How To Spot An Apostate

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.

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12 Responses to How To Spot An Apostate

  1. Shore Lady says:

    Has it ever occured to you that some of us wicked apostates just don’t believe the doctrine, and also have decided that we won’t remain members of a wealthy religious corporation which crushes the live blood out of many of its most vulnerable followers? Take the missionaries, for example. What teenage boy can get enough to eat on that paltry monthly allowance? Don’t blame the members for not feeding them. Now they can’t accept a dinner invitation from a member without there being an investigator present. Aah, but LDS Inc. can spend billions of dollars on a shopping mall in SLC, to feed its coffers. What a sick organization! Pardon me now while I go sharpen my horns and claws.

  2. will says:

    John, you said, “In seeking to determine the truth of God, it is a fundamental principle that we should be forever looking for those commonalities, not searching for the contradictions.” I think that sticking with the commonalities is good advice for many people, but I don’t think that this advice should be applied universally.

    In all fields of knowledge, there are people who focus on applying established principles, and others who spend their time exploring the fringes, which requires scrutiny of anomalies and inconsistencies. Without the mainstream, practical folks, society would be unproductive and chaotic. Without the fringe-dwellers, our body of knowledge would be stagnant.

    Consider science. Many people apply classical physics every day to accomplish useful tasks, but 100 years ago, a certain patent clerk obsessed over an inconsistency in classical physics and ended up revolutionizing our understanding of the universe. Where would we be if Einstein had swept this inconsistency under the rug?

    30 years ago, most active LDS simply accepted the priesthood ban, but other members were bothered by the inconsistency between this practice and the character of God. President Kimball was one of them, and he lobbied for change in his prayers. Thank goodness for that courageous man who refused to accept the status quo.

    In summary, I think there is room in this church for people like you, John, and for people who explore the problem areas.

  3. I was only speaking on generalities, and your response seemed to confirm what I was saying. Prophets occasionally disagree on some matters (no specifics). Therefore it isn’t all that bad for us to disagree on SOME matters. Again, sometimes it is where everybody agrees that the error is most likely to lie undetected. I am not speaking about any subject in particular though this does shed light on the nature of what is and is not apostasy.

  4. Rusty says:

    Fine, they don’t disagree about apostasy. We’re all in agreement that apostasy is bad. Don’t apostasize.

    That’s an easy one John.

    How about me and my wife’s decision to use/not use birth control? Well, President Kimball said it’s of the devil. President Hinckley said it’s between me and my wife and the Lord. There are not two truths, remember John? This isn’t some minor quibble with history, this a decision that I have to be making right now that will have a HUGE impact on my and my wife’s lives.

  5. You wrote:
    “It should also be said, that while you probably don’t intend your posts to come off this way, they do occasionally smack of “if you don’t agree with me you are an apostate because you are disagreeing with the prophets whom I am only quoting.” But what about those prophets who disagree with each other?”

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but this last question seems a bit disingenuous to me. When has any prophet ever disagreed on this particular topic? Are we to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Are we to discount what the prophets have said in the five conference talks I cited, and the numerous scriptures that they cited in those talks because they may disagree on some other issue such as evolution or progression among kingdoms of glory?

    Before you can use this line of reasoning, you have to demonstrate that they in fact disagree on this doctrine. It is not logical to discount what they say about apostasy because they are not in complete agreement about everything else. Everything that I have studied seems to indicate that they speak with one voice on this particular topic.

  6. John,

    I figured that you were speaking more about the ex or anti mormon sites more than ours. Rusty only thought this was about him since the timing was a little suspicious. Of course I thought the same exact thing about one of your posts a week or two ago so I know where both of you are coming from.

    It seems that you see your view as “loving the sinner but not the sin” as a manner of speaking. While this might work for loving, it certianly doesn’t work for judging. We can’t judge the sin or the sinner without judging the other as well.

    However, I don’t even think that this is your position exactly. I think that you are laying out certain principles, while not naming any names, though you may be thinking them. This might seem charitable, but it kind of comes off as being a little cowardly.

    It should also be said, that while you probably don’t intend your posts to come off this way, they do occasionally smack of “if you don’t agree with me you are an apostate because you are disagreeing with the prophets whom I am only quoting.” But what about those prophets who disagree with each other? This is another reason why some people find such cases interesting; it lets them know that they can disagree with the prophets, or those that parrot them, with out, apparently, serving the devil.

    I really don’t think that that is how you want to be understood, for I do believe that your intentions are very good. I’m only relaying how your posts can be interpreted at times.

  7. I stand by my original statement that I judge ideas and doctrines rather than people. My “rant” is a reaction to doctrinal conversations that I have had on the Internet with Latter-day Saints since the summer of 1992, not on anything that I have read in the last couple of months since I started reading blogs in April.

  8. Rusty says:

    True there are those mean-spirited individuals who search for inconsistencies so they can destroy the Church, but that’s exactly what I said, they are antis.

    Jeffrey’s metaphor of the house is perfect. When we see rotting beams and leaky pipes we figure there should be something done about it. I’m not out searching for inconsistencies, but when I do see them I try to understand them and reconcile them to my testimony and faith in Jesus Christ (rather than ignore them).

    And I gotta tell ya, you seem to be quick on the judgement (whether people or ideas it doesn’t matter) and slow on the “understanding what they are truly saying/asking”. If you read my fornication post again you’ll see that I wasn’t trying to justify it, I was truly trying to understand it at it’s rawest level, trying to peel back all the layers of culture and tradition that we pile on top of it. I enjoy the blogs because I can wonder those things and get sincere, thoughtful answers, rather than the Sunday School answer of “because God said so”.

