The Vaccine Against Personal Apostasy

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This post is not one of my more humorous attempts – it is one of my more serious attempts, so please stick with me.

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Have you heard the poem about the blind men and the elephant? The basic gist of the story is that 6 blind men touch different parts of an elephant, and then try to explain what an elephant looks like, based on their isolated experience. (If you want to read the original poem, click here.)

Blind men Elephant

I can’t help but think that General Conference is a bit like that for all of us. Each one of us takes away our own personal experience – but what could be life-altering for you, might not have even been noticed by me – and vice-versa. That is part of the beauty of being taught with the Spirit present. Our experience is our experience, and what we each stand in need of. What a gift!

As I quoted in a previous post, President Harold B. Lee described what is discussed in Conference saying, “These are the important matters the Lord sees fit to reveal to this people in this day.” (Link)

There were a few concepts that stood out last week from sheer emphasis and repetition. as “important matters.” One was counsel of how we work through our doubts and questions. Another was how we should stay strong in our faith and in the Church.  These themes were repeated over and over.

And I think I know why.

As sad as it sounds, some members of the Church are losing their faith and their testimonies. I’m sure many of you have friends and/or family members who have chosen to let go of the Ol’ Ship Zion and wandered down different paths, or abandoned religion altogether.

It is tragic. Not only do many who apostatize abandon their faith, they leave a trail of wreckage behind – broken hearts, broken covenants, broken spouses, broken families. And the biggest tragedy of all is that many of these apostates are so fooled by the voices they have begun to follow, that they firmly believe they are nobly following the Savior – even as they attempt to destroy the testimonies of those around them.

And it can happen to the best of us. Members with strong testimonies, leaders and loved ones can succumb to false teachings of the adversary. Smart, strong saints are not immune. None of us are.

In speaking of these times, the Savior said, “For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (J.S. Matthew 1:22)

It is true. Some of the very elect are being deceived, and in their twisted sense of “enlightenment,” they are quick and convincing in their attempts to get others to join them. It is sneaky, it is devastating, it is horribly dishonest. They fulfill the words spoken by President Boyd K. Packer when he said, “They leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone.” (link) Yet many of those apostates would defend their actions by protesting that they are following a “better path,” or “following Jesus,” when, in reality, they are blinded.

“…Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.” (D&C 78:10)

In the Priesthood Session President Uchtdorf mentioned how this works: “Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail. He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naive, blind, or brainwashed. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets.” (Be Not Afraid, Only Believe)

Whether apostates who attempt to destroy faith do it out of misguided motives, or out of sport, they are real, they are out there, and they are dangerous.

(I told you this wasn’t going to be funny.)

As I listened to Conference, I heard one recurring theme that was repeated in talk after talk – at least eight references from different speakers. The theme? The importance of participating in the Sacrament in order to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. At the end of this post I have listed eight passages from last weekend for further reading.

I will admit that I am hyper-sensitive sensitive to noticing these teachings. The importance of the sacrament is probably the most common religious theme I have written about over the history of my blog.  (I have added links to six of those posts below.)

When I served as a Bishop, one of my “charges” I felt I was given from the Lord was to teach that proper understanding of, and participating in the sacrament is crucial to our happiness and salvation. It changes lives. I have seen it in others, and experienced it for myself.

So, why would I claim that the sacrament is a “vaccine against personal apostasy?”

Because it works. It gives us the ability to resist infection from spiritual diseases – from whatever the source. Having the companionship of the Holy Ghost requires cleanliness, and the only way to cleanliness is through the Atonement – which requires us to repent, and participate in the sacrament.  When dealing with spiritual diseases and personal apostasy, the old adage is especially true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How does this prevent personal apostasy? The reasoning is simple, and spiritually simple to comprehend.

Members of the Church who have the Holy Ghost with them. . .

• Sustain the Prophet and Apostles.

• Understand that living prophets trump dead prophets, and even canonized scripture.

• Do not live hidden, double lives and call it “righteous.”

