Spencer’s Visions of Glory

Gregory L. Smith, M.D.

Spencer’s Visions of Glory

Review of: John Pontius, Visions of Glory: One Man’s Astonishing Account of the Last Days (Springville UT: Cedar Fort, 2012). 268 pages.1 ISBN 978 1462111183

Summary

Visions of Glory is written by John Pontius and recounts several visions and spiritual manifestations. Their recipient is an anonymous informant called “Spencer” in the book. It includes an account of visions of the spirit world, a series of vignettes of apocalyptic last-days scenarios, and describes Spencer’s foretold role in preparing the world for the second coming of Christ. It concludes with an appendix containing other visions which may provide parallels or points of comparison to Spencer’s claims.

The Saints should always be seeking for further light and knowledge. Experience has shown, however, that an anxious interest in such light and knowledge can lead to being deceived, misled, and manipulated if we are not sufficiently grounded in true principles relating to revelation and learning. Prior to teaching the endowment, Joseph Smith warned the Saints: “Let us be faithful and silent, brethren, and if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves.”2 Of this remark, Elder Dallin H. Oaks wrote:

By and large, Latter-day Saints observe this direction. They do not speak publicly of their most sacred experiences. They seldom mention miracles in bearing their testimonies, and they rarely preach from the pulpit about signs that the gospel is true. They usually affirm their testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel by asserting the conclusion, not by giving details on how it was obtained.3

The purpose of this review is not to cast doubt on the sincerity of those who have believed these visionary accounts. It is important, however, to take note of several factors:

  1. Visions of Glory’s portrayal of Jesus Christ and His method of interacting with the Saints is not consistent with scripture.
  2. Visions of Glory teaches doctrines that contradict LDS scripture and prophets.
  3. Prophets and apostles have repeatedly taught that it is inappropriate for members to publicize such material without permission from the President of the Church.
  4. Spencer claims he will receive authority independent of the Church and its leaders.
  5. Anonymous accounts cannot be verified.

Readers of Visions of Glory may wish to compare LDS teachings and doctrines that differ from the book’s teachings.

I. Introduction

Within two months of the Church’s restoration, Hiram Page was claiming to receive revelation about the New Jerusalem and other matters concerned with the last days.4 This early crisis led to the revelation of what is now D&C 28, in which Joseph and the fledgling Church were told:

But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses…. For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead (D&C 28:1, 7).

This is not a risk that is safely in the past. In 1913, the First Presidency noted:

From the days of Hiram Page at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions, or an extraordinary gift of inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear…. [emphasis added]

In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense….

The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by imposters or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom.5

These scriptures and teachings come to mind as one reads Visions of Glory. There are some teachings that are beautiful and uplifting in Visions of Glory—but, all of those elements can already be found in Latter-day Saint scripture and the authorized teachings of the apostles and prophets. Visions of Glory contains some things that are neither beautiful nor uplifting, and some that are troubling.

Most Latter-day Saints will agree with many of Visions of Glory’s claims about the reality and divine Sonship of Christ. We must remember, however, that any book that wishes to persuade members of the Church would have to include this type of claim. The presence of a witness of Christ, then, cannot by itself serve as evidence for the book’s truthfulness if its other teachings are problematic.

Joseph Fielding Smith noted that it was inappropriate to either publicize or seek out such dreams and revelations from rank-and-file members of the Church:

It seems that periodically it becomes necessary to call attention to the true order the Lord has given us in regard to revelation. During the past three or four months I have received a number of communications, coming from various parts of the Church, asking if certain purported revelations or dreams or purported visions are reliable and have the endorsement of the Authorities of the Church….

Now, the Lord will give revelations to this Church, and he will give commandments to this Church from time to time…but always in accordance with his own law; and we do not have to run around and invite individuals who are without authority to relate to us purported visions, or revelations or commandments, for the guidance of this people….

If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. It is all out of order, in this Church, for somebody to invite him into a sacrament service to relate that to the Church, because the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church….

Now, these stories of revelation, that are being circulated around, are of no consequence, except for rumor and silly talk by persons who have no authority….When you know God’s truth, when you enter into God’s rest, you will not be hunting after revelations from Tom, Dick and Harry all over the world. You will not be following the will-o’-the-wisp of the vagaries of men and women who advance nonsense and their own ideas.6

Sadly, Visions of Glory does precisely what President Smith cautioned against.

II. Troubling claims

Besides claiming to have seen himself at that meeting in the Conference Center with Christ (119), Spencer sees a deceased member of the Quorum of the Twelve pleading to God on his behalf (54). The same apostle comes to see him on his sickbed, and sits for forty-five minutes saying nothing, only to finally give Spencer a message from God (65). A spirit guard hands him a book of scripture (55), likely symbolizing the lost scriptures of a people hidden under the earth in deep caves for thousands of years. Spencer is the one chosen to return these scriptures to the Church (154–157).

He is told that

[o]nly individuals like you, who have been willing to undergo similar pain and abuses as these people have, will they ever listen to and trust….[T]hey will trust you and recognize in you that you are a fellow sufferer and refugee from persecution…. They will see that you also belong to the ‘Fellowship of the Suffering of Christ.’ (76)

In Spencer’s account, an apostle or prophet would not serve—only he or one like him can succeed, and so he is later put in charge of the mission to do just that (152–153). He is greeted among these people by one crying, “[H]ere is the very messenger from God the scriptures testified would come! Today the scriptures are fulfilled!” (154)

Spencer, then, claims to be a single individual who fulfills lost scripture that is restored to the Church. He says that

I was given to understand that there was no other way, and no other path to this type of service. It was a path that could require the shedding of blood and sacrifices of similar magnitude. When a servant of God followed this path to its end, it left a recognizable mark upon the servant—a glow, if you will, of righteousness. It was a preparation that made it impossible to fail, which those to whom he or she would minister would recognize and then follow. (77)

Spencer has repeated visions of Christ (58, 118, 151), and claims Christ told him that he “would do much good for the Kingdom” (59). He “experienced the darkness of child abuse” so that “I was enabled in some way I don’t fully understand to be part of healing the children” (63). He claims to have received intimate and detailed visions of his pre-mortal association with God the Father and Heavenly Mother (86–87).

Spencer even claims to have a vision of himself raising a child from the dead:

We anointed the child with consecrated oil. His mother had asked me to pronounce the blessing. Several other brethren joined me. After a short pause to be sure I was hearing the Holy Spirit correctly, and to give my courage a moment to catch up to my faith, I said, “Tommy, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to be made whole. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” It was a short blessing, just those few words.

The little boy instantly awoke from death, took a deep breath, and began to cry. His mother cried in joy and tried to comfort her son. His appearance quickly became normal, and in a short time he returned to playing (112–113).

If true, such an event would be of the utmost sacredness. By contrast to Spencer, we recall that Jesus put all out of the room save Peter, James, and John and the parents of the girl he raised from the dead (Luke 8:51–55). He also commanded them not to spread the happening abroad (Luke 8:56). Spencer has not even performed the miracle yet, but is already announcing it publicly.

Spencer and others quickly gain miraculous and nearly-infallible healing ability: “The Holy Spirit told us where to go and whom we could heal. From then on, 100 percent of the people we administered to were healed or raised from the dead” (113). The group of healers decides that they have “the fulness of the priesthood,” (113) but this decision was not reached in consultation with the Church leaders in the vision. Spencer and those with him are simply told by the Spirit. Only later do they begin “getting regular instructions and updates from the Church” (113).

In Spencer’s vision, councils are established by Church leaders, but Spencer is not called to the council, save to be “a spiritual advisor to the whole company, sort of like a patriarch, or maybe a bishop, but I had no title and no authority. In this capacity, I spent most of my time in council meetings and counseling individuals. I was in a position where I only gave my opinion regarding something after I had been moved upon by the Holy Ghost and had been asked my opinion. Until then, I did not engage in the discussion” (123).

This organization is inconsistent with gospel principles. If he is “asked to be a spiritual advisor,” he would have to be called, would have to have a title, and would have to have authority. He certainly would in no way be “like a patriarch or…bishop,” since these positions are both priesthood offices and calls issued by those with authority. As part of a Church council system, all are expected to participate and provide opinions without being asked.7

By now, one wonders if this is how Spencer sees himself and his work—a counselor, one with no formal authority from Church leaders, but one who can be asked about things and provide wisdom as “moved upon by the spirit.” If so, his account demonstrates that he does not understand how Church government is to function.

Spencer also claims that Jesus Himself ordained him to be among the “144,000,” giving them a “new priesthood privilege,” (151) to “translate” mortals to an immortal state. Spencer would then go out to gather people “completely dependent upon revelation. [He] would be given a name by revelation,” and would then learn about them through a Urim and Thummim-like “portal.” He would then go to them, “heal[ing] them, rais[ing] their dead” (151). Here again, Spencer operates independently, without any companion or instruction or supervision from priesthood leaders, another clear contradiction of how the Lord typically works.

Later, Spencer changes the story and says that there are three ways in which he receives assignments to use the portal. In addition to personal revelation, “the most common” way of receiving such instruction “was from Jesus Christ Himself” (167). Christ has an office in the temple next to Spencer, “only one door separated us” (167). Thus, Spencer has an office next to the Son of God—not even an apostle or prophet could be closer. The second method besides personal revelation is an assignment from “the Prophet or one of the Apostles. These calls were to more local service, dealing with some need in their stewardship” (167). True apostles and prophets have stewardship over the whole earth—but, in Spencer’s tale, they occupy themselves with “more local” matters, while Spencer receives direct assignments more often from the Lord Himself. And he can even travel through time: “We could go to any group, even into their past, to prepare them, then move forward in time and visit them again” (177). This bizarre science-fiction premise poses serious problems for free agency, as divine messengers move back and alter time. There is certainly no scriptural warrant for such a notion.

Despite having said that the 144,000 are called and set apart by Christ himself, Spencer later says that the 144,000 are

all those who had been called to gather in the elect of God by use of the portals and seer stones. As more people were translated and gained the seer stones, they became members of the 144,000. It was not a calling from the Church because it involved no presidency or stewardship. It was the result of a lifetime of spiritual evolution” (175).

