What does it mean to have a testimony of the LDS Church?

A very important part of LDS practice is the development and bearing of testimonies.  A testimony is a public statement of faith and belief.  Because having a testimony is considered to be an important, if not essential, part of conversion, the LDS have developed a very nuance way of talking about the matter.   I think there is a lot of confusion about what you must believe in order to have a testimony of the Church, and to believe the Church is true.

In an effort to clear up some of the confusion I propose that for a person to “have a testimony” of the Church is merely to believe that it is God’s will that the person belong and participate in the Church for the good of the Church, its members, and the world.

I like this definition because it allows the freedom of religious belief that Joseph Smith, and many other Latter-Day Saints died for.  It also allows for those who have such a testimony openly accept new (or old) teachings without casting doubt on their loyalty to the cause of Zion that the Church has always stood for.  If Joseph Smith stood for anything in his life, it was the freedom to proclaim and embrace the words God gave him, whether God gave him those words through experience, ancient scripture, or direct revelation.

I think it is a disservice to his memory and legacy to question somebody’s testimony of the church merely because they embrace radically different doctrine.  It is the ability to embrace any and all bodies of truth, which are filled with both wheat and tares, that only sure path for the members to make the Church the true church that they claim it to be.

10 thoughts on “What does it mean to have a testimony of the LDS Church?

  1. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion I propose that for a person to “have a testimony” of the Church is merely to believe that it is God’s will that the person belong and participate in the Church for the good of the Church, its members, and the world.

    Okay, but I sincerely doubt that’s what most members mean when they say they have a testimony of the Church (or, rather, they do mean that, but not just that).

  2. Mormons are all about resolving things to the lowest common denominator except when they’re not. I think this shows why some sort of creedal affirmation is important. The baptismal interview questions probably fulfill that role of defining the lowest common denominator. If you can’t affirm those you’re probably not as welcome to participate in the community.

    • Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
    • Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?
    • What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past transgressions?
    • Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole? Have you ever participated in an abortion? a homosexual relationship?
    • You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes living gospel standards. What do you understand of the following standards? Are you willing to obey them?
      • The law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman?
      • The law of tithing.
      • The Word of Wisdom.
      • The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members.
    • When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?
  3. 1. Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God,
    justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save (except) in
    His sovereign mercy?
    2. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and
    Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for
    salvation as is offered in the Gospel?
    3. Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace
    of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes a
    follower of Christ?
    4. Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the
    best of your ability?
    5. Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the
    church, and promise to study (work for) its purity and peace?

    Presbyterian Church in America

  4. Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

    Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

    Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

    According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?

    United Methodist Church

  5. The ordinance interviews are really the place where a person’s testimony is challenged. But, we also have recent statements like these from, again, the German apostle:

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place for people with all kinds of testimonies. There are some members of the Church whose testimony is sure and burns brightly within them. Others are still striving to know for themselves. The Church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, “Your testimony must be this tall to enter.”

    In the end, we are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true.”

    Hopefully this sort of rhetoric grows some teeth institutionally.

  6. @Tim,

    I think the baptismal interview questions make sense as the lowest common denominator, but the rub is that the baptismal candidate doesn’t have to have a very defined understanding or definition of the terms. The questions are not a specific confession like that of the Presbyterians and Methodists, a person can confess their answers in whatever language the person doing the interview will accept.

    I know many agnostic/secular Mormons who have a testimony that God wants them in the Church but may not have a testimony of every answer they give in ordinance interviews. Like many questions asked in church, you simply have to have the right answers, you don’t have to testify that the answers are from God.

  7. Christian J,

    I like the quotes. I think that reason will eventually dictate that big-tent Mormonism is better than any narrow definition of what it means to have a testimony.

  8. Jared, right actions are also a lot more highly valued than exactness in belief.

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