As prophesied by Jesus (in Matthew 24:24), personal apostasy is a great tragedy and sign of our times, the last days. The Salt Lake Tribune and various bloggers dutifully keep readers posted on the names of the latest publicity seeking malcontents/apostates to resign or be excommunicated. (This is a curious development indeed. Many decades ago the Church News used to list the names of those excommunicated as a way to warn members against evil and apostate influences; now they don’t do that but the excommunicants and resigners themselves do. After all what good is it to resign if you don’t do it noisily and with fanfare in some protest or online?)
Yet personal apostasy is a deeply serious matter with eternal consequences for the deceived individual and whomever he or she deceives and convinces to follow them. Their disbelief or anger changes nothing; they are still subject to the buffetings of Satan in this life and in the next (see D&C 82:21; 104:9-10). Elder Boyd K. Packer warned: “Remember: When you see the bitter apostate, you do not see only an absence of light; you see also the presence of darkness” (as quoted in Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, 115.) Personal apostasy is a serious and grave matter indeed. Not that long ago, the First Presidency issued a letter, likely directed toward extremists and activists, in which they gave counsel and also defined personal apostasy. Because of the negative, devilish demeanor exuded by many bitter apostates and also the common mockery of the sacred, I have heard some very experienced and capable church leaders say that they would rather work with ten adulterers than one angry apostate.
From Determining Doctrine:
Mark E. Petersen:
From time to time in the Church section of The
Deseret News…that publication carries a list of names
of individuals who have been excommunicated from this Church. These
excommunicants at one time were all members of the … kingdom of God.
One of the reasons people apostatize from the Church is that they have failed to heed the warning of the scriptures against listening to false teachers who raise their voices in our midst. In spite of the fact that these warnings of the scriptures are crystal clear, many of our people fail to heed them….
How do these false teachers lead people astray? They do so by attacking the fundamental doctrines of the Church. They attack the Authorities of the Church. They attack the teachings of the Authorities. They seek to develop doctrinal disputes among the people to undermine their faith, and they lead people into apostasy when they do such things as that. Very often false teachers who have come among us endeavor to justify their position by claiming to have received some revelation or dream directing them, they say, in the paths which they tread. (Conference Report, Oct. 1945, 88-89.)
Spencer W. Kimball:
Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people; and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but more often against the leaders….
Apply this in modern times and you have the so-called reformers. Many budding apostates follow the pattern progressively. They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little “off the beam”! Soon they claim that the leaders are making changes and not following the original programs. Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. He is likely now to join groups who are slipping away. He may become a student of the Journal of Discourses and is flattered by the evil one that he knows more about the scriptures and doctrines than the Church leaders who, he says, are now persecuting him. He generally wants all the blessings of the Church; membership, its Priesthood, its temple privileges, and expects them from the leaders of the Church, though at the same time claiming that those same leaders have departed from the path. He now begins to expect persecution and adapts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop or strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for himself; revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretation and his actions. These manifestations are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims. He is now becoming quite independent….
Some of these people disappointed, perhaps ignored in their ambitions, hungry for leadership, are deceivers of the first order. To them there is little help we can give. Others are the deceived, the confused and frustrated, honest and sincere at least in their first movements. (“That You May Not Be Deceived,” Address given to the Brigham Young University Studentbody,
November 11, 1959, 5-7.)
J. Reuben Clark:
I have come to feel that there is none who can safely rationalize. And I am persuaded more to that by what happened in the early Christian Church, which, lacking a head that was effective during the early centuries, drifted away because they tried to make God's plan accord with their reason, and with the reason of the pagan philosophies.
I am persuaded we must watch carefully that we do not follow along those paths. Some of the greatest heresies that have crept into the Christian religion came in through a very few men who held no real official position, mostly, but who spent their time and their talents, and they were great, in trying to rationalize the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is some evidence—these were called "schoolmen," and the results of their work "scholasticism,"—and I am persuaded that we have some tendency in that direction as among ourselves, and I hope that the people will not listen to the rationalizing of men who undertake to make God's plan conform to what they think it should be in their weak and ineffective reasonings. (Conference Report, April 1952, 95.)
Mark E. Petersen:
So, Latter-day Saints, beware of false teachers. When men come among you and begin to preach doctrines unto you which tend to destroy your confidence in the holy scriptures, when men come among you as they are now coming, declaring to you that the appointment of George Albert Smith as President of this Church is not valid, because they say this Church should only have seven presidents and no more, when people come among you declaring that Christ is not divine, or when they come among you advocating the so-called practice of plural marriage, contrary to the teachings of this Church and contrary to the law of the land, when they come among you declaring that you can enter into domestic relations with another man or another woman without committing adultery, when you do not have a marriage bond which is recognized as legal by the law of this land, or when a man comes among you declaring that the Church is off the track and that he is one mighty and strong sent to set the church in order, or when anyone comes and tells you that temple marriage is just a fad and that it has no relationship to your exaltation in the kingdom of God, or when someone comes to you, as one group is now doing, preaching that reincarnation is a Christian doctrine, or when men come to you declaring that predestination is one of the doctrines of the gospel, declaring that one group of the Saints is predestined to go to one degree of glory and another group of the Saints is predestined to go to another degree of glory, or when they come among you declaring that they have had dreams and visions about some get-rich-quick scheme by which they are going to save the Church financially in some period of distress, or when they come to you and declare that the method of administering the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is to be changed, contrary to all the teachings of the scriptures, or when they come to you and say you can serve two masters, that you can serve the Church and also one of these wild-cat cults that are starting up, when you hear thinking of this kind you remember that such doctrines cause dissention among the people, that they cause disputes which lead to apostasy and that the Lord condemned disputes of that kind….
