Great Sermons: Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers

July 6, 2007 | 40 comments
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I think I must have missed this one when it came out in 1999. Elder Ballard takes the time to list out a few teachings he considers signposts of False Teachers. We let our Great Sermons feature lapse a couple years ago, and I think it is a real shame because there are so many wonderful sermons in the Church. This isn’t the greatest, but it is the one I read today from a link by John C. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the talk is the ending:

Remember, too often our behavior is a bigger deterrent to others than is our doctrine. In the spirit of love for all men, women, and children, help them to understand and to feel accepted and appreciated.

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40 Responses to Great Sermons: Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers

  1. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    It’s a really interesting talk, Frank. Any particular reason that that was the one you picked out?

    I was especially curious about the line about claiming Church endorsement for “products and practices.” I think of that as a particularly Utah-centric issue, but maybe I’m missing something I should be noticing out here in the hinterlands.

  2. Julie M. Smith on July 6, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Frank,

    Is this meant to be a continuation of the Marriott-p0rn discussion?

  3. Geoff B on July 6, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Frank M, it is definitely politically incorrect on the Bloggernacle to link a Church talk that says the following:

    “False prophets and false teachers are also those who attempt to change the God-given and scripturally based doctrines that protect the sanctity of marriage, the divine nature of the family, and the essential doctrine of personal morality. They advocate a redefinition of morality to justify fornication, adultery, and homosexual relationships. Some openly champion the legalization of so-called same-gender marriages. To justify their rejection of God’s immutable laws that protect the family, these false prophets and false teachers even attack the inspired proclamation on the family issued to the world in 1995 by the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles.

    Regardless of which particular false doctrines they teach, false prophets and false teachers are an inevitable part of the last days. “False prophets,” according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “always arise to oppose the true prophets” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 365).

    However, in the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.”

  4. Guy on July 6, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    “Remember, too often our behavior is a bigger deterrent to others than is our doctrine. In the spirit of love for all men, women, and children, help them to understand and to feel accepted and appreciated.”

    This is one of the great obstacles of the Church! How many good people have turned away from the church because of the imperfect behavior of its members – who themselves are mere humans?

  5. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Geoff, why do you say that? I’ve never seen anyone in the bloggernacle try to justify fornication or adultery. Those (relatively few) who oppose the Church’s stand on gay marriage are very clear that they are espousing their personal opinions, and recognize (generally with some trepidation) that their political opinions are contrary to those of the Brethren. I think a key part of Elder Ballard’s discussion is that false teachers and false prophets claim to be offering authoritative teaching sanctioned by the Church–I’ve never seen that in the ‘nacle. Have you?

  6. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Kristine, I thought that “products and practices” line was interesting too. I picked the talk because I read it today and thought it was a good talk. I think it hits a lot of themes that come up in conversation, but I wasn’t spurred by any particular comment, if that what you are wondering about.

    Julie, I hadn’t even thought of it.

    Geoff and Guy, Indeed.

  7. Julie M. Smith on July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    “I think a key part of Elder Ballard’s discussion is that false teachers and false prophets claim to be offering authoritative teaching sanctioned by the Church–I’ve never seen that in the ‘nacle. Have you?”

    That was sarcasm, right? :)

  8. Jim on July 6, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Kristine, I don’t think Elder Ballard’s discussion was so limited. He does talk about those who claim church sanction for their teachings, but I think it’s pretty clear that those are merely a [i]subset[/i] of the larger group of “false prophets”.

    Virtually NO ONE teaches the doctrines Ballard goes on to condemn–that Joseph Smith was lying, or that the scriptures need to be drastically re-evaluated, or that the Atonement never happened–while claiming Church endorsement. To restrict the scope of Ballard’s speech as you do seems to make his speech essentially meaningless.

  9. Don Murphy on July 6, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Curious that the false ones do not even necessarily have to go by the title of prophet. for much of my life I always assumed that we would see some nut on the evangelical team lay claim to being a prophet (as many do now). Instead, or perhaps in addition to, I see mostly political maneuvering that opposes the true prophets.

