Be not deceived. Apostasy does not strike like a venomous snake, suddenly and with almost sure fatality. Apostasy happens one lie at a time, softly filling our heart and mind with doubt, which if not dispelled, gradually poisons our thoughts and sickens our very soul. The causes of apostasy are avoidable and curable.
Satan has more ways to deceive people than we can count, so the following list is for instructive purposes only. Once we see a few ways in which deception is followed by apostasy, we will be able to see a pattern we can use to avoid falling for the lies that lead people down that fateful road.
Not recognizing the prophet as the source of revelation for the Church
On the surface this may sound like a silly thing. He is the prophet, right? Who else would we be following? You might be surprised how many people say the prophet is a prophet in the first half of their breath then conclude the sentence by claiming the prophet doesn’t know what he is talking about because he doesn’t agree with what that person believes should be the truth. This happens a lot.
When members of the Church disagree with the prophet they give many reasons. They include “the prophet’s stance is not in line with our socially enlightened way of thinking”, “I just don’t understand how he could say such a thing”, “He is out of touch with the real world, and just doesn’t understand what is really going on,” to “I think he is just expressing his personal opinion, because the Lord would never say something like that.” The excuses we tell ourselves to allow us to believe something other than what the prophet of God has said are almost limitless.
Listen to how people talk about controversial issues when the Brethren have given us the word of the Lord. Those on the road to apostasy are those who start to make excuses or give reasons for not believing what the Brethren tell us. They may feel they have sound social arguments to back up their claims. They say that the Brethren are out of touch with the realities of today’s society. There are hundreds of excuses people come up with, from very mild to flagrantly rebellious statements.
If a person claims to accept the prophet as a prophet then that is the end of the argument. If they can only be allowed to be a prophet as long as they agree with what that person likes then either the man is no longer a prophet, or that person is slipping into apostasy. The Lord made it very clear in Doctrine and Covenants 28:2-3 that the prophet, the head of His Church is the only man on earth who can speak for the whole Church. So when the Brethren come out with a stance or statement that is approved by the President of the Church, that is the end of the matter as far as the Lord is concerned. Anyone who wants to argue that position will have to take it up with the Lord, because He is the one who approved that position.
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
Remember that when Aaron and his sister Miriam got a little too full of themselves and began to criticize the prophet’s behavior, God gave Miriam a case of leprosy that only Moses could cure (Numbers 12:1-15). Good object lesson. The Lord has only one voice of authority on the earth at a time. I like the contents of verse eight.
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
It is instructive that the Lord, Himself tells us that anyone ought to be afraid to speak against His servant, the prophet. And Miriam and Aaron were two of the most enlightened people in the whole camp of Israel. If anyone should have known better it was the brother and sister of Moses.
This is manifest in many things. In Church history the example often used is Thomas Marsh. His wife was trading cream and milk with a neighbor, but Sis. Marsh violated the agreement and withheld a pint of cream from each cow to enrich herself in the things she was going to make. When her neighbor complained, she lied and said she had not broken the agreement. Her husband backed up the integrity of his wife. The Bishop listened to the case and agreed that she was in the wrong and needed to make restitution. Bro. Marsh still supported his wife’s claim. It want on up the channel until the prophet also ruled that she was in the wrong. Bro. Marsh, consumed with pride in a spirit of contention, said he would go to hell defending his wife. He ended up leaving the Church for almost twenty years. Those were the most miserable years of his life, by his own reckoning.
Notice in the above paragraph how quickly pride compounds the sin into many sins. When we gain the spirit of pride we begin to feel justified in anything we feel we must do to support our opinion or stance. How quickly that one little sin multiplied to include arrogance, defiance of the Lord’s anointed servants, recklessness, lying, denial of the Spirit, and a host of other sins.
