The scriptures do not authorize us to follow anyone but God and Christ (for a good list of scriptures, see here ).
But, people often mean different things by the word “follow”, so depending on your practical definition of the term, you may not personally be committing idolatry, which is defined as worshiping something other than God. Following Christ is part of how we worship Him, and following anyone else misplaces that energy onto false gods.
Interestingly, a full search for any scriptures with the words “follow” and “prophet” in it only comes up with five results (plus a myriad of study helps which are only commentary from LDS authors). Here are the five scriptures:
3 Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
24 Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.
24 Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have testified of me.
33 Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The only thing that follows a prophet, is the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of their prophecies, letting you know whether they are a true or a false prophet.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “follow” as:
- To go after or behind; to walk, ride or move behind, but in the same direction. “Soldiers will usually follow a brave officer.”
- To pursue; to chase; as an enemy, or as game.
- To accompany; to attend in a journey.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “worship” as:
WORSHIP, verb transitive
- To adore; to pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration. “Thou shalt worship no other God.” Exodus 34:14.
- To respect; to honor; to treat with civil reverence. “Nor worshipd with a waxen epitaph.”
- To honor with extravagant love and extreme submission; as a lover. “With bended knees I daily worship her.”
WORSHIP, verb intransitive
- To perform acts of adoration.
- To perform religious service. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain.” John 4:20.
Very often going after, pursuing, chasing, and accompanying someone on a journey (see 1 Nephi 8:7) leads to adoring them, respecting them, honoring them, and performing religious service for them in such a way as to constitute idolatry, and as mentioned before, the act of following Christ is defined in scripture as one of the specific ways we are asked to worship and perform service for God.
Again, here is the definition of “idolatry”:
IDOL’ATRY, noun [Latin idololatria. Gr. idol, and to worship or serve.]
- The worship of idols, images, or any thing made by hands, or which is not God. “Idolatry is of two kinds; the worship of images, statues, pictures, etc. made by hands; and the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars, or of demons, angels, men and animals.”
- Excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.
If you have already read the link above with scripture references about following the Lord, you would also have seen the list for scriptures mentioning to “receive” true prophets.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “receive” as:
- To take, as a thing offered or sent; to accept. He had the offer of a donation, but he would not receive it.
- To take as due or as a reward. He received the money on the day it was payable. He received ample compensation.
- To take or obtain from another in any manner, and either good or evil. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Job 2:10.
- To take, as a thing communicated; as, to receive a wound by a shot; to receive a disease by contagion. The idea of a solidity we receive by our touch.
- To take or obtain intellectually; as, to receive an opinion or notion from others.
When God sends something through a prophet, we are not to follow them, but we are to receive (or take, as a thing offered or sent) their message as coming from God (D&C 1:38). The Lectures on Faith outline God’s character and attributes, to help us recognize when a message from a messenger really is from God. Noteworthy are the concepts that God changes not, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and he has all power according to justice, mercy, judgment, truth, and love. By these fruits you shall know whether or not any message is from God (3 Nephi 14:15-20), or from the prophet “following after his own spirit”.
Receiving a prophet is not a permanent affirmation of testimony that someone is a prophet. The reception of a prophet is on a case by case basis, each time they claim to have a message from God. We can’t be lazy. We must have a constant connection to the mind of God ourselves if we are to discern every time if the messenger is sent with an authorized message, because prophets have agency and can enter into transgression themselves, and not be authorized anymore (See D&C 121). In such cases, they take the name of the Lord in vain. The breaking of this commandment is as common as the breaking of every other commandment. Temptations reach even the elect.