There is a teaching of Joseph Smith’s that is gem among doctrines, but which has effectively become lost to us, for it is a bit difficult for us to comprehend, because it so completely contradicts many of our traditions.
The teaching is this:
“We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same. For further instruction we refer you to Deut. xxxii, where the Lord says, that Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, howling wilderness; He led him about, be instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye, etc.; which will show the force of the last item advanced, that it is necessary for men to receive an understanding concerning the laws of the heavenly kingdom, before they are permitted to enter it, we mean the celestial glory. So dissimilar are the governments of men, and so divers are their laws, from the government and laws of heaven, that a man, for instance, hearing that there was a country on this globe called the United States of North America, could take his journey to this place without first learning the laws of government; but the conditions of God’s kingdom are such, that all who are made partakers of that glory, are under the necessity of learning something respecting it previous to their entering into it.” (TPJS 51)
One of the interesting points of this teaching is that Jacob himself, even though he was raised by the great patriarch Isaac, did not learn from that alone enough to enter the celestial kingdom. He had to be instructed by God further in the laws of the celestial kingdom before he could be allowed to enter it.
Not only that, but our ideas about government are so different than the laws of the celestial kingdom that we must be instructed in the laws of a celestial kingdom by proper degrees, until our minds are capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistence of the laws of the celestial kingdom. They are so different than what we imagine, that we must learn them by degrees.
One law, or eternal principle, of the celestial kingdom that is all over the scriptures, is explained by Joseph Smith as well as by the Lord. It is that those who become accusers of the leaders of the church will apostatize. It is that all those who try to shame God’s leaders will in turn be brought to shame many times more so by God, by giving them over to the adversary to lead astray.
This principle is hard to grasp properly, for we try and make it fit with our understanding of the world, and so we make adjustments and changes to it, and then it is no longer the same thing. We try and make it fit our way of thinking. But it is a principle of the celestial kingdom and is simply not adapted to our way of thinking.
We see it all through the scriptures. We see God put those to shame who tried to shame Christ. We see God put Judas to shame when he tries to shame Christ’s beloved Mary for anointing the Savior with costly ointment. We see God put those who accused Joseph Smith to shame. We see these things recorded and kept as part of the record in order to greatly multiply the shame of those apostates. Thus we have the story of Kohar in the Old Testament who accused Moses and Aaron, and of Korihor who accused Alma and the priests, and of Sherem who sought to shame Jacob, and of the many individuals who sought to embarrass or trick the Savior. Those were kept as part of the scriptural record to fulfill the principle that God would bring them to shame before hundreds of thousands because they sought to shame his greatest servants. We see the apostasy in the early church made part of the written record that so that their shame may be had in remembrance by each person who reads it.
This principle is a principle of the celestial kingdom. But it is completely foreign to us. When we read the story of David we are astonished that, even though Saul goes to great lengths to kill David, David is deeply concerned after he cuts off a piece of Saul’s garment when he catches Saul sleeping. That is because David knows some form of this principle as it exists in heaven. David frets about it because Saul was anointed by the prophet by revelation to be king, not just because Saul is king.
Now this principle stands in some perfect form in the celestial kingdom, and is exercised by God here on earth as well. And the problem is that it is such a foreign idea to us that we want to change it and make it something different than what it is.
The consequences for violating it are quite severe, they are deadly. So we want to keep people safe. But we want them to be safe by following some other principle that is different than the one that actually exists in heaven. We change it into something that fits our ideas better.
One of the principle ways this has been done is by teaching that the leaders never make mistakes, and by teaching that only the leaders have the right to inspiration about many things. For example, when a Bishop brings a person in and extends a calling to them, we teach that only the Bishop had the right to the inspiration about the calling, and that the person being called only has the right to confirm that the Bishop was correct, never to receive inspiration that the Bishop was in error. We teach that when a youth leader is to be called, the Bishop is the only person who has a right to inspiration about that, and that the parents of that youth have no right to inspiration about the matter.
But most of all, we teach that the leaders never make mistakes.
And in reality, of course the leaders make mistakes.
But that law of the celestial kingdom DOES STAND. And God WILL enforce it as it stands. Even if the leaders make mistakes. That is the surprising part. God will bring those to shame who accuse the brethren even if they accuse the brethren of genuine mistakes.
