LDS Church has a test to discern good, and bad spirits

Mormonism, even in its more modern version today, does firmly believe in the visitations of spirits, good and bad, as well as resurrected beings. After all, the church’s genesis involved the presence of an evil spirit, followed by the appearance of two resurrected divine beings, to its founder, Joseph Smith. In fact, in Mormon scripture, there are specific instructions on how to discern good spirits from bad. It’s found in Doctrine & Covenants, Section 129:

1 There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—

2 For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

3 Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.

4 When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.

5 If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.

6 If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—

7 Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.

8 If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.

9 These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.

I’m sure there are other churches that have specific instructions on how to discern a supernatural visitor. It’d be interesting to compare notes. (It’s a Mormon thing to be sure but there are likely tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints, the majority probably missionaries, who are confident enough in their faith to want to put the “handshake” test on a spirit.) In one of my favorite Mormon-themed novels, “Brother Brigham,” by D. Michael Martindale,” the protagonist, C.H., visited by a spirit claiming to be Brigham Young, applies the handshake test. The spirit rather coyly avoids the test, by both asking C.H. if he wants to shake hands and saying he’d rather refuse. The “ruse” works on the human.

Spiritual manifestations were ubiquitous in the LDS Church in the 19th century. I’m reading Todd Compton’s new biography of Jacob Hamlin and his visits with spirits included his late father. The early Parley P. Pratt (read his autobiography) had so many communications with spirits, good and bad, that the young prophet, Joseph Smith assigned Pratt and others to go through the branches of the Mormons in May 1831, specifically to discern which spiritual manifestations were legitimate, or of the devil. You can read Smith’s charge to Pratt and others in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 50.

Members of the church are encouraged when they relate tales of being privileged to have a connection to positive vibes from the spirit world, or if they overcome the presence of an evil spirit, trying to add to their stress, depression, or tempt them to do wrong. However, it’s considered more appropriate to share such experience with intimates, such as family or close friends, or in a setting such as the LDS Fast and Testimony meeting. Occasionally, I hear a spirit anecdote in a class such as Sunday School, but not as often as I imagine such were related 150 years ago in Mormon wards and branches.

There is a strict rule, though, to the Mormon encouragement of communication with spirits. It must be a spiritual manifestation that reinforces the faith. In my job as a journalist, I have infrequent communications with persons who — as Mormons — claim heavenly visitations that told them that the church was not being directed as God wanted. These persons have either left the church or been excommunicated. One of the more poignant, and sad cases of this was my short correspondence with a woman, soft-spoken who sincerely told me that she had received revelation from spiritual sources that told her to tell the faithful to stop using sanitized versions of cuss words, such as “heck,” “darn,” “shoot,” and so on. She took this message from ward to ward, refusing entreaties to stop, until she was excommunicated.

For those who want to learn more about how angels and spirits fit into Mormon culture, there’s a fascinating article in a 2010 issue of the “Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies.” (here).  In the piece, Benjamin E. Park, University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity, provides an overview of the early Mormon embrace of communications with spirits, which included a belief in guardian angels. Park notes that the LDS belief in communion with the other world was often a point of contention with other ministers. In debates, primarily with Parley P. Pratt, ministers would argue that while divine communication is possible, it’s not probable given Christ’s message and the Bible, and certainly would never be wasted on Joseph Smith’s Mormons! Park’s article also provides more early Mormon viewpoints on what angels are, even classifying them by degrees! It reads:

Apostle Orson Pratt argued that there were “four grand divisions,” including spirits or angels not yet embodied, spirits or angels currently embodied, spirits or angels disembodied yet waiting to be resurrected, and spirits or angels embodied in an immortal tabernacle.

An editorial in the Mormon newspaper, likely penned by William Phelps, divided angels into three categories: archangels, resurrected personages and the angels which are ministering spirits. 

This latter editorial goes into the most detail as to the nature and function of angels, making the revealing statement that “it is evident that the angels who minister to men in the flesh, are resurrected beings, so that flesh administers to flesh; and spirits to spirits…”

What’s fascinating about these old, arcane references from the 19th century is that they are doctrine very similar to what I was told, usually in conversation, sometimes in church classes, as a youngster growing up in the faith. Despite there being less emphasis on visits from spirits in the temple or elsewhere, it remains a strong tenant of Mormonism and one component that builds a testimony among many members.

 

 

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16 Responses to LDS Church has a test to discern good, and bad spirits

  1. “These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.”

    1 John 4:1-3, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

    2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,…”

    God has already given us the Standard by which we can grade everything we hear, read and think. His Word, the Scriptures, the Bible. If you base truth on whether or not someone wants to shake your hand, you set yourself up for all kinds of error. When the Apostle John tells us to test the spirits, he doesn’t mean to try and shake their hand. He’s not even talking about having a conversation with a spirit. He’s talking about anyone presenting you with any kind of message they say they have received from God. And the Apostle Paul tells us that the Scriptures, the Bible, is what we have to use as a Standard.

