To begin, I want to share two stories that you probably already have heard about.
In 1830, Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, possessed a stone through which he claimed to receive revelations about the building of Zion and the order of the Church. Oliver Cowdery, the Whitmers, and others believed these claims. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith said the claims “were entirely at variance with the order of God’s house, as laid down in the New Testament, as well as in our late revelations” (History of the Church, 1:110). The Prophet prayed about the matter and received a revelation in which the Lord made clear that only the President of the Church has the right to receive revelations for the Church (D&C 28). The Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery to tell Hiram Page that the revelations that came through the stone were from Satan (D&C 28:11). After hearing the Lord’s instructions, “Brother Page, as well as the whole Church who were present, renounced the said stone, and all things connected therewith” (History of the Church, 1:115).
Then the second one:
While living in Far West, Missouri, Sister Marsh and Sister Harris decided to exchange milk so they could each make a larger cheese than they otherwise could. They agreed to send each other both the milk and the cream from their cows. But Sister Marsh saved a pint of cream from each cow and sent Sister Harris the milk without the cream. A quarrel arose, and the matter was referred to the bishop. When he determined that Sister Marsh had violated her agreement, she and her husband were upset and appealed the matter to the high council and then to the First Presidency. Each council approved the original decision that Sister Marsh had been in error. Thomas B. Marsh declared that he would sustain the character of his wife. Soon afterward, he turned against the Church and went before a government official to declare that the Latter-day Saints were hostile toward the state of Missouri. (See George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 3:283–84.) President Gordon B. Hinckley said of this incident: “What a very small and trivial thing—a little cream over which two women quarreled. But it led to, or at least was a factor in, Governor Boggs’ cruel exterminating order which drove the Saints from the state of Missouri, with all of the terrible suffering and consequent death that followed. The man who should have settled this little quarrel, but who, rather, pursued it, … lost his standing in the Church. He lost his testimony of the gospel” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 111; or Ensign, May 1984, 83).In talking about avoiding deception and personal apostasy we need to understand that we are constantly being given deceptive messages. 2 Ne 2:18 says,
And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.Then D&C 50:2-3
2 Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
3 And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.
And 2 Ne 2:27:
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.Satan wants us to be miserable, to reject God and Jesus Christ and the true joy they offer. But he is not the only source of deception we have. Self-deception (rationalization or whatever you want to call it) is only partly from Satan, but it goes hand in hand with false ideas.
Look at the two stories from the beginning. Hiram Page not only admitted he was wrong, but he had the entire church witness and accept that he was wrong. That would have been humiliating, but he did it anyway. Then Thomas Marsh had a little matter that he refused to let go, to the point of bringing it to the attention of the whole church. His pride refused to admit error and he left the church.
We have been given rock solid ways to avoid deception, and to identify it when we might be tempted to accept it, but part of the process is being willing to accept God's will and not our own ideas.
To avoid the outside form of deception, we have three rules to follow:
1. The prophet, and only the prophet, speaks for the church.
President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency taught: “The Lord has … appointed one man at a time on the earth to hold the keys of revelation to the entire body of the Church in all its organizations, authorities, ordinances and doctrines. The spirit of revelation is bestowed upon all its members for the benefit and enlightenment of each individual receiving its inspiration, and according to the sphere in which he or she is called to labor. But for the entire Church, he who stands at the head is alone appointed to receive revelations by way of commandment and as the end of controversy” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:270).See also D&C 43:1-3
2. The scriptures will help you know the truth.
President Harold B. Lee taught: “If [someone] writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard Church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, ‘Well, that is his own idea.’ And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 540–41).As we search the scriptures we also grow closer to the Spirit and more able to discern what is right and what is not.
3. The Holy Ghost will tell us, if we are willing to listen. D&C 50:17-24
17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?If our testimony is based on Jesus Christ, that we know the Book of Mormon is true and Joseph Smith is a prophet, all other things in the church are mere addendums and questions about them should not make the truth of the gospel less true. If we do not have a firm faith in Jesus Christ, but base our faith on the church, or a favorite bishop, or our parents, or whatever else is out there, we will fall. Even the church as a whole changes. That is the whole point behind having a prophet lead the church.
18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
20 If it be some other way it is not of God.
21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
There are a lot of subtle ways we can leave ourselves open to manipulation and losing our faith. I'm just going to make a quick list, because I could write long posts on each one of them. If you really want my thoughts on these subjects, ask and I might oblige.
- Being Critical of Leaders
- Being Offended
- Rationalizing Disobedience
- Accepting False Teachings
Elder Carlos E. Asay of the Seventy specified the following things we can do to strengthen ourselves against apostasy:
- Avoid those who would tear down your faith. …
- Keep the commandments. …
- Follow the living prophets. …
- Do not contend or debate over points of doctrine. [See 3 Nephi 11:29.]
- Search the scriptures. …
- Do not be swayed or diverted from the mission of the Church. …
- Pray for your enemies. …
- Practice ‘pure religion.’ [See James 1:27 and Alma 1:30.] …
- Remember that there may be many questions for which we have no answers and that some things have to be accepted simply on faith” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1981, 93–94; or Ensign, Nov. 1981, 67–68).