Saturday, March 5, 2016

Doctrinal Discernment: How to tell true doctrine from false

Editor's note: This is the 6th in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the first post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determinining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            With a world and an internet filled with deceivers, false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing, dissidents, extremists, activists, atheists, fundamentalist cultists, doubters, and on and on, it behooves us to learn to discern between true and false doctrine/teachings. Even some well-meaning members of the Church, sometimes with worldly-impressive educational backgrounds and positions, can teach things that might lead us astray. President Hinckley warned, “Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods.”

The spiritual gift of discernment in doctrinal matters becomes increasingly important to develop. Many have let go of the iron rod, are wandering around in mists of darkness, and are ignoring Isaiah’s warning not to confuse evil with good and good with evil (Isaiah 5:20; see also 21, 23-25; and 2 Nephi 15:20-25).

Despite all that the Church has done to educate its members about deceivers, some of the very elect are still being deceived. However, even with all that Satan is doing in the earth, we don’t have to take it lying down; prophets and apostles and righteous men and women are now and have long been doing all they can to move forward and “hasten the work”; all while we watch the signs tell us that we grow ever nearer to the time of the Second Coming of our Lord. The teachings of prophets and apostles on this subject become more necessary than ever to know and apply:

Joseph F. Smith:

When you hear people, who profess to be Latter-day Saints, running off on tangents, on foolish notions and one-horse, cranky ideas, things that are obviously opposed to reason and to good sense, opposed to principles of righteousness and to the word of the Lord that has been revealed to men, you should know at once that they have not studied the principles of the gospel, and do not know very much about the gospel. When people understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will see them walking straightforward, according to the word of the Lord and the law of God, strictly in accordance with that which is consistent, just, righteous, and in every sense acceptable to the Lord who only accepts of that which is right and pleasing in his sight; for only that which is right is pleasing unto him.—Improvement Era, Vol. 14, 1910, p. 72. (Gospel Doctrine, comp., John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 114.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            There is nothing about the Church, there is no doctrine, no procedure or no ordinance, no law or principle, that is not in complete harmony with the scriptures and with reason. We can establish that everything we have is reasonable and scriptural and that we are in whole accord with the identical Church of Christ that was set up two thousand years ago. But after we have done that, and after we have put our houses in order and have harmonized our lives with the doctrines that have been revealed, then we are entitled to know that this is the Lord’s kingdom and to know it as a matter of faith and testimony, as a matter of feeling and revelation. Once we get that in our hearts we enter into the rest of the Lord and are not driven about by every wind of doctrine or by the cunning craftiness of men. (Conference Report, October 1947, 62.)

Joseph Smith:

            This…is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know that it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more. (History of The Church, 7 vols. 6:312; Cited in Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith's Teachings, ed. Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 198.)

Joseph Fielding Smith:

            I remember one man when I was in the mission field, who said: “When I was confirmed they promised me that I would have the guidance of the Holy Ghost. I never had it.” Alright, we have thousands of members of the Church who have never had that guidance. Who are we to blame? Are we to say the promise of the Lord has failed? No! That spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. It will not dwell with people who are not trying to be holy—that is keep themselves clean. It will not be with those who are rebellious. It will not be with those who teach false doctrine and glory in it. They can’t have this guidance. But if a man is humble and true and faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord in his prayers and in trying to draw nearer to God day by day, he’ll have the guidance of that spirit and he’ll know the truth. And that spirit is given to us—that is the guidance of the Holy Ghost is given us to keep us clean, clean from evil, free from contaminating influences, gives us the power to discern between truth and error. A great many of our people are led astray because they don’t have the power to discern between truth and error. Well, the spirit of the Lord will direct us so that we will know when something that isn’t true is presented to us, we’ll feel it. (“The Fundamentals of the Gospel,” unpublished discourse given at Brigham Young University, August 25, 1954, 8-9.)

Ezra Taft Benson:

            May I suggest three short tests to avoid being deceived….

