Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President Clark 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. . . .” (Conf. Report, April 1949, p. 163)
The wolves amongst our flock are more numerous and devious today than when President Clark made this statement. . . .
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. . . .
Christ taught that we should be in the world but not of it. Yet there are some in our midst who are not so much concerned about taking the gospel into the world as they are about bringing worldliness into the gospel. They want us to be in the world and of it. They want us to be popular with the worldly even though a prophet has said that this is impossible, for all hell would then want to join us.
Through their own reasoning and a few misapplied scriptures, they try to sell us the precepts and philosophies of men. They do not feel the Church is progressive enough. — President Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1969, p. 11; Book of Mormon Student Manual, pp. 39-40
The war in heaven never ended, we simply switched battlefields. In pre-earth life Satan sought us by gift and was rejected wit his plan by our Father in Heaven. Now, here upon the earth, he seeks us by the commission of sin. During the Missouri persecutions there were many who apostatized from the Church and even became enemies. The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of their sad state and warned against apostasy.
At the conclusion of the Prophet’s remarks, Isaac Behunnin, a member of the Church, stated: “If I should leave this Church, I would not do as those men have done – I would go to some remote place where Mormonism had never been heard of, settle down, and no one would ever learn that I knew anything about it.” To which Joseph Smith replied: “Brother Behunnin, you don’t know what you would do. No doubt these men once thought as you do. Before you joined this church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.” He [further] emphasized the fact that a man or woman who had not taken sides either with Christ or Belial could maintain a neutral position, but when they enlisted under either the one or the other, they left the neutral ground forever. (Juvenile Instructor, Aug. 15, 1892, p. 492)
. . . Why is it, then, that the apostates will not leave the Church alone? Because they are the servants of sin and have another master whose bidding they now do. — Church News, January 4, 1997, p. 13
It seems that history continues to teach us, You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone. The basic reason for this is simple. Once someone has received a witness of the Spirit and accepted it, he leaves neutral ground. One loses his testimony only by listening to the promptings of the evil one, and Satan’s goal is not complete when a person leaves the Church, but when he comes out in open rebellion against it. — Bishop Glenn L. Pace, General Conference, 1989; Church News, July, 22, 2000, p. 14
There are those within the Church who are disturbed when changes are made with which they disagree or when changes they propose are not made. They point to these as evidence that the leaders are not inspired.
They write and speak to convince others that the doctrines and decisions of the Brethren are not given through inspiration.
Two things characterize them: they are always irritated by the word obedience, and always they question revelation. It has always been so. Helaman described those who “began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face” (Helaman 4:23). “They were left in their own strength” (4:13), and “the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them” (4:24).
Changes in organization or procedures are a testimony that revelation is ongoing. While doctrines remain fixed, the methods or procedures do not. –– Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, November 1989, p. 15
Why do people apostatize? You know we are on the “Old Ship Zion.” We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. “I am not going to stay here,” says one; “I don’t believe this is the ‘Ship Zion.’ “But we are in the midst of the ocean.” “I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.” Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the “Old Ship Zion,” let us stay in it. — Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 10:295; Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 85
Pride is a path many trod toward deception – whether they be the deceivers or the deceived. In the early days of the Church in Ohio, a priest from another faith joined the restored Church of Jesus Christ. This man, Ezra Booth, was ordained an elder upon his baptism in 1831, according to the History of the Church.
“He went up to Missouri as a companion of Elder Morley; but when he actually learned that faith, humility, patience, and tribulation go before blessing, and that God brings low before He exalts; that instead of the ‘Savior’s granting him power to smite men and make them believe,’ (as he said he wanted God to do in his own case) – when he found he must become all things to all men, that he might peradventure, save some; and that, too, by all diligence, by perils by sea and land; as was the case in the days of Jesus – then he was disappointed.
