Statements of General Authorities in Conference
The semi-annual General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provide a forum for the leaders of the Church to provide constant, up-to-date guidance of the LDS Church. Here the Apostles gather with the Prophet and instruct the Church on issues doctrinal and moral. The LDS Church has diligently recorded the sermons and talks delivered at the Conferences over the years, providing us with yet another solid source of reference material upon which to determine the teachings of the LDS Church. If one cannot accept as authoritative and accurate the sermons of the leaders of the Church when preaching in Conference, when can such leadership be expected? I also note that the talks given in modern times are very closely scrutinized prior to their being delivered. Hence, the chances of encountering some wild, non-conformist speech during Conference is very small.
I will present a representative sample, going back to the turn of the century, and moving to modern times. As the main outlines of the LDS doctrine are already in place, I will only note specific claims that are often disputed.
From the April, 1989 Conference, Mormon Apostle Franklin D. Richards said:
The three great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, started with a small beginning, and revelation tells us that they have become Gods, and the promise was given to them that their seed should be as numerous as the sands upon the seashore. We are their children, and are not the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob our blessings?
Note the continued emphasis upon faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God in the following statement by LDS Apostle John W. Taylor:
Here is set forth in inspired language, what it is possible for the children of men to attain to in the eternal worlds, through their faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God while they live upon the earth. Just imagine for a moment the idea that through the principle of eternal progression we can ultimately become like our Father and God!
This revelation was given to President Lorenzo Snow in his early manhood, and the principle of revelation was his guiding star to the hour of his death.
Now, we are not ashamed of the glorious doctrine of eternal progression, that man may attain the position of those to whom came the word of God, that is, gods.
In this statement, Elder Charles Callis fully connects the Gospel of Christ with the law of eternal progression and exaltation to godhood:
My brethren and sisters, I desire to say unto you, for I believe it with all my heart, that the road to exaltation and eternal progression lies through sacrifice and work. Jesus said, Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. He did not limit the attainment of perfection to time, degree, or state. Eternal progression wilt be along the lines of orderly knowledge, and of law, because the Gospel will be in force in eternity as it is here. It is impossible for a being, mortal or immortal, to progress without a due regard for law and without obeying the mandates of the Almighty.
In this sermon by Elder Thomas Rees the full extent of the LDS doctrine of God is seen in the use of the term creators (in the plural) of exalted human beings. Note especially the claim that out of their hands will roll systems of worlds:
The I AM within us teaches us that we existed before we came here, that we exist now, and it seems impossible with the feeling that we have within us to ever cease to exist. Then we should teach our boys and girls the lessons of obedience, virtue, honesty and truth, that they may walk before their heavenly Father as he would have them walk, and before their fellow men, in dignity, and in the power of the holy priesthood. We are claiming the greatest blessing that can be given to the children of men–these boys and girls–for they will be with us throughout all eternity. In the eternities they can be perfected with us. Think of the possibilities, what they mean to us, the little children whom God gives to our arms to teach. Think of the minds of these children and the power inherent in them to be creators in the hereafter! Do they not mean more to our lives than our lands and our chattels? For our children will have the power of eternal progression, until out of their hands will roll systems of worlds, with all the wealth necessary to their creation. Far greater are these blessings to us than the things of this life.
Do Mormons use Lorenzo Snow’s couplet amongst themselves? Indeed they do, and that in Conference:
We have in the Church a saying that we very frequently repeat: As God now is, man may become, a beautiful statement of the great law of eternal progression. I believe that in this matter of faith we can appeal to the intelligence as well as to the emotions, and I believe that if we are going to have our faith firmly established on an enduring rock, it must be based upon the agreement of our intelligence with our emotions.
A most interesting section is found in the comments of Elder Kenneth R. Stevens, who had served as Mission President of the LDS work in Tahiti. During the Conference of October, 1941, Elder Stevens said this:
I rejoice that while being in the midst of that people I came to learn through their legends that there was a time when they believed in the Gods of heaven as we do, even a plurality of Gods, and that they believed in the creation of this earth even as our doctrine teaches. This, however, has been explained away and replaced by modern Christian doctrine which teaches of a God who is everywhere present, and so small He dwells in the human heart, but who has no parts nor passions, and by a different story of the creation. And so, it thrilled me when our missionaries preached Mormonism to have those people nod their heads and say, It sounds like the old doctrine which was common to our people.
For many, it would be highly significant that natives in Tahiti would find LDS theology, especially with reference to a plurality of gods, similar to their own native beliefs. LDS writers often criticize Christian apologists for identifying Mormonism as a polytheistic religion, yet, would they likewise criticize us for identifying the pagan religions found amongst the natives of Tahiti as polytheistic as well?
Mormon Apostle Stephen L. Richards gave an important insight into the Mormon concept of exaltation and its relationship to the Gospel in this talk, also from 1941. Note how Richards identifies this as a new interpretation of the Gospel of Christ:
On the basis of such statements the doctrine of eternal progression was deduced and taught. Men were given to understand that through obedience to the laws of the Gospel they might continue to grow and develop in knowledge and power until in eternity they would come to divinity itself; that the highest order of intelligence is that intelligence which comprehends the things of God and eternity; that, It is the glory of God to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, and that men are that they might have joy. The place of good and evil in the world and their necessity for the exercise of mans free agency were all set forth in this new interpretation of the Gospel of Christ.