• Do not seek to destroy the faith of others. They strive to build faith in others.

• Do not deny the authority of God and His Kingdom on the earth.

• Do not claim to know more than their leaders.

• Do not reinvent the ordinances – such as the sacrament (irony) to conform to their own imaginings.

• Do not claim to be privy to a “better” way of living the gospel than that which is taught within the Church.

• Do not let go of the iron rod, nor try to redefine it.

Perhaps the biggest, and most obvious: People who have the Holy Ghost with them are not fooled by alternate voices of the adversary.

Simply put, people who have the Holy Ghost in their lives do not leave the Church. Period. The very act of withdrawing from the Church is proof that the Spirit has already left that person, or soon will. Why? Because companionship of the Holy Ghost is a privilege given only to those who renew their covenants by partaking of the sacrament regularly, and correctly  at church.

So here is our charge: We must be so accustomed to what the voice of the Spirit feels like that we will not be deceived by other voices – or be spiritually blinded by crafty words, false spirits, or the wisdom of men. We must teach our children what the Spirit feels like so they will notice when he has withdrawn, and desperately want it back. They also must have that same familiarity with the Spirit to distinguish it from the promptings that come form other sources. This ability to differentiate between the Holy Ghost and false spirits is that very thing that apostates who claim to have found “a better way” fail to possess.

We must have the spirit of discernment – which is a gift of the Spirit. (Link)

The sacrament is the vaccine that can protect us against personal apostasy.

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Administered carefully, properly, and weekly, the sacrament has the power to invoke the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and invite the Holy Ghost to be a part of our lives. It is the only way to have His spirit to be with us.

Distancing ourselves from the Church, distances us from the ordinance of the sacrament. If we do not attend Church, and participate correctly in the sacrament, we can be assured that the spirits that are guiding our lives are NOT the Holy Ghost. Scary.

It is no accident that the sacrament prayers were repeatedly quoted during Conference. Neither is it a surprise that Elder Eyring gave a masterful talk last week entitled, “The Holy Ghost as Your Companion.”  In it he said this:

“Just as the Holy Ghost strengthens us against evil, He also gives us the power to discern truth from falsehood. The truth that matters most is verified only by revelation from God. Our human reason and the use of our physical senses will not be enough. We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception.”

“Confirmation of truth comes to a son or daughter of God who has claimed the right to receive the Holy Ghost. Since falsehoods and lies may be presented to us at any time, we need a constant influence of the Spirit of Truth to spare us moments of doubt.”

There it is. If we have the Holy Ghost with us, we won’t be fooled, as so many seem to be these days. In a world of sophistry and cynicism, this promise of strength and discernment could very well be the difference between spiritual life and death.

I offer my personal witness that the way we access the Atonement of Christ, and achieve cleanliness is through sincere repentance and the sacrament. That is how we earn the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and the safety he provides. I know it, I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it.

I warned you that this wasn’t going to be funny.

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NOTE: If you intention is to leave a comment telling us how peachy things are outside of the Church, or how evil I am for this post, or how the prophets are all messed up, please don’t waste your time. It won’t get published.  (My blog, my rules.)

A great talk by Elder Dallin Oaks: “Alternate Voices.”

 

Quotes regarding the Sacrament from the October, 2015 General Conference.

“The presentation of the ordinance of the sacrament is when we renew our covenants and reconfirm our love for the Savior and remember His sacrifice and His Atonement.”  “We will all desire to attend each Sunday to partake of the sacrament when we feel the Spirit of the Lord.” Elder M. Russell Ballard.

