Here is a useful,scriptural model for understanding how God works through prophets:

1. God offers a covenant to a person or group through a messenger sent from his presence. His intent is always to bring the ministrant into His presence (Moses 5:9-10)

2. That covenant can be accepted by upholding the laws (torah) on which the covenant is based, which will bring the person or group into God’s presence in mortality (D&C 84:19-23). It can also be rejected by outright refusal or by alteration of the laws, either of which incurs penalties which are spelled out by God. Invariably the penalty includes being shut out from the presence of God during mortality, which is a terrible curse (D&C 84:24, 1 Nephi 2:21). In Moses’ case, Jehovah allowed a diminished and partial form of the covenant to continue until he came himself to fulfill it.

3. The prophets (nevi’im) that are sent after the institution of the covenant, whether they are from within the priestly hierarchy or without, carry God’s renewed invitation to live up to the terms of the covenant so that it can be renewed (Isaiah 1:10). They are only appropriately called “prophets” when delivering their message, according to Joseph Smith, and they confine their ministry to the scope defined for them by God who sends them. Thus, words outside of their specific message can’t properly be called “prophetic.” They are not on their own errand. Their messages about correcting personal conduct, rebuking institutional shortcomings, or re-educating people about the proper performance of ordinances are all *returns* to the covenant under which they operate (Isaiah 24:5). While the priestly leaders have a duty to ¬†become prophets, they are free to fail to live up to that duty and God is free to send messages through whomever he wants.

4. People who are offered a covenant engage in frequent mischief, including:

  • spreading the idea that priestly or rabbinic hierarchies have authority to supersede and contradict¬†the law given by the dispensation head due to a chain of direct succession.
  • creating a hedge around the law of God in the form of sanctified traditions passed down from the above mentioned men. The Jews called theirs the takanot. These form an unhelpful screen that prevents people from actually understanding God’s laws (and thus prevents repentance of true sins and encourages repentance from non-sinful transgressions). The hedge is burdensome and should be aggressively pruned or rooted out (Matthew 15:2-3).
  • altering the ordinances, which are both eternal and necessary for salvation, and thus should not be altered (D&C 84:19-21).
  • fabrication or alteration of scriptures and historical records (I’m looking at you, Deuteronomy)

Invariably, people making those changes think they are “adapting to changing times,” and usually act with the best of intentions.

Prophets are sent to correct those errors, not to participate in them.

Here is a great video about how this pattern comes through in the New Testament: