By bidding persons to follow him, Jesus didn’t simply mean they should heed his counsel. Nor did he put limits on how far they should follow him. Said he, “If any [man] would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24–25; cf. John 12:25). And to the rich man he added, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me!” (Matthew 19:21). In effect, Jesus invites those whom he calls to drop all other considerations and follow him even to death without looking back (Matthew 4:18–22; 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 9:57–62; John 1:43). These scriptures, therefore, define what Jesus means by following him. In that case, should we not do likewise lest we labor under the illusion that in following a man we are following Jesus Christ, when in reality we may be falling far short of what Jesus had in mind?
The yoke of political correctness that accompanies unthinking endorsement of the status quo disempowers a believer and belittles his birthright as an independent agent. Persons who feel compelled to subordinate their wills to the dictates of an institution, employer, or ecclesiastical leader can never know the empowerment that comes from answering solely to God. The laws and ordinances of the gospel that are the terms of his covenants—the roadmap to godhood God has tailor-made for his sons and daughters—operate independent of manmade imperatives and alone equip a believer to inherit heaven. As for the role of a prophet, Brigham Young, who didn’t call himself a prophet, affirmed that prophecy is a gift, not an office (Journal of Discourses, 16:164), reflecting its scriptural definition (Romans 12:6; Mormon 9:7). We therefore honor one whom God grants the gift of prophecy or use of seer stones for a life so lived that would lead to his becoming “a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:13–18).
Ecclesiastical leaders, on the other hand, could at times present a test for God’s people to see whether their loyalties lie to God or to men. Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, for example, commences with a “man” dressed in a white robe who “bade me follow him” (1 Nephi 8:5–6; emphasis added). Instead of leading Lehi to the Tree of Life, however, he led him into “a dark and dreary waste.” That barren darkness soon became so intolerable as to cause Lehi to “to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me” (1 Nephi 8:8). Only then did he see the “tree whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” which “filled my soul with exceedingly great joy” (1 Nephi 8:10–12). Because no precedent exists of a servant of God who asks someone to follow him into a dark and dreary waste, that “man” was no angel, and that place was not where Lehi found the Tree of Life. Only when he called upon God directly—independent of the white-robed man who led him—did he partake of the fruit of the tree.
While a church may gain a great hold on the lives of its members, and while obedience to the counsel of its leaders may coincide with obedience to Jesus Christ, still, the church doesn’t save them. Salvation, and beyond that, glory or exaltation, is attained directly from God. Although grounded in Jesus’ atonement and dependent on God’s grace, salvation and exaltation flow from personal choices—on whether a person keeps God’s law and word. Isaiah’s endtime scenario shows that God’s elect—those whom God delivers from calamities in the coming “Day of Jehovah”—are individuals, a man here and a man there, who make individual choices that often differ from what God’s people as a whole are doing: “Hear me, you followers of righteousness, seekers of Jehovah: Look to the rock from which you were cut, to the quarry out of which you were hewn; look to Abraham your father, to Sarah who bore you. He was but one when I called him, but I blessed him by making him many” (Isaiah 51:1–2);
(Taken from Endtime Prophecy: A Judeo-Mormon Analysis, 344–346.)