Comer: How can Latter-day Saints say they know the church is true?
Ryan Comer, Standard-Examiner
One of my wife Shannon’s favorite movies was “Enchanted.” She loved the movie so much that one of the songs included on the soundtrack was her cellphone ringtone. You might know the song she adored so much. It starts:
“How does she know you love her? How does she know she’s yours?”
I’m grateful that I am writing this and not speaking it so that I don’t feel compelled to try to sing those lyrics. Nobody would want that.
In the religious context, what someone knows and how they can confidently assert that they know something is the source of much debate. Can someone really say they know that God exists and that Jesus Christ is their savior and redeemer? Can a Latter-day Saint really say they know that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and restored Jesus Christ’s church on the earth, thus making The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today? How can anyone say they know these things, like they might say they know the sky is blue or that grass is green?
Acknowledging the difficulty in knowing during an address titled “‘Lord, I Believe'” at the April 2013 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church spoke of a 14-year-old boy he encountered who “hesitantly” told him, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the church is true, but I believe it is.” That was enough for Elder Holland.
“I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out,” he said. “I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for ‘only believing.'”
But, Elder Holland, never one to equivocate on his own personal witness, then made it clear what he knows.
“I know that God is at all times and in all ways and in all circumstances our loving, forgiving Father in heaven. I know Jesus was His only perfect child, whose life was given lovingly by the will of both the Father and the Son for the redemption of all the rest of us who are not perfect. I know He rose from that death to live again, and because He did, you and I will also. I know that Joseph Smith, who acknowledged that he wasn’t perfect, was nevertheless the chosen instrument in God’s hand to restore the everlasting gospel to the earth. I also know that in doing so — particularly through translating the Book of Mormon — he has taught me more of God’s love, of Christ’s divinity and of priesthood power than any other prophet of whom I have ever read, known or heard in a lifetime of seeking. I know that President Thomas S. Monson, who moves devotedly and buoyantly toward the 50th anniversary of his ordination as an Apostle, is the rightful successor to that prophetic mantle today. We have seen that mantle upon him again in this conference. I know that 14 other men whom you sustain as prophets, seers and revelators sustain him with their hands, their hearts and their own apostolic keys.
“These things I declare to you with the conviction Peter called the ‘more sure word of prophecy.'”
But, the question remains. How does one really know what is true?
In order to better answer this question, I would like to take a look at a dictionary definition of the word “know.” Typing “to know definition” into Google yields a result that says, “be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information.” I would like to look at each of those factors to show how I personally have come to be able to say I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed Christ’s church on earth.
1. Observation — Over the years, I have observed countless members of the church and how they behave. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:20. Latter-day Saints willingly expend time and energy in order to participate in church callings and responsibilities, and they do so without getting paid. When I was a teenager, I remember an instance where I needed to renew my temple recommend. Following church one Sunday, I called to set up an appointment, and the ensuing Tuesday night, the bishop met with me to conduct the interview. Every temple recommend interview that I or any other member of the church has gone through has been one that a church leader did not have to make time for. That leader chose to make time for that because he wanted to serve the Lord.
A short time after I started in the Scouting program as a youth, I decided to quit. It wasn’t enjoyable and I could not see how it would benefit me to be an Eagle Scout. I also noticed other kids my age not participating and thought that it just wasn’t very cool. A couple of years later, I went to an activity at the local church building one night. After the activity ended, I went into the room where the Scout meeting was taking place. The room was filled with kids who were younger than me and they were all very energetic about the progress they had been making. I remember feeling embarrassed as I realized that these kids seemed to have something I didn’t and I was missing out. In that moment, I decided that I wanted to become an Eagle Scout. It was awkward starting from the very beginning when so many kids around me, who were younger than me, were so far ahead of me, but I was committed. How grateful I was for the Scout leaders, who were not there for any other reason other than they were called to that position and were willing to serve, who encouraged and supported me. At no moment did I feel like I was wasting their time, nor did I feel like they were judging me. I was simply someone who had joined the ranks and they wanted to help.
As I have gotten older, I have realized that this kind of love and sacrifice is not common in the world. Yet it is the norm, not the exception, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2. Inquiry — I remember going through a time during my high school years when I felt frustrated because of questions I had regarding certain points of doctrine and history related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I could not feel satisfied not having answers I felt were acceptable, so I scoured the internet for any sort of explanations I could find. I felt very fortunate to come across a website by a member of the church dedicated to answering in great detail as many questions as possible. Some answers were easier to understand than others, but I remember having the distinct feeling that even if I didn’t completely understand, he did, and because he had done the work of studying and was satisfied, I could be satisfied as well. I remember pressing church leaders on certain questions that I had, and in each situation as they responded, the result was the same. I felt that these were good and honorable men, and I trusted their wisdom and judgment. Most of all, I felt their testimony. Over the years, I have found that I have never encountered a question about church doctrine or history that I cannot find an acceptable explanation for. Those answers haven’t always come quickly. A couple of years ago, I was studying in the Book of Mormon and “Doctrine and Covenants” and I was able to realize an answer to a question that I had not been able to answer to my satisfaction since I was a teenager. This is a crucial point. Just because an initial inquiry doesn’t yield a satisfactory answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one and that it won’t come. It can come, but it may take time, even years. I learned to be OK with that, and eventually, I received an answer to a difficult question.
3. Information — My confidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints really is Christ’s church on the earth today is impacted greatly by the information that I have learned over the years. Tad R. Callister, former Sunday School general president of the church, has given two exceptional speeches, one at a BYU devotional titled “The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?” and one at a CES devotional for young adults titled “What is the Blueprint of Christ’s Church?” I have watched both and been thoroughly impressed with the information presented and the conclusions drawn. I would be hard pressed to say the case for the truthfulness of the church has ever been as clearly and convincingly made as in those two talks. I recently binge listened to the three available volumes of the “Saints” series produced by the church. The depth of the information presented regarding church history, even some of the more sensitive topics that members don’t like to focus a lot of attention on, was eye-opening. I must say, for all the attacks against the church because of its history, I came away from learning the history with an even greater appreciation and testimony of the church. The experiences and testimonies shared in the series are truly faith-solidifying.
In all of this, the influence of the Holy Ghost cannot be diminished. Yes, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints give a lot of weight to their emotions and feelings, but that is how we feel the Holy Ghost communicating with us. In each of the last two weeks at church, I have heard someone choke up while sharing their testimony of a gospel principle. These people were speaking clearly without any tears hindering their ability to provide their message, and then as they were about to share a particular truth, the emotions became visible and they struggled to get the words out. Each time, I felt the spirit confirm to me that these were people who truly knew what they were saying was the truth. One can mock a truly converted Latter-day Saint to no end, but none of it will ever remove the feeling of the spirit they know they have felt confirming the gospel truths they have learned. I have felt that spirit myself on many occasions, too numerous to count.
In conclusion, here are some remarks provided by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in an address titled “Testimony” at the April 2008 general conference of the church:
“The idea that all important knowledge is based on scientific evidence is simply untrue.
“While there are some ‘evidences’ for gospel truths (for example, see Psalm 19:1; Helaman 8:24), scientific methods will not yield spiritual knowledge. This is what Jesus taught in response to Simon Peter’s testimony that he was the Christ: ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17). The Apostle Paul explained this. In a letter to the Corinthian Saints, he said, ‘The things of God knoweth no man, but (by) the Spirit of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:11; see also John 14:17)
“In contrast, we know the things of man by the ways of man, but ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ (1 Corinthians 2:14) …
“When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods.”
Can a Latter-day Saint accurately say they know the church they belong to is the church of Jesus Christ? For all the reasons I have discussed and even more I haven’t, I know they can. I know I can.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388.