As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we follow modern day prophets and apostles. We believe that they are special witnesses of Jesus Christ. As such, it is their duty to be watchmen on the tower, warning Church members to beware of apostasy. We also need to beware of false prophets and false teachers who lie in wait to ensnare and destroy faith and testimony.
Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught, “Today we warn you that there are false prophets and false teachers arising; and if we are not careful, even those who are among the faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will fall victim to their deception. We need to beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets.” (Beware of False Prophets and Teachers, October 1999 General Conference).
We read stories about false teachers and false prophets in the scriptures. It started with Satan and the war in heaven and it continues to happen today. So while it’s easy and reasonably comfortable to read about these stories on paper, it’s more difficult and disarming to see modern-day apostasy happening around us today. And, as President Brigham Young has said, “Will there still be apostasy? Yes, brethren and sisters, you may expect that people will come into the Church and then apostatize. You may expect that some people will run well for a season, and then fall out by the way.” (link)
It’s heartbreaking to see children of God remove themselves from the fold and take others with them. Often, it can be under the guise of simply asking questions or helping others with their doubts about certain doctrines or scriptures, while actively and simultaneously engaging in various types of “loyal opposition” to the Church. Elder Ballard has said, “In the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as ‘loyal opposition.’ One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.”
In order to stand in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, it also helps to beware of what standing against them looks like. Personal apostasy comes in many forms and it’s getting more difficult to discern. First, we need to answer a few questions. What is personal apostasy? What might false prophets and false teachers look like? How does it start? And, finally, how can it be prevented and overcome?
What is Apostasy?
Apostasy is defined on LDS.org as “When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy” and “When we find fault with Church leaders, we begin to separate ourselves from the Church.” It is also defined as “the repeated, clear and open public opposition to the Church, its leaders and its doctrine” and when “someone seeks to teach as doctrine something that is contrary to the Church’s beliefs, attempts to persuade other Church members to their point of view or publicly insists the Church change its doctrine to align with their personal views.” (Link)
From the manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, we are warned further that apostasy is:
- “When [an individual] begins to find fault” with Church leaders and teachings, “you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy.”
- “Whenever there is a disposition manifested in any of the members of this Church to question the right of the President of the whole Church to direct in all things, you see manifested evidences of apostasy—of a spirit which, if encouraged, will lead to a separation from the Church.”
- “Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled.”
What Might Apostasy or False Prophets or Teachers Look Like?
First, Elder Ballard gives some answers and wise council:
When we think of false prophets and false teachers, we tend to think of those who espouse an obviously false doctrine or presume to have authority to teach the true gospel of Christ according to their own interpretation. We often assume that such individuals are associated with small radical groups on the fringes of society. However, I reiterate: there are false prophets and false teachers who have or at least claim to have membership in the Church. Beware of such.
Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. Like Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon, they rely on sophistry to deceive and entice others to their views. They “set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Ne. 26:29). (Beware of False Prophets and Teachers, supra.)
Quoting from the manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young:
- When [an individual] begins to find fault, inquiring in regard to this, that, and the other, saying, “Does this or that look as though the Lord dictated it?” you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy.
- One of the first steps to apostasy is to find fault with your Bishop; and when that is done, unless repented of a second step is soon taken, and by and by the person is cut off from the Church, and that is the end of it. Will you allow yourselves to find fault with your Bishop?
- [Individuals] begin to apostatize by taking to themselves strength, by hearkening to the whisperings of the enemy who leads them astray little by little, until they gather to themselves that which they call the wisdom of man; then they begin to depart from God, and their minds become confused.
How Does Apostasy Begin?
It might start with faultfinding, criticizing, complaining, having unresolved sins or being offended. President Ezra Taft Benson teaches that these actions stem from pride (all of us should be able to relate and none are immune!) Here is what he says:
Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. … The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. … The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s. … Disobedience is essentially a prideful power struggle against someone in authority over us. It can be a parent, a priesthood leader, a teacher, or ultimately God. A proud person hates the fact that someone is above him. He thinks this lowers his position. … The proud do not receive counsel or correction easily. Defensiveness is used by them to justify and rationalize their frailties and failures. (President Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride, April 1989 General Conference.
Ultimately, pride drives away the spirit—including the spirit of discernment. This results in doctrines and principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ becoming stumbling blocks. Without the spirit, it becomes extremely difficult to discern right from wrong, truth from half-truths or pure doctrine from false doctrine and everything in between (including participating in types “loyal opposition”). Gaps and chinks in the spiritual armor of God are created and Satan uses these to his advantage as he seeks to bring others down with him. In fact, he is eagerly waiting for these wedges to become stumbling blocks and sticking points. First it may start with Laman and Lemual-type murmurings. As this continues unchecked, the spirit goes further away and we begin to see more extreme Korihor, Nehor and Sherem situations.
All of us need to be concerned about those who murmur under the guise of “loyal opposition” or who show advocacy for it. Each member of the church needs to watch for and be concerned about Korihor scenarios and even possibly “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:43)
How Can Personal Apostasy, Following False Prophets and Teachers Be Overcome?
President Brigham Young states, “If the people would live their religion, there would be no apostasy and we would hear no complaining or fault-finding. If the people were hungry for the words of eternal life, and their whole souls even centered on the building up of the Kingdom of God, every heart and hand would be ready and willing and the work would move forward mightily and we would advance as we should do. … We want to live so as to have the Spirit every day, every hour of the day, every minute of the day, and every Latter-day Saint is entitled to the Spirit of God, to the power of the Holy Ghost, to lead [them] in [their] individual duties.”
Going back to the relevance of the Book of Mormon in our day, please know that whether we observe the Laman and Lemual murmurings or the Korihor/Nehor/Sherem scenarios, we should always believe, hope and pray for Alma the Younger outcomes.
Why? Because everyone is given the opportunity to change. It is never too late. Course corrections happen all the time. Hearts can be softened and changed. When true change happens, there is an increased desire to align our will with His doctrine, and a desire to follow this more than anything or anyone else. Loyalty to the Savior and His doctrine, as well as loyalty to His prophets and apostles can become strong again. Yes, there may still be questions. There will still be situations where our fellow humans in the church let us down (while keeping in mind that we might let them down, too). But we need to move forward and act with faith first.
I want to issue a challenge anyone who has doubts or struggles. I invite you to be careful who you follow. Please avoid those things that invite you to criticize or doubt your faith and encourage dissent. Be wary of that which encourages “acting as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage.” Avoid those groups that proclaim “faithfulness” but in the same breath criticize and undermine the church, our leaders, and doctrine or policies. Instead, make the choice. Choose to spend more time on LDS.org. Study General Conference talks. Read the scriptures. Devote time to sincere prayer. Visit the temple or temple grounds. Serve. Look for the best in your church leaders and fellow ward members. Assume nobility of intent. Channel your time into these resources instead and I promise that you will see the difference. And, please keep remembering that what we know will always trump that which we do not know.