  9. “it is a fundamental principle that we should be forever looking for those commonalities”

    Isn’t this a little like saying fifty french men can’t be wrong? It is in the areas that we agree that error can lie unchecked for the longest period. While obviously the inconsistencies are easy to point out, I would not limit the amount of “theory” in the church to those inconsistencies. It was Joseph’s breaking from common belief that we read his most impressive revelations.

    While I would acknowledge prophets who have experienced greater manifestations as higher authorities on the subject which they had revealed to them, this seems to be rather limited. Besides, by your own logic, if a prophet says something which contradicts a fact (not an opinion mind you) then the prophets view has to go by the way side. Truth cannot contradict truth, and fact are definitely truth, while opinions and beliefs, including those of the prophets, are still open to question.

    “is the contradiction real or does it merely seem to be a contradiction.”

    This is true, however our goal should be to really understand the context and intended meaning of each of the seemingly contradictory statements, not to reconcile them at all costs. Unfortunately I see a lot of the latter, and this has lead us even further from the truth than either one of the contradictory prophets originally was in the first place.

    Your use of Moroni 7 borders on “whatever I like and makes me happy is true.” Under this logic santa claus must be true and so on. Perhaps you could explain the difference between this and your intended meaning.

    They rarely disagree because they inherit their beliefs from one another. They are part of the same religion. Their beliefs, which may or may not be true, have an awful lot in common. Far more often a prophets source of a belief is either another prophet, or his teachers who were taught it by somebody else and so on.

    “It is my strong conviction that those who focus on disagreement among the prophets, rather than agreement, are motivated by a desire to discount and ignore their counsel.”

    That’s like saying that people who focus on the ugly part of their house so as to fix it are only trying to ruin their entire house. People focus on the disagreements because that is where improvement is possible and sometimes needed.

    “As to whether or not my post is directed at people like you, I have no way of knowing. I don’t judge people. I judge ideas and doctrines against the standard of the scripture and modern prophets.”

    C’mon John. Clearly certian things were said, obviously be somebody, which inspired your rants. You already came out against Rusty and I have no doubt that you throw me in with him on this matter as well. It might be a little more believable that you were only judging beliefs and not people if you hadn’t accused people who preach such things of serving the devil just a sentence or two prior to that. You then go on to call some of them, not their ideas, devilish and apostate. Am I serving the devil when I preach these things you disagree with or not? I don’t mind either way, just as long as we are honest with ourselves and each other.

  10. Of course there are inconsistencies, but there are also consistencies or commonalities. In seeking to determine the truth of God, it is a fundamental principle that we should be forever looking for those commonalities, not searching for the contradictions. If the prophets are what the scriptures teach they are, then they are the most reliable source of information that we have about what sort of being God is, and how he thinks. And whatever all the prophets teach in common about God is more likely to be true than what can be learned from any other source including our own uninspired reason and logic.

    Truth, whatever it is, does not contradict itself. Therefore, in those rare situations where the prophets contradict each other, either one of them or both of them must be wrong. They cannot both be right. Therefore when encountering such a constradiction, one ought to ask himself two questions: One, is the contradiction real or does it merely seem to be a contradiction. Sometimes that which seems to be a contradiction is the result of misundertanding on ones own part. Two, are either of the opinions true, and if so, which one? The easiest way to judge between two ideas presented by true prophets that actually do contradict, is to apply the Moroni Seven Rule from Moroni 7:16-17 which states:

    16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

    17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

    Although true prophets are human and thus fallible, it is a fact of heaven that they rarely disagree. On the vast majority of issues they are agreed because they get their understanding of the truth from the same Source which is God. And the Lord has provided a way to decide between two contradicting prophetic opinions in those rare instances. It requires the obtaining of personal revelation from this Spirit of Christ mentioned by Moroni that is given to every man.

    It is my strong conviction that those who focus on disagreement among the prophets, rather than agreement, are motivated by a desire to discount and ignore their counsel. And of course those who reject the prophets are rejecting Jesus Christ who sent them. Thus they are serving the devil whether they know it or not.

    As to whether or not my post is directed at people like you, I have no way of knowing. I don’t judge people. I judge ideas and doctrines against the standard of the scripture and modern prophets.

    As for your claim that “those within the faith that have issues with leadership” don’t do so with a mean spirit. I know for a fact that you are wrong. Many of them do have a mean spirit. I know this because over the years I have seen a number of them “out” themselves as despisers of the Brethren. And I have lurked forums for ex-Mormons where some claim they have remained active in the Church for the purpose of converting believers to their anti-Mormon views including the view that the Brethren are deliberate liars, that Joseph Smith lied about his First Vision, and that the Book of Mormon is a work of 19th century fiction. I also have the testimony of the Savior and the modern prophets themselves that such members exist witnin the Church.

    For active Mormons to so deceive is clearly mean spirited. In fact, it is far worse than merely mean spirited. It is devilish. It is apostate.

  11. Rusty says:

    John,
    You made a comment on another blog (not mine) suggesting that a post I wrote about fornication was a false philosophy. I can’t help to wonder if this/your post is directed at people like me.

    As someone who finds prophetic inconsistencies interesting, I’m not a physical manifestation of your hyperbole. Your term “Spirit of Criticism” can only be truly applied to antis. I don’t think that those within the faith that have issues with leadership do so with a mean spirit, I think they just don’t know what to do with certian inconsitencies. Jeffery is right, this is not a black and white, you’re either with us or against us kind of an issue. It’s hard to know what to do when there ARE so many inconsistencies.

  12. Its not so simple. The dilema is better phrased as such:

    If we pit our theories which are based on sound reasoning and lots of factual evidence, against our theories about what God knows, which should win out?

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