As I was preparing for today’s talk, I remember President Brigham Young’s quote where he compared the Church or Zion into a ship. He said
“You know we are on the “Old Ship Zion.” We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, he labors very hard. “I am not going to stay here,” says one; “I don’t believe this is the ‘Ship Zion.” “But we are in the midst of the ocean.” “I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.” Off goes the coast, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the “Old Ship Zion,” let us stay in it."
My topic is about those go off the coast, and jump overboard or those who leave the Church and went to Apostasy. Will there still be apostasy? Yes, according to Elder Claudio D. Zivic of the Seventy, But “We need not be concerned about the possibility of another apostasy of the Church of Jesus Christ. However, we need to be concerned and watchful that we do not fall into personal apostasy, which can result from several causes. Brigham Young said “Yes, brethren and sisters, you may expect that people will come into the Church and then apostatize. You may expect that some people will run well for a season, and then fall out by the way (DBY, 85–86).
I am not here to get you thinking of others, of your friends and neighbors who left the Church or apostatized. Enough to say about them that we are strongly counseled to love them, and to encourage, plead, and work with those who have strayed, inviting "the lost sheep" back to the fold (Luke 15:3-7). But mainly my focus this morning is to remind ourselves of the need to re-evaluate our own commitments and direction to ensure we do not lose our way. My topic is PREVENTING PERSONAL APOSTASY.
Personal apostasy is a spiritual cancer, unpredictably yet continuously destroying the spirituality of a person. But like physical cancer, the sooner apostasy is detected and the sooner steps are taken to counteract apostasy, the easier it is to overcome. The key to full and complete recovery is early recognition and quick personal effort to regain spirituality. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 514.).
To avoid losing our way to apostasy, we must understand the STEPS that lead to apostasy. These steps are usually gradual and All members are counseled to guard against all manifestations of personal apostasy (DS 3:293-312; Asay, pp. 67-68). A]ny person on the path toward apostasy can stop at any of the steps and turn back toward full activity.
Steps to Apostasy
The steps that lead to apostasy are as follows:
1.Complacency—a Symptom of Laziness or a Sign of Pride
“The lack of personal holiness is the major factor in backsliding and falling away from the Lord.”
The hare in Aesop’s fable provides a classic illustration of such pride and complacency. In the well-known tale, a hare and a tortoise agree to race. The hare scampers off, leaving the tortoise plodding slowly behind. Eventually the hare becomes tired and, sure of victory, decides to stop and rest. He falls asleep, and the steady tortoise quietly passes by, going on to win the race.
The hare’s problem was not that he lacked the ability to finish the race. Far from it. His problem was that he thought he had the race won. If we, like the foolish hare, think we have it made, there’s no need to keep working then we will fall short of the finish line. So if we stop now and go to sleep, no matter how far along the path of spiritual progress we have come, we will not cross the finish line. As soon as we start focusing on how far behind our spiritual competition is, we divert energy needed to further our own progress and are liable to forget the whole purpose of the race. (quoted in Mark Chamberlain’s talk The Spiritual Hazards of Fault Finding)
Sometimes people do not do anything really wrong; they just get spiritually lazy. They may commit small acts of omission by failing to do their home or visiting teaching or not diligently fulfilling their Church calling. If we are in this stage, we are in danger of gradually slipping away as our faith and testimony weaken.
Nephi warns us of this first step toward apostasy: Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! (2 Ne. 28:24-25.) As soon as a righteous individual feels that all is well, or it is enough, he no longer feels the need to repent and progress, he is in danger of falling into error.
Thus, the first step to personal apostasy begins with our attitude. Complacency, the lack of zeal for spiritual things, is the warning signal that the first step has been taken. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 188.)
2. Making Personal Exceptions—Setting Oneself Up for a Fall
“As worldliness gets its claws into a believer’s life the joy of serving Jesus departs. There is no longer a drawing near to God and His Word. The things of God begin to take second place until they become the last thing on our mind.”