Thus, the truly spiritually mature (such as Spencer) achieve this rank by “a lifetime of spiritual evolution,” and can exercise this supreme priesthood power and authority without being called to do so. He claims they exercise a supernal priesthood function, and yet they have “no stewardship.” It again appears as if Spencer sees himself as part of a spiritual elite helping the Church but not governed by its principles of priesthood, presidency, and order. Yet, the fifth article of faith proves such an arrangement to be false.

Spencer is even shown the timing of the Second Coming, but after the vision “the exact timing of the Second Coming is indistinct to me. It was a while after we arrived in Zion, perhaps no longer than three and a half years” (177).

III. Claims regarding Christ’s return

In vision, Spencer attends a meeting for which he is given a ticket to a specific session of general conference—not everyone is chosen to attend. This final session is attended by a resurrected Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other Church leaders. The keynote speaker at the conference is the risen Jesus Christ: “Now in this unexpected moment, seated before resurrected beings from past dispensations, I had finally reached the beginning of my latter-day mission” (118):

When our Savior spoke, the first word from His lips was my name! I was extremely startled until I also realized that every person present had heard his or her own name. As He spoke, I could hear and fully understand the words He was saying to me, but I was also seeing a vision of His description of my future mission. I saw my entire life from that moment forward, everything that I would do, everywhere I would go, every person to whom I would minister, and how it would all be. I later talked to everyone I could who had been in that glorious event, probably several hundred people, and everyone I talked to had heard their own name and seen a vision of their own life (119).

Such an event would be of surpassing sacredness; it is unfortunate that Spencer chooses to reveal and discuss it, if true. There is much about it, however, that does not ring true.

In Spencer’s account, Christ speaks to each individual separately, and lays out their mission and assignments. He is thus again placing himself in a spiritually elite company in the future, which may incline the reader to trust what he says now.

We can only judge such claims by comparing them to the scriptures. There is much about Spencer’s account that does not match the scriptures. For example, in the scriptures the resurrected Lord always begins by teaching about His mission and gospel (Luke 24:25–27, 32; 3 Nephi 11:14–16, 31–41). In scripture, Jesus gives authority and assignments openly so all can bear witness, instead of privately in each mind as Spencer claims (Luke 24:49–50, John 20:21–22; 3 Nephi 11:21–28; 18:36–37). The true Jesus Christ opens the scriptures and teaches from them, and typically bears witness of the Father (Luke 24: 39–48; John 20:17,21; 3 Nephi 11:11). Spencer’s Jesus “bless[es] everyone silently” (120) by looking at them, rather than kneeling and praying aloud to the Father (3 Nephi 17:12–25; 19:16–36; 26:1). Spencer’s account simply does not match the Jesus of scripture.

Ironically, the entire focus of Spencer’s account in the tabernacle seems to be on Spencer and what he is to do, rather than Jesus and what he has done and will do.

IV. Spreading fear

            I can keep a secret till Doomsday.
                                    – Joseph Smith8

Much of Spencer’s account seems calculated to cause fear, induce worry, and promote a preoccupation with terrible events of the future, from which no one is safe.

Pontius assures the reader that

[i]n some cases we have understated some horrific events to keep this book readable by general audiences. We have removed anything that we deemed could incite fear or panic if it were read by someone not able to understand by the Holy Ghost the greater story of hope and deliverance (19).

Thus, his account claims to downplay the suffering and disaster, and to exclude anything that could predispose even the uninspired to fear or panic. Despite this, the reader is soon given a litany of horrific events:

  • “the financial structure of the world had completely collapsed” (99).
  • “Every bank had closed down and money was worthless” (99).
  • “Factories and global businesses shut down overnight” (99).
  • “Almost all water was not fit to drink because of acts of war against this country” (99).
  • “People suffered everywhere” (99).
  • “a biological attack” against the United States occurs (100).
  • “I saw bodies stacked in town squares and cities abandoned because of the stench of death. There were marauding bands of people plundering and stealing in every major city. They were murdering everyone they found to preserve remaining resources for themselves….It was a gruesome scene” (100).
  • a “plague” arrives and kills “billions” in three successive waves, killing perhaps “25 percent” of the pre-disaster population. This plague is a bioweapon, and foreign troops who arrive in the United States as rulers disguised as a rescue mission “were inoculated against it” (107).
  • “atomic weapons [were] deployed to take out major defense installations around the nation and in Utah. There had been a first strike against the United States, and it came without provocation” (109).
  • “The devastation [from plague in Europe, Africa, and Asia] was far more severe than in the Americas. The result over time was a complete collapse of society” (111).
  • “great natural disasters [were] now taking place all around the world. There were hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and disease” (111).
  • “many of the nuclear explosions across the country were a result of sabotage rather than a missile attack” (126)

In discussing a flood and disaster that strikes Salt Lake City, Spencer tells us that:

The leadership of the Church was stricken just as hard as the general population, and since all communication was down, it was several weeks before we heard anything from the official lines of the Church. Those members of the Twelve and other quorums who had been away on assignment were cut off by the collapse of communication worldwide (104).

