128: The One True Church

One of the most difficult things for many who have begun to think deeply about religion—their own as well as others and the relationship between them—and want to maintain a positive relationship with the idea of religion is the specter of exclusivism: claims that one’s views or one’s church is “the” Truth, or the “best,” while others are not or are lesser. Many religions make this claim either explicitly or tacitly, with Mormonism belonging to the first category, boldly declaring its special place as the possessor of priesthood keys and being the only church authorized by God to perform certain saving ordinances. One hears it quite often in LDS services and classes, and frequently in conjunction with language found in a particular scriptural passage, D&C 1:30: “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually…”

But do LDS scriptures really support a position of exclusivity? Does this passage really refer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “the only true and living church” with which God is pleased and through which Deity works to save people, or does LDS scripture actually point to something much more broad?

In this episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Kristine Haglund and Charles Randall Paul complicate the idea of LDS exclusivity as even being scriptural (for so much else in Mormon holy writ suggests God has a much broader project in the works than what can be accomplished through just one organization) and challenge such a straightforward reading of the “only true and living . . . well pleased” passage.

It’s an episode full of wonderful alternatives that reveal Mormon scripture to be much broader and LDS doctrines to be much more expansive and beautiful than we sometimes think they are. It’s definitely worth a close listen.After you do, please add your comments in the section below!

Comments

comments

49 comments for “128: The One True Church

  1. John
    October 1, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I know the goal is to sand off the sharper edges of our rhetoric and create a more inclusive view regarding our claims to exclusivity. However, I think the mentality of many of our people (at least in Western North America) is that they love holding on to that sense of being special, unique, and divinely manifested and everything it implies. It is probably the most American thing about our church. I certainly grew up interpreting the meaning of my membership with that attitude, and it took 4 years of anthropology to dispel it. In the end, I think Mormons are as good as anyone else, but we certainly aren’t better. I applaud the effort to broaden are views in this regard in this blog and when lip service is given to it in the church, but I think we just have to accept that this is just one of the many paradoxes of our contradictory doctrine. Mr. Paul seemed to be trying to steer the conversation with a benevolent version of our exclusive truth claims, but I think the efforts to make it seem that D&C 1 says something other than what it does is a dishonest interpretation. Joseph, or Jesus if you want to believe he’s the one talking, is talking specifically about the reestablishment of the one true church in the mold of other millenial sects waiting for Christ to come. That our church evolved into what it is now was due to the power and appeal of exclusivity, communality, and the experience of the spiritual gifts of the the “only true church on the face of the earth.” Joseph may have believed in a near universal salvation, but he firmly believed he was only one that was given the keys to usher in the last dispensation as God’s mouth piece and exclusive priesthood authority. To suggest otherwise is probably a dishonest interpretation of what Joseph and his predecessors believed and said, however appealing it might be philosophically

    • Kristine
      October 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

      John, I don’t disagree. But I also think that if the process of Restoration teaches us anything, it ought to be that we’re not bound to what someone, even a prophet, understood in 1830 as eternal truth.

      • John
        October 1, 2012 at 11:02 am

        Talk more about the “process of restoration” I am curious how you interpret it.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      John, I read Section 1 in a really broad way. Fire, brimstone, warning to all the earth, etc.–typical prophetic kind of challenge to earth to shape up. When it gets specific with Smith in verse 17, it immediately in v. 18 talks about God giving the message to others (my guess is it’s also a get your crap together people message), a hope that every person on the earth will speak in the name of God, then goes on to say that not only Smith but the others who God has called (and even those others in 20) would speak in their weakness, in their understanding, etc. No sense any message from any one would be perfect, etc. (Postmodernism, baby!) Received to be the lead in to the BofCommandments, but nothing in it says the only true and living is only for Mormons or really about an institutional church at all. Anything toward that we read into it out of habit, methinks. And, I’m with Kristine (guessing what she means) in that Smith as vehicle for words and ideas flowing does not automatically mean he “gets” the bigger pictureof God’s project that the words allow. I think later, he did catch on more, though he didn’t always act consistent with those inklings.