If the Saints neglect to pray, and violate the day that is set apart for the worship of God, they will lose his Spirit. If a man shall suffer himself to be overcome with anger, and curse and swear, taking the name of the Deity in vain, he cannot retain the Holy Spirit. In short, if a man shall do anything which he knows to be wrong, and repenteth not, he cannot enjoy the Holy Spirit, but will walk in darkness and ultimately deny the faith (DBY, 85).
In this stage, we begin to weaken in our spiritual commitment. This may begin very subtly, as our religious duties and observances lose priority in our lives. It might begin with acts of omission as we consistently or deliberately neglect our Church calling, personal prayer, or gospel study.
For example, schooling, work, or even family may be used as an excuse for not attending church on Sunday. Or, acts of commission may result in disobeying some of the commandments. A teenager might become too intimate during a date. A worker could borrow something from the job site. In an important social setting, an individual might go against Church and personal standards and drink an alcoholic beverage. The list of possibilities continues, but somewhere the person takes a spiritual detour by making an exception for him- or herself in one area of spiritual behavior. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 189.)
So, if we find ourselves looking for excuses not to be faithful to the Gospel or our respective callings, or to find justifications for our deviations for the teachings of the Church, we must examine our lives to determine what we are doing that is leading us down the path of apostasy.
3.The Exceptions Become the Norm—One’s Slippery Slide Swiftens
“Is it not amazing that what Christians once called sin is now tolerated as acceptable behavior. Christians, like the world, are no longer ashamed of their sin but openly flaunt it in the guise of so-called Christian Liberty. What really happens in this case is that righteousness is no longer loved.”
Very trifling affairs are generally the commencement of divergence from the right path. If we follow a compass, the needle of which does not point correctly, a very slight deviation in the beginning will lead us, when we have traveled some distance, far to one side of the true point for which we are aiming (DBY, 83).
Soon the exceptions made under unusual circumstances become the rule, and behavior that was once sporadic becomes periodic and then habitual. Not only does one lose the Holy Spirit as a constant companion, but the person rejects the promptings of a conscience calling one to repentance..
This step is sometimes difficult to recognize, either by the person or others. It takes a while to realize that the few, earlier, justifiable exceptions have now become the norm of one’s behavior. This is when daily prayer, weekly sacrament covenant renewal, monthly fasting, and periodic interviews with priesthood leaders should help Church members evaluate their faithfulness and stop any problems before they become difficult habits to break.
4.Seeking Justification—Finding Excuses Everywhere
“Through hardening of the heart the ways of God are rejected. Soon the still small voice of God’s Holy Spirit is drowned out with the world’s multitudes of voices offering a more enlightened, liberal way. It is then that the Holy Spirit of God is grieved and quenched in our lives. The temple He came to inhabit has been violated by sin”
Having changed the patterns of our behavior for the worse, the fourth step is to free ourselves from guilt by justifying our behavior. The easiest way to do this is to blame someone else.
It is also at this stage that some individuals begin to think the Church is not true when they feel that a leader did not treat them well. They become offended and, without considering what they are losing, they stray from the Church. So when a person commits serious sin but does not repent, the individual moves away from the truth, looking for imperfections in others or questioning Church doctrine with which he no longer agrees.
Faultfinding also characterizes this step. When we look for faults in others or begin to think we could make better decisions than our leaders, we should remember the experience of Oliver Cowdery, the second elder of the Church.
In Doctrine and Covenants 28:2 Oliver Cowdery is told through revelation given to Joseph Smith, “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” In time, sadly, Oliver rebelled against Joseph, saying, “If I leave this church, it will fall.” Joseph responded, “Oliver, you try it.” Oliver did try it, and he fell. The kingdom of God, however, remained firm".
5. Hypercriticism—Dissatisfaction with God’s Servants
“If apostasy continues its course unchecked, an individual may eventually reach the point when no second beginning is possible. Continuing to wilfully sin is so dangerous yet pastors and teachers do not warn their flock.”