    So test what you are hearing with the Scriptures. If what you hear is contrary to the Scriptures, the Scriptures are always right.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

    • laverl09 says:

      Dave, for me, the best way to learn from the Spirit and from the scriptures is to keep an open mind. The antithesis to this is the oft quoted saying: “Only the closed mind is certain.”
      James (2:19), in preaching the concept of showing our faith by our works, says that “the devils also believe and tremble”. James’ insinuation is that even though the devils believe, they don’t do anything positive to back up that belief.
      The restored Church of Jesus Christ emphasizes what we already knew and fills in the blanks of what we didn’t know.
      This test of whether you are getting personal instruction from a devil who says he believes or from an angel who can prove it is a very nice addition to what we already knew from John 4:1-3

      • Zack Tacorin says:

        laverl09,

        I’m afraid I’m now confused by your comment. You seem to be defending the LDS Church (am I wrong on this?), but you’ve quoted, “Only the closed mind is certain.” Didn’t President Monson tell us we must have no doubt? That is the definition of certainty isn’t it? Isn’t the goal of testimony to receive a witness of a thing so strongly as to leave one so certain that they’re faith is now dormant in that thing (Alma 32:34)? You know, kind of like the brother of Jared in Ether 3:19. Isn’t that what I hear from the strongest of testimonies in sacrament meeting or in conference? Which way is it?

        Thanks for your help,
        Zack

        • laverl09 says:

          Zack, in the 13th article of faith the Prophet Joseph tells us that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Without questions from Joseph Smith’s open mind, there would hardly be any content in the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.
          And in the closing remarks of Moroni before he buried the plates he said that “if [we] ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he [God] will manifest the truth of it unto [us] by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of ALL things.”
          Our eternal purpose, ever since our intelligences were embodied in spirit bodies, is to grow in spiritual intelligence. We will never stop learning and growing. Without an open mind we are in effect “damned” or stopped in our progress.
          Even Alma, in the reference you gave (Alma 32:34) is using a parable of a seed that is planted, fertilized, and watered and continues to grow until it is producing fruit and more fruit without end. His corollary to a closed mind is “barren ground”. Unless we are growing, we are dying.
          As to verse 34, a careful reading shows that Alma says “your knowledge is perfect IN THAT THING [whatever it is you are asking further light and knowledge about]. “The word has swelled your souls….and your understanding doth BEGIN to be enlightened and your mind doth BEGIN to expand.”
          After this “open minded” BEGINNING (read verses 35-43) “and now behold after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must you lay aside your faith, for you have only exercised your faith to plant the seed.”
          Alma then spends the rest of the verses explaining that the continual process of learning and growing is to the final end of being able to partake of the fruit of the tree of life (verse 40) which we know is exaltation.
          From this we can see that a closed mind (one that is unwilling to grow spiritually) is damnation and an open mind (one that is willing to grow spiritually) is exaltation.
          D&C 93:36 tells us that “the glory of God is intelligence or, in other words, light and truth.”

          • Zack Tacorin says:

            laverl09,

            My questions must not have been very clear because you really haven’t answered the questions. You indicated that only a closed mind is certain. I pointed out LDS teachings that indicate a person should seek certainty about spiritual things. Could you help me understand why the LDS Church is teaching us to seek certainty about spiritual things if such certainty indicates a closed mind?

            Thanks!
            Zack

    • Zack Tacorin says:

      Downtown Dave,

      I’m a former Mormon, and I appreciate that you want to take LDS theology to task, but I’m afraid I don’t understand the case you’re making, so I have a couple of questions that hopefully can help me better get at the strength of your position.

      Q1: Your quote from 1 John says, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” How would you reconcile that with the many devils who possessed a man and said to Jesus, “What have I to do with the, Jesus, thou Son of God most high?” (Luke 8:28)

      Q2: You also quoted 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,…” Then how are we to take scripture like Exodus 21:17 that commands a child be put to death for cursing his parents? Or, what about Exodus 21:20-21 which indicates that it is okay to beat a slave as long as the slave doesn’t die immediately? Or what about Deuteronomy 13:6-10 telling believers to kill anyone who suggests worshiping a different god? Or, 1 Corinthians 14:34 that teaches us that women should not speak in church?

      I’m sure to you it must seem obvious, but I cannot make sense of these scriptures.

      Thanks!
      Zack

    • TT says:

      Dave, you seem very sure of knowing exactly what John and Paul meant to say:

      “And the Apostle Paul tells us that the Scriptures, the Bible, is what we have to use as a Standard.”

