What is the relationship between us and those who claim close association with God? Well, what others claim doesn't actually matter much. What matters is what happens when we follow their teachings. If you hear someone claiming truth, and you apply that putative truth, and you experience God to a greater degree, congratulations, you've acquired further light and truth. If, on the other hand, you hear someone claiming truth, you apply it, and you do not experience God to a greater degree, you can set that putative truth aside as falsehood. Evaluation of potential truth is a message-level process, not a messenger-level process.
How do you test their claims? The Lord said,
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7)
You test their claims by doing what they teach and seeing if you get the same results they claim to have experienced. I know perhaps a dozen people who claim a close association with God. I have tested what they teach, and found that only 3 of them have provided putative truth that has proven to be real light and truth. This does not mean that the experiential claims of the 3 are authentic (though they probably are) or that the 9 are false (though this is possible). I actually don't care a lick if they are or are not authentic. What matters to me is not the experiences others claim, but the experiences I attain myself.
Anyone claiming experiences with God ought to be able to instruct others on how to obtain those same experiences. If they are unable to bring others who apply their ideas to the same experiences they claim, you can set them down as imposters. Their experiences either never happened, came from the devil, or happened long ago and they have sense lost that light and replaced it with darkness through sin.
Some people have had authentic experiences in the past, but have lost that light to the point where they cannot reproduce equal experiences in themselves, let alone instruct others on how to do so. This happens more frequently than I think people realize. If God visited you years ago, and never since, you really ought to humble yourself to the dust and ask him why. Spiritual experiences are meant to happen more frequently over time as one draws closer to God, not less frequently.
We seem to forget that Satan--the master counterfeiter--is always chomping at the bit to derail people. He is especially interested in derailing those who have been most successful in obtaining God. God only allows him to deceive to the degree that a person has the capacity to detect and withstand his deception. What this means is that those who have experienced the most are also the most likely to be deceived, because they are subjected to the greatest deceptive tactics.
Let me give you an example. After Moses saw God for the first time, Satan came to him claiming to be God. Suppose Satan came in all that light and glory before Moses had seen God. Would he have had any ability to detect that it was Satan and not God? I think he would have struggled quite a bit. Some, not learning this lesson from the scriptures, assume that every spiritual experience comes from God.
Of particular vulnerability are those that haven't had an experience with God in a long time. Perhaps they slip into sin, or idleness, or pride, and have offended God but are unaware. Perhaps they are aware, but want both the fleeting pleasure of their sin and the peace that comes from a relationship with God. Of course, those can't co-exist. In any case, Satan is more than willing to answer their pleas for spiritual experiences, and most are all too willing to give it to them.
Walking the straight and narrow is a continuous experience. You have to consistently unlearn what you thought you knew and walk away from others who you thought were interested in knowing God the same way you were. Having one or many spiritual encounters in the past means nothing about your present standing with God. Like a fish, the only disciple that stays still is a dead one.
I've written many things on this topic, and they are worthwhile to read. I can't reduce these posts, but here are some quotes to entice you to read them:
You test a message by experimenting upon it. If you live it, receive the promised fruits, become more like and experience more of God, it is right. If you do not, it is false. What a true messenger offers is the opportunity to experience what they claim to have experienced. If you have done what they have taught and not received what they have claimed to receive, one or both of you is a liar. Either you have not done what they have done, they have not experienced what they claim, or both. Anyone who follows a man is a fool. Anyone who follows a fool they have disproven through their lack of experiences is something worse.
True messengers are able to instruct others in how to achieve the experiences they have achieved. Their principle value is describing the path they themselves have walked. This of necessity includes only the tools available to them--if it requires some new thing they themselves did not have, they have strayed from the task of describing their own path and are describing a path they themselves have not tested.
If a new path is offered in lieu of the original experiences, it can only be as a curse--something lesser given instead of something greater. Moses gave a new path to the Israelites, and it was indeed a curse. However, he only did so (rather, God only did so) after Moses first offered for them to have the same experiences and status with God as he had. Moses had obtained his visitation and status with God without the law of Moses. The Israelites rejected that offer, and were given a brutal covenant instead.
Always remember that a person can convey both truth and falsehood. Satan himself sometimes teaches truth in spite of it being surrounded by falsehood. When he told Adam and Eve that eating the fruit of knowledge would not kill them (a lie), he also told them it would give them understanding of good and evil, which was true. Men can likewise teach both true things and false things. A man's having taught truth in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be true, and a man's having taught falsehood in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be false.
