en English

Note: This is not a response to Denver Snuffer’s polygamy essay. That response is found here.  See also Examining-DenverSnuffer.com

A Response to Denver Snuffer

By Brian C. Hales

In 2013, Denver Snuffer and I exchanged several emails and met for lunch. He is an impressive scholar with an extraordinary knowledge of the gospel and the scriptures. We had a spirited discussion and parted as friends. Neither of us was dissuaded by the arguments presented by the other.

In March of 2015 Snuffer posted a long essay where he explains his views on polygamy.[1] In it he states: “Brian Hales invited me to participate with him in jointly writing a book.” I recall chatting with him about the possibility. My willingness to co-author a polygamy paper with him was because my participation would have required him to stay close to the evidences (which I have in my database), thus preventing him from misrepresenting early Church history.

I knew Denver had a following of perhaps hundreds or more. I had read his publications and believed them to be in error. I naively hoped that I might help him reorient to the truth. Even now I wish sincerely that this post and critique of Denver’s writings was not necessary.

Having read several of Denver Snuffer’s writings, I am saddened by his interpretations because he expresses such extreme views of ambiguous evidences and entirely ignores documents that contradict his explanations.  Rather than address his claims point-by-point, I will offer some broader observations and then appeal to the fact that Snuffer has no genuine priesthood authority and consequently, cannot perform saving ordinances. So it would seem that his message is empty. Joseph Smith explained that there is “no salvation between the two lids of the bible without a legal administrator.”[2] Neither is there salvation in the opinions of men and women, no matter how eloquent they are presented.

This essay will address three basic problems with his religious claims: (1) his willingness to publicize his reported divine experiences; (2) his willingness to criticize Church leaders; (3) his assertion that genuine priesthood authority is not currently needed.[3]

Denver Snuffer Publicly Reports Seeing the Savior

For several years in his writings, conversations, and in speaking opportunities, Denver Snuffer has shared remarkable claims with his audiences reporting that he has experienced personal interviews with Jesus Christ and has heard “His own voice.”[4] By making such claims, Snuffer joins a group of dozens of other dissenters who have made similar or even more exotic claims during the past 100 years. Included are men such as Moses Gudmundson, John T. Clark, Lorin Woolley, Joseph W. Musser, Elden Kingston, Francis Darter, Leroy Wilson, Rulon C. Allred, Alex Joseph, Samuel Eastman, Paul Feil, John Bryant, Elden Hollis, Sherman Russell Lloyd, Frank Miller, Robert C. Crossfield, Maurice Glendenning, Gerald Peterson, James D. Harmston, Ben, Ross, Joel and Ervil LeBaron, Ron Lafferty, and Brian David Mitchell. Were we to expand this list to include the nineteenth century, it would at least double in length. In short, claiming divine manifestations has been a common behavior among dissidents since the Church was first organized.

This finding is not surprising. Joseph Smith warned:

Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you. (D&C 50:2-3.)

These scriptures state that men can be deceived and will be deceived if they are not careful.  Joseph also predicted: “For in those days, there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant” (JST Matthew 24:23).

Brigham Young encountered such individuals: “Many come to me and tell me what wonderful visions they have–that their minds are open to eternal things–that they can see visions of eternity open before them and understand all about this kingdom.”[5] How did he respond? With tongue-in-cheek he reported:

I say to such persons, Go ahead, and get all the revelations you can.  If brother Joseph visits you every night, go ahead, and tell him to bring brother Hyrum, father Smith, Don Carlos Smith, St. Paul, Peter, James, and John, and Jesus Christ, if you can induce him to do so. . . Hell is full of such revelations.[6]

Then he explained his personal reaction:

I never notice them much.  I sit and hear them talk about their wonderful knowledge, but it passes in and out of my ears like the sound of the wind.  It is for me to see to this kingdom, that it is built up, and to preserve the Saints from the grasp of the enemy.  The visions of the class I have mentioned are nothing to me.  They may exhibit their great knowledge before me; but when they have done, it is all gone from me.[7]

For Denver Snuffer or any worthy Latter-day Saint to view God is not the problem. According to Joseph Smith’s revelations, seeing the Lord is a blessing to be sought after. We are to “seek the face of the Lord always” (D&C 101:38). Those who make themselves worthy are promised that “the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am” (D&C 67:10, see also 93:1).  But “it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (D&C 88:68).

I have known individuals who have indicated to me in private conversations that they have experienced fulfillment of these promises in their lives. Nevertheless, one difference between them and Denver Snuffer is his willingness to share his experiences widely. The scriptures instruct:

It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.  (Alma 12:9.)

Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation.  (D&C 63:64.)

These verses tell us that while sacred communications may come, they are “laid under a strict command” and must be “spoken with care.” Joseph Smith further instructed: “The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us is because we do not keep them but reveal them, we do not keep our own secrets but reveal our difficulties to the world even to our enemies then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord Joseph says I can keep a secret till dooms day.”[8] Brigham Young taught similarly:

The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for He cannot safely reveal Himself to such persons.  It is as much as He can do to get a particle of sense into some of the best and most influential men in the Church, in regard to real confidence in themselves.  They cannot keep things within their own bosoms.[9]

Denver Snuffer reported seeing the Savior. If it was a true revelatory experience, it would have accompanied a mandate to keep it sacred. Why? Because serving as God’s mouthpiece to the Church is not his calling. However, a false revelation would carry no similar mandate, but would likely be empowered by a spirit encouraging a public disclosure and perhaps motivating a gathering of like-minded individuals.

It is true that hold the office of an Apostle is be “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:26; italics added), which accurately describes members of the quorum of the Twelve today. Elder Boyd K. Packer explains: “We do not talk of those sacred interviews that qualify the servants of the Lord to bear a special witness of Him, for we have been commanded not to do so. But we are free, indeed, we are obliged, to bear that special witness.”[10]

These testimonies are plain to those who are diligently watchful. For example, in a 1971 General Conference Elder Boyd K. Packer reported:

I have heard one of my brethren declare: “I know from experiences, too sacred to relate, that Jesus is the Christ.” I have heard another testify: “I know that God lives; I know that the Lord lives. and more than that, I know the Lord.”[11]

Years later Elder Russell M. Nelson testified in General Conference:

As a special witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that He lives!  I also testify that the veil of death is very thin.  I know by experiences too sacred to relate that those who have gone before are not strangers to leaders of this Church.[12]

In General Conference April 2014, Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stated plainly:  “I bear my witness that the Savior lives. I know the Lord.”[13]

It is unfortunate the Snuffer has broadcast his reported visions to the world, because if they were true manifestations, he would not be commissioned to do so. If they are false, then it is even more unfortunate.

Denver Snuffer Criticizes the Church and its Leadership

In his book, Passing of the Heavenly Gift, Denver Snuffer assures his readers that the Church has “abandoned doctrine” and that the “underlying religion” established by Joseph Smith has been “curtailed.” He further criticizes:  “Today, marketing the institution has become more important to Mormon success than preserving the original content.” [14]

Snuffer is entitled to his own opinion, but he sounds like dissenters of previous eras. In fact Joseph Smith encountered individuals with claims like Snuffer’s as early as 1830. Via a seer stone, Hiram Page was receiving his own revelations that contradicted Joseph’s. The Lord instructed:  “And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him” (D&C 28:11). Two and a half years later, Joseph wrote to a missionary, Elder Jared Carter, regarding a member who had received a special vision of their own:

Dear Brother Carter; Your letter to Bro. Jared is just put into my hand, and I have carefully perused its contents, and embrace this opportunity to answer it.  We proceed to answer your questions:  first concerning your labor in the region where you live; we acquiesce in your feelings on this subject until the mouth of the Lord shall name; and, as it respects the vision you speak of, we do not consider ourselves bound to receive any revelation from any one man or woman without their being legally constituted and ordained to that authority, and given sufficient proof of it.

I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves, therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them:  but if any have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for their own benefit and instruction, for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the church is vested in the keys of the kingdom.[15]

This letter was published in the Church’s Times and Seasons. It explains that God would never inspire Denver Snuffer or Brian Hales to correct “those in authority” with “higher” callings we might possess at any particular moment.

Prophet also counseled:  “I will give you one of the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom. It is an eternal principle that has existed with God from all Eternity that that man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy and if he does not repent will apostatize as God lives.”[16] As applied to Denver Snuffer, Joseph’s counsel is actually prophetic.

Denver Snuffer justifies his criticisms of the Church by asserting that “the passing of the heavenly gift was anticipated by Joseph Smith’s prophecies and the Book of Mormon.”[17] His claims are curious because there is no plain prophecy of a latter day apostasy in the Book of Mormon. It is true that several passages clearly predict an apostasy 400 years after Christ’s visitation to the Americas. For example, Alma prophesied: “Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief” (Alma 45:10). Many other prophets referred to this apostasy.[18] That the truth would be lost from the Lehites and they would “dwindle in unbelief” was a huge issue for God’s leaders in the Book of Mormon.

