How is the Church True?

I regularly see people complain about common LDS phrases such as “I know the Church is True” or “I know the Book of Mormon is True.” People often think these sentences are meaningless. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the way we speak in this context is alien to our fellow Christians. Pedagogically it’s perhaps not the best terminology to use in trying to help people gain a testimony. I do think the sentences are completely sensical though and that most people have a reasonable grasp on what they mean. Usually if you ask someone who’s used the sentence, they’ll rephrase it as “this is really God’s Church on earth.”

Part of the problem is that culturally we’ve largely adopted a way of speaking that comes out of philosophy. This largely starts with Aristotle. Truth is a property of propositions (the meaning of sentences) and not entities like churches, books or the like. Remnants of earlier ways of speaking persist in our culture. We talk about truing a bike wheel for instance. (This is making sure the wheel is round like the ideal wheel) We still continue to talk about true friends or a spouse not being true. The language isn’t as alien as some make it out to be.

It’s worth noting though that the terminology we use in our testimonies ultimately comes out of the scriptures. D&C 1:30 talks about this being “the only true and living church.” Jacob talks about being restored “to the true church” (2 Ne 9:2) Mormon talks about the apostasy after Christ came where the Nephites “began to deny the true church of Christ.” (4 Ne 1:26) It’s really not hard to find examples of this usage. The scriptures don’t merely use the term for the church though. We also have Jeremiah speaking of Israel as a “true seed” (Jeremiah 2:21 although it’s translated as “right” in the KJV but the underlying word is meet or true) Again in Genesis 24:48 we have a road that is true. (Again translated as right in the KJV) Exodus 18:21 talks about true men (again not translated as true but as trustworthy)

Philosopher Yoram Hazony wrote an interesting book The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture where he noted how Hebrew tends to use the term “true” in these ways.

In Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, most words are derived from root-stems, usually three letters long, which can be transformed into all or most of the parts of speech according to a largely consistent morphology. Each root-stem thus holds together a family of words whose meanings tend to be closely related. In the case of the Hebrew word emet, the root is the three-letter sequence aleph-mem-nun (תמא) whose cognates can assist us in understanding what the authors of the Bible meant when they spoke of truth. For example, the adjective derived from the passive verbal form of this root is the word ne’eman, frequently translated as “faithful.” When Isaiah foretells of a great future king of Judah, he speaks of him as a tent-peg fastened in a sure place:

I will fasten him as a tent-peg in sure [ne’eman] ground, and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue. (Is 22:23-5)

Thus when the tent-peg has been driven into “sure ground,” it will be able reliably to withstand great storms without shifting. The ground is reliable, faithful, certain; and so, therefore, is the peg itself.

He continues

From these and other examples, we see that in biblical Hebrew, that which is true is something that is reliable, steadfast, faithful; while that which is false is something that cannot be counted upon, or which appears reliable but is not. In these instances, truth and falsity are simply qualities of objects or persons, which parallel the English usage of terms such as reliable, steadfast, or faithful. There is no question, therefore, of truth and falsity referring to any kind of correspondence between speech and reality, for in these cases, there is no speech involved. There are only objects and persons.

So truth means reliable

Consider the tent-peg again. When one takes it in one’s hand before driving it into the ground, there is no way to know whether it can be relied upon or not. All one has is an expectation, or better yet, a hope of what this object will be able to do. One hopes that it will hold firm in the face of the stresses of the coming storm. Only after the fact, once the storm has passed, can one really say that the tent-peg was reliable, that it was true. The same can be said of Abraham’s servant setting out on the road to Mesopotamia. When he first sets foot upon this road, there is no way for him to know that the road is true. All he has is a hope as to what this road can do: He hopes that it will bear him safely through the wilderness, and that it will bring him to the successful completion of his mission. But it is only after these things have come to pass that he actually comes to know that the road was true. In the same way, we know the seed is true only after it has grown into the vine we had hoped it would become; that a man is true only after he has withstood the temptation to corrupt judgment; and so forth. In every case, we find that the truth or falsity of the object is something that cannot be determined when first one comes across it, but only once it has “stood the test of time.”35 To say of an object that it is reliable, or that it is true, then, is to say that the object in question has done what we had hoped it would do despite the hardships thrown up by changing circumstance.

But this is not quite right. For what does the tent-peg really do? To speak of what the tent-pegdoesis an anthropomorphism, a metaphor. In fact, a tent-peg is completely inert. It doesn’tdoanything. It just is what it is – whether at the height of the storm, or when one holds it in one’s hand. What we really expect of the tent-peg, our highest hope for it, is not that it willdoanything, but that it willbesomething. One is tempted to say that what we hope it will simply remain what it is – a whole tent-peg, unbroken – in the face of great stress. But this isn’t right either. We actually have no interest in the tent-peg remaining what it is, for what it is may be a peg that will break under pressure because it contains an invisible crack in it, which is presently obscured from our view. What we really hope for when we drive this peg into the ground is something normative: We want it to be what a tent-pegought to be(in our estimation) in the face of the stresses and strains of the storm.

And the same can be said for all other objects. Jeremiah does not present God as hoping the seed will remain what it is in the face of time and circumstance. He hopes that it will be what he thinks a seed ought to be, which is to say, something that grows into a desirable vine and not into a noxious weed. Similarly, Abraham’s servant hopes that the road will be what he thinks a road ought to be, which is to say, one that will bear him safely through the wilderness, and that will bring him to the successful completion of his mission. And Yitro hopes Moses can appoint as judges over Israel men who will be what he thinks a man ought to be, namely, someone capable of withstanding the temptation to corrupt judgment. In these and all other cases, an object is found to be reliable when it proves,proves, through changing time and circumstance, to be what we think it ought to be.

In other words something is true when it is what it appears to be when we encounter it. This helps explain famous passages on learning truth such as Alma 32. We know something is true as it shows itself to be what it appears. In more contemporary terms truth in the scriptures is close to what we mean by essence but essence in the sense of unveiling a things essence to us. It’s worth noting that unlike the KJV of Jer 2:21, Joseph translates the discussion of Alma 32 with the word true. “Beyond, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief…behold it will begin to swell within your breasts…” (Alma 32:28) This is very much in keeping with the common seed metaphor in scripture, but with a deep understanding of this feature of Hebrew language.

At the beginning I mentioned that when Mormons use “true” relative to an object we typically mean it’s really what we portray it as. Again, I think we pick up on this usage because of how we read the scriptures. Especially passages like Alma 32 (which even uses the word “real” for true in verse 35.

Hazony notes that for English we make a clear distinction between the word representing an object and the object itself. In Hebrew there’s just not this clear distinction. Often it is very difficult to tell when a word is being referred to or the underlying object.

…how it is possible for the truth or falsity of words to be dependent on the truth or falsity of the objects to which these words refer, given that words and objects are supposed to be independent from one another. The answer to this question is obviously that in the  metaphysical scheme of the Bible, there is no independence of words and things from one another. Rather, the biblical davar, which is an understanding or an object as understood, is one and the same whether it is before the mind, or given expression in words. The truth or falsity of a davar is determined by whether it can be relied upon to be what it ought in the face of time and circumstance. It is not affected by whether it is merely before the mind in silence, or whether it is also given spoken expression in words. In either case, a reliable davar is true, and an unreliable davar is false.

…how, if the truth of an object is its being what it ought to be through time and circumstance, we can speak of the truth of words, which seem to have no significant duration through time, being uttered in a given moment with respect to a particular circumstance. This question is resolved when we recognize that the biblical davar is not really comparable to what in English is called a word at all. For when we speak of a word, we tend to think of something that is to a large extent defined by its vocalization: When one stops speaking, the word seems to come to an end. The Hebrew davar, on the other hand, is an understanding of things, of which the external vocalization that accompanies it is no more than a sign. And the understanding can endure long after the external sign is gone.

