In part 1 on Testimony, I discussed that oft heard phrase, “I know the Church is True.” In this 2nd part, I’d like to focus on what a Testimony is supposed to be. In part 3, we’ll have some fun as I relate some of the more memorable testimonies I have heard. I am sure you will be able to share some of yours as well at that time.
According to LDS.org under the topical guide for Testimony:
“A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves His children; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on the earth; and that the Church is led by a living prophet today. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.”
To summarize, a fundamental testimony is:
2. Jesus Christ Lives, He is the Son of God and carried out an Infinite Atonement for us
3. Joseph Smith was a Prophet who was called to restore the true Gospel to this earth
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on this Earth
The critical aspect of a testimony is that it is given by the Holy Ghost. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) So, when members get up and bear their testimony and say that they “know” the Church is true or that Jesus is the Christ, they are, hopefully, testifying of that knowledge as received by the Holy Ghost. As members, we have received the right to have the Holy Ghost as our constant companion so long as we are worthy to receive Him. In some cases, especially among the younger members, this defining testimony through the Holy Ghost may not yet have happened to them. I would also suspect that some members, while bearing testimony that they “know” the Church is true, may also have not received this witness by the Holy Ghost.
A testimony is not a sermon, a scripture reading, or an admonishment of the congregation. A testimony is not a “thankimony”, “gratimony”, “travelimony”, “Medical reportimony,”or a “jokimony.” It is the opportunity to share what we know to be true with our friends. We can all be touched and edified by a deeply felt and expressed testimony. Or we can be frustrated and bored as one member after another preaches, thanks, jokes, and travels their way through their “testimony. “
Also important is the close of our testimony, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” One of my pet peeves is that often it sounds like “indanamojesCHRISTamen.” One of the most sacred names is butchered in an effort to get it over with quick. The other one that bothers me is: “I close in the name of THY Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.” This bothers me less than the mashed up sentence of the first example. But, really, we should know we are talking to the congregation and not to Heavenly Father at that point. I guess for some people, it is a traumatic experience to get up there and so they just forget and say “Thy Son.”
Elder Henry B. Eyring said this about a testimony:
“Those who have prepared carefully for the fast and testimony meeting won’t need to be reminded how to bear testimony should they feel impressed to do it in the meeting. They won’t give sermons or exhortations or travel reports or try to entertain as they bear witness. Because they will have already expressed appreciation to people privately, they will have less need to do it publicly. Neither will they feel a need to use eloquent language nor to go on at length.
A testimony is a simple expression of what we feel. The member who has fasted both for the blessing of the poor and for the companionship of the Spirit will be feeling gratitude for the love of God and the certainty of eternal truth. Even a child can feel such things, which may be why sometimes the testimony of a child so moves us and why our preparation of fasting and prayer produces in us childlike feelings.”
-Henry B. Eyring, “Witnesses for God,” Ensign, Nov 1996, 30
Many of us have sat through both great testimony meetings and so-so testimony meetings where someone leads off on a tangent and it just continues on that course. But, a wonderful testimony meeting is, in fact, a testimony builder and can be a very moving and spiritual experience.
And now a word at closing on silence. Sometimes, there are pauses in the testimony bearing where no one gets up. I enjoy that time as I reflect on my own testimony and what I might say if I get up to bear it. I can usually feel many folks doing the same thing. Inevitably, someone will get up and say, “I just couldn’t let the time go by without getting up here,” or “I just couldn’t stand the silence.” You don’t often get a high quality testimony at that point. Or, when the time is right, someone will get up and bear a very sweet testimony. And the silence will have done its intended job.
Occasionally I think that some people say that they couldn’t let the time pass or the stand the silence as a way of expressing their promptings by the Spirit–that’s how they feel the Spirit. I’ve heard some very powerful testimonies following those phrases. I’ve also heard some very weak ones.
Generally the testimonies that bother me are the ones that are given by the same people every month, that give inappropriate information, or that do not feel sincere. Two quick thoughts. In the ward I grew up in a young man about 4 years younger than me had Downs Syndrome. He was baptized and was given the Aaronic Priesthood because despite his condition he had enough understanding to know that these things were important and that he wanted to serve the ward in the capacity of a deacon, then a teacher by helping with the sacrament. He did so with dignity and honor, and every fast and testimony meeting he stood and bore his testimony. I’m not always certain what he said, and frequently when I knew what he said it was rather embarrassing for his parents, who had adopted him knowing his condition, but it was always sincere. Did he make gaffes? Certainly. Was it disruptive, unusual and more than a bit strange? Absolutely! Would anyone have stopped him? I don’t think so, least of all the Savior.
Another story, this time from the opposite end. When my wife and I were first dating and married, we knew a couple who got married about the same time. We’ll refer to them as S. and L. S, the husband, had an unfortunate habit of living life in high drama, and this was especially true of the gospel. L, the wife, came from a large (in several senses of the word) and rather troubled family. In fast and testimony meeting S soon developed the habit of sharing rather unusual experiences with the congregation. Experiences that sounded a bit like they had come from the pages of the Book of Mormon or the Ensign. While I am uncomfortable in saying that his experiences were a fabrication, I will absolutely say that regardless of the veracity, they were of a deeply personal nature in many instances and not usually appropriate for public consumption. I never once felt edified by his testimonies.
Final story, this one humorous. We had a good and well-intentioned sister speaking well ahead of her thinking publicly declare that when she say her husband on his knees praying it got her rather hot and bothered…
When she and everyone else realized a few sentences later what she had said (she was speaking VERY quickly) she was rather embarassed! Of course, it didn’t stop her from making similar mistakes later…
One thing I love is that church meetings, ESPECIALLY testimony meetings are what we make of them. I get as tired as the next person with people going on about their world travels, the war in Iraq, or how they prayed to know if they should buy the Volvo or the Toyota van. However, there have been some really good meetings as well… Maybe we all take the line “Take no thought, what ye shall say” a little too seriously, and end up either talking about things that are not related, or end up saying rote lines that lack meaning.
I have to admit to enjoying quirky testimonies. True, they’re not inspiring or spiritual, but there’s something satisfying about the sense of community they bring. The ones I don’t enjoy – true confession here – are the little kids, especially if said children’s parents are whispering in their ears what to say.
What about the person who gets up EVERY month, like clock-work. Cries, tells a story, bears a sincere testimony, and takes up everyone else’s time that havn’t gone up in months. I always get a kick out of that person. It actually becomes dinnertime conversation. We miss her on the months that she doesn’t get up there.
I liked your post.
Oh, regardless of what testimonies are “supposed” to be, I cherish the idea of an open forum where people can say whatever is on their minds – no matter how kooky it is. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that a testimony meeting where everyone repeats the same canned sentences and sits down really puts me to sleep. I enjoy hearing the experiences of others because it’s how the gospel works for them.
It’s a dicey area when one is bothered by how others choose to bear a testimony. Being bothered or annoyed is a form of judgment and it’s rooted in ego. BTDT. Believe me I’m not saying I never exercised such judgment myself. It’s helpful when noticing those feelings of annoyance, resentment, or being bothered come up to focus on every good thing you can think of about that person and allow them a spot in your heart and mind free of judgments. Easier said that done at times. Useful in the work environment and family settings, too.
As for the best testimony meetings… they’re the unexpected ones that knock everyone out of their routine and expectations. The once dedicated member who admits their lack of faith. The visitor in the pew from a charismatic church who shouts “Praise the Lord!” after a thoughtful testimony. These are the sorts of things that wake people up and either entertain them or shock them into thinking about their own testimony’s strength.
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