In contrast, we find no similar prophesies or references to an apostasy that was to occur after the Restoration. A few verses can be construed to possibly hint at such, but those passages can be applied to men like Snuffer as well, if not with greater applicability.  Neither do they validate a wholesale dwindling in unbelief of the entire membership of the Church formed by Joseph Smith.

Denver Snuffer’s Teachings Regarding Priesthood Authority

Denver Snuffer articulately outlines his theories describing how the Church and its leaders are in apostasy. Inherent in his discussion is the implication that he is not. That is, Denver has the truth that he affirms the Church has lost. However, the problem for him and all dissenters who proclaim this view is priesthood authority. They can leave the Church, but they can’t take their priesthood with them for two reasons. First, they have proclaimed the Church has apostatized, so that would generally include a loss of priesthood, which was the source of the dissenter’s ordination. Some will affirm that the Church has apostatized, but their personal ordinations are still valid and then attempt to utilize them although they have been excommunicated. This is because excommunication or being “cut off” from the Church ends a man’s priesthood (D&C 85:11).

The second reason deals with priesthood keys. God’s house is a house of order (D&C 132: 8, 18). This order is maintained by one man who holds the keys of the priesthood. Joseph explained: “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (D&C 132:7).

The keyholder is to “be like unto Moses” (D&C 107:91), to serve as God’s prophet and mouthpiece on earth.  The “one” man is the President of the High Priesthood[19] and presides over the “Presidency of the High Priesthood,” which is the highest “council of the Church” (D&C 107:9, 78-79) unto whom is given the “keys of the kingdom” (D&C 81:2, 90:2-6).[20]

                                              KEYS HELD BY THE “ONE MAN”

                                                      Keys of Sealing (D&C 132:7)

                                      Keys of the Gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)

                     Keys of the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham (D&C 110:12)

                            Keys of the Powers of the Holy Priesthood (D&C 128:11)

                                                  Keys of the Kingdom (D&C 81:2)

The Prophet wrote: “For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11; italics added).

In 1845 Brigham Young clarified: “Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the keys of the sealing power in the Church.  That all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the President of the Church.”[21]

In 1857 Heber C. Kimball taught: “You Bishops, Seventies, High Priests, Elders, Priests, Teachers, Deacons, and members, where did you get the Priesthood and authority you hold?  It came from this very authority, the First Presidency that sits here in this stand.  There was an authority before us, and we got our authority from that, and you got it from us, and this authority is with the First Presidency.”  Then he warned: “Now do not go off and say that you are independent of that authority.”[22]

That one man held the keys has been observed from Joseph Smith until today. While in Nauvoo, Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother and Associate President and Church Patriarch, attempted to seal a marriage without Joseph’s approval. Two years later, in 1845, Brigham Young recalled the event:

“Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the –sealing power- keys of the sealing power in the church, that all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the president of the church. . . . Hyrum [Smith] was counseller . . . but the sealing power was not in Hyrum, legitimately, neither did he act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph in every case This was proven, for Hyrum did in one case undertake to seal without counsel, & Joseph told him if he did not stop it he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”  (Brigham Young to William Smith, “City of Joseph, Aug 10th 1845,” in Brigham Young Collection, CHL, CR 1234/1.)

In 1847, W.W. Phelps served a mission to the eastern states where he married three wives polygamously. His mission companion, Henry B. Jacobs, performed the marriages without first obtaining permission from President Young.  Phelps returned to Winter Quarters, Iowa, with his three new “wives.” Brigham Young heard the story and addressed Phelps:  “You have been living in adultery – [N]o man can have the 2nd woman unless he ha[s] the consent of the man who holds the sealing power…”  He also remarked: “[I]f bro Phelps had told us last Spring that he was going to bring a girl – I wo[ul]d. have given her to you & [would have been] glad to do it.”[23] Phelps was excommunicated on December 6, 1847 but was quickly rebaptized after acknowledging his misunderstanding. Nevertheless, the most important observation is that President Young plainly acknowledged himself as the keyholder, the one man on earth who could authorize eternal sealings.

Despite the clarity of these teachings, Snuffer has adopted a novel approach to circumvent the knotty problem of no priesthood outside of the Church:

The church’s ordinations and ordinances remain vital to the restored Gospel, and the plan of salvation. Whether or not there is any person in the church with priesthood power, every person who joins the church, and keeps its ordinances will be invited through those ordinances, to come and receive the Lord.[24]

It appears Snuffer believes that ordinances performed without genuine priesthood power would still be valid, that is, someone could still “keep” such ordinances and be blessed for it. Joseph Smith would have undoubtedly condemned such notions (D&C 22:1-4). Furthermore, such teachings create disorder by allowing sincerity to trump authentic authority. And sincerity can be deceptive.  How readily do people embrace a self-deception as they view the image in the mirror as being more worthy and more filled with light than is actually the case? “O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish” (2 Nephi 9:28).

