I vaguely remember an old black and white movie I saw almost 40 years ago. It was called The Next Voice You Hear. It was about a day when God gave a message to humanity on the radio stations all over the world. (Oddly, the main character’s name was Joe Smith–a coincidence?) I don’t remember much about it, other than that the idea intrigued me. As I grew up, I often wondered why people would consider it strange that God would ever speak to man.
As I learned more about the world of men, I came to understand sectarianism and how the various denominations competed with and contradicted one another. The only thing they agreed on, it seemed, was that God didn’t talk to mankind any more.
When I learned of the visitation of God the Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, I was amazed that any religion would teach that God spoke again in our day. It was an astonishing claim, though it became entirely reasonable as I considered it. Joseph Smith didn’t start out wanting to establish a church or a religion. He was concerned for his own soul’s welfare. The answer that came was remarkable. It fits the ancient pattern that God established with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and others. As these men called upon God, he called them to serve him because of their faith and humility.
As I looked around the religious world, I tried to see how the Mormon template would play out, had God called someone else from another Church. Suppose the Pope went out to pray and suddenly God appeared to him. He’d go out and declare the message that God gave him, but the Protestants would object. They’d say, “Who does he think he is? Aren’t our ministers as good as the Pope?” They’d reject the message because of their jealousy and the hundreds of years of historical disagreements that divide Catholics and Protestants. A large majority of Catholics would reject it because their doctrines have precluded further divine revelation since the second century.
Suppose the Lord appeared to Pat Robertson and sent heavenly messengers to confer the apostleship on him. The Catholics would reject it because they think they already have apostolic authority. A billion good Catholics would be taught that Pat Robertson was an impostor, a false apostle, and a cult leader. Other Protestant ministers might display disdain or jealousy. Wouldn’t Robert Schuller or Richard Roberts be put out to think that God selected Pat Robertson instead of one of them?
If God spoke to a Muslim cleric today, not only would he be rejected outright by the entire Christian world, he would also face probable execution by the members of his own religion. Muslims believe that Muhammed was the last prophet and that no other could come in his stead. A fatwa would be issued by nightfall of the very first day the new revelation would be announced.
If the Dalai Lama or a noted Jewish rabbi recieved the new revelation, Hindus, Christians and Muslims would also reject it. No matter who God might pick from any existing religion or sect, the result would be division, dissension, and rejection for any number of reasons. The most typical of the reasons would be that their holy books had been interpreted by “holy” men who said that God would never speak again. Anyone who would challenge that doctrine was to be regarded with suspicion, driven out, and maybe even killed.
So the “new wines in old bottles” analogy is perfectly applicable. No existing religion could contain the revelation. No good choices were available. The existing doctrines, creeds, and dogmas would cause the message to be rejected by too many people. The only way was to start fresh.
Think about it. At the first coming of Christ, how did the preparation begin? There are a lot of parallels. There had been 400 years without revelation from God. In the time of Joseph Smith, there had been approximately 1600 years from the time the Christian Church formally rejected the principle of continuing revelation. In the century before Jesus was born, there were numerous messianic movements that built up a suspicion among the Jewish religious heirarchy. Immediately preceding and surrounding Joseph Smith’s time, the Great Awakening was ongoiong. The level of anticipation built among Christians just as it did among the ancient Jews of Jesus time.
When the time came for Jesus’ ministry to begin, a prophet went forth to prepare the way. He came from a family of priests, but he was an outsider. He didn’t come up through the orthodoxy. Schooled by the Spirit of God in the wilderness, he came and challenged the religionists who stood in positions of authority. Likewise, Joseph Smith came from a humble family of faithful believers in Christ. He was called from the American wilderness and came forth to challenge the religious orthodoxy of our time. Both John the Baptist and Joseph Smith were witnesses of Jesus Christ who gave their lives for the testimony they bore.
The pattern is there. God doesn’t put new wine (revelation) in old bottles. He didn’t call a prophet from among the Pharisees, the scribes, or the chief priests. He didn’t call a prophet from the popular or influential ministers and theologians of our time. He calls prophets before they have the chance to get corrupted by man’s wisdom and he imbues them with his own light. The Church of Jesus Christ is the new new bottle that was crafted to contain the revelation of the latter days. I don’t seek to prove it here. I just want you to think about it.
Who else could God give the message to? If not Joseph Smith, who? Anyone else would have been just as subject to scorn, ridicule, and derision. Satan would oppose the work, no matter who God called. If God appeared to Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell and told them to restore his gospel, their fate would have been the same as Joseph’s. The divisions would be just as intense. It is the message that causes the division, not the messenger. You see, prior experience doesn’t qualify anyone to be a prophet. God is the one who qualifies. Even if it had been some other person, the burden of faith would still be upon each of us, to find the truth through the Holy Spirit.
Mormons don’t pledge blind allegiance to any man. The Spirit bears witness that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration. We believe in the God the Father, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. We believe God has always spoken to prophets. Those who hear God’s voice in the words of his servants are always led to salvation. Those who reject that prophetic voice are left in the world, guided by their unaided reasoning and the doctrines of men. The challenge to each of us is to find God’s voice wherever he chooses to manifest it. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” If you seek God humbly, you will hear the his voice in the words of the Book of Mormon, of Joseph Smith, and the words of the living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson.