Overcoming Traditions and Preconceived Ideas

Mar 12, 2014
2 min read

“The Latter-day Saints are in many respects like other people who are not Latter-day Saints. We are apt to entertain views which are not very correct, and which may be the result of our traditions and preconceived ideas. This is a peculiarity that pertains to mankind generally, that whenever they deal with the things of God, or speak about them, or contemplate them, and especially when they read the predictions made by the servants of God concerning future events, or events that may transpire right before their eyes, they are apt to get, sometimes, erroneous ideas, or, at least, exaggerated ideas, in relation to them.” – George Q. Cannon, JD 21:264

I have seen the impact of traditions and preconceived ideas in my own experience, and overcoming them has been necessary to growing closer to God. One might assume that we are safe in just sticking with whatever we learn at Church and are taught by our leaders, but Ezra Taft Benson warned:

“Not only are there apostates within our midst, but there are also apostate doctrines that are sometimes taught in our classes and from our pulpits and that appear in our publications. And these apostate precepts of men cause our people to stumble…” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1949, p. 163, Apr. 1969, p. 11)

Now don’t go throwing the baby out with the bath water, remember that George Q. Cannon observed that this is a peculiarity that pertains to mankind generally. Sometimes we are exposed to false ideas intentionally or unintentionally, but this shouldn’t concern us that much. Part of our mortal experience is seeing whether or not we will put forth the effort to discern light from darkness.

While we should never take lightly the instruction given by the apostles and prophets sent to us, we should remember that the Holy Spirit works in tandem with their words. The key here is a personal relationship with God and eyes and ears that can hear the voice of the Spirit. Everything you put your trust in should be examined in light of the Holy Scriptures and by much pondering and feedback from on high.

Without the Spirit, even Jesus’ preaching is reduced to simple stories about plants, debtors, pearls, lamps, thieves, weddings and sheep.

Personal conversion to actual doctrines of the Gospel and a correct understanding of true principles of the Gospel will bring us closer to God. All ideas should be held up to the light of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Some may err in their delivery of the message, we may err in what we thought we heard or in how we interpreted what we heard, but the Spirit transcends the limitations of our language and the deficiency of our perceptions.

Blindly trusting in the philosophies of men, traditions and preconceived ideas, without seeking understanding, will sustain the chasm that stands between us and God making us ripe for extremes and apostasy.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about what we only believe versus what we truly know and have the courage and faith to invest in the path that leads to knowledge. It may require us to confess to ourselves that we only really believe what we merely assumed that we “knew” because we grew up and based our lives upon a tradition.

Put it all to the test; purging your life of erroneous traditions and preconceived ideas is a humbling experience but it is completely worth it!


  1. Richard J. Nobbe III

    In my experience in the Church, a common tool Satan uses is causing the Saints to have confusion between what are Doctrines, what are Principles, and what are Applications. Sometimes Satan causes there to be a “perceived grey area” in the minds of the Saints between what is Principle and what is really an Application of THAT Principle.

    Principles, as we know, are ALWAYS true. But Applications of principles vary, as indeed they should. Sometimes Satan uses the “perceived grey area” to his advantage in causing much contention and even apostasy. For example, it is a true principle to keep the Sabbath Holy. But contention arises when the Smith family sees the Jones family doing something that, in their mind, does not keep with this principle. It could be that Sister Jones has to work, or maybe little Joey Jones is sick and needs a remedy from the local pharmacy. While nothing is said by the Smith family, they see these things taking place, and a judgement is made in their hearts. “Don’t associate with the Jones Family, they don’t keep the Sabbath Holy.” This is a perfect example of how, to one person or family, Satan turned an application of a principle into the principle itself.

    Satan tries to turn applications of principles into principles all the time. That’s one thing he knows how to do, and boy does he do it well. The perceived principles, (which are false), slowly become tradition, and before you know it, we are counting how many paces we are allowed to take on the Sabbath.

    I have only used one example. There are countless others we could think of in our own life. But the point is we all must be careful and willing to hearken to the voice of the Spirit.

    I really liked what you said about how the Holy Spirit works in tandem with the words of the Prophets. I remember a CES Fireside back in 2005 when Elder Oaks spoke on this principle. He said, “The explanation………is the same explanation. I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’ In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself.”

    Honesty is the path for us to understand things through the spirit “the way they are, and the way they really will be” (paraphrasing Jacob).

    • Richard J. Nobbe III

      *Principles (OF GOD) are always true.

    • It’s unfortunate that teaching applications has become such a hard tradition to overcome. I really appreciated Elder Oaks’ comments, I really enjoy hearing that perspective coming from individuals in positions I hold in high esteem.

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