      Do you know the history of the Bible as we have in front of us today and how it came about? Even a cursory study will show you that the Bible that you claim Paul to be talking about, did not exist until well after his death. Your interpretation is flawed, and it throws the rest of your conclusions into doubt.

      “God has already given us the Standard by which we can grade everything we hear, read and think. His Word, the Scriptures, the Bible.”

      Everything, really? If it were that simple, then wouldn’t all Christian’s who profess a belief in the Bible agree on its teachings? Clearly this isn’t the case.

    • Zack Tacorin says:

      Downtown Dave,

      Just another thought. You also wrote, ” the Scriptures are always right,” and this seems to be a common message from Christians, but I don’t understand how you know that, so could you explain how you know the Bible is always right?

      I apologize if this question seems to have an obvious answer. It’s not obvious to me, so I was hoping you could help me figure this out.

      Thanks much!
      Zack

  2. laverl09 says:

    Zack, by your certainty that the Mormon Church has teachings you dislike and don’t understand, you are exemplifying a closed mind.
    Taking bits of information out of context leads to unending disagreement. The Bible says that Judas went out and hanged himself and Jesus said, “Go thou and do likewise.”

    • Zack Tacorin says:

      laverl09,

      The only thing you’ve indicated I’m certain of is that I am certain there are LDS teachings I dislike. Are you sure you want to claim I’m closed minded because after trying something, I’m certain I dislike that thing? For example, do I really have a closed mind because I’ve tried a specific kind of pizza and I’m certain I dislike it?

      You also seem to make the assertion that I don’t understand at least some LDS teachings. On what do you base this assertion?

      You said, “Taking bits of information out of context leads to unending disagreement.” You don’t specifically say that I took bits of info out of context, but if you think I did, please let us know what those out-of-context bits were so we can correct the issue.

      Now speaking of taking bits of information out of context, you wrote, ‘The Bible says that Judas went out and hanged himself and Jesus said, “Go thou and do likewise.”’ That was a joke, right? I mean, those two scriptural references aren’t even remotely related, and as a Mormon, you wouldn’t really be saying I should go hang myself, right?

      Oh, by the way, any chance you could answer my original question? That is, you indicated that only a closed mind is certain. I pointed out LDS teachings that indicate a person should seek certainty about spiritual things. Could you help me understand why the LDS Church is teaching us to seek certainty about spiritual things if such certainty indicates a closed mind?

      Thanks again,
      Zack

    • Zack Tacorin says:

      laverl09,

      By the way, I made the assumption that you’re Mormon. Even if you’re not, you didn’t really try to imply that I should hang myself, right?

      Thanks!
      Zack

  3. Lang says:

    News flash!!! Angels, demons, ghosts and ALL supernatural activity are not real. They are all remnants of a mythological age. Grow up. Oh and Santa isn’t real either.

    • laverl09 says:

      Lang,
      In reality, NOTHING is real except our own perception of things. To you there may not be anything supernatural about the world, when to me, it is ALL supernatural.
      Because my mind is capable of creating a reality that is comfortable to me, I like to seek out and celebrate with others who are creating a reality similar to mine. Why waste time with those who don’t see it my way. There is too much joy in associating with those who do.

  4. Howard Ratcliffe says:

    Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils. Speaking lies in hypocrisy…” 1 Tim 4:1

    Latter times and Latter Day Saints? Why not listen to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and read His Word instead of testing whether Angels are telling you the truth. Moroni being one example of drifting off the Word of God

  5. Zack Tacorin says:

    Howard,

    As I mentioned in another comment, I’m a former Mormon, and I appreciate that you want to take LDS claims to task, but I’m afraid I don’t understand the case you’re making, so I have a couple of questions that hopefully will help me better understand.

    In referencing 1 Tim 4:1 and asserting that Latter-day Saints are not listening to the Christ, you seem to be be saying that the LDS have departed from the faith and are giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils. How do you know you are not the one fooled by such things? If this goes back to your reading and understanding of the Bible, how do you know the Bible is true and that your interpretation of it is accurate? After all, you may be reading a different version of the Bible than most Mormons, but devout Mormons do read the Bible.

    Merry Christmas!
    Zack

  6. Joseph Smith Spoke Of Satan Appearing To Early LDS Church Members:

    There have also been ministering angels in the church which were of satan appearing as an angel of light:— A sister in the State of New York had a vision who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods an angel would appear to her,— she went at the appointed time and saw a glorious personage descending arrayed in white … he commenced and told her to fear God and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth; and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage and many things that were false.—How it may be asked was this known to be a bad angel? … by his contradicting a former revelation.

    (Times and Seasons 3 [April 1, 1842]: 747)

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