Reread Alma 32 in light of this and then reconsider what it means for the Church to be true or the Book of Mormon to be true. I confess I’ve never quite looked at it the same way since learning this.

50 comments for “How is the Church True?

  1. When I bear my testimony of some truth in the gospel I almost always say why I believe it to be true, or why I know it to be true. For example- if I testify of fast offerings I would give an example where I experienced or saw the blessing firsthand and then testify that it is true. The phrase “I know” is used wrong most of the time in bearing testimony. We use the phrase in the sense of having an exact knowledge of it but in truth we only “believe” it is true. This is a conditioning that actually comes from a real testimony upon others who do not have a real knowledge but because of the repetition everyone says the phrase. The book of Mormon prophets used the “I know” in testifying of something with an exact knowledge. They were very careful between stating beliefs thought to be true and knowledge they knew was true having an exact knowledge. Its in that sense that the word phrase is used in the Book of Mormon.

  2. People who ridicule this usage of “true” in testimonies are betraying their own ignorance. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Definition 7a of “true” is “Real, genuine, authentic; not false or spurious; that rightly or properly bears the name.”

  3. A very useful and timely approach to what makes a thing true. Thanks Clark. I also got some interesting results on D&C 1:30 when I looked up various uses of both “true” and “living” in the Bible, such as “true vine,” “true treasure”, and “living bread”, “living water,” “living stones”, “tree of life,” “living way through the veil,” “truth and life,” and so forth. It turns out that the themes of the Bible passages that use true and/or living match the themes of D&C 1 point for point, verse for verse. For example, Jer. 10:10 uses true God, Living God, in a voice of warning passage, that matches the tone of the opening of D&C 1. The passages connect to inspiration, revelation, priesthood, ordinances, covenants, temple, and such that in actual practice set the LDS community apart in a way that is not about exclusive or complete truth, revelation, or virtue, nor about the perfection or superiority of our behavior (any illusions on that score bluntly dismissed in D&C 1). The themes though do, I think account for what about our community might lead to a description involving well pleasingness collectively.

  4. Walker (4) I should note that the second half of the book is no where near as good and is a bit more controversial. Jon Levenson of Creation and the Persistence of Evil fame took him to task for not acknowledging enough the conflicting authors and complexities of authorship. i.e. simplifying too much to a single style of rhetoric. While the applies to the arguments in the later part of the book on quasi-epistemological themes I don’t think it applies as much here.

    Kevin (3) Yes, I didn’t quote those parts of Hazony, but there are reasons why living vs. dead metaphors apply. The example of a true seed is the obvious one. A seed may present itself as a seed but not grow. So it’s true only if it is what it presents itself as. Since truth is this continuing unveiling or unfolding of its essence we can see how that relates to living.

    N. W. (2) Yes, but appealing to the OED doesn’t help much since many of the uses it gives are not common uses. I don’t recall if they number based upon how common the usage is. But if they do, then 7b is pretty far down the usage scale. The topic comes up enough that I think it’s worth bringing up. As I said, even in common use the usage persists such as in truing a wheel or having a true friend.

  5. It is true that the term true has different connotations in the LDS canon. However, when leaders and members say that the church is true, I have every reason to believe that what they mean is that they believe that it is the only church whose teachings about god, the afterlife, and salvation correspond with reality in contrast to the doctrines of other religions, which don’t, either entirely or in part. When members and leaders say that the Book of Mormon is true, what they mean is that they believe it is not a 19th century creation, but actually contains the words of ancients in the Americas about their actual witness of Jesus Christ. When they say that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, what they mean is that they believe that Joseph Smith revealed actual words and instructions of god and that god actually gave him authority to establish a church.

    I understand that the notion of the LDS church being ‘true’ doesn’t sit well with many middle-pathers and believing intellectuals who want to be able to say and/or believe that the LDS church is true in some metaphorical or truth-as-reliable sense without having to take full ownership of all of the difficult-to-believe teachings. If that is what assuages the pangs of cognitive dissonance for you, then so be it. Twist the concept of ‘true’ and ‘truth’ into whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. Be my guest. But realize that LDS church leaders have not promoted the notion of the LDS church being true in that sense alone, or even in any primary way. Since Joseph Smith, they have promoted the church as being true in the sense of its teachings actually corresponding to reality. Sure, true and truth can mean reliable, but it mostly means direct correspondence to reality.

  6. I think what they mean is that this is really Christ’s church. That entails elements of correct doctrine, authority, and so forth. You’re right that this doesn’t sit well with some for various reasons. I don’t think it entails infallibility or anything like that but I also think it entails something stronger than some are comfortable.

    I’m not sure they mean anything in terms of correspondence, but I do think it entails the basic truth claims of the church are reasonably accurate. Again, that’s not the same as without error. (I think Ether 12 makes that clear) OF course somethings are difficult to believe. But that’s what brings one to the next step of finding out.

  7. I often want to ask “Since the Church is an organization, not a proposition, what exactly do you mean by ‘the Church is true’?” I appreciate the thoughtful examination of what that might mean, or what it might mean for a book to be true. I’m still going to complain about the phrase, though.

    My principal complaint isn’t that the phrase is meaningless, but that in most LDS usage (apart from articles like this), the phrase is used to terminate thought, not to provoke it. The phrase clearly conveys some meaning along the lines of “this really is God’s church/word,” although it may be ambiguous as to whether the speaker means “It will become the thing that God intends, human faults notwithstanding,” or “It is the thing that God intends.”

    However, despite the fact that some meaning is conveyed, I more often hear the phrase used as an ending than as a beginning. Testimonies and talks regularly end with short assertions that the Church is true, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith and the current prophet are true prophets, etc. If a Hebrew poetic metaphor about becoming is meant, why not extend the poetry instead of leaving the metaphor incomplete? The true seed becomes a fruitful vine; the tent-peg fastened in a sure place holds “all the glory of his father’s house”; why not say something about the “becoming” of the Church, if that is what we mean? Why not say “I know this is the true Church, that will grow to become Zion”? Why should 21st century English speakers use a phrase that sounds (to other 21st century English speakers) like we are asserting the truth of a logical proposition, if something else is meant? If we mean to echo scripture, why not say “true and living,” to suggest more than a simple logical proposition?

    Why, for that matter, is it a bit odd to say that Jesus is true? If what we mean is sure, reliable, good, uncorrupted, and so on, surely the son of Mary who grew to reveal himself to be the Son of God is more “true” than any church or book. However, if we said “Jesus is true,” it would be thought-provoking, and we’d have to follow it up with some explanation. By contrast, short assertions at the end of a talk, without explanation, are thought-ending. They may well be full of meaning. The speaker often seems to be saying “So much for the topic of the day, let’s not leave out what’s really important.” However, it asks us not to think about it, but to concede: “Yes, we agree that that’s what’s really important.” There’s a place for that, but maybe not at the end of every talk.

  8. Clark, when leaders and members say the LDS church is true, they appear to be referring to a distinctive set of truth claims (i.e., God the Father and Jesus actually appeared to and spoke to Joseph Smith, ancients in the Americas actually witnessed Jesus, D&C and BOM contain the words of god, baptism by someone with priesthood authority is necessary for salvation, etc.) that they regard to be true in the most actual sense possible (how isn’t this an understanding of these claims to correspond to reality? What other sense would it be?). Many times in testimony meetings, I hear people going into specifics about what they believe or ‘know’ is true, and often with the correspondence to reality sense. I often hear the assertion from believers that they believe it to be true that god lives and that Jesus is at the head of the LDS church, without any hint of metaphor whatsoever. There is a certain body of teachings that believers regard to be actually existing beyond question.

