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.”
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.