Twenty reasons for the Restoration

           D&C 1 is the Lord’s inspired preface for his book of covenants and commandments. This section was received through revelation by the Prophet Joseph Smith and is an inspired introduction to the material inside the Doctrine and Covenants. Like any good introduction, this section begins by laying out the intended audience (the members of the Church and the whole world), explaining the need for the contents of the book (the spiritual state of the world), and describing the key reasons for the restoration.  Starting in verse 17, the Lord reveals at least twenty reasons why it was necessary to have a restoration:

  1. To save the world from calamity
  • “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth”

The restoration emerges out of an urgent need. God warns that the world is spiraling into catastrophe. Because the teachings of Jesus Christ have been abandoned or forgotten, there is great wickedness. Everyone is seeking idols after their own image. There is strife and anger. And ultimately there will be destruction. The restoration of God’s Church and Kingdom on the earth is a critical counter measure to prevent this destruction and desolation.

2) To fulfil prophecy

  • “[A]ll this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets”

The restoration was foreseen long ago. Christ’s apostles knew that there would be a falling away from truth followed by a period of renewal and rebirth. They promised that the fullness would once again be restored. Their prophetic warnings and promises could not be left unfulfilled. The same is true for the Book of Mormon Prophets who saw our day with particular clarity.

(We sometimes assume that Peter or Paul knew precisely what would happen with the apostasy and the restoration. I rather suspect that they were given more general revelation concerning an apostasy and restoration. But regardless, their prophetic promises were inspired and were fulfilled by the restoration).

3) To empower everyone to speak with power and authority

  • “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;”

           One of my favorite things about full-time missionary service when I served in Novosibirsk Russia was wearing a name tag which declared to the world that I was an Elder and a representative of Jesus Christ and his Church. It is remarkable that every male member of the Church can hold the priesthood of God, and every sister can similarly speak with power and authority in the name of Christ. This democratization of power and authority is one of the triumphs of the restoration. Revelatory power and spiritual gifts are not reserved for a select few. Instead, everyone is able to access that power and to speak in the name of God the Lord.

4) To teach about Jesus and Heavenly Father

  • “But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;”

Another way to read that same verse is that we are empowered to teach with power the nature God and of the Savior. The restoration was intended to bring greater understanding as to their nature and character. Through the restoration we know of the God who weeps with us and of the Savior who calls us his friends and fellow servants. We understand their perfect and infinite love so much better. And we are therefore able to teach and invite others to come to truly know them.  

5) To bypass the wisdom of the word and to work through the meek and humble

  • The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones”

Just as Christ was born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem and recruited from the lowly and despised of society, so to was the Church restored through the meek and humble of the world. Joseph Smith was not learned but he had great wisdom that was far greater than the wisdom of the world. Eloquence is not a prerequisite to spiritual power. God wants to show us that the things that the world prioritized by way of power and prestige are not the same things that we ultimately prioritizes

6) To increase faith

  • “That faith also might increase in the earth;”

           Because Christ’s Church was restored to the earth, there has been an increase of faith in the earth. We live in a time of growing skepticism about religion and doubts about God. So it was vital that a restored Church be established on the earth to help us to have pure faith in God and Christ. One of the main ways that I see this manifest itself in my life is the Church’s focus on personal revelation and the need to seek spiritual conviction for myself. This kind of active faith is transformative and transformational.

7) To reveal the fullness of the gospel

  • That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed


One thing that has really struck me in the past few years as I have listened to our inspired Prophet President Nelson is that the restoration is still ongoing. There is so much more that will continue to be revealed as the restoration unfolds. That promise of greater light and knowledge is deeply empowering. But we also can have confidence that God has revealed everything that we need to know for our exaltation and our eternal happiness.


8) To help us gain understanding

  • “These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”

The restoration and the many revelations and commandments that come from God are ultimately intended to help us develop wisdom and understanding. This is different than mere knowledge. The restoration rather is a call to action to apply the principles of faith into our lives.

