Last night I knelt in prayer with my oldest son as we often do before bed. After concluding his prayer with an amen he turned to me and asked, “Mom, how do you know the Church is true?” I felt myself bristle at the phrasing he used but reminded myself, that while I dislike the cultural usage of that turn of phrase, he was asking me a very important question and this wasn’t the time for a semantics lesson. Luckily, I felt prepared for this conversation since it has been on my mind recently and I answered him something similar to what I will tell you now.
I said, “Son, words have meaning, often more than one. Are you asking me about what I have a testimony of?” He nodded. “My testimony is built on three things. One, I believe that Jesus is the son of God who sacrificed himself for us so that we can return to live with our Heavenly Father. Two, my belief in Jesus Christ has lead me to believe in the Book of Mormon because it, like the bible testifies of who he is. Third, because I believe in the Book of Mormon, I believe in the claims of Joseph Smith, that he was a prophet and that he held the priesthood power that was restored to him. And because I believe the teachings of Joseph Smith I believe that we have a prophet today.”
After this brief explanation we talked a little more, hugged good night, and we both went off to bed; yet I couldn’t stop thinking about his question and the questions it brought up when I thought about my initial reaction. I have been thinking a lot about semantics (or the meaning of words and the changes they undergo), in the context of our modern religious vocabulary within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been focusing on what words I use in my own testimony and how consciously choosing my words has changed my testimony for the better. Specifically I want to look at the phrase, “I know the church is true.”
I Know the Church is True- What Does That Really Mean?
Let me state categorically, I am not trying to demean or belittle this profound statement of belief. I myself have used this phrase for the better part of my life. It actually wasn’t until recent years I began to hear it in a new way. Like I explained to my son, words have meaning. Taken out of context this phrase could actually mean a lot of things. Here are some examples of the same phrase but the alternate meanings of the word true have been inserted as place holders.
- “I know the church conforms to reality” (true description)
- “I know the church is consistent” (true to character)
- “I know the church is formed to function accurately” (corners are true, or right angles)
- “I know the church is aligned with the earth axis” (true north)
- “I know the church is fulfilled” (dream come true)
While most of these alternate definitions work, they don’t encompass the meaning I want to express. In the past when I have said “I know the church is true” what I was trying to communicate is that I feel God is real, he loves us, and that the organization that we are members of is founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ. While this is understood by the membership when it’s used during our fast and testimony meetings, hearing the words “I know the church is true” repeated over and over might be confusing for a visitor. To a person not familiar with our vernacular this strong declaration holds no specific definition and becomes at best a point of confusion, at worst an opportunity to take offense. Additionally it testifies of the organization, not God. While this is 100% Christ’s church, I have come to believe that my testimony should first and foremost state my belief in God and his son Jesus Christ and not just the modern organization that he stands at the head of. He is so much more than that, and I want my testimony to be evidence to all of his divinity.
I suggest that instead of using the common nomenclature of our sect, let’s make our testimonies more robust by finding our own personal wording. How much more powerful would our fast and testimony meetings be if we all said in our own heartfelt words exactly what “I know the church is true” means to us? A testimony is such a deep and personal witness. I worry that when we try to conform our unique understanding of God to a set of commonly used phrases we sacrifice depth for conformity.
In a court of law there are various types of witnesses. An eye witness shows the simplicity of what they saw in relation to an event. A character witness testifies to behavior of the person(s) involved; their words holding value because they generally have a history and many personal experience that back up their claims. Finally, there are expert witnesses who have special knowledge regarding a specific fact(s) of a case. I want my testimony, my personal witness of Christ to be all of these things! I feel that by unpacking the common six word phrase “I know the church is true” my testimony now includes so much more meaning. It gives me the freedom to express myself more fully. So, here it goes. Here’s my testimony version 2.0.
I have a testimony that God lives. I believe in Christ. He is the son of God, the creator of all things. He is the light I look to to lead me safely home. He has been there for me in times of trouble. When I have been scared, alone, or lost in doubt he has sent the Holy Ghost to comfort me. He has walked with me through my times of trouble and forgiven me of my sins when I have humbly asked for forgiveness. Because I felt him near time and time again, when I read the testimony of Joseph Smith I can’t help but believe his words. God has answered my prayers too, so it is logical for me that he would answer the prayer of a 14 year old boy who just wanted to know. I too want to know. I too need the love of my Heavenly Father and I find it when I pray, read the Book of Mormon and the Bible. How could I miss it? It has come to affect every part of my soul. How grateful I am that God has seen fit to provide us this church and a prophet in our modern day. I am continually in awe of his great mercy and love. Most of all, I believe that by keeping the covenants I have made the great promises of God are sure. This is my testimony, that we can trust Him, that he is real, and that knowing that much can make all the difference. Amen.
Additionally, please read “The Body of Christ” by Adam Miller from the Times and Seasons blog. I love his perspective. It is far better written then my own and worth sharing with everyone.