Surely the latter-day Saints, of all people, should be on their guard against false doctrines. Have we forgotten the warning that was given to us by the Savior, as he appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the sacred grove during that first vision? Have we forgotten that there the Savior declared that man-made religious doctrines are an abomination in his sight?
The Lord has foreseen the fact that the Saints would need protection against false teachers, and he foresaw the need of setting safeguards in the church to give them that protection….
So if you really desire to avoid deceptions, if you really desire to do that which is right and proper, then you take advantage of the safeguard that the Lord has given you in the organization of this Church. And you remember that if you will follow the teachings of your inspired prophets, seers, and revelators, or your apostles, or your pastors and teachers, your bishops and your stake presidents, you won’t need to wonder whether or not such and such a doctrine is a deception, whether it is false or whether it is true, because those authorized servants of the Lord will lead you into paths of righteousness, and they will keep you on the right track.
Salvation comes not by being tossed about by every wind of doctrine but by learning the truth as it is taught by the inspired, authorized servants whom he has set in this Church. (Conference Report, October 1945, 90-92.)
Bruce R. McConkie:
This [false doctrine] is a perfect illustration of how doctrinal misjudgment can lead people away from the truth and eventually out of the Church. People begin to believe something that is not taught by the Church, then they refuse to accept the counsel of those whose right it is to interpret the doctrines, then they feel the Church is out of line and they are right, and finally they begin to criticize the Brethren. The spirit of the devil takes over in their lives, and unless they repent they go out of the Church to destruction. (Quoted in Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son [
Lake City: Deseret
Book, 2003], 355.)
It is perfectly natural for the young who discover the world of scholarship for the first time to strike in their sophomoric zeal an intellectual pose, rail in high terms against the Church that has kept them in darkness all these years, and catalogue the defects and miscalculations of the Prophets in the light of their own scholarly elevation. (“Educating the Saints—a Brigham Young Mosaic,” BYU Studies, vol. 11 [1970-71], Number 1-Autumn, 1970, 87.)
Every individual in the Church is free to think as he pleases, but when an individual speaks openly and actively and takes measures to enlist others in opposition to the Church and its programs and doctrines, then we feel there is cause for action. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [
Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book, 1997], 95.)
Mark E. Petersen:
I have had members of apostate cults come to me and bear their testimonies. They say that they have read and studied the revelations of self-styled prophets and have prayed about them and have received testimonies from the Holy Spirit that these so-called revelations were true. They have told me that they have even felt a burning in their bosoms as a sign of the truth of these things.
Yet the men who reportedly get these revelations were out of harmony with the Church, out of harmony with the Spirit of God, and their “revelations” were not of God.
But how could people get these alleged testimonies of the truth of these obviously erroneous revelations? They got them from Lucifer, who can appear as an angel of light, who can give false and lying revelations, and who can so mislead people that they are duped into believing that these alleged revelations and testimonies are true; so they turn their backs upon the actual truth to accept these falsehoods. (“Revelation,” Address to religious educators,
24 August 1954. Cited in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd
ed. [ Salt Lake City:
Church Educational System and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Joseph F. Smith:
You find the spirit of contention only among apostates and those who have denied the faith, those who have turned away from the truth and have become enemies to God and his work. There you will find the spirit of contention, the spirit of strife. There you will find them wanting to "argue the question," and to dispute with you all the time. Their food, their meat, and their drink is contention which is abominable in the sight of the Lord. We do not contend. We are not contentious, for if we were we would grieve the Spirit of the Lord from us, just as apostates do and have always done.—Apr. C. R., 1908, p. 7. (Gospel Doctrine, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 372.)
The First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund, 1905):
In conclusion we would say that the Latter-day Saints by this time should be so well settled in the conviction that God has established his Church in the earth for the last time, to remain, and no more to be thrown down or destroyed; and that God's house is a house of order, of law, of regularity, that erratic disturbers of that order of men of restless temperament, who, through ignorance and egotism, become vain babblers, yet make great pretensions to prophetic powers and other spiritual graces and gifts, ought not to have any influence with them, nor ought the Saints to be disturbed in their spirit by such characters and their theories. The
is with the Saints. It has
committed to it the law of God for its own government and perpetuation. It
possesses every means for the correction of every wrong or abuse or error which
may from time to time arise, and that without anarchy, or even revolution; it
can do it by process of evolution—by development, by an increase of knowledge,
wisdom, patience and charity. Church of Christ
JOSEPH F. SMITH,
JOHN R. WINDER,
ANTHON H. LUND,
(Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 381.)
George Albert Smith:
The adversary is not asleep. He is deceiving many and leading them to sin. Reference has been made to the fact that in our own community there are those who fail to appreciate their privileges. There are some who are teaching false doctrine; and some who are seeking to persuade men and women to violate the commandments of our Heavenly Father. There are those who pretend to be inspired and who would take the leadership of the people, if they were so permitted. Of course they are not capable to lead and in their own lives are living improperly, and the adversary is using them as tools by which others may be deceived.
There is only one pathway of safety for me in this day and that is to follow those whom the Lord has appointed to lead. I may have my own ideas and opinions, I may set up my own judgment with reference to things, but I know that when my judgment conflicts with the teachings of those that the Lord has given to us to point the way, I should change my course. (Conference Report, April 1937, 32-33.)
From the Book of Mormon:
And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:7-10.)
It is a fact that we lose some—far too many. Every organization of which I am aware does so. But I am satisfied that we retain and keep active a higher percentage of our members than does any other major church of which I know. (“The Church Grows Stronger,” Ensign, May 2004, 4.)