While traveling to western Missouri in the fall of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson made a stop in Kirtland, Ohio to preach the gospel to some of Parley’s friends and former religious associates. While there, they taught and baptized more than a hundred individuals! They then ordained some of the men as Elders and placed them in charge of the affairs of the Church in that area. The missionaries then continued on to their assigned mission in Missouri.
Left to their limited understanding of the restored gospel, which included a renewal of the gift of the Holy Ghost and spiritual gifts, a few of these newly ordained Elders and members began experiencing unusual spiritual phenomena during their worship services. These included ecstatically jumping up and down, swinging from ceiling joists, falling into trances and unconsciousness, seeing visions of parchments with written messages from heaven, crawling around like snakes on the floor, preaching in tongues to invisible congregations of Lamanites, wielding invisible swords of Laban, and so forth.
Of course, these practices drew the ridicule of outsiders in the community, including in the local press, and gave plenty of fodder for the first anti-Mormon book, Mormonism Unvailed.
Partly in response to the large conversion in Kirtland in the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith and his family moved there the following February. After attending worship services in Kirtland and seeing some of the practices that had developed among these new members, the prophet wrote a letter to his brother Hyrum Smith, stating, “the devil had made many attempts to overthrow” the church there. It is in this context that he received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 46 which warns the members to “not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:7).
Two months later, he received another revelation on this topic:
Hearken, O ye elders of my church … and attend to the words of wisdom which shall be given unto you. … Behold, verily I say unto you, 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. Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name. … [W]o unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgement. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world. Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-9).
The Lord then laid forth how “the elders of his church” could discern between deceiving spirits that are “not of God” and the “Spirit of truth,” so that they could “chase darkness from among [them]” and “overcome all things which are not ordained of [the Father]” (vv. 10-34).
Later, Joseph Smith would state,
A man must have the discerning of spirits, before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors: for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit, when they think they have the spirit of God” (1 April 1842, Joseph Smith Papers).
It should come as no surprise that these “false spirits” are still “abroad in the earth” today and are “deceiving the world” (D&C 50:1-2). Unfortunately, as Joseph Smith warned, these “abominations” sometimes show up “in the church” among those “that profess [God’s] name” (v. 4), and members may “think they have the spirit of God” when, in fact, they are “under the influence of a false spirit” that is “diabolical.”
These false spirits lead to controversy, confusion, and division among church members. And, like in 1831, this gives plenty of fodder for critics and the media to ridicule the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, although some Latter-day Saints may at times be misled by “deceivers and hypocrites” who are under the influence of false spirits, the Lord has promised that “such shall be reclaimed,” but “the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death” (D&C 50:7-8).
The use of the term “hypocrite” in this revelation is interesting.
The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’ The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as ‘an interpreter from underneath.’ That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks” (The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’).
In other words, these “hypocrites” aren’t individuals who fail to live up to what they believe, but they are spiritual “actors” who hide behind masks with the intent to deceive. Thus, “there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some” (v. 7).
In the Church, these hypocrites may be people who pretend to have special spiritual gifts, like happened in Kirtland in the winter of 1830-1831. Perhaps they claim special spiritual manifestations such as receiving the Second Comforter or seeing visions of the future like those recorded in the extremely problematic book, Visions of Glory. These hypocrites may also be those who pretend to have special insight into the scriptures or doctrines of the church, or they may claim divine authority outside of the divinely established order of the church (See FairMormon Conference Speaker Identifies a Spiritual Threat on ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Latter-day Saints should not be “seduced” by such “false spirits” and “hypocrites” since the Lord has clearly revealed how we can discern truth from error.
For example, we should never forget the Lord’s rebuke of David Whitmer, saying, “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). Safety comes from giving “heed unto [God’s] Spirit, and to those who [are] set over [us]” while rejecting the seductive voices of “those whom [God] has not commanded.” And how can we know if they are commanded of God?
And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until [Joseph Smith] be taken. … And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any [other] that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before (Doctrine and Covenants 43:3, 5-7).
The apparent antecedent to the phrase “as I have told you before” is in the previous revelation:
[I]t shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up the church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church (Doctrine and Covenants 42:11).
This is an unambiguous “law unto” the members of the Church.
In 2017, M. Russell Ballard taught,
Today I repeat earlier counsel from Church leaders. …
Do not listen to those who have not been ordained and/or set apart to their Church calling and are not acknowledged by common consent of the members of the Church. (See Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13; 43:6–7.)
Be aware of organizations, groups, or individuals claiming secret answers to doctrinal questions that they say today’s apostles and prophets do not have or understand” (M. Russell Ballard, The Trek Continues!).
As I’ve written elsewhere, “if we are to avoid deception, we are commanded by God to not listen to anyone who purports to reveal his doctrine or his will other than the properly called, sustained, and ordained leadership of the church. Nobody talks for God but God and those properly called by Him, sustained by the membership of the church, and regularly ordained by those in authority.”
In our day of social media influencers and instantaneous mass communication, there are many individuals that are like Almon Babbitt, of whom the Lord said, “he aspireth to establish his counsel instead of the counsel which I have ordained, even that of the Presidency of my Church; and he setteth up a golden calf for the worship of my people” (D&C 124:84). It does not matter whether these individuals have impressive scholarly training or insight, or whether they profess to have visions, manifestations, or dreams — if we “give heed” to “those whom [God] has not commanded,” we will be deceived (D&C 30:2).
Any individuals who proclaim that they have special, revealed insight, or who try to supplant the direction given by church authorities, are simply deceived and/or deceiving. They are the “deceivers and hypocrites” we were so clearly warned of in Doctrine and Covenants 50.
“Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:7).