But pride didn’t just leap out of the woodpile and attack the Marsh family one afternoon. They had to have been courting pride for some time before this incident or they would have humbled themselves before their priesthood leaders and accepted their chastisement. Pride is a progressive sin. It invites us to feel offense. It creates a spirit of contention, competition, a fierce sense of ownership or a desire to possess what belongs to others, and it drives out humility, meekness, and any desire to pray for direction. When we become prideful our own will becomes more important than anything else in the world. We stop listening to the voice of reason and begin to insist that our wants are the only wants that matter.
There is no endeavor or arena in which pride does not rear its ugly head. We find it rampant among academics caught up in their field of study and an obsession with their own sense of importance. We find it in people who are fixated on fashion, glamor, or adoration of the beautiful. We see it in the snobbery of the intellectual or social elites. We even find it in the poor who take great pride in their poverty, thinking it makes them better than their wealthier counterparts. Pride can be found anywhere there is not humility before the Lord. Pride is the great anti-virtue.
Being critical of leader’s imperfections
This is one of those offshoots of pride that is difficult to explain rationally, for it makes no sense. We all know that we are imperfect. Everyone knows there aren’t any perfect people. Yet there are those who point to the imperfections of a Church leader and claim they cannot have the Spirit with them or be inspired because of this flaw or that flaw. Some of the criticisms they level at the Brethren are not even real!
I think there is a disconnect between what a prophet is supposed to be and the reality that a prophet is just a man, like any other man. He just happens to be the Lord’s chosen mouthpiece. The Lord does not have any perfect men from which to choose, so He works with the men who are the most obedient and dedicated to His cause. He grooms them for years before they become the prophet. Does this mean they are then infallible as a mortal man? Of course not! They are still repenting just like we should still be repenting.
The problem here is that people who look for the flaws in the leaders of the Church are so busy looking and pointing out other’s flaws they are ignoring their own much larger flaws. This takes us back to the Savior’s parable about the mote and the beam. You’ll notice that those who are humble followers of Christ, and who support His chosen servants, are not the ones to be casting aspersions on them. Those who are ready to stone the prophets for not being holy enough are the ones who continually seek to hide their own sins.
Satan is the ultimate master of deception. When there was finally priesthood authority on the earth among the general population of saints, he expanded that thought by convincing people that they could all start having revelations for other people. The Lord had to clarify that through His prophet. When they had the authority to cast out evil spirits Satan plagued the people with so many kinds of evil spirits it became difficult to keep up and know what was evil and what wasn’t.
Like all other causes of apostasy, rationalizing begins very small and gets bigger and bigger. If you are familiar with the tent and the nose of the camel, you will get the picture. You can read versions of the camel story here.
What they have in common
As you look back on this small list of behaviors that have led many into a full state of apostasy, think about what they each have in common. Here is what I came up with. See if you can find other traits that also fit.
1. Each begins small, but once embraced changes how we look at a situation and how we feel about it. The change is never uplifting and edifying. The change always causes us grief in some degree and in some way.
2. Each practice requires a self-centered attitude. There is a distinct lack of charity here.
3. Each behavior demeans another person or lowers them in your own estimation. This is very counter productive to love, kindness, and any other uplifting virtue.
4. Each of these behaviors lessens the amount of the Spirit we can feel because we are putting ourselves at odds with the Lord. Little by little we become desensitized to the promptings of the Spirit of God and our own conscience.
5. Each of these behaviors inflates our own sense of self. They increase our sense of entitlement and our sense of self importance.
The Lord is constantly warning the saints in the Doctrine and Covenants to beware of these things that will steal their joy and will sour their happiness. The treatment for each of them is a good dose of repentance and humility. The difficulty lies in getting them to see that they are practicing self deception of the most onerous kind.
The lord can help us stay faithful to the Brethren. In this day and age of sifting among the members of the Church, it is important that we do a regular self inventory and do course corrections whenever we see that we might be veering off in a sideways direction. Our joy and salvation depend on staying on course, and the Spirit will always be our guide if we are taking the time to study God’s word, pray to our Father in faith, and inviting the Spirit to be with us in all that we do.