    Politics and religion, the saying goes, should never be discussed. This is a particularly successfull assault on peoples ability to think and reason. I suppose it was suggested somewhere along the line so that people would pay more attention to, say, Paris Hilton (and other mind numbing drivel) than to the two things that will affect their lives more than any other.

  10. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Jim, you may be right. I think he says in enough places and enough ways in the talk that he means people who claim that what they’re saying is Church doctrine that my interpretation is at least a possible one. Otherwise, could we countenance *any* unsponsored speculation about doctrinal issues?

    No, Julie, I wasn’t being sarcastic. I’m sincerely curious about the difference between publishing one’s personal opinion and setting oneself up as a false prophet. Seems like a serious question to me. I see lots of people in the ‘nacle publishing their personal opinions and wacky doctrinal speculations, but I don’t see them claiming to be teaching “the truth you won’t hear in Sunday School” or trying to attract followers or get people to leave the church. (Not that there aren’t people like that, but I think they tend to get booted back to exmormon.org fairly quickly.)

  11. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    My favorite line is this one: ” Our discipleship is not something to be endured with long face and heavy heart. Nor is it something to be jealously clutched to our bosoms and not shared with others. As we come to understand the love of the Father and the Son for us, our spirits will soar, and we will “come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy” (D&C 45:71).”

  12. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Kristine,

    “but I don’t see them claiming to be teaching “the truth you won’t hear in Sunday School” ”

    That is not your best example. I cannot begin to count how many times I have heard someone put forward something as “the truth you won’t hear in Sunday School” : ) It’s practically a cliche to complain about Sunday School and all the things that someone thinks should be taught there but aren’t.

    ” Our discipleship is not something to be endured with long face and heavy heart. ”

    Indeed.

  13. Jim Cobabe on July 6, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Frank,

    I would be interested in renewal of the “Great Sermons” feature. It sounds like a good way for the Bloggernacle to pay back something to the Church. To me there seems to be a dearth of such material, particularly for the collective of discussion groups which claim to have a primary interest in things that relate to the Church.

    I might have thought that perhaps I missed the pronouncement of some official protocol in the Bloggernacle, prohibiting any direct references to authoritative counsel.

    Thank you for the reminder of Elder Ballard’s timely counsel. I remember my personal interest in Elder Ballard’s address, at the time it was delivered. One of his comments I found most striking –

    Therefore, let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. Like Nehor and Korihor in the Book of Mormon, they rely on sophistry to deceive and entice others to their views. They “set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Ne. 26:29).

    I suppose Elder Ballard might be excused for having neglected to include certain Internet groups among those that “rely on sophistry to deceive”. He probably doesn’t blog much. ;-)

  14. Adam Greenwood on July 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    I’ve never seen anyone in the bloggernacle try to justify fornication or adultery.

    Thankfully, no. Except for the unlamented Steve EM.

    Those (relatively few) who oppose the Church’s stand on gay marriage are very clear that they are espousing their personal opinions, and recognize (generally with some trepidation) that their political opinions are contrary to those of the Brethren.

    Relatively few?

  15. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Jim,

    “I might have thought that perhaps I missed the pronouncement of some official protocol in the Bloggernacle, prohibiting any direct references to authoritative counsel.”

    OK, I understand that this is hyperbole, but I know where you are coming from.

    Kristine,

    For all the deep trepidation of these personal views, they seem to be aired publicly with some frequency. At what point does the view become a public view and cease being a personal one?

  16. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I don’t know, Adam, there’s never been a survey, but yeah, I think it’s a minority. A vocal one, at times, to be sure, but nonetheless a minority. There is, thankfully, a larger number of people who will speak up against the kind of nasty anti-gay prejudice that occasionally accompanies political convictions that match the Brethren’s.

