“I’d like to bear my testimony…
…that I know this Church is true”—has to be one of the most colloquial phrases in Mormon culture. Although it is typically used innocently with nothing but good intentions, it is beginning to cause a rift between two developing parties. I am writing this today to (1) dissolve the rift, (2) expose the distractive nature of the rift, (3) and bear testimony of the only Living Truth—who is Jesus. I hope that Mormons will read this, I hope those who use to be Mormon will read this, and I hope those who have never been Mormon will read this. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and any other church that has been established on this earth, is not true in an eternal sense—but, that’s not really the point.
With our unparalleled access to information, it’s no secret anymore that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has had a lot of ‘oopsies’ throughout it’s history.
Many people have wrestled and continue to wrestle with feelings of discontent towards doctrine that was taught by prophets. Many express their anger over policy and decisions that were made by high ranking officials within the church, and a majority of them express their sheer disappointment upon learning about the personal lives of many of the church’s past leaders. Without fail, feelings of hurt, betrayal, confusion, and anger manifest themselves in the actions and words of people who once innocently declared or were once taught “the Church is True.” I’ve watched many good friends leave the church because they don’t know how to reconcile the Church’s past with the phrase they once used as little kids when bearing their testimonies, ‘I know the Church is true.’
Consequently, a schismatic rift has formed, and has been growing bigger and bigger as transparency becomes more and more pressing. The rift is growing between those who think they can defend and prove the validity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints against those who think they can disprove the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In more contemporary terms, these two parties are commonly referred to as Mormons and Anti-Mormons. Both parties are engaged in an ongoing debate: Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints true?
I believe the answer to that question exists, but I don’t want to spend my time answering that question right here— I will later on.
Instead I want to offer a developing insight I’ve been having.
Jacob 4:14 says,“the Jews were a stiff-necked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall.”
In Philosophy, there is a fallacy called, ‘ignoratio elenchi,’ informally defined as ignoring the issue or missing the point fallacy. Arthur Ernest Davies explained that “the scope of the fallacy has been extended to include all cases of proving the wrong point.” I believe this fallacy could be re-named as “looking beyond the mark fallacy.”
For the longest time, I thought Jacob 4:14 only applied to people who spent too much time in deep doctrine. However, I’ve since realized that this scripture has an important application that is relevant to anyone and everyone who is engaged in or has once been engaged in the ongoing debate over whether or not the Church of Jesus Christ is true or not. For the longest time, we have been trying to prove the wrong point—we’ve been totally missing the mark.
What is the mark Who is the mark?
So many of us have been ignoring the most pressing issue. The most important issue we must first consider above all else has nothing to do with the history of any Church. It has nothing to do with Brigham Young or Joseph Smith. It has nothing to do with polygamy. The issue does not lie within any of the divisive topics that so often flood social media and the news that are so hotly and widely debated in Mormon culture.
The very most important question that we must all answer at some point in our lives seems to be plainly highlighted in Alma 34:5: “And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ.”
In response to the “great question” posed by Alma, Jesus answers decisively and in “words of plainness:”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
In one simple statement, Jesus has the power to completely alter and reconstruct a debate that has been ongoing for hundreds of years. He is the only truth, which leaves little room for anything else. The Church must not be the truth. Why would Christ make such a bold and poignant statement if He did not mean it?
Well, sometimes our limited and mortal understanding of this idea we call ‘truth’ can be complex and confusing—however, it is a critical detail that we must begin to pay attention to if we are to circumnavigate distractions that will have the capacity to lead us further from the actual Truth—Jesus.
A Rough Stone Rolling Definition of Truth
So then, what is truth? Well, to be simple, it can be extremely complex.
Let’s start with Jesus’ claim that He is the truth.
Then, Jesus, in the Doctrine and Covenants, plainly states that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true and living church upon the face of the earth (D&C 1:30). So apparently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true?
That’s confusing, because I’m sitting here claiming the Church isn’t true. What could I possibly mean? Does that make me blasphemous?
In one sense of the word, the Church can be called true.
But in the most important sense of the word (which is the sense Jesus is using when He refers to Himself being the truth), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not true.
Jesus leaves no room for anyone or anything else when He states that He is the truth.
So, let me give you an example to help highlight the distinction I’m making between the two senses of the word ‘true:’
At 6 years old the statement ‘Dallin is 4 feet tall’ was true. At 8 years old, the very same statement, ‘Dallin is 4 feet tall’ was no longer true.
Although the statement ‘Dallin is 4 feet tall’ was true at one time, it is no longer true to this day because I am much taller than 4 feet. Regardless, when I was 6 years old, it was a fact that I was 4 feet tall. According to our language, it totally made sense at the time to say the sentence: ‘Dallin is 4 feet tall,’ is true.
This example helps us to realize the inadequacy of human language. The word ‘true’ has many senses and definitions. We use ‘truth’ when we talk about truths that are absolute and never change and then we use the very same word ‘truth’ when we talk about truths that are actually only relative and that have the capacity to change (like height).