  2. davedd233
    October 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I have certainly started thinking in these more expansive terms. But after going through the temple recommend process I started wondering if I can do so honestly. There is a very specific question about whether or not I believe President Monson is the only person on earth to hold ALL the keys necessary for salvation. It’s a tough one.

    • October 10, 2012 at 7:34 am

      Keys are something very specific to Mormonism. I doubt you
      will find any other Church that claims to have keys or that claim their leader
      holds “All the keys necessary for salvation. I believe that this question was
      added to deter fundamentalists from attending the temple since they believe that
      their president hold the keys of the priesthood and the Church holds the keys
      for the Church (whatever that means). So unless you believe that fundamentalists
      do hold authentic keys, then you are safe in answering this question in the
      affirmative. I guess you could even answer positively if you thought other
      people in other church’s held keys (by their definition), as long as you believe
      that our Prophet holds all the keys (as defined by Mormonism) which of course
      is a logical truism.

  3. PepektheAssassin
    October 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    1. 2 Nephi 29:11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the
    west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea,
    that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the
    books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man
    according to their works, according to that which is written.

  4. chriss
    October 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I am still unclear if randy and kristine believe in exclusive authority ? Dan asked several times about authority but I dont feel ever got a simple straight forward answer. For me its not about truth, Joseph had an expansive view of truth and the guests discussed it well. But when we say “the only true church” we are talking about authority. Authority to receive revelation and perform ordinances. I heard an expansive view of truth but I didn’t hear clarity on if the guests have an expansive view of authority and priesthood. Randy, can saving ordinances be performed outside the authority of the Mormon church?

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I was frustrated, too, but not because they didn’t say whether they think it happened or not. My hope was for more of a wrestle with exclusivism in general, why we as humans tend toward it, like it, etc, and to spend more time on “yep, this is a tough one” (related to this very specific “these events happened so WE have THE authority”). One thing on Mormon Matters, however, is we typically stay within the story to see what we can find/discover, hardly ever weighing in on “true or false,” “historical or not,” etc. My sense of any claim is that it is never to be taken fully literally, just as we can’t take any of our experiences as super final in a “this is all there is to it” kind of way–there’s always more to uncover, far more complex things going on in having us see or experience in a certain way–I also think it’s far more appropriate to say “Is the way it’s been viewed and discussed really what the text says? Really the only way to view this or that?”

      In the end, I like MM when we are able to open up more breathing room for people, when we show it as more profound than typically gets play on Sundays, when we peer into the mystical mind that seems clearly at play when it comes to Joseph Smith and LDS scripture. “Something” there that’s exciting and puts me in a stance of wanting to dive into the chaos and get my own spiritual experiences–that’s a huge reason I love being Mormon.

      • Excal
        October 7, 2012 at 9:58 am

        There are many things that are not fully clear, when it comes to articulating what constitutes “the right way” to think about God and ourselves and our duty and our relationship with him and others. But the consequences of not being able to say “This is the one true church of Christ,” in light of the testimonies and evidences that make up the informed context of that statement, are clearly visible in non-LDS Christianity today, and they are neither pretty or compelling.

        The rock which Christ offers us as a foundation to build on, which can withstand the winds and rains of life in this world, cannot consist solely of good deeds, but good deeds in the fight for truth and justice. Both times he delivered the message of how to live a blessed life, he was speaking to the house of Israel, whose God is the Lord of Hosts, and who understood the meaning of deliverance from captivity, and therefore captivity itself.

        Jesus did not warn his followers that the world hated him and would hate them too in any kind of rhetorical sense. The world’s hate for him and his is all too real to regard this struggle as some kind of fun and games, even intellectual ones.

        • Chriss
          October 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm

          So you believe non LDS churches/beliefs/services are neither pretty nor compelling? Are u serious? You should get out more. In my experience some of the most spiritual, profound worship has been outside LDS circles. We Could learn a thing ot two from our heathen brothern.

