Mormons who use the Internet are constantly exposed to spiritual dangers such as pornography, anti-Mormon propaganda, false doctrine, and false philosophies. Some of this material is very well written, subtle and persuasive. Some of these false teachers are openly anti-Mormon, often atheists and some Evangelical Christians. But there are others who hide their true intent. Some even pose as faithful members of the Church in order to deceive. Fortunately, the Savior has provided us with effective ways to protect ourselves. Personal revelation combined with counsel from the scriptures and the living prophets make it possible for us to spot these false teachers.
Here is a wonderful talk by Elder M. Russel Ballard called “Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers.” He writes:
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).[…]
False prophets and false teachers are those who declare that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a duplicitous deceiver; they challenge the First Vision as an authentic experience. They declare that the Book of Mormon and other canonical works are not ancient records of scripture. They also attempt to redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they deny that God has given and continues to give revelation today to His ordained and sustained prophets.
Elder Ballard also reviews many of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul about false doctrine that will be taught in the last days. Here on the Internet we are seeing these prophecies being fulfilled before our eyes.
In another Conference address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks talks about “Alternate Voices” that we hear in Church, in unofficial publications targeted to a Mormon audience, and here on the Internet. He observes:
Some alternate voices are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion. Their efforts fit within the Lord’s teaching that his servants should not have to be commanded in all things, but “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.)[…]
Some alternate voices are of those whose avowed or secret object is to deceive and devour the flock. The Good Shepherd warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15; see also 3 Ne. 14:15.) In both the Bible and the Book of Mormon the Savior charged his shepherds to watch over and protect the flock from such wolves. (See Acts 20:28–29; Alma 5:59.)
There have always been alternate voices whose purpose or effect is to deceive. Their existence is part of the Plan. The prophet Lehi taught that there “must needs be … an opposition in all things.” (2 Ne. 2:11; italics added.) And there have always been other alternate voices whose purpose or effect is unselfish and wholesome.
In most instances, alternate voices are heard in the same kinds of communications the Church uses to perform its mission. The Church has magazines and other official publications, a newspaper supplement, letters from Church leaders, general conferences, and regular meetings and conferences in local units. Similarly, alternate voices are heard in magazines, journals, and newspapers and at lectures, symposia, and conferences.
He goes on to point out that the Church does not try to isolate its members from these alternate voices, but that it teaches correct principles so that the members can choose for themselves between truth and falsehood.
What are some of those correct principles? Here are several of them.
First, each member should continually ask himself, “How does this opinion square with what is taught in the scriptures and by the living prophets?” False doctrine and false philosophy will always contradict the truth of God as taught by his chosen prophets. Sometimes the contradiction is subtle, and it will take mental effort to discern it; but if the teaching is false, it will always contradict true doctrine. Of course, this method of discernment only works if one knows the scriptures and the teachings of the modern prophets. That is why it is so important to gain gospel knowledge by searching the scriptures daily and carefully listening to the counsel of our Church leaders.
Second, we must continually seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost so that we can receive personal revelation. We do this by daily repenting of our sins, and doing our best to keep all of the commandments. Only by receiving frequent personal revelation is it possible for us to think clearly about the things of God. We won’t even know when a doctrine or philosophy contradicts the scriptures and the prophets unless we receive personal revelation.
Third, listen for a “spirit of criticism” towards our Church leaders. While many who teach false doctrine do so out of ignorance, others know that their opinions are at odds with the Brethren. This often manifests itself in a critical attitude towards them. They look for mistakes and errors. And since our Church leaders are human beings and fallible, they make mistakes like anyone else. But those who have embraced false ideas and promote them on the Internet, seem to enjoy shining a light on their every failure and misstatement. They go over all their talks and writings with a fine toothed comb looking for something they can find fault with. They ignore the good our leaders do, and the correct things they say, then jump on any evidence they can find that is embarrasing to them. They especially like to dig through Church history books looking for evidence against them. A careful study of the scriptures will reveal that this “spirit of criticism” is a sure sign of personal apostasy. Satan hates Jesus Christ and his prophets. He hates the truth. And those who follow Satan in mortality, wittingly or unwittingly, also hate the truth. And as a consequence, they are offended by true prophets because of the truth they teach. And this is revealed in their attitude towards the Brethren. True disciples of Jesus Christ love the Brethren, and find joy in following them as the chosen shepherds they are. While those possessing a spirit of criticism are often the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” spoken of by the Savior in Matt. 7:15.
Other fine talks on false doctrine are found here, here and here.
Our Savior loves us. We don’t have to stumble around in the dark. It is possible to learn true doctrine and recognize false doctrine when we encounter it on the Internet. Because of the widespread availability of information on the Internet it is easier than ever before to learn the truth about God and our relationship with him. But there is also a lot of inaccurate and false information floating around. False doctrine and the false “precepts of men” are being taught online, too. But if we judge all the opinions we hear by comparing them with the scriptures and the prophets, if we seek and receive personal revelation by keeping the commandments, and if we are alert and listen carefully for that “spirit of criticism” toward the Brethren that characterizes the enemies of Christ, there is very little chance that we will be led astray and deceived into believing that which is false to be true, that which is bad to be good, or that which is wrong to be right.
I hope that no one loses his testimony on the Internet. It doesn’t have to happen.