I Know the Church is True: Part 2
Click here to read Part 1 of this post.
By Bob Dixon
“I know the church is true”.
This is a really dangerous phrase. Why? Because it appears to communicate truth, while in reality being completely subjective to the person hearing it. It thus creates a misunderstanding between two people underneath the veneer of apparent agreement.
Taken literally it can’t really be correct, because churches are composed of fallible men and women. They can never be 100% true. Without clarification the phrase “I know the church is true” is almost meaningless.
My previous post was about my own experience with the idea of the church being “true”, so I thought I would unpack at least what *I* mean by the church being “true”.
Mormonism is many things to many people. For most people I think the bedrock of Mormonism is the restoration of priesthood authority. Jesus is often obscured by leaders and callings and programs and meetings and the rhythm of being an active Mormon, which seems to mean being always on the go.
To me the bedrock of Mormonism is the principle of personal revelation, as exemplified in the story of Joseph Smith’s first vision. A fourteen year old boy had sincere theological questions, took them to God, and got answers. This single event, regardless of which set of historical facts about it that you believe, completely changes the paradigm of religion. Before, you needed someone to approach God for you. Joseph Smith’s vision teaches that we can trust God to speak for himself. We don’t need seminary trained pastors, or even seminary teachers or church leaders, to tell us what the scriptures mean. We can read for ourselves and pray and expect to get answers. No longer do fallible men and women with their own agendas stand between us and God.
Compare this idea to how most Christian bodies are governed. Even non-denominational Christian churches generally claim the Bible as their authority, using phrases like “Sola Scriptura”, or “the bible alone”. But do they really mean that? Consider just one doctrine, that of the Trinity. The word “trinity” is found nowhere in the Bible. In my own opinion you can argue the nature of the Godhead many different ways depending on which verses you choose to take out of context. Jesus himself has no precise statements on the specific nature of the Godhead, other than phrases like “the Father and I are one”, while using a similar expression to refer to the disciples being one, from John 17:10 – 12. The core doctrines of virtually all Christian churches outside Mormonism don’t come directly from the Bible, but from four centuries of church councils that codify the official interpretation of what the Bible actually says through things like the Nicene Creed. When Christians refer to the Bible as being “inerrant”, what they really mean is that the opinions of men over 1600 years ago about what it says are inerrant, rather than the text itself. The thinking has been done by others already. Any idea to the contrary is heresy and not up for discussion.
My own view is that our own perception of the gospel is by nature imperfect, like trying to use a crude wooden ruler to measure precisely machined surfaces. Our understanding at any time can only be a rough approximation of the truth about God, because we are finite and God is infinite. The creation can never exceed the understanding of the Creator.
I think Joseph Smith understood this quite well, because his understanding of God was constantly evolving, from the earliest recorded version of the first vision story in 1832 to the King Follett sermon. His understanding of God’s will for the saints was constantly evolving, from the basically orthodox Christianity expressed in the Book of Mormon through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage necessary for exaltation expressed in D&C 132, by which of course I mean polygamy and not merely temple marriage.
I don’t think God will ever be completely done revealing himself and his nature to us. We receive according to our capacity to understand, line upon line, precept upon precept.
Although it sometimes devolves to functioning more like a corporate bureaucracy, the foundation and bedrock of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is revelation, continuing, past, present, and future, and not the static pronouncements of councils 1600 years ago. Our faith doesn’t lead us to merely a leather-bound book or to historic pronouncements of church leaders that are assumed to be eternal in nature, but directly to the living God. Even when it doesn’t function as it should, the LDS church leads us towards study, prayer, and personal confirmation and not merely repeating the words of others. Although we often fall back to bureaucracy and relying too much on our leaders, the core principles are always there to be found. They will lead us to Jesus, salvation, and personal and eternal progression as we apply them, in a surer and more reliable fashion than any other religious system with which I am acquainted.
Many churches will tell you that we have everything we need for doctrine in the Bible and everything we need for salvation in Jesus. Mormonism teaches that salvation is the beginning of the journey and not the end. It leads us to continue to stretch our understanding and our capacity in a journey that will never end. When properly understood, our doctrine doesn’t teach that we must ever keep reaching out for heaven lest we fall short. That’s an all too familiar recipe for guilt and anti-depressants. It teaches that we can trust in Jesus for our salvation, and from that stable platform keep reaching upward. Truly we have everything we need in Jesus, but the restless spirit keeps searching for the further enlightenment that is ours, as we continue to stretch.
As I dig downward through the cruft of Mormonism, the foundation I find is the solid bedrock of revelation. As I dig downward through the foundation of other Christian systems, what I find is a hard shell of static biblical interpretations, which for me crumbles under the weight of examination. It leaves me on my own to resolve the conflicting scriptures on the Trinity, just what we must do to be saved, the behaviors that prevent us from being saved, historical accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and other details of his life, seemingly conflicting statements in Paul’s letters, and many other things.
What I mean when I say “the church is true” is that this system based on personal revelation provides a solid foundation I can build on to continue to seek God’s will for my life. As I have questions I can take them to a source I trust, the Holy Spirit, and I have a way of measuring the truth of all things. Although my understanding is often imperfect, I can place my trust in God and his desire to lead me home and not on human authority structures and their byproducts.
What does “the church is true” mean to you?