Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Keystone of Testimony

I have been thinking about this particular post for well over a month now, and it will still be nowhere close to where I wanted it to be before I posted... but here it is, in its raw and imperfect form, just as I am. Just as we all are.

I have been discouraged by friends and family over the years that have been active members of the church and then made the choice to leave the church. Of course, I acknowledge that it is their decision and that they dictate their own choices - and while I may respect their ability to choose, it does not mean that I particularly respect the choice they've made.

I have an easier time with those that have left the church because they made a mistake and feel that they can't live up to the standards that the church asks you to maintain. In a world where drinking, smoking and casual sex is common place; where pornography runs rampant; where the family has been redefined from it's original design - it stands to reason that many will fall running through the gauntlet of society expectations. So I have friends and family members that have taken up drinking and smoking and sleep around and have their morning coffees and don't come to church. I have an easier time with them because: they still believe the church is true. They don't question the validity. They don't look for inaccuracies or ways to disprove the very thing they have been taught since they were young. No, they aren't living the standards. In fact, they are living quite contrary to some of the basic principles of the church. But there is still, even slight as it may be, the basic structure of the testimony they possessed long ago and they can't seem to deny it.

But then there are others, who I just... don't understand. I can't fathom their thought process and how they came to the spiritual (or lack of spiritual) place that they now stand. And yet, I have gotten glimpses into how they reached that point.

It is a testimony-building experience to have questions about the gospel. In fact, that is how a testimony is generally gained. No one has a perfect understanding, and since we believe in personal revelation, it seems (and is) the right thing to do to study for the answer and then take it to the Lord in prayer and receive an answer. I am not well-practiced in this process, but I know it does work. BUT having questions and then NOT praying, NOT studying the scriptures and NOT going to the temple is not the way to get an answer. You may get an answer, but I can tell you, that it isn't going to be a correct one because it won't be based on the spirit. I know that receiving answers requires traits like humility and an openness to receive an answer. It also requires patience and some faith as you do the thing which you are asking about. You don't gain a testimony of tithing without paying it.

A testimony is a very personal thing. We are taught that you can't live on borrowed light. You can't keep going forward thinking that because your parents believe something, you should too. Eventually it catches up with you and you have to figure things out for yourself.

One of the reasons that doesn't work, is because you can't base your testimony off an imperfect person. I received an email from one such person that said the following:
Through study and prayer we have come to the conclusion (in our minds) that Joseph Smith is not who the church presents him to be. And as many Prophets and Apostles have stated, this Church starts and ends with Joseph Smith. Either he is the greatest man who ever lived next to Jesus Christ or this work is a fraud. We have studied his life, his history, his words, and his records, Church documents, etc...
This is not true.

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God..." Not your friends. Not some BYU professor. And not Joseph Smith. Ask God. "...and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)

Joseph Smith was a man. As such, he was imperfect. Full of fault. Of course the church that he helped to restore would revere him! Despite all his follies, he still brought forth the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. He still translated the Book of Mormon. He brought back the priesthood keys, the saving ordinances, built a temple where endowments can be received and families can be sealed together for eternity! I don't care that he looked for secret treasure, or even if he believed in magic... or that he was sealed to thirty different women (I don't know the specific number and I have my own beliefs on that particular thing anyway) or whatever the accusations are against him! It. Should. Not. Matter. Why would - why should - we focus on the bad, when there is so much good? We aren't going to dwell on the mistakes that Joseph Smith, or other leaders of the church, make because what would the point be? We shouldn't dwell on the mistakes that we make, either. That is what repentance and the grace of God is for.

The keystone of testimony should not be Joseph Smith, or any other man that has led this wonderful church. That would be complete folly, and will most certainly set you up to find fault with something you have believed - nay, KNOWN - to be true.

Ezra Taft Benson said in 1986,
...the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church. But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true—and millions have now testified that they have the witness of the Spirit that it is indeed true—then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it.
The church's validity does not crumble with Joseph Smith. I know he was a prophet called of God, but he still made mistakes. Thomas S. Monson, the current prophet of the church, probably makes just as many. And every prophet and leader, whether it be bishop, stake president or general authority, has his own prejudices, life experiences and imperfections that may dictate the things that he says or does. It does not make the church untrue. All it does is prove the absolute necessity for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which we all have access to.

I make mistakes. I have made some serious mistakes in my life. But I do not question the testimony that I have had since before I was baptized at the age of eight. Life is hard, and sometimes it down right sucks. It seems that we are bombarded with thing after thing of pain and toil and in the end, we step in crap just to make it worse. People live with years of cancer. They have children that go wayward for 40 years. Money comes and goes.

None of it changes the fact that God is there listening to us. He leads us with a prophet that he raised up to guide us.

And I know all this, because I know the Book of Mormon is true.