Thus, not only does he paint a disturbing picture of wide-spread disaster, war, biological terror, human depravity, and nuclear attack/sabotage, but these disasters seem to hit indiscriminately. Leaders of the Church, for example, are just as vulnerable to death and destruction as anyone else. What is more, Spencer tells us that these events are likely near at hand, even by human standards:

I was not allowed to learn when these things might happen. All I can say is that Salt Lake City looked in that vision much as it does today. There were models of automobiles that I did not recognize, and other small changes, but I considered it as having happened not far into the future (99).

So, he is foretelling widespread disaster for all Americans, including leaders of the Church, and telling us that it will be soon. He even knows the name of the living and the dead leaders, but does not name them:

A list of casualties of the Brethren was published, and we mourned a substantial loss of our beloved leaders. I remember most of the names of the dead, and the survivors, because we repeated them among ourselves many times and prayed for their families. But I have chosen to not ever reveal their names (113).

He likewise describes a funeral service where “All of the names of the fallen General Authorities were read that were known. I was shocked at how many familiar names had perished; some of them were long acquaintances and friends” (115). Spencer again ties himself to the leaders of the Church, and tells us that he survives the tribulation prior to Christ’s coming when many of them do not.

In contrast to these claims, modern leaders have assured us that a long future awaits and that we need not be fearful of such calamities. Said President Boyd K. Packer:

Sometimes you might be tempted to think as I did from time to time in my youth: “The way things are going, the world’s going to be over with. The end of the world is going to come before I get to where I should be.” Not so! You can look forward to doing it right—getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren.9

Furthermore, Spencer claims that only a few understand the Salt Lake flood to be a divine sign:

Most of the inhabitants of the area generally did not believe that this was a “sign” of the coming of Christ. They just considered it a natural disaster. A strong core group continued to listen to the Holy Spirit and to believe and correctly interpret the “signs” we were seeing. But there were many, both in the Church and out of the Church, who were angry, were despairing, and had little hope” (104).

Spencer clearly includes himself and any who accept his word among this “core” group. If Church leaders declared such events to be a sign, most members would probably follow. It seems as if Spencer is again claiming that only those with spiritual insight and maturity—like him—draw the proper conclusions.

Spencer and Pontius attempt to make Spencer appear humble and inspired. Pontius tells us that “his face literally glows with the Spirit as he describes his experiences. He tears up when he uses the name of the Savior” (12). One must remember that apostles and prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ do not “literally glow” when they bear authorized testimony. They do not “tear up” every time they speak the name of Christ. These claims make it appear as if Spencer is somehow more spiritual, or more worthy than those Pontius claims he sustains.

In summary, Spencer seems to fall victim to the great seduction of apocalyptic thinking—he sees the truth which others cannot see. He is among the chosen to whom God reveals the truth, while others continue blind. He is part of a spiritual elite within the Church, both because he has such things revealed to him, and because he believes properly while others do not.

It is partly to protect us from this temptation (and from being misled by those who succumb to it) that Church leaders teach that such revelations are not to be spread about or taught by those without authority, even if the revelations are true. Warned President Brigham Young:

If the Lord Almighty should reveal to a High Priest, or to any other than the head, things that are, or that have been and will be, and show to him the destiny of this people twenty-five years from now, or a new doctrine that will in five, ten, or twenty years hence become the doctrine of this Church and kingdom, but which has not yet been revealed to this people, and reveal it to him by the same Spirit, the same messenger, the same voice, and the same power that gave revelations to Joseph when he was living, it would be a blessing to that High Priest, or individual; but he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source to become the property of the people at large. Therefore when you hear Elders, High Priests, Seventies, or the Twelve, (though you cannot catch any of the Twelve there, but you may the High Priests, Seventies, and Elders) say that God does not reveal through the President of the Church that which they know, and tell wonderful things, you may generally set it down as a God’s truth that the revelation they have had, is from the devil, and not from God.10

Following the tabernacle visit of the Savior, Spencer tells us that

People were putting the pieces together, but not necessarily in perfect order. Some people thought the Second Coming had happened in Salt Lake City when Christ appeared in the conference there.

Depending upon how much a person had studied and understood the doctrine of the priesthood, and depending upon how powerfully the Spirit had worked upon them in the years prior to this day, some of our group were infants in their understanding. Their ideas did not cause contention, but it made it harder for them to see their own future unfolding (134).

Others who attended the same meeting with the risen Christ are unable to do what Spencer does, and thus cannot even see their future laid out for them as he can—even though the Lord Himself supposedly provided this information to all. Once again, Spencer presents himself as the insightful, spiritually mature person who—because of his study and the powerful influence of the Spirit—can properly understand the signs of the times while others cannot.

V. False doctrine and troubling claims

As we noted, there are some true and beautiful scriptural doctrines repeated by Spencer’s book. These include the idea that we are God’s “work and glory,” (31), and the centrality of Jesus Christ in God’s plan (see 19). However, besides the issues discussed above, there are some other ideas that do not seem reliable, and some seem to contradict either the scriptures or doctrines taught by Latter-day Saint prophets and apostles. We will now look at some examples.

