Thursday, June 1, 2017

Warnings against Hypocrites, with Attention to Spiritual Manifestations

D&C 50 was given in response to Joseph Smith’s inquiry about various spiritual manifestations and phenomena among the new members in Kirtland. The strange and indecorous nature of these things caused members to wonder what was of God and what was fake.

6 But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.
7 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;
8 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.
9 Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me. (D&C 50:6-9)

This gives us part of the answer from the Lord—there were some members who were faking spiritual manifestations, and their performance was deceiving others and giving Satan power. There were also false manifestations (from a source not of God).

The Church’s publication, “Revelations in Context” has a chapter called “Religious Enthusiasm Among Early OhioConverts,” and it gives some historical perspective on how the religious culture of the day contributed to the problem.

As part of the Second Great Awakening, people thirsted for more from religion than was in their churches, so there was a surge in religious zeal, and revival meetings were part of that, with great interest in spiritual manifestations. People responded to preaching passionately, with prophesying, shouting, crying, dancing, shaking, rolling, etc. Christians at large were divided over these manifestations—some were suspicious and others saw them as genuinely from God. The Mormon message about spiritual gifts appealed to many people who were taught in Ohio.

The story of Levi Hancock can help illuminate the problems and worries these manifestations created in the church. Levi heard news of the Mormon missionaries, and a bare recitation of what they were preaching gave him a wonderful feeling such that he decided to go listen because he could feel it was the truth. He was baptized, but he and the other converts in Kirtland were soon left without experienced leadership. They had no experience in the church, few Books of Mormon, and no exposure to Joseph Smith’s previous revelations about church order. Some started to introduce elements of enthusiastic worship.

Then three elders of the Church came, and their manner of doings in worship services was very strange (See the linked article for more details). Levi was perplexed and worried he was not as pure as them because they seemed honest and sincere, but Levi’s manifestations were very different from theirs.

So we see one problem with false (wrong sourced) or faked manifestations is that they make sincere and worthy members feel insecure about their own spiritual status and worthiness. When this sort of thing persists and isn’t corrected, it causes sincere members to expect manifestations of a false type and overlook the true manifestations. That is exactly what Satan would like. He would love church members to miss the true manifestations and look for something else so he can suggest all sorts of crazy, dramatic, non-edifying things and have people accept them uncritically.  He would also like to convince members it is okay to pretend they had a manifestation when they haven’t. And the more dramatic, the better, especially if it is to prove how pure and Spirit-led they are and increase their status and reputation in the church. The lie Satan would tell is, “There’s no way anyone can tell whether you are faking it or telling the truth. They are predisposed to think you’re telling the truth anyway, so go ahead.”

Thus, the above verses directly address the issue of hypocrites pretending to spiritual manifestations. The Lord knows who is faking it or pretending and who is not. He warns that hypocrites will be detected, which crushes Satan’s lie of “no one can tell.” The Lord also warns hypocrites they will be cut off and brought to judgment. Someone who prefers to pretend to spiritual manifestations or listens to manifestations from a false source will definitely miss the real ones that would guide and warn them. Eventually they will do something so obviously wrong they must be corrected and receive discipline, but by then it may be very difficult for them to humble themselves and repent, since they will have built their self esteem, worth, and ego on their “enhanced spirituality.”  That’s what brings them to be cut off from the church, if they can’t humble themselves.

What about those who were fooled by the hypocrite and false manifestations? Verse 7 says, “such shall be reclaimed.” The rest of D&C 50 gives helpful principles about how the Spirit preaches the truth, edifies, brings light, is understandable, and many other principles to help increase discernment so that members can chase darkness away.

Verse 9 has a warning for everyone to beware, lest they do something “not in truth and righteousness.” Thus we are to be completely honest and upright and never to pretend to spiritual manifestations and share nothing that does not shed light and edify. We may have manifestations that are for our own edification alone and which are not meant to be shared.

Having had some experience with these things, I am personally grateful for these verses.