“When we open ourselves to the Spirit, we learn God’s way and feel His will. During the sacrament, which I call the heart of the Sabbath, I have found that after I pray for forgiveness of sins, it is instructive for me to ask Heavenly Father, “Father, is there more?” When we are yielded and still, our minds can be directed to something more we may need to change—something that is limiting our capacity to receive spiritual guidance or even healing and help.” Neill F. Marriott

 

“A perfect time to ask, “What lack I yet?” is when we take the sacrament. The Apostle Paul taught that this is a time for each of us to examine ourselves. In this reverent atmosphere, as our thoughts are turned heavenward, the Lord can gently tell us what we need to work on next.” Elder Larry R. Lawrence

 

For example, when we partake of the sacrament, we show the Lord that we are going to remember Him always and keep His commandments. That is an expression of our sincere intent.” Elder Fransisco J. Viñas

 

“The cornerstone of God’s plan is the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. At least once a week, we should meditate as President Joseph F. Smith did on “the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world.” Inviting others to come to church and to worthily partake of the sacrament will allow more of Heavenly Father’s children to reflect on the Atonement. And if we are not worthy, we can repent.” Elder Hugo Montoya

 

“The sacrament is also a time for Heavenly Father to teach us about the Atonement of His Beloved Son—our Savior, Jesus Christ—and for us to receive revelation about it. It is a time to “knock, and it shall be opened unto you,”30 to request and to receive this knowledge. It is time for us to reverently ask God for this knowledge. And if we do, I have no doubt that we will receive this knowledge, which will bless our lives beyond measure. I love the Sabbath, the sacrament, and what they mean.” Elder Claudio R.M. Costa

 

“To always have the Spirit with us is to have the guidance and direction of the Holy Ghost in our daily lives. We can, for instance, be warned by the Spirit to resist the temptation to do evil.

For that reason alone, it is easy to see why the Lord’s servants have tried to increase our desire to worship God in our sacrament meetings. If we partake of the sacrament in faith, the Holy Ghost will then be able to protect us and those we love from the temptations that come with increasing intensity and frequency.” President Henry B. Eyring

 

“During the sacrament, I watch as hands and arms extend to pass the bread and the water. As I extend my arm and partake, I covenant that I am willing to take His name upon me, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. And He promises “that we may always have his Spirit to be with us.” Carole M. Stephens

 

“Two essential weekly signposts that mark our journey back to our Father in Heaven are the perpetual covenant of the ordinance of the sacrament and our Sabbath day observance. President Russell M. Nelson taught us last general conference that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to us. Our devoted weekly observance of the Sabbath is our sign to the Lord that we love Him.”

“Each Sabbath day we witness that we are “willing to take upon [ourselves His name], and always remember him, and keep his commandments.” In return for our repentant heart and our commitment, the Lord renews the promised remission of sin and enables us to “always have his Spirit to be with [us].”  The Holy Spirit’s influence improves, strengthens, teaches, and guides us.” Elder Randall K. Bennett

——–

Previous MMM posts about the sacrament:

Every Week? The Sacrament.

The Gym Locker of My Soul

Roller Coasters and the Wasted Atonement, Part 2

The Whirlpool of Spiritual Stupidity

A Package Deal

Sunday Naptime Profundity #5: Sacrament

32 COMMENTS

  1. Sad but true. they leave it but can’t leave it alone. I find it is interesting, humbling, and heart breaking to see people who struggle with living the gospel due to their personal failures, but continue to strive because they have a testimony of the gospel and are convinced that they will eventually be able to “do it”.

  2. From reading the scriptures, I have known that observing the Sabbath brings protection to the observer and the nation of those who comply. Those promised blessings for obedience are as old as man. As I read this today and remembered the talks, I realized that partaking of the Sacrament worthily and in the right frame of mind is the higher law of Sabbath observance. The protection given there goes beyond our physical lives and saves our souls and those of our family’s. These talks were timely and for our benefit.

  3. If I give you credit..do you mind if I use some of your points about the Sacrament/Holy Ghost correlation in my next RS lesson? I think it’s so timely and important, and something we all need to be urged to remember and practice. We all need insulation against the fiery darts of the Adversary!

    What great thoughts! (By the way..you don’t always have to be humorous..even though that is enjoyable too.Sometimes warnings of truth need to be taught straightforwardly and plainly..and you did just that..)

