Tuesday, November 26, 2019

“The Seven [or Ten] Deadly Heresies”: Thoughts on Elder McConkie’s Famous BYU Devotional Address

            In 1980 Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a powerful devotional address at Brigham Young University. Most saw it as a sweet doctrinal feast at the table of the Lord, but some others were upset with it and have called it controversial to this day.

            The fact that Elder McConkie quoted scripture in-depth to refute man-made theories that God is still progressing in knowledge and that He used organic evolution to create man (Adam and Eve) did not sit well with those who favored these notions. In fact, those who disagreed with some of his named “heresies” have completely dismissed his teachings out of hand. This they have a right to do, since neither God nor His Church forces anyone to believe truth.

            They further point out that, because of some outcry from liberal voices, President Spencer W. Kimball asked Elder McConkie to soften some of his authoritative-sounding wording, so that readers would know he was speaking for himself and not for the First Presidency.[1] This he willingly did, so there are some differences between the audio and the printed versions. However, this address still caries substantial spiritual power, simply because the Apostle who delivered it taught doctrine from the revealed word of God, as one having authority. Obviously this fact still rankles the loud liberal/progressive elements in the Church today.

            Other heresies Elder McConkie noted and refuted in the talk were:

-“those who say that temple marriage assures us of an eventual exaltation.”

-“There are those who believe that the doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation.”

-“There are those who say that there is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal worlds or that lower kingdoms eventually progress to where higher kingdoms once were.”

-“There are those who believe or say they believe that Adam is our father and our god, that he is the father of our spirits and our bodies, and that he is the one we worship.”

-“There are those who believe we must be perfect [in this life] to gain salvation.”

            Elder McConkie discussed, reasoned about, and scripturally rejected each of these false notions in his presentation. He also noted: “I do not say these are the only great heresies that prevail among us. There are others that might be mentioned. My suggestion, relative to all doctrines and all principles, is that we become students of holy writ, and that we conform our thinking and our beliefs to what is found in the standard works. We need to be less concerned about the views and opinions that others have expressed and drink directly from the fountain the Lord has given us. Then we shall come to a true understanding of the points of his doctrine.” The more people read the scriptures themselves, the less power the heresies have to influence them.

            One reason, among many, that I find this sad notion of heresies occasionally bobbing up in the Church is because it has been going on for a long time, over many decades. Elder McConkie was called to the First Council of the Seventy in October of 1946 and had opportunity to sit in counsel with and learn from all the members of the First Presidency and Twelve for 25 years before becoming an Apostle himself.

            As it turns out, he heard President J. Reuben Clark, a counselor in the First Presidency, give his own type of deadly heresies addresses in General Conferences of the Church—one of them in the very General Conference at which he himself was called. This causes me to theorize if such may have been the reason for Elder McConkie to use this format to later teach what and how he did. Did he simply borrow President Clark’s format and style, observed over three decades before, and insert a different list of false doctrines needing refutation? Such is entirely possible, though unknowable for certain.

            In October of 1946, President Clark gave a General Conference address entitled “The Great First Cause” in which he listed ten damnable doctrines, and in which he (in my opinion) used harsher language in condemnation of them than did Elder McConkie in “Seven Deadly Heresies.”

            President Clark’s list of false doctrines were sent to him by a friend who found them invading the academics in the Church, and passed them along to President Clark, who forcefully condemned them. He named them as “destructive doctrines being taught.” I suppose the same liberal/progressive folks that were so upset by Elder McConkie’s address would have likewise rejected President Clark’s methodical examination and refutation. Some are more extreme than others, but I have seen current academics/scholars, employed by BYU, that have written and taught some of what President Clark condemns in his list, particularly numbers 9 and 10.[2]

            I include most of President Clark’s two conference addresses below, the first with the numbered false doctrines and the second with more general warnings about false teachers among us (the Latter-day Saints) for those who want to read them. Perhaps some few, who have judged Elder McConkie harshly in the past, might now look upon him with less condemnation for simply following the example of his wise and inspired First Presidency member predecessor.

            With this wider perspective in mind, I also think it interesting that in the other Conference talk, which also delved into “heresies” in the Church, President Clark touched on an item that Elder McConkie has been mercilessly criticized about: for naming (in the first edition of his book Mormon Doctrine) the Catholic Church as the “great and abominable church.” President Clark said: “The Lord has told us in the scriptures that in the last days there will be two churches. John the Revelator spoke of the great church with worldly power that had under its dominion and leadership the kings of the earth—he spoke of it as Babylon, the Mother of Harlots; and Nephi spoke of it as the great and abominable church. I am not going to say what that church is, though I have a very definite and clear idea. But I want to say that those scriptures also tell us that the other church is a weak church, a church to whose assistance God has to come in order to preserve it. We certainly are not the great church, for no kings are tied to the chariot wheels of our Church. We are the other church.”