  9. 3 Things. 1) I was just given that book a few weeks ago by a good Jewish friend and it is on my postum table ready to read. 2) Great post. 3) I tell people that “there is eternal truth and practical truth, and practically, the only eternal truths you know are the ones you live, everything else is just a theory.”

    Of course, I think there are limits to the above definition. I believe the Church is true as it is, but it is not as it ought to be. The Church is not always that thing that it appears to be. Its appearance is wrapped up in both its present and historical image, and sometimes those images are marketed instead of faced. So it is, that when I say “The Church is true,” what I mean is that I believe that Christ is at its foundation. When I read D&C 1:30 I read it as “This Church is true because I (Christ) am at its foundation—you people on the other hand are all messed up so don’t get cocky.”

  10. Brad I think people include under the general rubric a few key truth claims. Certainly I do. I don’t see a problem with that. I just don’t think it the central issue. An implication of this more Hebrew way of truth is that one has pretty concrete claims about the essences of certain things. Even with Alma 32, though it appears to be following this Semitic way of speaking, still ends up with a fairly pragmatic approach to truth claims that can easily be made to fit into a more modern way of speaking. Indeed I think the presentation Hazony makes lends itself easily to pragmatic approaches to epistemology.

    Mike, there’s no doubt some people use a testimony to close down rather than open up inquiry. Interestingly Hazony’s later chapters, while a bit more controversial, have some interesting points there. Maybe I’ll do a followup post along those lines. I think there are things we know but we know always vaguely. This Hebrew conception of truth means that things are always unveiling their nature to us. That in turn means we should be paying close attention so we come to understand what it means for them to be true. In more modern terms this is learning about their essential characteristics. We may know the church is true but understanding that is always ongoing.

  11. Clark, I still think that most leaders and members mean true as useful (pragmatic approach to truth) secondarily. The primary focus appears to be truth as actuality/reality. People think that they’re actually going to resurrect at some point after they die and inhabit one of the three kingdoms and that the ordinances performed in the LDS church and covenants are the only way to reach the celestial kingdom. They think that god is really watching them and evaluating them and that the partaking of the sacrament on a weekly basis, keeping covenants, and adhering to the words and counsels of divinely chosen leaders can win god’s favor and is the best way to ensure long-term well-being. So much of the behavior in Mormon culture is explained by the prevailing approach to truth as actuality/reality.

    I must add that one can get away with metaphorical truth to a greater extent in other religious traditions. Liberal Christian denominations emphasize a good deal of metaphorical meaning. But Mormonism is not such a religion. Its truth claims are very specific and are based too much in actuality. Too much thinking that the Nephites existed only in a metaphorical sense and you stray from the original claims of Joseph Smith. The sort of suspended cognitive dissonance of the middle-pathers and emphasis on metaphorical and symbolic meaning of Mormonism’s truth claims just doesn’t seem sustainable to me in the long run. The middle path seems like more of a weigh station on the way out of Mormonism for many. Some become more orthodox. Yet I don’t see it as a viable solution of keeping the questioners in the LDS church.

  12. Brad L (13).
    Orthodox Mormons can take their truth claims too far, and often do. These “middle metaphorical” Mormons you speak of may just be a counterweight to the over literal traditional Mormons who, ironically enough, also stand in the middle way.

    Mormons who declare that “Mormonism has the whole truth, and other religions only have part,” or who declare that “all religious truth has been restored through Joseph Smith,” or other such various and sundry statements I have heard over the years stand in the way of truth. Not only are these precepts wrong and contrary to Mormon theology, but they also possess the middle ground, not of doubt, but of ignorance clothed as knowledge. It is in some ways more dangerous.

    I believe in a literal Jesus, literal Nephites, literal redemption, a literal plan, literal revelation, and a literal Joseph Smith the Prophet. Many Mormons, however, take the message of “the Restoration of all things” as an event in the past and not as a continuous event of the present. And others of different religions have much to teach us, and other religions do as well. There are many overt literalists who toss any of the “other” overboard because they do not want to be bothered. Against such smug ignorance there is a reaction that eventually blooms into a path you are describing. It is a natural result of the wrong kind of literalness.

    Being a Mormon is a guarantee of absolutely nothing. Mormons must also consider this truth.

  13. After a careful study of Alma 32 and the following chapters, it appears that the seed that Alma wanted them to plant that is “true” is that God is merciful to the repentant, and that he doesn’t require certain clothing or buildings for true worship and communion. Nowhere in the Alma 32 context does Alma or Amulek desire them to plant the idea that the Nephites are the One True Group. Because while that can be true at times in the Nephite history, it is not always true.

    Even the statement in D&C 1:30 would be better understood in the same way I described the Nephites and Alma 32. It may have been true of the 1831 Mormons and their worship and growth in that moment, but because it was true of them does not mean it will automatically be true of us. God himself shows how quickly things can change when one year later in 1832 in D&C 84 he says the whole church is under condemnation. What was once “true and living” is now condemned unless they begin to ACT true and living again, and remember to do more than just “say” what is right, but to do and become it.

    This is why I think statements like “the church is true” are somewhat meaningless. Because the truth is, we are drawing upon scripture for a historical precedent of trueness, but that was a statement about the moment. We have no more guarantee of always deserving the title True and Living than the Nephites had of maintaining Zion. They lost it, so can we. Ironically, my guess is when contention arose between them, each group began declaring “No…WE are Zion, you’re not Zion” and then elaborating on why their version of Zion was better than the other. All along not realizing that the mere act of contention meant they weren’t Zion at all.

    Therefore, the focus should be exclusively on God. God should be the object of our statements of “reliable, steady, trustworthy”, and not man or the flesh. Look at how King Benjamin describes himself in Mosiah 2. Does he want you to think he is “true”? No, he wants to you recognize that he is infirm in mind and body, just like you. And that he is of his own self nothing, and so are you. He wants you to recognize that the only thing worth putting trust in is God and God alone. In fact, learning how to recognize the nothingness of all your outward worship (the people of Benjamin were declared to be quite obedient to laws and sacrifices and stuff) was ESSENTIAL to the born again moment Benjamin was getting them to look towards, because only then would they learn how to trust in the Mercy of a Loving God, and not in their own works of outwardly observable religion. Why don’t we realize it is just as essential today?

    But instead, we place men and institutions on the pedestal of true, reliable, steady, secure….we mistake them for the Rock that is God, and then when we feel the shifting sands beneath our feet at any rising tide or blowing wind that shows that sometimes a church isn’t reliable, sometimes leaders aren’t true….we don’t know where to turn. What was described to us as a rock, has turned out to be sand (albeit a very beautiful competition level sand castle that looks quite convincing).

  14. Brad (13) first I wouldn’t call pragmatic truth as merely that which is useful. James verged towards that at times. I was much more thinking of Peirce and to a certain extent Dewey. I plan on writing on that in the future here so I’ll not bore people with a tangent down that avenue just yet. (I’ll bore folks later)

    I’m not sure I’d put things in terms of “win God’s favor” as I think the Mormon doctrine of grace (even though not usually put in that language) entails something different.

    Certainly one can get away with metaphoric truth in the mainline Protestant or to a degree Catholic traditions much more than in Mormonism. I confess I personally don’t quite see the point of that. I think all one ends up doing is having a bunch of traditional categories in which to express ones ethical views that one arrives at largely independently. It’s similar to what happened with Greek philosophy where the traditional myths and religions became allegorized and heavily reconceptualized. (Although in late antiquity there was an interesting move to make philosophy very religious with Iamblicus) Like you, I don’t quite see how this is sustainable in a Mormon context.

    I can of course completely understand those who stay because of relatives or because they just like elements of the culture. I have to admit that tithing, early morning church (I say as I missed the last two 9:00 AM church services – partially due to illness), and requirements like the Word of Wisdom are a lot to require for a metaphoric truth. But of course I’d want people to stay because I believe it is true and knowable as well. Thus the longer someone stays the more chance of obtaining a testimony.

  15. Danny K (15) I don’t quite understand why you think it can’t be under condemnation yet true and living. The metaphor I take the NT to use is that when things get too bad the Church flees into the wilderness. I don’t think they take it to mean it’s not still true, just that it’s not present in the community.

    The idea that statements are indexed to particular time and places is important. But that doesn’t mean the statement isn’t true. It just means that we have to determine if it is true. Those who say the Church is true aren’t denying that element you bring up. Rather they are saying that the Church here and now is that same Church that was restored by Joseph and that was ushered in by Jesus Christ.

  16. “I don’t think it entails infallibility or anything like that but I also think it entails something stronger than some are comfortable.”
    “I do think it entails the basic truth claims of the church are reasonably accurate.”
    “Orthodox Mormons can take their truth claims too far, and often do.”


    I have always enjoyed your insights, but I believe that you and Knight are not following what Brad is saying. Listen closely to the testimonies in F&T meeting and in Sunday School and you will see that at least among the vocal – and those nodding their head – is believe in the following.

    1) Although the Prophet as a person may not be infallible, the doctrine that he teaches is. The rational is that the Lord will not allow the Prophet to lead the Church astray.
    2) These members would find foreign the concepts of “basic truth” and “reasonably accurate” when applied to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. While acknowledging the fact that there are still precious doctrines yet to be revealed, there is nothing said by the Prophet that is not essential (i.e. no basic truth and non-basic truth categories) and it is all the mind and will of the Lord, therefore the word “reasonably” is at least superfluous if not anathema.
    3) “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. And what is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” D&C 93:24-25. All truth stands “independent”, therefore, something is either true or false, as are truth claims; they can’t be taken too far.

    It should be noted that I do not fully subscribe to any of the above three, but if “truth” be told, I enjoy associating with those who do. They pull me back from my occasional bouts with existential angst and intellectualizing and I envy how firm their foundation is, something that I once shared with them.

  17. I understand. I just disagree. I don’t think most think they are infallibility (although I bet most haven’t really considered it well). My experience teaching Sunday School and Priesthood is that people are fine with errors. Again, a little reading of Ether 12 clarifies this rather well (as does quoting various statements by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith saying the same sort of thing)

    I recognize some push the “de-facto infallibility angle” but I really strongly feel that distorts the situation.

  18. Good questions Clark. I didn’t mean to suggest that it couldn’t be “true” today, only that I find it ironic that we often use that statement by God as evidence of its truthfulness now. Like you said, it should be continually evaluated.

    Me personally, I’m much more comfortable saying that the Gospel is true, and that I’m grateful for the church that introduced me to it and provided a community that nurtured it.

    But I stand by my earlier statements, that I don’t believe we should be focusing so much on the truthfulness of the “church” or of men as we should God and His message. The church can have all sorts of relationships with God and His Message which don’t always suggest they are in alignment.

    By making that distinction, I’m not trying to suggest it is currently out of alignment. That is for each person to decide, and it is clear people already do fall on all sides of that argument. I’m suggesting that if we didn’t conflate the two, people would have a much easier time dealing with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and poor choices that church has made, is making, or will make. Kind of like this statement from George Q. Cannon:

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone, but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him. Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His saints may learn to trust in Him and not in man or any men! Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Ghost and his unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth.” (Deseret Weekly, March 7, 1891. pg. 322, No. 10 vol. XLII a Discourse by Pres. George Q. Cannon, Manti, Sanpete County on the evening of February 15, 1891)

    That’s the kind of trust I think we should be aiming for in my personal life. Let the church be whatever it is going to be, I will seek to be true to God. The pride cycle proves to be quite quick in the Nephite example, and they have massive shifts in less than 10 years. The Nephites prove the church itself is like shifting sands, while the doctrine and gospel it is supposed to be built upon stands the test of time.

  19. knightjl7,

    “Mormons who declare that ‘Mormonism has the whole truth, and other religions only have part,’ or who declare that ‘all religious truth has been restored through Joseph Smith,’ or other such various and sundry statements I have heard over the years stand in the way of truth.”

    This just isn’t right. Mormonism is founded on the idea that it has more truth about god and salvation than all other religions. According to LDS teachings, the LDS church contains all of the truths that people need to know in order to return to god, and its leaders have the proper authority to perform ordinances that will allow people to return to god. It teaches that all other religions do not teach everything that people need to know to be saved and do have proper authority. Mormon teachings make it very clear that all need to convert to the LDS church either in the mortal life or posthumously to reach the celestial kingdom and live with god.

  20. Clark,

    “Brad (13) first I wouldn’t call pragmatic truth as merely that which is useful”

    That’s beyond the point, which is that all other senses of truth that are not truth as reality appear to be of secondary concern to the core LDS membership when they say that they believe/know that the LDS church is true.

    “I’m not sure I’d put things in terms of ‘win God’s favor’ as I think the Mormon doctrine of grace…”

    OK, win god’s grace. Whatever. (I think that pretty much means the same thing as win god’s favor). But still that is beyond the main point, which is that LDS believers appear to mean truth as reality when saying that the LDS church is true. They don’t only mean truth as reliable when they say that.

  21. “It teaches that all other religions do not teach everything that people need to know to be saved and do have proper authority”

    Should read:

    “It teaches that all other religions do not teach everything that people need to know to be saved and do NOT have proper authority”


  22. Brad L (23)

    One needs more than priesthood keys in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God; one needs a pure heart and clean hands. There are truths associated with the priesthood keys and there are truths associated with the heart and hands. These truths often overlap, but are often of a different ontological kind.

    So it is, that many Mormon have the priesthood keys, but not the heart and hands of the Kingdom. Many non-Mormons have the heart and hands of the Kingdom, but not the priesthood keys. Who is in the worst position? The Mormon of course, whose truths and keys will not save him from hell. The other person will be saved through the work of the ordinances.

    One must always make this distinction. There are different kinds of truth. There are even different kinds of saving truths. To say that Mormons have them all and other religions do not is factually inaccurate. Mormons have some particular kinds of saving truths others do not, but the truths of heart, hands, and soul are universal, and in that sense Mormons might have them, but they are only revealed to those who live them, and in that sense Mormons must learn from those who do live them, regardless of their faith.

    And to make any statement that anyone in any faith has “all the truth” and even “all the saving truths” is to make a statement of sheer ignorance. Clearly, such a person has not considered truth as being, but only truth as having. Mormonism is the pearl of great price; a real game changer. And yet this pearl lies before the great and wide ocean of undiscovered truth. We know so very little.

    The Mormon view of truth is not that we possess it all. It is that we are stewards of it all, and the ones we do not possess we are to retrieve and bring them back to Zion.

  23. knightjl7, the LDS church does not claim to have all of the truth (this is clear in Article of Faith 9), but it does claim to have all of the truth that you need to know in order to be saved. Furthermore, it claims that its doctrines are true in the sense that they are a correct representation of reality and that other religions’ doctrines are distortions of reality. This idea that the LDS church regards other religions to have truths that it doesn’t have just isn’t right. What truths are these exactly? The LDS church claims that other religions are only partially true, but simply do not have all of the truth that you need to be saved.