          • Excal
            October 9, 2012 at 3:34 am

            No, not at all. In fact, I agree with you. What is not pretty or compelling are the divisions among them. If Christ’s church is not one then it’s not his, and if it’s not his, then whose is it? Some are of man and others are of the devil, but Christ has only one. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

            However, just because Christ’s church is the only one that we can say is truly his, doesn’t mean that every member of his church is in some way better or more devout, or more enlightened, or more sanctified than every member of some other church.

            Saul fought against the true Church at first, and when he was growing up among the Jews, he was surrounded by truth and true worshipers profoundly worshiping, but when he became Paul, he left his former congregations and entered into the congregations of the new and only true Church of Christ, whose Gentile converts could have learned much from many of their non-Christian Jews, who refused to believe and be baptized a Christian, but that didn’t change the fact that the only way to God was to follow Paul’s example and leave the synagogue and enter into the new Church of Christ.

            It is no different today As Christ continues to gather his elect, and sifts them and proves them, he is preparing them for that which is to come – the day when his vineyard will be burned with fire. According to the word of God, all who will not come unto him must perish.

          • K.C. Krisher
            October 16, 2012 at 5:57 am

            I have often heard the assertion that non-LDS churches are not true because they are divided. This is often followed by an awkward pause in the conversation.
            The pause occurs not because this is a dispositive argument, or because it is a poor argument, but because it is obviously not an argument at all. It is a non-sequitur.
            While it is certainly true that different non-LDS churches are divided from one another, and that the different churches arising out of Joseph Smith’s original movement are divided from one another and from non-LDS churches, this fact says nothing at all about which, if any, of the churches are “true” — whatever you might mean by the word “true.”
            But here’s a statement with which most should be able to agree: Regardless of whether any church is true, none are as true as Christ himself, who is truth personified. He said, “I know my sheep, and mine know me,” which seems to make any third party opinions about who “must perish” pretty irrelevant.

  5. wade
    October 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Another great discussion, thanks Dan, Kristine, Charles! Dan you mentioned a book you and Charles are working on, what time-frame are you looking at for release? Do you have a working title?

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks for asking, Wade! Randy and I are actually now getting back to work (and will finish it!) on a book we begun a couple of years ago: Fighting About God: Why We Do It and How to Do It Better. (A manifesto of sorts for the principles behind Randy’s Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.) We’ll finish in the next six weeks or so, then shop it. If no publisher jumps quickly, we’ll likely self-publish. Excited about it!

  6. Excal
    October 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

    So, as a missionary, a servant of the Lord sent to labor in the vineyard, pruning the mother olive tree for the final time, cutting out the wild branches and grafting in the branches from the transplanted tame trees, what do I say to the candidate for baptism?

    Perhaps, I should say: “We are inviting you to come unto Christ, by exercising faith in him who said, ‘Repent all ye ends of the earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name (by those whom I have sent in these latter days) that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost.

    “Of course, if you love your own faith enough, or even your own life-style of non-faith, you don’t have to worry, your love of God and humanity or the Bible alone, or your non LDS Christian faith, as long as it is good and wholesome and you feel good about it, will also sanctify you. Your choice.”

    • Mal
      October 2, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      I would be interested to hear thoughts on this as well. What are missionaries supposed to do? How are members of the church supposed to cry repentance unto the ends of the earth while still validating and appreciating the happiness and truth that they have discovered, especially when it appears to be in contrast to the teachings of the church.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        October 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm

        Definitely a tough issue for folks who have begun to think more universally. As humans, though, we can only live in the particular. Ultimately, I think churches are good things, providing chances to serve, challenges to grow, rituals to perform and reflect on, etc. If I were to go on a mission today, I’d try to do it with the attitude of all I can do is speak the truths that I feel deeply, share how I came to those through my experiences within Mormonism, etc., and suggest to them that they seek out their own heart to see if they think the LDS church could be beneficial to them on their spiritual walk? After that, it’s the spirit.

