What Does the Church Teach About Personal Apostasy?

June 30, 2005

Ever since I started networking online with other Latter-day Saints in the summer of 1992, I have been dismayed by the number of seemingly active saints who are in various stages of personal apostasy. Apparently, there are many who actively attend Church but do not feel it is necessary to follow the prophets, or at least they do not feel a need to hold the same “personal opinions.” When a Church leader says something in General Conference that they agree with, they call it revelation. But when they hear something they disagree with, they call it “personal opinion.” This feeling that we do not need to follow our prophet-leaders in matters of opinion and ideas is a form of personal apostasy, in my view. But that is just my opinion. What does the Church actually teach on the subject?

In True to the Faith we read:

When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy….We now live in a time when the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. But unlike the Church in times past, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not be overcome by general apostasy. The scriptures teach that the Church will never again be destroyed (see D&C 138:44; see also Daniel 2:44).

Although there will not be another general apostasy from the truth, we must each guard against personal apostasy. You can safeguard yourself against personal apostasy by keeping your covenants, obeying the commandments, following Church leaders, partaking of the sacrament, and constantly strengthening your testimony through daily scripture study, prayer, and service.

The Church also teaches the following about personal apostasy from it’s Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood manual on the teachings of Brigham Young. In fact, it devotes a whole lesson on the subject. Among other things, Brigham Young taught:

When a man 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. Every man in this Kingdom, or upon the face of the earth, who is seeking with all his heart to save himself, has as much to do as he can conveniently attend to, without calling in question that which does not belong to him. If he succeeds in saving himself, it has well occupied his time and attention. See to it that you are right yourselves; see that sins and folly do not manifest themselves with the rising sun (DBY, 83).[…]

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? (DBY, 86).

It is part of my testimony that we should daily strive not only to follow the Brethren in our actions, but also in our speech, writing, and even our thoughts and opinions. When we hear something that we disagree with, we ought to wonder what is wrong with our own opinion, how we should adjust our own thinking. Certainly our prophet-leaders are not infallible. They make mistakes. They have incorrect or untrue opinions from time to time. But with it all, they are very wise men. And their opinions are informed ones. Informed by what? Informed by the Holy Ghost, just as ours should be, and informed by constant conversation with other prophets of God. Therefore, when they are wrong, it is the exception rather than the rule. And when we disagree with them, we had better have a very good reason, or we will likely discover some day that the error was with us and not with them. Our default position should be one of agreement with the Brethren.

True to the Faith

June 30, 2005

True to the Faith is an official and correlated manual published by the First Presidency of the Church for introducing the youth, young adults, and new converts to some of the most basic teachings of our faith. It is organized alphabetically by topic in much the same way that Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie is, but it does not include the voluminous personal opinion and controversial material that McConkie’s work does. It is a new book, little larger than a pamphlet, that just came out last year. And it looks to be a valuable resource for those who want to separate true doctrine from false doctrine and from mere speculation.

On the Privilege of Attending Church Meetings

June 30, 2005

Occasionally we hear Latter-day Saints complain about the quality of our Church meetings. I have done it myself. Often the complaint is that the meetings are boring, or that they are mostly repetition, that there is nothing “new” to be learned. Here is a good editorial on the topic, and the part I enjoyed most was the following from President Spencer W. Kimball:

“We do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even simply to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord.”

I testify that if I did not attend my Church meetings, I would be among the most sinful of telestial spirits in mortality. It is only through being constantly reminded in weekly Church meetings, especially the Sacrament service, that I do anything else for my eternal welfare. I know this from personal experimentation and sad experience. It is indeed a great privilege to attend weekly church meetings; and ultimately, it is the root of all the joy in my life.

Wolves Enter Into the Flock

June 27, 2005

This is a scripture that continues to bother me. How can we protect our families from those in the Church who would bring them down by teaching false doctrine, and encouraging them to dismiss lightly the teachings of our prophets? What is the eternal principle embodied in this scripture? And how do we implement it as a Church in our lives. I am referring to the following passage from the 57th chapter of Alma:

57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.