9) To allow for missionary work to the whole world including to kings and rulers

  • That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.

It is remarkable that these words were received in 1831 when the Church of Jesus Christ was in its infancy and had less than 1,000 members all contained in a small portion of the United States. But from the start the restoration was a global project that was intended to reach the whole world. When reading Saints Vol 1 and 2 I have been amazed again and again at how quickly the Church sent missionaries out to all part of the world. It is a message that is direct to everyone who will hearken to the will of God.


10) To (re)establish God’s eternal covenant 

  • That mine everlasting covenant might be established;”

Covenants form a major part of the restoration project. Covenants provide divine promises and assurance which bind us to God and to our families and church community. At the time when this revelation was received, God was slowly restoring ordinances and covenants. Today we are blessed to be able to go to the temple and make sacred covenants and to enter into eternal relationships.



11) To establish the true and living church on the earth and to lay its foundations

  • “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased”

The Church is true because it contains authoritative priesthood authority and keys, and it is living because it is led by continuing revelation through a prophet. There are many other great Churches and incredible believers in God and Christ (or wonderful people who believe in none of these things). There are many great institutions on the earth that perform benevolent works or edify and uplift. But there is only one Church that contains God’s priesthood power and that is led by him through continuing revelation. That makes all of the difference.



12) To bring forward the Book of Mormon

  • “And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.”

Restoring the Book of Mormon to the earth was a major goal of the restoration. The writers of the Book of Mormon knew that it would come forth in our day from the dust of the Earth. This book contains a pure and powerful witness of Christ and it is the keystone of our faith. God knew that we would need this powerful book for our day.

13) To empower people to have the companionship of the spirit

  • And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.”

This verse speak of individuals losing light and the presence of the spirit. But the necessary corollary is that we can gain light and enjoy the presence of the spirit when we are repentant. One of the remarkable fruits of the restoration is that every member is able to enjoy the presence and companionship of the Holy Ghost. This is a gift that is available to anyone who is repentant and humble.

14) To prepare the world for Christ to come and rule on the earth.

  • “And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world.”

The ultimate goal of the restoration is to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. I love how even though we do not know the exact date and time of Christ’s second coming, this concept places the agency on us to act. We are not to passively wait for Christ to come again. Instead, we are working hand in hand with God as co-laborers in this project of restoration and preparation.


15) To humble people and teach them to trust in God.

  • “[T]hat man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh”

We must ultimately not rely on our own fleshly abilities and aptitudes but instead we must come to rely on God and trust in him. This is a humbling process and it is truly a challenge for each of us. We must learn to use our divine given skills and talents in the way that God would have us use them rather than in pursuit of our own selfish goals and desires. In the restored Church, we are pushed to learn to do this through our service in callings and also in our own personal family relationships. For me, nothing has taught me humility and pushed me to try to rely on God more than being a husband and a father. I daily encounter reminders of my own fallen and imperfect nature.


16) To inspire confidence that God speaks through Prophets and Apostles in our day

  • “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

           I have seen a lot of debate and discussion of the meaning of this verse lately. I read this verse as suggesting that God’s word will be fulfilled whether he speaks in his own voice or in the voice of his servants the Prophet and Apostles. This does not mean that every single thing that the Prophet says is exactly equal to the word of God. But the restoration of prophetic leadership is intended to give us confidence that God will speak to us through those that we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, and that the promises that they extend to us from God will ultimately be fulfilled.


17) To encourage repentance

  • And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent”

The restoration is a call to shake off the chains of complacency and sin and to repent. From my own experience, it is easy to put off making needed spiritual changes and to rationalize away the things we are doing wrong. The restoration provides both a sense of urgency and a call to action. This comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, through the teachings of the Prophet and Apostles, , through our church experiences and callings, and many other ways.

