Testimony Part 1: ” I Know the Church is True”

Jeff SpectorMormon 17 Comments

The first time I attended the LDS Church was a Fast and Testimony Meeting at the University Ward in Berkeley, California. Coming from a background where a liturgy was the Sabbath Service with very small amount of a sermon or speech coming from the Rabbi or Bar/Bat Mitzvah kid, I was just dumbfounded. The idea of members of the congregation getting up and just speaking extemporaneously was shocking to me. I was incredibly impressed and really enjoyed it even if, at the time, I had very little clue what they were talking about.

Fast forward a year later and I am a member at this point. As I attend testimony meeting each month, I see a pattern developing. Young and old alike use this phrase “I know the Church is True.” After that, I begin to notice other things, the travel logs, the solicitations (more about that another time), the scripture reading, and the ‘thank you’s.”

But what of this expression, “I know the Church is true.” What does that really mean? I suppose it must be an easy phrase to repeat since it is repeated so many times. I figured out that they must mean, “I know this is the True Church.” I can understand a small child or even a teenager using the expression, “I know the Church is True,” but why do adults use it as well. I always think in my mind, “is true WHAT?

It bugged me for a long time. But I‘ve matured to the point now where I like to listen to testimonies with spiritual ears rather than just my natural ears. That is, I try to understand what they are trying to say rather than the way they say it. This has helped me appreciate better how many members really feel about their Church, the Savior, the restoration of the Gospel, the scriptures, the prophets and so on.

It is very easy to be critical of how people express themselves. It can also be downright funny at times. But the point is that we have to appreciate the fact that folks are willing to get up there and express the love they have and to share their personal revelation. Sure it can be cookies cutter, but in my mind, it is a far cry better than hearing the same exact thing spoken in the service week in and week out for your entire life.

In fact, just today, I heard something so profound to me, it was like a revelation. I still appreciate that part of testimony meeting.

Next time, I’ll discuss what a testimony is and what it is not.

Comments 17

  1. “I try to understand what they are trying to say rather than the way they say it.” This is something that I could remember more often, as I usually get stuck in my helpless reductionism, breaking down every word. For example, after I hear the phrase, “I know this is the only true church,” I think to myself, what is “church”? what does “only” mean? or what does “true” even mean?

  2. Indeed, it is good to listen to the meaning (at least some times) 🙂

    I’m still at a loss at just how to respond to testimony as social posturing. I’ve seen it a couple of times, especially when someone is engaged in some sort of social ritual they brought with them to Texas from some other place. You can watch what are foreign stock phrases roll of their tongues and watch them watch the audience for acknowledgment (which doesn’t come).

    So many things go on in a testimony meeting, including some real testimony.

  3. I went through a phase where I didn’t like the phrase, “The church is true.” I didn’t feel like it made sense. The church is an organization, not an assertion. But then I realized that it is scriptural.

    So I guess if it’s good enough for the Savior, it’s good enough for me. I’m not as critical of others using the phrase now, but I still don’t feel comfortable using it myself since I prefer to be more specific, and I’m still not really sure what it means, specifically, to say that the church is true. It seams that statement is more used as a subsitute for saying a series of other things are true (Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and the current president is a prophet, etc.) Which is fine, but I just prefer to spell it out specifically.

    But another way to look at it the word “true” is not as in “truth”, but as in “integrity”. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “The church is true”. In that light the phrase is a little less vague, if that’s really what is meant.

  4. That phrase has bothered me for a long time. In my mind, the church is very distinct from the restored gospel of Jesus. The church is an imperfect organization run by imperfect and fallen individuals. I think this is an important distinction. I believe the gospel is true, but I have to keep the church and gospel in different compartments.

    It is likely that one day, you will be wronged (your perception) by the church—or rather, someone acting in some capacity of the church. It may or may not be founded, but for most people, if they confuse the church with the gospel, it can ruin their testimony.

  5. #3 & #4 both have good points: the church is very distinct from the gospel, but the church is the vehicle FOR the gospel at this time, and even more, as a part of the gospel, the ordinances are a constant, which leaves the need for the priesthood, which means that you must have the organization of the priesthood. That means that the Prophet, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Seventy, at the very least, are all going to remain, even if the church changes dramatically.

