Must We Follow the Brethren?

Must we follow the Brethren? Largely due to my participation on a Mormon email discussion list, in recent weeks I have become increasingly aware that some active Latter-day Saints feel our church-wide emphasis on following the Brethren is a recent phenomenon in Church history. It was not always so, I am told. In the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young the saints were much more free to follow their own inspiration even when it conflicted with the teachings of the Church leadership.

I have read the Old Testament, and the compiled sermons of our early prophet-leaders, and I have noticed a strong emphasis on following the prophets throughout all history, not only in ancient times, but also from the earliest days of this dispensation. Is there something wrong with my understanding?

Two statements made by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are frequently produced to show that this emphasis on following the prophets is of recent lineage. They are these:

This morning I read German and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that “a prophet is always a prophet;” but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such. (TPJS, p. 278)

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 135)

Don’t these teachings show that we are not required to “follow the Brethren,” that we are counseled against so-called blind obedience? I don’t think they show any such thing. Rather they are in complete harmony with the counsel that we should follow the Brethren in all things.

I do not have the time today to write a complete paper on this subject, although I think it would be an excellent topic for further investigation. Let me just refer the reader to a few sources that could be used to determine the truth of the matter:

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article entitled “Following the Brethren.”

D&C 1:38
D&C 21:4
D&C 84:44

Deut. 8:3

Matt. 4:4

What about blind obedience? That topic is also addressed well in the EOM. To summarize, we are not obeying blindly if we seek and receive personal revelation confirming the counsel of our prophets, and we are encouraged to do so.

The Church does not teach that we are to obey blindly, but we are to obey. Following the brethren is a true principle that has been taught in all dispensations, and from the earliest days of this one too.

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3 Responses to Must We Follow the Brethren?

  1. Latitude to discover for ourselves the truth, or untruth of things is implicit in our free agency. Moroni promted all to question, pray, and ponder on the words of the book of Mormon (either they are true, or untrue). That is once again latitude to know for yourself. Lehi taught in the Book of Mormon of the straight and Narrow path,and the iron rod. But he also taught of those who chose to leave the path for other more worldy things. Those people in the dream had a choice to choose. The israelites who were with Moses in the wilderness were able to choose how and whom they would follow.

    We each have our free agency, our most precious, and only true possession. The Lord speaks through the mouth of his servants the prophets. And we each have the responsibility to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost regarding the advice, and council of the prophets.

    But there is one thing we must always do by our own free will and choice. We must always follow the Lord.

    So, follow the brethren….yes. As our general authorities, and local authorities follow the will of the Lord, so will the Holy Ghost guide us to follow them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    To encourage someone to seek confirmation of council given should allow them the latitude to find that council to be untrue. I think the important principle for us to learn is obedience to the spirit of God. Men are falible and their council often contradicts council given by previous leaders. I agree that we should prayerfully consider the council of our leaders, but I don’t think following them is ever good advice. We are to work out our own salvation, not follow the brethren.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    I think it is fair to say that the General Authorities have always wanted that members followed their council. I also think that the church is more obedient as a whole now and consequently the General Authorities currently expect a greater degree of conformity.

    A great example of a more relaxed attitude toward “following the brethren” is President Smith’s testimony at the Smoot Senate hearings.

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