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“We Can Set It Aside:” How to Judge the Teachings of All Men

These words from Joseph Fielding Smith have been a key guide to my own studies over the years:

“STANDARD WORKS JUDGE TEACHINGS OF ALL MEN. It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.

You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.

Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it.

If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3:203–204. italics in original)

Personally, I expand the scope of President Smith’s words here to include the writings, speeches, or ideologies of everyone out there and not just church authorities.

There are many philosophies and precepts of men (2 Nephi 28:14,26,30-31) that burst into our awareness through a variety of channels with cheerleaders that demand that these new ideas be recognized immediately by everyone as absolute truths.

The world we see today stands as a fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s prophetic words to Timothy:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NASB)

The phrase “have their ears tickled” or “itching ears” as it says in the KJV is used to identify people who look for ideologies that condone their particular lifestyles rather than the doctrines and principles that have been established by God’s servants.

We have been warned so specifically about this kind of thing and it is happening all around us in virtually every segment of our society.

I stand firmly for freedom of speech for all and the open exploration of ideas. With that, I believe that each of us should have standards by which we judge particular ideas. Theologically speaking, we have the standard works which outline the sound doctrines and principles that God has revealed.

This doesn’t mean that everything being taught out there in the world is evil and that we should ‘shun’ it. Like President Smith said, if what is said is in harmony with the revealed word then we should accept it. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater but we also don’t want to eat a poisoned apple.

Distinctions between good and bad ideas can and should be made with our reason,  knowledge of the scriptures, and the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord. Brigham Young even went so far as to say that it is our duty to seek out the truth and make these distinctions by filtering out the error:

It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.” (DBY, 248)

Joseph Smith succinctly put it this way:

“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199)

While it is foolish to simply cling to what we have while ignoring everything else, it is equally foolish to simply believe every new idea that comes across our path.

I think it crucial to teach these things to our youth who I think are the most susceptible to these kinds of influences due to their lack of experience and exposure.

When we use the scriptures as our guide, we can distinguish between truth and error for a vast number of ideologies and precepts out there. The better we know the scriptures, the less likely we are to be deceived and the more likely that we can preserve liberty and peace in our personal lives, our families, communities, and the world.