Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Power to Avoid Deception: Faith that is Never Blind

From time to time I hear, or read, someone posing questions such as: "How do you deal with the changes in Church policy and doctrine?  What do you do when you receive personal revelation that conflicts with what the prophet says?  What if you've fasted and prayed about something and received a powerful, spiritual witness to do something different than what the prophet says?"

In responding to these questions several possible scenarios come to mind:
  • Ignoring personal thoughts and questions in order to do what the prophet says, no matter what.
  • Being unsure of Church teachings, but concluding that prophets are trustworthy, and deciding to follow their counsel anyway.
  • Actively searching for answers, by turning to friends, scriptures, Church leaders, prophets and apostles of different dispensations, then to God in prayer, and adjusting personal thoughts and opinions to match spiritual confirmation and accepting prophetic direction.
  • Actively searching for answers by seeking out like-minded people, looking for authority figures who preach doctrine similar to your thoughts, becoming entrenched in philosophies of men and eventually distrusting and ignoring prophetic direction.
  • Becoming apathetic towards religion because of the confusion, disappointment, and discouragement experienced while participating, and completely disengaging -- perhaps even trying to draw people away with you.
There are probably many more scenarios, but these few will suffice for now.  Perhaps they can all be defined by how personal v. prophetic revelation are balanced against each other.  How much weight does a person give to each item on the scale, in each scenario?

One person may assign very little value to his/her own ability and responsibility to seek out their own confirmation or revelation concerning any particular issue.  Another may try to find a more even balance, believing that whatever the Spirit tells them is as canonized as General Conference and scriptures.  Another may believe that prophets are to be followed, but only as far as personal conviction to outside beliefs will allow.

As I examine all these possibilities and the potential long-term, as well as short-term, ramifications on my own life, there are certain conclusions that result.
  • Personal revelation doesn't supersede revelation from God to His anointed spokesmen.
  • There is no such thing as blind faith.
  • Examining the nature and roll of 'authority' can lead a person safely through conflicting beliefs and opinions, until he/she finds a satisfying resolution.
  • Satan is as real as God is and he is actively working to deceive the children of God.
Personal revelation doesn't supersede revelation from God to His anointed spokesmen. 

So far as I can tell, there aren't any accounts of personal revelation superseding the teachings of the prophets.  Even in the case of Nephi killing Laban in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi was living under the Law of Moses and Laban had attempted to kill Nephi and his three older brothers, as well as had stolen all of the family's material wealth, and likely was involved with plots to kill his prophet father, Lehi.  Under the Law of Moses, Nephi may have been absolved of guilt and even been justified, though Nephi personally shrank back and wished he wasn't given this commandment.

If this holds true, then prophetic revelation and teaching holds more weight on the scale than personal revelation insofar as there is tension or conflict between the two.  If a person believes they are being granted by the Holy Ghost exemption from any law of God, then the person needs to take a second look at his/her conclusions and evaluate whether he/she is, in fact, receiving revelation from God and not a deception from the Adversary.

For example, I once met a woman who had come to believe that plural marriage was going to be reinstated so she and her husband decided to keep a woman who was down-and-out (and in their minds a potential candidate for a second wife) living with them in their house.  The agreement was that chastity would be observed until the ban was lifted.  But this plan failed and the original couple divorced, after which the husband married the now-mistress.  The first wife came to conclude that maybe the Spirit hadn't been telling them to prepare for a polygamous household, but to just help the second woman get back on her feet and on her way. In this tragic case, a family was broken apart as a result of putting perceived personal "revelation" above prophetic direction.

President Uchtdorf promised, "As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as one who has seen firsthand the councils and workings of this Church, I bear solemn witness that no decision of significance affecting this Church or its members is ever made without earnestly seeking the inspiration, guidance, and approbation of our Eternal Father. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. God will not allow His Church to drift from its appointed course or fail to fulfill its divine destiny."

There is no such thing as blind faith.