To be more precise, understanding the ‘truth’ requires an understanding of how our language helps shape our sometimes warped perception about truth. Most of our interactions with other people have to do with what we believe is true about the world around us. This is a necessary component of our existence because truth values help us make sense of the world. To simplify our lives, we use language to make truthful statements even if the truth values of those statements eventually change. If we engaged in a philosophic debate every time someone used the word ‘true,’ we would probably be very lost and confused all the time. So, when someone tells us ‘the truth’ we accept it as ‘the truth’ and move on with our lives without really thinking twice about the details and how relative the truths we accept daily can actually be.
Please remember, language as we use it and understand it, can negatively impact the way we understand ‘absolute truth,’ or as some might put it ‘eternal truth’.
When Jesus says that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true and living church on the face of the earth, is he saying that it is absolutely true or that it is relatively true? Well, has the church ever changed? Yes. Will it continue to change? Yes. Will it even exist when He comes again? Maybe not in the form it is right now. It is changing. It is living— just like we are.
Absolute truth exists. It is logically impossible to deny the existence of absolute truth. To say that absolute truth does not exist is a logically self-defeating argument because there would be no truth value to your statement. It exists whether or not you believe it. Absolute truth exists independent of any belief. Jesus is claiming that He exists independently of whether or not anyone believes Him. He is eternal. He is unchanging. This is the real debate. Is Jesus the truth?
Jesus is not saying that the Church is absolutely true. The Church that existed during Moses’ life was very much different from the one we have today. The Church has changed and will continue to change, but Christ and His Word do not.
Some things we once held as ‘absolute truth’ change or become proven false. At one point, it was a scientific held fact that the world was flat. Looking at this example in retrospect helps us to humbly realize that there are times when we may not have facts, even though we claim to have them based off of scientific approaches. I wonder how many things we arrogantly claim to know for a ‘fact’ that will eventually turn out to be foolishly held beliefs. Ironically, we all walk by faith, whether we believe it or not—get it?
There’s a good hymn written by John Jacques that poetically describes the kind of truth Jesus refers to as Himself:
“Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, For the limits of time it steps o’er. Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, Eternal, unchanged, evermore”
That definition doesn’t sound like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to me. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not absolutely true and unchanging. When we say that we know the Church is true, we ought to re-examine what we mean by that. To classify the Church as the same kind of truth that we classify Christ can become a spiritually damning thing to do.
The Church is not absolutely true, but was never really the point. Jesus is the truth—that’s the point.
And I think Jesus would agree—so stop wasting so much time trying to prove the Church is true or not, because it’s as useless as trying to prove, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
So, which came first—the chicken or the egg?
We may never know whether the chicken or the egg came first, but that’s not the point. The most important question is: Did Jesus come? I think another interesting question to ask is: Which came first— Jesus or the Church?
Jesus came first, the Church came second. This is so important to understand. Jesus must be first in our minds when confronting our doubts, fears and anger. Let me explain why.
I’ve read a lot of things about the history behind the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint’s and I totally understand where people are coming from when they have doubts because I did (and do) too. However, as I have used Jesus as a lens to sift through my feelings with doubt, my experience seems to be very different from the experiences of those who are choosing to leave the church.
I think the more doubt I have experienced as a consequence of uncovering the history of the church has infused within me a purer desire to know the actual truth (whatever that was in my mind).
To be short in my explanation, I was reminded that Jesus declared in the New Testament that He is “the way and the TRUTH.”
In my own experience, the more I have evaluated and faced my doubts about the church, the more I have wanted to search for ‘the truth’ and the closer I got to Christ, because ultimately, He claims He is ‘the truth,’ and not the Church.
I unequivocally and unapologetically testify that those who purely seek ‘truth’ in the midst of doubt, fear or anger that may arise because of the Church’s history, will ultimately and inevitably be led to Jesus— because He is the truth, He came before the church.
Truly seeking Jesus, causes a shift in our attitudes because when we realize that Jesus is the truth, and that the Church is not the truth, we will, like Paul, be able to appreciate and distinguish between “whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report,” whatsoever things bring us closer to Christ, and anything that brings us further from Him.
The Church may not be true, but there are many honest, just, and lovely things that bring good report that are necessary within it.
Focus on Christ—it will be a liberating feeling. We wont be caught up in distracting arguments. It will no longer be a question over the validity of a transitory and changing Church. The truth really will “set you free” and you will begin to cleave after anything that brings you closer to Him, for ultimately, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, and we write…that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”
For those of you who have left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or who have never been apart of it but who are still in pursuit of truth, please honestly and humbly re-examine your perception of ‘truth.’ Let your questions and doubt persuade you to diligently and humbly seek after Christ and His Word. You might be shocked to one day find Him leading you right back to place that contains many wonderful and useful tools that preach, and teach of Him —The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
For those of you that have remained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I would urge you to question your beliefs and seek the truth. Do not freak out when you experience doubt because without doubt, faith wouldn’t be able to exist. Do not criticize those who question, but openly consider and listen to what they are really asking. Lastly, re-focus the debate on Christ. Those who are converted to Christ will naturally and instinctively go to where Christ is—which means if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints really is His, then there is no need to worry.