This is perhaps a first: last week in Utah a stake high council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicated Brother Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., a member of the church who purportedly held a temple recommend and faithfully answered all of the recommend interview questions appropriately. His “crime”? Two years ago he published a book (one of eight he has written) arguing that the Saints, as a body, rejected the “fullness of the priesthood” offered to them in the early 1840s. Consequently the Saints now possess less priesthood power and authority than current LDS Church leaders presume or portray themselves as having. While seemingly deleterious to the message and mission of the Church, Snuffer's thesis is supported by historical documents, statements made by LDS leaders, and LDS scriptures. Bro. Snuffer's explanation also happens to be the only one (I've encountered) that makes sense!
“...[Passing the Heavenly Gift] is not constructive to [the] work of salvation or the promotion of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book's thesis is in direct conflict with church doctrine. In your effort to defend the restoration, you have mischaracterized doctrine, denigrated virtually every prophet since Joseph Smith, and placed the church in a negative light. The book is a misguided effort to attempt to bridge the gap between the church and its dissidents. PTHG will never be the solution to hard questions that you believe it is. Like every other such effort, it will attract only the attention of those whose spiritual eyes, ears and hearts are obscured from the truth. Your work pits you against the institution of the church and will lead to the spiritual demise of you and your family.”
The above statement is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, the high council apparently never considered the truthfulness of PTHG's thesis, only the effects. If the book's claims are true, then every other consideration is irrelevant (unless suppressing truth and upholding falsehood has become the LDS Church's mission). Ironically, Snuffer's book explains how truth has been suppressed. Apparently the book's truthfulness was never examined or considered, much less refuted.
Secondly, what is “church doctrine”? (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie once published a book titled “Mormon Doctrine”, but that book was deemed "flawed" and has since been withdrawn from publication.) PTHG does critically examine several teachings of past and present LDS leaders and does challenge the Church's “traditional narrative”. But so what? Mormons aren't required to have a “testimony” of Church history. Neither do they covenant to uphold “church doctrine”. Latter-day Saints covenant to uphold Christ's doctrine and to exercise faith in Him.
Unlike Christ's doctrine (which never changes), LDS doctrine has changed (and continues to change at an accelerating pace, according to Snuffer's book). What LDS leaders teach today is very different from the faith restored by Joseph Smith. Excommunicating Snuffer because of his interpretation of Church history – which he wrote relying upon LDS Church documents, statements made by LDS Church leaders, and LDS scriptures – smacks of “killing the messenger”.
I found PTHG to be very constructive to the work of salvation, largely because I found it to be true. Reading the book very strongly promoted my faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (even if it did weaken – no, destroy! – any confidence I had in the unblemished virtue or abject truthfulness of the leadership now controlling the corporation known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I was driven to my knees in fervent prayer, acknowledging my sins and “awful state” before God, recognizing that I had been led to embrace a false and foolish hope that any mere man (or group of men) could "save" me. Denver Snuffer awakened me to my dire need to repent and to rely, once again, upon Jesus Christ and His power to save, not on some (great and spacious) institution, symbolic physical ordinance, or the “arm of flesh”.
I now know (what I, before, only suspected) that many Latter-day Saints embrace a “gospel” tainted by myth, corrupted by damning false doctrines, and adulterated with folklore and the teachings and commandments of men passed off as “truth” and "revelation". Our “gospel” and “official” Church history have been compromised and changed, again and again. PTHG is an exposé on those compromises and changes, how they came to pass, and what we can (and must) do in response to them. Thus, I continue to have hope (even as I have lost faith in the church I once thought to be "true"). My faith is now properly grounded in Jesus Christ and His gospel (again), not in the “sand” of institutional salvation or the commandments and teachings of men.
Ironically, Denver Snuffer never encouraged anyone to leave the LDS Church. (He argued against doing that! And still does!) He continues to promote faithful activity in the Church, attendance at meetings, paying tithes to the Church, and doing all that is asked of Latter-day Saints by their current Church leaders. He doesn't advocate establishing another church or replacing the current Magisterium. In fact, he supports and sustains the current LDS hierarchy, prays for them, and encourages others to do likewise.
A very strange “apostate” indeed!
I have read PTHG and am currently reading another Snuffer book, The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil. Both have been very enriching: more inspiring, faith promoting, repentance-inducing and informative than anything I have read from the current crop of LDS leaders (no disrespect intended). True “prophets, seers and revelators” prophesy, see, and reveal! They speak with God personally, stand in His holy presence from time to time, and deliver messages directly from Him (as did Joseph Smith). They are often persecuted by the very people they are called to serve (especially by members of the Church).
