, October 2009 General Conference, Joseph Smith-Prophet of the Restoration

Today I would like to address the other major doctrine which characterizes our faith but which causes concern to some, namely the bold assertion that God continues to speak His word and reveal His truth, revelations which mandate an open canon of scripture…This doctrine lies at the very heart of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of our message to the world. It dramatizes the significance of a solemn assembly yesterday, in which we sustained Thomas S. Monson as a prophet, a seer, and a revelator. We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent, nor, as Elijah said of the god of the priests of Baal, is He “[on] a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be [awakened].” 13 In this Church, even our young Primary children recite, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”…I testify that the heavens are open.-Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, April 2008 General Conference, “My Words…Never Cease

A general conference of this Church is a remarkable occasion indeed—it is an institutional declaration that the heavens are open, that divine guidance is as real today as it was for the ancient house of Israel, that God our Heavenly Father loves us and speaks His will through a living prophet.-Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, October 1996 General Conference, “The Peaceable Things of the Kingdom”

Brothers and sisters, let us be wise. Let us turn to the pure doctrinal waters of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us joyfully partake of them in their simplicity and plainness. The heavens are open again. The gospel of Jesus Christ is on earth once more, and its simple truths are a plentiful source of joy!-Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, October 2010 General Conference, Of Things That Matter Most

I solemnly proclaim and testify that the heavens are open, that not only has God spoken but that He speaks today.-Brent H. Nielson, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, October 2009 General Conference, A Call to the Rising Generation

Among many other examples.  But do traditional Christians really believe, as LDS leaders state or imply, that God is silent, that He no longer speaks to His children, and that the Heavens are closed?  Speaking on Catholicism, the answer is clearly no.  I can happily share with you that the Catholic Church teaches, and embraces, the belief that God still does speak to us, that the Catholic Church, since it was established by Christ 2000 years ago, as recorded in the New Testament, is guided by the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit protects the Church from falling into error, from failing, from becoming apostate, etc, since the Church is the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ at its Head), that prophets and prophetesses throughout Catholic history have received messages from Heavenly messengers (angels, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, etc) that millions have accepted, that the Councils of the Church throughout its history have been inspired gatherings of the leaders of the Church, where, through human failings, dogmas have been formally defined and expounded upon, free from error through the Holy Spirit, and that all members of the Church, by virtue of their baptism, participate in Christ’s role as Prophet, Priest, and King, and can receive Heavenly guidance and inspiration for their lives (not only from God, but from His angels and the saints in Heaven).

But doesn’t the Catholic Church teach that public revelation ended with the New Testament apostles?  Yes it does!  But doesn’t that contradict what I just said in the paragraph above?  No it doesn’t!  Here is where many LDS that dialogue with Catholics get confused, and where many attempt to create a non-existent problem for Catholics.  “Public revelation”, in simple terms, refers to the knowledge that God revealed to man that is necessary for eternal life.  This revelation found its summit and fulness in the Incarnation, ministry, Atonement, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, since it is only through Him that we can be saved.  Catholics therefore believe that all that we need to know about how to receive eternal life has already been revealed, and there is nothing else that needs to be known about that.  This revelation is contained in Sacred Scripture (yes, the Catholic Church has closed the scriptural canon, i.e. the Bible, however that does not mean that it has closed God’s mouth, as we will see), as well as Sacred Tradition (noting that Catholics are not sola scriptura).  Although it has been revealed anciently, the Church, through the Holy Spirit-guided teaching authority, or “Magisterium” (Latin for “office of teaching”), basically the Pope and the other Bishops, functioning as successors to the Apostles, with the same authority as the New Testament Apostles, comes to a Divinely-inspired unfolding  understanding of that sacred Deposit of Faith.

Further, the Catholic Church also accepts so-called “private revelations”.  “Private” here does not mean that such revelations are kept to oneself.  These are technical phrases, and this one means that it is not required to be believed by everyone everywhere.  What is required to be believed is what is contained in “public revelation”, since that is the knowledge revealed by God that tells us how to be saved (and with Christ’s Incarnation, we see who saves us).  Private revelations can be Divine guidance for my personal life, or it could be more extravagant messages from Heaven, such as the various apparitions and visions surrounding Mary throughout Catholic history.  Although millions may be believe in certain private revelations, such as those at Lourdes, Fatima, or Guadalupe (to use the Marian examples), and many people may indeed be witness to the same revelation, such as at Fatima, we are not required to believe them.  When the Church evaluates such revelations, their declaration is only that they contain nothing contrary to faith and morals, and that they are worthy of belief, though they are not essential to our salvation.

