The scriptures about the ancient kingdoms of Israel are illustrative for answering this question. They were originally one kingdom through the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, but after Solomon’s reign, they divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Kingdom of Judah, who governed the temple of Solomon and had official priests and a line of authority, were idolatrous by worshiping their leaders. Jeremiah proclaimed that Jehovah himself pointed this out and said that when they prophesied, pretending it was from Him, it was more like it was from Baal instead:

The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. (Jeremiah 2:8).

The Kingdom of Israel rebelled against Solomon’s royal line and worshiped in high places and in groves.  They were idolatrous by worshiping the hosts of heaven instead of God alone:

And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. (2 Kings 17:16-18).

Eventually, the Kingdom of Judah gave up all pretenses, and after an insincere and feigned return to Jehovah worship during King Josiah’s reign, they became involved in full blown idolatry by worshiping the hosts of heaven as well:

¶The Lord said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord. And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah. (Jeremiah 3:6-11).

In both cases, God rejected them when they got it wrong, including the Jews when their temple worship missed the mark (you only have to skim Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel and other prophets to catch that theme). But, He also supported them both when they got it right, even though the Deuteronomists and King Josiah’s reformers in the Southern Kingdom of Judah modified the sacred record to reflect a condemnation of all worship in high places outside of the central temple in Jerusalem (see this scripture search for “high places” to notice the parenthetical insertions with the pattern: “But the high places were not taken away” throughout the book of the 2 Kings, for starters). The hypocrisy of Judah condemning Israel for worshiping outside of the temple manifested itself by Judah turning fully to idolatry themselves. They were just as bad, and eventually they stopped covering it up with the cloak of the official religion laid down by Moses.

The fact that God called prophets in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, most notably Elijah with his worship at an altar out in the open at Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18), proves that God recognizes worship outside of the temples built by religious establishments and the priestly class. The Kingdom of Israel had no temple, so all of its prophets were unofficial in terms of “authorized” temple worship.

Joseph Smith explained how both forms of worship–in a temple and on the mountain top–could be appropriate:

I preached in the grove on the keys of the Kingdom, Charity &c The keys are certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed–The rich can only get them in the Temple–the poor may get them on the Mountain top as did Moses. The rich cannot be saved without Charity, giving to feed the poor when and how God requires as well as building. There are signs in heaven, earth, and hell, the Elders must know them all to be endowed with power, to finish their work and prevent imposition. The devil knows many signs but does not know the sign of the Son of Man, or Jesus. No one can truly say he knows God until he has handled something, and this can only be in the Holiest of Holies. (Manuscript History of the Church, 1 May 1842, Sunday Morning, Grove, Ehat, Andrew F., and Cook, Lyndon W., Words of Joseph Smith, pp.120-121)

Furthermore, Alma in the Book of Mormon asserts:

Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week? I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble. (Alma 32:9-12).

So therefore, the LDS are much like the Kingdom of Judah, and the residue that have left the LDS Church to worship on their own are much like the Kingdom of Israel. Both scenarios can have excesses and insincere, unaccepted worship, as well as sincere and true worship. So, contrary to the prejudices of many active Latter-day Saints, non-members can legitimately worship outside of LDS temples, and still worship appropriately in the spirit of the temple.

On February 22, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith mentioned worship on the mountaintops when he instructed concerning an exploration of the West for a settlement of the Saints. He said:

I want every man that goes to be a king and a priest. When he gets on the mountains he may want to talk with his God (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 224).

The Lord cuts a path between the extremists of the two by seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23), whether they be in the temple or on the mountains, or at a home altar. In “spirit” because His word is spirit, as the mind of God lays an unseen path before the believer to follow; and in “truth” because the faith and action of the believer brings the realities of the spirit (or the mind of God) into existence in the natural world when they elect to follow His commands. The realities of the spirit are only real if God has truly ordained it as opposed to it coming from a frenzied mind and heated imagination, and only if the believer has followed God’s words and guidance correctly.

And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified? Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong. . . . And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God. (D&C 50:15-16,19-20). And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. (D&C 93:24).

That depends on your understanding of the word “sustain”.

The 1828 Webster’s dictionary gives the following definition:

SUSTA’IN, v.t. [L. sustineo; sub and teneo, to hold under.]

1. To bear; to uphold; to support; as, a foundation sustains the superstructure; pillars sustain an edifice; a beast sustains a load.

If you can support (and if your conscience can tolerate) the policy decisions of the Presidency and other leaders, than you can uphold them with your faith and prayers, and exercise the spiritual maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (see 3 Nephi 14:11). There is no risk of offending God under such circumstances. You should be safe in answering the relevant LDS temple recommend question(s) affirmatively with such an understanding. Sustaining is more than just praying for our leaders, or even praying for our enemies; it also implies supporting them with your faith and effort. Such effort can include admonishing them in their faults (see D&C 6:19 and D&C 112:12), as well as moving a program forward on the ground level or wherever you may be serving. Constructively criticizing faulty policies is also a form of support, and is different than slander, or evil speaking. There may be a time when you would feel comfortable praying for someone, but not comfortable sustaining or supporting their behavior or leadership. Therefore, the distinction is important.

However, if your understanding of sustain includes “following the prophet”, no questions asked, then you are violating the first and second commandments to have no other God beside the Lord, and to not worship idols. See our post here. This was the circumstance that King Noah’s people found themselves in: “Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them” (Mosiah 11:7). Abinadi was sent by God to ask the leaders why they hadn’t taught the people the commandments, especially the first two commandments which they had a particular problem with (see Mosiah 12:31-37).

