They certainly can.

See this post here. There isn’t a better summary we could come up with about the dangers study groups can present.

Yet, there are legitimate reasons to gather outside of church that can be uplifting and serve God’s purposes.

Assembling together in conferences outside of church allows for:

  • Fellowshipping on the doctrine of Christ,
  • Studying the scriptures in fellowships and families,
  • Teaching as opposed to debating,
  • Performing Priesthood ordinances such as Sacrament and Baptism (see here and here and here), and
  • Serving others and sharing our means to relieve the poor.

As long as the group doesn’t replace our individual duties to study things out on our own and gain salvation from God on our own, groups can be a source of inspiration and fellowship. Without a group, we cannot bare one anothers’ burdens and mourn with those that mourn (Mosiah 18:8-10). These group meetings do not have to be within church meetings alone. And, just because getting together as a group outside of church has its pitfalls, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done in the right way as well. Close friends and family can and often do worship together in righteousness (Matthew 18:20), without regards to LDS Church jurisdictional constraints.

To find such a fellowship or learn how to start your own, see here. A link to the fellowship locator will remain in the sidebar as well. A fellowship that does not encourage apostasy from the Lord cannot be called an apostate group (for a scriptural definition of apostasy, see Mosiah 35). However, some LDS Church leaders mistakenly equate disagreement with the ever-changing church handbook of instructions to be equivalent to apostasy, so beware of such leaders should you wish to also meet with a fellowship.

Yes.

The scriptures do not authorize us to follow anyone but God and Christ (for a good list of scriptures, see here ).

But, people often mean different things by the word “follow”, so depending on your practical definition of the term, you may not personally be committing idolatry, which is defined as worshiping something other than God. Following Christ is part of how we worship Him, and following anyone else misplaces that energy onto false gods.

Interestingly, a full search for any scriptures with the words “follow” and “prophet” in it only comes up with five results (plus a myriad of study helps which are only commentary from LDS authors). Here are the five scriptures:

  • Ezekiel 13:3

    3 Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!

  • Acts 3:24

    24 Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.

  • 3 Nephi 20:24

    24 Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me.

  • Luke 13:33

    33 Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.

  • Deuteronomy 18:22

    22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

 

The only thing that follows a prophet, is the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of their prophecies, letting you know whether they are a true or a false prophet.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “follow” as:

  1. To go after or behind; to walk, ride or move behind, but in the same direction. “Soldiers will usually follow a brave officer.”
  2. To pursue; to chase; as an enemy, or as game.
  3. To accompany; to attend in a journey.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “worship” as:

WORSHIP, verb transitive

  1. To adore; to pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration. “Thou shalt worship no other God.” Exodus 34:14.
  2. To respect; to honor; to treat with civil reverence. “Nor worshipd with a waxen epitaph.”
  3. To honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover. “With bended knees I daily worship her.”

WORSHIP, verb intransitive

  1. To perform acts of adoration.
  2. To perform religious service. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain.” John 4:20.

 

Very often going after, pursuing, chasing, and accompanying someone on a journey (see 1 Nephi 8:7) leads to adoring them, respecting them, honoring them, and performing religious service for them in such a way as to constitute idolatry, and as mentioned before, the act of following Christ is defined in scripture as one of the specific ways we are asked to worship and perform service for God.

Again, here is the definition of “idolatry”:

IDOL’ATRY, noun [Latin idololatria. Gr. idol, and to worship or serve.]

  1. The worship of idols, images, or any thing made by hands, or which is not God. “Idolatry is of two kinds; the worship of images, statues, pictures, etc. made by hands; and the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars, or of demons, angels, men and animals.”
  2. Excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.

 

If you have already read the link above with scripture references about following the Lord, you would also have seen the list for scriptures mentioning to “receive” true prophets.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “receive” as:

  1. To take, as a thing offered or sent; to accept. He had the offer of a donation, but he would not receive it.
  2. To take as due or as a reward. He received the money on the day it was payable. He received ample compensation.
  3. To take or obtain from another in any manner, and either good or evil. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Job 2:10.
  4. To take, as a thing communicated; as, to receive a wound by a shot; to receive a disease by contagion. The idea of a solidity we receive by our touch.
  5. To take or obtain intellectually; as, to receive an opinion or notion from others.