  4. We had stake conference here today, and our Stake president quoted many of the same references. He also mentioned advice Elder L. Tom Perry had given on one his visits to Norway, about how we could more easily ‘endure to the end’ if we divided our ‘elephant’ of eternity in to weekly (more manageable) pieces: from sacrament meeting to sacrament meeting. Thank you again for so eloquently putting my feelings into words. You never disappoint!

  5. EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT!!! Thank you for tying the pieces together for me! It makes total sense now. I am so grateful!!!!! Thank you, MMM! 🙂

  6. I opened and read this post just before I left for my sacrament meetings. I reopened it during the sacrament to ponder the message. It was a wonderful experience to have these thoughts on my mind as I partook of the sacrament. I came home, made some notes about what you have said and now have to close it so I can move on to other items. Thank you for this very timely and important message.

  7. Sacrament and temple attendance – it’s
    my greatest inoculation against deception. Thank you for a wonderful post. We only just watched gen conf this weekend at our video conference, and I was struck by how many talks included the Sacrament and Sabbath keeping.

  8. I love how you laid this out line upon line. It has always baffled me that apostates and atheists don’t recall that they are written into our gospel. Their disbelief only reaffirms my testimony, and that fact always baffles them.

      • I can accept that change of wording, but the point is still valid. Throughout religious history, prophets modified the written scripture at the behest of God, which resulted in newer, more applicable scripture to their times. It is not stagnant. I am thankful for living prophets.

      • Steve and Peter,

        The scriptures are full of ancient examples, and modern Church history is full of examples when God has given commandments that were different from his previous commandments. I’m curious to know why do you think wouldn’t God be able to command his people different things at different times?

        One Biblical example: Jerimiah counseled Israel to voluntarily create an alliance with Babylon. But later, Moses counseled Israel to make no contracts with foreign nations.

        In the past, (e.g. during Joseph F. Smith’s time as President of the Church) young men were not required to serve missions. Howard W. Hunter, who would later become the 14th prophet of the Church was touring in his band, “Hunter’s Croonaders” during the time he would have served a mission. But that fact should not dissuade us from heeding our current prophet’s call today that all worthy young men should serve a mission.

  9. Well done, MMM, as usual. I only have one observation concerning the visual. The sacrament is taken orally, not be injection. No needles, thank you.

  10. Great article. I noticed partaking of the sacrament as a theme, but I did not realize how many times it was mentioned. Thank you for all the references.

  11. Can you think of examples of times when a prophet was wrong about something that caused people to leave the Church? When a prophet is speaking as a prophet, then the Church teaches that those words are the most relevant words for us to hear, should the two ever come head-to-head. Sure, personal opinions have been given by Church leaders before, but we’re not expected to heed personal opinions.

    Ezra Taft Benson said that, “The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.” His talk, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” was referenced and quoted many times over by General Authorities in General Conferences since then. Here is an excerpt from his talk that teaches very clearly that this concept is neither incorrect nor new:

    “Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.

    “President Wilford Woodruff tells of an interesting incident that occurred in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

    “I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living prophets and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’

    “When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’” (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18–19.)

    Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

    God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the Ark. Noah needed his own revelation. Therefore the most important prophet so far as you and I are concerned is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us. Therefore the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each month in our Church Magazines. Our instructions about what we should do for each six months are found in the General Conference addresses which are printed in the Church magazine.

    Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.”

    https://www.lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng

  12. As I taught the young men this morning, I started by asking about their thoughts on conference. One of them brought up the fact that the Sabbath day and Sacrament was mentioned as a theme. I replied that it was mentioned repeatedly. Now I know how many times. Later on (the lesson was about developing Christ-like attributes), I mentioned the wording of the sacrament prayers. I did a breakdown of the wording of the two prayers a couple of years ago and found that the word “willing” only appears in the prayer on the bread and the word “do” only appears in the prayer on the water. From this, I have felt that the first prayer sets us up to be “willing” to renew our covenants with Father and our Savior and the second prayer sends us forth to actually “do it.” By putting our willingness into action, we bring the Holy Ghost into partnership with us because our proper actions keep us worthy of his companionship. During my calling as ward mission leader I would tell our new converts that their baptism and confirmation now made them (and the rest of us who have made the same covenant) eligible to have the constant companionship of a member of the Godhead. What an amazing blessing! Through our weekly partaking of the sacrament, we renew that willingness and charge to go and do it (keep and live the commandments) over and over again. What a precious and sacred blessing. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Very well said and very timely. We had a conversation on this topic earlier today. The Lord organized and restored the fullness of the gospel on the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Himself as the Chief Cornerstone, with the stated purpose of “perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:12-14)

    One of the first truths Joseph Smith learned as a young man seeking truth, was “In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

    While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

    Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” (Joseph Smith History 1:10-12)

    Remember that the devout and sincere religionists of that time all had access to the scriptures as we know them today, yet there existed much confusion and disunity because they ignored the principle of revelation – the very principle upon which the scriptures were given to man!

    To avoid being uncertain on a point of doctrine, to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, to become unified, we must turn to the foundation of apostles, prophets, and specifically the principle of revelation. What the apostles and prophets have to say today will always be more important and relevant to us than what was said yesterday. That does not marginalize what was said or written before; it simply recognizes the circumstances at the time and the context of the revelations at the time they are given. Those people living at the time of Noah may have had access to Adam’s writings, but the critical message of that time was to repent and get on the boat. We do not have any evidence that Noah’s warning voice was ever “canonized” prior to the flood, yet people rejected the message at the peril and ultimately the loss of their lives. The same principle applies to us today. This principle also applies to those who forsake “organized religion” and/or those claiming to seek “spirituality” over religion. Christ’s church, including the living oracles, will be essential to us until we come to a unity of the faith and until we achieve perfection. To not understand this is to miss the point of the restoration of the Gospel.

    We would all do well to heed the warning and promise stated in Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6, referring to the living prophet at the time: “Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

    For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

    For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”

  14. This subject hits close to home as I have a son who has been pulled away from all he was taught and all he ‘thought’ he believed. You have given all of us many things to study and ponder. I’m grateful. Thank you to all who have commented. This plague is real. Nobody is immune. I will continue to revaccinate weekly. God bless!

  15. Thank you for your thoughts. I want to add one idea. If you look across the page from the JST Matthew 1:22 (“if possible, they shall deceive the very elect….”) you will see in vs. 37 an inoculation (to use your metaphor) against deception: “And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall come….” I think that’s significant.

    Um, I guess I want to add two ideas.

    Another inoculation: I’ve seen from watching loved ones I consider elect lose their faith and testimonies that one of the early symptoms is ingratitude, failing to see God’s hand in their lives. See Pres. Eyring’s talk, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/o-remember-remember?lang=eng.

  16. I love this post and I loved loved loved conference. I waited and waited and hoped for the peace that only our prophet and the apostles can bring and I was not disappointed. I DID wonder, after it was over and I was thinking about the talks, how in the world do people live in this world without the truth the gospel is. I am so thankful…….

  17. This was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you for writing this post. It hit on so many things that have been on my mind. Dealing with family members and friends who have left the church, sometimes on a daily basis, it is easy to get discouraged. What a great reminder that if we go to church, and partake of the sacrament, we can have the strength and spiritual guidance we need to be immunized against all the negative and false teachings that permeate our world.

  18. Thank you for your beautiful message and well-written reminders about what is really important. My heart is full as I contemplate the love of our Heavenly Father and our Savior and the protection and safety their plan offers us. I sorrow as I contemplate the decisions and struggles of my children and grandchildren. I do not have time to try and coherently write any further, but please accept my gratitude.

  19. Interesting all the talks in conference about the importance of our own personal testimony to guard us from what the future will be bringing and not even a month later we learn of policy changes of the church that are rocking people’s faith. SO important! And I just love that Heavenly Father and the Savior have provided the sacrament and Holy Ghost as an easily accessible safety net or bubble or whatever. Thanks for your wisdom.

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