This explanation from Elder George Q. Canon clearly defines the difference between an honest difference of opinion and apostasy. It was published by the folks over at FairMormon and is worth a read. I”m including the URL but also the text in full:
The following definition of “apostasy” was penned by Elder George Q. Cannon, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and editor of the Deseret Evening News, in which paper the following was published on 3 November 1869.
Here Elder Cannon sets forth the difference between “honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church” and “publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife.”
A copy of the original publication is available through the Utah Digital Newspapers Program.
A friend came to us this morning to question us respecting our reviews concerning apostasy. He wished to know whether we had said that we considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities of the Church apostasy, as he said, we had been credited with having made a statement to that effect. We replied that we have not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, can be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.
We know that there have been people in the church at various times who have had peculiar views in relation to apostasy. [William] McClellan, [John F.] Boynton, [William] Law and others did not think that they were likely to become apostates when they began to differ from Joseph. They professed to believe the doctrines which Joseph taught; but they could not endorse Joseph’s policy upon every point. They began by entertaining what they doubtless called honest differences of opinion respecting the council which Joseph gave; but they ended by becoming undisguised apostates. It was wonderful the sensitiveness those men felt for liberty. Joseph had suddenly become an odious tyrant in their eyes, and they stood forth as the champions of freedom. They were eager to disenthrall the masses from the subjugation in which, according to their views, they were held by him; and they would have been pleased, for a time at least, to have had the privilege of remaining in the Church. But every one, who had any of the Spirit of the Lord, saw, that it was
“License they meant, when liberty they cried;”*
and they were expelled from the Church.
In a system such as the gospel of Jesus Christ is, honest differences of opinion do not impel men to stir up division and strife, or to assail the authority which they profess to believe comes from God and is divinely inspired by Him. We know that there are persons who appear to entertain the idea that they are under some obligation to exercise a liberty of this kind, and that they are neither free agents nor honest men unless they do. But we have failed to discover that any greater degree of agency, honesty or freedom is exercised in raising a storm of opposition, in disobeying or rebelling, than being obedient, united and submissive, it the obedience, union and submission are on the side of right and truth. It is on this point that the Latter-Day Saints are so misunderstood by people who do not know them. They cultivate union, obedience and peace, and many persons imagine, therefore, that they do not exercise their agency as free men; but are abjectly servile. But let anyone whose authority they do not recognize attempt to dictate them, and then what follows? They quickly show that rather than part with liberty they will suffer the loss of all earthly substance and even life itself.
There is no people in the world who love freedom more, or exercise true liberty to a wider extent than the people of Utah; but, happily for them, they have been able to draw the line between liberty and license. They assign the widest range for thought and speech consistent with liberty and right; but they do not countenance that unbridled license which produces confusion, discord and division, and which does not exist in the kingdom of heaven, and those who attempt to exercise it cannot have their fellowship.
* This is a line from “On the Same,” a poem written in 1645/46 by John Milton.