Elder Uchtdorf said,
Have you ever noticed that people can usually find whatever they are looking for? Look hard enough, and you can discover both good and bad in almost anyone and anything. People have done the same with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its beginning.  
The scriptures: the Book of Mormon, the Bible and the words of modern day prophets (do you know how blessed we are to have prophets on the earth!?) are where you find answers. Don't go seeking elsewhere. If you have questions about the church, turn to the Book of Mormon. Seek your answers there. And then, turn to the promise given in Moroni 10.


3Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how amerciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and bponder it in your chearts.
4And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would aask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not btrue; and if ye shall ask with a csincere heart, with dreal intent, having efaith in Christ, he will fmanifest the gtruthof it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may aknow the btruth of all things.
6And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
7And ye may aknow that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, baccording to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever. 
Sometimes I think it seems easier to give up living the gospel, so we can focus on living the rest of our lives. I think this is the greatest mistake we can ever make. I can't imagining making life harder than it has to be by giving up the one constant in my life.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,

“Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead.”
Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven. But for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ,they come. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.

7 comments:

  1. Dear Shelli,

    I love you. What a powerful and wonderful message of faith and hope. It's easy to let life get you down and to move away from those things that give you true comfort and joy.

    A testimony is a something we must constantly strengthen. As I am teaching Seminary, I think of so many of these early saints who had such bright and powerful testimonies. Many of them endured all sorts of hardships for those testimonies and still ended up falling away.

    There are no guarantees in life, no point at which we should feel like we have it "made." We keep moving forward, keep turning to the Lord, trusting in His love and His plan for us.

    Thanks again for sharing your testimony.

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  2. Thank for for that wonderful post. For as long as I can remember my Mom has had a note card on our fridge at home with a quote from President Kimball saying a testimony has a short shelf life and is something we have to find again day after day.

    If we neglect it, it will spoil! I find it interesting that many leave because of "learning" about the Prophet Joseph Smith, but it was never said he was the greatest person beside the Savior. It has only been said that he has done more for the salvation of men, save Jesus only. Salvation! That's what a prophet does; he teaches us how to procure the blessings of the atonement so we may live once more with our Heavenly Father. Who cares what mortals do; they are imperfect! The Savior is perfect and will provide every thing we stand in need of if we will just be humble and follow Him.

    Furthermore, I have found it very interesting that as I've been reading the Book of Mormon this time around and have arrived at 3rd Nephi, the people's arguments against the gospel are the same as what people say today. Satan is not very original and he never will be.

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  3. Thank you, Shelli. You have wonderful timing.

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  4. Hi Shelli!

    I have a few comments about this blog post you did, but my comments challenge some of your logic. Am I allowed to post them here or would you rather only have comments posted here that support your claims? If so, I am happy to send my comments in an email or facebook message to you.

    It looks like you are happy and doing well!

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  5. Hi Shelli,

    Thanks for your permission to post this. I hope this doesn't sound like I am attacking or anything. Please know that I am an open-minded individual, and even my own claims I am willing to question if you or someone is able to provide a logical explanation to refute them.

    My whole life I have spent thinking largely like you have outlined in this blog post. Lately, however, I have become to notice some flaws in the logic the Church and many of its members describe as reasons why the Spirit is what reveals the truth of the Church, and it's okay if Joseph Smith did a lot of bad things.

    First, the Spirit. I used to think that the Mormon Church was extremely special in how the Spirit is validating the Church as true, and that the Spirit is the ultimate revealer of truth, and we can trust it without a shadow of a doubt.

    Here are my problems with this.

    We are not unique in using the Spirit to validate the truthfulness of our religion. This is the methodology incorporated by every last religion in the world. They are ALL praying to God for direction, and they are feeling spiritual promptings that they are in the true church, just as we feel. The Mormon Church claims that the reason every religion is feeling the Spirit is because every religion has truth in it which the Spirit will testify of. If you actually talk to these people, you'll quickly realize that this isn't the case. They don't feel like God has told them that they have some truth, but there is something better for them out there that He will reveal to them eventually (e.g. the Mormon Church). The Spirit tells them that they are definitely in the right religion, and they should never leave. Since we are coming to the same conclusions that they are coming to, using the same methodology, but yet our conclusions are doctrinally contradictory (think of Islam and Judaism, for example), this shows me that the Spirit is actually not reliable at all.

    Considering the fact that the Spirit is just spreading confusion in the religious world, and assuming there IS a God, I don't see how he could be the one causing this. If I consider him to be a rational and loving person, I can't also believe that he would be telling every last person in every religion that they are right, when many religions are in total conflict with each other. This makes me believe that the Spirit is not coming from God, whatever it is. It makes me think that it might just be in our minds. I know all Mormons would call this absolute heresy. I know that. But how can anyone really know that what they are feelings isn't coming from within them? I obviously don't know your particular situation, but it is likely you have felt a spiritual prompting about certain things that you discovered later weren't actually religiously important. Or maybe there have been times it would have been nice to have felt the Spirit about something really important, but you didn't feel it. I know this happens to me a lot. It just gives me credence to the likely fact that this isn't God speaking to any one of us. God is not a God of confusion.

