The Grossest Form of Church Criticism

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994)

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994)

In recent weeks I have encountered what I consider to be one of the most damaging forms of criticism of the Church.  You might think that it is from all the anti-Mormon literature or propaganda.  Or perhaps it is those who are so vocal as to picket the curbs at our General Conferences with signs, profanity, and filth.  You might think it is those who have become disaffected, have left the Church, and are now eager to tear it down or “expose” it for what they see as serious problems.  You might think it is the work of scholars who have been excommunicated, and now find intellectual haven in promoting arguments against the learned.  You might even think that it is those tribulations that come from the adversary himself.  But this is not the case.

There is a much more gross and pernicious form of criticism of the restored gospel and of the Lord’s restored Church.  It is that criticism which comes from within the Church.

I know that this runs in the same current as several of my latest posts, but I strongly believe that “it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).  And it also has a direct relationship to the covenants we make to God in the temple. 

Our beloved Prophet and President Ezra Taft Benson once strongly warned:

Sometimes we hear someone refer to a division in the Church. In reality, the Church is not divided. It simply means that there are some who, for the time being at least, are members of the Church but not in harmony with it. These people have a temporary membership and influence in the Church; but unless they repent, they will be missing when the final membership records are recorded.

It is well that our people understand this principle, so they will not be misled by those apostates within the Church who have not yet repented or been cut off. But there is a cleansing coming. The Lord says that his vengeance shall be poured out “upon the inhabitants of the earth. . . . And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me. . . .” (D&C 112:24–26.). I look forward to that cleansing; its need within the Church is becoming increasingly apparent.

The Lord strengthened the faith of the early apostles by pointing out Judas as a traitor, even before this apostle had completed his iniquitous work. So also in our day the Lord has told us of the tares within the wheat that will eventually be hewn down when they are fully ripe. But until they are hewn down, they will be with us, amongst us…

Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., stated: “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. . . . We should be careful of them. . . .” (Conference Report, April 1949, p. 163.)

The wolves amongst our flock are more numerous and devious today than when President Clark made this statement.  [And it is even worse yet in 2008.]

President David O. McKay said that “the Church is little, if at all, injured by persecution, and calumnies from ignorant, misinformed, or malicious enemies. A greater hindrance to its progress comes from faultfinders, shirkers, commandment-breakers, and apostate cliques within its own ecclesiastical and quorum groups.” (Conference Report, October 1967, p. 9.)

Not only are there apostates within our midst, but there are also apostate doctrines that are sometimes taught in our classes and from our pulpits and that appear in our publications. And these apostate precepts of men cause our people to stumble. As the Book of Mormon, speaking of our day, states: “. . . they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Ne. 28:14.)1

Let me give you some examples of what I see as the hallmarks of these types of apostates within the Church:

  • They claim to be active, temple-attending, members of the Church
  • They claim to have served faithful missions and currently have callings in their wards or stakes.
  • Somehow they have become disaffected from what the prophets and apostles teach, whether it is through anti-Mormon literature, peer pressure, other apostates, being offended by someone in the Church, losing their testimony, becoming too infatuated with Babylon/world, or other ways, but they remain in the Church for social/familial/political/monetary or other reasons.
  • They believe that we can’t trust that the leadership of the Church are the Lord’s anointed servants.
  • They believe that we can’t trust what the leadership teaches is truth.
  • They believe that we shouldn’t believe that the Church is the “one true Church.”
  • They believe that we can’t trust that what the prophets and apostles teach us is the mind and will of the Lord for our day.
  • They don’t believe in continual revelation through the authorities of the Church.
  • They believe that the prophet and apostles have taught and continue to perpetuate false precepts and doctrines, and they focus all there efforts and attention on these controversial subjects.
  • They believe that the Church is engaged in intentionally covering-up or hiding its history from its members.
  • They believe it is more important to question, doubt, be skeptical, have suspicion, uncertainty, mistrust, waver, fear, and hesitate about the teachings of the Church and its authorities rather than have faith, seek answers, believe, trust in the Lord, have confidence, seek increased learning by study and faith, pray for confirmation, look to ecclesiastical leaders and the authorities of the Church for answers, trust that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is guiding this work by and through his chosen and anointed servants, and that they will never lead the Church astray.
  • If they think that the prophets and apostles are teaching incorrect or false principles, they believe they have a moral obligation to teach and tell others within the Church about it, and thereby lead them into the same mode of belief in opposition to Church leadership.

Now, they are expertly subtle about the way they go about much of this.  Their use of words is impeccable, and they sound as if they are full supporters and sustainers of the Church and its leadership.  But you’ll notice that many of the above points are precisely the same arguments as our most vocal critics on the outside of the Church.  The only difference is the first three points.  These are still members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in many cases they hold high callings and serve in positions of leadership, professorship, or influence among our brethren and sisters.  This is what makes their criticism ever more powerful, deceitful, and destructive among members of the Church.  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (the priesthood), who are much more easy to believe than those who voice their opinions outside the Church.  Their seduction is unsurpassed in its nefariousness and effectiveness.  Members accept them as their brethren or sisters, trust they are teaching correct principles, fall into the trap of believing their false ideologies, are pacified by their worldview and with their relaxed take on the restored gospel, and are lulled away into the carnal security of believing in their own selves and not on Christ and His restored Church, and thus they are in a most deadly way cheated by the adversary, and if they do not come to a realization of the truth and the deception they have fallen into and repent, they will be led by the adversary down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21).  It is the tares among the wheat within the Church that have done and will continue to do the Church the most harm, particularly as Babylon spirals uncontrollably downward in wickedness, lies, and corruption which has been foretold will precede the Second Coming of the Savior.

