I Know the Church is True – Or – Epistemology of a Testimony

I know that the church is true.

This statement is repeated over, and over again on the first Sunday of every month in Fast and Testimony meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Members, of course, are not forced to say this, but most of them do.  This certain statement bothers a few people when they hear it.  They will often say that the ‘know’ part is to strong, and ‘true’ is a pretty strong word as well.

I use this phase occasionally when I bear my testimony, and I would like to make the attempt to express more thoroughly what I mean when I say this.  I expect that my experience will be similar to many church members, and I hope my explanation can be helpful to somebody.

I

The personal pronoun at the beginning of the statement is one of absolute exclusiveness.  The statement is not one which implicates anyone else.  I am the only one taking a position when I say this.  It is my integrity, reputation, competence, etc., that is at stake.  The statement does not express nor imply the beliefs or knowledge of anyone else whatsoever.

Know

One way to think about knowledge is that of beliefs that are true.  One can imagine two intersecting spheres – one of belief and the other of truth.  The area of their intersection can be called knowledge.  There are some things that can be believed, that are not true, which would not constitute knowledge.  There are also things that are true which are not believed, which would not constitute knowledge either.  A person making the above statement feels that their beliefs regarding the church have sufficient justification for them to be personally held as being true.  Thus, these beliefs constitute knowledge for them.

For me, the sufficient justification is that of subjective, internal, personal experience.  This experience cannot be objectively measured or verified by any external effort.  It also cannot be refuted by any external agent.  Thus, the only person that could evaluate whether my subjective, internal, personal experience provides sufficient justification to hold my beliefs as knowledge is me.

That

This word can be fairly important in understanding what is being asserted in the statement.  The knowledge in question is knowledge that, rather than knowledge how.  For example, one can say I know that my car is powered by an internal combustion engine, without knowing how a combustion engine works.  And in this case, one can know that the church is true without knowing how it is true – as in knowing the truth regarding every detail of Mormon theology.

The church

This can be a complicated phrase with a few possible meanings.  For many members, they will not draw a clear distinction between ‘the church’ and ‘the restored gospel of Jesus Christ’.  I do this myself often.  In the context of the above statement, what is being referred to is not the building, or the people, or the policies, or the organizational structure.  What they are referring to is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is true

In the context of a testimony, true can have two primary definitions.  One is that true is in agreement with reality, and the other is that true is being loyal and faithful – in this case to Christ.  When I make a statement similar to the above, I would apply both meanings to true.

So to summarize, the common statement above could be restated roughly as – I have had subjective, internal experiences which I have judged to provide sufficient justification to hold that my beliefs in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints constitutes knowledge that the church is loyal and faithful to Jesus Christ and is in agreement with reality.  Or put another way –

I know that the church is true.

 

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13 Responses to “I Know the Church is True – Or – Epistemology of a Testimony”


  1. 1 Clark September 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    In the context of a testimony, true can have two primary definitions. One is that true is in agreement with reality, and the other is that true is being loyal and faithful – in this case to Christ.

    I pretty well disagree with this. I think it offers a false dichotomy. Consider the sentence “I am truing my bike wheel.” This is a completely normal English usage that given the culture of the 19th century would have been pretty common.

    • 2 Eric Nielson September 14, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      Clark:

      I do not think there is any dichotomy at all. I go out of my way to say both rather than either-or. If you find meaning in truing the wheel, then great. I think these can all be profitablly added without any dichotomy getting started. I don’t think there needs to be any tension or conflict. In fact I think these are all complimentary.

  2. 3 Michael September 15, 2011 at 10:19 am

    I do not concern myself with the use of the “I” or the “know”. Although, if we were being more accurate in our description we would say “I have a certainty through the witness of the Holy Spirit that…”

    The part that drives me absolutely batty is the use of the word “church”. The church is not true. The church is a legal corporate entity with a trademarked name. It is a vehicle used to spread the restored gospel and its saving ordinances throughout the world and is a very fallible and very bureaucratic organization (some would argue that it is too corporate). The restored gospel stands independent of the church just like the priesthood stands independent of the church. Both the gospel and the priesthood are eternal and unchanging. Our testimony is built upon the witness and knowledge imparted by the Holy Spirit concerning the everlastingness of the gospel and the priesthood. His witness is not concerning the “trueness” of a temporal legal entity created under the laws of man.

    However, as you state, many members are not thinkers and do not understand the importance of separating the two.

  3. 4 Jettboy September 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    “However, as you state, many members are not thinkers and do not understand the importance of separating the two.”