18) To prove that God is no respecter of persons

  • “For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know”

The restoration is universal and global. God wants us to know that he is no respecter of persons. While the Church began in North America, it is intended to be a global religious that does not know boundaries of race, ethnicity, or culture. We have a long way to go until we achieve that inclusive and diverse vision. But it is one that we are called to strive towards.

19) To warn that the second coming “speedily cometh”

  • For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.

Early church members were focused heavily on what they saw as an impending second coming. Several generations later, it can honestly be difficult to have that sense of purpose and focus. But the restoration is intended to point our attention towards that second coming. This is intended to further spur us to action and to urge us to avoid complacency.  

20) To prove that all of God’s words shall be fulfilled

  • “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled,”

Finally, the restoration of the Gospel of Christ is intended to show us that God’s prophecies and promises will in fact be fulfilled. What began as a tiny church has indeed spread to fill the earth. We can therefore have confidence that God’s promises and prophecies in our own day will also be fulfilled. God’s word is true and faithful. All will be fulfilled in time. Sometimes it may not come in way that we expect or anticipate. But we can have confidence in God.

Soul, the Great Before, and the Purpose of Life

Disney/Pixar’s new movie Soul was a perfect Christmas present to the world, debuting on Disney+ over the holiday. As is often the case with Pixar’s masterpieces, this movie was deeper and more poignant than those ostensibly made for adults only. Movies rarely consider the deepest questions of the “soul” such as where we come from, we why are in the world, and where we go after we die. But Pixar movies have never been afraid to ask these kinds of deep questions.

And what is even more remarkable is how many of the things that the movie showed were consistent with revealed truth.

Of course, not every aspect of the movie is consistent with what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know about the plan of salvation. Indeed, the movie doesn’t feature God or include anything about a Savior. But the movie nevertheless touches on many aspects of eternal truth, particularly regarding the premortal existence.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would highly recommend that you go and watch it. What follows will have at least some spoilers (though I think you would probably know all of this from watching the trailer.)

At the center of the film is an exploration of the true purpose of life. Main character Joe Gardner is a middle school music teacher who is down on his luck and feels that he has wasted his shot at life. He gets the opportunity of a lifetime to perform with a jazz quartet. But he suddenly falls into a manhole and his spirit leaves his body and prepares to enter the Great Beyond. But Joe refuses and as he tries to escape death he ends up going back to the Great Before which is the film’s depiction of the premortal existence.

The key conceit of the Great Before is that souls develop their personalities there and prepare to come to earth. But before they can come to earth the souls must gain their “spark” which provides a purpose of motivation for life. 

Souls are assigned mentors who will help them find their spark. These mentors are ordinarily illustrious people like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. The mentors help their mentees find their spark whether that spark is music or painting, politics or philanthropy. 

Joe pretends to be a mentor and is assigned to Soul 22, a very old soul who has either been unable or unwilling to find her spark. She enjoys her time in the Great Before and does not see a point in life on Earth. If you have ever seen another Pixar film, then you will not be surprised to hear that Joe and 22 end up inspiring and transforming each other.

There are so many parallels to the Plan of Salvation. In the premortal life we were tutored by God and developed our personality and prepared to come to earth. God designed our mortal experience to help us to develop traits and attributes that we could not develop in God’s presence. 

We knew that earth life would be difficult. We knew that we would face trials and challenges. We knew that at times we would feel disappointment, sorrow or pain. Maybe we were afraid of failing.

Indeed, many souls never came down to earth at all. They rebelled against God and refused to come. But we courageously embraced God’s plan and even shouted for joy at the opportunity.

One of my favorite things about the Plan of Salvation is that it properly contextualizes the purpose and significance of life. This life is just a part of our eternal journey. But it is the most important part. It is where we can develop ourselves and make critical choices that shape eternity. It is also where we develop eternally binding and lasting relationships.