 

When God sends something through a prophet, we are not to follow them, but we are to receive (or take, as a thing offered or sent) their message as coming from God (D&C 1:38). The Lectures on Faith outline God’s character and attributes, to help us recognize when a message from a messenger really is from God. Noteworthy are the concepts that God changes not, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and he has all power according to justice, mercy, judgment, truth, and love. By these fruits you shall know whether or not any message is from God (3 Nephi 14:15-20), or from the prophet “following after his own spirit”.

Receiving a prophet is not a permanent affirmation of testimony that someone is a prophet. The reception of a prophet is on a case by case basis, each time they claim to have a message from God. We can’t be lazy. We must have a constant connection to the mind of God ourselves if we are to discern every time if the messenger is sent with an authorized message, because prophets have agency and can enter into transgression themselves, and not be authorized anymore (See D&C 121). In such cases, they take the name of the Lord in vain. The breaking of this commandment is as common as the breaking of every other commandment. Temptations reach even the elect.

This question assumes a certain definition of “failing” in a calling given by church leaders, presuming also that the calling has come from God, but let’s break things down a little further.

In this post where we addressed what God authorizes and allows an individual to do, and whether or not an individual can do what Latter-day Saints do on their own, we said we would address the issue that not all things that the Latter-day Saints do are approved of God. This ties into the opposite concern about what God does not authorize someone to do. The obvious answer to this concern lies in what he has revealed we should not do, contained in all of the “thou shalt not’s” that we are familiar with in the commandments.

Of particular importance to this post are the commands to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to “not do any work” therein (Exodus 20:10), and to “not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

The LDS Church claims inspiration from God in callings given to members. The command to not take the name of the Lord in vain presumes that an authority figure CAN make a mistake in claiming that a particular call has come from God. It certainly may be inspired, but it also may be for personal motives, or to get a job done, or to gather like-minded individuals into quorums and presidencies to affect a personal agenda they want to implement. Whatever the reasons, it is evident that some of the motives for calling individuals are not of God.

The 5th Article of Faith accepted by the LDS Church says:

“We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (Articles of Faith 1:5)

What most LDS members don’t understand is that the prophecy inherent in the call in this verse is to the individual as much as it is to the authority figure making the call. The authority figure’s prerogative and right is addressed in the prophetic call being confirmed by them, as it says: “by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority”. This allows for the authority figure(s) to have a check against imposition from calls that are not from God. But in the case of a legitimate call from God to service, the prophecy comes to the individual: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:3). The subject that receives the desires and the call is the individual. It does not say, “if the elders of the church have desires for you to serve God, ye are called to the work.” If you are to take the position that the desire comes to the individual and the call comes from the authorities upon their notice of an individual’s desires, then you still need to account for the inspired desire that God says must be in the individual. There are many individuals who receive a call who don’t want to do it at all. It is one thing to want to serve God at first and then change your mind after, but it is another thing to not have any desire to do what a leader proposes in the first place. There must be a balance.

It is entirely possible that lacking a desire to do as a leader asks is not an indication of laziness or insubordination at all. It may be your conscience telling you that what they are asking of you is not inspired by God, and that they are using the name of the Lord in vain. As a member of the LDS Church, you not only have the obligation to consider what the leaders ask of you, but you have the obligation to your God according to these scriptures to consider whether or not God has inspired in you a desire to do that particular task as well. If after cleansing your heart from impurity, the inspiration and desire still doesn’t come, don’t do it. Don’t sacrifice your conscience in the name of obeying a leader.

With the clarity of purpose for the commandments that Jesus expounded in his Sermon on the Mount, no one has any excuse for not understanding what God asks of us and what God forbids. In the Sermon and elsewhere, he has commanded that there should be no priestcrafts, which are that someone sets themselves up for a light to get gain and the praise of the world (2 Nephi 26:29). Any agenda in a church meeting fitting this description is forbidden by God. We are not authorized by God to support meetings or individuals when they cross this line. We can support them in good endeavors, but we must have our own moral compass to make a stand against unrighteous and vain endeavors.