59 For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.

60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.

On a related note, yesterday in Gospel Doctrine class, someone repeated the teaching, “Be in the world, and not of the world.” I have heard this teaching throughout the forty-three years I’ve been a member of the Church, but where did it originate? I have been unable to find it in the scriptures. What does it mean? Is it true doctrine? How are we supposed to implement it in our lives? How can we be in the world and not of the world? It has been my observation that altogether too many saints have been unable to do this. I certainly haven’t. The more in the world I become, the more worldly I become.

For an example, I watch cable television because I am a news junkie. And for the same reasons that I don’t watch R-rated movies, and I subscribe to Clean Films movies by mail, I block certain cable channels such as MTV, VH1, and the Entertainment Channel. I avoid reality “dating” shows, and reality shows in general. I don’t subscribe to premium movie services such as HBO and Showtime. Mostly I just watch the History channel, the Sci-Fi channel, the several New York Times documentary channels, and the many news channels such as MSNBC, CNN, CNN Headlines, and Fox News. But much to my dismay, I still get a lot of R-rated content from the commercials on these channels. What is a person to do? Just quit watching television altogether? Living in the roadless wilderness of Alaska as I do, I suppose I could just move out of Ketchikan into the nearby rainforest, build a little cabin, and live without electricity or indoor plumbing as many folks around here do. Reading by oil lamp without television or Internet access is certainly a possibility. But do we need to be so drastic?

So I am curious. What does it mean to live in the world but not be “of” the world? And how can we protect our families from wolves among the sheep who teach false doctrine, and encourage our children to stray from following the prophets?

Casting Pearls Before Swine

June 25, 2005

I was just reading an entry and comments on this subject at the Millennial Star, and I had a question. The Savior said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6) Is this a commandment or a suggestion?

As we all know, there are only four kinds of sentences: Declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory. Which kind of sentence is the Savior’s counsel to avoiding casting pearls before swine? I don’t think there can be any argument that it is an imperative sentence. And that makes it a command by the definition of an imperative sentence. So this is one of the Savior’s commandments that we have covenanted to keep. How important is it? I suggest that all of the Savior’s commandments are important. Therefore, we ought to obey this one with the same diligence we keep the others, the Word of Wisdom for an example.

Are there any “swine?” If so, who are they? Should we judge? If not, what was the point of the Savior giving us this commandment? Why was the Savior so judgmental in calling some people swine? If we are to follow the Savior in all things, are we to follow him in being judgmental like this? I think these are interesting questions that deserve pondering, especially by those of us who blog.

As More Children Use Blogs, Parents Struggle with Rules

June 24, 2005

This Associated Press story reports the problems that some parents are having with their children blogging, and the importance of setting rules for appropriate use of the Internet.

As Latter-day Saints we should follow prophetic counsel on child rearing and Internet usage. Just last October President Hinckley spoke at some length in General Conference about the dangers to all of us, especially children, on the Internet. Among other things he said:

This is not the only letter I have received. There have been enough that I am convinced this is a very serious problem even among us. It arises from many sources and expresses itself in a variety of ways. Now it is compounded by the Internet. That Internet is available not only to adults but also to young people.I recently read that pornography has become a $57 billion industry worldwide. Twelve billion of this is derived in the United States by evil and “conspiring men” (See D&C 89:4) who seek riches at the expense of the gullible. It is reported that it produces more revenue in the United States than the “combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises or the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC” (Internet Pornography Statistics: 2003).

It robs the workplace of the time and talents of employees. “20% of men admit accessing pornography at work. 13% of women [do so]. … 10% of adults admit having internet sexual addiction” (Internet Pornography Statistics: 2003). That is their admission, but actually the number may be much higher.

