David Whitmer was instrumental in helping Joseph Smith during the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon and in the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today he is primarily remembered as one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates (The Testimony of the Three Witnesses).
In spite of many powerfully motivating and inspiring spiritual experiences, including hearing the voice of God and seeing an angel, David sometimes struggled with being overly distracted by other obligations such as caring for the family farm. In a revelation given to the prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord chastised David, saying, “your mind has been on the things of the earth more than on the things of me, your Maker, and the ministry whereunto you have been called” (Doctrine and Covenants 30:2). This divine chastisement is one that is probably applicable to every modern man and woman as we struggle to find balance between our ordinary obligations and the demands of devoted discipleship.
If this were the only area of concern for brother Whitmer, it would hardly make him different from any one else. However, the Lord continued his chastisement, adding, “and you have not given heed unto my Spirit, and to those who were set over you, but have been persuaded by those whom I have not commanded” (D&C 30:2).
Here the Lord identifies three areas of concern: 1) not giving heed to the Spirit, 2) not giving heed to authorized leadership, and 3) being persuaded by those who are not authorized by the Lord. David’s problem was that he was listening to voices not authorized by God and that he was persuaded by them more than by what God was telling him through the Spirit and through his authorized priesthood leaders.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks skillfully addressed this same issue in his October 2010 General Conference talk entitled “Two Lines of Communication.” Elder Oaks taught that there are two sources whereby we can receive divine communication which he called “the personal line” and “the priesthood line.” These two lines of divine communication correspond to the two in the Lord’s chastisement of David Whitmer: “my Spirit” and “those who [are] set over you” (D&C 30:2). Simply put, God can guide individuals through “[his] Spirit” (“the personal line”) and through “those who [are] set over [us]” (“the priesthood line”).
David Whitmer was guilty of minimizing the role of these two lines of divine direction while simultaneously being persuaded by “those whom [God had] not commanded” (D&C 30:2). In time, David Whitmer lost his membership in the church in part because he had lost confidence in the prophet Joseph Smith’s ongoing revelation (“the priesthood line”). He later recounted receiving a personal revelation in Missouri commanding him to separate himself from the body of church.
Like David Whitmer, we may be tempted at times to pit these two lines of divine communication against one another. We may feel that our personal revelation conflicts with the counsel of our authorized leaders. Elder Oaks warned,
[W]e cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line…. Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose. The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations.
–Dallin H. Oaks, Two Lines of Communication.
Although individuals sometimes feel they are receiving personal revelation that is contrary to the direction given by “those who [are] set over [us],” a much more pervasive problem is being “persuaded by those whom [God] has not commanded” (D&C 30:2). Because of the democratization of information sharing, we have instantaneous access to more viewpoints and ideas than ever before. Unfortunately, much of the information available is unreliable or dishonest. This has become a significant concern leading to a recent addition by “the priesthood line” to the Church’s General Handbook:
In today’s world, information is easy to access and share. This can be a great blessing for those seeking to be educated and informed. However, many sources of information are unreliable and do not edify. Some sources seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories (see 3 Nephi 11:30; Mosiah 2:32). Therefore, it is important that Church members be wise as they seek truth.
Members of the Church should seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information. They should avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor.
–General Handbook 38.8.40
Of course, “there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Although unreliable and dishonest sources of information are more widely accessible and more widely shared than ever before, Satan’s tactic of deception by “persuad[ing us] by those whom [God] has not commanded” is not new (D&C 30:2). For example, just prior to Christ’s birth, the Nephites did “imagine up in their hearts” many “foolish and vain” ideas, “and they were much disturbed, for Satan did stir them up…continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contention upon all the face of the land.” His objective was to “harden the hearts of the people against that which was good,” and he “did get great hold upon the hearts of the people” (Helaman 16:22-23). There could be no more apt description of the world today.
There are many persuasive sources of “rumors” and “foolish and vain” ideas today. Some of us are most easily persuaded by politicians. For others, it may be cultural icons in music, entertainment, or literature. Others may be more vulnerable to the seductive voices of intellectuals. Although we seek out and admire all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (Article of Faith 13), we cannot afford to lose sight of the only two reliable sources of divine information mentioned by the Lord: “[his] Spirit” and “those who [are] set over [us]” by Him (D&C 30:2). In this we should especially pay close attention to the direction given through the Lord’s prophet. In 1970, President Harold B. Lee taught:
Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church on that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘As he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me… as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’
There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘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’ (D&C 21:6).
–Harold B. Lee, Improvement Era, December 1970, p. 126
In these turbulent times with so many conflicting voices and deceitful information, each of us is liable to be misled or confused. This poses a serious threat to our ability to endure in faith to the end. One of the ironies of human nature is our almost limitless capacity to quickly see and condemn the foibles of others while being completely blind to our own. But, perhaps the one major current issue facing our day, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, can help us reflect and determine how we are doing in our quest to understand and follow divine truth. Consider the following:
- Have I perceived the influence of the Spirit in my life during the pandemic? Is my “personal line” in harmony with the “priesthood line” of divine communication?
- Have I taken full advantage of additional time at home on Sundays to increase my own spiritual capacity to receive revelation and strengthen my “personal line,” or have I used the extra time to turn Sundays into a day of recreation?
- Do I accept and follow the apostolic teachings that “wearing a face covering is a sign of Christ-like love for our brothers and sisters,” to avoid “gathering in large groups”, and that “COVID-19 is serious?”
- How do I feel about the requirement delineated by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 to wear a mask in the temple?
- Do I believe the Lord’s prophet when he wrote that the development of COVID vaccines was a “literal godsend” in response to prayer? Or, when it comes to vaccination, am I more “persuaded by those whom [God has] not commanded” (D&C 30:2) to accept or promote baseless conspiracy theories?
- Do I support the Church donating $20 million to fight COVID-19 through vaccination in what has been called the “biggest private sector donation to ‘largest immunization campaign in history?'”
- Am I obeying the First Presidency who “urges” us “to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding [ourselves] and others through immunization”?
- How do I feel about the church’s requirement for missionaries to be COVID vaccinated to be considered eligible for a foreign mission?
- Do I accept President Nelson’s recent plea to “Do all you can to bring COVID numbers down in your area so that your temple opportunities can increase,” or do I believe his concerns about the pandemic are misguided?
We can learn a lot from the Lord’s brief chastisement of David Whitmer recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 30:2. It is my personal witness that the Lord’s warning to him is still applicable today. There is safety in “giv[ing] heed unto [God’s] Spirit, and to those who [are] set over [us]” and not being “persuaded by those whom [God has] not commanded.”