D&C 59:21 says it clearly: “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”

Another of the Lord’s commandments he says he expects to be obeyed in pertains to who is worthy to be baptized. If you understand your baptism to be dependent upon whether or not you sustain any leader, than you are against the Lord when he declares his doctrine and baptism as only requiring faith in Him and repentance (3 Nephi 11:31-40). Sustaining is a separate function, and should only be used as a benefit to the leaders to help them see when they have the support of the people or not. An unbiased version of a sustaining vote should be welcomed by the leaders so as to help them combat their own weaknesses and foibles. In no way should a convert be withheld from being baptized a member of Christ’s church, or a member be withheld from entering the temple, for simply declining to uphold a leader with whom they have a difference of opinion with. Such priestcraft and bullying only produces forced compliance. In stark contrast to such policies, the scriptures vehemently proclaim: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” (D&C 121:41).

And certainly, as the Prophet Mormon attests, there is a time when sustaining those who are grossly wicked will garner you the disapproval of an offended God:

And now, my son, I dwell no longer upon this horrible scene. Behold, thou knowest the wickedness of this people; thou knowest that they are without principle, and past feeling; and their wickedness doth exceed that of the Lamanites.

Behold, my son, I cannot recommend them unto God lest he should smite me. (Moroni 9:20-21)

Such cases should be self-evident, but as we have seen with King Noah and his people, and as it is the “nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, [that] they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39), it is unfortunately very easy to be “blinded by the subtle craftiness of men” (D&C 123:12).

A council is entitled to have their decisions be considered righteous decisions if they meet a certain standard, and hence have it called the “inspiration” of the council, implying that it is truly from God. They are also entitled to receive revelation from God in addition to inspiration. We see this all over the Doctrine and Covenants. If the LDS Church is calling inspiration revelation, let’s let them concede the point for the sake of argument.

But, in addition to this, the revelations say: “The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity; Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord. And in case that any decision of these quorums is made in unrighteousness, it may be brought before a general assembly of the several quorums, which constitute the spiritual authorities of the church; otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision” (D&C 107:30-32).

The use of “a general assembly of the several quorums” doesn’t seem to be talking about General Authorities in these verses, but any gathering of the LDS Church’s priesthood and quorums from the general church membership. It is the members’ right to test the decisions of any quorum for the criteria listed in the above revelation, which means that past consensus on what was righteous, virtuous, etc. is already in the scriptures and provides another litmus test for present decisions to be weighed against. The definitions of those criteria ought to be understood on their own and by how the scriptures define them as well, so decisions can be weighed properly. It is a long list, and even if a decision qualifies in some criteria, the absence of any of the other criteria makes it a worthless decision. The revelation says “all righteousness”, not just part of those requirements.

If the membership doesn’t use its right to veto decisions, there is no appeal, and they have to live with the consequences of unrighteous judgment, and the council thus deciding would be denied being “fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord”.

 

Joseph Smith had this to say about councils and what made them effective in ancient days…a strict standard by any stretch of the imagination:

[On 12 February 1834 Joseph taught the following about ancient councils:]
“In ancient days councils were conducted with such strict propriety, that no one was allowed to whisper, be weary, leave the room, or get uneasy in the least, until the voice of the Lord, by revelation, or the voice of the council by the Spirit, was obtained, which has not been observed in this Church to the present time. It was understood in ancient days, that if one man could stay in council, another could; and if the president could spend his time, the members could also; but in our councils, generally, one will be uneasy, another asleep; one praying, another not; one’s mind on the business of the council, and another thinking on something else. Our acts are recorded, and at a future day they will be laid before us, and if we should fail to judge right and injure our fellow-beings, they may there, perhaps, condemn us; there they are of great consequence, and to me the consequence appears to be of force, beyond anything which I am able to express. Ask yourselves, brethren, how much you have exercised yourselves in prayer since you heard of this council; and if you are now prepared to sit in council upon the soul of your brother.” (History of the Church, 2:25-26)

Remember, the truth impressed on the Seer Joseph Smith was: “Our acts are recorded, and at a future day they will be laid before us, and if we should fail to judge right and injure our fellow-beings, they may there, perhaps, condemn us; there they are of great consequence, and to me the consequence appears to be of force, beyond anything which I am able to express.”

We have mentioned that the LDS Church has lost its rights to the Priesthood of God as a collective body, but individuals may maintain a connection to heaven if they consistently qualify themselves in the Lord’s eyes. (See posts here and here).

Those who baptize as representatives of the LDS Church have common consent to use their priesthood within an LDS Church setting, so if they are properly ordained (see here and read the comments on the post here) and follow the Lord’s instructions (see here) while ignoring the LDS Handbook of Instructions when it contradicts the scriptures, (as Boyd K. Packer admonished in the training meeting on the handbook –see 2010 Worldwide Training Meeting – Concluding Remarks, and as our Lord and Savior showed by his example against the Pharisees of his day –see Matthew 23), then you can be confident the Lord will acknowledge such faith, even within an LDS setting, and signs will follow those that believe (see Ether 4:18).

For example, missionaries (or those who baptize) should not make baptism dependent on answering the question “Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God?” (Preach My Gospel Manual, pp. 203-212). See our post here and the post entitled “Baptism is Mandatory” here. Otherwise, the scriptures make it very clear that “anything more or less than this cometh of evil” (see 3 Nephi 11:40), with “this” referring to the doctrine of Christ, requiring only believing in Him and repenting of your sins to be qualified to be baptized (see post here).