Do our current leaders fill the bill? By their fruits ye shall know them.
Today Bro. Snuffer posted (without comment) a second letter he received from his (former) stake president, Truman Hunt. The letter outlines restrictions Bro. Snuffer must endure as a current excommunicant.
In addition to being forbidden to pray, talk or testify in Church, pay tithing or wear the garment, Bro. Snuffer was told to “not engage in activities which require an exercise of priesthood power.”
In modern LDS parlance, attributions of priesthood “power” and “authority” are inextricably conjoined, resulting in almost universal misunderstanding.
One may have "authority" (as one supposes) without exercising (or receiving) any real "power". For example, one may serve as stake president upon being duly sustained by common consent of the membership of the Church of that stake, thereby receiving authority to act in said capacity. But receiving power from On High to righteously discharge the duties of that office is an entirely different matter altogether. Anyone who exercises divine power clearly also possesses divine authority. (Jesus healed the sick and thereby demonstrated His authority to forgive sins. If He only pretended to have authority to forgive, He would not have possessed the divine power to heal.) Manifestations of divine power are signs of actual divine authority.
Likewise, lacking divine power is tantamount to lacking divine authority. The works of God cannot be accomplished without divine power, for God is a God of miracles and works by power. (Anything else is simply the work of men.) "Powerless" authorities "play-act", pretending to act on the Lord's behalf. (The Lord suffers them to do so, inasmuch as we all are learning to "magnify" our offices and callings in the priesthood.) However, the priesthood is not to be trifled with. Those who vainly claim divine power or authority without doing everything in their power to receive such risk committing blasphemy.
Having excommunicated Bro. Snuffer, Pres. Hunt surrendered any claim to "authority" he might have had over Bro. Snuffer. (Pres. Hunt insured that Bro. Snuffer was no longer a member of his stake!) While Pres. Hunt has no more authority over Bro. Snuffer, he still has the responsibility and accountability to seek Bro. Snuffer's welfare. (We all bear such responsibility and accountability for the welfare of those within our sphere of influence.) Pres. Hunt may fulfill this responsibility by exercising priesthood power, but only by the same means – the only means! – by which priesthood power (or "authority") can or ought to be exercised: by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned, kindness and pure knowledge. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42.)
By forbidding Bro. Snuffer from engaging in activities “which require an exercise of priesthood power”, does Pres. Hunt think to prevent Bro. Snuffer from being kind, long-suffering, loving, gently persuasive or meek? For those are the only attributes by which priesthood authority (or power) may be handled or maintained. Other forms of behavior – exerting control, dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness – are anathema to the Holy Spirit and to the exercise of true priesthood power (or authority).
Likewise driving away (or restraining) a righteous man (who can honestly obtain a temple recommend) assaults the sensibilities of heaven and is not the work of the Lord.
I have read literally thousands of pages of Bro. Snuffer's writings. In so doing, I have found nothing for which Bro. Snuffer should be condemned, much less found guilty of apostasy. Does Pres. Hunt really think he can command Bro. Snuffer to keep silent or to refrain from doing the Lord's bidding and expect to be obeyed? Can Pres. Hunt not see the repetition of history in the making? (Acts 5:28-29.)
Only a fool would hearken unto man rather than to God.
“[T]hrough your actions and claims,” Pres. Hunt wrote, “you have chosen to leave us.” In his first letter to Bro. Snuffer, Pres. Hunt wrote “only the attention of those whose spiritual eyes, ears and hearts are obscured from the truth” will be attracted to his message. Furthermore, Snuffer's efforts, Hunt wrote, would “lead to the spiritual demise of [him] and [his] family.” With regard to each of these statements, I surmise the exact opposite to be true.
Apparently Pres. Hunt has swallowed – hook, line and sinker – the corporate mantra “there is safety in the mainstream of the Church” and “the Brethren will never lead you astray”.
There isn't and they have.
There is safety only in exercising real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. True faith in Christ produces spiritual power, manifest by the possession and exercise of spiritual gifts (the “gifts of the Spirit”). Thus one may judge the “rightness” of one's course. The possession of spiritual gifts is a living witness, a testimony and a “sign” that one's course is correct. One may “see” the Way, the Truth and the Life only if one's “lamp” (soul) is filled with “oil” (the Holy Ghost). “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5.)
We must pray for Pres. Hunt.