Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dealing with False Revelation and Doctrine

Editor's note: This is number 14 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 introductory 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 Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            Many years ago I read a story, that I cannot now relocate, told by one of President Joseph Fielding Smith’s children. If memory serves, it went like this: one of his adult children had gone into his private office on some errand and had noticed a paper laying on his desk that looked like a revelation. Being filled with curiosity, it was read and found to contain interesting and sensational items. It was soon whispered about to his other grown children that were present for some family function. When Elder Smith came home, he noticed his family filled with suppressed excitement. One confessed to what they had seen and how all had by then read it. President Smith then told them that it was a forgery; that they had been taken in by a faked revelation that someone had sent him.

            Such an occurrence is far too common. I recall another episode, again from memory, regarding Hyrum L. Andrus (now deceased), for many years a well-respected and prominent member of the BYU religious education faculty and author. As I heard the story, he had a student in a class that showed him written revelations that she had purportedly received. He read them and was fooled; taken in. He sent them to President Spencer W. Kimball so that the prophet of the Lord could be informed and act accordingly. Not long afterward Andrus was relieved of his teaching duties, given a new obscure office out of the way and some likewise-obscure new research duties until retirement. A fourth and final volume of a successful series was never published.

            While on a mission to England, Bishop Orson F. Whitney was introduced to one Charles W. Stayner, a self-professed prophet and revelator that then served in the Liverpool mission office. Unfortunately Whitney was beguiled and with others became a disciple of Stayner’s for many years, believing in his revelations and doctrines, including that Stayner had been several Old Testament prophets (reincarnated). He went so far as to try to convince President Snow to call Stayner as an apostle because Stayner had proclaimed himself to be “Elias” (Pres. Snow would have none of it). Bishop Whitney’s world fell apart when Stayner died leaving his prophecies unfulfilled. Whitney himself then had to undergo an intense two-year repentance process and reformation, and then more years of proven spiritual and doctrinal integrity before he became worthy to be called as an apostle in 1906.[1]

With some gay activists and feminists now claiming personal revelation contrary to those received by the prophets and apostles, and with best-selling books like Visions of Glory garnering wide attention, it becomes prudent, even imperative, to recognize spurious and false revelation and doctrine, and also those materials containing mixtures of truth and error. We can never be too careful with items outside the scriptures and the teachings of prophets and apostles and approved church curriculum.

Marion G. Romney:

            It is, of course, common knowledge that there are among us many who, through devious ways and means, take unwarranted liberties with the revealed word of God. In speeches, magazine articles, books, [and now the internet] etc., the scriptures are wrested at will in an effort to make them appear to support private interpretations and theories. We ourselves have read advertisements soliciting enrollment in courses where, so it is claimed, the gospel is to be taught in greater depth than it is taught in priesthood classes and other Church organizations.

            We of this group should ever be on guard against such heresies. Certainly, we should never be the originators of them. We institute and seminary teachers should study and correctly understand the scriptures as they are written, and so rely upon them. They should be studied for the purpose of learning what they say and teach, rather than for the purpose of using them to support a predetermined thesis or theory. (“Behold, Ye Have My Gospel,” Address to Seminary and Institute personnel at BYU, July 13, 1970, 3.)

Joseph F. Smith:

            Let it not be forgotten that the evil one has great power in the earth, and that by every possible means he seeks to darken the minds of men, and then offers them falsehood and deception in the guise of truth. Satan is a skillful imitator, and as genuine gospel truth is given the world in ever-increasing abundance, so he spreads the counterfeit coin of false doctrine. Beware of his spurious currency, it will purchase for you nothing but disappointment, misery and spiritual death. The "father of lies" he has been called, and such an adept has he become, through the ages of practice in his nefarious work, that were it possible he would deceive the very elect. (Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 376.)

Bruce R. McConkie:

            I do not get very troubled about an honest and sincere person who makes a mistake in doctrine, provided that it is a mistake of the intellect or a mistake of understanding, and provided that it is not on a great basic and fundamental principle. If he makes a mistake on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, he will go down to destruction. But if he errs in a lesser way—in a nonmalignant way if you will—he can straighten himself out without so much trouble. (Mark L. McConkie, ed., Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989], 338-39.)

Joseph F. Smith:

To be Latter-day Saints men and women must be thinkers and workers; they must be men and women who weigh matters in their minds; men and women who consider carefully their course of life and the principles that they have espoused. Men cannot be faithful Latter-day Saints unless they study and understand, to some extent at least, the principles of the gospel that they have received. 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: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, comp., John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939], 114.)

Harold B. Lee:

            Some people get impatient because the Lord hasn’t revealed more than he has. Unmindful of the fact that he already has revealed more than we are able to digest, in most cases….

            Brother German E. Ellsworth who presided over the Northern California Mission, up to a few years ago, told us of an interesting experience when as a young missionary down in San Francisco, they were visited by one of the Presidents of the Church. They had had the missionaries together the night before and one of the missionaries when called upon to speak had told about the meaning of the horns in one of the great visions of John. Well, there were new and strange interpretations and they all listened because nobody knew any more than that missionary did, and the President sat there and he made no comment. The next day they had taken the President out for a ride in San Francisco Bay, and the missionaries thought this was a fine opportunity to ask him about what he thought about this speech about the horns. He surprised them when he put his arm around the missionary and said, “My boy, let me give you just a little bit of advice. If you will stay away from the horns you will never get hooked.” (“But Arise and Stand Upon Thy Feet—and I Will Speak with Thee,” Address to the Brigham Young University Studentbody, 7 February 1955, 10-11.)

[1] For further information on Orson F. Whitney’s troubles with false doctrine and false revelations, see Dennis B. Horne, Orson F. Whitney: Historian, Poet, Apostle, published by Cedar Fort in 2014. A review is here.

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