The movie was such a beautiful exploration of that purpose of life. The movie shows that the purpose in life is not necessarily to do some great task, but rather to take advantage of all of our many opportunities to bless and enrich the lives of others. Our relationships matter a lot more than our worldly triumphs. At the end of this life we will not be measured by whether we played in one great gig, but whether we made a difference for those we care about. That vision is fully consistent with the plan of salvation

It is so easy to coast through life without fully thinking about these questions of eternity such as where we come from and where we are going. I love how this movie looks at these deep questions of the soul and offers a hopeful and optimistic vision, just as the Plan of Salvation does.

The doctrine of our pre-mortal existence is one of the first things that really drew me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 12 years ago I read about it in the book Mormonism for Dummies and I felt something stir within me. When I read about it I felt like I was rediscovering truth that I had always known about even though I had never learned about it before. That feeling led me to go to Church for the first time and to try to learn more.

Hopefully, this movie will help stir its viewers to explore these questions further and perhaps help them find the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although it is not intended to be a missionary tool, I suspect that there will be many who will feel the light of Christ when they learn about the preexistence.

An Inexhaustible Orthodoxy

When I was getting ready to leave on my mission, I asked the people who were participating in the Maxwell Institute Summer Scholars program with me for advice on books that I might consider taking with me to the mission field. I was worried that I would get bored with the approved missionary reading library and so I wanted some devotional material that I might find intellectually and spiritually stimulating. One of the books that were recommended to me was The Inexhaustible Gospel a collection of devotionals and speeches by Neal A. Maxwell. Most of those talks are available here

That book served me well so well as a missionary. I found Elder Maxwell’s teachings on discipleship so inspiring. In Elder Maxwell I saw a fellow traveler, someone who was committed to the life of the mind and also to diligently following the Savior. Reading Elder Maxwell provided me the reassurance that I needed as a still recent convert that it was possible to be intellectually curious, academically engaged, and fully invested in Church service.

When I read and decided to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto a few weeks ago, Elder Maxwell’s words were what came to my mind. More than anyone else, Elder Maxwell defined for me what it means to be radically orthodox. 

In a BYU Education Week talk entitled “The Inexhaustible Gospel,” Elder Maxwell spoke of “the vastness and preciousness of that enormous body of knowledge we call the gospel” as well as his “ever-growing excitement over it.” Elder Maxwell described the close relationship between “gaining knowledge and becoming more christlike.” These concepts were two sides of the same coin. “Thus, while we are saved no faster than we gain a certain type of knowledge, it is also the case, as Richard Bushman has observed, that we will gain knowledge no faster than we are saved.” The gospel was not only a course of knowledge but a pathway towards becoming like Christ. “So defined, the gospel is inexhaustible because there is not only so much to know, but also so much to become!”

Elder Maxwell explained that “Ultimate orthodoxy—and orthodoxy isn’t a popular word nowadays—is expressed in the Christlike life that involves both mind and behavior.” This type of orthodoxy involves both “perception and implementation” as “part of the same spiritual process.” Elder Maxwell put forward the example of the Savior. Even though the Savior had “the keenest of all intellects,” he nevertheless “leads by example and love” rather than “arrogance,” “vanity,” or “hypocrisy.”

We get into spiritual danger when we think we can “outgrow Christ’s example of knowing, behaving, and doing.” But “[b]rilliance, by itself, is not wholeness, nor happiness. Knowledge, if possessed for its own sake and unapplied, leaves one’s life unadorned.”

Elder Maxwell urged his listeners not to approach the Gospel narrowly or with a closed mind. Instead, members should seek learning both by study and by faith. And members should recognize that as we explore “this comprehensiveness and everlastingness, there will be some surprises. Our understanding of some things will be restructured and expanded, especially in the world to come[.]”

But Elder Maxwell nevertheless warned against study unmooored from Orthodox truth:

“How intellectually amazing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is! The gospel is truly inexhaustible! It is marvelous! It is a wonder!

