INTRODUCTION: Consider the following phrases:
A cup of milk; a misspelled name; no available seating at the Kirtland Temple dedication.
What do you suppose these phrases have in common? In fact, they are all excuses that people cited when they apostatized from the Church. How do you feel about the value of such things as an excuse for leaving the Church?
The phrases above and the stories that go with them will be explained later in lesson.
1. WE SHOULD RECOGNIZE THE DECEPTIONS OF SATAN THAT LEAD US INTO APOSTASY.
Turn to D&C 50:2-3. What activity are the false spirits engaged in here?
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. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.
Why does Satan want to deceive us? Consider what the phrase “overthrow you” means in these verses. What implications do these verses have for individual members?
One instance of members being deceived by Satan is found in D&C 28. Hiram Page, a member of the Church and one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, had a stone and professed to be receiving revelations for the Church by its aid. Several members had been deceived by his claims, including Oliver Cowdery, to whom this revelation is directed. What was Oliver directed to tell Hiram Page about his “revelations”? (D&C 28:11) Why was it inappropriate for Hiram Page to receive revelations for the Church? (D&C 28:12)
In D&C 43, the Lord again speaks to the elders of the Church about this matter because of disturbances caused by people making false claims as revelators. The Lord here gave important instructions to the Church. What was his purpose in giving these instructions? “And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me” (D&C 43:6).
What had happened to cause the Lord to speak of this problem again in D&C 50:7? “Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed.”
Satan has great power and a terrifying desire to “overthrow” us and thereby make us miserable. (See 2 Nephi 2:18, 27) In 2 Corinthians 11:13, Paul wrote of those who were “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” He also indicated that we should not be surprised at such things for Satan has great power. What particular Satanic power does Paul mention in 2 Corinthians 11:14? (He can transform himself Ainto an angel of light.”) Read and consider D&C 128:20. Where did the event mentioned by Paul take place in this dispensation? (On the banks of the Susquehanna river)
2. WE CAN REMAIN VALIANT IN OUR TESTIMONIES AND AVOID DECEPTION.
The adversary has always been willing and able to use any means at his disposal to lead the disciples of the Lord astray. Consider the stories below:
THOMAS MARSH, PRESIDENT OF THE QUORUM OF THE TWELVE
The wife of Thomas B. Marsh . . . and Sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese. . . . It was agreed that the milk and strippings should all go together. . . . Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow.
A quarrel arose and the matter was referred to the home teachers. They found Mrs. Marsh guilty of failing to keep her agreement. She and her husband were upset and an appeal was taken from the teacher to the bishop, and a regular Church trial was held. . . they [the bishop’s court] decided that . . . the woman had violated her covenant.
Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council . . . Not being satisfied [with their decision], he took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.
Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it. . . . And what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the “Mormons” were hostile to the state of Missouri.
That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering and the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, C.R., April 1984, pp.110-1; citations from Journal of Discourses, 3:283-4)
President Hinckley said the story of the apostasy of Thomas Marsh “is worth telling to illustrate to all of us the need to be careful in dealing with small matters which can lead to great consequences” (C.R. April 1984, p. 110).
The initial point of Ryder’s apostasy is . . . interesting. It appears that sometime after his baptism he was ordained an elder of the Church (Far West Record, p. 4); and somewhat later he was informed by a communication signed by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon that it was the will of the Lord made known by the Spirit that he should preach the gospel. Both in the letter he received and in the official commission to preach, however, his name was spelled R-i-d-e-r, instead of R-y-d-e-r. It is soberly stated in the History of Disciples on the Western Reserve, that he thought if the “Spirit” through which he had been called to preach could err in the matter of spelling his name, it might have erred in calling him to the ministry as well; or, in other words, he was led to doubt if he were called at all by the spirit of God, because of the error in spelling his name! (History of the Church, 1, p. 261, note)
Simonds Ryder thereafter apostatized from the Church. I have been told that Mr. Ryder’s name is spelled wrong still on his tombstone.
When the [Kirtland] Temple was completed, there was a great manifestation of power. The brethren gathered together to its dedication. We considered it a very large building. Some nine hundred and sixty could be seated, and there would be room for a few to stand, the congregation had swelled to a little over a thousand persons . . . not all could get in; and when the house was full, then, of course, the doors were closed, and no more admitted. This caused Elder Frazier Eaton, who had paid seven hundred dollars towards building the house, to apostatize, because he did not get there early enough to the meeting. (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 11:09)
These stories are a tiny sample of many that are available describing the apostasy of members of the Church who have been deceived. Ponder these accounts and identify the attitudes and weaknesses that enabled Satan to deceive these people.
