"I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man." (Joseph Smith, HC, ch 26, p. 385.)

From an anonymous commenter on AnonymousBishop.com

Overall, excellent post Anon Bishop. However, there is one minor point I take issue with. The quote from Joseph Smith: “That man who rises up to condemn others…that man is in the high road to apostasy” (Chapter 26, History of the Church (volume/page marker 3:385) https://byustudies.byu.edu/hc/hcpgs/hc.aspx), please take a closer look at the context of that quote and reconsider how you are using it.

Joseph prefaced his words just prior to saying those words as follows:

“O Ye Twelve! and all Saints!…”

His train of thought from that introduction to the warning in question is one fluid and connected idea, per the word “key”. He was clearly talking to all the Saints when he is talking about the danger of apostasy due to “finding fault with the Church”. He clearly meant that to be a prohibition against publicly finding fault with him, or publicly criticizing the direction the Church was taking.

While it is true that the overall speech in 3:385 is directed specifically to the Twelve (this is made clear on page 383), he broadens his audience just before issuing the warning about apostasy. For this reason, I think that Paul Toscano’s assertion in his Dialogue article is not careful in this regard (although I think his article is powerful and inspired overall).

In the end, my conclusion is that Joseph Smith was mistaken in his assertion about apostasy. Rising up and finding fault with the Church is not a harbinger of personal apostasy: such a correlation does not exist and is not an “eternal key” of truth. The scriptures are full of “fringe” characters who rose up and found fault with the people of God (“the Church”), because the Spirit impressed them to stand their ground and speak truth to power when the people of God weren’t living up to their covenants. Such critics did not commit apostasy, they were true to the end (Samuel the Lamanite, Abinidi, Lehi vs. King Zedekiah and the mainstream Jewish culture, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Alma the Elder vs. King Noah, etc).

I think that Joseph was overly sensitive to criticism, and he taught mistaken doctrine about it. One reason that he was prone to imperfection in this matter: the kind of criticism he received was often tinged with murderous and violent overtones, and it often involved intentional lies or unflattering exaggerations by those who were bent on doing him harm and destroying the fledgling organization he was trying to hold together. He had to manage crisis after crisis, had to deal with many officers in high positions whose words and actions threatened to tear the Church apart and destroy whatever tenuous unity existed. He very much wanted the relentless train of crises to subside, and at times he mistakenly taught that strict obedience to the top mortal leaders and zero criticism of them was the way to achieve that peace and stability. It was a natural and carnal impulse on his part, a craving for easy answers, a silver-bullet doctrine or “key”. It did a lot of harm, because those who came after him aggressively championed his “strict-obedience-to-leaders” idea (for example, see https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-27). To his credit, he also taught good doctrine on this point on more than one occasion (see quotes below).

The righteous criticism that is being spoken from the city walls by people like yourself is the kind of criticism that needs to be spoken. Thank you for your willingness to give your insights and testimony to the world –please keep up the good work.

The unity that currently exists in the Church is largely artificial. Carnally pleasing doctrines like “follow the prophet” rule the day. However, I think that the tide is slowly turning towards individual responsibility. One day, when more Saints have woken up due to reading websites like this one (and Pure Mormonism, etc), we will have a spiritual coming of age, and the majority will begin to expect and demand leaders who teach spiritual self-sufficiency rather than spiritual subordination.

One day, a critical mass of active members will hopefully begin to vote in opposition against anyone who preaches “follow mortal leaders”. This signal of non-confidence will rock the leadership to the core and will hopefully motivate them to repent. Either that, or God will replace them, once enough Saints are awake to merit it, with leaders who are awake and who understand the principle of spiritual self-sufficiency. This is how the law of restoration works: we get the leaders we deserve. At present, the majority of the Saints deserve leaders who teach spiritual subordination, because the majority is guilty of spiritual subordination, so we have blind leaders in that regard (the blind are leading the blind).

One day, the following teachings will achieve primacy and we will have leaders who champion these truths (you and others like you are the tip of the spear in returning these teachings to their rightful place):

“You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder Seymour B. Young, First Quorum of the Seventy 1882-1924).

“Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will never fail us. When men and women depend upon God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside”. (George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Deseret Weekly, 43:322, Mar 7, 1891).

“We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the President. I will confess to my own shame that I have acted contrary to my own judgment many times. I mean hereafter not to demean myself, to not run contrary to my own judgment. When President Young says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider that all we should do is to say let it be so.” (Elder Orson Pratt; see Conflict in the Quorum ?by Gary James Bergera, 2002).

“If we have presidents or apostles or anybody that we do not like, let us vote them out, and be free men, and cultivate and cherish in our bosoms the principles of liberty.” (President John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48.)

“And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.” Mark 9:46, JST

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 237-38).

 

Julie DeLong: "Perhaps Joseph simply meant the “church” as defined in D&C 10:67–68. I don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of that church, for sure." (Ibid.)

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