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So we’re still seeing some of the same problems we were seeing earlier. If you read revelations in context, we learn that there were a lot of people who were “manifesting spiritual gifts” by writhing on the ground and doing strange things like acting as if they were monkeys. Apparently, this was a really small portion of the people, but they were drawing negative attention from neighbors who were already wary of the Saints. They were likewise confusing some of the converts.
Joseph Smith received Section 46 as a result, and this verse came with it.
Doctrine and Covenants 46:7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
There are a couple of things that I want to talk about in there, but we’re going to start with the end:
“…that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.”
On my mission, I did see some of these odd spiritual manifestations occurring in other Christian denominations, specifically the “gift of tongues” where people start babbling and talking in a different “language.” I don’t believe these things are problems in the church any longer. We seem to have established some basic ideas of how revelation and spiritual gifts work and what they look like.
But I do argue that we still find ourselves occasionally mingling with doctrines of devils and commandments of men. We find ourselves “seduced by evil spirits” but because it’s so subtle, we don’t recognize it. This is an even bigger problem to root out than what the Saints were experiencing at this time because these kinds of “evil spirits” we find ourselves seduced by are much harder to detect and pull out of ourselves.
Commandments of Men
So what are these evil spirits we’re seduced by in our day? Let’s talk first about the commandments of men, and then I’ll dive into doctrines of devils.
I can think of two very intense outward versions of the “commandments of men.” I more often find these kinds of examples from missionaries than regular members. These are not my personal examples but examples that happened to close friends of mine. The first was a missionary who had a companion that wouldn’t allow them to wear shoes in the apartment…at all. Not because she liked things being clean but specifically because wearing shoes in the apartment was “desecrating the Lord’s property.” The second example came from a missionary as well. This missionary’s companion wouldn’t allow them to use the air conditioning in the car in Southern California in the summer because it “wasted the Lord’s money.”
Like I said, these are very intense outward versions but I bring them up because within them, I found a very specific and easily identified principle that we can use. People took principles of the gospel and created hard fast rules that the Lord did not. This is often how we find the commandments of men. We do not desecrate sacred property like the temple, and if the Lord tells you to take your shoes off, you do so. However, if the Lord doesn’t want missionaries wearing shoes in their apartment, let Him make the commandment. Don’t you do it. We follow the Lord’s commandments, not the commandments of men.
So now that we’ve identified a way to find the commandments of men, let’s look at these more subtle examples that occur far more often within the church. Now it’s extreeeeeemely important to note that sometimes these commandments of men are taught but sometimes, they are simply internalized by us regardless of whether anyone made them hard fast rules.
These examples may not specifically apply in your life, but take some time to think if you’ve created any hard fast rules for yourself when the Lord merely tried to teach you a principle.
Some of these commandments of men may include not hanging out with other teenagers who aren’t members of the church. You have to vote a certain way if you’re part of the church. You have to attend one of the BYU’s. You have to live in a traditional family. You have to play piano, cook homemade dinners, and make good grades to be considered “good.”
We may look at some of these examples and scoff, but we shouldn’t. Regardless of whether you’ve ever felt an overwhelming need to follow after these things, some people within your circle feel pressured to look a certain way in order to feel like they fit in within the church. This is especially true, I’ve found, for younger generations. Now, as I mentioned previously, sometimes these kinds of things are explicitly taught and sometimes, they are simply internalized. So you have to ask yourself: am I teaching these things (not necessarily on purpose but with my attitudes)? Or you have to ask yourself: have I made myself believe that I have to look a certain way and fit into a certain culture if I want to be “good?”
We have to remember these for what they are: commandments of men. Back when this Section was written, the actions of a few were driving others away from the church. The same thing could be occurring in our day but in a much more sinister manner because it’s subtle, and we often don’t recognize it for what it is.
Follow the doctrine. Follow the principles taught by Christ but don’t create hard fast rules that you or someone else feel like they have to measure up to. Even recognize the policies of the church for what they are: policies that are from the Lord (which we are expected to follow) but they are not doctrine.
Doctrine of Devils
Commandments of men can and have caused problems in our day, but sometimes I think the doctrine of devils has caused significantly more damage. When you hear “doctrine of devils,” you may think of seances or Ouji boards, but doctrines of devils can be subtle (and still dangerous) like the commandments of men.
Doctrines of devils may include internalized beliefs like:
“I have to reach a certain standard in order to make it to heaven.” There are too many circumstances and predispositions for there to be any one, specific standard. I can’t tell you your status, but the Lord can tell you how you’re doing.
“Priesthood leaders never make mistakes.” This belief sets us up to be disillusioned, and it also takes away our motivation to find truth for ourselves. Our priesthood leaders do have stewardship and can receive revelation for you, but that does not also give them the spiritual gift of perfection.
“I can still do such-and-such and Heavenly Father isn’t going to keep me out of heaven.” While you don’t have to reach a certain standard to go to heaven, Heavenly Father does expect us to want to do everything He asks. You can be in the midst of a major addiction and be closer to God because of your desires in comparison to believing that you can disregard “minor” policies and believe that the Lord won’t care about your desires.
These doctrines do not come from the Lord, so where else could they come from? What beliefs have you internalized about heaven, your own identity, Christ’s atonement, and anything else that may be keeping you from feeling close to your Father in Heaven?
Combatting Commandments of Men and Doctrine and Devils
One of the main verses the Lord gives us to combat these problems is the same verse we read in the beginning. It included asking of God, walking uprightly, praying, and being grateful. These are very good bits of advice (obviously…they come from Heavenly Father…) that I encourage you to study to find out how they protect us.
There is one bit of advice that I want to talk about though. The Lord recommends “considering the end of your salvation.” This may mean a couple of things, but it means two things specifically to me. It includes the means of my salvation, or Jesus Christ and His atonement, as well as what has been promised to me if I’m faithful. If I sit and ponder and learn about Christ, why He did what He did, what exactly He accomplished, what it means for me, it is very easy to discern what’s coming from Satan and what comes from Christ. When I consider the promises that have been made to me, I no longer have to become so enveloped in my worldly troubles that discouragement clouds my vision and I fall prey to commandments of men and doctrines of devils.
Coming to know Christ personally, on a daily basis, is (in my opinion) the single most important inoculation we can receive to protect us from these sinister problems that influenced Joseph Smith’s day and our day as well.