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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.