Nephi sees that “because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine”—which “pervert the right way of the Lord”—the endtime Gentiles “have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:12, 14; emphasis added). Nephi thus infers that the people’s endtime leaders want the humble followers of Christ to follow them and do what they teach. In that case, would the persecution Jesus and his humble followers suffered from collusion between the Sadducees and Pharisees—the ecclesiastical and academic institutions of his day—not repeat itself in a similar collusion between the ecclesiastical and academic institutions of our day? Concurs Nephi, “O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines. . . . They persecute the meek and the poor in heart” (2 Nephi 28:13, 15).
If Jesus “cared for no man,” nor “regarded the person of men” (Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14), should we? The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “What I am after is the knowledge of God, and I take my own course to obtain it” (TPJS, 337). As Joseph Smith wasn’t speaking of book knowledge, and as he was acting as an exemplar for the church, he expected others to do the same. In other words, everyone’s spiritual journey is his own—individualized and adapted to his circumstances though grounded in the same eternal gospel truths. Said the prophet, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (Millennial Star 13:339; Journal of Discourses 10:57–58). Ultimately, no one is beholden to anyone but God although he accepts the ecclesiastical guidelines God has ordained to get him started on heaven’s quest. In the end, however, that quest, too, must take him to where he walks solely with God—“independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (Doctrine & Covenants 78:14).
The “cunning of the devil” Jesus mentions in reference to endtime church members who are “cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:10–11) is to put the humble followers of Christ between a rock and a hard place. As the end of the world draws near, “the cunning plans which he [the Devil] hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men” (Alma 28:13) grow ever more sophisticated and contradictory. On the one hand, for example, to say that you “follow Jesus Christ,” not the prophet, might suggest to ecclesiastical authorities that you are disloyal to the church. On the other, to say that you “follow the prophet” implies that you subscribe to all that implies—that you are willing to follow a man rather than Jesus Christ. So does the Devil catch men in their words (cf. Mark 12:13; Alma 10:15–18). If a person can’t stand alone in his testimony of the truth, he is surely unworthy of exaltation. If he is unwilling to pay the ultimate price for the truth, he is liable to drown in a morass of untruths.
An eminent danger in following a man rather than Jesus Christ is that people so habituated who become disillusioned with one leader will simply transfer their allegiance to another. As false christs and false prophets will be the order of the day (Matthew 24:24), these will find fertile soil among persons who aren’t grounded in following the Master. If membership in his church creates a codependency that lends itself to the exercise of control or compulsion “in any degree of unrighteousness,” not only does the leader in question forfeit his priesthood but, “ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:37–39). Victims of such “unrighteous dominion,” on the other hand, if they fail God’s test of their faith by growing disaffected with the church and offer their allegiance to a person who fills their spiritual void, are collectively responsible with the unrighteous leader and their new master for their final alienated state.
(Taken from Endtime Prophecy, pp 338–340)