            So while President Clark does not go quite so far as to name this other Church, he doesn’t leave it very hard to guess which one he meant. While neither of them expressed, in former decades, the position of the Church today—that we do not label any specific church as the great and abominable church spoken of by Nephi—it seems unfair to condemn Elder McConkie for some of his early Mormon Doctrine statements that may have had their origins in the views of others holding higher office than him.

            I thought tonight that I might read a little scripture to you and then refer to a matter to which I have referred before and which is very near to my heart. I am reading from Second Nephi, 26th chapter and 20th verse:
            And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
            Paul, writing to the Galatians, said in verses oft quoted by us:
            But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
            As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
            For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:8-10.)
            I will now read from Second John:
            For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
            Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
            Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
            If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.
            For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (II John 7-11.)
            When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his First Epistle, he used these words:
            For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. . . .
            And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
            That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 2:2, 4-5.)
            Then going on to the eleventh verse, to which I briefly referred this morning:
            For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the spirit of God.
            Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
            Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
            But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
            But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.
            For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2 11-16.)
            Those scriptures are clear; they need, from me, no explanation.


            I have said on other occasions, and I repeat now that there are being taught amongst us, unfortunately, doctrines which are utterly destructive, not only of Jesus the Christ, but even of God himself, and we must be on our watch that neither we nor our children be influenced, debauched, or polluted by such doctrines.
            Recently a man of education (he holds a high scholastic degree), a worthy member of the Church, sent to me a statement of some of the teachings that now are somewhat mooted amongst some of our Latter-day Saints—a few only, I trust. I am going to read this statement to you and make some comment upon the points as I proceed. There are some ten points.
            I wish to say to you as earnestly as I may, that, as you will see when I have read them, if they shall attain credence amongst us, particularly amongst our young people, they will destroy our faith.
            The first of these statements reads:
"1. God is not an anthropomorphic being,"—that is, he does not have hands, or eyes, or feet, or ears, or a voice—"and not a personal God, nor a Living God."
            I remember when Dr. Talmage used to say something not dissimilar from what I shall say, but he made an actual quote, as I recollect which I can only summarize after these many years. It went about this way: "Thrust God out of the back door, and he comes in at the front door as the First Great Cause. Thrust the First Great Cause out of the back door, and God enters the front door as a Great Force. Push him out as a Great Force, and he comes back in as a Great Intelligence."
            No sane man who can think at all can deny in his heart the existence of God, the God of the Bible, and of the New Testament, and of modern revelation. The next point:
"2. Man is a creature of the Universe and draws intelligence and ideas (inventions) from the Universe by being in harmony with it."
            This statement is not only indefinite, but meaningless. It does, however, seem to postulate a Universe Intelligence, and thus we are back to our great concept of God.
"3. There is no such thing as supernatural experience among men at any time in history. No revelation directly from God."
            This denies all scripture. It denies all divine manifestations to man. It denies his goodness and his mercy and his love. It gives the lie to the commonest experience of man, recognized from the savage to the most highly civilized man; indeed, it gives the lie practically to our very existence.
"4. Jesus Christ was a revolutionary leader—but not divine."
            This, of course, denies the divinity of Jesus. It falls squarely within the observation of John who declared, as I have already read: For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ. (II John 7.)
"5. Joseph Smith did not see God nor really experience any supernatural phenomena. He wrote the Book of Mormon without divine assistance. He also gave revelations to suit his purpose and the situation without divine assistance."
            No man can honestly read the Book of Mormon and then say that this boy Prophet wrote it himself, and the most persistent search has failed to reveal that he stole the book. There is too much in the book to have been written by a boy whom his hostile critics brand as an ignoramus. And it should be said here, he had no opportunity for consulting either the little-known sources, which hostile critics have disinterred in trying to destroy him, or the more widely-known sources of which he probably had no knowledge whatever because they were inaccessible to him. No man of his age could have had in his mind, no matter how much he had studied, merely the allusions contained in the Book of Mormon to the holy scriptures, and all that we have of his that came from him when speaking or writing normally, gives not even a suggestion of his power to compose or to utter those great gems of majestic literature which are so plentifully found in the Book of Mormon and the D&C.
"6. The value of Mormonism is in its practice and in its system. Its origin need not be basic to one's belief in or acceptance of Mormonism for its value."
            Many of us have heard this heresy before. No shallower view of Mormonism can be taken than is thus expressed. The achievements of our people, the growth of the Church, the people's endurance of hardship, misery, penury, persecution, and even martyrdom itself, would have been wholly impossible without the spirituality which lay behind and vitalized their whole lives. This people of ours had the Spirit of God to direct them. Take away from us that Spirit, take away the divinity which lies behind the gospel, and there is nothing left. Had our work not been divinely fathered, we would not have outlived our first ten years of life.
"7. The three-degrees-of-glory story is a myth."
            That is, Paul was mistaken, the Prophet Joseph was mistaken, all who have thought and taught that glory might come to those who live righteously and die with a testimony, some of them as martyrs, were all mistaken and all they believed in was a myth. Such a concept destroys the teachings of the restored gospel. The words of Paul and the words of the Prophet Joseph were divinely inspired and are the eternal truth.
            Here is another mean thrust:
"8. Temple work may occupy old people in pleasant pastime but it is absurd and foolish in its objectives."
            Thus these anti-Christs would not only abandon the living but discard the dead, their ancestors and loved ones; nothing would be saved, indeed salvation would for no one be a reality. Every instinct of justice and mercy, every really rational concept of man and his being cries out against any concept such as this. Temple work is part of the restored gospel.
"9. The belief that man might become as God is equally foolish."
            This doctrine would, of course, wipe out the great truth of eternal progression. It would thus cut off from man even the hope of advancement hereafter; it violates every concept of the future brought to us by the restored gospel.
"10. Practically every theological idea advanced by Joseph Smith can be found in some ancient religion or in some current beliefs contemporary with his time."
            There is truth in the conception that the restored gospel does contain among its truths beliefs held by ancient religions and by modern ones. However, the Prophet Joseph never had the opportunity, never had the books, never had the time to search out from these sources all these various truths from the paganism and the Christianity of the past. It was not humanly possible for him to do so at his age and with the meager facilities at his command. But we know how it came to be that these partial truths were found in pagan teachings of pre-Christian eras: the gospel was on the earth from the time of Adam, and from then on down, there appeared here and there in the world, among this people and that, recollections of the doctrines and principles of the gospel as they were taught to Adam. Some of the truths of the gospel have always been on the earth.


