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Saturday, July 3, 2021

How Should We Respond to Criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ?

             My Come, Follow Me lesson took me to Doctrine and Covenants 71-75. In the fall of 1831, Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder – both former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – were causing problems for Joseph Smith and the Church. They tried to discredit the Church and its leaders, and they tried to persuade people from becoming members of the Church.

            Booth and Ryder spoke against the Church in public meetings, and they published ant-Mormon criticisms in the local newspapers. Their actions led to widespread antagonism. It was in this atmosphere that Joseph Smith received the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 71. The heading to this section gives the following information about the revelation.

Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon, at Hiram, Ohio, December 1, 1831. The Prophet had continued to translate the Bible with Sidney Rigdon as his scribe until this revelation was received, at which time it was temporarily laid aside so as to enable them to fulfill the instruction given herein. The brethren were to go forth to preach in order to allay the unfriendly feelings that had developed against the Church as a result of the publication of letters written by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized.

            The revelation begins by teaching Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon exactly what they are to do in response to the criticisms of the Church. They were told to teach the truths of the gospel “out of the scriptures, according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 71:1).

1 Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, that the time has verily come that it is necessary and expedient in me that you should open your mouths in proclaiming my gospel, the things of the kingdom, expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures, according to that portion of Spirit and power which shall be given unto you, even as I will.

2 Verily I say unto you, proclaim unto the world in the regions round about, and in the church also, for the space of a season, even until it shall be made known unto you.

3 Verily this is a mission for a season, which I give unto you.

4 Wherefore, labor ye in my vineyard. Call upon the inhabitants of the earth, and bear record, and prepare the way for the commandments and revelations which are to come.

5 Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also;

6 For unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power.

7 Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest.

8 Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord.

9 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you—there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper;

10 And if any man lift his voice against you he shall be confounded in mine own due time.

11 Wherefore, keep my commandments; they are true and faithful. Even so. Amen.

            The counsel given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon serves as a pattern for all members of the Church in how to respond to anyone who criticizes the Church and its teachings. This pattern was also taught by the prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ. He taught that preaching the word of God has a “more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the following:

The Lord has told us that “the sword of the Spirit … is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17); it can facilitate communication and penetrate as nothing else. Thus holy scripture and the words of living prophets occupy a privileged position; they are the key to teaching by the Spirit so that we communicate in what the Prophet Joseph Smith called “the language of inspiration” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, … 56) (“Teaching by the Spirit – ‘The Language of Inspiration’” [address given at the Church Educational System Symposium, Aug. 15, 1991], 1).

            One reason to respond to criticism of the Church of Jesus Christ and its teachings is to confound enemies of the Church and its leaders. (See Doctrine and Covenant 71:2-7.) For the next month, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon worked to dispel the unfriendly feelings toward the Church that came from the newspaper articles written by Ezra Booth. The two men preached throughout northern Ohio, teaching the gospel, and renouncing the claims directed at the Church and its leaders.

The Prophet Joseph Smith later stated that their efforts to follow the counsel from the Lord and to respond by teaching gospel truths by the power of the Spirit “did much towards allaying the excited feelings which were growing out of the scandalous letters then being published in the ‘Ohio Star,’ at Ravenna, by the … apostate Ezra Booth” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. A-1, page 179,

            Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that when we encounter criticism against the Church and its teachings, it is essential to respond in a Christlike way according to the guidance of the Holy Ghost:

When we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christlike, we invite others to feel His love and follow Him as well.

To respond in a Christlike way cannot be scripted or based on a formula. The Savior responded differently in every situation….

As we respond to others, each circumstance will be different. Fortunately, the Lord knows the hearts of our accusers and how we can most effectively respond to them. As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord (“Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 72-73).

            In verse 9 of the revelation, the Lord promised the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that if they remained faithful, their enemies would be humbled. The Lord then gave them the same promise that He had given to ancient Israel through the prophet Isaiah that “no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17; see Doctrine and Covenants 71:7). In other words, God and His work will always triumph despite apostasy and criticism.


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