In my last post, I explained how I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a pair of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries at my home. It’s been four weeks since they last visited and subsequently left a DVD about the history of their Church and the life of Charles Taze Russell, the founder and first leader of their church. I was honestly looking forward to discussing the DVD with them and furthering our discussion about priesthood authority. But it now is beginning to look like I inherited a free Jehovah’s Witness DVD.
One thing that I didn’t include in my last post is that I also discussed with these missionaries the importance of prophets and their role in God’s plan. The Jehovah’s Witnesses generally do not regard Charles Russell as a prophet, per se, but more as a man inspired by God. I fully agree with their assessment and believe many individuals throughout history have been inspired of God to do many wonderful things. For instantce, Reformers like Luther, Wesley, and Tyndale were certainly inspired of God to do what they did. But I don’t believe they were prophets in the strictest sense of the word (e.g., someone called by God to lead his people). They were, nevertheless, prophets in a more loose interpretation of the word (e.g., someone inspired of God). The Bible provides a vivid example of the differences between a prophet and “a prophet,” and the following is how I explained this to my missionary friends.
During the exodus, Moses became extremely frustrated with the Israelites and their constant murmuring. The complaining was also a source of frustration for the Lord (Num. 11:10-15) who allowed Moses to call 70 Israelite elders upon whom an increased portion of the Spirit was given so that they prophesied and served as a sign of God’s power to assist Moses (Num. 11:24-30).
Of these 70 elders, Eldad (Hebrew: “God is/has love”) and Medad (Hebrew: “God’s loving arms reaching out”) proceeded to prophesy not just in the Tabernacle, but also in the Camp of Israel. Upon hearing this, Joshua protested saying, “My lord Moses, forbid them” (Num. 11:28). Moses responded with one of my favorite scriptures, “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). In other words, Moses understood that all members of the Church can be prophets simply by receipt of the gift of prophecy.
This principle is also taught in Revelation 19:10, where the angel of the Lord declares that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Commenting on this verse, Joseph Smith stated that “[i]f any person should ask me if I were a prophet, I should not deny it, as that would give me the lie; for, according to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; therefore, if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet; and any man who says he is a teacher or a preacher of righteousness, and denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.269). Accordingly, anyone who can testify that they know Jesus to be the Christ is technically a prophet since the spirit of prophecy is made manifest through a valid testimony of the Savior.
And yet, having a testimony of Christ does not by itself qualify an individual to speak on behalf of the Lord, as was the case with Moses in the prophetic office. This distinction was apparently not fully understood by Moses’ older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, who exhibited pride and jealousy in view of Moses’ unique calling: “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?"(Num. 12:2). The Lord responded by explaining the difference between a prophet and “a prophet.”
He called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tabernacle and proceeded to describe the first category of prophet: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num. 12:6). In other words, the first type of prophet is provided with direct revelation from the Lord through his Spirit. This is the same type described in Revelation 19:10, and the type which most true followers of the Christ qualify as.
The Lord continued, however, by explaining that Moses was not this type of prophet: “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold” (Num. 12:7-8). The category of prophet that Moses belonged to included one on one interaction with the Lord himself, where the individual is able to behold and speak with the Lord on a personal basis. This is the Lord’s spokesperson through whom timely instruction is given to the Lord’s people. Through this direct interaction with the Lord, this type of prophet receives all the keys necessary for the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.
I’m not sure if this distinction between prophets sunk in with the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries, but it gave me the opportunity to testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet in the strict sense of the word, someone called of God to lead His people today, and that his successor today is Thomas S. Monson. The Spirit was present during our conversation and I trust they felt it also. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been back to see me in a month...