I really do not believe in there being such thing as 'blind faith.'  Not at all.  What we might call 'blind faith' I would relabel 'innocent faith.'  It is innocent because it has not been exercised yet and relies on other people.  I think of young children and new converts.  There is a belief, something inside of them nudging them forward to give this Church a try, or to believe that their parents are telling the truth.  Innocent faith is based on other people's testimony and is the ideal fertile ground in which to plant the gospel seed.

However, as children or converts begin to "experiment upon the word," as Alma says, they begin to see that good things happen in their lives when they keep the commandments, or they feel happy when they are actively involved at Church.  Little by little as they gain more knowledge and understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and strive to live it, something will happen inside of them.  Some sort of challenge or trial or severe hardship will come, and suddenly they begin to reach out to God, to really know Him and His power.   Like a shaded plant, bending and reaching for the light.  Finding the light again, for themselves, makes their faith become stronger and more independent of other people.  New vision develops.

When my older brother died I found myself saying, "Now what?  Now how does this all fit into my life?  Now what does the atonement of Jesus Christ mean to me?  Now what does everything mean to me with my new eyes?"  From the ashes of my sorrow, I did experience for myself, like Alma, a restoring, healing, reconstituting power.  I was a new person, with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind.  I couldn't possibly look at the doctrines of the Church the same way any longer.  I had already established my own testimony, but now it became so much deeper.  My view had suddenly expanded and there was some adjustment to be made.  It was a painful healing process, but eventually my "joy was as great as was my pain."  Without any scientific tool to measure it, my faith became my measuring tool.  My faith had been tested, and though I faltered some at times and made some poor choices when coping with my initial sorrow, eventually I was righted up and I knew that it had come through the atoning power of Jesus Christ.

This is faith.  It is knowing without seeing, as powerfully and confidently as if you had seen.  Faith is based on experience, therefore it cannot be blind.  In this way faith can be exercised when considering the words of the prophets.  Innocent faith would cause a person to believe that the prophet is called of God because you believe that your parents or Primary teachers or the missionaries are telling you the truth.  And there is a warmth and gentle confirmation from the Holy Ghost.

But, once you start acting upon that foundational faith, and begin to have personal experiences with it for which no one else can claim responsibility, your faith matures.  Therefore, it becomes easier and easier to continue to cultivate the garden of the Word of God.  The system is in place and each doctrine, each teaching, each new program or adjustment to a program, is easier and easier to accept.  And when questions arise about any point of doctrine or practice, you gain powerful confidence that you can and will find the answer, that it will come through the Holy Ghost after searching the words of the prophets and turning to Heavenly Father in prayer. As President Uchtdorf urged, we would doubt our doubt before we would doubt our faith.

Examining the nature and roll of 'authority' can lead a person safely through conflicting beliefs and opinions, until he/she finds a satisfying resolution.

The maturing process of faith does hinge on something very important: to whom you assign the weight of authority.  So, who will you?  Who will you look to as a source of information and answers, and why?  How do they earn your trust and allegiance?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus the Savior gave us the answer!  "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20).  He also said, "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (v. 17).   Moroni, as prophets do, expounded on this warning system, "Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.  But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God" (Moroni 7:12-13).  And we know that we demonstrate our love for God by keeping his commandments (John 14:15).

If you can determine that the end result needs to be a belief in Christ that is accurate and can make salvation possible, then you can work backwards to figure out who or what will help you reach it.  If a person is saying that there is no sin in a certain behavior, first decide whether that person is encouraging you to serve yourself or God.  If the intent is for your own gratification, then that person is not a worthy authority figure, and you can know that they are incorrect.  Their teachings will not lead to eternal happiness and salvation.  If the motivation is to humbly serve God, according to His own teachings, then that person has something good to say.  If that person can verify the literal placement of divine authority on his/her own head, then that is the key to knowing that that person can be completely trusted.