An official statement of the First Presidency addressed this problem:
From the days of Hiram Page . . . at different periods, there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to the men and women who because of transgression became an easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits. (Improvement Era, September 1913, pp. 1148-9)
In our own day the prophets continue to warn us about attitudes that will lead us away from the safety of our covenants and our prophetic leadership. President Lee warned,
There are those in the Church who speak of themselves as liberals who, as one of our former presidents has said, “read by the lamp of their own conceit.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 373) One time I asked one of our Church educational leaders how he would define a liberal in the Church. He answered in one sentence: “A liberal in the Church is merely one who does not have a testimony.” (Ensign, June 1971, p. 7)
The experience of the Church in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois teaches us that the worst enemies of the Church are those who once belonged, then turned against it. Joseph Smith commented on the increased danger of opposition from one who belongs to the Church and then opposes it. He said,
I am exposed to far greater dangers from traitors among ourselves than from enemies without, although my life has been sought for many years by the civil and military authorities, priests and people of Missouri . . . I have had pretended friends betray me. All the enemies on the face of the earth may roar and exert all their power to bring about my death, but they can accomplish nothing, unless some who are among us and enjoy our society, have been with us in our councils, participated in our confidence, taken us by the hand, called us brother, saluted us with a kiss, join with our enemies, turn our virtues into faults, and, by falsehood and deceit, stir up their wrath and indignation against us, and bring their vengeance upon our heads. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, VI, 152)
We must be constantly attentive to the counsel of those whom the Lord has placed over us to guide us along the straight and narrow path. What kinds of challenges or deceptions have caused people to leave the Church in our own day?
The revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and those received through living prophets give us sufficient information and direction to avoid deception and apostasy:
a. Practice the Law of Common Consent
The Lord gave the Law of Common Consent in D&C 26:2. The term common consent refers to the practice in the Church by which all actions must be approved by the vote of those who will be affected. The vote is sustaining in nature, not nominating. The proposals are made by the leaders, under the influence of the Spirit. Members affected by those proposals signify their willingness to be so led through the use of common consent.
There are at least two major purposes for this requirement that all things be done by the vote or the voice of the Church. First, our sustaining vote makes us accountable for our actions with regard to our leaders and their counsel.
A second purpose for this order of things in the true Church has to do with the opportunity it presents to Church members to know those who are called to preside and administer in the affairs of the Church. It is important for members to know who is leading them. Every six months, we even see all their faces in the Ensign.
b. Know the order of the Church
From time to time, members of the Church, or former members, have made claims of secret revelations or secret ordinations. What is wrong with these claims? What principle does the Lord emphasize in D&C 28:2 regarding this matter? Who is to receive revelations and commandments for the Church? What does the Lord say to anyone who attempts to give direction to the man who presides in this Church? (D&C 28:6)
Joseph Smith said that “it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority higher than themselves” (History of the Church, 1:138).
What law does the Lord give concerning this matter in D&C 43:5? In D&C 43:7, we learn that people who preside and teach in this Church must receive authority to do those things in the way the Lord has revealed. It is critical to remember that when the Lord has a covenant people, he will speak from the pulpit rather than in secret.
c. Be familiar with the scriptures and know the doctrine.
Many times the Lord has directed his people to study the scriptures. What can the scriptures help us learn? (D&C 11:16) For what purpose are the scriptures given? (D&C 33:16)
In D&C 50, the Lord gives important instructions about how to recognize teachings that are not from him. Read D&C 50:17-24. In addition, teachings in the Church must conform to the doctrine and standards of the Church. Elder Harold B. Lee explained,
I don’t care what his position is. 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 exceptionByou 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, regardless of the position of the man who says it. (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Address to Seminary and Institute Personnel, BYU, 8 July 1964)
d. Be obedient and do your duty so that the Spirit can guide and direct you.
Read D&C 59. What warning does the Lord give to help us avoid deception? The following quote was given by Elder Heber J. Grant:
There is but one path of safety to the Latter-day Saints, and that is the path of duty. It is not a testimony, it is not marvelous manifestations, it is not knowing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true; that it is the plan of Salvation. It is not actually knowing that the Savior is the Redeemer, and that Joseph Smith was his prophet that will save you and me; but it is the keeping of the commandments of God, the living the life of a Latter-day Saint. (C.R., April 1915, p. 82)
Turn to D&C 6:34: “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.” If we want to be safe from the efforts of Lucifer and his followers to deceive and to overthrow us, we must build our lives on the rock of Jesus Christ.