            (1) What do the Standard Works have to say about it? Isaiah said, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Isa. 8:20.)

            And Hosea said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. . . ." (Hosea 4: 6.)

            We must diligently study the scriptures. Of special importance to us are the Book of Mormon and the D&C. Joseph Smith said ". . . That the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding its precepts, than by any other book." (History of the Church 1:461.)

            The Book of Mormon, Brigham Young said, was written on the tablets of his heart and no doubt helped save him from being deceived….

            The D&C is important because it contains the revelations which helped lay the foundation of this great latter-day work. It speaks of many things. In D&C 134:2, it states that government should hold inviolate the right and control of property. This makes reading important in a day when government controls are increasing and people are losing the right to control their own property.

            (2) The second guide is, What do the Latter-day Presidents of the Church have to say on the subject—particularly the living President?

            President Wilford Woodruff related an incident in Church history when Brigham Young was addressing a congregation in the presence of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
            Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon and laid it down; and he took the Book of D&C and laid it down before him, and he said: "There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now," said he, "when compared with the living oracles, those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books." That was the course he pursued. 
            When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: "Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth." . . .(Conference Report, October 1897, pages 18-19.)
            There is only one man on the earth today who speaks for the Church. (See D&C 132:7, 21:4.) That man is President David O. McKay. Because he gives the word of the Lord for us today, his words have an even more immediate importance than those of the dead prophets. When speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost, his words are scripture. (See D&C 68:4.) I commend also for your reading the masterful discourse of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in the "Church News Section" of the Deseret News, July 31, 1954, entitled: "When Are Church Leader's Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?"

            The President can speak on any subject he feels is needful for the Saints. As Brigham Young stated:
            I defy any man on earth to point out the path a Prophet of God should walk in, or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things. Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be. (Journal of Discourses 10:364.)
            Other officers in the kingdom have fallen, but never the Presidents. "Keep your eye on the Captain" is still good counsel. The words of a living prophet must and ever will take precedence….

            (3) The third and final test is the Holy Ghost—the test of the Spirit. By the Spirit we "may know the truth of all things." (Moro. 10:5.) This test can only be fully effective if one's channels of communication with God are clean and virtuous and uncluttered with sin.

            Said Brigham Young:
            You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates or not. This has been my exhortation continually. What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are being led in the right way. (Journal of Discourses 9:149-150.)
            Heber C. Kimball stated: "The time will come when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light."

            How, then, can we know if a man is speaking by the Spirit? The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the D&C give us the key. (See D&C 50:17-23; 100:5; 1 Cor. 2:10-11.)

            President Clark summarized them well when he said:
            We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak. . . .
            The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members whether the brethren in voicing their views are moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest. ("Church News Section," Deseret News, July 31, 1954.)
            Will this Spirit be needed to check actions in other situations? Yes, and it could be used as a guide and a protector for the faithful in many situations.

            These, then, are the three tests: the Standard Works; the inspired words of the Presidents of the Church, particularly the living President; and the promptings of the Holy Ghost. (May 10, 1966, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1966, 14.)

George Q. Cannon:

            If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say—"I do not know whether this is true or not, I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require." If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings, or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily, without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the Rock of Revelation.
(Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. 12:46-47.)

Joseph Fielding Smith:

            I will say that I agree with Paul, that prophecy is a wonderful gift, one that should be sought, for the gift of prophecy is the gift of revelation and may be received for the personal guidance of each member of the Church. I also think that the gift of discernment is a gift everyone should seek, so that we may not be deceived. If we have the spirit by which we can discern the hearts of men, and the doctrines of men, and interpret the inspiration of the Lord, then we shall not be deceived. (Conference Report, October 1943, 98.)