Kingdoms of no glory

Spencer describes multiple “planes of existence” “stacked, or layered, in the same space” (80). He tells us that there are “glorified universes” or planes that correspond to the telestial, terrestrial, or celestial. But, he also claims that

There were other types, which were not types of glory. These were wonderful places without glory where beings who had not qualified for a reward of glory during their lifetimes were ultimately sent. These were of every type, of every description, and were created in response to their desires (80).

This claim directly contradicts Latter-day Scriptures. Only those condemned to perdition or “outer darkness” are not in kingdoms of glory. Of these beings, D&C 76 tells us that:

  • “it had been better for them never to have been born” (v. 32)
  • “they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment” (v. 44)
  • And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof; (v. 45–46)

This terrible fate certainly does not sound like the “wonderful places” described by Spencer. It also seems unlikely that those in perdition would have desired endless torment, and a fate so dark that God will show only a glimpse in revelation before choosing to “straightway shut it up” (v. 47) again. There is also no evidence in scripture that they are “of every type, of every description.” Spencer’s claim that kingdoms not of glory are wonderful places is false, and his reaction upon receiving this supposed vision simply does not match what the Lord tells us any true visionary would see: “Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation” (v. 48–49).

Spencer also ignores the serious problems with his idea. If God were truly to create universes or planes of existence for those in perdition “in response to their desires,” what type of worlds does he think Satan and his ilk would choose? If their previous behavior is any guide, they would choose universes in which they dominate others, where they can rule unchallenged, where they can perhaps cause pain, suffering, and torture forever. What kind of God would allow evil such free rein for all eternity? Surely the one thing which Satan and those in perdition all have in common is a desire for power and dominance, and a complete lack of concern about the suffering of others. That God would create universes to their desires and specifications is a pernicious idea.

Satan can influence dreams?

Spencer tells us that he sees a man with a pornography addiction influenced by demons: “he had been awakened from his sleep by one of these tempters who had been influencing his dreams, urging him to awaken and need a sexual high” (91). Are we truly to believe that Satan can influence our dreams? Can our dreams be sinful, then? How are we to know? This idea requires much more support before we accept it. It likewise might make readers feel either worried or guilty because of their own dreams, which are likely neither under their control or the influence of Satanic forces.

Spencer tells us that those who choose evil eventually reach a point for which

people who had already been entrapped by them [evil spirits] could hardly hear their own thoughts. The voice of the evil ones had become even more powerful than their own mind. They would do anything their evil controllers said, even while thinking it was their own idea or their own wishes they were fulfilling. Once these evil spirits had total control, they then desired that the mortal should quickly depart mortality, so that their possession became permanent. They thereafter urged them to risky behavior, acts of violence, and even suicide to hasten the day of their mortal death (94).

If this is so, how can such people retain their moral agency? If Spencer’s description is true, then people so deep in sin cannot even have the capacity to repent, since they hear the devils’ thoughts as their own—they cannot even differentiate their own desires from those of another being, who has “total control.” Yet, Spencer tells us elsewhere that anyone can repent if they begin to exercise faith in Christ “by an act of free will” (96)—but, if this is true then the evil spirits cannot ever have “total control,” nor can they blind the wicked to their own desires and thoughts, or replace mortals’ thoughts with the demons’ plans. If they could, the person would have no free will, and could do no acts of free will. Spencer’s two ideas are self-contradictory. They cannot both be true, and so this account must be false.

Discerning true from false messengers

It is surprising that Spencer nowhere makes reference to Joseph Smith’s description of how one may distinguish divine messengers (either embodied or not) from an evil spirit (D&C 129:4–9). Being disembodied during at least some of his visions, perhaps this option was not open to him. Instead, Spencer tells us that he knows the difference on sight: “The disembodied looked human and wore clothing typical of the period in which they had died. The evil spirits were less substantial, generally smaller, with misshapen features, making them look slightly inhuman” (90). These claims do not match those of scripture. We are repeatedly cautioned that Satan and his minions can appear “like unto an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Nephi 9:9; D&C 128:20; 129:8). If his visions really happened, it is not clear how Spencer knows that he was not deceived.

Unable to interpret?

Despite receiving so many marvelous visions and revelations, Spencer is unable to understand or explain them. He puzzles over them for more than twenty years. He tells us that eventually his anonymous deceased apostle friend tells him to not try to interpret them, but to await God’s explication of the vision (62).

Awaiting God’s answer is certainly good advice, but Spencer’s account does not follow the pattern of revelation and vision shown in the scriptures. Such revelation is almost always accompanied by an explanation or understanding.11 The Lord does not grant a revelation merely to be mysterious or to give his children something to puzzle over. Joseph Smith noted the pattern:

Daniel says (ch. 7, v. 16) when he saw the vision of the four beasts, “I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this, ” the angel interpreted the vision to Daniel….12

Joseph went on to say that

At the same time [as the revelation] they [the prophets] received the interpretation as to what those images or types were designed to represent. I make this broad declaration, that whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don’t be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure, if God has not given a revelation or interpretation of the subject.13

Spencer is given extensive revelations, and yet he is not told—and cannot tell us—what they mean. It is not clear, then, why he would be told to make them public when neither he nor we have any authorized divine interpretation of their confused and chaotic symbols and vignettes.

