On my “Ask a Mormon” page, Brad asks a very important question (summarized):
If Mormons claim that the best way to know if their church is true is by a witness from the Spirit, how do you counter the argument that others in different religions have claimed to have received their own witness?
I can’t say that I have the definitive answer. I’m not inherently intellectual, so I don’t have much native capacity to draw on to address such a difficult issue. On the other hand, I try very diligently to approach such matters of eternal consequence with humility, seeking only to understand Gods will and, with his grace, his assistance in presenting it cohesively. In short, if my thoughts are of no value, that’s my fault alone, but if they shed any light on the issue, then the credit is not mine.
That said, the answer, of course, is as individual as the purported testimonies of those who claim to have received a witness. There won’t be any single answer inherently and independently capable of adequately addressing every possible scenario. But that doesn’t mean the question can’t be answered; it just means there are many possible answers. I’ll address several.
I elaborate more on this particular topic in “Is your testimony based on emotion?“. Feelings are fallible things. Not every “warm fuzzy” we feel has the depth of divinity or is the substance of the Spirit.
But since the Spirit speaks to our hearts, gives us feelings and inclinations, the burden is upon us as individuals to distinguish what is of divine origin, and what is merely a biochemical reaction to something of psychological appeal.
But the very nature of feelings and their interpretation is highly subjective. A vulnerability quickly capitalized on by commercialized religions, who stock their services with mechanisms to manufacture such emotions… live bands, shouts and songs, and preachers adept in the art of oratory entertainment (which I address here, since our meetings are so different).
Is someone attending one of these sessions likely to “feel” something? Well if they didn’t, then these churches wouldn’t currently be in business. That IS their business and they’re very good at it. So simply feeling something at one of these sermons doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve received a divine confirmation that you’ve found the true church.
But even outside of a church sermon, two separate people praying to know if their differing religions are true, are highly prone to erroneously interpreting their answer, if based solely on how they “feel”.
Does it feel more “comfortable” following what your family, friends, and associates might be doing? Does it feel better continuing on a path with which you are already familiar? Of course, so if you’re relying simply on your feelings, then they’re bound to be polluted with these kinds of sociological and psychological pressures that naturally affect the way we “feel” about anything, but that are entirely external to the issue at hand.
For example, if someone, raised in another religion, were to ask God if Mormonism was correct or if they should continue going to their current church, then the first, and natural tendency is to feel like they should continue on the path that they were on, because that feels comfortable. After all, the host of difficult, life-changing ramifications of converting to another religion does not generally constitute a welcome proposition.
If all you’re relying upon is a feeling for an answer, with no more investment but to ask, then you’re feelings are bound be be born of influences other than a witness from God. This brings me to my next point.
But first, in summary – we simply MUST figure out if the feelings we receive are divine, or the natural result of preconceived notions, or the tendency to cling to what we know, or what is easiest, or are they simply superficial fluff manufactured by those who know how to do so.
Why might we find contradictory “witnesses”? Because feelings are fallible things, and not all of them are of divine origin.
Due to the difficulty surrounding some answers, our natural tendency is to try less hard, to invest less effort, or to be less sincere about pursuing a course that would be uncomfortable.
If I were to pray “Is Mormonism true, or is my current church true”, the simple nature of the question pollutes my ability to isolate an answer. It introduces far too much external emotional baggage (as explained above), and illustrates a general lack of sincerity in seeking the answer. A question such as this seems to simply pay lip service to the search, when the extent of your effort was but to ask.
The level of sincerity with which one seeks an answer will be directly proportional to their mental investment into researching the answer.
For unless you first study it out in your own mind, truly researching (not to refute, but to understand), and then coming to your own conclusion, will you be appropriately armed to transcend the emotional baggage of the answer of either option.
At that point, you’re comparing principle to principle, and not the implications of the options.
But without first studying it out in your mind, your feelings are far too susceptible to exterior emotional baggage, leaving you ill-suited to accurately determine the divinity of your answer. You simply haven’t invested the time, or the emotional and mental effort, and by not doing so, have shown that you’re not truly sincere in your search. An insincere search is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A good measure of your sincerity is your actual willingness to appropriately act upon the answer you receive, regardless of the consequences.
Why might we find contradictory “witnesses” – insincerity.
We’re talking about salvation, and in this battle, there is more than one power working to influence the souls of men. Satan has had much time, and has proven highly adept at mimicking and impersonating anything of worth, anything of the Spirit, and anything of God.
And so, should we be surprised that when it comes to praying to know if a church is true, when it actually isn’t, that he is there with an affirmative answer that would mislead?
Surely we can’t think that he would choose to sit back and let the cards fall where they may, no, not when we’re talking about the souls of men. We should expect him to take an active role, introducing as much noise and confusion as possible.
Why might we find contradictory witnesses – because God is not the only one fighting for the souls of men.
Line upon line
The premise upon which this answer is based is a principle upon which we might not agree, but is (in my mind) no less real than any of the others.
Throughout the bible we find the inspired principle of progression by degrees. He gives us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. Why would he do this? Why not give us the whole from the beginning?
I propose that he chooses not to overwhelm us like this, because he loves us. His desire is for our salvation. Because of this, he will never give us more than we are able to bear. Because we are accountable for that which we receive, he is not anxious to give us more than we can live up to, but instead to allows us to progress in stages.
So he gives us a little truth, and that becomes our stewardship. But only after we have proven our ability to live in accordance to the laws and truth we have received, do we demonstrate to him that we are ready for more. Truth is treasure, and we will not be given more until we become profitable stewards over that which we have already received. There are many parables about this in the Bible.
For sake of illustration, let’s say church B is some general Christian denomination, teaching much truth, and doing much good, while church A is the actual true church of Christ.
Under this scenario, and based off the principle above, let me ask the following questions…
If I was an atheist, or of no particular religion, but attended Church B, would I be likely to feel a confirmation from the spirit that this was good? Under this principle, I’d say that’s very likely. It’s a step in the right direction, it’s line upon line.
What about if I’m an active participant in Church B, but find out about Church A, but in my heart of hearts (which only God knows), would be unwilling to follow the stricter laws and greater truth in Church A, or simply unwilling to accept the answer that Church A was Christ’s true church because of the difficulty of the path, when I pray, what would my answer be?
These are difficult questions, and I won’t pretend to know the answers. But I submit, that there are far more variables to one receiving a true and actual witness from the spirit, than we can possibly imagine.
Is there any question on how so many can receive so many different answers?
Can man truly understand the mind and will of God? Can man, in his limited natural capacity, question his divine intent? Is it even our place to question the answers of others? Is it a cop out to simply accept that we may never know why someone received the answer they did, but be willing to step forward in search of our own just the same? Or is that humility and faith?
We’re talking about the eternal salvation or damnation of our very souls. With this perspective, I submit that we should waste little time wondering on the answers of others, for sufficient is the task of finding our own, and living under the stewardship that it entails.
We must search diligently, figure it out in our own minds, make our own decision, and then approach the Lord in humble and sincere prayer, and what’s more, be willing to follow the answer, whatever it may be.
So I invite all to learn more about Mormonism, to learn about Joseph Smith, and to read the Book of Mormon. My testimony is that if you do this with proper humility, sincerity, and diligence, then the answer you receive will be indisputably divine, and unquestionably distinct from any other superficial daily emotion. You will know that it is from God, and not from man – whether it be of our selves, or feelings manufactured by another.
I invite all to take the challenge.
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