“In the 6th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, 26th verse, it is written: ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.’ So it was with Booth; and when he was disappointed by his own evil heart, he turned away, and as said before, became an apostate, and wrote a series of letters, which, by their coloring, falsity, and vain calculations to overthrow the work of the Lord, exposed his weakness, wickedness and folly, and left him a monument of his own shame, for the world to wonder at.”
The minutes of a conference held on Sept. 6, 1831, which were signed by Oliver Cowdery, also recorded: “Upon testimony satisfactory to this conference, it was voted that Ezra Both be silenced from preaching as an Elder in this Church.” — Church News, June 16, 2001, p. 15
The next spring I was again on my way to a foreign land, having been given a second mission to the Sandwich Islands. This time I accompanied Apostles Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow, Elders William W. Cluff and Alma L. Smith, the special object of our errand being to put a stop to the fraudulent operations of the imposter, Walter M. Gibson, who was deceiving the credulous and simple-minded native members of the Church, not only in matters of doctrine, but with grotesquely false representations of his own power and authority. He had re-organized the Church according to his own fancies, ordained Twelve Apostles and other officers, selling them their ordinations, and imposing himself upon the people as a priestly and kingly ruler, to whom they must pay abject homage. We confronted him, charged him with his misdeeds, and labored faithfully to reclaim him, but he proved obdurate and impenitent and was therefore cut off from the Church. We then directed our energies towards reclaiming those whom he had misled, and in this work, under the blessing of God, we were very successful. . . .
We set in order the affairs of the Hawaiian mission, of which, after Elder Gibson’s excommunication, I was given charge, with Elders Cluff and Smith as my assistants; the two Apostles returning to Utah. . . . We worked energetically against the imposture, and gradually won back those whom Gibson had deceived. — President Joseph F. Smith, “Reminiscences by the First Presidency,” Dec. 21, 1901; President Joseph F. Smith, President John R. Winder, President Anthon H. Lund; Deseret News, December 21, 1901, p. 57
As for William E. McLellin, his conduct, though kind, was very peculiar. He, it will be remembered, was one of the original Twelve Apostles, chosen in 1835, but excommunicated with David Whitmer and others for apostasy a few years later. He treated Brother Pratt and myself with every consideration, fairly gluing himself to our society as long as we remained at Independence, acting as our guide in visiting every point of interest in that historic town, loitering about our hotel while we took our meals, and waiting to rejoin us at every possible opportunity. He was full of reminiscences, but seemed to be all unsettled in his feelings and convictions, at one moment praising the Prophet Joseph to the skies, and at the next casting reflections upon him and the other Church leaders of his period. I never saw the sad effects of apostasy more plainly manifested. He stated that he was writing a book about his early connection with the Church, but I have never learned that he completed it. When we departed he accompanied us to the railroad station and stood gazing after us until our train disappeared in the distance. I corresponded with him afterwards as long as he lived. — President Joseph F. Smith, “Reminiscences by the First Presidency, Dec. 21, 1901; Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Pres. John R. Winder, Pres. Anthon H. Lund; Deseret News, December 21, 1901, p. 57
There is safety in learning doctrine in gatherings which are sponsored by proper authority. Some members, even some who have made covenants in the temple, are associating with groups of one kind or another which have an element of secrecy about them and which pretend to have some higher source of inspiration concerning the fulfillment of prophecies than do ward or stake leaders or the General Authorities of the Church. Know this: There are counterfeit revelations which, we are warned, “shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant” (Joseph Smith–Matthew 1:22). — Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 21
Perhaps it is helpful to note here, with respect to apostate movements, that in any apostasy there are the deliberate initiators and perpetrators of lies (see 1 Nephi 13:27; Jacob 4:14; Moses 1:41), but there is usually also a larger group of innocent and well-intentioned victims (see 1 Nephi 13:29; D&C 123:12). Not all promoters of false ideas have malignant intent; most are to some extent the victims of those who have gone before. — Susan Easton Black, “Thy People Shall Be My People and Thy God My God: The 22nd Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium,” p. 176
Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, for they speak from impure hearts. Only the “pure in heart” see the “God” or the divine in man and accept our leaders and accept them as prophets of the Living God. . . .
