Five Ways to Detect and Avoid Doctrinal Deception

Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 17 September 2013

Robert L. Millet, an author and BYU professor, said Latter-day Saints ought to pore over the scriptures constantly to learn the doctrines and avoid being deceived.

Article Highlights

  • Five Questions to Detect Doctrinal Deception:
  • 1. Is it within the bounds of an individual’s stewardship?
  • 2. Is the individual worthy to receive such revelation?
  • 3. Is it in harmony with standard works or prophetic teachings?
  • 4. Does it edify or instruct?
  • 5. Does it build faith and commitment?

“That we may not be deceived, we seek after the gifts of the Spirit, particularly the gift of discernment.” —Robert L. Millet, author and BYU professor


On the final day of BYU Campus Education Week, Robert L. Millet, an author and BYU professor, gave a presentation outlining five points Latter-day Saints can use to avoid doctrinal deception in the Church. He said that red flags should go off in members’ heads when they encounter things that are not doctrinally sound.

One Saturday morning, Brother Millet said, he received a call from Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Maxwell was concerned about a book that had received a lot of attention and had gained somewhat of a cult following. He asked Brother Millet if he knew about it and what he thought about it. Brother Millet said, “Elder Maxwell, frankly, it has a lot of doctrinal problems.”

Elder Maxwell said, “It never ceases to amaze me how gullible the Latter-day Saints can be. Our lack of doctrinal sophistication makes us an easy prey for such fads.” Brother Millet then explained that Latter-day Saints ought to pore over the scriptures constantly to learn the doctrines, lest they be deceived.

Sooner or later someone comes along claiming a new revelation, a new doctrine, or some new way of life, said Brother Millet. He asked how members can determine if something is from God. He proposed five questions that a person might ask to determine if something is false.

1. Is the person claiming the revelation acting within the bounds of his or her respective stewardship? There is a specific pattern that the Lord uses for revelation, Brother Millet said. He asked the audience if they could imagine if everyone received revelation for any part of the Church. It would be total chaos, he said. He then quoted Joseph Smith: “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves.”

2. Is the person receiving the revelation worthy to receive such?
As a reference Brother Millet cited Doctrine and Covenants 52:14–15: “And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.”

3. Is the communication in harmony with the standard works and teachings of the prophets?
Leave the exceptions to the prophets, Brother Millet counseled. “Elder [Bruce R.] McConkie taught to stay within the mainstream of the Church,” said Brother Millet. He advised class members to watch out for new interpretations of scripture or people claiming that following something outside the mainstream of the Church brings deeper spirituality.

4. Does the revelation edify or instruct?
Is it consistent with the dignity that ought to be associated with revelation from God? God does not work against Himself, said Brother Millet.

5. Does the communication build a person’s faith and strengthen commitment?
If what a person is claiming weakens faith in Christ or resolve to follow the leaders of the Church or a desire to do what is right, it is not of God, said Brother Millet.

In closing, he suggested looking at the fruits produced by following a particular revelation. Does it make you feel closer to God? Does it uplift and encourage you to be a better person? Do you feel the Spirit? “That we may not be deceived, we seek after the gifts of the Spirit, particularly the gift of discernment,” he said.

Joseph Smith gave a key indicator to help avoid deception, said Brother Millet. Joseph said, “That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.”