Mingled With ScriptureNote: This article was simultaneously published on Mormon Chronicle under the title Sacred Cow #11: The Church Can't Be Led Astray.
If you are visiting this site then you're probably one of those who are at least vaguely aware that KSL.com doesn't cover all the angles. Perhaps you're interested in alternative view points. Perhaps there's a splinter in your mind. Undoubtedly the LDS church is going through what I think many are now terming the "Google Apostasy." I'm not sure who coined the term but I think it is derived from a fireside involving Church Historian Elder M. K. Jensen held at USU in November 2011. Because I want to keep this short I'll leave it to you to "google" up the transcripts and articles about the issue. On one side of the issue is the concern that we (the church) are loosing many people. On the apologist side they argue that overall this "Google Apostasy" is not a significant problem; nothing to see here, or in other words, un-inquiring minds don't care to know. However the church has already addressed many issues by publishing official, 'authorless' articles on controversial topics such as The Book of Abraham and Race and the Priesthood. These make the news, and many feel that the response puts the issue to rest. "The church responded. It's ok now." On the other hand I can't help but be haunted by statistics I've heard in stake priesthood leadership meeting to get us pumped to work harder. For example I heard that over half of our young single adults were going inactive after finishing high school, at least prior to the missionary age change. Another problem is that 80% of our priesthood holders (AP and MP) have a porn problem. (hearsay from North Utah County.)
Obviously my bias is that all is NOT well in Zion. I do not recommend leaving the church, however regarding those who leave, some go voluntarily; some quietly; some loudly. Some are being cast out (i.e. ex'd). Most who develop differing opinions just fade away and simply go inactive. I mean you no offense if you disagree. I intend to cast light on the problem. I think we are losing good people; even the most interesting and best people. I think it is because we are disinterested in truth and more interested in conformity to men's standards. In spite of warnings in the temple, we have institutionalized the philosophies of men in our scripture. I believe Moroni's words when he states that those who receive his record will "transfigure the holy word of God." (Mormon 8:33) The main philosophy that I wish to address is that God would not allow us to be led astray. This idea gained legs around the time we phased out polygamy and has since progressively become a foundational belief in our church. It contradicts directly the doctrine of Christ and has led members at all levels to build up and become dependent upon hierarchy. We have diminished our need to connect to heaven personally by magnifying the idea that we need to conform to mortal leaders expectations. We believe that if there is anything important we need to know, they will tell us. If we were to repent of these expectations we might be able to break down the walls of the box that limits our progression as we realize that our salvation is dependent upon our personal relationship with God and not membership in a temporary, mortal organization.
Mingled with Scripture
The official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is found in its standard works: The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. This is the church's current official pronouncement on the subject. The idea that the scriptures are the baseline is important because these are works by which the church has collectively voted to be bound. They are to set the standard for our culture and conduct. However we do not necessarily hold these works entirely infallible as evidenced by the eighth article of Faith. As a church we have voted on what we consider to be scripture six times. The last time was in 1978 after the revelation on race and priesthood. The scriptures are invaluable to any individual seeking to find God in reality because they contain a history of God's dealings with many men. These men give us valuable details about the path that leads us individually to Eternal Life. (John 17:3- knowledge of God)
When taking a look at our 'quad' one might conclude that it contains the entire standard works or in other words, the entire canon of LDS scripture. One might conclude that the volume is entirely safe. I disagree. First of all, the 'quad' lacks the doctrine portion of The Doctrine and Covenants. The doctrine is contained in Lectures on Faith which is comprised of information Joseph Smith taught to the School of the Prophets in Kirtland Ohio. If you will pick up a copy of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants you will find the Lectures on Faith under the heading "Theology. Lecture First On the Doctrine of the Church of the Latter Day Saints." The sections that make up part of what we now call The Doctrine and Covenants are under the heading "Covenants and Commandments." The 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was sustained as scripture by a vote of all the various quorums and bodies of the church at the time. Lectures on Faith was removed by a committee in 1921 without a vote of the church.
