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Question: If people receive false positives in personal revelation, does this make spiritual epistemology unreliable?
Question: What should we think about those that claim to receive revelation on behalf of the whole Church that contradicts what the prophets have officially pronounced?
Some people have claimed to receive spiritual revelation about things on behalf of the entire Church. These claims are usually obscure but they should be addressed since it can become a stumbling block for both the people claiming such revelation and the people that hear about these claims.
1. Stewardship has been a principle of revelation since the beginning of the Church
The first thing that must be mentioned is the paramount importance of identifying stewardship in Latter-day Saint epistemology. No one will receive revelation for an office to which they were not appointed in the Lord's Church. This principle is taught clearly in the Latter-day Saint canon. The Prophet is the only one that can receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church and the rest of the human family for whom he has stewardship (D&C 28). Any revelation that is canonized or officially pronounced by the united voice of all 15 of First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is binding and we should quickly seek to humble ourselves to it and not deliberately seek to get a contrary answer. Where the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have not made official pronouncement, or a statement does not exist in scripture, or where the official pronouncement or scripture is vague, we are free to interpret according to our best understanding (D&C 88:77-79). Any person who claims to have received revelation on behalf of the entire Church shouldn't be listened to if they do not have the proper authority and stewardship.
2. Some people can be innocently unaware of this principle, others may deliberately be trying to pervert this principle.
Some people honestly don't know this, and are misled unawares of what they are doing. Others are deliberately looking to pervert this principle and confuse themselves and other members of the Church. Both should simply be taught the principle and asked to dismiss their experience. Latter-day Saint independent researcher Gregory Smith wrote a helpful article on this topic that can be found here.
But why does this happen?
The question remains though as to why the Spirit allows this to happen. Why are we misled? Elder Dallin H. Oaks' counsel may be instructive in this regard:
[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don't receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of "false revelation"
His remarks are born out in scripture as well. Those that deliberately try and receive false revelation are squandering a unique opportunity and proposition to receive and cherish personal revelation so that they can hurt themselves and others.
- Gregory Smith, “What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?,” FairMormon Blog (January 2016).
This article from Gregory Smith outlines very important principles to remember as it pertains to receiving personal revelation and working that out with the revelation received by prophets.
- Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," Ensign 24 (October 1994): 13-14.