Joseph Smith received divine Priesthood authority from God. We are specifically warned, however, that there “are many false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth deceiving the world” (D&C 50:2; 1835 17:1) and that we must beware of “deceivers and hypocrites” (D&C 50:6; 1835 17:2) who will at times profess gifts and revelations “and yet be not of God” (D&C 46:27; 1835 16:7). Among the keys which the Lord has given to avoid deception are the revelations and commandments in the Doctrine and Covenants. “Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church; And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue” (D&C 42:59-60; 1835 13:16). Like judges sitting on a hill the saints in the church are to judge the nations and “the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion. And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known” (D&C 64:37-39; 1835 21:7).
Joseph Smith wrote to a brother in Missouri in 1833, “Respecting the vision you speak of we do not consider ourselves bound to receive any revelation from any one man or woman without his being legally constituted and ordained to that authority, and giving sufficient proof of it. I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom” (Joseph Smith to Brother Carter, 13 April, 1833, TPJS 21. Emphasis added).
From time to time, some individuals who make dubious prophetic claims cite one passage in support of their claims. This passage reads, “For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations, which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed” (D&C 43:7; 1835 14:2). This is presented by some false teachers to support the claim that any or all future leaders of the Church must be personally selected by Joseph Smith again and ordained by angels, but that is not what the revelations say. To be ordained “as I have told you before” refers back to D&C 42:11, which the Lord had just given previously.
“Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11).
That is, they must be ordained, not again at the hand of angels, but by “someone who has authority” and it must be “known to the church that he has authority” and he must be “regularly ordained by the heads of the church.”
James C. Brewster, was a young man living in Kirtland who later claimed that when he was ten he was visited by the angel Moroni who showed him a table full of ancient records that he was to translate. In 1837, following this vision, Brewster and his followers “presented to the High Council a plan for the better organization of the Church in temporal affairs, stating that Moroni had appeared to Collins Brewster” (History of the Church, 2:525). The High Council concluded that it “was a trick of the devil” and that Brewster and those who supported him had followed “a vain and delusive spirit.” Some of these followers that they “thought some put to[o] much stress on the priesthood.” The High Council decided that Brewster and his followers had acted “contrary to the order of the church” (Kirtland High Council Minutes, 20 November, 1837). This did not stop Brewster from putting forth additional claims to revelation. Joseph Smith said that Brewster’s revelations were not of God. “Brewster showed me the Manuscripts,” wrote the Prophet, “I enquired of the Lord and the Lord told me the book was not true. It was not of him. If God ever cal[l]ed me, or spoke by my mouth, or gave me a revelation, he never gave revelations to the Brewster Boy or any of the Brewster race” (Joseph Smith Journal, 31 December, 1842, Faulring, 265). Brewster claimed to have his own seer stone and the gift of translation. After being cut off from the church he claimed to translated many ancient records, not from Jeraneck, but from the prophets Esdras, Nathan, Enoch, Alciba, Zenoch, and Neum and others, all of which he said were a part of his lost “Book of Esdras. “ He also claimed to be able to translate Mayan hieroglyphics, mid-western stone inscriptions and the Kinderhook Plates, which he said contained a “History of the Altewanians” by one “Varamenta, the last of the Altewanians” who were descendants of Japheth and were destroyed in warfare. Although he had a small following for a time, his followers eventually scattered and came to nothing.
Francis Gladden Bishop is another notorious example from the early history of the Church. Shortly after joining the Church in 1833, Bishop claimed he had a vision where an angel ordained him a high priest or to the high priesthood and told that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and that he, Bishop, should lead the Church. Through the years he claimed to be “the Branch” or one of the two witnesses spoken of in the book of Revelation. According to one complain, “Bishop frequently told of women falling in love with him, that he observed frequently when passing people that they felt his spirit” and that “he ought not to travel and preach on account of the women so often falling in love with him” (Kirtland High Council Minutes, 26 September, 1835). Later Bishop claimed that one of the three Nephites appeared to him and showed him the plates and the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim and the Liahona. When he excommunicated for the last and final time in 1842, the High Council, Presided over by Joseph Smith carefully reviewed his claims. Wilford Woodruff who was present at his trial wrote, “Gladden had set himself up as some great thing for 8 or 9 years & the church had been so much troubled with him by his foolish conduct that he had been cut off a number of times from the Church & restored, & he had now set himself up as a prophet & Revelator to the church & a number of his revelations were brought forward & red before the congregations & it was the greatest Bundle of Nonsens ever put together. It would have taken Gladden Bishop ten thousand Years to have accomplished the work which he said in his pretended revelations he should perform. He took the name of God in vain & his crime was so great in his Blaspheming God in his pretended revelations that Joseph the Seer said that nothing would excuse him in the sight of God & angels in commiting the unpardonable sin ownly because he was a fool & had not sens sufficient for the Holy Ghost to enlighten him” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 March, 1842).