In fact, despite having had a vision of Jesus Christ, Spencer tells us later that “I did not have significant faith at that time to believe in the visions God had shown me” (70–71). So, these supposedly miraculous experiences were not only uninterpreted, but even a message from an apostle and the visions themselves could not move Spencer to have faith in them. Taken together, these problems and inconsistencies suggest that the visions are either not from God, or have been fabricated altogether.

VI. The problem with anonymity

Visions of Glory is doubly anonymous—it was written by John Pontius, a now-deceased LDS author.14 We cannot, therefore, check with Pontius to verify his story. Secondly, Pontius claims to “have prayerfully condensed…an account of Spencer’s journeys beyond the veil.” The identity of “Spencer” is not revealed. It is possible that he is not even a real person.

Yet, Pontius wants us to see Spencer as a trustworthy source regarded as reliable and righteous by leaders of the Church. Pontius does this by telling us that

Spencer is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He presently serves as an ordinance worker in the temple and has served in bishoprics, high councils, stake positions, and many other callings. He presently serves on a general advisory board for the Church and holds three advanced degrees (12).

Pontius cannot claim that Spencer desires anonymity while at the same time using his callings and work with the Church as a reason to trust him. We must be able to judge such things and people for ourselves. No scriptural messenger from God ever operated this way. President Boyd K. Packer emphasized the principle clearly:

We always know who is called to lead or to teach and have the opportunity to sustain or to oppose the action. It did not come as an invention of man but was set out in the revelations: “It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11; emphasis added). In this way, the Church is protected from any imposter who would take over a quorum, a ward, a stake, or the Church.15

Anonymous and unconfirmed sources are simply difficult to trust, and according to scripture they cannot be operating with divine authority within the Church of Jesus Christ.

There are further appeals to anonymous people. Spencer repeatedly mentions an unnamed “apostolic friend,” a “member of the Quorum of the Twelve” (16). The apostle is not named, and is said to be dead, so these claims cannot be verified either (16). Spencer’s claimed friendship with an apostle is another inappropriate attempt to establish his authority to teach doctrine and prophecy—friendship with an apostle is irrelevant to one’s understanding, authority, or ability. As discussed below, Spencer will claim that the Apostle recommended he publish this material (16).

VII. Pontius’ disclaimers

At the beginning of the book, Pontius sets out to resolve the concerns readers may have about Spencer’s anonymity. He tells us that Spencer has asked that his name not be used “for several reasons” (13). We will list and comment on each reason.

[1] “First, he sustains the living prophet and his preeminent calling in revealing the word of God to the Church. These visions were given to Spencer to prepare him personally for what lay ahead in his own life” (13).

If this is so, it makes little sense for Spencer to spread them about. If he sustains the president of the Church and does not wish to challenge him, he would not reveal and disclose things that he says were for him alone. Leaders of the Church have been clear that the revelation of such matters, even if true, is never the privilege of anyone save the President of the Church. President Joseph F. Smith taught:

[N]ot even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority–the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints as a religious body. The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated [i.e., taught or spread about] until proper permission is given.16

Spencer tells us later that his anonymous apostle friend has told him to publish them (16)—another unverifiable claim. It is extremely unlikely that any apostle would encourage anyone to publish such things, much less to do so anonymously. And, even an apostle would not, according to President Smith, be allowed to give such permission.

[2] “He is…reluctant to release these visions in such a way that they may appear to be an attempt to influence the Church in any way. This is simply not the case. Withholding his identity is an effective way of keeping these issues in their proper order” (13).

If Spencer did not wish to influence members of the Church, he would not release materials. No one authors a book while hoping that readers will not be influenced. In this case, Spencer says, “Don’t worry, I don’t want to challenge the prophet’s role or influence the Church,” and then proceeds to release material that (if accepted) would do just that.

[3] “[H]e does not want to become the focal point of people’s questions or hope for answers. He doesn’t want to become anyone’s guru.” (13)

If Spencer does not wish to be a guru, it is strange that he would write a book that could encourage others to look to him as a source of expert knowledge on spiritual subjects. If he did not want to provide answers, he would not provide material that addresses issues that are otherwise unknown to members of the Church. Moreover, Spencer—or someone claiming to be him—has arguably become a sort of “guru” by interacting directly with readers in an internet venue.

[4] “As a matter of fact, he has obediently kept his experiences to himself for most of forty years in part to avoid this very possible outcome….” (13).

We are told that Spencer has obeyed by not publishing these experiences before now. The implication is that he has now received different instructions—to publish. But, as President Smith tells us, only the President of the Church can authorize the publication of novel revelations about matters affecting the Church.17 But, Spencer has already told us that he does not have such permission, so this implication is false.

