Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I "Know" The Church Is True

We've heard the robotic repetitions, precious though they may be, from little children on Fast Sunday. They trundle up to the podium, the first counselor has fun with the switch to adjust it to the proper height, and then the child says something along the lines of this:

"I'd like to bear my testimony; I know this church is true. I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet. I love my mom and dad. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

That's nifty, but what does it really mean?

I remember giving a similar testimony all through my years where my age was comprised of one digit. But when people say they "know," how are they really using that word?

By Common Consent has a post on this phenomenon, posing this problem:

I have noticed over the last several decades that, increasingly, expressions of faith are no longer perceived as good enough. Only expressions of KNOWLEDGE!, with its greater perceived certainty, are considered the normative form of discourse in a F&T meeting. 
The diminution of expressions of hope/belief/faith/trust in our church culture has, it seems to me, given rise to a rather unfortunate if unintended consequence: faith just isn’t what it used to be.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who "knew"
I think it's a good thing to calm down on the "I know"s and ramp up some "I believe"s. I've had people bear their testimony to me of some things that just don't ring true. Once on my mission, we brought an investigator to church. Now we were in a quaint ward with some colorful characters, and we had one enthusiastic fellow in elders quorum who liked to, shall we say, get in touch with his inner Orson Pratt when it came to the more fantastical elements of the gospel. At one point, he bore his testimony that Adam lived to be 600 years old because the Earth spun faster back then. He knew this to be true!

As we left church with him, we had to point out to our investigator that hey, some of that stuff you heard isn't church doctrine, it's just Brother So-and-So going off.

Testimony meeting can be whatever the members make it. I think everyone has that person in their ward who gets up almost every month and starts with "I would be an ungrateful servant if I didn't come up here today." No, you wouldn't. But it's very rare that anyone gets up there without saying "I know" two or three times.

I'm going to pay attention next month. My hope is that I hear the words "believe" and "faith" more than "I know." After all, to have faith is better for your soul than to know, isn't it?


  1. I think this is short-sighted and true at the same time. (Is that even possible?) Here's why I say that, John -

    Knowledge comes from what? Reading? Meditating? Listening? Nope. It comes from experience. If you claim people can't 'know' things in their testimony, then you have to also claim they can't know things like water freezes at 32 degrees, the sun sets each night, et al. We KNOW these things because we observe them in our lives. We EXPERIENCE them for ourselves. Aside from the people in every ward that have "Orson Pratt" moments, it's unfair to claim people can't 'know' things they share in their testimony.

    Take me, for example. I can tell you that I KNOW the gospel is true. How can I say that? Because every time I live the gospel, I am happy. Zero exceptions. I KNOW that attending the temple makes us better people. How do I know? Because since I started going weekly, my disposition has changed (and even my kids notice the difference) On weeks when I miss, my patience is thinner and my mood is darker. No exception to that one either. If you experience something over and over, you absolutely can KNOW.

    Experience it one time and maybe there is some interpretation on our part (hence the likelihood for nutcase commentaries), but experience something over and over and you absolutely can KNOW, just as sure you know water will freeze at 32 degrees and the sun will rise in the morning.

    Maybe you should ask yourself the question "Do I KNOW this is true?" If the answer is anything but 'yes', maybe your next question should be "Why not?"

  2. I agree with you. I don't normally respond to blogs but I want to in this case. I have always felt cultural pressure to say "I know" when speaking of gospel truths. It was probably all in my mind, but somehow I irrationally thought that if I didn't use those magic words somehow my testimony was faulty and my candidacy for exhaltation was affected. I now know more than ever that faith is the substance of things hoped for. And even if I don't "see" or experience the association with heavenly beings until the next life or whatever experience leads you to know "without a shadow of a doubt," my experiences (searching, reading, meditating, listening AND DOING) have helped me to strongly feel/believe that the gospel is true. Thanks for the thought provoking blog.
    Matt Harward