    Frank, even when people wish for more of the truth to be told in Sunday School, I think they’re wanting it to come from official sources, not from themselves. Asking whether or not the Curriculum Committee has struck the right balance between paternalism and inoculation is NOT the same thing as claiming to have special access to truth.

  17. Geoff B on July 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Kristine, in response to #5, I am glad you see it that way. I personally don’t, but it’s tough to generalize without scouting out and linking the many examples that pop into my head. I would agree with you that on the SSM issue some people do approach their opposition to Church policy with a lot of trepidation and soul-searching, and I think that’s a very good thing. Good intentions and trying to do what you believe is right definitely count, imho.

  18. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    “is NOT the same thing as claiming to have special access to truth.”

    Claiming something to be true, while someone else claims it to be false, and not being willing to average their view with yours is a pretty good sign that one thinks one has “special access to truth”. In other words, just about everybody either thinks or acts like they think they have special access to truth.

    Given that fact, it seems to me the obvious choice for those who want to maximize how often they are right is to either abandon claims to know things or actually align your belief with some source you know to actually have “special access to truth”.

  19. Ray on July 6, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    FWIW, I think most of us see certain names on comments in this type of blog and automatically cringe – hoping that what is said is not a direct attack on the Church and its teachings. Having said that, I also agree that those names constitute a very, very small percentage of those who comment. I know some of my own comments / opinions are not accepted by others, but at least the others know I support the Church and the restored Gospel. I truly respect most deeply those who are not active members (or even members anymore) but whose comments still are thoughtful and respectful and sincere. That is an important distinction between this forum (and others like it) and those that I avoid.

  20. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Kristine,

    “Frank, even when people wish for more of the truth to be told in Sunday School, I think they’re wanting it to come from official sources, not from themselves.”

    I think we’re off on a tangent. I am not talking about curriculum complaints as a topic so much as pointing out that _many_ discussions on _many_ topics contain at some point a lament about how the material was not covered in Sunday School.

  21. Kristine on July 6, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    “Given that fact, it seems to me the obvious choice for those who want to maximize how often they are right is to either abandon claims to know things or actually align your belief with some source you know to actually have “special access to truth”.”

    Fortunately, we’ve already gone a few rounds on this one, and need not repeat the exercise.

  22. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    “Fortunately, we’ve already gone a few rounds on this one, and need not repeat the exercise.”

    The futility of which just points how deeply each of us believes we have “special access to truth”.

  23. obi-wan on July 6, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.

    Interesting.

    I hadn’t previously realized that Elder Ballard is a Sith.

  24. Jim F. on July 6, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Frank, I don’t understand why two people each claiming that the other is wrong must also be claiming to have special access to the truth. I could give other reasons that the person who disagrees with me when I am right may do so. Perhaps that person is blinded by something, such as a special interest or a personality flaw. Perhaps it isn’t anything nearly so heinous. Perhaps it is just that, for some inexplicable reason, we see certain things about the world differently. Claims to special access to the truth aren’t the only grounds for disagreement.

  25. Jacob on July 6, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Kudos to obiwan! But remember that if dealing in absolutes makes you a Sith, Yoda would be, too. “Anger, fear, aggression, the dark side are they.” And if you want to know who the real Sith Lord is, compare Pope Benedict’s smile to Emperor Palpatine’s!! (I saw that on a web site a long time ago, but don’t remember where it was. Sorry!)

    Oh, and I apply Elder Ballards comments about “products” as referring specifically to Deseret Book Industries. :)

  26. Frank McIntyre on July 6, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Jim,

    These all appear to be claims that the other person is less able to discern or admit the truth than you, thus making one’s normal access “special” compared to the loser you are arguing with.

  27. greenfrog on July 6, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    I just re-read the talk. Frank, if the same words were written and published by a Catholic Church leader, with each reference to the LDS Church similarly changed, how would that change alter the esteem you hold for the address?