Summary

Following a long line of dissenters and critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, Denver Snuffer offers another alternate interpretation of Joseph Smith’s teachings. As a lawyer, he writes with conviction, logic, and the persuasive power that we would expect from a seasoned attorney-at-law. However, the message he sends is problematic when contextualized within the Prophet’s teachings.

Snuffer reports that the Savior has appeared to him telling him the Church is in apostasy and in subtle ways, giving him God’s latest word to the people.

The primary problem is that within Joseph Smith’s teachings, this would never happen. Joseph’s God is all-powerful and fully capable of keeping an orderly house.  His God is also all-knowing and able to call Church leaders to their proper positions according to the divine timeline and to call them home if a need for change were to arise. Raising up a new prophet from the rank-and-file membership would never be needed. In plain language, Joseph Smith explained that God does not inspire a man or woman to correct those with a higher calling. Any other teaching would result in confusion, not order. Such confusion is readily apparent among dissenters generally.

Denver Snuffer’s situation is even more distanced from Joseph Smith’s teachings as he struggles to deal with his lack of priesthood authority. Joseph taught that genuine authority was always needed. No exceptions. But Snuffer doesn’t have any authority and has yet to claim a new dispensation of authority.  That may yet come as his condemnation of the Church rises in pitch and volume. Many other dissenters in the past have followed this course and gathered a following around them claiming new revelation and eventually even new priesthood powers. Time will tell.

See also “Dissenters: Portraying the Church as Wrong So They can be Right Without It.”

[1] http://denversnuffer.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Plural-Marriage.pdf.

[2] Ehat & Cook, Words, Joseph Smith Diary, by W. Richards: 23 July 1843 (Sunday Afternoon), p.235.
[3] For a more detailed response to his teachings, click http://en.fairmormon.org/Category:Denver_Snuffer
[4] Denver Snuffer, “Preserving The Restoration,” Lecture 10, Mesa, Arizona (9 September 2014), 4.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/239760895/10-Phoenix-Transcript-Preserving-the-Restoration#download
[5] Journal of Discourses, Vol.5, p.352, Brigham Young, October 25, 1857.
[6] Journal of Discourses, Vol.5, p.352, Brigham Young, October 25, 1857.
[7] Journal of Discourses, Vol.5, p.352, Brigham Young, October 25, 1857.
[8] Ehat & Cook, Words, Wilford Woodruff Diary: 19 December 1841 (Sunday), p.80–p.81
[9] Journal of Discourses, Vol.4, p.288, Brigham Young, March 15, 1857

[10] Conference Report, April 1980, p. 86.  See also Alma 12:9, HC 4:478-479 and JD 4:288.
[11] Ensign, June, 1971, p. 88.
[12] Ensign, May, 1992, p. 74
[13] Boyd K. Packer, “The Witness,” General Conference (webpage), accessed April 20, 2014, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/print/2014/04/the-witness?lang=eng&clang=eng.
[14] Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift, Salt Lake City: Millcreek Press, 11, back cover.
[15] “History of the Church,” Times and Seasons, 5 (January 1, 1844) 752.
[16] Ehat & Cook, Words, Willard Richards Pocket Companion: 2 July 1839 (Tuesday), p.413.
[17] Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift, Salt Lake City: Millcreek Press, 11, back cover.
[18] See 1 Ne. 12:12-22, 13:35, 2 Nephi 1:10, Alma 45:12, Helaman 13:5, 9–10, 15:11, 3 Nephi 21:5, Mormon 8:6, 9:20, Moroni 10:1.
[19] Some fundamentalist writers refer to an office of “President of the Priesthood” or more commonly “President of Priesthood.”  However, no such office or calling is mentioned in the scriptures or in any of the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor etc.  Only the “President of the High Priesthood” is discussed.
[20] See also Matthew 16:19.
[21] Letter to William Smith, 10 August 1845, Brigham Young Collection.  In E. Gary Smith, “Patriarch Crisis of 1845,” 34;  J. Max Anderson, “Mormon Fundamentalism,” section: Joseph F. Smith.
[22] JD 4:251-252.
[23] Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1893, Salt Lake City: Privately Published 2010, 130
[24] Denver C. Snuffer, Jr., Passing the Heavenly Gift (Salt Lake City: Mill Creek Press, 2011), 37, italics added.

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