As Nephi is wrapping up his writings, he gives some detailed descriptions of the last days and the state of churches at that time.
2 Nephi 28:11-14
Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted. Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.
How Nephi distinguishes the followers from the leaders is significant. All have gone astray except for a few who are humble followers of Christ. These people are a small minority. Yet their leaders teach by the precepts of men, and cause these humble followers of Christ to err.
Let’s see what the rest of the scriptures have to say about these leaders that cause people to err.
2 Nephi 13:12
O my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err and destroy the way of thy paths.
Notice the Lord is speaking to his people, the House of Israel.
2 Nephi 19:13-16
For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of Hosts. Therefore will the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush in one day. The ancient [elder], he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.
The leaders of Israel cause the people to err. And those that follow these leaders are destroyed, not blessed.
But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
Although this verse talks about wine and strong drink, it is a metaphor, and cannot be misread to say that leaders who don’t drink alcohol won’t do this. We say leaders can be drunk with power, and we know that doesn’t require alcohol. One chapter earlier the Lord explained what he means when he says leaders are drunk.
2 Nephi 27:4-5
For behold, all ye that doeth iniquity, stay yourselves and wonder, for ye shall cry out, and cry; yea, ye shall be drunken but not with wine, ye shall stagger but not with strong drink. For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity.
Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God.
Again, the Lord says these prophets make his people err. After the people give heed to these false prophets, the Lord withdraws. Refer to my post on the decline of revelation to see the data showing that the sun did set on the church and there has been no answer from God for quite some time.
Notice how the message these false prophets preach is “Peace”, whereas the true prophets teach repentance and consequences. Here’s an example:
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then the Lord said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and they shall have none to bury them, them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters: for I will pour their wickedness upon them.
How many Christian churches in these days have men they sustain as prophets? How many of these modern churches believe they are the modern day Zion? It is to those churches that think of themselves as modern Zion that Nephi warned:
2 Nephi 28:21
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
Heck, a church like that might even sing a song about how all is well.
Erring by Proof-texting
Part of the problem that causes these errors is that people misuse the scriptures:
And this I do that I may establish my gospel, that there may not be so much contention; yea, Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine; and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them.
Proof-texting is a common example of this. In proof-texting, you start with your conclusion, then look for verses that confirm your precept while ignoring all the others that undermine your precept. One clue that proof-texting is in play is if only a few words from a verse are quoted. Without the context surrounding the words being quoted, it is easy to make a few words mean what you want them to mean.
Here’s one example of proof-texting on this very topic: whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. This gets used all the time to tell us we need to listen to and obey every word that today’s Church leaders say. But if we read everything that the Lord says about these servants in the section, we see that interpretation is wrong.
Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
The Lord is not referring to talks at General Conference. He is specifically talking about the published revelations in the Book of Commandments. The promise is that his prophecies and promises shall all be fulfilled, and whether those words are fulfilled by his own voice or the voice of his servants doesn’t matter. He is not opening the door to everything these servants say being backed up by God. Why not?
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong,
and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
These servants make errors and need to seek wisdom. They sin and need to humble themselves to receive knowledge. Joseph made it clear that a prophet was only a prophet when speaking as a prophet. To suggest that anything said over the pulpit is the word of God is non-scriptural, for even his servants err.
For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
Just because a man is called to a leadership position does not mean he is chosen. Most who are called to positions of authority do not have the nature and disposition to exercise righteous dominion. To pretend that everyone called to a leadership position is a humble servant of God and incapable of exercising unrighteous dominion is to deny the scriptures. The scriptures say that most in authority will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
What else does Section 1 tell us about these commandments?
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh— But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
The Lord’s desire is that no one tries to counsel others. A servant trying to fulfill the Lord’s commandments would not insist that people heed his counsel, nor try to maintain that power and influence by virtue of his priesthood position. Nor would there be a hierarchy of counsel, with counsel from someone higher up the ladder being more important than counsel from someone lower down the ladder, or even, heaven forbid, someone not on the ladder at all!
Who specifically are these servants that the Lord gives this authority to in D&C 1? Is it anyone and everyone that assumes a leadership position in the LDS Church? No.
Behold, this is mine authority, and the authority of my servants, and my preface unto the book of my commandments, which I have given them to publish unto you, O inhabitants of the earth.
The servants that D&C 1 is talking about are a very select group of people – those who were given the Book of Commandments to publish. The last time I checked, none of them were still alive. To claim that verse 38 applies to anyone living today is a proof-text, ignoring the very specific, very limited scope the Lord used in that revelation.
Modern leaders err
D&C 33 was received in October 1830 – six months after the establishment of the Church of Christ. Yet the Lord says only a few do good, and even they err in many instances. This links directly back to Nephi 28:14.
there is none which doeth good
save it be a few;
and they err in many instances
because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds.
2 Nephi 28:14
they have all gone astray
save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ;
nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err
because they are taught by the precepts of men.
Presumably, the members of the church were among the few people doing good in October 1830. Yet they erred in many instances and were dealing with priestcrafts. These verses link teaching the precepts of men with priestcrafts, which Nephi defined as:
2 Nephi 26:29
Priestcrafts are that men preach and 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.
Christ taught us:
3 Nephi 14:13-15
Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Christ taught that few will find the way that leads to life. Just like Nephi and D&C 10, Jesus follows up talking about the few by talking about bad leaders, in this case false prophets, who will teach:
2 Nephi 28:5-6
Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; Behold, hearken ye unto my precept;
We have also been commanded to prevent these false prophets from coming among us:
60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.
Yet the Lord’s people don’t obey that command:
A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
Hope for the future
Fortunately, the scriptures do tell us that at some point in the last days, we won’t have to worry about false prophets any more.
In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive:
For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion. And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known. And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned, and others shall be planted in their stead.
At that future date, the inhabitants of Zion (not the leaders, but the pure in heart, the humble followers of Christ) shall judge all things. When they do, there will be men claiming to be apostles and prophets who really are not such, and leaders who are not faithful in their stewardships, and others will be planted in their stead.