Milton R. Hunter, a General Authority of the LDS Church, referred to the nature of God a number of times in his sermons and writings. Here, in referring to the means of progression to godhood, Hunter speaks the importance of education:
I am convinced that the educational program is completely in line with the gospel as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that man cannot be saved in ignorance; that we are saved no faster than we gain knowledge; that the glory of God is intelligence. . . . We are a group of people who know that we must gain knowledge of truth in order that we may progress on to godhood.
A few years later Hunter returned to the topic of exaltation:
We believe that God is a personal being. By a personal being, we mean that he is a man, an exalted man. Approximately one hundred years ago, soon after Lorenzo Snow became a member of the true Church of Jesus Christ, he formulated a remarkable couplet which has since that time become famous. He said: As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become. (Lorenzo Snow, The Millennial Star 54:404.) Time and time again during the period of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith, various evidences were given to him sustaining, amplifying, and explaining the personality of God. If time would permit, many excellent quotations could be cited from the D&C which would help to describe the personality of our Eternal Father. However, I would like on this occasion to quote a statement taken from a great sermon which was given by the Prophet Joseph shortly before his death. This quotation is a continuation of the statement I have already quoted from the Prophet.
A citation of the King Follett Discourse (again) follows. I emphasize the continuing validity of that foundational sermon by Joseph Smith, as seen in its appearance throughout the writings, teachings, and sermons of the General Authorities of the LDS Church from Smith’s day to the present. The simple repetition of citation is more than sufficient to establish the authority of the sermon in Mormonism.
Elder Heber J. Meeks is representative of the continuing emphasis upon the exalted nature of man as a God in embryo, here in a talk from the Conference of April, 1951:
I rejoice in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the glorious message which it has brought to me, for it tells me that I do not have a common origin nor a common destiny with the beasts of the field, that birth into this life was not beginning of my soul, and that death is not its oblivion. But it tells me that I am a son of God, and eternal being; that as a son of God, there is within me all the qualities, all the powers of my Father which is in Heaven, that there is within me the power to rise to Godhood, that I may share with God, my Father in Heaven, forever and ever, all His power and glory and dominion, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, Amen.
Spencer W. Kimball, prior to his being made Prophet of the Church, spoke in Conference concerning the possibility of rising to Godhood:
When one realizes the vastness, the richness, the glory of that all which the Lord promises to bestow upon his faithful, it is worth all it costs in patience, faith, sacrifice, sweat and tears. The blessings of eternity contemplated in this all bring to men immortality and everlasting life, eternal growth, divine leadership, eternal increase, perfection, and with it all–Godhood.
The immutability of God–that awesome truth that God does not change, evolve, or undergo alteration–is anathema to the Mormon view of God. Here, LDS Apostle Hugh B. Brown identifies it as stagnation and damnation:
We believe that in his infinite and eternal development toward a Godlike status, man moves toward and through a turnstile called death; that there is no interruption of life at this portal, for eternity is indefinitely prolonged time. We believe that man, after passing through this turnstile, will continue his eternal journey from the point where his actions in this life have brought him. Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. (D & C 130:18.) To deny the possibility of eternal progression is to accept the awful alternative of eventual stagnation which would be damnation.
The relationship of the priesthood, celestial marriage, and exaltation to godhood—all appear together in this comment by Antoine R. Ivins, one of the Seventy:
All that our Father hath shall be given to him who magnifies that calling, and that means that he shall take his wife to the temple, because we are told also that men who succeed in fully living up to all of the privileges and responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood shall become gods with the power of eternal increase. That is the pearl of great price, brethren and sisters.
The last five examples I will provide come from men who either ended up being in the First Presidency (Marion G. Romney, who also served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve—yes, the same Romney who is related to US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) or else became the President of the Church (Smith, Kimball, Hinckley). These statements come from the past few decades, from the lips of the highest leaders of the Church. If there has been a doctrinal change in the Church on the subject of God being an exalted man, or men becoming gods, it should appear in the writings and sermons of these men. I begin with Spencer W. Kimball in the October Conference of 1964:
How conclusive! How bounded! How limiting! And we come to realize again as it bears heavily upon us that this time, this life, this mortality is the time to prepare to meet God. How lonely and barren will be the so-called single blessedness throughout eternity! How sad to be separate and single and apart through countless ages when one could by meeting requirements, have happy marriage for eternity in the temple by proper authority and continue on in ever-increasing joy and happiness, growth and development toward Godhood.