Mortality is a dangerous place. A principle purpose of our being here is to learn to discern between good and evil. If it were as simple as identifying a person to whom we can attach ourselves to be saved, many more people would be saved. Instead, we are adrift and constantly bump up against putative truth. Most of it will be false, some of it will be true. Most messengers will be completely false, and some few only a little false.
When we encounter anyone who has more light and truth than we do, our objective is to obtain all they have, become as close to God as they are, and then go find more light and truth elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Most people are incredibly naive and will fall for any schmuck claiming spiritual experiences. Others are more discerning, but make a man their connection to God when they have validated some of his experiences and/or teachings. This latter case is common in the Bible, where on various occasions men would attach themselves to some prophet. These "schools of the prophets" are interesting. Can you recall the name of even one member of them, or one work they did? You can't, despite the fact that you can name the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. You see, content with making a man their idol, these people never ascended to connecting directly to God. Exceptions include Joshua, who created his own connection with God independent of Moses, and Elisha, who did the same independent of Elijah.
If you make a man your connection with God, you are telestial, which means eternally limited in how much you experience God. You certainly will never surpass your idol's experiences with God, because at best the light and truth you receive is limited to what he has already received. More likely, you will never attain even that, as those who trust in the arm of the flesh do so in lieu of repenting, and God cannot tolerate sin in the least degree.
When we believe that men's authority is required to save us, we set up certain individuals with dominion over us. We trust that whatever they tell us is God's word, and whatever they tell us to do is God's will. They become the source of truth for us. This is abominable idolatry. No matter what stature the idols have achieved with God, it can never bring you more than the glory of angels in the best case. In the worst case, it will lead you straight to hell.
People from the LDS tradition love the idea of having a "dispensation head." They love being able to put their faith in a man. They love the idea of outsourcing their relationship with God. It doesn't work like that. Salvation can only come through your personal relationship with God. You don't have the option of being saved in some other way. When we find ourselves operating through a mortal mediator, we can rest assured that this is a relationship of cursing rather than blessing.
The people wanted a king. Samuel told them that was a bad idea. They persisted. God gave them a warning. They persisted. God told Samuel to give them a king. And we know the rest of the story. They diverted themselves from God's intended path of blessing by desiring not what God wanted, but what they in their own foolish hearts thought was right.
We do the same exact things today. One of the ways we do this is in our idea of what a prophet is. We (especially we from and LDS background) like the idea of a strongman-prophet. We like the idea of reducing the complexities of the gospel into betting on the right horse. We like thinking that salvation is all about finding and then following someone who has had spiritual experiences. It simply does not work like that.
The Lord answers us according to the desires of our heart. If we believe in salvation-through-prophet, God will give us a man who thinks he can save us. He will produce a man who promises us all the blessings we desire in the packaging that we expect it to be offered in. As God told Ezekiel:
4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. (Ezekiel 14:4-5)
Those who believe this false doctrine are just like the Israelites who wanted a king: they aren't interested in what God thinks or says. They simply want someone that fulfills the pattern they are looking for.
It is interesting that one of the scriptures cited about says "deceived prophet" instead of "false prophet." Can you see how there is a difference? A false prophet never came from God. A false prophet is a total phony. They are liars, and they know they are liars. A deceived prophet is different. A deceived prophet may have accessed the heavens. He may have had many interactions with God. He may have worked true, mighty wonders from heaven. Yet, none of these things prevents a man from teaching false doctrine. All men are capable of being mistaken. Prophets only know what God has shown them, and no prophet has seen everything. Like anyone else, prophets must synthesize what God has shown them with their understanding of everything else. Everything else could come from their understanding of the scriptures, studies of human behavior, cultural biases, and what they have heard from others.
Salvation is an awfully individual affair. No one can seek Jesus for you, and no one can know him for you. Nevertheless, the Christian world spends all or nearly all of their religious effort trying to get to know Jesus through someone else. For most Christians, the time they spend in the audience of a pastor, priest, pope, elder, friend, or anyone else far exceeds the time they spend in the audience of God himself, in prayer or in solitary scripture study.
There are several ways we can misunderstand the way this works. God makes use of vessels to do his work. Sometimes these are righteous vessels (like Isaiah), and sometimes these are wicked vessels (like Nebuchadnezzar). Most times, however, they are a little righteous and a little wicked (like Gideon, who did some things right and some things wrong). The righteousness of a man does not indicate that anything he says is true. The Bible is full of examples of true messages from God being delivered by men who were not worthy of emulation. On the other hand, the wickedness of a man does not indicate that a particular belief he has is not from God. The high priest who killed Jesus delivered a true prophecy (see John 11:49-51)!