Yet orthodoxy is required to keep all these truths in essential balance. In orthodoxy lies real safety and real felicity! Flowing from orthodoxy is not only correctness but happiness. Orthodoxy is especially vital in a time of raging relativism and belching sensualism. The world’s morality is constantly being improvised. Some views are politically correct one day, but not another.” 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives our intellect grounding by focusing and channeling it on Jesus of Nazareth the Savior. “Ultimate wisdom enables us to see Jesus as the Light of the World, but, further, we also come to realize that it is by his light that we are to see everything else! The gospel’s bright and illuminating light thereby helps us see God, ourselves, others, the world, and the universe more correctly and more deeply. Indeed, as Paul declared, ‘in [Christ] all things hold together’” (RSV, Colossians 1:17).”

On other occasions, Elder Maxwell further defined his conception of orthodxy. In a talk urging members to avoid intellectual extremes, Elder Maxwell explained that “Orthodoxy ensures balance between the gospel’s powerful and correct principles. In the body of gospel doctrine, not only are justice and mercy ‘fitly joined together [for] effectual working,’ but so is everything else! (Eph. 4:16.) But the gospel’s principles do require synchronization. When pulled apart from each other or isolated, men’s interpretations and implementations of these doctrines may be wild.”

Elder Maxwll also linked the concept of orthodoxy closely to the need to be “settled” in the Gospel. In this respect he described orthodoxy as “emancipating and discovering.” 

For me that is what the concept of “radical orthodoxy” ultimately stands for. It means being “settled” and firmly rooted in the Savior and in his eternal doctrines. Being firmly settled in the things that are not negotiable frees one up to engage in further intellectual exploration with confidence and conviction. It means that one is not tossed to and fro by trends and popular opinion. It is a firm foundation. 

This kind of orthodoxy is not intellectually self-absorbed. It is not primarily concerned with boundary maintenance or seeking to tell others they are wrong. It is not defensive. Rather, it is humble and meek. It is focused on becoming more Christlike and in engaging others with charity, patience, temperance, and other Christlike virtues. These are the things that Elder Maxwell taught me through his sermons with such clarity and conviction while I served a mission. And those lessons are what led me to sign the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. 

What is a Manifesto?

Since the launch of the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto, I have been following the reactions with some interest. One common criticism I have seen is the suggestion that it is presumptuous to issue a manifesto that attempts to dictate what is orthodoxy. The suggestion is that this manifesto is an effort to set what are the acceptable boundaries of discourse. While I understand the concern over attempts to set the boundaries of orthodoxy above and beyond those set by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would argue that this criticism fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of a manifesto generally and this manifesto in particular.

Merriam Webster defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” According to this definition, the primary purpose of a manifesto is the expression of the views, motivates and intentions of those that issue it. In other words a manifesto first and foremost serves as a platform to allow those issuing the statement a platform to voice their aspirations and goals. Put yet another way, a manifesto serves to articulate ideals and to hold the issuers accountable for living up to those ideals. While it is possible for a manifesto or any article of faith to become used as a weapon to exclude others or impose conformity, that is not the primary purpose of such a document.

I know that is certainly not why I signed on to the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. Instead, my purpose for joining is to express publicly my commitment to the values and principles that the manifesto articulates. The manifesto speaks of key virtues that I aspire to embody: Truth, Humility, Integrity, Fidelity, Seeking, Revelation, Faith, Hope, and Charity. I know that I fall short of those virtues. We all do. Signing onto such a public document does not mean that I think I am perfectly living all of these principles. Rather, it is an expression of my desire to do better and more fully strive to live up to these ideals. It is a way to hold myself accountable for trying to better embody these principles in my actions, my conversations, and my thoughts.

What is striking is that this Manifesto actually makes all of this explicit. The Manifesto explains that it is “not a faction, nor a label intended to set forth boundaries for any particular group or organization.” Instead, it is a “a rallying point, and invitation to embrace conviction and fidelity.”

If you feel moved by the principles of the Manifesto as I do, then I invite you to embrace it either as a signatory or simply by trying a little bit harder to embody these principles as you strive to live the Gospel, debate with those you disagree with, and try to follow the example of the Savior.