By now the reader can recognize plainly the repeated emphasis upon the priesthood, eternal marriage, and exaltation toward godhood. This seemed to be a strong element of the October, 1964 Conference, for Marion Romney likewise addressed the topic at that time:
This knowledge of God opened up to Joseph Smith, as it does to all of us, a vision with infinite promise. We all know that like begets like and that for the offspring to grow to the stature of his parent is a process infinitely repeated in nature. We can therefore understand that for a son of God to grow to the likeness of his Father in heaven is in harmony with natural law. We see this law demonstrated every few years in our own experience. Sons born to mortal fathers grow up to be like their fathers in the flesh. This is the way it will be with spirit sons of God. They will grow up to be like their Father in heaven. Joseph taught this obvious truth. As a matter of fact, he taught that through this process God himself attained perfection. From President Snows understanding of the teachings of the Prophet on this doctrinal point, he coined the familiar couplet: As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become. This teaching is peculiar to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Romney says this teaching–exaltation to Godhood–is peculiar to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a specific LDS phrase referring to the gospel as restored to the earth by Joseph Smith, but lost for nearly 1700 years before that. I again point out that the gospel itself, by the testimony of the leaders of the LDS Church, has as its goal the exaltation of men to the status of gods. Likewise, Joseph Fielding Smith, who became the Prophet in 1970, said this just a few years earlier:
We are in the mortal life to get an experience, a training, that we couldn’t get any other way. And in order to become gods, it is necessary for us to know something about pain, about sickness, and about the other things that we partake of in this school of mortality.
Another recent LDS Prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, said the following in a priesthood meeting, held during Conference:
Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe. And the Lord has proved that He knows how to do it.
And it seems fitting to close our survey of just some of the statements from Conference talks with the current Prophet, Gordon Hinckley, who was then First Counselor in the Presidency, October 8, 1994:
On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even eventually to Godhood….Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father….But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for His children that they might approach Him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in Godly strength and wisdom.
Hinckley’s words tie together some of the main threads in the LDS doctrine of God: the idea that the goal of the gospel is exaltation to godhood, the idea that men can approach Him in stature and hence become gods. And it also shows us how the leadership of the LDS Church is still preaching the same doctrine of God that Joseph Smith propounded so clearly and forcefully in 1844. Surely the modern Mormon Church has learned to be more circumspect and to couch its teachings in a little more palatable form. But the doctrine is still the same.
We have now looked at three levels of representative doctrinal statements, all from LDS General Authorities, including Prophets and Apostles. We have looked at official publications, and listened to sections of sermons from the General Conference of the Church. We have reached the final level of statements, those found outside official LDS publications, yet still by the leaders of the Church. We will briefly survey these statements, discover if the consistency we have charted through the first three levels is to be found here, and if so, we will then be in a position to respond to the LDS doctrine of God, and answer the question, is the Mormon my brother?
1. CR1898Apr:19, LDSCL.
2. CR1901Oct:91, LDSCL.
3. CR1902Oct:81, LDSCL.
4. CR1910Apr:78, LDSCL. Note the same emphasis in Orson F. Whitney, CR1920Oct:36:
The gospel is the plan of eternal progression, and perfection is its goal. Apart from our ancestors who figured in the former dispensations, neither we nor they can attain perfection. But by unity, which brings power, and by faith, which makes all things possible, the glorious end can be achieved.
The same speaker presented the same emphasis seven years later from the pulpit at Conference (CR1927Oct:147):
Answering now the question; How are the principles of the gospel made available and effectual for mans salvation and exaltation? It is through the Fall and the Redemption. Adam fell that men might be–that a race of Spirits might tabernacle in the flesh, and thus become souls, capable of endless increase, of eternal progression and exaltation. But the fall brought death–eternal death, which had to be overcome before these spirits, these souls, God’s sons and daughters, could fulfil their heaven-decreed destiny and go on to perfection.
5. CR1918Oct:87, LDSCL.
6. Joseph F. Merrill, CR1937Oct:73, LDSCL. So likewise the same speaker returned to this topic in 1945 (CR1945Apr:113) and said:
Yes, the Church teaches the fact that each of us is a child of God, both in the spirit and in the flesh. Since in the realm of life, like begets like, we normally must possess, even though in ultra-microscopic quantities, the attributes of God our Father. And a characteristic teaching of the Church is that as God now is man may become a statement in poetic language of our magnificent doctrine of eternal progression. Man is in very deed the acme of creation.
7. CR1941Oct:66, LDSCL.
8. CR1941Apr:104, LDSCL.
9. CR1945Apr:73, LDSCL.
10. CR1948Oct:15, LDSCL.
11. Another example is found from 1961 in the words of Apostle Delbert Stapley, CR1961Apr:66:
In the important doctrinal discourse known as the King Follett Sermon the Prophet Joseph Smith, referring to those who shall be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, described joint-heirship as inheriting the same power, the same glory, and the same exaltation, until an individual ascends to the station of Godhood and rises to the throne of eternal power, sharing the rewards with all the faithful who have preceded him.
12. CR1951Apr:37, LDSCL.
13. CR1952Apr:24, LDSCL.
14. CR1956Apr:106, LDSCL.
15. CR1958Apr:50-51, LDSCL.
16. CR1964Oct:29, LDSCL.
17. CR1964Oct:49-50, LDSCL.
18. CR1967Oct:122, LDSCL.
19. The Church News, Conference Issues 1970-1987 (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing Company), p. 9.
20. Ibid., October, 1994, p. 15.