O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. (2 Nephi 4:34)
At first, scriptures like this make me think of how I shouldn't trust in Babylon, my own strength, or mortal sophistry. However, does the above scripture put a limit on which kind of man we should not trust? No. So which kind of men do not warrant our trust? All of them.
What are the implications of this? It's obvious: we should put our trust in women. Joking! And let me first clarify that I'm not talking about trust involving mortal concerns. I trust a babysitter with my kids, I trust a bank with my money, and I trust my sister with secrets about awkward skin problems. What I shouldn't entrust to any man are concerns relating to my eternal salvation. That's the kind of trust I'm talking about here.
What does reliable mean? Consistently good in quality or performance.
What does consistent mean? Unchanging.
Who is unchanging in their good quality and performance? God.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Who is not God, and therefore subject to corruption, fallibility, biases, deception, and false traditions? Your mom, your stake president, an apostle, the prophet.
Let's put all that together:
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man.
Cursed is he that firmly believes in the reliability of man.
Cursed is he that firmly believes in the consistently good quality or performance of man.
Cursed is he that firmly believes in the unchanging good quality or performance of man.
Cursed is he that firmly believes in the Godhood of (mortal) man.
Cursed is he that makes man his God.
Substituting anything or anyone for God is idolatry. Therefore, when we put our trust in man, we are idolatrous. When we declare that church leaders can never lead us astray, we are idolatrous (and prideful). Granting to an undeserving man the trust and accompanying adoration, obedience, and veneration that should be reserved for God is wrong. Prescribing and elevating man to God's unchangeable perfection also denies the agency of man, which is, you know, Satanic. Serious stuff, people.
Where does this leave us? Are we supposed to throw the scriptures out because they were written by men? Plug our ears during Sunday school because a mortal is teaching the lesson? Or maybe just spend church wandering the hallways with our 17-month-old--oh wait, that's actually a thing. But really now, God does use mortals to preach His word, but He's given us some keys to knowing how to discern the word of God from the philosophies of man:
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:31)
Nephi tells us (literally us--this chapter is all about the latter days) that precepts given by any means other than the Holy Ghost should be ignored, including precepts given by the power of status, position, rank, education, worldly philosophies, priesthood office, ordination, or leadership calling. If we are persuaded by precepts given by anything but the power of the Holy Ghost, we will be cursed. Avada kedavra! (Or "avid cheddar," according to autocorrect. What does that spell do, J.K.?)
Let's go back to 1 Nephi 10 for a cool story. Lehi has just told his children about his vision of the tree of life.
And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. 18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. 19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. 18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. 19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. (1 Nephi 10:17)
Lehi was a prophet and Nephi's father. Shouldn't Nephi have just trusted Lehi on his previously-established spiritual merits and patriarchal position? No! Nephi believes his fathers words because they were given by the power of the Holy Ghost. How does Nephi know this is how the words were given? Because he has been given the same power, on account of his "diligently seek[ing]" the Lord. This is key. We are accountable for rejecting truth, regardless of whether or not we recognize it as such at the time. We must always be worthy and willing to hear the voice of the Holy Ghost through diligent seeking, or else we risk calling evil good, and good evil.
Christ preached the same in JST Matthew 1:37: And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived, for the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Part of diligently seeking the Lord involves treasuring up His words. Really knowing the truths contained in the scriptures helps us recognize when something contrary is being taught.
Joseph Smith said, "If any man preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an imposter... Try them by the principles contained in the acknowledged word of God; if they preach, or teach, or practice contrary to that, disfellowship them; cut them off from among you as useless and dangerous branches" (Times & Season, 5:490-491, April 1, 1844).
However, we do believe in continuing revelation. Can a prophet reveal new doctrines that are in harmony with already-revealed truth? Of course. We should want that for our leaders and for ourselves. How can we know whether a revelation is legitimately from God, or merely a philosophy of men, mingled with scripture? We're back to requiring the Spirit to confirm truth.
How can we have the Spirit with us? We are reminded each time we partake of the sacrament: take upon us the name of Christ, always remember him, and keep his commandments (D&C 20:77).
This process involves a lot of personal responsibility, and that's how it should be. We are accountable for the precepts we follow. We've been taught the way to discern which will lead us to eternal life, and which will damn us. We need to know the word of God and be worthy of the Holy Ghost and use both as the standard against which to measure the teachings we hear. Constantly. There is no guarantee that because someone has taught truths in the past they will continue to exclusively do so in the future. Especially if we've been heaping idolatrous, pride-nurturing, priestcrafty adoration on them for being God's UPS guy.
But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. 8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; (D&C 46: 7-8)
Sometimes unquestioning trust in the words of church leaders is lauded as an example of faithfulness. I think such trust is evidence of idolatry, spiritual sloth, and a misunderstanding of scripture. I've been there! But I've learned that God has provided a more excellent way. Qualify for the Spirit, trust no man, and hearken to correct precepts. Sometimes truth comes over a black walnut pulpit, sometimes truth comes in a blog on the internet, but always truth comes through the power of the Holy Ghost.