    I think you are wrong on this. Many members believe, as I do, that it is a religious impossibility to separate the two. The Priesthood might be independent from the Church Corporate, but the Church Corporate is the one that holds the legal rights of the Priesthood (that holds the rights and rites of the Gospel) as given to it by God. Therefore, to state “The Church is True” is to state the Gospel and the Priesthood it has been put as a responsible holder of is True.

  4. 5 Michael September 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Jettboy,

    If what you say is correct, then how did John the Baptist take upon himself authority to baptize without having received it from the “church” in his day, namely the High Priest and the Sanhedrin? They specifically approached him in the wilderness and asked him why he was baptizing without permission from the church.

    While I acknowledge the keys given to President Monson and the authorized use of those keys, the Church corporate is not required to use those keys in spreading the gospel.

  5. 6 Jettboy September 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Michael, because John the Baptist was given that authority by God and the Church of his day had become corrupted. Therefore, you could say, the corporation was unincorporated. Therefore, the Church is “True” until it has been declared otherwise with a new corporation formed. If it doesn’t “use those keys in spreading the gospel,” then it will be under condemnation and the Gospel you say is separate from the Corporation will not longer exist for there would be no one on the Earth to legislate. That is how Apostasy happens, the corporation loses its mandate by declaring “another Gospel.” Technically you can have one without the other, but it would be dormant and without saving power.

  6. 7 Michael September 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Jettboy,

    Who declared authoritatively that the church in that day had become corrupted? And who gave John the Baptist the authority to declare it was corrupt and that he would baptize without any church structure to support his new converts?

    I am not being facetious. I am sincere in discussing this issue. If the High Priest and Sanhedrin of that day were corrupt then they would have been “de-authorized” by God to perform the ordinances. Their priesthood would have been revoked. Who did this? When did it happen? We would expect the High Priest and Sanhedrin to acknowledge their “de-authorization” and step to the side for new leadership?

  7. 8 Jettboy September 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    “Who declared . . . ”
    God did.

    “they would have been ‘de-authorized’ by God to perform the ordinances.”

    Yes, but one must also come to the realization that there can be more than one conglomerate of the corporation on the Earth at the same time. Think the Bible and the Book of Mormon, or even Alma the Senior. In fact, Biblical historians recognize that once Jesus came along that John the Baptist was de-commissioned as the main officiator and a New Kingdom of God was established by Jesus Christ. He tried to reform the the High Priest and Sanhedrin who still remained authoritative, but they were under probation and finally de-authorized once Jesus Christ turned the authority over to his Apostles.

    I think its that you are looking at it as a simple single structure that we currently have today. It hasn’t always been that way, but it is clear that some kind of Priesthood (the corporation of one?) authority must exist. The Gospel can only be separated from that as an idea, not a power.

  8. 9 Jettboy September 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    “We would expect the High Priest and Sanhedrin to acknowledge their “de-authorization” and step to the side for new leadership?”

    Oh, I forgot to answer this one. Considering the belief in several apostasies, including “The Great Apostasy” there is no reason they couldn’t have lost it and not acknowledged it. Jesus continued to warn them that they lost their way and could get it back before it was too late, and they crucified him as a political enemy. The following Christians lost their authority eventually, but still declared themselves the “True Church” and de-legitimized any others.

  9. 10 Michael September 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Interesting interpretations.

    So who would let us know if the current church was on probation or in apostasy today? Who would authorize another John the Baptist in our day if we had fallen away from the original purpose?

  10. 11 Jettboy September 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Someone like Joseph Smith who was given the Priesthood anew. God would be the one who authorizes them like He always does. Of course, just like today and always we ourselves would have to determine if they are who they say they are.

  11. 12 TexasMomm September 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Great post Eric! I know the church is true too.

    As in all areas of knowledge: study, experimentation, experience, and observations have solidified my beliefs through the years. You can just use the scientific method: hypothesize (guess that it is true), experiment (read the scriptures, pray with an open heart, try to live the tenants), observe results (feel the spirit, feel peace within your life), repeat the experiment (read the scriptures again, gain the same testimony again), externally verify it through other research subjects (hear the testimonies of others in the same church who have done the same experiment and have received the same results)…

    there are many ways an experiment can go wrong … (salt instead of sugar, mix the dough too long, bake it too long …) but for those who really follow the instructions until they get it just right – there is knowledge to be had!

  12. 13 Eric Nielson September 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Good thoughtsTM.

    In your scientific method you suggest, the core of it (the results) involves feeling the spirit/feeling peace. This is the internal, subjective aspect that can not be measured. It seems that this is still what it is fundamentally based on. I know that we Mormons tend to want this empiricism involved in our religious life, but it still seems that at it’s core it is based on internal, subjective experience. That does not mean it is wrong or not valuable. In fact Kierkegaard would likely say it (internal subjectivism) is the only sure path to truth.


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