The definition that the Lord gives of the church that we covenant to support is the same as his doctrine: “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church” (D&C 10:67-68). We are authorized to build up this definition of the church, especially within the LDS Church if we can. The two are not necessarily synonymous, though, because as soon as any agenda in any church meeting runs contrary to helping people repent of sin and come into Christ’s presence in this life, that meeting is not a meeting of Christ’s church as defined by him. On the other hand, even outside of the LDS institution, where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, there he will be also, and there is his church (Matthew 18:20). If one were to draw a Venn diagram, the LDS Church and the Lord’s Church might have some overlap, but it would still be a Venn diagram nonetheless, with the definition of the Lord’s church necessarily encompassing a much broader scope than what an earthly institution can offer.

Therefore, we are not authorized to labor on a Sunday, especially if that labor is a vain meeting imposed on us by a calling or assignment not from God. Contrarily, if a calling or assignment is from God and requires legitimate service to your fellow man, you will be filled with righteous desire and can confidently offer up your vows on the Sabbath or any other day, even if a church leader disagrees with your behavior. One only needs to skim the New Testament to see that the Lord Himself contradicted his own church leaders on what he decided to do on the Sabbath or in any other context (see Matthew 9:11, Matthew 12:2, and Matthew 12:12-13 for instance) and what he refused to do even when pressed by authority figures (see Luke 22:67).

Because some have mistakenly equated the institution as synonymous with the church of Christ in every moment and every circumstance, they have been led astray by language in secret covenants that imply complete devotion to the institution. Much vain labor, and even wicked practice, has been indulged in “for the oath’s sake” (see Moses 5:50), and without regard to whether or not it was a righteous thing to do. If the definition of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is taken to mean those who repent and come unto Christ as outlined in D&C 10, and referring to those of us today who are or who are attempting to be Saints in these latest days in contrast to those Saints of former days, then the covenant can be fulfilled without regard to any earthly institution, even institutions claiming to protect or be the true church of Christ. One only need to concern themselves with the words and their meaning as opposed to an organization putting those words together as its title.

Interestingly, David O. McKay summarized (or directly quoted) the covenant in question in a speech to departing missionaries as “I will consecrate my life, my time, my talents to the advancement of the Kingdom of God,” (Anderson, Devery S. editor, The Development of LDS Temple Worship: 1846-2000, A Documentary History, Signature Books: SLC, 2011, p. 268), suggesting that the language of the covenant may’ve been altered some time after this 1941 speech to include the name of the Church. Since many LDS members and leaders view the “kingdom of God” as synonymous with the LDS Church as well, this may be a moot point in persuading them to look at the scriptures differently. Regardless, it can be seen that definitions matter in how one perceives if they have “failed” in their callings, and whether or not those calls to service are from God or not. Failing in an assignment that was vain to begin with, might very well be doing service to God as you fill your time with more meaningful purposes.

An institution that believes it is the sole provider of authoritative ordinances from God and continuously regards itself as being the only true church upon the face of the whole earth, irrespective of its shifting doctrines and irregardless of whether or not it actually is built upon Christ’s Gospel at any given moment in time (see 3 Nephi 27:8), will definitely have agendas from time to time that are not of God. In such instances of departure from Christ’s Gospel, these institutions will more likely resemble a corporation trying to retain employees that makes them do unauthorized labors on the Sabbath day, all while claiming in vain that the Lord instructed the false service and sacrifice they have demanded of you. Refusing such impositions is not failing in your calling or your obligations to God at all. Realistically, it is honoring the institution you belong to just as much as it is for a child to refuse to do wrong even if their parent tells them to. When an institution fails to meet up to its own standards, honor the best version of that institution instead. If it really does claim to be of God, they ought to thank you for that if and when they come to their senses. Honor God.

The answer is a resounding “no”.

We’ve touched on this briefly in other posts (see here and here), but it deserves further treatment.

In the post about exercising faith outside of any church, we didn’t elaborate on this much, but it is implied and inclusive in the quote from the Lectures on Faith about individual faith:

“…the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him…” (Lectures on Faith L2 ¶55)

There is more than one way to obtain knowledge respecting God’s character and glory than just reading the revelations God has given man. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1832, the Lord said:

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84:19-22)

Ordinances are a ritualistic communication of symbols and ideas through experiential ceremony. Everyone understands that sign language can convey as much meaning, if not more, than the spoken or written word. The concept is no different for ordinances. Ordinances represent a legitimate way by which abstract concepts concerning God’s character can be communicated through concrete symbols and allusions. But, who can guarantee that a representation, or even a revelation for that matter, is from God, and properly reflective of what he wants to reveal about himself?

