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Latter-day Saint Visionaries and Would-Be Prophets

by Sharon Lindbloom
27 August 2020

LDS columnist and author Jana Riess recently interviewed Christopher Blythe, the author of a new book that examines The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ evolving doctrines regarding the end of the world (Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse). In part two of this interview, Dr. Riess and Dr. Blythe discuss the apocalyptic teachings of Chad Daybell, Latter-day-Saint-turned-visionary who has been in the news lately due to a trail of mysterious deaths he has left in his wake.

According to Dr. Blythe,

“Chad, from all appearances before his present notoriety, was supportive of the LDS church. He was a member. He just claimed, like these other visionaries, that God had revealed to him events leading up to the Second Coming. That said, he gradually embraced more unusual theological ideas like reincarnation, energy work and various conspiracy theories.”

Thus the title of the second part of Jana Riess’ article: “Chad Daybell’s strange end-times beliefs are not Mormon theology, says historian.”

Many things Chad Daybell teaches are well outside the accepted official doctrines of Mormonism, but Mormonism was, and remains, the foundation of Mr. Daybell’s ideas. Dr. Blythe notes,

“Daybell seems to have emphasized the idea of a Millennial Church that was being formed under his direction: The LDS church is still God’s church, but the Church of the Firstborn, this elect group of special individuals, is also coming together for a special role to prepare for the Second Coming. Chad’s not openly saying, ‘I think I’m going to be the prophet of this new movement,’ but he’s beginning to share some things, like ‘The prophets have to be silent right now, so you need to listen to me.’ More privately, he allegedly tells Julie Rowe [another LDS-rooted visionary] that Peter, James and John have appeared to him and given him priesthood keys. In Mormonism, that’s often how would-be prophets have communicated that they are on the verge of forming a new church.”

Indeed, this is similar to how Joseph Smith formed what became the LDS church back in the early 1800s. In his case, he first denounced all existing Christian churches, claiming God told him they were all wrong and an abomination in His sight; a restored church was needed — one that moved beyond the prophetic silence imposed on the earth since the deaths of the New Testament apostles. Joseph essentially suggested something like, “The prophets have been silent, but now there is a new prophet – now you need to listen to me.”

Soon thereafter, Joseph claimed that Peter, James, and John appeared to him and gave him priesthood keys. And much like what is found in Chad Daybell’s story, Joseph “gradually embraced more unusual theological ideas.”

One of the early things Joseph taught was that the Bible was not trustworthy. He taught, without any supporting evidence, that the biblical text had been altered by “designing and corrupt priests,” as well as mishandled by careless or ignorant translators. It was imperative for Joseph’s success in forming his new church that he undermine the Bible’s authority, for the Bible was generally accepted as the standard of spiritual truth and would stand in the way of Joseph’s new doctrines. So as Joseph deviated from biblical truth, his followers did not consider turning to the Bible to see if the things he said were true (see Acts 17:11). The safeguard God put in place to keep people from being spiritually deceived was useless for those who accepted Joseph Smith as a prophet.

But in Chad Daybell’s case, he didn’t need to worry about conforming his teachings to the teachings of the Bible. Mormonism had already dispensed with that biblical mandate while promoting its doctrine of continuing revelation. When Mr. Daybell began to deviate from official Mormon doctrines, there were no waving red flags to alert his LDS followers.

Within Mormonism it is not uncommon for doctrines to change, for older revelations to become obsolete as they are replaced by new ones. According to Mormonism, individuals outside of the First Presidency cannot receive revelations for the whole church, but individual members can — and should — receive revelation for themselves and, in the case of priesthood holders, for their families. The idea that Chad Daybell had experienced revelatory visions fit well within the framework of Mormonism. And since he was not seeking to replace (restore) the LDS church or direct the movements of its leadership, there was little to set off any alarm bells. At first.

As Mr. Daybell’s teachings grew more radical, some of his followers became concerned about the possibility that he was teaching false doctrine and they fell away. The same was true for Joseph Smith. As his teachings grew to include (for example) polygamy, polytheism, and theocracy, some of his closest associates lost confidence in him and left the church. Spiritually speaking, Joseph Smith and Chad Daybell have a lot in common. They both stand within the ranks of false prophets, of which this world has no shortage.

God warned His people to beware of false prophets and to guard against being led astray. He provided sound ways in which to test someone who claims to speak for God, and He preserved His unchanging written Word as His standard of truth, a safeguard against what the apostle Paul described as being “tossed to and fro by…every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

Putting this God-given safeguard into practical terms, Christian author Tim Challies offers what he calls “The Five Tests of False Doctrine.” First explaining, “Test 1: The Test of Origin” (i.e., “Sound doctrine originates with God; false doctrine originates with someone or something created by God.”), Mr. Challies then writes,

“This leaves us with an obvious question: How can we know the origin of a doctrine? Sometimes its origin is obvious, but more often it is not. When we are uncertain, we can turn to our second test.

“Test 2: The Test of Authority

“The second test is the test of authority. Sound doctrine grounds its authority within the Bible; false doctrine grounds its authority outside the Bible. The Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient, complete, and authoritative revelation of himself to humanity. Doctrines that originate in the mind of God are recorded in the Word of God. There is a clear and necessary correlation between origin and authority, between God and his Word.

“We can think here of those noble Bereans who ‘received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so’ (Acts 17:11). They knew that all doctrines must be compared to God’s Word, his source of truth. Likewise, Paul praised the Thessalonians for their careful assessment and acceptance of his teaching because they understood its divine authority. ‘And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Sound doctrine originates in the mind of God and is recorded in his authoritative self-revelation, the Bible.”

Consequently, when the biblical text is disparaged as being untrustworthy or lacking, people are left without a reliable standard for discerning false teachings, and thereby become susceptible to following false prophets. In other words, they open themselves up to believing lies rather than truth.

Chad Daybell led his followers far afield from God’s revealed truth. So, too, Joseph Smith. He claimed to be God’s new prophet, but he didn’t serve the God of the Bible. He led people after a different God, introducing heretical teachings that were not found in scripture and didn’t accord with the doctrine they had been taught. The apostle Paul said,

“Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17)

These God-breathed words are written for us – for you. Heed them. Turn to God’s Word, discover His truth, and be saved – first from spiritual deception, and then, ultimately, from spiritual death. A full, abundant life awaits you in Christ.

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

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