FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Can the Spirit confirm to me that I'm okay to leave the Church?
Question: Can the Spirit confirm to me that I’m okay to leave the Church?
Introduction to Criticism
As a part of their epistemology, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that commitment and/or belief may be established by spiritual experience. This experience is known as having an experience with the “Holy Ghost” aka the "Holy Spirit." As part of the experience of feeling the Spirit, members will frequently report (among other sensations and phenomena) feelings such as swelling motions in their chest, warmth in the chest, clarity of mind, and revelation of knowledge. These spiritual experiences are said to be able to lead you into the truth of all things.
Some have reported that they have had spiritual experiences that have confirmed to them that they are okay to resign membership in the Church. Why would the Spirit confirm to someone that they’re okay to leave the Church?
This article responds to this question.
Response to Question
Difference Between What We Experience and How We Understand the Cause of an Experience
The first important point to keep in mind is to remember that there is a difference between what we experience and what our experience tells us and how we label that experience or understand its cause.
Moroni tells us that we should “not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.” Therefore, we should be careful to review our experience and what the scriptures say about that experience to accurately determine what might come from God and what might not. We look to the scriptures since, as Christ tells us, if we look to his words then we will not be deceived in the last days.
If someone feels like they can or that it is okay to leave the Church, we may understand this experience better in light of 2 Nephi 2:27-28.
Some might have experienced receiving a prompting that they can or that it is okay for them to leave the Church should they desire it. This is entirely consistent with what we find in 2 Nephi 2:27-28:
- 27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
- 28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
What’s interesting about this passage is that it tells us to choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit. We are free to choose eternal life and salvation or captivity and death. The Spirit can confirm that we are free to choose either and encourage us to move towards salvation. It cannot tell us that we should move towards captivity and death. This is where we proceed to the other half of conversation.
If someone feels like they have been told that they should leave the Church, we may understand this in light of Moroni 7 and D&C 52
Some might have experienced receiving a prompting that they should leave the Church. These experiences will need to be interpreted as inspired by false spirits and revelation. We are told by the Lord that there are “many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you."
Satan and these spirits are naturally going to try and lead you away from God, Christ, and their Church. The scriptures warn us about this several times.
Doctrine and Covenants 52 gives us this pattern for understanding spirits. Doctrine and Covenants 52 was given through Joseph Smith at a Church conference in Kirtland, Ohio on June 6, 1831. As the section heading to D&C 52 states in the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, “certain manifestations of false and deceiving spirits were discerned and rebuked.” This portion of the revelation, consisting of verses 14-21, gives a pattern by which everyone can know if a spirit is from God or not:
- 14 And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—
- 15 Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
- 16 He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
- 17 And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.
- 18 And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.
- 19 Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens.
- 20 And the days have come; according to men’s faith it shall be done unto them.
- 21 Behold, this commandment is given unto all the elders whom I have chosen.
Thus, if you are being led to not obey God’s ordinances (probably best interpreted as “commandments”) that he has given to this Church, then you are being led away from him. The people who are following true spirits are those that are being made strong and bringing forth fruits of praise and wisdom because they keep the commandments that God has given us by revelation through his appointed prophet.
What are some of those commandments? These include being baptized in the Lord’s “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth." The Lord commands all people to even be rebaptized if not baptized into his true church. They include enduring to the end faithful in the covenant made with God so you can have eternal life. If a spirit is leading you away from these commandments, then it cannot be the Holy Spirit and should therefore be rejected.
D&C 50:31–33 gives us another way to discern false spirits:
- 31 Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.
- 32 And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—
- 33 Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith.
This procedure may be helpful for dealing with this type of impression.
How do I really know that I’m following spirits, much less the true spirit?
Some people might have one last question spring up because of an experience like this and that is “how am I supposed to really know that I’m following spirits that actually exist and not just my own brain chemistry being interpreted as such?”
This is a good question. There is perhaps a lot more that can be said about this elsewhere on the site.
One point that might be brought up here is that revelation given through Joseph Smith has a lot of evidence to support it. The Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham can be rigorously defended as authentic and ancient by some of the best that secular scholarship has to offer us today. If these books of scripture are historical, then they confirm that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that actual spirits exist, and that this way of interpreting spiritual experience is the one that will actually lead us to eternal life with God.
These questions are sometimes scary if we don’t have the right principles in mind when evaluating spiritual experiences and revelation; but it is the author’s hope that laying the right principles out in this article explicitly will help bring some peace to the hearts of those that have struggled with this question and lead all of us to the “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” that our Heavenly Parents have promised us if we are faithful to the end and keep all their commandments.
- Moroni 10:3-5
- Moroni 10:5
- Moroni 7:14
- Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:37
- Doctrine and Covenants 50:2-3
- Moroni 7:12, 17
- Doctrine and Covenants 1:30
- Doctrine and Covenants 22
- 2 Nephi 31:16, 20
- See Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2013); John W. Welch, ed., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). For an overview of evidence for the Book of Abraham, see here. For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David Larson, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Provo, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2014).
- Doctrine and Covenants 132:19