The issue of authority is one of trust in the individual conveying the message, as well as trust in the content of the message.

-Is the individual in question sent by God to convey the message or ordinance? and,

-Is the information accurately conveyed?

Both questions are vitally important to get an accurate view of something revealed by God through others. In addition to this, God can and does reveal himself without intermediaries (see James 1:5), speaking straight to individuals. This all goes to the heart of our conversation about these topics. When priesthood is viewed as a legitimate relationship between the true and living God and a messenger OR an individual, the phrase, “without the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh,” makes sense. It is a plain statement of an obvious conclusion. The “authority” lies in whether or not an individual or messenger truly has spoken with God, at each event and communication in question.

Read this scriptural thought again like so: “without the authority of [an actual communication or connection with heaven], the power of godliness is not [communicated] unto men in the flesh.” It is so obvious as to seem ludicrous to have to mention it, but still, the obvious is sometimes not-so-obvious for those with selfish ambitions. The point of such a statement is to highlight the fact that God himself governs any and all communications about himself, and forbids anyone to take his name in vain, and say they are representing knowledge about him when he hasn’t asked them to. The only way to know if another person is properly authorized by God to convey a message is to have a communication from God yourself about the content of that message.

Hopefully, one has enough trustworthy information from others about God to enable them to get an answer from the true and living God concerning other messages he sends or communicates. Fortunately, God has endowed man with common sense and reason to begin to form their first opinions concerning the legitimacy of messages about God’s character. Anti-Christs have twisted reason to appeal to this basic, fundamental skill of all intelligent beings (see Helaman 16:18), but that doesn’t mean we ought to throw out the use of all good reason. As the Lectures on Faith point out in general, it is not reasonable to assume that any being could obtain and preserve power in the universe without being just, merciful, loving, truthful, faithful, AND fair, or else some other more desirable figure would have at some point dethroned him. Therefore, after obtaining the idea that such a being as a God actually exists, any rational, intelligent soul can exercise faith in such a being so as to obtain answers from Him directly. Messengers can and do offer a benefit to others, but all messages can be independently obtained, and in fact must be, to be verified as coming from God.

This connection to heaven, or “priesthood” as the scriptures denote it, is the essential authority needed for seeking out the Lord through faith, so as to obtain the foundation of knowledge concerning his character and attributes upon which salvation is obtained. All of this is done and described in scripture without any reference to church membership. Only the authority of the priesthood, or connection to heaven, is required.

The LDS Church necessarily has common sense protections against the imposition of claims to “priesthood” or connections with heaven upon its members. However, such protections extend only to the group’s common consent to allow any communication to stand as the accepted voice of the group, and to reject any communication as a group. Can you see how unreasonable it is to suggest that one individual can claim that a private communication is acceptable to the group without the group’s consent? An individual can claim to have a message for a group, but it is up to the group to decide if it accepts or rejects that message as having come from God. An imposition comes if an individual claims their message is accepted by a group before the group decides to accept it.

In the case of the LDS Church, one man has been appointed to have the final say as to what the group accepts, and this man is the President of the Church. The members have long since given up their rights to confirm what that one man proposes, and instead they only sustain it after it is decided, but that is besides the point. Others may deliver messages from God to the group, but according to what the LDS have agreed upon, only one man can decide if the group accepts or rejects the message (according to their interpretation of D&C 43:5-7). Individuals in the group must decide if they accept or sustain that man’s decisions for the group. D&C 43:5-7 does not mean that no one can deliver messages to the group other than the President of the Church. Even the LDS interpretation of that passage only means that no one but the President can claim on behalf of the group that the message is a revelation from God to the group. If the LDS allowed for it, the President could accept revelations from others, even non-members, as binding upon the group as revelations to the group, but with traditional LDS interpretations of “the gate” as being only an LDS baptism, and “ordination” as being only an LDS ordination, it is unlikely that will ever happen.