    I could see a point where we go back to a more patriarchal structure–more family oriented, but that would also likely accompany a return a two a polygamous family structure AND a breakdown of government such that families were banding together as the only group that could be truly trusted, and then the next ring of trust would be faith. If that happens, we would have gone to a point where government in the USA and most other countries was essentially meaningless. Will that happen? Perhaps. Some would argue that it would be a good thing. In fact there are two ways that this could happen–one is by a calamitous breakdown, and one is by work to strengthen the family much more.

    Okay, I’m done. Enough random thoughts–I’ll get back to my less random thoughts.

  6. Post

    The church has been moving more to a family oriented structure over the past ten or so years. You see the elimination of Church-dominated events that used to fill up a families week. Speech contest, roadshows, stake productions, etc. in favor of more family time. i have an idea for a post about this as well based on some instructions we received as a stake a few years ago.

    The family is the most imporant unit in the church and the demise of the traditional family is considered the biggest problem in the world today.

  7. I heard some wonderful testimonies yesterday in my ward. Very few of them were from people I knew (we had visitors for a baby blessing, one visitor from Honduras, and new missionaries) but were still largely powerful.

    I look at the act of bearing testimony on Fast Sunday as a social ritual. There is a reason the Relief Society has its own testimony meeting and why family home evenings and other smaller Church venues sometimes include testimony sharing: not all of us can format our testimonies into the ward-wide model on a regular basis. Our stake president, who was attending, told us to be brief. Fair enough, but collecting my thoughts alone takes time from others who have distilled their testimonies into the two minute or less time slot…

    I like John Dehlin’s take on “the Church is true”: it makes as much sense as to say my sandwich is true 🙂

  8. On my mission fast & testimony meeting was always a bit of crapshoot as far as taking investigators. You never knew what was going to happen. Although with a lay clergy, I suppose that can be said of any week.

    I found it interesting that early Methodists (the sect JS was almost persuaded to join) also used to have spontaneous testimony sharing meetings. And Quakers’ entire meeting is more or less a testimony meeting, with a broader scope of topics.

  9. The phrase “The Church is true” is an abstraction. It is not meant as a literal expression; rather, it is meant to convey the idea that the speaker is a believer. It may be unartful and technically incorrect, but it is meant to convey an emotional or mental state, rather than make a factual assertion.

  10. dpc,

    I agree with what you say. I wonder what those not of our faith think about the expression when confronted with it, given Jeff’s comments above.

  11. I always get missed up on this quote.

    “I do not regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do.” – Rory Cochrane

    Does it mean: I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I only regret the things I haven’t done.
    Or does it mean: I don’t regret the things I’ve done. But the things you accuse me of I didn’t even do.

  12. Post

    Mike L,

    “I went through a phase where I didn’t like the phrase, “The church is true.” I didn’t feel like it made sense. The church is an organization, not an assertion. But then I realized that it is scriptural.”

    I think you’ve illustrated the point I was trying to make. The phrase “I know the Church is true” is an incomplete thought. The quote you used “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” is the complete thought.

    Here are some of the other complete thoughts that could follow “I know the Church is true”

    “I know this is the true Church of Jesus Christ”
    “I know this Church is a true representation of the Church the Savior set up.”
    “I know this Church is a true benefit to all who are faithful members”
    “I Know this Church can truly change lives for good.”

    And while it is an incomplete thought, we all know what the person means. Vistors probably would not. But. then again the first time at an LDS Sacrament meeting is a baffling experience for anyone. Just like most other religious services.

  13. Jeff,

    I think I agree, but I still don’t see the difference between “the church is true” and “the church is the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” In both cases, the word “true” describes “church” without any indication on what we mean by that. The phrase starting with “upon” only clarifies that we are including all other churches in our comparison, but it doesn’t explain what “true” means in the context of describing a church. So although I don’t fully understand it grammatically, like I said, if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.

    But I do see how saying “The church is the true Church of Jesus Christ” is a little different, since it then clarifies what we mean by “true”, being that it means that it is a the church Jesus created. I could also say in the same way, “this is a true sandwich of mine” meaning that the sandwich is really mine (although it’s an awkward sentence structure, it still makes sens). But saying “this is a true sandwich” doesn’t make any sense.

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  16. i know that the church of jesus christ of latter day saints is the true church and nobody can deny it! Please don’t say bad stuff about my church! I love it and please don’t leave it! Jesus loves all of you! Please don’t leave it! I love Jesus with all of my heart! Believe in him! I know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet! If this church weren’t true, missionaries wouldn’t waist 2 whole years serving that mission! I love Jesus Christ and believe in him because he does so much for us! Amen!

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