One of the criticisms often leveled against members of my faith is that we believe in “blind obedience” to those called to be leaders of our Church. As a fairly independent and strong-minded woman, those accusations irk me each and every time they make the rounds. If there’s anything I could safely say that I’m not, it’s someone that follows out of blind obedience.
However, we also believe in the restoration of the ancient Church– which includes prophets and apostles. We honor and revere these men, and seek for our own confirmation from God that they speak for Him.
You see, one of the great doctrines of our faith is that God has, does, and will always continue to speak directly to His children. On that spring morning in 1820, Joseph Smith learned that for himself– and this has been a founding principle of our religion ever since.
I appreciate the straightforward way Dallin H. Oaks addresses this seeming dichotomy of our faith:
Members who have a testimony and who act upon it under the direction of their Church leaders are sometimes accused of blind obedience.
Of course, we have leaders… but when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost. This is what our critics fail to understand. It puzzles them that we can be united in following our leaders and yet independent in knowing for ourselves.
Perhaps the puzzle some feel can be explained by the reality that each of us has two different channels to God. We have a channel of governance through our prophet and other leaders. This channel, which has to do with doctrine, ordinances, and commandments, results in obedience. We also have a channel of personal testimony, which is direct to God. This has to do with His existence, our relationship to Him, and the truth of His restored gospel. This channel results in knowledge. These two channels are mutually reinforcing: knowledge encourages obedience (see Deuteronomy 5:27; Moses 5:11), and obedience enhances knowledge (see John 7:17; D&C 93:1).
We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience.
I like to think of it in terms of following an experienced hiking guide. If I have prepared well for a strenuous hike, I have taken care to study things out on my own. I have familiarized myself with the trail and what will be required. I have learned through my studies of the treacherous obstacles as well as the beautiful vistas that I will be experiencing. This knowledge will be augmented by my guide’s experience, but not replaced by it. In fact, I will be able to discern the quality of my guide much more accurately if I have taken the time to study and prepare for myself.
This is why it is so important to seek a close personal relationship with our Savior and to recognize the voice of His Spirit. If we know His voice, we will recognize it when it comes through the voice of others– whether Church leaders, family members, or friends.
I love these words from Ronald A. Rasband:
As we press forward, choosing to follow the counsel and the warnings of our leaders, we choose to follow the Lord while the world is going in another direction. We choose to hold fast to the iron rod, to be Latter-day Saints, to be on the Lord’s errand, and to be filled “with exceedingly great joy.”
The growing question of today is clear: are you standing with the leaders of the Church in a darkening world so that you might spread the Light of Christ?
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
He is the Master Guide. He knows the way, because He is the way.
In his recent Conference address, Elder Rasband recounts the story of Peter walking on the water with the Savior. His request to step out in faith is described as a bold one. “Peter was a fisherman, and he knew about the hazards of the sea. However, he was committed to following Jesus—night or day, on a ship or on dry land,” Elder Rasband explains.
Most of us know how the rest of the story goes. Peter took a few steps in faith, only to begin to fear and ultimately sink. As He cried out for help, our Savior immediately came to his rescue.
Applying this experience to each of us here in this day and age, Elder Rasband states:
[Peter’s experience is] such a powerful lesson. The Lord was there for him, just as He is there for you and for me. He reached out His hand and drew Peter to Him and to safety.
I have needed the Savior and the rescue of His hand so many times. I need Him now as never before, as does each of you. I have felt confident at times leaping over the side of the boat, figuratively speaking, into unfamiliar places, only to realize that I could not do it alone.
The Lord often reaches out to us through our families and leaders, inviting us to come unto Him—just like He reached out to save Peter.
You too will have your many moments to respond to frequent invitations to come unto Christ. Isn’t that what this mortal life is all about?
As we come unto Him, we can become a light to the world. A city on a hill. With Him, we will recognize truth and have courage to speak it without fear. With Him, we will find a peace and a love that surpasses all understanding.With Him, we will experience an increased desire to help others and be that experienced guide for someone else in our life. In reaching out to Him, we yearn to reach out to others.
There is no one that He doesn’t desire to save. Even if you feel entirely unworthy or broken, He is always there. He will heal the wounded soul and lead you safely home.
Listen to His voice, whether from the words of those who serve Him or the quiet undeniable impressions spoken in your mind and heart.
As with Peter, He will reach out and come to your rescue.
Every single time.
Thanks for joining us for General Conference Book Club today!
How might you personally seek to sustain general and local Church leaders?
What can you do to deepen your personal relationship with your Savior so that you might better recognize His voice?
Next Sunday we’ll review “Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me,” by Neil L. Andersen. Come and join the conversation!
New to General Conference Book Club? Check out the details here.