Here are the words of Joseph Smith laying out this principle:
“O ye Twelve! and all Saints! profit by this important Key–that in all your trials, troubles, temptations, afflictions, bonds, imprisonments and death, see to it, that you do not betray heaven; that you do not betray Jesus Christ; that you do not betray the brethren; that you do not betray the revelations of God, whether in Bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants, or any other that ever was or ever will be given and revealed unto man in this world or that which is to come. Yea, in all your kicking and flounderings, see to it that you do not this thing, lest innocent blood be found upon your skirts, and you go down to hell. All other sins are not to be compared to sinning against the Holy Ghost, and proving a traitor to the brethren.” (Joseph Smith, TPJS, 156)
Joseph Smith extends this plain statement as follows:
“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 other, 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.” (Joseph Smith, TPJS, 156)
One of the Savior’s teachings to the Nephites captures the same principle. The Savior commanded them:
“… every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me” (3 Nephi 22:18)
This commandment was originally given through Isaiah, but the Savior taught it again to the Nephites by his own mouth. He commanded that those who revile against the Lord’s servants through judgment were to be condemned, meaning they were to be disciplined or cut off by the church.
Now this great commandment is a principle of heaven that God strictly enforces. So to keep everyone from suffering the dreadful consequences of that inviolate law, we have many that teach that the leaders never make mistakes. This is not correct, and frankly doesn’t fit with the revelations. But it gets taught to keep everyone safe.
So the intention is to protect people. But protection under an altered principle also has its dangers because it isn’t the truth. The truth is always better. Truth is always right.
The truth is that we must not become accusers of the brethren, we must not judge them, we must not revile against them in judgment, we must pass over their flaws. That is very different than saying that they never make mistakes. Certainly the brethren make mistakes, and yet, even so, it is an eternal principle that God will take those who shame the brethren (even though the brethren make mistakes) and bring them to great shame. This is true EVEN IF people try and shame the brethren over genuine mistakes.
And the reason I am writing this is that I am seeing our substitute for the true principle causing severe harm among us. We have so exaggerated our protective net to keep people from violating God’s sacred law protecting his leaders that we seem to do it almost without sense.
For example, I recall years ago attending a BYU fireside in which the audience stood while singing a hymn about the prophet. The announcer for the fireside then got up and reproved the audience for standing during the hymn because the apostle seated on the stand did not stand for the hymn.
Now that’s just ridiculous. That is our safety net wildly exaggerated beyond all reason. That is taking the principle to not accuse the brethren and making our safety net around it so enormous that we no longer have the least degree of spiritual independence, which is deeply wrong. But, sadly, we have many faithful members who have grown to feel that way. If something is wrong and they know it is wrong and know the scriptures say it is wrong they won’t just say it is wrong themselves unless they can think of a recent time when one of the twelve said it was wrong.
Spiritual independence is a critical part of the gospel. Otherwise, there is no point in giving the regular members the gift of the Holy Ghost. They are supposed to learn to come to act in the image of Christ themselves. That is what it means to take Christ’s name upon them. They are to learn to receive and act independently on inspiration and revelation. They are supposed to strictly measure their actions against their own covenants and against the scriptures for themselves quite independently. There is no reason for individuals to have the light of Christ if they are not supposed to discern good and evil for themselves independently.
We have supplanted the great (and critical) commandment to not accuse the brethren with a sort of bizarre puppet-like copying of their every move in which we no longer really feel obligated to act on the plainest teachings of the scriptures, and in which we are no longer concerned over the terms of our own covenants, and which consequently lacks the power of real conversion. Real conversion requires that we learn to search the scriptures and diligently keep our own covenants and hearken to the Holy Ghost in all things and act for ourselves. No man who cannot act for himself as the Holy Ghost directs, independently of any other man, is converted. For to be converted is to be born of the spirit.
Now certainly, yes, this safety net does protect people from the awful consequences of becoming critics of the brethren. And yes, those consequences are truly awful and are meted out by God himself.
But we have substituted an altered principle in place of an eternal one, and our alteration is taking a terrible toll, as it has become quite extreme. We should teach the true principle plainly with no alteration at all. Instead, our alteration has become so extreme that it is causing other dramatic problems. Joseph Smith also addressed these, and we would be fools not to listen:
Eliza R Snow recorded that Joseph Smith taught, speaking of the church, “that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, …” (TPJS 237)
Now this teaching is also quite profound. He taught “that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves”. Each man must learn to see for himself, to know truth for himself. Each man must strictly keep his own covenants with God for himself, must act on the light of Christ to discern good from evil for himself, must strive to live so as to receive and obey the Holy Ghost for himself, and must search and live by the scriptures for himself.
We can stand firmly for everything that is right, and stand boldly against everything that is wrong, and not be accusers of the brethren. But that doesn’t mean we always do exactly what we see them do, for to do things differently is not accusing them. We are not supposed to be their shadows. We are supposed to follow Christ ourselves, according to all that the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, our covenants and the scriptures lay out before us individually. For these gifts and covenants were given to us individually, and God expects us to use them individually to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord.