I believe in sustaining the authorities of the church both local and general with all of my heart. Those in church leadership have had tremendous influence over my life and I am eternally grateful for the teachings of prophets that have shaped me and my religious education. As Joseph Smith taught, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God through the testimony of the Servants of God” (Words of Joseph Smith, page 3).
My son is named after Elder Neal Maxwell. I was present in the audience when he gave his timeless address “The Inexhaustible Gospel” at BYU Education Week in 1992. It was during that talk when the spirit revealed to me that every question I had about life could be answered through the gospel. This came as a surprise to me at the time. Elder Maxwell said in this address, “our being saved by gaining knowledge obviously refers to a particular form of knowledge, a “knowledge of God” and knowledge of the things of God.”
I didn’t really understand this teaching then, but would come to learn more about this principle as I got older – that “a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge”. And that it is knowledge, endowed by the spirit and learning the things of God, that we have power to put all darkness under our feet.
And so we as Latter-Day Saints are to seek knowledge. Knowledge is the fruit of the Holy Ghost. It is knowledge that binds the adversary and gives us greater endowments of faith.
Prophets are to be revelators to the people, according to their faithfulness and according to the faithfulness of the people. Prophets are also charged with declaring repentance so that we become a people full of knowledge and power. But, as President Kimball pointed out, prophets exercise their agency the same way the members of the church do. And the responsibility rests upon both prophets and the people to seek the things of God and to be in a constant state of preparation to receive greater light and truth.
President Kimball remarked in a General Conference address:
However, it is the sad truth that if prophets and people are unreachable, the Lord generally does nothing for them. Having given them free agency, their Heavenly Father calls, persuades, and directs aright his children, but waits for their upreaching hands, their solemn prayers, their sincere, dedicated approach to him. If they are heedless, they are left floundering in midnight’s darkness when they could have the noonday sun” (President Spencer W. Kimball, April 1977 General Conference).
Because it is the charge to both prophets and the people to be “reachable,” we must all take responsibility for our own lives to receive the knowledge from heaven that will draw light into fog, confusion, and even darkness. As Brigham Young taught, we must gain the “independence of heaven”.
Who will? (become Gods) Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 1:312)
Sustaining Our Leaders Through Discernment
So, how does this relate to the way in which we should sustain leaders? We should sustain them with the light of heaven. And what I mean by this is we should gain the light of God in such a degree that we know if we are being taught truth or falsehood at all times. This is not to say that we pray until we get an answer to follow, and if we don’t get an answer that affirms the authorities we are just not getting the right answer and it’s our fault. That is not the case. We are to get the knowledge that governs the instruction given to us so that we may discern our leaders.
As Brigham Young taught:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (JD 9:151)
I sustain my leaders through discerning them. A prophet or a priesthood leader has the responsibility to come clean from the blood and sins of the people over which he has stewardship. If they do not come clean from that blood, they have to answer for the sins of the people. Consider the following passages.
“Verily, I say unto you, let those who are not theelders continue in the vineyard until the mouth of the Lord shall them, for their time is not yet come; their garments are not from the blood of this generation” (D&C 88:85).
“And we didour office unto the Lord, taking upon us the , answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1:19).
“Therefore, as I said unto you that I hadyou, with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you” (Mosiah 2:27).
“And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before theof Christ, where all men shall know that my are not spotted with your blood” (Ether 12: 28).
O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with hiseye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am of your blood” (2 Nephi 9: 44).
Because church leadership on every level carries a very heavy burden of coming clean from the blood and sins of the people over which they have stewardship, when they teach us something wrong they carry the weight of justice for doing so. If someone comes under a level of deception through abiding a false teaching or command both the person that obeyed something false and the leader who taught it both receive the condemnation for doing so.
Because of this, if we as a people carefully discern through the Holy Ghost whether what is being taught is true or not, we actually lessen the burden a leader carries to come clean from our sins. If an authority teaches a falsehood, and a member discerns and rejects it, then the authority is that much less condemned for teaching something in error.
For this reason, the best way we can sustain our leadership is to discern them and relieve them of the burden of carrying our sins that they themselves may have caused. If I were in a leadership position on a local or general level I would hope that all those in my stewardship would approach my words this way. I would hope that they would relate to me through the discerning power of the spirit in order to come to a greater truth together.
President James Faust advocated for this view when he wrote:
As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their
leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 135). In this manner no one need be deceived.
Since each one of us has his free agency, the ultimate determination of what is
inspired of the Lord, what is right and wrong, true or false, can be made by each of us. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871-1961) made this statement: “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members [themselves], whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). Each must bear the accountability of accepting or discarding the values of truth, which values if followed will produce his greatest happiness. (James Faust, First Presidency Message, “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” Ensign (Sept. 1998), 4-5)
The allegory of the seed in Alma 32 is a great discourse on how to discern the words of leaders. We are to consume the seed and then discern if we are tasting light. We test the words given to us to see if our “understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and [our]doth begin to expand” (Alma 32: 34). The effects of falsehood, sin, and “the traditions of our fathers” is that light and truth is taken from us. This has the opposite effect of receiving truth (D&C 93:39).
President Harold B. Lee gave another key of discernment.
It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.
Humility is the order of the day. Both members and leaders should always be humble about the revelatory burden each holds. Just as members are accustomed to being humble about the revelation received in the church from local and general leaders, so should leaders be humble about the revelatory responsibility members have to discern their words.
Joseph Smith taught with this spirit when he declared the following.
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way” (History of the Church, 5:498–99).
We have a great responsibility to sustain the leadership of the church. This is not a requirement to rubber stamp instruction and teaching, but to carry the burden of humbling ourselves before God, getting revelation, and bearing the great burden that all leadership has to come clean from the blood and sins of this generation.