    (contined next post)

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  6. (continued)

    Now Joseph Smith. With all due respect, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment that "The church's validity does not crumble with Joseph Smith." It absolutely DOES crumble and I'll tell you why: he's the founder of the religion! If you look at the situation rationally, the Church was either started by God through Joseph Smith, or it was started by Joseph Smith alone. Those are the only two possibilities I can see. If it was by God through Joseph Smith, then great. But we can't just assume that (and as I explained, I don't think using the Spirit to learn if he was a prophet is a good methodology). We need to look at Joseph Smith's character and decide if he's someone that we should be trusting.

    I know a lot of people say that Joseph Smith had his follies and was imperfect, and that doesn't mean he wasn't a prophet. I agree with that. My problem with the situation with Joseph Smith, however, is not his innocent mistakes. It's that he was frequently deceiving people in his day and he was doing it for money. In his treasure hunting days, as you mentioned, I don't think you're fully aware of all the details of that. He wasn't just looking for treasure. As you know, he and his family were incredibly poor and looked for ways to make money. Joseph Smith was good at telling stories and he used this to his advantage. He had a seer stone that he told people he could look into and discover where treasure was buried. He would then CHARGE people money to look into the stone for them and then tell them were to dig. Many people gave him money to do this. The sad part is, no one ever found his treasures. When they would dig and find nothing, Joseph would say things like "Oh sorry, the Devil must have moved the treasure" or "Your lack of faith makes the treasure sink deeper and deeper the more you dig".

    In 1826 he was arrested for treating people like this. In the trial there were witnesses who explained that he had taken their money in exchange for knowing where treasure was, but they never found treasure. Joseph admitted that he actually wasn't very good at seeing treasures in his seer stone. He admitted that he was, in fact, tricking people. And just one year later, he found another "treasure" - the gold plates. He used the same seer stone he used to trick people just a year prior to translate the plates as well.

    I'm not even going to get into the many other problems with Joseph Smith's character. My reason in saying all of this is as follows:

    1. Despite what the Church may say, I don't think the Spirit is trustworthy. I don't even think it comes from God.

    2. I DO think it's important to look at Joseph Smith's character. If he was okay about tricking people BEFORE he started the Church, why would he have a problem doing it after? People wanted Christ's original Church back on the Earth, so it would have been smart of him to act like he had restored it. He had plenty of motivation - money, power, etc.

    Once again, I hope I don't sound like I am bashing on Mormon beliefs. I am just looking at the situation rationally. If you find errors in my logic, please by all means let me know. And if you'd rather not continue this discussion on your blog, feel free to facebook message me.

    -Tyler

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  7. I could probably write as long a response as Tyler did, but I'll try to keep it short.

    First off, I'm not really sure how you can say that the church doesn't crumble if Joseph Smith turns out to a fraud (which is all he could be if he is not as the Church presents), while still maintaining that the Book of Mormon is the keystone. Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are so inextricably connected that either both stand or both fall. And these are both inextricably tied to the validity of the church.

    I won’t belabor that, though, because I would actually go a bit further and disagree with President Benson entirely when he says that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the religion on this ground: regardless of what unpleasant facts members of the church hear about the Book of Mormon, they often still believe in the church. This means there must be something more fundamental to their testimony than the Book of Mormon. In my opinion the single most fundamental keystone of Mormonism is the Holy Ghost, and the witness received by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    Personally, my interest in problems with Church history is really dwarfed compared to the problems I see within the doctrines of the Church itself. My most fundamental disagreement with the Church is about what the Spirit is and how one is supposed to go about gaining a testimony by it.

    I really like the quote by Elder Uchtdorf that you shared. People do tend to find what they are looking for and do end up believing what makes them most comfortable. Interestingly, the church answers every important question in the most idealistic way possible. It is literally a dream come true for most people. So of course people are going to feel good about it. I absolutely believe Elder Uchtdor’s quote is true and it applies as much or more to members of the church than to anyone else. Quite frankly, members of the church see exactly what they look for in the church and they cannot see anything else.

    On another note, I have a growing circle of friends who have left the church. For most of them it was not a testimony-building experience to have questions about the gospel. And I would contend that most of them (though not all) did not leave the church because it was the easier route. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished in the last 3 years that the church was really true. Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely happier (and feel what Mormon’s describe as the Spirit more often) now than ever before. But life would be a lot easier in many ways if the Church were true. (Of course it would be even easier if the Church simply didn’t exist at all.)

    One last thing. It’s funny how many things, like tithing, you can’t gain a testimony of without doing. For example, I’m pretty sure most people don’t gain a testimony of the benefits of hallucinogenic drugs without doing them. And I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people with strong testimonies of those benefits gained their testimony by doing. This method of testimony building is pretty universal, both for things that are good and things that are not.

    ReplyDelete

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