    To my ear, this address is a reminder to honor the testimony that brought each listener to listen to the conference address — “you believe we’re associated with the reason that brings you here, so pay attention to us, rather than to others.”

    Perhaps Elder Ballard’s message is, as Kristine has suggested, only intended to be a counter to the ad hominem fallacy of people who falsely claim to be teaching non-Church doctrine under the auspices of the Church — “listen to me not because of the quality of my message but because of my pretended authoritative position.” But if it is intended to go beyond that and to advocate paying more attention to the source of the message than to its content, then it makes the same (ad hominem) error, it seems to me.

  28. Ray on July 6, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I don’t see source over content; just concern for those who claim to be an authoritative source and aren’t. For example, I have no problem with people posting comments on blogs that express strong convictions, but I have a problem with statements like, “The Church obviously believes . . .” whenever those statements aren’t simple, foundation Gospel principles. (or statements like, “such and such a GA told me . . .”)

    I think that applies to GA’s, as well, given what some have asserted over the years. Frankly, I think that’s why the global leadership is speculating less and less each year; they’ve finally understood the effect of that type of speculation. Take a look at “Mormon Doctrine” and what the choice of that title caused many members to assume. (That is personal opinion, and I doubt Elder Ballard was thinking of that when he gave the talk.)

  29. Jim F. on July 6, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Frank, I don’t think yours is reasonable definition of “special access.” That phrase is usually used to suggest that the person claiming it has powers of some kind that the other person doesn’t have. Often that power is divine inspiration, but it could be something else, I suppose, some kind of super power held only by those from Krypton. That someone disagrees with me and can’t see that I am right does not mean that I claim some power that he or she doesn’t have. In this discussion, for example, I don’t see why our disagreement means that each of us must be claiming some special access to truth.

  30. Jim F. on July 6, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    But, of course, leave it to me to quibble about some side issue rather than take up the point of your post.

    So: I liked the talk, though I think Elder Ballard was occasionally using hyperbole. But then hyperbole is a perfectly reasonable rhetorical practice for preaching. It is too bad that we sometimes won’t cut speakers any slack for hyperbole.

  31. Frank McIntyre on July 7, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Jim,

    OK, you are using a more narrow definition of special access than I am. And of course, such equivocation does cause many disagreements that eventually get resolved (like an episode of three’s company). But I think many disagreements persist because we are not willing to treat other people’s reasoning and assumptions as being as valid as our own. I label this an implicit claim to special access, but you are welcome to call it what you will. The math geek in me tends to oversimplify many different words or ideas into one (to me) logically equivalent phenomenon (me underweighting your beliefs).

    Obi-wan,

    Wasn’t that the conversation where Obi-wan says “only a Sith Lord speaks in absolutes”. At which point, I think the only thing we really know for sure is that Obi-wan thinks he is a Sith Lord. Which really puts a dramatic twist on the whole scene.

    Greenfrog,

    “Frank, if the same words were written and published by a Catholic Church leader, with each reference to the LDS Church similarly changed, how would that change alter the esteem you hold for the address?”

    It would change is irrevocably. Likewise if my baptism were in the Catholic church, I think that would be fundamentally different. The same goes for some fairly specific temple covenants I made. But you knew that…

    “Perhaps Elder Ballard’s message is, as Kristine has suggested, only intended to be a counter to the ad hominem fallacy of people who falsely claim to be teaching non-Church doctrine under the auspices of the Church — ”

    I completely agree that he is addressing that group, but doesn’t it appear that he is also addressing those who make claims about what the Church and prophet _should_ believe? Look at his examples. Few people are claiming that the Church is teaching same-sex marriage or non-historicity of the BoM. Rather there are members who publicly teach that those things are right and the Church’s position is wrong and should change.

    Also, I’m having trouble telling, but are you claiming that all claims based on authority are ad hominem fallacies?

