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"
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.
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
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.
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.
of the Faith and the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907),
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 . . .
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.
the Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 50