The National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families states that “approximately 40 million people in the United States are sexually involved with the Internet. …

“One in five children ages 10-17 [has] received a sexual solicitation over the Internet. …

“Three million of the visitors to adult websites in September 2000 were age 17 or younger. …

“Sex is the number 1 topic searched on the Internet” (Current Statistics).

I might go on, but you, too, know enough of the seriousness of the problem. Suffice it to say that all who are involved become victims. Children are exploited, and their lives are severely damaged. The minds of youth become warped with false concepts. Continued exposure leads to addiction that is almost impossible to break. Men, so very many, find they cannot leave it alone. Their energies and their interests are consumed in their dead-end pursuit of this raw and sleazy fare.

The excuse is given that it is hard to avoid, that it is right at our fingertips and there is no escape.

Suppose a storm is raging and the winds howl and the snow swirls about you. You find yourself unable to stop it. But you can dress properly and seek shelter, and the storm will have no effect upon you.

Likewise, even though the Internet is saturated with sleazy material, you do not have to watch it. You can retreat to the shelter of the gospel and its teaching of cleanliness and virtue and purity of life.

I know that I am speaking directly and plainly. I do so because the Internet has made pornography more widely accessible, adding to what is available on DVDs and videos, on television and magazine stands. It leads to fantasies that are destructive of self-respect. It leads to illicit relationships, often to disease, and to abusive criminal activity.

Public awareness of blogging is greater today than it was last October. And it is reasonable to assume that dangerous material will be as prevalent among blogs as on other websites. Many children are blogging, and parents need to closely supervise them to make sure they aren’t getting into serious trouble.

My children are now grown, and have left home. So I no longer have a responsibility to supervise their use of the Internet. But if I had life to live over, I would do some things differently in my own home for the protection of my children. The Internet is a marvelous tool, but it can be used for evil as well as good. And our children are more vulnerable than we think.

What is Folk Doctrine?

June 21, 2005

Something that has always confused me in online discussions of LDS doctrine is the term “folk doctrine.” Apparently there are saints that think in terms of folk doctrine vs. “official” Church doctrine. On the other hand, I think in terms of true doctrine vs. false doctrine. How often do we hear our prophet-leaders talking about so-called folk doctrine? For that matter, how often do we here them making a distinction between “official” and any other kind of doctrine? Not very often, I don’t believe.

Recently I read something something by Elder Gerald N. Lund in the February 1982 issue of the Ensign. He wrote in answer to a question about President Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet about God having once been a man:

To my knowledge there has been no “official” pronouncement by the First Presidency declaring that President Snow’s couplet is to be accepted as doctrine. But that is not a valid criteria for determining whether or not it is doctrine.Generally, the First Presidency issues official doctrinal declarations when there is a general misunderstanding of the doctrine on the part of many people. Therefore, the Church teaches many principles which are accepted as doctrines but which the First Presidency has seen no need to declare in an official pronouncement. This particular doctrine has been taught not only by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, but also by others of the Brethren before and since that time.

That pretty much sums up my feelings about folk doctrine. A doctrine or teaching is not false just because there is no “official” pronouncement on the matter. And there are undoubtedly many folk doctrines that are also true doctrines. False doctrine, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. False doctrine needs to be proclaimed against. Those who promulgate false doctrine need to be lovingly corrected. Our living prophets do, in fact, frequently proclaim against false doctrine and false teachers. Elder Ballard spoke on this interesting topic in a recent General Conference.

Perhaps the most important sermon ever given to the Church in this dispensation, The King Follett Discourse, was Joseph Smith himself proclaiming against false doctrine and false teachers. Yet this sermon has never been canonized. It is not in our standard works. Does that make it folk doctrine or false doctrine? I don’t think so.

So whenever I hear a person ridiculing folk doctrine, I just assume he means a doctrine he doesn’t agree with. If it was a false doctrine, he would call it that. At lease that is my assumption.