  24. How about a more socialized account of these terms?

    While there absolutely are contradictions between the modern and Hebraic meanings of the word “true”, their meaning and social functions do not diverge all that much in the essentials. The same can be said for “knowledge”.

    “True” simply means “cannot be *legitimately* called into question” – a moral claim. While it’s possible to call anything – but not everything – into question within any culture, each culture will have its own ways of adjudicating when somebody can do so legitimately.

    For example, calling into question the moral equality of various races is absolutely forbidden in our modern culture, but this was, quite obviously, not always the case. Thus, we say it is true that “all people are created equal” – a cultural turn that was both very recent and very revolutionary. Within a scientific discipline, to take a less morally laden example, various assumptions are not allowed to be legitimately called into question until a sufficient amount of “anomalies” have built upon within the paradigm. The same can be said for our testimonies in the church. When we say that church is true, we are basically saying reinforcing the moral norm that subversive questioning of the church – especially from within the church – is immoral.

    This is closely related, but not equivalent to a claim to knowledge. When I declare my knowledge of something, I am basically placing my own status as an upstanding and honest person on the line. By so wagering my reputation and thus ruling out all attempts at justifying error with an appeal to a lack of competence, ability and (more importantly) deceit, misdirection, etc., I am essentially saying that if it turns out that I am wrong, it’s because I was lying rather than simply mistaken. This wager is by no means trivial and is directly aimed at gaining the trust of ones audience.

    In summary, to say “I know that X is true” is a communicative strategy primarily aimed at integration within some community or another. It is to say:

    1) The community can trust me
    2) I will not be neutral, let alone supportive of subversive questioning within the community.

  25. Brad L (25)

    John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 14:337-8, March 3, 1872

    “We are open for the reception of all truth, of whatever nature it may be, and are desirous to obtain and possess it. . . . If there are any good principles, any moral philosophy that we have not yet attained to, we desire to become acquainted with it. If there is any branch of philosophy calculated to promote the well being of humanity, that we have not yet grasped, we wish to possess ourselves of it. If there is anything pertaining to the rule of government of nations, or politics, if you please, that we are not acquainted with we desire to possess it. If there are any religious ideas, any theological truths, any principles pertaining to God that we have not learned, we ask mankind, and we pray God, our Heavenly Father, to enlighten our minds that we may comprehend, realize, embrace, and live up to them as part of our religious truth. Thus our ideas and thoughts would extend as far as the wide world spreads.”

    “[… Latter Day Saints] would dig into the bowels of the earth, or go to the depths of hell, if you please [to pursue truth]. They would soar after the intelligence of the Gods that dwell in the eternal worlds. They would grasp everything that is good and noble and excellent and happifying and calculated to promote the well being of the human family. There is no man or set of men who have pointed out the pathway for our feet to travel in relation to these matters. . . . A man in search of truth has no peculiar system to sustain, no peculiar dogma to defend or theory to uphold. He embraces all truth.”

  26. It is true, LDS does claim to have all the truths necessary to be saved. And technically that is correct. But saving truths come in a wide variety of applications and demonstrations which other religions may have articulated so much better than we, and other individuals have lived so much better than we. In this sense, they hold certain truths that we do not, and we are in a position of needing to learn from them on these matters.

    Religion is very often used to hide the individual from the essential and existential self. Mormons are not the exception to this rule. They are the rule. Ultimately, the doctrine of salvation is all summarized in 2 Nephi 31, and further reduced in summary in Articles of Faith 3 and 4. But here now, to come to the knowledge of how to exercise faith and repentance in any given situation is itself a kind of truth that must be learned, and there is no corner market on this truth. Mormonism embraces it, but sometimes there are other approaches that might do a better job of bringing us to the saving knowledge we need in these matters. When it comes to knowing ourselves and God, everything is on the table, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and more.

    To be honest, I cannot imagine of even thinking otherwise.

  27. “If there are any religious ideas, any theological truths, any principles pertaining to God that we have not learned, we ask mankind, and we pray God, our Heavenly Father, to enlighten our minds that we may comprehend, realize, embrace, and live up to them as part of our religious truth.”

    John Taylor suggests that he is open to the idea that there could be truths that are not already contained in LDS teachings, which the LDS church could incorporate into its body of doctrine. However, is there any example of this ever occurring? Is there any LDS doctrinal teaching that LDS leaders openly acknowledge as having come from another religion or Christian denomination and not revelation? Even if we could find such an instance (which I’m pretty sure we can’t), the main teaching of the LDS church is that other religions do not have all of the truth that people need to be saved. The LDS leaders view other religions as well-meaning but misled at best, and outright distortions at worst.

    “saving truths come in a wide variety of applications and demonstrations which other religions may have articulated so much better than we. In this sense, they hold certain truths that we do not, and we are in a position of needing to learn from them on these matters.”

    I won’t argue against your personal point of view. Yet, the issue hasn’t been your personal view, but the LDS church leaders’ and core members’. Is there any example of a high-ranking church leader conceding that some other religion holds certain truths that the LDS church does not? I get that some leaders have quoted CS Lewis and other non-LDS thinkers to make points. But you’re really taking this too far. It should be clear in any reading of core LDS teachings that other religions are either missing important truths and/or teaching falsehoods. Joseph Smith History 1:19 makes it clear that Joseph Smith heard god tell him that the creeds (at least of the churches in his environs, particularly the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches) were abominations in god’s sight. Dallin H. Oaks wrote the following: “The fashionable opinion of this age is that all churches are true. In truth, the idea that all churches are the same is the doctrine of the anti-Christ, illustrated by the Book of Mormon account of Korihor” ( He also claimed that the LDS church has the fulness of doctrine: “When Jesus Christ was upon the earth, He taught the fulness of His doctrine, which is the plan that our Heavenly Father has outlined for the eternal progress of His children. Later, many of these gospel truths were lost through being diluted by the principles or philosophies then prevailing in the world where Christianity was preached and through the manipulations of political leaders. We call this loss of the fulness of truth the Apostasy.”

    You’re entitled to have your own views on truth, but they aren’t consistent with LDS teachings.

  28. I don’t mean that you’re bad and morally wrong in that last sentence, just that the LDS leaders’ teachings about the the LDS church’s relationship to truth is different from what you are saying that it is/should be.

  29. We had a change of Bishop last week from one who believed the Church is true, and tolerated diversity, to one who knows the church is true, and that means anything that comes out of SLC is absolute, and can not be questioned. Not just the Gospel, but the conservative politics, and the hatred for evil gays, and patriachy as the eternal truth.

    It will be interesting to see how they respond to the view of religious freedom recently that we should respect other points of view. I suspect it will be reinterpreted as no change required

    In my environment (a conservative ward in Australia) saying the church is true is a statement that everything fron SLC is absolute, as is their understanding of the Gospel. There is one understanding, and very little respect for, anyone who has a different understanding.

    Diversity is not a concept that is allowed by those who KNOW the church is true.

  30. This is interesting, Clark. I see how it applies to a seed or a tent pole. But what about with respect to objects where there is less of a consensus on the essence of a thing (i.e., what it “ought to be”), for example, the church? In that case, doesn’t this definition just reframe the debate from one concerning the meaning of the term “true” to one concerning the question of the church’s essence?