            Brethren, this whole brood of false propaganda is an insidious approach and attempt to destroy the gospel plan and to overturn the Church. We must be on the lookout for it. We must fight against it wherever we find it. Hunt out those who preach it, seek to win them to a knowledge of the truth, seek to bring them really into the Church, because as they now stand and as they teach and believe they have no place among our membership; pretending membership they are worse than wolves in sheep's clothing; they are as it were, Satan trying to appear as an angel of light.
            Let us care for our youth. Let us not be parties in any way to the paganism, the atheism that is abroad in the world and that is expressed in these statements that I have read, for they will destroy our civilization if they shall come to be the belief of the people and to direct their lives.
God give us the power and the strength to combat these evils. . . .

            In this other Conference address, given two years later in 1948, “Beware of False Prophets,” President Clark uses the same wording that Elder McConkie used—“heresy amongst us”—to warn the Church against false doctrines from whatever source:

            Now, our enemies are seeking to attack and are attacking our Church. Time does not permit me to read all the scriptures that I have here, telling of the things that are to come in the last days. But I might call your attention to the fact that the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount said, Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15.)
            To the people on this hemisphere he made the self-same statement.
            I also call your attention to the words of Paul in his farewell to the elders of Ephesus. He said, For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
            Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30.)
            I would like to read what Paul said to Timothy, but time forbids. But I will read what Moroni said to Mormon. I might read just one paragraph of the latter. It is the thirty-second verse in the eighth chapter of Mormon:
            Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.
            The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep's clothing, because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood; they are they to whom Brother Widtsoe referred, as distorting the truth. We should be careful of them, and I endorse every word that Brother Widtsoe said, as to the obligations of those who instruct the youth.


            Now, I want to say just a word or two about the church and secular organizations that are amongst us, and that are doing all they can to lead our young people astray. I say there are both church organizations and secular organizations. Their method of approach—or approaches—becomes rather clear.
            They begin by making friends with our young people and also with members of that body of priesthood, as to which we have so much concern, the adult Aaronic Priesthood. They cultivate the friendship of these members of ours, then they invite them to their homes, then they take them to their socials, then to their classes of instruction, and before the members knew it, before we know it, this priesthood membership and the youth are gone from us.
            What do they say? What I am about to say is not mere supposition. I am quoting or telling of actual incidents. They say, "Do you not find when you go into your church, that you are embarrassed sometimes because you smoke, or because you drink beer? "Oh, yes," the man says. "Well, in our church, that makes no difference. Those things have nothing to do with religion. Come and join us."
            So they take into their socials our members; our members drink a little and smoke as much as they wish. Finally the Rubicon is crossed, and the members are lost to us. These propaganda organizations are building, in some places, halls of amusement. In one of our mission fields, they have built next door to one of our own churches, where they carry on these amusements, not in accordance with our standards, at the same time that we are holding services. That is an extreme case, but there is such a situation and there are many other places where they are providing amusement under the same conditions and to the same import.