        I think of Jana Riess on her way to Presbyterian ordination when the Book of Mormon got hold of her. Even then, as now, I don’t sense she thought she was joining the “one true church” with the one true priesthood with essential ordinances. (Maybe, but I don’t think so.) What she was experiencing was a call to THIS being the religion and these being ideas and scriptures that would serve her well. So much of what I think a universal kind of thinker’s testimony is: “I know this is where I’m called to be.” I beleive JS had amazing insights that are worth my attention, helpful to me. But they are just starters to help put me on the road to my own experiences that might transform my heart. Ultimately that’s what “salvation” is (have I become compassionate, patient, seeing good in all, etc.–i.e., godlike?).

        I don’t know if a mission would allow for me to articulate publicly to the wider zone or district what I just said, but I would feel fine sharing this kind of testimony and invitation in a setting with a potential convert. Mormonism is not just a/the church. It is a valid path into experiences in/with the spirit/energies of the universe. Hopefully the institution of the LDS church is more help than hindrance for that process (it is for me, but I know it isn’t for others who have been exposed to it in a much more authoritarian and narrower way than I was), and I think it would be good to give a potential convert a sense of where the church fits into a spirtual journey with membership not in any way a substitute for real soul work (which, of course, is likely not achieved just through individual practice and cloister but engagement with the wider world of learning to love and appreciate actual flawed people and seeking social improvement).

        • Excal
          October 7, 2012 at 9:23 am

          Dan wrote: “What she was experiencing was a call to THIS being the religion and these being ideas and scriptures that would serve her well. So much of what I think a universal kind of thinker’s testimony is: “I know this is where I’m called to be.”

          The trouble is that this kind of religious relativism actually denies the religious worldview of Christians. After all, the core of Christianity is following Jesus, not because “It works for me better than what may work for you,” but because we all have to choose between good and evil.

          In the Christian worldview, it is not possible to reject the message of those sent by the Father and remain neutral. To reject those servants sent by him is to reject him and to reject him is to descend into darkness. So, unless you can say “Darkness works for me,” which is tantamount to choosing evil, you can’t say, “I know this is where I’m called to be,” as if someone else might not be called to be there. Everyone is called to the light. No exceptions. If you are not in the light, you are in darkness.

          So, the question becomes one of discerning the light. We can’t walk in darkness at noon-day, and say “It works for me,” because it doesn’t work for anybody. It leads to death and death does not work for anyone. It’s like saying misery and woe work for me. Darkness and hell and the devil and all who have been seized therewith cannot escape the justice of God, they cannot escape the suffering that Christ suffered, if they don’t repent.

          Mormonism changes everything, because we cannot escape its moral imperative in our day any more than the Jews could in their day: The command to “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve,” is once again on the table, and, if those who do not choose to serve the God of the land, which is Jesus Christ, do not repent, they will be swept off the land, when they are fully ripe in iniquity.

          That is the message of the LDS Christians: The only salvation remaining for the gentiles is to be identified in the same covenant and to worship at the same altar as Israel.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            October 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

            Excal,

            Honest question: Here and in other replies, you extend Mormonism into the larger story of the Abrahamic covenant, House of Israel, etc. And clearly those pieces are present in Mormon thought. At the same time, this is also an exclusivism at play in your responses that seems to put “being on the right team” or “having the right answers” at a premium over “one’s heart is changed/changing” that other scriptures (ones emphasized in this podcast) seem to put as the primary definition for one being part of the “church” of God (v. the Devil), and which seems (to me, at least) to be far more logical. If God’s “work and glory” involves helping facilitate the “eternal life” of all, and if one buys at all into the LDS take on that of meaning a “life like the Gods enjoy”, wouldn’t the importance be better placed on “becoming” and growing into celestial citizens (ones who truly have “embodied “the laws of celestial living and developed celestial characters) over a foremost focus on Israel and that wider story (and one that still leaves out a huge chunk of all the people ever born) and if I am part of that story? Of course I know about temple work, etc., to take care of all of that, but I just still can’t get my head around why one would focus on House of Israel rather than on whether someone is repenting or not, on transformative grace, etc. Thanks!