  31. I would hesitate to generalize on what members (and their children) mean when they say “I know the Church is true.” Some have thought about what they mean. Some seem not to have considered either what they mean or what they are conveying to the listener. I appreciate the variety of explanations posted. As an adolescent the phrase gave me no end of difficulty and existential crises because I didn’t “know the Church was true” and no one in my circle of awareness attempted any explanation of what they were talking about. Now we regularly have children as young as 3 years old “bearing testimony” on fast Sunday that “I know the Church is true.” It sometimes seems as if what they meant was “I love pleasing my mother by getting up here and being cute while repeating words I’ve heard. Oh, and by the way, I love the attention from all of you.” From some of the young teenagers it seems to mean “I have had a positive emotional or spiritual experience in connection with my Church activities.” From some of almost any age, it seems to mean “I hereby declare my allegiance to the Church in the form of a stock phrase commonly used for that purpose without much thought as to its content.” Each of these has its value (to some). Each is incredibly confusing to some, hopefully few, others. One of the most moving testimonies I have heard was from a BYU professor, then a counselor in my bishopric, who went on at some length about what he believed and why without ever once saying “I know …” Some of us respond well to thoughtfulness. Some respond well to the familiarity of stock phrases.

    Incidentally, over the years, there have been numerous times when the Church (through its general and local leaders) has not been reliable. E.g., Apostle Richards’ promises to late handcart companies about weather and safety. Substituting the word “reliable” for “true” doesn’t solve the problem that both thought and explanation are needed. (I don’t suppose Clark thought it did.)

  32. JR (33) I certainly agree different people mean different things and, cynic that I am, I suspect many saying they know don’t actually know. (Certainly I think that’s he case with young children who typically are just mimicking what they see adults doing)

    Regarding reliable, I think we have to be careful implying reliability entails 100% reliability. I think that’s an unfair standard to expect. I’m a fallibilist so I think everyone screws up occasionally, even on things they’re relatively confident about. Often you get something at 80% reliability and that’s pretty good so long as you have systems in place to correct for screwups. Now we can talk about things like six ? reliability but that only makes sense in highly automated settings with

    zig (32) Hazony goes after these other types of objects in the second half of his book. He argues there’s a coherent epistemology in the Old Testament. I confess that part of the book is far, far less persuasive and tends to be the more controversial part. (If only because Hazony doesn’t really engage with the idea that there are lots of different views)

    His argument is roughly that we’re always seeking truth but are highly fallible. (You can see how this has echoes of pragmatism) Necessarily this means there’s a lifelong search for truth. Hazony is also controversial here as he sees this as primarily done by human reason unaided by revelation. He thinks (following some exegesis of Jeremiah) that the data is there empirically and we need only search. He quotes Proverbs

    Wisdom cries aloud in the street. She sounds her voice in the squares. She cries in the chief place of the concourse, at the entrances to the city gates, in the city she speaks her message: “… I have called and you refused. I have stretched out my hand and none regarded.” (Prod 1:20-14)

    To Hazony this implies wisdom is there for the taking. He quotes several other passages to lead to this conclusion that “the biblical authors appeal to arguments based on experience that is available to all Israel and to all men, whereas fools are consistently said to be those who pay no heed to the counsel of experience”

    While I think there’s an element of truth to what Hazony says, I clearly think he pushes it too far.

    To your larger point, I tend to agree that inquiry requires us to be somewhat skeptical of essences in terms of a simple engagement with how things appear to us. Things rarely are quite like they appear, although in a loose sense with everyday objects that’s probably less of an issue. The idea is that especially in scripture the terms we use to talk about objects have a reasonable practical connection. Things like roads, ropes, tent poles, and so forth. In our daily life today with all our sophistication and technology I think things are more complex. However you can imagine for a primitive people with very few types of objects things were quite a bit simpler.

    So I’m not saying we should follow this way of speaking everywhere. For all its flaws, I think the approach modernism gave us is extremely useful. I’m more just trying to explain how it is used and why that’s relevant when we read the scriptures.

  33. True Blue (31) I’d be careful overgeneralizing. I think that what comes out of SLC should be given the benefit of doubt, which I think many don’t want to do. Authority often means the right to be wrong. That is leadership may make mistakes (although you and I might disagree with what is a mistake) but within reason I think they have the right to make those mistakes. But those questions of authority seem somewhat orthogonal and definitely tangental to this discussion.

    Brad (29) I think all GAs acknowledge there are truths we don’t have. (Indeed isn’t that one of our articles of faith?) I think it pretty clear that some ideas come from human reason. I think they earnestly try to keep separate what’s relatively clear revelation and what’s more human attempts to look at implications or understand the revelations. As for “openly acknowledge” I think often footnotes are given although sometimes in older works you don’t have them. But I do agree that in terms of the key doctrines necessary for salvation we have them. I don’t see that as a terribly controversial claim in the church. I can understand why that might annoy people, but I’m not sure it should.

    Is there any example of a high-ranking church leader conceding that some other religion holds certain truths that the LDS church does not?

    Brigham Young certainly did and that was repeated in the recent PH manual.

    It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion (DBY, 248).

    Joseph Fielding Smith was rather enamored of certain Seventh Day Adventist apologetics and quoted from them extensively. (Although personally I don’t see that as a good thing in that case as I thought they were bad apologetics and worse doctrine) That material was still (unfortunately) in the OT Institute Manual although I don’t know if that’s changed the last 10 years or not. This old T&S post goes through some of that (in the comments). Quoting from David Bailey’s article “Mormonism and the New Creationism

    “In the 1920s, LDS Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith became enamored with [Seventh-Day Adventist] Price’s writings. He was particularly impressed by Price’s syllogism, ‘No Adam, no fall; no fall, no atonement; no atonement, no savior.’ He corresponded with Price, encouraging him in his efforts to defeat evolution, and then began writing a manuscript laying out what he regarded as the LDS case against evolution.

    “In 1931 a dispute arose between LDS leaders Joseph Fielding Smith, Brigham H. Roberts and James E. Talmage. Smith wanted to publish his anti-evolution manuscript, but Roberts wanted to publish his own manuscript, which acknowledged a conventional old-earth view and the existence of ‘pre-Adamites.’ In the course of these discussions, Smith promoted Price’s book The New Geology. Talmage, as a degreed geologist, recognized the strength of evidence for modern geology and biology. While a student at Johns Hopkins University, he had written in his journal that he could see no reason ‘why the evolution of animal bodies cannot be true.’ As a result, he was highly skeptical of Price’s work, but lacking time to investigate he wrote to his son Sterling Talmage, a professor of geology and mineralogy at the New Mexico School of Mines.

    There are lots of other examples one could provide. Although I confess I don’t quite understand why you dismiss C S Lewis who I think is a good example that goes beyond merely being a good source for quotes.

    But to your main point, I certainly concede the Church considers other faiths to be missing key doctrines. Again I don’t see that as even controversial. I don’t see how that invalidates anything I wrote. You are claiming a different view or “relationship” to truth between me and the brethren. I confess I just don’t see it. But maybe I’m just missing exactly what you are asserting. To me the following are all true:

    1. There set of propositions, P, the church believes are true and that they have great confidence in are generally true
    2. We are fallible so there are some propositions, p, in P that are false
    3. We don’t know which p in P are false and we think most are true, therefore we take any p in P as true unless shown otherwise
    4. For the set of propositions O held confidently in other religions many are true
    5. There are some propositions, o in O that are not in P

    Now I think since the 80’s the Church has tried to be more cautious about what it claims as P. So things that would have been claimed as confident teachings has shrunk somewhat. We may still believe these other doctrines but are more open to being wrong on them. (I think a lot of statements by Joseph in the King Follet Discourse or Sermon in the Grove are in that category)

  34. I’ll probably lets some of the other tangents drop out for future posts. I’ve written too much already. Quickly though.