  32. Matt Evans on July 7, 2007 at 3:58 am

    Wasn’t that the conversation where Obi-wan says “only a Sith Lord speaks in absolutes”. At which point, I think the only thing we really know for sure is that Obi-wan thinks he is a Sith Lord. Which really puts a dramatic twist on the whole scene.

    Classic!

  33. Kristine on July 7, 2007 at 9:23 am

    “Rather there are members who publicly teach that those things are right and the Church’s position is wrong and should change.”

    Frank, is there any difference in your mind between saying, “this is what my reasoning and personal spiritual experiences have lead me to believe; I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Church teaches,” and “teaching” that the Church’s position should change?

    Also, I missed your earlier quibble about public vs. personal beliefs. Don’t you think it’s perfectly possible to have a personal belief which one states publicly? Or are you arguing for the Kantian duty to suppress one’s personal/private beliefs when one is a public actor?

  34. Bored in Vernal on July 7, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    re: Great Sermons
    This is just my 2c but I don’t think I’m a lot different than most of you in that I listen to all sessions of General Conference, then I read them again in the Ensign in the bathroom. I then hear them again recycled in Sacrament Meeting, and sometimes again in RS.

    So my suggestion is–if you bring back “Great Sermons,” make sure they are truly great, and not just some talk you happen to like. Also, make some comment about what it is that makes it great, and perhaps add questions or a topic for discussion.

  35. obi-wan on July 7, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Wasn’t that the conversation where Obi-wan says “only a Sith Lord speaks in absolutes”. At which point, I think the only thing we really know for sure is that Obi-wan thinks he is a Sith Lord. Which really puts a dramatic twist on the whole scene.

    Only a Sith would interpret the scene this way.

  36. Ray on July 7, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    FWIW, I thought the irony of that statement was one of the intellectual highlights of the entire series.

  37. greenfrog on July 7, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Also, I’m having trouble telling, but are you claiming that all claims based on authority are ad hominem fallacies?

    Maybe. I’m really not sure, as I’m not a logician or otherwise studied in such things. Is it an ad hominem argument to say that a particular statement is more meritorious or likely to be accurate than another simply because it comes from a particular person?

    I suspect that the answer lies in whether the “authority” ascribed to a particular person arises because of the individual’s particular expertise or not. If it does, then presumably the person can articulate (given enough time) the reasons why her/his answer is more likely accurate than a given answer from a person lacking that expertise. For short-hand utility, it makes sense to accept those conclusory statements and move on.

    But I’m not sure whether that argument really applies to LDS Church leadership, as I’m not certain that they’re able to articulate (given enough time) the reasons why their answer is more likely accurate than others’ answers to the same questions. So I’m not 100% sure whether ascribing oracular faith to a particular person fits the ad hominem pattern or not. Perhaps others with better training in such things can respond.

  38. dkl on July 8, 2007 at 4:14 am

    The passage that you quote about behavior being a bigger deterrant than doctrine is a very interesting one. It seems to me that in this context he’s intending to emphasize the need for us to set example of Christ-like behavior over the desire to argue about doctrine or church-endorsed views. In other words, when it comes to following your religion, you should live it in faith and try not to be [edited] about how much better off you think you are as a result.

  39. annegb on July 8, 2007 at 10:03 pm

    I love that passage, thanks, Frank. I think many many more people leave the church because of hurt feelings or the un-Christ-like behavior of others than a quibble over an ordinance.

  40. Frank McIntyre on July 9, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Kristine,

    “Frank, is there any difference in your mind between saying, “this is what my reasoning and personal spiritual experiences have lead me to believe; I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Church teaches,” and “teaching” that the Church’s position should change?”

    Of course. Do you think those two statements encapsule the entire set of statements one sees on the bloggernacle or elsewhere?

    “Don’t you think it’s perfectly possible to have a personal belief which one states publicly?”

    Yes, but if one states a personal opinion loudly enough and often enough, and without deference for the Church I wonder when that becomes public opposition. Surely at some point it does.

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