Despite their faulty interpretations of D&C 43, a message can still be shared by an outsider, and it may in fact come from God. What the Lord advised the LDS people to be looking for was a messenger who had entered into the scriptural “gate” and had been “ordained” as the scriptures outline, whether they be a church member or not. The President of the LDS Church is accountable if he rejects a true message from God and refuses to give it the status of “revelation for the group” if it has indeed come from God from an outside source. It is possible that the terms “gate” and “ordination” in D&C 43 can refer to the works of God independent of any other servant’s authority, but by God himself (see 2 Nephi 9:41 and JST, Genesis 14:25-29 for other possible scriptural interpretations as to what God meant in D&C 43 when he said “as I have told you before” concerning the manner of entering in by the gate and receiving ordination).

Can you also see how unreasonable it is for the group to likewise suggest that what they have consented to as coming from God for the group is imposing on all individuals, except as those individual are involved in group practices? The group can claim to have a message for all individuals (like the Family Proclamation to the world), but it is up to individuals to accept or reject that message as authoritative. The group and the individual stand independent of one another and accountable to God for what they accept or reject. But by the same token, neither have a monopoly on God’s communications and ordinances (see 2 Nephi 29:8-11 , and read it carefully, likening it to the Latter-day Saints or yourself).

Therefore, the LDS Church is not the only resource for authoritative ordinances. Those who have a legitimate connection to heaven, or who have priesthood, are resources for communications and ordinances from God, as God directs. Likewise, obtaining communication from God yourself is equally available to test and vet communications from others. No priesthood holder (whether they belong to any church or not) can impose their messages on a group without the group’s consent, and neither can a group claim to have sole communication rights with heaven. Joseph Smith himself was a priesthood holder without a church for quite some time before the church was organized, as were many scriptural examples such as John the Beloved, Lehi in the wilderness, and so on. It is God who rules over all, and who requires us to be one in these matters (D&C 38:27), without contention (3 Nephi 11:29).

Of course! God is no respecter of persons.

The Lectures on Faith written and edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith teach:

“But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.” (Lectures on Faith L3 23)

Anyone, Latter-day Saint or not, may approach God and receive from Him the richest of blessings. No church membership is required. Church membership can be a means by which to help, aid, and assist in that effort, but sometimes it can also be a hindrance if you look beyond the mark.

The Lectures continue:

“Such, then, is the foundation, which is laid, through the revelation of the attributes of God, for the exercise of faith in him for life and salvation; and seeing that these are attributes of the Deity, they are unchangeable—being the same yesterday to day and forever—which gives to the minds of the Latter Day Saints the same power and authority to exercise faith in God, which the Former Day Saints had: so that all the saints, in this respect have been, are and will be alike, until the end of time; for God never changes, therefore his attributes and character remain forever the same. And as it is through the revelation of these that a foundation is laid for the exercise of faith in God unto life and salvation, the foundation, therefore, for the exercise of faith, was, is and ever will be the same. So that all men have had, and will have an equal privilege.” (Lectures on Faith L4 ¶19)

As is mentioned here, the authority to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation comes from the revelation that God makes of his character and attributes, which are unchangeable, and lay a sure foundation. The authority to exercise this kind of saving faith does not come from any church, even if it is considered God’s church…and this stands to reason: If a group of people were given the power to determine how far someone could exercise faith, the power would likely be abused, but if it is widely known what God has revealed about his character and attributes, so that there can be no mistake as to which God someone is attempting to worship, then there can be nothing stopping anyone from approaching this same God.

To deny the opportunity for someone to exercise faith, which is a principle of action and power, is to exercise unrighteous dominion and horde that power over others.

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Nephi 26:33)

The result of such independently exercised faith is further explained in the Lectures:

“Let us here observe, that after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.” (Lectures on Faith L2 ¶55)

Therefore, with or without a church, an individual can obtain an audience with the Lord, and secure for themselves everlasting salvation. It must be so, or else at times when there is no legitimate church of God on the earth, individuals would perish in unbelief, and even if there is a church of God available, such opportunities must exist or else God would be a changeable God, and his word would be void. Salvation is not dependent upon membership in a church.

But, be careful…not all things that Latter-day Saints do is acceptable to God. We’ll address what God does not authorize us to do in another post.