    Brad (22) I don’t think you are keeping clear what members properly mean when they say the Church is true versus what they think are implications of that belief. This is leading you to conflate different issues. Unfortunately I’d agree that type of conflation isn’t uncommon in the church, so I think you have a bit of a point. But I think the error is really just a logical one of keeping inferences from a claim separate from the claim itself.

    It seems true at least some members think most of what the brethren present is true. Heck, I think that. I don’t think that’s what people mean by the Church is True – as evidenced by most people actually not being thrown off when something isn’t true that they believed. Now of course some do. But really I think that’s quite a different issue. Further I think the people making that connection are simply wrong. But I suspect you and I differ greatly over how common that is.

    My point of evidence is that few seemed to have cared when Bruce R. McConkie said to stop believing the things he’d said about blacks and the priesthood and that he was wrong. While I was rather young at the time, I just don’t see people particularly caring that somethings they’d held as true (largely on the basis of McConkie’s writings) weren’t. Although I think it was very wise in the early 90’s for the Church to start drawing better boundaries, being more conservative in what was presented, and doing what they could to drop the significance of McConkie’s writings as normative Church theology.

    To grace, I don’t think winning God’s grace applies either. We can accept/use God’s grace but it’s always being given and is always already given before we take hold of it. This isn’t a small issue but is actually very important.

    What you’re trying to say is that most people when they say “the Church is true” means “everything said by leaders in the church is true.” I just think that a false claim.

  35. Interesting thoughts, Clark. Sorry I don’t have time to wade through all the comments, but it occurs to me that the main problem with “true” is that the word can have all sorts of meanings. It’s a very imprecise word. The meaning most Mormons are aiming at, I suppose, is that the Church is the only approved one, which creates an us vs. them mentality that has caused us all sorts of grief over the years. What they mean by saying the Book of Mormon is true is a little more tricky, but I think what they intend is that the book is an accurate record of a people that really did exist when the book says they existed.

    On the tent peg analogy, the point that the tent peg is an inert object and doesn’t “do” anything is a great point. And most often when a tent peg doesn’t “do” what it should, it’s not because the tent peg isn’t “true.” It’s because the tent user pounded the peg into weak soil or put it in the wrong place. There’s maybe a good lesson here for all of us. The Church, an inert object, doesn’t really “do” anything. We, as members and leaders, use the Church for various purposes, and when the Church comes up short, it isn’t the organization’s fault. It’s generally the fault of some leader, who, perhaps, declares a doctrine (such as that blacks can’t be ordained to priesthood offices) that causes the organization to not serve its purpose. Of course, this happens all the time, but we’re afraid to suggest that a leader (especially a general Church leader) could possibly make a mistake, and so we go through all sorts of contortions trying to explain away obvious errors made by humans in their use of the Church as a tool of salvation. We really need to get over this whole cultural program of de facto infallibility that we have put in place.

  36. Brad L (30)
    Brad, I’m not offended. You and I see things very differently, and we are coming to different conclusions as a result. The truth is there are many quotations in General Conference from non-Mormon sources used to make a particular point of the gospel. Over the years we have heard from C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Mother Teresa, D. Bonhoeffer, and others. They are used to illustrate points in the gospel that are particularly displayed by these people or circumstances. This is rather obvious. Do these non-LDS have saving truths to offer? Yes. That is rather obvious as well. Does this change the fact that the LDS truth claim of priesthood keys is essential for salvation, and that the LDS members are the people who carry it? No.

    On a more epistemological thought. The worst thing that can happen to a culture pursuing truth is an echo chamber. Sameness eventually reduces knowledge. This is why, imo, the LDS print industry has become a wasteland of thought. We write in circular patterns quoting Ensign articles and manuals endlessly. There is a sort of de facto attitude of knowledge and truth that has resulted; it has not reached into the highest heavens nor has it sojourned to the lowest hells, but rather it has circumambulated around itself. The end result of this is a “gospel-speak” that brings weariness for some and fundamentalism for others. In the end, without breaking out of this pattern, even the parables of Jesus become a faithful and zealous decay of an idea.

    Truth is revitalized by otherness. Our understanding of ourselves, god, and the universe is enriched and enlivened by otherness. Yes, falsehood also comes that way, but falsehood comes from sameness as well. Living revelation is predicated on the idea that there is much more to know. How that revelation is received can often be dependent on a network of relations and knowledge utterly dependent on “outside sources.” For the truth seeker, and for the one yearning for salvation, every truth is on the table, and even every tradition claiming to have truth.

    I don’t think either of us can convince the other, so I will respectfully just say we disagree and leave it at that. I personally believe in the LDS truth claim of priesthood and revelation, just as I personally know that any person or organization that declares they have all truth is absurd, and should not be trusted. For me, the LDS Church claims to have just enough truth to make it work (aka the priesthood keys and ordinances and knowledge of God). I do not believe the LDS truth claim is that it holds all truth, or for that matter, all the truth any given individual might need in order to be saved. Some people, in order to properly understand the truth claims of the LDS Church, have to travel a road where pieces of truth on the outside are required to comprehend the saving truths the LDS offers. The road is straight and narrow not because it has been correlated into a unified truth. The road is straight and narrow because it carries only two feet at a time, and the individual who seeks out God will find God, though the path may be far outside our own radars.

    Well, god bless. You can respond and I will read, but I think I will end the debate here. Besides, its time for my daily Buddhist style meditations. “)

  37. Clark, for all of the space that you have taken to respond to my comments, I am a bit dismayed that you have not read them very carefully. I did not dismiss CS Lewis, I acknowledged that the LDS leaders quote him because of his powers of articulation. That said, they have never promoted CS Lewis as a source for doctrine and truth that the LDS church doesn’t already have. Second, I have clearly acknowledged that the LDS leaders do not claim the LDS church to have all truth. They clearly believe that more truth can be revealed. The point is that there is no piece of LDS doctrine that leaders are acknowledging to have come from another religious group, even if they claim to be open to the idea of some truth coming from them. LDS leaders consulted other religious thinkers for approaches to articulating ideas, such as anti-evolutionism, but they have not ever claimed to have consulted them as a source for doctrine.

    It appears that you generally agree with my points. I don’t find them particularly controversial. But you appear to keep pushing back and trying to nuance them, which suggests that they do not fully sit well with you.

  38. knightjl7,

    “I do not believe the LDS truth claim is that it holds all truth, or for that matter, all the truth any given individual might need in order to be saved.”

    You are completely misrepresenting the LDS leaders’ teachings about truth. It specifically claims that it contains all of the truth that a person needs in order to be saved. I have acknowledged that it claims not to hold all truth, so that is beyond the point.

  39. But I agreed that they say it contains everything we need right now. I’ve said that several times.

    Regarding Lewis, you acknowledge him for articulation but it seems like you want to have other people as a source for doctrine. So I think I read you correctly. The problem is that even if one finds truth in an other tradition one has to discern that it is truth. So you are (to my mind) conflating issues of discovery with issues of justification. Even if someone thinks they’ve discovered a truth in an other tradition whether correctly or incorrectly it has to be grounded in communication with God. Joseph Smith was a great example of that as he studied Hebrew and Greek and apparently in Nauvoo read reasonably widely.

    My issues are not so much that your claims don’t sit well. As I said I think on a lot we agree. It’s just that I think you are relating them in ways I’m not sure are correct by neglecting the difference between a claim and inferences from that claim or the difference between articulating or presenting a claim as contrasted with why we believe a claim. I think there are solid important reasons to keep those distinct.