I want to bear you my testimony that the experience I have had has taught me that those who criticize the leaders of this Church are showing signs of a spiritual sickness which, unless curbed, will bring about eventually spiritual death. I want to bear my testimony as well that those who in public seek by their criticism to belittle our leaders or bring them into disrepute, will bring upon themselves more hurt than upon those whom they seek thus to malign. I have watched over the years, and I have read of the history of many of those who fell away from this Church, and I want to bear testimony that no apostate who ever left this Church ever prospered as an influence in his community thereafter. — President Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1947, p. 67
The Saints should not imagine that because they know the truth and the Work of God at the present time, that they will always know these things and therefore be able to stand. If they lose the Holy Spirit through their transgressions, from that moment their knowledge respecting the Work of God ceases to increase and becomes dead; a short time only elapses before such persons deny the faith. They may not deny that the Work was ever true, or that the Elders were ever the servants of God, but they will place a limit and say, ‘Up to such a time the work was true and the Elders were all right, but, after that, they went astray,’ – that very period being the time at which they themselves had committed some act or acts to forfeit the Spirit of God and kill the growth of that knowledge which they had had bestowed upon them. This has been the case in numerous instances in the past. . . . It is plain that it is they who have transgressed, and thereby driven the Spirit of the Lord from them; and at the very time they say the Church of God strayed, they themselves were guilty of transgression. (Elder George Q. Cannon, “Knowledge, without the Aid of the Spirit of the Lord, Not Sufficient to Save,” Millennial Star, 8 Aug. 1863, pp. 505–6.) — Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 297
President N. Eldon Tanner interpreted D&C 121:34–40. “Why Are They Not Chosen?” as referring to those who fail to magnify their priesthood or who use it as it should not be used: “I know of many cases where a man has gradually failed to magnify his priesthood and moved away from activity in the Church. As a result, a man who has been very active loses his testimony and the Spirit of the Lord withdraws from him, and he begins to criticize those in authority, and to persecute the saints, apostatize, and fight against God.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1970, p. 52.) — Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 299
This chain reaction illustrates why some men are called but not chosen:
When the hearts of men—
1. Are set on the things of the world, or
2. Aspire to the honors of men,
They will act in ways detrimental to spiritual growth, including—
1. Covering their sins.
2. Gratifying their pride and vain ambitions.
3. Exercising unrighteous dominion over others.
These actions cause—
1. The heavens to withdraw themselves.
2. The Spirit of the Lord to be grieved.
3. A withdrawal of power and authority.
This can also be stated positively:
When the hearts of men—
1. Are set on the things of God, and
2. Aspire to God’s approval,
They will act in ways beneficial to spiritual growth, including—
1. Repenting of their sins.
2. Humbling themselves.
3. Seeking the kingdom of God first.
4. Exercising love and charity toward others.
These actions cause—
1. The heavens to draw near.
2. The Spirit of the Lord to be near.
3. An increase in power and authority.
— Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 299
We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel, the constituted organizations of the Priesthood, which is the channel that God has appointed through which to make known His mind and will to the world. . . .
. . . the moment that individuals look to any other source, that moment they throw themselves open to the seductive influences of Satan, and render themselves liable to become servants of the devil; they lose sight of the true order through which the blessings of the Priesthood are to be enjoyed; they step outside of the pale of the kingdom of God, and are on dangerous ground. Whenever you see a man rise up claiming to have received direct revelation from the Lord to the Church, independent of the order and channel of the Priesthood, you may set him down as an impostor. — President Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses, 24:188-90; Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 87
“I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom,” Joseph Smith taught the Saints in 1839. “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.” — Daniel Peterson, “Dealing with issues that are secondary,” Mormon Times, Deseret News, June 16, 2011, p. 2; Joseph Smith, History of the Church 3:385