          • Rick Fernández
            November 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm

            I apologize for jumping in here but I found this website when reading on other non-Mormon topics. And since I know from Mormons having grown up with many and had many as friends, I thought I’d just share one comment: if you’re talking about “the same covenant” and “the same altar as Israel,” it’s important to be aware that for Jews, there is hardly anything further from either of those than Mormonism. Our covenant continues and Mormons, while nice, sincere, good people, with their polytheism, their “God as human” and “new covenant” concepts, in no way share in that covenant, despite their well-intentioned desire to do so. That doesn’t mean you don’t have your own special relationship with G-d! It just means it’s not part of ours 🙂 And we certainly wouldn’t deny “salvation” (which is decidedly not a Jewish concept) to anyone who seeks to follow G-d.

          • Erina
            April 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm

            Amen

  7. Mal
    October 2, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you for another great podcast. I think the ideas presented really helped me feel better about this topic which has really caused me some cognitive and spiritual dissonance.

    Also, the ending of the podcast which did move some power back towards those who believe more literally in the statement of the “One and True Church” was really powerful for me. I know that I have sat through many of a sacrament meeting thinking that I obviously understand spirituality more fully than someone who says this. Thank you for causing me to question this action and hopefully I can really allow all those around me to discover the truth that they hold and share it with those around them, especially when their piece of capital-T truth is different than mine.

  8. GeoffNelson
    October 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I just started listening, so perhaps this is discussed in the podcast, but I thought I’d add this observation I made about a year ago. http://geoffsn.blogspot.com/2011/06/only-true-and-living-church.html

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Interesting stufy, Geoff. Thanks! More folks might click on your link if you gave some context about the general nature of what you looked at. Hope you will.

  9. October 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Fantastic conversation. I am reminded of the following passage from Voltaire in his Treatise on Toleration:

    “This little globe, nothing more than a point, rolls on space like so many other globes; we are lost in this immensity. Man, some five feet tall, is surely a very small part of the universe. One of these imperceptible beings says to some of his neighbors in Arabia or Africa: ‘Listen to me, for the God of all these worlds has enlightened me: there are nine hundred million little ants like us on the earth, but only my anthill is beloved of God; He will hold all others in horror through all eternity; only mine will be blessed, the others will be eternally wretched…. It hardly seems fitting for us atoms of the moment, for that is all we are, to presume to know in advance the decrees of our own Creator.”

    Then he goes on to pray:

    “Grant that we may help each other bear the burden of our painful and brief lives; that the slight difference in clothing with which we cover our puny bodies, in our inadequate tongues, in all our ridiculous customs, in all our imperfect laws, in all our insensate opinions, in all our stations in life so dispraportionate in our eyes but so equal in Thy sight, that these little variations that differentiate the atoms called man, may not be the signals for hatred and persecution…. May all men remember that they are brothers….”

    • ewad123
      December 6, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Gorgeous. Thank you so much for sharing

      • Erina
        April 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm

        Wow… truth.

  10. Kevin Merrell
    October 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    This podcast bears repeated listenings. Thank you for a thoughtful conversation on a most profound topic. In his essay, Scriptural Perspectives on How to Survive the Calamities of the Last Days, Hugh Nibley seems to agree with the broad perspective of the church as those who are repenting. In the essay Nibley offers a radical redefinition of Good Guys vs Bad Guys as those who are repenting vs those who are not, regardless of where you go to church. Amen and many quiet returns.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Love that: “those who are repenting.” And I hear/read “repenting” as not having to be about sin and involving all the justice/mercy/cover me with the Atonement. To me the wider “church” is any who are on the path to owning their own divinity/full power (embodied) possible as uncreated beings whose core natures seem to say “grow” and are oriented to “moreness.” If Christ as what a God’s love looks like and churches that push our buttons as they challenge us to “get this” about ourselves help on that journey, awesome! If it’s through another, non-Christian path, also within this wider “church.” In my opinion, we fall out of the “church” only when we act against these “Grow!” and “Experience/Become MORE!” aspects of our essential selves. My two cents, anyway.