            They tell our people that the Word of Wisdom has nothing to do with real religion—nothing at all. Then they tell them that if you sin, you come and confess and pay some penance, the sin is forgiven.
            They attack, among other things, baptism for the dead, and are finally bringing themselves around to the position of atheistic scholars who have said that that wonderful passage in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?" (verse 29) was addressed to pagans, and not to the early Saints; that the practice referred to was a pagan practice.
            Well, read how the epistle to the Corinthians is introduced, and read how the fifteenth chapter is introduced, then you will have no doubts that the epistle was addressed to the Saints, and that the early Saints baptized for the dead.


            On the principle that the wish may be the father to the thought, they say that our religion cannot last because it is too hard for the individual to live, and therefore our religion will fade away and become extinct. Of course, their present feverish activity belies that thought. But as I think of that statement, it seems to me that among the many answers that might be given to it, one of them is that our Church has been set up never to be thrown down, and that this gospel is never to be given to another people. Another is that the restored gospel is more than what they mean by religion. When they talk of religion, they speak merely of a relationship between God and man; all questions of the relationship of man to man have passed out of their religion. But our plan is a plan of life and salvation, including, not only the relationship of man to God, but also as I have said, the relationship of man to man, throughout the eternities, and the divine destiny God has planned for his righteous children.


            There is a heresy which is amongst us now in some degree and which has existed since the early Christian days, which declares that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New, that the Old Testament God has disappeared. I have never quite been able to see how the proponents of this idea could square it with the statement which the Savior made repeatedly, that he did only what he had seen the Father do, and he taught only what the Father had taught him. Thus those who would drive out the God of the Old Testament must deny the Christ in order to do it. These other churches seem to regard God as a God of vengeance, seeking to destroy his children. We know that our God is a God of love, because he was the Father, and as I have said, Jesus said he taught what his Father had taught, and he did what he had seen his Father do.


            My brothers and sisters, if there ever was a time in our history when we must be on guard against the insidious influences and propaganda of the churches of the world and the atheists of the world, that time is today. We must not be asleep. We have the truth; we must preserve it and ourselves in it.
            After Jesus had returned from the wilderness following his baptism, he came to the River Jordan where John was still baptizing. As John stood there, seeing the Savior, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God," and apparently replying to somebody who wanted to flatter him and tell him how great he was, he added, ". . . whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose." (John 1:27.)
            The next day Jesus came again to the group on the banks where John was baptizing, and again John said, "Behold the Lamb of God." Andrew and some others who were the disciples of John, followed Jesus, who took them to his room and there taught them. Then Andrew went out and found Peter, and declared with joy, "We have found the Messias," the Christ.
            We of the Church have found the Messiah, the Christ. He authorized and directed the building of this Church. We must not let the error and the evil which knock at our doors, cross the threshold and enter therein to rob us of the greatest things that God has to give us—our children.
            May we be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves. May we protect our youth and those of ours who do not see as clearly as they should these dangers which threaten them, and against which I am warning you, . . .

            For any with interest, President Clark gave another (third) address wherein he again refuted heresies that tried to filter their way into the Church, mostly originating with scholars and academics.

[1] President Kimball’s son and biographer, Edward Kimball wrote: “In June 1980 Apostle Bruce R. McConkie addressed the BYU student body on ‘The Seven Deadly Heresies,’ including the concepts that God is progressing in knowledge, that progression between kingdoms might occur in the hereafter, and that the gospel can be harmonized with organic evolution. His positions left a good many faithful members of the Church labeled as heretics. . . . As was his style, President Kimball also asked him to come in. When BYU later published the talk, Elder McConkie identified some of his statements as personal opinion.” Ed Kimball, himself a liberal, did not know what was discussed in this meeting and noted that President Kimball’s journal did not mention it. We can conclude that Pres. Kimball asked Elder McConkie to revise or soften some wording, but no more. The substance of the address remains the same. However, we must always remember that BYU devotional addresses are not the channel for the First Presidency to communicate the formal positions of the Church—unless the President of the Church uses it as such.
[2] Terryl Givens, now working for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU, is sadly on record promoting nos. 9 and 10.

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