Judicial Decision Making Versus Prophetic Revelation

An acquaintance recently attempted to argue against Originalism as a doctrine of constitutional interpretation by arguing that Latter-days Saints who believe in continuing revelation through a living prophet are bound to reject originalsm. I found his argument extremely unconvincing because there are some pretty fundamental differences between the role of judges in a democratic republic and the role of prophets and apostles in the Kingdom of God. But as I delved deeper onto the topic, I found that highlighting these differences was illuminating as it shed light on both the proper role of judges and on the nature of decision making in God’s Church.

We often refer to church leaders including and especially Bishops as judges in Israel. Accordingly, it is important to understand what we mean when we refer to church leaders as judges and how this might differ from member of the bench.

Before I begin, a working definition of Originalism is also in order. I define originalism as a theory of textual interpretation which is predicated on the belief that legal texts (constitutions, statutes, and regulations) have a fixed meaning at the moment of enactment and that the role of the judiciary is to faithful determine and apply that meaning rather than to attempt to expand or abrogate the meaning. There are a lot of nuances in how originalists try to determine what the original meaning is (does one look to the intentions of those who wrote the law or to what the public would have understood those words to mean?), but the thrust of originalism is that the role of a judge is as an interpreter rather than lawmaker.

The Word of Wisdom and Originalism

Gospel doctrine and interpretation is decidedly not originalist in nature. A good example of this would be interpretations of the Word of Wisdom. An originalist interpretation of the word of wisdom would find that beer and other mild alcoholic drinks were permitted, while meat was allowed only in extreme circumstances like famine. And the whole revelation would be seen as a recommendation rather than a mandate.

So why do we not read the Word of Wisdom in that way? In the Church, we believe in continuing revelation through Prophets and Apostles. This process of continuing revelation sometimes takes the form of formal canonized revelations like the revelation lifting the priesthood ban. But more often than not, it this is an iterative process where Church leaders over time gain additional insight and knowledge. That is the case with the Word of Wisdom over time church leaders better defined the terms of the revelation and expanded it into a requirement for temple worthiness.

It is also significant that while certain changes are sustained by Church members in general conference, many of these changes regarding the Word of Wisdom do not appear to have been.

Yet we accept the shift from advice to mandatory temple recommend requirement, and do not by and large question the legitimacy of this shift.

In contrast, it would be absolutely outrageous if federal judges began to enforce severe penalties on people for not complying with a health guidance that had never contained penalties and that had vague and ambiguous requirements. And this practice would still remain problematic even if the passage of time had normalized the practice.

So what gives enforcement of the Word of Wisdom legitimacy even though the text of the revelation is unchanged and there appears to have been no formal process of common consent on the changes?

Divine Authority and Civic Authority

The simplest answer is that the basis of authority in the Kingdom of God is decidedly different form that in a democratic-republic.  With the interpretation of Gospel principles and commandments we believe in continuing revelation from divine sources. This means that the prophet and apostles are fully empowered to receive interpretive guidance from God and even to completely alter or change a principle. There is no need for a vote or any other deliberative process. God speaks through his chosen prophet and the law is changed. If President Nelson declares the word of wisdom does not allow for drinking beer (or green tea, or recreational marijuana) that is the will of God regardless of what the original meaning was. That’s because God is the ultimate sovereign and when he speaks through a prophet that word is authoritative.  (I recognize that this is simplified and glosses over the long standing question of when a prophet is in fact speaking as a prophet).

With legal interpretation the situation is quite different. The ultimate sovereigns are the people. Governments are given power only through the consent of the governed. There is a formal structure or process for creating law. When that process is followed the law has legitimacy. When it is ignored the product cannot truly be called law because it lacks any legitimacy.

The separation of powers

This separation of powers is integral to the Constitution’s design of government. Laws must originate from the legislature which is seen as the most democratically accountable branch of government. The lawmaking process is quite difficult requiring both the House of Representatives and the Senate to agree to identical language for a law and then for either the president to sign the law or for a veto proof majority to emerge.