  11. October 4, 2012 at 5:18 am

    I found this one much too apologetic – mainline Christian wannabe… I prefer when we own our “peculiarities” and not brush them under the carpet. :..-(

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Mormon Matters is nothing if not about owning Mormonism’s peculiarities. My whole focus with it is for us to fully embrace those angles on things that are wonderfully helpful and ennobling. I’m on record almost every episode (at least it’s always in my mind as I speak) that this is an amazing tradition with so much to offer the world in its particularities and unique sensibilities. My ramble on “truth is served” by there being multiple religions each emphasizing their own particulars and learning to love and care and really explore them should clue you in on me (and I know the other two, as well) as being anything but “Mainline Christian Wannabe.” What specifics of this or other episodes are you thinking of in coming up with that take?

  12. Anon
    October 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Claims of exclusivity are made for the sake of institutional power and authority. Of course the church isn’t the only true church but those who don’t understand the difference between faith and membership in a social / economic institution will never understand that. Its a dreadful conflation and its not really worth debating the point with those who live inside that conflation.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      So we should just not talk? No one ever grows or moves into a wider view?

      On your other claim about exclusivity for sake of power and authority, are you fully that cynical? No one says/feels it out of overwhelming sense of love or gratitude that they found something that changed their heart or their life for the better and just want to share it? Never just part of a neat kind of enthusiasm?

  13. Glenn Thigpen
    October 4, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    So the the LDS CHurch is just another of the 39000 or so Christian denominations extant today? Why are we even wasting our time being LDS? So much easier to join the big Christian Band and enjoy “the commandments of men, having a form of godliness,” but denying “the power thereof.”

  14. Excal
    October 5, 2012 at 2:17 am

    As the world of the gentiles is literally coming apart, as we write, the question we hear is, “Where do we go?” The answer from the LDS must be, “Flee unto his mountain!” For the only salvation remaining for the gentiles is to be identified in the same covenant and to worship at the same altar as Israel.

    So, when we say, “The Church is true,” we are saying that its message is true, and that its messengers are truly authorized, or sent, as Jesus was sent by the Father, to deliver the message.

    “And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.”

    Yea, and then shall the remnant of Joseph in this land say: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings unto [us], that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings unto [those] of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!”

  15. Sherah
    October 5, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I’ve just barely started listening to this podcast, but I had to share this episode of Radio West that I was listening to yesterday, about the Inquisition. Host Doug F. shared some ideas and questions about moral exclusivity and absolute moral superiority that are germane to this discussion. http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/gods-jury-0

  16. Gina Colvin
    October 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Wonderful podcast – and so timely. The other thing that we need to own in Mormonism is the cultural context of American exceptionalism. Mormonism puts this discourse into overdrive! Exclusivity and exceptionalism seem to be in the same vicinity on the cultural radar. Its a conceit that feels viable at the cultural metropol but comes undone at the periphery. I’m just saying…

  17. Kevin Christensen
    October 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I’ve long been interested in this topic, having presented at Sunstone West a long time ago on the topic of “True and Living.” I’ve long noted that D&C 1:30 nowhere contains the phrase “only true church” nor the phrase “one and only true church.” Each of those unauthorized variations implies exclusive, ideal or perfect, and points towards institutional structure and doctrine. D&C 1:6 expressly declares that this section is going to define “mine authority and the authority of my servants.” In doing so, it rules out the “only true church” misparaphrase by emphasizing that it is non-exclusive relative to truth (as Dan astutely notes in his comments here), refering to “others” (verse 18) to whom the Lord has given commandments, and in verse 34 declaring that “I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh.” Verses 24-28 expressly declares that LDS leaders can and do err, sin, and that knowledge they gain is conditioned on their seeking it (that is, we do not have it already on the shelf in a Big Book of What to Think), which means we should not expect or demand perfect knowledge or behavior from them. And for church, I think in terms of ekklesia, the assembly of people as such, rather than buildings or hierarchy or doctrinal structures.
    When I diagram the phrase in D&C 1:30, (an English Major approach), I find that the word “only” is modified by the phrase “with which I the Lord am well-pleased” which means that “only” refers to well-pleasingness, rather than exclusivity of truth or virture. The well pleasingness is relative to whatever distinction the phrase “true and living happens to mean.
    In trying to understand what the “living” is doing there, I started looking up Biblical passages that used that imagery. “Living bread,” “living waters,” “living way..through the veil” (Heb 10:20), “living stones…an holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). That got me to pay attention to “true vine,” “true treasure,” “truth and life” and Jer 10:10 which as “true God, Living God” in a voice of warning passage. It turns out that the Biblical uses of “true and living” match the themes of D&C 1 point for point, verse for verse. The true and living passages in the Bible refer to themes of warning, revelation, priesthood, covenant, ordinances of baptism, sacrament, Holy Ghost, tree of life, and temple that turn out in actual practice be exactly what distinguishes the LDS community. So I read “true and living” as a merism that encompasses those themes in a succinct way.
    If the “only true” is reading is wrong, where does it come from? I look at the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, Position 2 (of 9).
    POSITION 2 – Multiplicity Prelegitimate. (Resisting snake)

