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A Spirit of Discernment

Although forged in contact with the Spirit, a spiritual tradition is a human creation. It is therefore fallible, and trusting it uncritically is a form of idolatry. What the Doctrine and Covenants says of certain non-LDS scriptures and traditions is true of all spiritual traditions, including the scriptures and traditions of Mormonism: “there are many things contained therein that are not true” (D&C 91:2) which are best understood as “commandments of men” (D&C 46:7).

This reality requires us to approach our tradition in a spirit of discernment. Where in the tradition do we hear the Spirit speaking to us? Where do we hear human ignorance, fear, prejudice, or will to power? Critics often disparage efforts at discernment as "cafeteria religion"—picking what appeals to you and ignoring what doesn't. True discernment, however, is a matter of personal revelation, not personal preference. The scriptures recommend a spirit of discernment when they exhort us to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thes. 5:21) and to test "whether any administration is from God" (D&C 129:9).

On the other hand, our efforts at spiritual discernment are fallible, too. We must therefore be teachable as well as critical in our engagement with tradition. Our faith in personal revelation emboldens us to trust our convictions and best judgment at any given moment. But as we continue to listen, we may find, in the future, that the Spirit has something to teach us through elements of the tradition that now appear to us to be far removed from God's will.

Related Topics:
Personal Revelation    

Heber C. Kimball: The time is coming when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself.

Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Kimball Family, 1888), 450

George Q. Cannon: Our Father does not ask you to walk in darkness nor by another's light, but it is His good pleasure to give each one of you the light of His Holy Spirit in your own souls. By this light you have a right to examine all things that you may hold fast to that which is good.

Gospel Truth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 248

B. H. Roberts: We have reason to believe that the Lord deigns to communicate his mind and will unto men. But the Lord evidently proposes that man shall act here largely upon his own intelligence, exercise his own agency, and develop the powers, intelligent and moral, that are within him. . . . Hence I think it a reasonable conclusion to say that constant, never-varying inspiration is not a factor in the administration of the affairs even of the Church; not even good men, no, not though they be prophets or other high officials of the Church, are at all times and in all things inspired of God. It is only occasionally and at need that God comes to their aid.

Defense of the Faith and the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907), 1:525

Hugh B. Brown: [W]hile all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one's logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit . . .

An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 140

Marion G. Romney: Pray for the spirit of discernment that you may hear the promptings of the Spirit and understand them, and then pray for courage to do them, to follow the guidance of the Spirit.

“Seek the Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 50

This website is an independent effort to discern the Spirit's voice in LDS teaching. The site is not sponsored by the LDS Church. Quotations from the teachings of any individual should not be taken to imply that the individual does or would endorse this website or other statements made here.