Judges do not play a role in this lawmaking process and this is by design. Their purpose is to interpret the laws that are enacted through the proper channels not to create them. In doing so, they must necessarily ask what the law meant at the time when it was enacted, because to do anything else would be a form of judicial lawmaking.  Put another way, judges are not empowered to sit as prophets and apostles. They do not receive divine revelation to alter or change the meaning of the law.

There is no similar separation of powers in the Kingdom of God. Legislative, executive, and judicial power is combined into a single channel. That power may be vertically distributed down to local units, but at the highest levels of governance it remains concentrated in First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. These same bodies are responsible for promulgating policy, interpreting policy, and adjudicating disputes. This concentration in power makes sense when we have leaders who are called of God and expected to implement God’s will rather than their own.  

Other Significant Differences

There are some other significant differences between judges and prophets/apostles. Judges are appointed through political appointments (in the federal government and in many states) or through partisan elections (in some other states). Judges are not selected because they are expected to have preternatural acuity or insight. By contrast, the appointment of a prophet/apostle comes through a divine calling from God. They are expected to exercise spiritual gifts and to have revelatory insight even on topics outside of their earthly expertise. As President Ezra Taft Benson put it, “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.” This divine commission gives a prophet/apostle a different type of legitimacy.

Furthermore, while members of the judiciary are expected to impartially apply the law, that does not mean that personal political persuasion or opinion will never enter into the decision making calculus. Judges need methodological constraints in order to avoid imposing their own political and social biases. Originalism is one example of a methodology which serves to constrain unbridled judicial decision making and to improve the objectivity of the judicial process.

Of course, Prophets are also fallible and subject to their own weaknesses. There are processes in the Church that help to contain this tendency such as having the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve operate based on a principle of unanimity. But because we believe that direct revelation can flow from heaven, there is not the same need to impose the methodological constraints of originalism

Indeed, when the Prophet and Apostles set policy, the whole tenor and purpose of that decision is fundamentally different. They are not asking what is the most faithful interpretation and application of prior revelations. Rather, they are seeking the will of God for present circumstances.

Further, there is a difference between the purpose of a judicial opinion and a prophetic declaration. Judicial opinions are primarily intended to persuade or convince. Since higher courts or subsequent panels can overturn, there is a premium placed on cogent and logical decisions. Stare decisis or the need to align decisions with past ones always plays a powerful role. Deviations from the past must be especially persuasive.

In contrast, fidelity to divine commands rather than logic or consistency with the past is the primary goal of divine revelation. The revelatory process may result in sudden and dramatic shifts such as the priesthood ban being lifted overnight or the Church shifting from using the nickname “Mormon” to aggressively pushing the full name of the Church. There is no expectation that this reversal be accompanied by a compelling case for reversal or an apology for past policy. It is enough to a say that the Lord has spoken.

Conclusion

In short, the purpose of judicial decision making is fidelity to the text of the law. Originalism is a valuable and needed methodological tool. On the other hand, the purpose of divine revelation is fidelity to the will of God regardless of what may have come before. God’s will is what counts and so slavish obedience to the texts of the past is not only unnecessary but is actively contrary to the nature of the kingdom of God.

Here is a chart summarizing some of the key differences described above:

Differences between Judges and Prophets/ApostlesJudgesProphets and Apostles
Basis of AuthorityPower derived from the peopleAuthority derived from God
AppointmentThrough political appointments or partisan elections (in some states)Through a divine calling from God
Mode of decision makingCan result in divergent opinions and disagreementsUnanimity is sought
Sources of ChangeLawmaking or constitutional amendmentsContinuing revelation from God
Scope of authorityLimitedUnlimited as revealed by God.
AccuracyFlawedPerfect though mediated through imperfect individuals
Division of AuthoritySeparation of Powers limits the judicial roleUltimate undivided authority resides in the Prophet and Apostles