Before trying to figure out whether a teaching of the Church is true, we should first seek out and develop a testimony that God is our Father, that He loves us and wants us to be happy.  Then gain a personal witness of the saving role and atonement of Jesus Christ.  Then find out for ourselves that God has spoken to humanity through prophets in ancient day, and it will become easier to believe that He has reestablished connection through prophets today.  Build up that knowledge, and faith will attend.  Once the groundwork has been established, clear and unobstructed understanding will come about any and every point of doctrine.  At least to a point that will leave us satisfied and contented until further light is given to us from God.  I have had this experience as I searched the scriptures to understand a certain gospel doctrine.  I came away from my personal study completely fulfilled and satisfied that I could continue to trust the prophets of God today.

Satan is as real as God is and he is actively working to deceive the children of God. 

This is a truth that can absolutely not be neglected if we want to stay safe in the latter days.  At every point in time, Satan has attempted to deceive mankind.  It began in the Garden of Eden and, without ceasing, has continued until our day.  Satan has no authority from God.  And it is the thing he most craves.  He gave Eve fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil without authority.  That was the problem.  The problem wasn't the tree or the fruit.  Neither tree nor fruit was evil. In fact, they were part of God's plan. The problem was that Eve was deceived by Satan. He gave her the fruit without having any authority to do so and she partook without having any authority from God to partake.

A persistent example is sexual intimacy.  Sexual intimacy and intercourse are good and right -- when consecrated by God through marriage that He ordains (between a man and a woman).  The problem of adultery, fornication, pornography, same-sex union, etc., is that sex is employed without that authorization from God.  Popular culture today promotes unauthorized sex so that Satan can deceive the masses to partake of a fruit that has been forbidden outside of proper context.  Satan succeeds in bringing misery, disease, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, despair, self-loathing, and a loss of confidence before God.

During his mortal ministry, the Savior warned that in the last days, "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (JST-Matthew 1:9).   The Apostle Paul wrote in a letter to the Roman saints, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.  For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).

In our day, a person will not necessarily call him or herself a prophet. But they will try to act like one.  Picking out bits of scriptures or quote prophets and present it in such a way that is flattering to the wicked and confusing to the weak.  They will seek followers to support their philosophies.  They will make "fair speeches" and deceive many.

Jesus also warned, "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24).  The "very elect," Joseph Smith revealed, are "who are the elect according to the covenant" (JST-Matthew 1:22).

If any person experiences a supposed "powerful, spiritual revelation" that sets them in defiance with the laws of God, that person should eventually realize that he/she has been deceived by Satan, the Master of Lies.  It is pride and vanity that would lead people to believe that they know better than the anointed prophets and apostles of the Lord.  It is the devil who seeks to flatter them, rile them up, or pacify them.

   For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
   And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
   And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (2 Nephi 28:20-22).

The Christians under covenant -- the temple-endowed Latter-day Saints -- are the bull's eye of the target.  Satan seeks to weaken our faith, diminish our resolve, to confuse us by the fair speeches given by our own, to cause us to believe that our own minds are brighter, our own hearts are more compassionate, our own wisdom is greater than God's.  Is this not the trick that Satan used in the premortal world?  It is a very successful one; he led way one-third of God's spirit children.

For us to be safe and keep this estate, as we did in the spirit world, it is imperative to resolutely put complete and full trust in God our loving Father, in His plan of salvation and happiness, in His chosen and anointed Savior Jesus Christ, and to believe that He meant what He said, "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38).

We can do this by exercising our faith, putting the gospel to the test, submitting in humility to all the will of the Father and finding out for ourselves that His "yoke is easy and [His] burden is light" (Matthew 11:30) by comparison with the heavy chains that Satan seeks to bind us with.

We can do this by repenting and discovering the marvelous power that the atonement of Jesus Christ makes available.  Being clean, free, light, happy, illuminated, and full of confidence rather than doubt or vanity, are the delicious fruit that invariably come when living in the truth, light, and way of our Savior.  Keeping the commandments and being true to baptismal and temple covenants will bring greater power to recognize deception and willingness to do God's work, rather than making our own gratification the goal.  

  And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
  Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
  And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
  For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live (D&C 84:19-22).

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