    Now the person moves to accept that there is diversity,
    but they still think there are TRUE authorities who are right, that the others
    are confused by complexities or are just frauds. They think they are with the true authorities
    and are right while all others are wrong.
    They accept that their good authorities present problems so they can
    learn to reach right answers independently.

    FWIW,
    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  18. Mel
    November 20, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I’m in the middle of listening to this podcast and I just had to write a comment. “AMEN!” to the conversation starting around minute 38. I know this is a difficulty idea for many people and mormons, but for me it was wonderful to hear this concept that I believe put so well. I was born and raised in the LDS faith and I came into a 12 step program and found so much that I needed. I love the concept it the 12 step programs (that include the 12 traditions) of a loving Higher Power as I understand my own Higher Power. I now focus on my personal relationship with my Higher Power and “my side of the street” and what my Higher Power wants for me and wants me to know. Wonderful podcast!

  19. Linda f
    November 28, 2012 at 3:26 am

    It seems to me that the discussion centered around a dislike of the “authority” that the church claims for itself. Of course, in contemporary intellectualism, this flies in the face of the pluralism that we want to believe in. I get that and understand the tendency to want to feel that this is a narrow and therefore intellectually dishonest way to think.
    But I think the argument was badly framed. The essence of the church is not its authority. Joseph Smith said one could learn more about the nature of God by staring into heaven for five minutes then by reading everything ever written about him. Why did he say this? Because it was his claim that he had indeed had that lived experience. We cannot intellectualize away the claim that Joseph Smith made about the nature of God and Christ. Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life, ” and no matter how universalist and egalitarian in our thinking we want to be, you can’t escape that.
    I really enjoy those podcast and the thoughtful discussion, but this really missed the mark for me. I wish I had more space to expand on this, but placing Christ in the middle of meaning for all people everywhere is not the totalizaton that many intellectuals would make it out to be.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      November 28, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Linda F, Thanks for joining the conversation! Have we done what you say, however? I think you are certainly saying something important in the reflection on pluralism in the first paragraph. Thank you. Always important to keep evaluating what might drive us in the directions we take. But do any of us in the discussion “intellectualize away the claim that Joseph Smith made about the nature of God or Christ”? This was an episode on the idea that many Mormons have that says the D&C 1 passage about “only true and living church” is about Mormonism rather than those who are trying to align with Christ, repenting, etc. being what defines “the true church.” I don’t remember anyone challenging or going to a lite version on nature of God or Christ as unfolded in JS’s thought. Maybe we did. Knowing myself and the other two panelists the way I do, I don’t think any of us have anything but love for the expansive and ennobling views of God that JS gifted the world with, so I’d love to hear what parts struck you that way. You talk about “placing Christ in the middle of meaning for all people everywhere.” What do you mean by that, and how have you worked out something that is a different kind of “totalization” that might be satisfying while honoring the truths of those who aren’t formally Christian? (Genuine questions. For instance, when you think of Christ at the center for all everywhere, are you aligning with Rahner’s idea of “Anonymous Christians”? That sort of thing…) Thanks!