This is none other than pure apostasy which the prophets and apostles have warned us about time and time again since the beginning.  Those are precisely the things that we have been told are the hallmarks of apostasy.  If we believe in these philosophies of man which are mingled with Church concepts, and associate ourselves with such persons and corruption, we have built our house on a sandy foundation, and when the horrendous storms come, we will most certainly fall:

24 ¶ Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matt. 7:24–29; see also 3 Ne. 11:39–40, 3 Ne. 14:24–27, and 3 Ne. 18:13)

Such apostasy took place among the membership of the early Christian church too.  The Apostle Paul warned the Romans:

16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 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.
19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. (Rom. 16:17–19)

Paul also warned Timothy:

3 As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling;
7 Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; (1 Tim. 1:3–4; see especially D&C 52:9, 36)

It is precisely these kinds of divisions, false doctrines, and a break between those who were teaching and those who were the authorities of the Church that caused the early church to fall into the Great Apostasy.  The Lord even warned Joshua in the Old Testament:

Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. (Josh. 1:7)

What is the rock that we should built upon in our day?  Jesus Christ taught us clearly in the New Testament:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18)

The rock is the authority of the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the revelation which He gives through that priesthood to those who profess His name.

There is a reason why Christ has established disciplinary councils within the Church.  Elder Ballard has taught why we have them:

[Their] purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name.2

By promoting the false ideologies that I have listed above, apostates within the Church are circumventing these very three purposes that God has established in His Church for members to repent of wrongdoing, increase their faith in Christ, and become perfected in Him.  It is not OK to just be a “Sunday” member of the Church.  It is not OK to be on the rolls solely for social interaction.  It is not OK to believe that the Church is only “mostly true” or only “good.”  It is not OK to disregard the counsel of the prophets and apostles and to be swayed by every wind of doctrine.  It is not OK to believe more in the philosophies of man or your own arm of flesh than in the word of God as He delivers it through his anointed servants.  It is not OK to not have a testimony of the truth of this work.  It is not OK to half-heartedly obey the commandments.  It is not OK to publicly and openly discredit the prophets and apostles that the Lord has set at the head of this Church, or to otherwise criticize the Lord’s anointed.  These are damnable offenses, contrary to the word and will of God, and are violations of the sacred covenants that we make with God in the holy temple.  When the Bridegroom comes, those who have so lived will not find a place at the wedding supper.  It would be much better for these to receive ecclesiastical guidance and, if necessary, disciplinary counsel from the Lord’s representatives to help them on their journey of progression and faith in Christ, than for them to hide in the pews behind this façade of false faith, complacency and carnal security which gets them nowhere, and which leads others down the same path of darkness.

Having said that, do not think that I am being “anti-intellectual.”  A prophet has declared that “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29).  But, if we do not hearken to the “counsels of God,” their “wisdom is foolishness,” for they suppose they know the truth “of themselves,” and it “profiteth them not” (2 Nephi 9:28).  We’ve been criticized, inside the Church and out, that we follow the General Authorities by blind obedience.  As has been taught many times by Christ and His servants, we don’t obey because we are blind.  We obey because we can see.  Faith is the oil which lights our lamps (Heb. 11).  We have received a testimony and witness from the Holy Ghost that this Church is true.  It is the Church of Christ.  We know that it is led by prophets and apostles of God.  We know that they converse with the Lord, face-to-face.  We know the countless blessings we have received by following their counsel.  We know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, for we have tested it.  We know that this is the kingdom of God on the Earth today.  We know that by following the teachings of the living prophets that we will find safety and security in the turmoils of our day and time.  We know that there are miracles upon miracles that occur daily throughout the Church because we have the faith to participate in them and witness them.  We know that Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, is leading this Church, and none other.

Do not be deceived.  We have been warned about these times.  The Apostle Paul again cautioned the Church:

1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
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.
8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.
10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,
11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3)

Members of the Church should be doubly aware that the most damaging deceit that we will have in the last days will be that which comes from within the shadows of the membership of our very Church.  In the Book of Mormon we are told that “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the Welfare of Zion… But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion…” (2 Nephi 26:29, 31).  Many of these same points of apostate criticism were also used by the anti-Christ Korihor in Alma 30, and Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah when they sought to destroy the church of God.

Trust in God.  Trust that God has called those who preside over His Church, and that He will not let them lead it astray.  Pray to Him to know with a surety of these things.  If you will do this, you will in nowise lose your reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
30 Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above. (D&C 58:27–33)

I bear my testimony once again, that this is the one true Church of Jesus Christ on the Earth today.  I know that.  I know many who know that.  God has called those who have led the Church, from Joseph Smith to President Thomas S. Monson, and the apostles.  Christ leads it today.  Christ suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross so that we could be forgiven for all our shortcomings, weaknesses, faults, and sins.  If we come unto Him with full purpose of heart, thirsting and hungering after the word of God, He will bless us immeasurably, and we will eventually be crowned with immortality and eternal life in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. (2 Nephi 28:28; cf. 1 Nephi 16:2)

Notes:
  1. President Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, 253-263. []
  2. Elder Ballard, “A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings,” Ensign, September 1990, 12. []

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  1. [...] very same subject, but I think I’ve made my point (you can read more in my article “The Grossest Form of Church Criticism“).  Just so I am perfectly clear – I will not, and I will not allow others to, [...]

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