[5] Spencer is a professional counselor of children and holds all the degrees necessary to work in this field. He rightly considers his work with troubled children to be his life’s calling, and he does not want any form of recognition or curiosity to disrupt this most important work.

Spencer’s anonymity allows Pontius to claim for him the prestige of an advanced education and multiple academic degrees, without having to produce a resume. This is a form of argument from authority—we are encouraged to trust someone’s word not because of their arguments, but because of their qualifications. In this case, however, we cannot judge the anonymous Spencer’s qualifications at all.

Other problems with anonymity

Spencer’s anonymity results in his ideas going forth without accountability. It allows him to imply that he has Church leaders’ sanction and support, while insisting he is not trying to usurp their prerogatives. In short, he gives the impression that his message has divine sanction and the approval of Church leaders. Spencer tells the reader that his visions call him to a work that

is fully organized and carried out by the latter-day Church. This is not a path that leads outside of the Church, or even on a parallel course with the Church, but one that brings you into the heart of the ordained mission of the latter-day Church to prepare the world for the return of Christ. (78)

His visions reflect “the heart of the ordained mission” of the Church. This is a lofty claim. If true, Spencer would not be the one to reveal these things publicly—that prerogative belongs to the Church’s ordained leaders.

VIII. Prophets and apostles warn of tactics

We cannot know if Spencer and Pontius have willfully set out to deceive others, or whether they have been sincerely deceived. Furthermore, if they are sincerely mistaken, it is difficult to know if they have deceived themselves, or whether they have received revelation from a false source. Apostles and prophets have described some tactics of which we should beware.

Brigham Young cautioned the Saints that Satan would strive to have his teachings appear appealing and comforting, even resorting to what appear to be “good works” in order to foster his deception:

The adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind, uniting himself with popular parties, floating into offices of trust and emolument by pandering to popular feeling, though it should seriously wrong and oppress the innocent. Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can, to deceive the innocent and the unwary. The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose upon the good and honest followers of Jesus Christ.18

Satan’s preferred tactic, then, is to appear as close to the genuine thing as possible—to be “like unto an angel of light,” to impersonate a true prophet, and to appear both pious and respectable.

Apostle Orson Pratt likewise warned that Satan would be happy to confirm members of the Church in some true beliefs if he could thereby deceive them into accepting some dangerous falsehoods:

The devil can adapt himself to the belief of any person…. If he could get you to swallow down one or two great lies that would effect your destruction, and which you would preach and destroy many others, he would not mind how many truths you might believe.19

Elder Russell M. Nelson warned that Satan chooses “strategic targets” vital to the success of God’s work. These targets include “leaders of the Church, and divine doctrine.”20 We have seen, unfortunately, that Visions of Glory challenges both Church leaders and divine doctrine, but does so in a back-handed way that we are not intended to notice. Some may see this as a stealthy and well-crafted effort to undermine the Church’s leaders.

IX. Conclusion

Spencer’s account contradicts revealed scripture and doctrine. Any true visions about many of these matters should not be disclosed publicly without the President of the Church’s approval.

Despite efforts to paint Spencer as humble and spiritual, there is a thread of elitism that runs through his account. He portrays himself on intimate terms with apostles, prophets, and the Lord himself. He receives special assignments directly from Jesus. He has a temple office right next door to Jesus’ office in the Holy of Holies. He retrieves lost peoples and new scripture. He personally fulfills scripture. He sees and understands what others do not.

If he truly believes these things, he has been deceived, or he has let pride blind him. Brigham Young gave a caution that all would do well to heed:

Should you receive a vision of revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for He cannot safely reveal Himself to such persons….

This is the case with a great many of the Elders of Israel, with regard to keeping secrets. They burn with the idea, “O, I know things that brother Brigham does not understand.” Bless your souls, I guess you do. Don’t you think that there are some things that you do not understand? “There may be some things which I do not understand.” That is as much as to say, “I know more than you.” I am glad of it, if you do. I wish that you knew a dozen times more.

When you see a person of that character, he has no soundness within him.21

If Spencer did have true visions, his decision to publish them means he has forfeited God’s confidence, according to President Young.

It can be a spiritual strength to wish to be an instrument in God’s hands to accomplish his will. It can be a strength to wish to understand more. But, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks warns us, such strengths can be our downfall if we violate the principles which govern the disclosure of divine knowledge or the order and government of the Church of Jesus Christ:

Satan will also attempt to cause our spiritual downfall through tempting us to misapply our spiritual gifts. The revelations tell us that “there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11). All of these gifts “come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26). Most of us have seen persons whom the adversary has led astray through a corruption of their spiritual gifts. My mother shared one such example, something she had observed while she was a student at BYU many years ago. A man who lived in a community in Utah had a mighty gift of healing. People sought him out for blessings, many coming from outside his ward and stake. In time, he made almost a profession of giving blessings. As part of his travels to various communities, he came to the apartments of BYU students, asking if they wanted blessings. This man had lost sight of the revealed direction on spiritual gifts: “always remembering for what they are given” (D&C 46:8). A spiritual gift is given to benefit the children of God, not to magnify the prominence or gratify the ego of the person who receives it. The professional healer who forgot that lesson gradually lost the companionship of the Spirit and was eventually excommunicated from the Church…

A desire to know is surely a great strength. A hunger to learn is laudable, but the fruits of learning make a person particularly susceptible to the sin of pride.22

Sad to say, a similar fate seems to have befallen either Pontius or the anonymous Spencer. Rather than dwelling upon this, readers can simply pray that they will be more wise.