  40. Wally (37) I think it’s important to be clear in how we use words. When we read texts, I think it’s important to try and discern how others are using words. You’re completely correct that how truth is used varies. But even when it’s used fairly consistently as in say our western tradition since Descartes, there are still different theories of truth. (It’s debatable how much difference in practice these different theories make for day to day use of course)

    Brad (various) Rereading my comments, I think those distinctions are what I’m after. I think we have historically found truth in many places including religious truths. How those get grounded and accepted though really differs. The reason I think you dismissed the use of Lewis is that I think individual brethren have gotten ideas from Lewis. It’s just that they don’t say they believe they are true because Lewis wrote them. So I think that epistemological issue of what grounds of justification apply to a belief are unrelated with how we discover or even initially believe a truth. I’d add a second point of what counts as a religious belief. So for instance I think among Mormon intellectuals (including GAs) most believe the Book of Mormon took place in mesoAmerica. Is that a religious belief? If so, it certainly it came from non-revelatory sources. However for it to be justified (barring some discovery of unambiguous Nephite evidence) requires something else.

  41. Clark,

    “It’s just that I think you are relating them in ways I’m not sure are correct by neglecting the difference between a claim and inferences from that claim or the difference between articulating or presenting a claim as contrasted with why we believe a claim.”

    You really lost me with this sentence. To reiterate, I’m not making a case for the origins of LDS doctrine, I’m trying to say what the best representation is of how LDS leaders see and explain the origins of LDS doctrine/truth.

    1) When LDS leaders say something is true, they mostly mean true in the sense that it really exists or reflects reality. Joseph is prophet because he really communicated with god, the church is true because god really gave John the Baptist the Aaronic priesthood and Peter, James, and John the Melchizedek Priesthood who actually appeared to Joseph Smith to give him those priesthoods (these claims of apparition are not meant metaphorically in the least). When the leaders say the church is true, they also mean that contains correct teachings about the nature of god and what is needed to be saved.

    2) LDS leaders claim that all doctrinal truths taught in the LDS church have come from divine revelation to Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets. They do not claim that the doctrinal truths are coming from another religious tradition. They claim that Joseph Smith restored by revelation true information about god and salvation that had been lost. While they may occasionally reference quotes and ideas of other non-LDS thinkers, they do not point to them as sources of truth/doctrine that the LDS church does not already contain.

  42. Wally,

    “The Church, an inert object, doesn’t really “do” anything.”

    The church is a social organization with stated aims and beliefs. It is not an inert object. The tent peg analogy just doesn’t work.

    “when the Church comes up short, it isn’t the organization’s fault. It’s generally the fault of some leader…”

    The church is the sum of its leaders’ beliefs, actions, and positions. To say that the LDS church came up short is to say that the LDS leaders came up short. It is one thing if only one or a couple of leaders said misleading information. But for a sizable percentage of the highest ranking LDS leaders to repeatedly say misleading information is the fault of the organization.

  43. The tent peg analogy isn’t an analogy. It’s an example of the Hebrew use of true that gets obscured a little in the KJV translation. At least as I used it. (And I was just following Hazony) Again the Hebrews didn’t make as clean a break between things and their representations as we do. So how a thing seems ends up determining whether it is true or not. If what it seems to be ends up being how over time it shows itself to be then it’s true. Otherwise it’s false.

    I would say that the Church isn’t just the sum of leaders beliefs and actions. But that’s really getting far afield now. If that’s what you meant earlier my apologies for misunderstanding.

    When people say something is true in our culture typically (although not always) they are simply reflecting common usage in this modern era of true. So I certainly agree there. We can debate what is or isn’t official doctrine of course. I think it ends up being a little fuzzy when one looks closely. Even with dogmatic examples like McConkie.

  44. “The phrase “I know” is used wrong most of the time in bearing testimony. We use the phrase in the sense of having an exact knowledge of it but in truth we only “believe” it is true.”

    Rob, you realize when you make that statement you’re only speaking of yourself, which makes your knowing assertion about what others know more of a falsehood than the truth-knowers you’re writing about.

    Case in point, before I had a profound experience* I will not share in public or private, I would have exactly agreed with your statement and suggestion that when others say “know” they really mean believe. But now I see that was a reflection of myself in their shoes (“surely they don’t know,” we say, “they just strongly believe our hope it, like me”).

    *I won’t share the experience, but the events leading up to the experience occurred exactly how the prophets testify: living faithfully, temple, tithing, significant sacrifice for others (financially and time), scriptures, prayer in heart always, magnifying your callings, turning away from unrighteous distractions in “free time” with uplifting hymns or conference, looking to the Lord’s servants as every word from God, feasting on their words (I used to hate that phrase) to the point of voraciously reading and listening to not only their words but the words of those that the apostles themselves look to in becoming who they are (scriptures, older authorities), not disputing their words while asking and pondering hard questions from a faithful perspective over a decade and continually praying and seeking and pondering earnestly over them while in the temple. The short way of describing that might be to “live a consecrated life”.

    After having “done” all that (it’s not a checklist to be completed, but just an attempted description of a lifestyle) I had an experience in the midst of a direct question-focused prayer too sacred to share.

    So, I came to the conclusion from my own experience that I can’t so easily discount what others say they “know”, especially if they appear to be living and acting in a way the prophets continually exhort us to. How can I discount others so easily when I myself claim to be the recipient of knowledge in exactly the way church authorities and scripture says we’ll get it?

    At the same time, I can see that those who are advocating a more modern progressive approach to the gospel are simply and tragically ‘doing it wrong’ (this doesn’t mean they’re wrong on service, immigration, placing others first etc) but just that when they even gently attempt to line up in soft opposition to the leading authorities of the church (recent baptism, marriage, morality, proper role of government, etc) they are divorcing themselves from the apostle taught method that brought me to my own revelation. Yes we can say we just follow different paths and that’s OK, but when my experience just happened to be (to the best of my ability) mirroring what the apostles talk about all the time, I can’t dismiss the fact that many faithful members are nevertheless “doing it wrong”.

  45. Exactly how sure we have to be to know is largely a semantic issue although it has some obvious philosophical aspects as well. Descartes thought knowledge was a certain kind of Indubitability. Knowledge to be knowledge had to be built up out of these pieces of absolute certainty. I think few follow that kind of foundational epistemology anymore.

    In day to day life we say we know things we aren’t certain of. It seems erroneous to expect religious knowledge to be different.

  46. When I was younger (especially right after my mission), I understood the expected progression of testimony to be from less to more certainty, from less knowledge to more sure knowledge. This while living the gospel and studying the scriptures. For me, it has been quite different, from more certainty to less about many things that many of you have defined as “core.” If you want, you can assume that it must be because I’m not studying or praying enough or living consecrated in the proper way, but I personally don’t think so, as I have continued all these things. It’s just been a very different trajectory of testimony than I had ever anticipated. I wouldn’t change it. May I suggest being open to different types of testimony and that you many not necessarily know what the correct or “sustainable” kind of knowing/testimony is for others.

  47. Joseph, I think everyone’s testimony shifts and slides. There are things I was confident of when young I’m not now and things I didn’t know when young that I know fervently now. Part of that is I think that when we remember we transform. Thus experiences that were very persuasive to us when younger are completely different experiences when we remember them now. This is why I think it’s not enough to have known. The process of coming to know must continually be repeated.

    I’m certainly not in the least interested in critiquing someone’s testimony. That to me seems fundamentally wrong. I’m more just interested in this post with how we speak about it. That is my focus is more on the semantics. Although the aspect of remembering as it is tied to a testimony seems undeniably interesting.

  48. Nice! Thanks. The phrase “truthful to” is epistemologically and ethically more demanding than the phrase “truth.” It demands more of our relationship to the world and its specifics than could any claim to verity.

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