What Does the Church Teach About Personal Apostasy?

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.

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7 Responses to What Does the Church Teach About Personal Apostasy?

  1. I don’t know. I suspect that I have, but I am not a mind reader. I don’t like to make that kind of judgement about an individual. I would much rather stick to considering doctrines and principles. It is a fact that many online saints who claim to be “active” or “good Mormons” voice opinions in direct contradiction to Church teachings. But only God knows their hearts. I certainly don’t.

  2. will says:

    John, I agree that there are a lot of members who disagree with our leaders on various subjects. But you said in a post above that we shouldn’t start out with the assumption that our prophet-leaders are teaching something that is false. I’m just wondering if you’ve actually encountered anyone who does that.

  3. Will,

    I can’t really say for sure because I have no way of knowing which online saints are active and which are not. I do know that I have met many, primarily on the Mormon-L email discussion list, who claim to be active who seem to take issue with many and perhaps most of the opinions of our leaders. There is a very strong spirit of apostasy on that list, and I have noticed much of the same elsewhere on the Internet presumably among those who attend Church but don’t agree with the prophets about the Proclamation on the Family, abortion, birth control, gay marriage, the teaching that we should “follow the Brethren,” earrings, tattoos, men wearing white shirts to pass the Sacrament, the BYU honor and dress code, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the reliability of personal revelation, viewing R-rated movies, the actuality of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, the legitimacy of so-called “faith promoting history,” the existence of marriage beyond the grave only among those married in the temple, and a whole host of other issues where their opinions defer from the teachings of the our prophet-leaders.

    Now granted, some of these saints may only be masquerading as active members of the Church. But over the years, I have come to understand that a great many of them are active for social or cultural reasons, but do not believe many of the Church teachings. In other words, they go to Church, but they keep their opinions to themselves because they would not be well received at Church. They feel free to voice those opinions on the Internet, however.

    Such active but doubting saints frequently wring their hands about so-called “blind obedience,” which they assume is a lot more prevalent than I do. I assume that most obedience in the Church is inspired rather than blind obedience.

  4. will says:

    JWR, how many active LDS posters have you encountered that start out with the assumption that our leaders’ words are false?

  5. John, we seek personal revelation confirming what we are told by our prophets not because they are likely to be wrong, but so that the truth may be established by two or more witnesses. We should not start out with the assumption that our prophet-leaders are teaching something that is false. But we should nevertheless get our own personal witness that they are teaching something that is true.

    Dave, if we start out with the assumption that our leaders are giving us poor advice or asking us to do something uninspired, then we are not nearly as likely to follow them even when it would please the Lord for us to do so. In order to receive confirming revelation for anything, our hearts and minds have to be open. We have to ask “in faith,” believing that we will receive. How can we ask in faith if we begin with the default position that our leaders are leading us amiss? And obviously, if we do not ask in faith, we will receive no confirming revelation even if the request or counsel from our priesthood leader is directly from God.

  6. Dave says:

    It seems like you should be making a distinction between accepting or believing everything they say (a standard even Joseph Smith rejected) and the more modest position of simply following directives about what to do in terms of personal conduct and service in the Church.

  7. John C. says:

    John,
    Why have Brigham Young and other prophetic leaders asked us to seek confirmation of what they say?

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