We grow toward godliness and salvation by cultivating in ourselves the attributes of Christ (Lectures on Faith 7:9).

By receiving the spirit of Christ, we share his mind and grow to be like him (LoF 5).

The Lectures on Faith name the attributes of God which we must understand (and adopt as our own nature) to be saved. They include the following:  he is no respecter of persons (LoF 3:23).

The fact that God is no respecter of persons means that everyone has an equal privilege to approach him. God treats all the same, by the same rules. He blesses according to obedience to law, not according to arbitrary favor. Everyone who approaches him with the same faith and diligence will receive the same blessings of revelation and salvation in response. He does not honor false works merely because they were performed by his favorite people. He does not honor false traditions as though they were true, no matter who believes and teaches them. His only criteria for judging worthy teaching is truth, because his spirit can only teach truth (things as they are – Jacob 4:13). If something is taught by any other spirit, it is not of God (D&C 50:17-18).

God will teach his truth through anyone. Young men, children, sons and daughters, all are alike in their ability to receive and transmit the word of God. There are times when he chooses a specific person to relay revelations and commandments to the rest of mankind for a defined period of time, but the scriptures remind us constantly that God will deliberately subvert the expected religious structure so that we are ever mindful that it is God, not religious authorities, who is doing his work. A primary purpose behind the work which began with the unschooled Joseph Smith was to teach us that “man should not counsel his fellow man, nor trust in the arm of the flesh” (D&C 1).

We are not like God. We are respecters of people. We seek and enthrone authority figures whose words we trust above others. We believe the teachings, opinions, and counsel of leaders in the Church is truer and more authoritative the higher their institutional calling.  We teach that there is safety in always complying with those teachings and counsel due to the position of the leader. We believe that newer teachings and counsel are more likely to be true than teachings and counsel from past church leaders, including from scriptural prophets. We teach that nobody could know more than leaders about doctrine or correct policy. We teach that God will not teach us the truth of all things, because we are only entitled to revelation within the impenetrable sphere of our familial and institutional stewardship, essentially claiming that the scriptures lie when they  promise us knowledge of “all things” by the Holy Ghost.

We should repent. As Alma counsels us in Mosiah 23 – Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another.

What would we do if we were not respecters of people? How would we learn if we were like Jesus?

  • Think critically about everything that is taught. All ideas must compete in the marketplace of thought. Accept only what is true, regardless of the source. Reject what is false, no matter who teaches it.
  • Since no power or authority can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, we must not take someone’s Church calling into account when considering their teachings. If God did not say it, we should not accept it, and every teacher is responsible for teaching truth by the spirit of truth.
  • If an idea contradicts something that God has said, then it is false. God’s words will not fail.
  • If the spirit does not carry it to your heart, suspend your acceptance until it does.
  • The primary question is does it come from God? How did the person learn what they are teaching?
    • Directly from the Father or Son – test it, receive what the spirit gives you
    • In a vision – test it, receive what the spirit gives you
    • From an angel – test it, receive what the spirit gives you
    • Words brought by the spirit – test it, receive what the spirit gives you
    • By reading the scriptures – you can determine if their interpretation is correct, because nobody has a privileged or private interpretation. The scriptures mean what they mean. You may be better off just reading them for yourself.
    • By quoting a previous leader – then you have to ask “how did THAT leader learn this doctrine?”
    • By repeating received tradition – tradition is very untrustworthy. Trace it back to its source, then test the source.
    • No reference given, the person is just asserting something to be true – nobody’s opinion is worth a damn, everybody’s ideas have to be weighed and tested. Could be true, could be false. Probably a mixture. Falsifying it will help you discover where the truth ends and error begins.

Every teaching traces back to either the first source or the last, God or a man. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony, meaning the testimony of the prophet given to him by God (TPJS 160). You aren’t seeking the man, or to follow the man, you are seeking the testimony. That is all that matters. To be unwilling to discard a false idea because you feel obliged to obey the man offering it is to “trust in the arm of the flesh”, and those who do so willingly inherit a curse (2 Nephi 28:31).

A prophet is only a prophet when acting as such, meaning when delivering a message received from God (whether directly, by an angel, by vision, or by the holy ghost) (TPJS 278). When someone is not teaching by the spirit something that God taught them, they are not a “prophet”, and their counsel and teachings are not “prophetic.” There is no guarantee of safety in following that counsel, and it can’t offer you salvation. When Latter-day Saints use the word “prophet” as a title due the office holder, and refer to all of their teachings as “prophetic”, it obscures the distinction Joseph drew and inevitably leads people into error. People place their hope of salvation in ideas, teachings, behaviors, and traditions that cannot save. Latter-day Saint history is replete with examples of this.

“It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man¹s doctrine. You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards of doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4)

“I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas and stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.” Hugh B. Brown, counselor in First Presidency, Speech at BYU, March 29, 1968.

“If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.” (Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69.)

“It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.” (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964.)

I included these quotations for two reasons: they were well-worded statements of truth AND they were given by people considered by Latter-day Saints to be authoritative. The degree to which the second reason increases the authoritative weight you give to those statements is the degree to which you are a respecter of persons.

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