Once people blame their own transgressions on someone else, the next logical step is to belittle others as they transfer their dissatisfaction of the Church and the gospel as a whole. This fifth step reflects universal human nature: we try to bring others down to our own level when we do not live up to expected standards. The individual in this stage criticize Church leaders, considering their real or imagined weaknesses as legitimate reasons to deny their priesthood authority. They also dispute the revealed doctrines because they no longer live them. If such individuals look into the scriptures, they find fault with the teachings because of supposed awkwardness or ambiguity in the style of writing, irrelevancy, or some other historical or literary quirk. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992],191.)
One of the first steps to apostasy is to find fault with your Bishop; and when that is done, unless repented of a second step is soon taken, and by and by the person is cut off from the Church, and that is the end of it. Will you allow yourselves to find fault with your Bishop? (DBY, 86).
We must always believe in and follow the living prophets of God. They are His mouthpiece on earth and are inspired of Him to teach and direct all of us in righteousness and truth. No one will go astray if he follows the teachings and examples of God’s anointed here on earth. People who criticize, find fault, and fail to support God’s appointed leaders, lose the Spirit and fall into error and apostasy. Elder Delbert L. Stapley, May 5, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964 5.)
Whenever a person is called, and during general, stake, and ward conferences, we sustain our respective Church leaders. To what extent do we sustain our leaders?
The obvious solution at this step is to humbly recognize God’s power and to turn to his servants and the scriptures for counsel; otherwise, as Nephi warned: Wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God! (2 Ne. 28:26.) When people reach this step, they are under the influence of those outside God’s realm. Indeed, they are beginning to turn against God, his teachings, and his representatives. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 191.)
6. Withdrawal from God—Losing Fellowship in His Church
“ It must be made clear that while apostasy is a danger for all who drift from the faith and fall away, it is not made complete without constant and willful sinning against the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
After denying the fundamental authority of Church leaders and the power of God in the Church, the sixth step to apostasy is complete withdrawal from the Church and inactivity. Personal behavior and attitude make the individual feel awkward associating with other Latter-day Saints. Some apostates simply disassociate themselves from any kind of religion, while others seek out religions that may promise as much or more than the restored gospel but make fewer demands on their behavior.
Men begin to apostatize by taking to themselves strength, by hearkening to the whisperings of the enemy who leads them astray little by little, until they gather to themselves that which they call the wisdom of man; then they begin to depart from God, and their minds become confused (DBY, 84).
Whether Church disciplinary action is sought or given, the inactive person feels alienated from the Church. At this stage, family and ward members also recognize the obvious signs that the person is outside the circle of Church association. Concerted efforts of fellowship and counseling are necessary to help the individual turn his or her life around. Fellowshipping must be undertaken with pure motives. A wave of disproportionate friendliness by the masses upon recognition of a person’s inactivity will never substitute for the consistent encouragement of close friends. Such a turnabout, though very difficult, is not impossible. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 191.)
7. Despondency and Antagonism—The Final Fruits of Apostasy
“Those who by an unbelieving heart depart from God may think they are Christians, but their indifference to the demands of Christ and the Holy Spirit and to the warnings of Scripture points otherwise. Because of the very real possibility of self-deception, Paul exhorts all those claiming salvation to “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5.)”
The final stage of apostasy is reached when the person gives up and becomes despondent about ever finding peace and fellowship in the Church. This bitter despondency may turn to cynical attacks against the Church or its members, including relatives and former close friends. It is plain to see how accurately Nephi describes Satan’s influence on the primrose pathway to apostasy: Others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, . . and [he] leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains. (2 Ne. 28:21-22.) Not only will some people give themselves over to Satan’s influence, but they may also go one step further and actively persecute and fight against the Church. In other words, they may leave the Church, but they cannot leave it alone. (Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 193.)
In closing, I want to re-echo Pres. Brigham Young’s testimony “This Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the “Old Ship Zion,” Let us stay in it by avoiding the mist of darkness that Lehi saw in his dream; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:23).
I testify that we can avoid the mists of darkness that lead to personal apostasy by humbling ourselves , repenting of our sins, keeping our covenants, partaking of the sacrament worthily each week, strengthening our testimonies through prayer, daily scripture study, temple attendance where possible, magnifying our Church callings, serving our fellowmen, overcoming offense, eliminating faultfinding, and following our Church leaders.