      • Linda F
        November 28, 2012 at 11:42 pm

        Gee – thanks for the response Dan. I guess I am really confused about the consensus in the Podcast. I seemed that everyone was saying that there is no need to know Christ at all, ever, just be a good person in whatever way that makes sense to you. I agree with that as far as this life goes, but ultimately everyone will need to “know” Christ in the eternities. What keeps this from being a totalizaton is that Christ is not an idea or a concept – he is a living “person” that we are in relationship with. This is along the lines of an Heidegarian ontology. I have been out of academia for 20 years, and I’ m really rusty in this, but I think it’s an idea worth pursuing.
        Please keep up the good work- I didn’t mean to sound negative.

  20. Phil
    October 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I think some if the issues revolving authority may be bogus. The legitimacy of John the baptist and Peter, James, & John actually visiting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery is highly subject to scrutiny. The narritive story about the priesthood restoration only appeared years after the fact AND only during a time that the credibility of the church was being questioned. JS snd OC were debating reverands critcisms for why the church of christ were any different. Early church history and first person accounts tell another story. Review sources used in the narrative told by the book “An insider’s view of mormon orgins” priesthood chapter.

    I don’t know of a book that has debunked the claims in that book.
    Mormonthink.com has similar info.

    I am not aware of there is a source that can refute the claims told by that book. If so I would like to read it.

  21. Adam
    August 15, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Dan,

    I am a newcomer to Mormon Matters but this specific topic, to me, bears the need for multiple podcasts with different people. This is the kind of discussion that many of us who have gone through a faith crisis and yet are still drawn to the Church would love to continue to hear. Dealing with the exclusivity claims that we are taught at Church are often, in my opinion, what keeps some people from jumping back into the Church with two feet after having gone through the difficult issues.

    I just love this podcast. Even though I desperately long for more discussion about the exclusivity claims (including both a philosophical discussion and a doctrine-based discussion) I think that perhaps this is my favorite podcast that I have heard out of the fifty or so that I listened to on other websites. This conversation encapsulates all that I love about Mormonism and the respect that you, Charles, and Kristine have for the critics, the doubters who can’t deny feelings and experiences, and the faithful believers is refreshing. In the face of the swirling winds of skepticism and love for Mormonism, this discussion frames the place where I want to find myself.

    I know you have a lot of ideas and issues with limited time to explore them all but, to me, I would love to see another set of podcasts about this specific topic. I think this issue is the biggest sticking point for so many of us.

  22. Scott
    January 22, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Hey Dan,

    Over a year ago I started listening to Mormon Matters from episode 1 and I have absolutely loved this podcast! It’s been a lifesaver as I’ve gone through my own faith transition and I value the positive and expansive views you and your guests have very much. Thank you thank you!

    I was surprised that one of my major stumbling blocks on exclusivity was not addressed. I’m referring to Joseph Smith History 1:19 in which Christ tells Joseph that all the other churches are an “abomination” and all were “corrupt” and so on. My beliefs are definitely in line with what you and the panel discussed, but I’m not sure how to square that with this really harsh and exclusive scripture here. It seems to very much contradict the expansive God who appreciates and values all who make efforts to approach Him and grow. How do you read these verses?

    Thanks!

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 24, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Scott! So glad you have enjoyed the podcast! I hope you will keep listening!

      I tend to view that as rhetorical. The 1838 version of the FV and the rest of the stuff in that account that eventually became canonized as JS-History are clearly re-worked, edited, shaped (you name it) language designed to evoke particular responses in its audience. None of it, to me, has to be seen as the words of God. (Same thing with anything in the NT or D&C. Always a response between powerful experiences and events and human tellers, with the language coming from the latter.)

      If we treat the FV as what Joseph said it was–a vision (and not a visitation), there is even more latitude we should give to anything supposedly to have been said. I support visions as communicating specific impressions but not precise dialogue. All that later stuff comes when a person is “out” of the spiritual experience. It’s then that they begin to apply specific language to what happened. And, in the case of the FV accounts, we know that the stuff about “what is the true church?” doesn’t show up until much later. Even if it happened within the same vision, Smith didn’t give language to it for at least 15 years.

      Helpful at all? A cop out?

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