So for Catholics, Heaven was never closed.  Yes, Latter-day Saints are correct when they say that the traditional belief is that the scriptural canon is closed.  However, that does not mean that the Heavens are closed and that God no longer speaks (noting again the specific way that Catholics understand “Public Revelation”, which includes the Bible).  Heaven has always been open, and God has always spoken to us.  He guides the Catholic Church into all Truth.  Messengers from Heaven have come throughout the history of the Catholic Church, into modern times.  All Catholics receive guidance from God through prayer.  God’s Divine grace comes through the sacred mysteries celebrated by the priesthood of God, the sacraments.  The Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ during New Testament times, is led by the Successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, who hold their same apostolic office and authority, and in communion with each other, and with the Pope (the successor of Peter), they are inspired to interpret the Deposit of Faith (i.e. the “Public Revelation”, what God has revealed on how to receive eternal life, which is complete and summarized in Christ), to expound on it when necessary (and to be protected by the Holy Spirit in doing so), and that all the members of the Church are not only able to receive inspiration from God for their lives, but also participate in the “sensus fidelium”, the sense of the faithful, whereby we can all come to know, through the Spirit, the Truth of the Faith, and apply it to our daily lives.

I’ll close with a few relevant quotes:

Catechism of the Catholic Church

On Private Revelation

66 “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.

67 Throughout the ages, there have been so-called “private” revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.

Christian faith cannot accept “revelations” that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such “revelations”.

On Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition

77      “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.’”35 Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.

78      This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”37 “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”

79      The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church—and through her in the world—leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.

81      “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

“And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”

Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium.

On the Magisterium, The Living Teaching Authority of the Chruch

85      “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.”47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86      “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.

On the Sensus Fidelium, the Supernatural Sense of the Faithful

91      All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them53 and guides them into all truth.

93      “By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),… receives… the faith, once for all delivered to the saints…. The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.”

94      Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church

On Angels

334      In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.

336      From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

On the Holy Spirit and the Church

737      The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ’s faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.”

739      Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ who, as the head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to his self-offering to the Father and to his intercession for the whole world. Through the Church’s sacraments, Christ communicates his Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of his Body.

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4 Responses to The Heavens Are Closed? LDS Misunderstanding of Orthodox Views on Revelation

  1. Phillip says:

    Looking forward to reading your blog! I converted from Mormonism to the Catholic faith last year. As someone who was raised LDS, I had a huge amount of misconceptions about Catholicism that had to be overcome, including the issue of continual revelation. The way I like to think of the Catholic distinction between public and private revelation is that Catholics believe that God is indeed in constant communication with us to guide our lives and his Church, it’s just that we are not expecting God to reveal a new and improved Gospel 2.0. Jesus was the Word made flesh, the ultimate self-revelation of God to humanity, not a forerunner to some future prophet.

    The ironic thing about all of this is that since I became Catholic I have also become aware of the large amount of Catholic prophecy (private revelation) that exists and even how much prophecy is occurring right now. Sure, some of it is probably false and careful discernment is needed, but compared to modern Mormonism there is an abundance of riches. Actual prophecy in the LDS tradition seems to have largely begun and ended with Joseph Smith.

    • Thanks Phillip!

      And I completely agree with your point. Continuing revelation is definitely something that LDS typically do not understand as far as how Catholics view it. I didn’t have to do much work to find the quotes I gave, simply searching something like “the Heavens are open” or “God still speaks” at LDS.org.

      And YES, the large amount of Catholic prophecy and revelation throughout its history (especially those private revelations officially recognized by the Church), including today, along with the abundance of miracles, healings, gifts of the Spirit, etc, demonstrate further the lack of understanding many LDS, including many of its leaders, apologists, and scholars, have on the Catholic view on these spiritual gifts, and is very ironic. Also, when I started to really think about what a prophet is, the Biblical prophets, etc, I came to the same conclusion that you have: that actual “prophecy”, and prophets functioning as prophets pretty much is confined to the early portion of LDS history, with the latest canonized revelation being the removal of the priesthood restriction on ordaining Blacks, in 1978. How sad. Now, we see sustained prophets, seers, and revelators that don’t do any prophecy, seeing, or revelating, and function pretty much in the same was as the leaders of other churches.

      • Phillip says:

        The warnings in the BOM about people who don’t believe in miracles, gifts of God, etc. seems to me to reflect the Protestant environment in which Joseph Smith lived at the time. Its hard to imagine the same warnings being directed towards a Catholic culture, which if anything, may be too prone to believe in miracles and such.

        I suppose a Mormon would argue that every General Conference is full of modern revelation from the current church leaders. But the problem with that is that past conference addresses are easily dismissed by apologists as leaders speaking “only as men”, especially the stuff in the Journal of Discourses.

      • Yes. Much of LDS apologetics, as well as what the Book of Mormon says, what LDS leaders have said, etc, are directed against the Protestant environment that the LDS faith originated in, and displays a lack of understanding of Catholic and Orthodox views, where miracles, gifts of the Spirit, prophecy, a Spirit-guided Church, etc were never disavowed, and are important parts of Catholic/Orthodox life.

        And I agree on General Conference and the Journal of Discourses. One of the common arguments against the JoD by LDS apologists is that it isn’t a Standard Work. The problem with that argument is that the JoD consists, in many if not most cases, of talks given in prior General Conferences, which, as you say, are supposed to be full of modern revelation (modern for the time it was given), where we here the inspired words of living prophets and apostles, as is said we are able to hear in today’s General Conferences. So disavowing earlier Conference talks as the sustained prophets, seers, and revelators speaking “only as men” causes more problems than it solves, in my opinion (and was one of the issues that I thought about as I considered my faith direction).

        Thanks again for your comment!

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