Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Mormonism 101: Second Level Statements: The King Follett Discourse (#1)
05/29/2007 - James WhiteI have been providing portions from my book, Is the Mormon My Brother?, which define, from exclusively LDS sources, the teachings of Mormonism regarding the central definitional doctrine of any theistic religion: the doctrine of God. Given the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, this topic is once again in the public eye, and sadly, the general ignorance of LDS teaching on the part of the public at large is simply absymal.
The idea of latter-day revelation opens up for us a second level of authoritative teachings from which we can glean a great deal of information about the LDS doctrine of God. We have seen the words of the LDS Scriptures and of the living Prophet. We now turn to second level statements, those coming from Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration itself, from the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and from the LDS Temple Ceremonies. We begin with Joseph Smith.
The King Follett Discourse
It is quoted hundreds of times by LDS General Authorities in their sermons and books. So often is one section of it cited in Mormon history that even Stephen Robinson, a Mormon scholar who insists that critics of Mormonism stick to a narrow spectrum of official teachings of the Church, admits that this one statement has been repeated so often that its authority cannot be questioned, even though it has not been canonized. It is quintessential Mormonism.
It first appeared in print August 15, 1844 in the Mormon publication Times and Seasons. It was reported by a host of qualified sources, including Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff (who became Prophet of the Church later in life), Thomas Bullock and William Clayton--none of whom had any reason to be unfriendly in their recording of the preaching of Smith that April morning. It was the Conference of the Church, but it was also combined with the funeral of one Elder King Follett, who had passed away. The Prophet rose to speak, and what he said has formed the very heart of the LDS theology of God ever since. We will look extensively at his words. I strongly encourage the reader to pay close attention to Smith's claims in light of what we have already seen. Smith began by asserting that he was being inspired by the Holy Spirit to dwell on his subject that day:
Beloved Saints, I will call the attention of this congregation while I address you on the subject of the dead. The decease of our beloved brother, Elder King Follett, who was crushed in a well by the falling of a tub of rock, has more immediately led me tothat subject. I have been requested to speak by his friends and relatives, but inasmuch as there are a great many in this congregation who live in this city as well as elsewhere, who have lost friends, I feel disposed to speak on the subject in general, and offer you my ideas, so far as I have ability, and so far as I shall be inspired by the Holy Spirit to dwell on this subject.The Prophet then went on to ask for God's help to speak the truth, and then asserted that he intended to "edify you with the simple truths from heaven." Smith starts at the beginning, so to speak, the very beginning of creation:
In the first place, I wish to go back to the beginning--to the morn of creation. There is the starting point for us to look to, in order to understand and be fully acquainted with the mind, purposes and decrees of the Great Elohim, who sits in yonder heavens as he did at the creation of this world. It is necessary for us to have an understanding of God himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it be a hard matter to get right. . . . If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into a more lofty sphere and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to.
At this point we can only agree: if we start off in error regarding having an understanding of God himself, we will indeed go wrong. And so we see that Smith is intent upon introducing his audience to the very character and nature of God. He goes on to ask his audience to consider what kind of being is God? He reminds them of Jesus words, "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." He then informs the assembly that his first object is to "find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being he is." This is encouraging to us, for that is exactly what we wish to know, and there is hardly a better source to turn to than the founding Prophet of Mormonism for the LDS answer to that question. One can detect some petulance on the part of the Prophet, however, for it seems that there had been many who opposed his doctrine of God:
. . . and if I am so fortunate as to be the man to comprehend God, and explain or convey the principles to your hearts, so that the Spirit seals them upon you, then let every man and woman henceforth sit in silence, put their hands on their mouths, and never lift their hands or voices, or say anything against the man of God or the servants of God again.After this Smith makes some comments concerning freedom of religion, and then returns to his main subject:
I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am his servant; for I speak as one having authority.
There can certainly be no question, then, of how serious Smith is in his preaching on this day. These are not off-hand remarks made in passing: he is intent upon addressing the very issue that has drawn our interest in this study.
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.Such claims are indeed sweeping. Here we have the first President and Prophet of the LDS Church telling us what kind of being God is, and asserting he will prove this from the Bible! Gods designs in relation to mankind, and His purposes in this world, will now be laid out for us. The preliminaries are over. Now Joseph Smith provides some clear answers.
 This being the statement that God is an exalted man. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 85.
 James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1833-1951], 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1975), 1:209, LDSCL, notes not only the tremendous importance of this sermon, but sheds valuable lightupon it as well:
The King Follett Sermon to the General Conference of the Church in April and the one following in this compilation given at a meeting in the Grove, east of the Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois June 16, 1844 constitute the final summary of Joseph Smith before hisdeath of the Mormon doctrine of God. Because both of these sermons as they stand in the DHC are not stenographic reports the editor of the DHC felt it wise to make some explanatory remarks concerning certain statements in the sermons. These footnotes wehave also included in the documents as we publish them here. The Mormon doctrine of the Godhead began with the First Vision of Joseph Smith in 1820 when God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. From that time until 1844 Joseph Smiths direct contacts with heavenly messengers and beings seems never to have ceased. Much of what he sets forth in these two famous sermons he quite likely learned from his personal contacts with Deity and His messengers. He also says in the June 16, 1844, sermon that he learned some of the concepts of God found in the sermon by translating the papyrus which is now in my house. The reference here is to the papyrus rolls of Abraham found in Egypt in 1821 and which Joseph Smith obtained in 1835, a partial translation of which appears in the Book of Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price. The sermons also give evidence of Joseph Smiths acquaintance with other ancient scriptures and of his study of Hebrew with a Jewish Rabbi in 1835-1836. Perhaps only one other doctrinal exposition of the Godhead in official L.D.S. literature will stand alongside these two sermons and that is the Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles entitled: The Father and the Son issued June 30, 1916.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Press, 1938), p. 342, LDSCL. All following citations of the King Follett Discourse likewise come from this source.