Joseph F. Smith:

            The devil knows the Father much better than we. Lucifer, the son of the morning, knows Jesus Christ, the Son of God, much better than we; but in him it is not and will not redound to eternal life; for knowing, he yet rebels; knowing, he is yet disobedient; he will not receive the truth; he will not abide in the truth; hence he is perdition, and there is no salvation for him. The same doctrine applies to me and to you and all the sons and daughters of God who have judgment and knowledge and are able to reason between cause and effect, and determine the right from the wrong, and the good from the evil, and who are capable of seeing the light and distinguishing it from the darkness. Then this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, to know the only true and living God and his Son whom he has sent into the world, which knowledge comes through obedience to all his commandments, faith, repentance of sin, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by divine authority, and not by the will of man. (Conference Report, April 1916, 4.)

Joseph Fielding Smith:

            The Lord has given us the four Standards which lie at the foundation of our faith. Each member of the Church should be so well versed that he, or she, would be able to discern whether or not any doctrine taught conforms to the revealed word of the Lord. Moreover, the members of the Church are entitled, if they are fully keeping the commandments and covenants the Lord has given us, to have the spirit of discernment. The fact remains, however, that too many of the members have not taken advantage of their blessings and obligations, and therefore they are unable to distinguish between truth and error. (Answers to Gospel Questions, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957-66], 2:112.)

Dallin H. Oaks (before the days of the internet):

            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.

            The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices. Its approach, as counseled by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is to teach correct principles and then leave its members to govern themselves by personal choices. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 28.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            Jesus said “Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18:37.) Among other things this means that true believers accept, by instinct almost, the true doctrines of salvation when they are taught to them. It means they reject, almost by instinct, heresies and false views. Please add to what Jesus said the revealed concept that whether teachings are by his own voice or the voice of his servants it is the same.… Faithful members of the Church almost by instinct, because they are “of the truth” accept these teachings. (Bruce R. McConkie Correspondence, 1982.)

Delbert L. Stapley:

            We learn from these scriptures that liberalism, so-called, which seeks to interpret, change, or expand revealed truth, is not in harmony with the divine will of God. We can easily understand and accept the fact that the things of man are understood by the spirit of man, but do we also understand and accept the fact that the things of God can only be understood by the Holy Ghost? If holy men of God spake as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost, then prophecy and the revelations of God to man are of no private interpretation.

            The things of God can only be discerned and understood by the Holy Spirit which guides into all truth and is a revealer of knowledge which leads to understanding, wisdom, and judgment. Regardless of how learned a man becomes, he is not all-knowing nor self-sufficient nor all-powerful. (May 5, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964, 4.)

Ezra Taft Benson:

            The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Nephi 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon is similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time….

            Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, and so forth. (A Witness and a Warning: A Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988], 3, 6.)


  1. What do you do with the concept that all 15 men generation to generation knew by inspiration that those of color had been less valiant in the pre-mortal life and that inter-racial marriage was sin when today's leaders disavow those teachings as false racist theories? In other words if this men can not discern truth, even when they are so sure they are right, what hope do we have to be able to do it with any certainty we are getting it right?

    1. If you read the post, I think your question has been answered. Particularly the first (longer) quote from Ezra Taft Benson.

    2. *Don’t make false/wrong assumptions/conclusions like yours.
      *Heed inspired counsel: “The Lord expects us to seek for harmony and agreement in the scriptures and among the Brethren rather than for seeming divergences of views.... The unfortunate complex in some quarters to pounce upon this bit of information or that and conclude that it is at variance with what someone else has said is not of God.... The Spirit of the Lord leads to harmony and unity and agreement and oneness. The spirit of the devil champions division and debate and contention and disunity" (Bruce R. McConkie, open letter to “Honest Truth Seekers,” July 1, 1980).
      *Hold onto the scriptures with a grip of iron as though your salvation depended on them, which it does.

  2. First point: the scriptures - "dark and loathsome" agrees with Brigham Young.
    Second point: the living prophet is silent but anonymous essays do not agree with Brigham Young
    Third Point: The holy ghost - I know what it says to me, so yes I suppose the question was answered