The purpose of the lesson is to “encourage class members to learn and teach true doctrine and be righteous examples for others.” We don’t normally think of ourselves as being in danger of apostasy, but I would like to explore how easily we can fall into apostasy if we aren’t constantly vigilant about what we accept as truth and in how we behave. We will all have need of getting to the end of our days and being able to say, as did Paul, “I have finished my course.”
Reading Assignment: 1 and 2 Timothy; Titus.
Additional reading: Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles: 1 Timothy,” 747; “Pauline Epistles: 2 Timothy,” 748; “Pauline Epistles: Epistle to Titus,” 747; “Timothy,” 785; “Titus,” 785–86.
To start off with, here is an example. Look at the graphic to the right. I find this quote from President Benson to be somewhat haunting. When we see someone who has fallen off the sexual bandwagon (and sometimes multiple times), it is very easy for us to judge them as being wanton, brazen, or casual with their morals. It is almost as though they have no regard for what they are doing to themselves or others. This is often viewed as a weakness of moral character. In fact, we apply all types of judgment to people who have committed visible sins.
How does someone go from innocence to fallen? What is the path, or are there many paths to take from purity to corruption? When we look at someone who is fallen morally or fallen doctrinally, can we always be sure there was a malicious intent behind the departure from innocence and into the world of dark deeds? Does someone start off by openly criticizing the leadership of the Church or openly declaring their belief in extreme apostate doctrine? Not usually. It usually starts with simple things and progresses from there.
Paths to apostasy
Apostasy can come from almost anything that becomes a hobby horse, a doctrine or practice that we take to extremes. In 1 Timothy 4:1 – 3 Paul names a few things people in his day were doing that were causing some to leave the faith.
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
The subject of these verses should sound somewhat familiar because we have them in our day as well. Look at verse 2. What do we have today that sears the conscience with a hot iron, in other words, makes us insensitive to the Spirit? Some possibilities might include pornography in any form (movies, photos, Internet, style of dress, romance novels, etc.), gaming that includes express violence or mature themes, gambling in any form (I guess this could include any form of addiction since they all have the same effect of mental and moral enslavement on the soul).
We also have people who promote putting off marriage, not necessarily forbidding, but putting it off for financial, social or work-related reasons. We also have the growing vegan movement that, in the name of better health, promotes various forms of restrictions on the diet. In many cases, these people become obsessed with this new lifestyle, pushing out other parts of their life that were healthy for them in favor of their new obsession.
Another set of verses is found in 2 Timothy 4:3 – 4. This is the famous “itching ears” reference.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Sound doctrine is characterized by being well supported by scripture and the teachings of the prophets. Historically, in the ancient Church, in the beginnings of this dispensation, and even today, there are those who prefer to hover around the doctrinal fringes of LDS society. They are fascinated by theories and little talked about doctrines that, perhaps one prophet said something about or one apostle voiced an opinion about, but there is no sound footing in the teachings of the prophets or in the scriptures to really say whether or not it might be true or how it might properly fit into the overall doctrine of the gospel of Christ.
I am surprised by the number of times in just the last couple of years I have read on social media doctrinal stances upheld by people that I have never heard of before. When I ask them where they read about such doctrine the answer I usually get is something to the tune of, “Well, it has to be personally revealed to you.” Where that may be perfectly true, there are spiritual rules that are followed that the Apostles and Prophets of this dispensation don’t deviate from. If the prophets haven’t taught it, we don’t teach it. If the scriptures don’t back up the doctrine, we don’t teach it. If someone is teaching something that is not well documented in the scriptures AND the prophets don’t teach it then they are out of bounds teaching and talking publicly about that doctrine. Even the Apostles are not allowed to teach doctrine that is not well supported in the scriptures and already taught by the prophet.
There are so many possibilities of things to discover and learn about the universe. Isn’t it wonderful that we have the rest of eternity to discover them? We don’t need to worry about any of those things now. The here and now should be focused on what it takes for us to be obedient and profitable servants so we work out our salvation here in mortality. We need to pay attention to and focus on the basics of the gospel, not the mysteries. The mysteries will come in time, but for now we need to stick to the tasks the Savior has given us to learn how to serve our fellow man.
The sense of entitlement that we should have the right to delve into the mysteries and learn the deep things of the kingdom now, before we have actually mastered the basics of living the gospel we already have, is what Paul is referring to when he says we seek after anyone who will teach us the secret things of the Spirit to satisfy our own curiosities. In the process of seeking for those things that are inappropriate for us to seek after, we get turned quietly from the truth and into Satan’s lies, fables. This is what it means to “not endure sound doctrine.” Enduring sound doctrine sometimes takes discipline.
The dangers of education
These next verses need to be read altogether. This is 2 Timothy 3:2 – 7. I have entitled this section as the “dangers of education” but that is not entirely accurate. What is dangerous is the person who becomes educated but begins to rely on that education to answer all their questions, instead of relying of the Spirit and the teachings of the prophets and the scriptures. It is the person who gets wrapped up in pride and becomes “heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” These are the ones to whom I am making reference. Here are the verses.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The Lord encourages us to learn all we can. It is becoming dependant on that learning that is the danger. When we begin to believe that our learning is better than the Lord’s instructions or our learning is a higher truth than what the Lord has revealed we put ourselves in danger. Those who have the traits mentioned in the first four verses of this quote are those kinds of people who can learn til the cows come home, but will never learn to discover God’s own truth. The Lord’s truth comes only by way of revelation. No amount of book study can reveal the wonders of eternity. All learning in mortality is confined to earthly things. All learning from the Lord crosses the boundary between mortality and eternity. The one type of learning is ever so much more important than the other. Yet we are commanded to learn all we can about mortal things. We just need to learn to keep our perspective straight.
Apostasy was what brought down the Church anciently. There is plenty available to us today to lead us to apostasy as well, if we are not careful. As true Saints, our goal is to learn to live the gospel as Christ would have us live it. We need to learn to serve, to be humble, to seek the Lord’s guidance in all that we do, and to be anxiously engaged in doing good on our own at all times. We should never weary of well doing.
We also need to remember that great moral sin and great intellectual sin doesn’t happen overnight. They happen a little at a time, and often as a result of basic human needs not being met elsewhere in our lives. This should be a clear indicator that we need to be more compassionate about other people’s sins, for they are not really all that different from our own sins. We have made poor choices based on our unmet needs, and they have done the same with their unmet needs. The anchor and safety for our souls lie in seeking correct doctrine, following the teachings of the living prophets carefully, and in being tolerant and accepting of others and their personal frailties.
This is what makes a true Saint. A true Saint is one who heeds the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. A true Saint also studies the scriptures and searches out the Spirit through prayer and fasting, seeking to stay on the straight and narrow path established by the Savior. There is beauty in the simple and plain doctrines of the gospel of Christ. As we live them we will come to learn that they are not as simple as they may have first seemed.