Secondly the 'quad' contains various study helps which are not scripture. These non-scriptural items are helps such as footnotes, chapter headings, the Topical Guide, the Bible Dictionary, indexes, etc. These items are not scriptural and therefore not official LDS doctrine. They ought to be regarded as the philosophies of men unless ratified by heaven on an individual basis as the seeker of truth receives further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil. Notwithstanding any conclusions you may draw from the foregoing commentary, I feel there are many positive and helpful teachings in the non-scriptural additions to our 'quad.' However every member ought to be admonished to treat them as we regard the apocrypha, and realize their non-doctrinal status. (D&C 91) Remember I'm talking about scripture that we accept as a group. D&C 68 (the first several verses) indicates that the hearer of the word ought to consider oral teachings delivered by the Holy Ghost as scripture also. But that is an individual standard.
Transfiguring the Holy Word
In my opinion, the most significant non-doctrinal addition to our scripture is the section entitled "Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto." It is found mingled between Official Declarations 1 and 2. It was first included with the Doctrine and Covenants in 1981.The key statement in these excerpts is this: "The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God." Official church curriculum and various conference talks also use a quote attributed to Joseph Smith to buttress this idea. It is claimed that he said, "I will give you a key that will never rust, if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray." Aside from being non-scriptural and hence not official doctrine, this statement cannot be sourced any earlier than 1906. It is unlikely that Joseph ever said this. Many earlier statements prove that Joseph was well aware of his and other men's failings. The turn of the century was one of the most difficult times in church history. The church was under extreme pressure due largely to polygamy. It sought statehood and a restoration of its land and financial holdings. After the first manifesto, many members had difficulty accepting the discontinuance of polygamy. Hence these types of statements assured members that their leaders would keep them on the right path. (Please don't construe any of this to believe that I am in favor of polygamy. It's simple history.)
As much as apologists might argue that we don't believe in infallibility, we do in fact believe it. It is not that we believe the men who lead the church are infallible. We just believe they can't lead us astray. So while they may have failings, we believe God would not allow them to do anything that would detour the church or its members from salvation. We openly profess on a weekly basis that following our leaders will result in our salvation. This is a simple logical extrapolation derived from Wilford Woodruff's (and others') comments. We believe that any changes in policy or doctrine (like race and priesthood or polygamy) are simply God updating his instructions for our day. Historically, the record shows that the LDS church did not always believe this way.
If we accept this idea, that God will never permit the President of the Church or the majority of the 12 to lead us astray, then we have a much larger problem than the fact that the concept is not in scripture and we have not voted to be bound by it as a group. The problem is that the idea contradicts with scripture. There are many contradictions in scripture. Some are more stark than others. However this one isn't a minor contradiction. Besides contradicting the historic trends we see in the house of Israel, the idea contradicts the most important doctrine that we hold as Latter Day Saints. If by following a certain man, you cannot be led away from God, then by following that man you can obtain the presence of God. We, the Latter Day Saints, have identified mere mortals that we can follow who will lead us to salvation. This is a significant error.
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6)
"And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness." (Alma 38:9)
"O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name." (2 Nephi 9:41)
"And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen." (2 Nephi 31:21)
Further reference: Mosiah 3:17, Mosiah 5:8, Helaman 5:9, Psalm 62, Moses 6:52, Mosiah 16:13, Mosiah 4:8, Alma 11:40, Mosiah 3:9, Alma 42, 2 Nephi 31-32, etc.
The Doctrine of Christ
One might ask, "What good are prophets then if we can't gain salvation by following them?" We excuse ourselves by insisting that our mortal leaders speak the words of Christ. This demonstrates a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Christ. It demonstrates that we misunderstand the scope of responsibilities of the earthly church. It is far easier to hear the words of a man than to diligently seek a relationship with God. It is pleasing to our carnal minds that it could be that easy. The path to Christ is different for everyone. The prophets are to persuade (D&C 121:39-42) men to embark on this path. The path is not uniform and conforming. This is why we are to be given angels and the Holy Ghost who speak the words of Christ to us directly, without mortal intermediary. We have to receive them to know Him. We must have revelation to be saved.
"Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do." (2 Nephi 32:2-6)
By trusting the messengers the Lord sends us from beyond the veil we progress along the path that leads to Him and Life Eternal (or knowledge of Him). He will ask us to sacrifice so that we can be proven and obtain the testimony of Jesus spoken of in D&C 76. This is when He vouches for us before His Father. (Abraham 3:24-26) This is why Joseph explains that those who profess to simply follow important prophets and even Christ Himself are bound for the Telestial kingdom. He says:
"And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world; For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another--some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant." (D&C 76:98-101)
The role of the church is to teach men and women about the path that leads to Christ, or in other words to help us get on the path that leads to knowledge of God, in the flesh. (D&C 130:1-3, John 14:18,23) Unfortunately in our day we seem to be confusing the ordinances that teach the path with the real thing. (That includes the temple ordinances.) Our exaltation is dependent upon our faithfulness and being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise as stated in D&C 132. We must seek the approval of our Lord or in other words the testimony of Jesus spoken of in D&C 76. The Sixth Lecture on Faith indicates that one does this by offering acceptable sacrifice "and through that offering [they] obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him... Those, then, who make the sacrifice will have the testimony that their course is pleasing in the sight of God, and those who have this testimony will have faith to lay hold on eternal life, and will be enabled, through faith, to endure unto the end, and receive the crown that is laid up for them that love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Lectures on Faith 6:8,10) This is the path to salvation. It "requires more than mere belief, or supposition that [one] is doing the will of God, but actual knowledge...For unless a person does know that he is walking according to the will of God, it would be offering an insult to the dignity of the Creator, were he to say that he would be a partaker of his glory when he should be done with the things of this life. But when he has this knowledge, and most assuredly knows that he is doing the will of God, his confidence can be equally strong that he will be a partaker of the glory of God." (Lectures on Faith 6:5-6)
Our belief that we cannot be led astray by men keeps many from moving along this path. It obscures the path. The doctrine of Christ is that once we enter the gate the leading is to be done by God. The role of the institution itself is diminished. None of what I have written is intended to criticize anyone or anything other than this idea that we cannot be led astray by men. If you think it is directed at anyone other than the reader you are wrong. In the church there are many people trying to do what is right, but sometimes we get things in our head that keep us in a box we shouldn't be in.
So who is apostatizing from what? Who am I to have an opinion? I'm nobody. The doctrine of Christ is living water. People thirst for this. We could rectify all kinds of misconceptions about Joseph Smith and church history by admitting our failings specifically and teaching what he truly taught. "Oh! I beseech you [go] forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure --and if any man preach any other gospel with that which I have preached, he shall be cursed," Some will argue that these are mysteries and ought not be taught openly. I say they are no great mystery and were taught plainly by the prophets including Joseph. (2 Nephi 32:7) Like Moroni, we should seek Christ in reality. The Savior speaks in plain humility as one man speaks to another. (Ether 12:39-41) Were we to teach this it would enliven this people like nothing else. Regardless of any detractors, those who seek God would begin to believe and that is what truly matters.
Perhaps Moroni's words to the people who receive and claim to read his record are the most authoritative.
"Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God... I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing... O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies--because of the praise of the world?" (Mormon 8:33-38)
Those are hard words. As a culture we are much better at pointing out how the scriptures validate us (individually and collectively) than heeding the warnings they contain. Many are left to wonder at our situation. If we ask questions so much the better. Is it not important that we be honest with ourselves? Since the days of Joseph Smith, we have over time mingled the philosophies of men with scripture. We have progressively lost an understanding of and belief in the doctrine of Christ. We must be reborn or in other words repent by turning to God. And we must literally "seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written." (Ether 12:41) For if we do not gain His approval we will not gain the kingdom we seek. (D&C 76:51-52, 71-79, 81-82, 98-101)
This ought to be somewhat disconcerting at first but should soon become a matter of excitement. By so believing, your life will change. If you will ask with real intent, God will manifest Himself to you in undeniable ways. He will guide you on the path that leads to life. But your intent must be real. You must be willing to accept the hard answers and the hard lessons and hear things you don't want to hear. You must believe Him over men and follow His instructions.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
This should be our bedrock. Who cares what other mortals think? What does God think? Anyone who diligently seeks can find out. (D&C 93:1)
1 - https://www.google.com/search?q=jensen+google+apostasy
2 - http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine
3 - http://www.staylds.com/docs/WhatIsOfficialMormonDoctrine.html
4 - For example, as quoted here in a 1994 James E Faust talk: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1994/10/the-keys-that-never-rust?lang=eng the source is "Quoted in Young Woman's Journal, Dec. 1906, p. 543; see also Ensign, June 1994, p. 15."
5 - 12 May 1844 (Sunday Morning). Temple Stand. Thomas Bullock Report - Words of Joseph Smith - Ehat
6 - Guide to the Scriptures - "Repent, Repentance", Bible Dictionary - "Repentance"