X. Appendix—Medical blunder?

There is one further bit of evidence that this account may be a fabrication.

Spencer makes much of the health troubles that he suffers. During his account, he often tells us of medical matters. This touch probably adds a great deal of realism and believability to his account to those who only know medical matters from a distance. But from a trained medical standpoint, the details do not make sense.

For example, Spencer claims that after dental surgery he developed “infected heart muscle.” His physician “put me on massive oral antibiotics and sent me home. The doctor said he didn’t dare send me to the hospital because of the risk of catching additional infection” (67).

This is a clear reference to infectious endocarditis. Without treatment, it is virtually always fatal. But, if Spencer’s physician acted as he claims, his doctor is incompetent and guilty of malpractice.
No competent physician would begin to treat infectious endocarditis with oral antibiotics. Furthermore, the risks associated with endocarditis are high, and require hospital-based treatment and monitoring:

IV administration [of antibiotics] is preferred because more reliable therapeutic levels are achieved with this route….Treat all patients in a hospital or skilled nursing facility to allow adequate monitoring of the development of complications and the response to antibiotic therapy.23

Furthermore Spencer says his infection was contracted in Mexico. If true, he would be even more likely to require hospitalization—blood cultures would be even more necessary, different resistance patterns to antibiotics could be expected from the third world, and most of the antibiotics used in this context are only available in IV form anyway (e.g., vancomycin, gentamycin, ceftriaxone). There is no effective oral form of these drugs for endocarditis treatment. And, finally, no doctor would worry about “more infection” in such a patient and decide to keep him out of hospital. If infection was truly that a great a risk, that would be all the more reason to have IV antibiotics. In such a case, a physician might put Spencer in an isolation room or use other protocols to protect him from infection, or arrange home IV therapy—but, sending him home with oral antibiotics is just plain wrong. It’s the sort of mistake a story-teller would make, but not the sort that a doctor would make. Endocarditis needs six weeks of IV antibiotics, and every competent physician knows it.

Notes

1 In this review, the page numbers refer to a digital version. My thanks to Cassandra Hedelius, Trevor Holyoak, and Juliann Reynolds for help and feedback.

2 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1938), 91.

3 Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1991), 96.

4 History of the Church 1:111–115. See also Dennis A. Wright, “A Lesson in Church Government,” in Doctrine and Covenants, a Book of Answers: The 25th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, edited by Leon R. Hartshorn, Craig J. Ostler, Dennis A. Wright (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1996), 88.

5 See Harold B. Lee, “Admonitions for the Priesthood of God,” Ensign (January 1973): 104, quoting First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose], “Editors’ Table: A Warning Voice,” Improvement Era (September 1913), 1148.

6 Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report (April 1938), 65–67.

7 Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught this principle repeatedly. See, for example, “All councils in the Church should encourage free and open discussion by conferring with one another and striving to have clear, concise communication….Encourage all council members to share their suggestions and ideas…Leaders and parents should establish a climate that is conducive to openness, where every person is important and every opinion valued,” in his “Strength in Counsel,” General Conference (October 1993), italics added. See also “Counseling With Our Councils,” General Conference (April 1994) and Counseling With Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 2003).

8 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 194.

9 Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” General Conference, October 2011.

10 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:318 (20 April 1856).

11 The one exception seems to be matters about which the prophet has asked, but about which God declines to reveal much. See, for example, Joseph Smith’s curiosity about the timing of the Second Coming in D&C 130:16. Moses was likewise told little about a matter that interested him (Moses 1:30–31). A revelator might cloak a vision in symbolism to protect the unworthy or unprepared from understanding it (see Matthew 13:13), but this does not mean that the recipient of the revelation does not understand it.

12 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 289.

13 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 290–291.

14 See “Obituary: John M. Pontius: 1952–2012,” Deseret News (12–13 December 2012).

15 Boyd K. Packer, “The Weak and Simple of the Church,” October 2007 General Conference, italics in original.

16 Joseph F. Smith Correspondence, Personal Letterbooks, 93–94, Film Reel 9, Ms. F271; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 221–222.

17 See footnote 9 herein. Compare also footnotes 6, 14, and 21.

18 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:238–239 (3 June 1866).

19 Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 13:73 (19 December 1869).

20 Russell M. Nelson, “The Canker of Contention,” General Conference, April 1989.

21 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:288 (15 March 1857).

22 Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strength Can Become Our Downfall,” BYU fireside address (7 June 1992).

23 John L. Brusch (author) and Burke A Cunha (editor), “Antibiotic Therapy: Infective Endocarditis Treatment & Management,” (updated 9 April 2013; accessed 8 May 2013), http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/216650-treatment#aw2aab6b6b2.

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