Each first Sunday of the month these words can be heard echoing through microphones in LDS Church buildings throughout the world, "I know the Church is true."
Recent comments on my last post have prompted me to do some thinking on these words. In the past I have felt that these words are too broad and ambiguous to be useful. How can one "know" something that relies on matters of faith? Wouldn't it be better, as Rich suggested, to use the words "I feel," or "I believe," or even "I testify?" Wouldn't "I know" have to be reserved for cases when one has actually touched the wounds in Jesus hands and feet and side, or when a conversation with God has taken place wherein he has told the seeker that he chose Joseph Smith to restore his Church to the earth? What is "the Church?" Isn't it an imperfect, changing, adapting institution that seeks to implement Gospel truths? And what does "true" mean, anyway?
A few statements from fellow Latter-Day Saints have helped me to understand why they feel justified in using the words "I know the Church is true." Linda Hoffman Kimball said:
I understand the need for using the word "know." For me the restored Gospel, the authority and ordinances of the Priesthood, the divine guidance of this Church are the truest things I know. My conviction about these things is the standard by which I measure all other things claiming to be "true" or for anything else I say I "know." To use another verb might lessen the impact, the authority, the imperative this personal revelation has for me. I know what I mean when I say I know, but I'm less certain what others mean when they say it.
Another reason I think Church members use the word "know" is to underscore the exclusivity of the truth claims of Mormondom. This is a touchy subject in our modern culture. When most people want to hear "If it works for you, then God bless," Mormons unabashedly declare that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life; that angels came again; that ancient translated books bear witness of Christ; that ordinances essential to spiritual progress are necessary for everyone and available to them now or in the eternities. Some Mormon folk may think that to say "I believe" sounds too much like the broader cultural norm of "my truth is as good/valid/right as your truth."
I can also honestly and boldly state that I know some things are true, because the Holy Ghost caused me to know. He not only told me, but he transfered in, or poured in that knowledge to me. Even more descriptive, he burned that knowledge into me, like page 38 of Gospel Principles, Chapter 7:
The convincing power of the Holy Ghost is so great that there can be no doubt that what he reveals to us is true. President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
“When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).
President Smith also said, “Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:48).
Yes, I could say I believe or I feel. That would be true. But the "whole truth" goes beyond that. To tell the whole truth, I have to say "I know" that a) God the father lives, b) Jesus the son of God, lives and is the Savior, c) the Book of Mormon is true (ie Jesus really visited the Nephites, etc), and d) Joseph Smith's first vision really happened.
I think that when they assert that "I know the Church is true," many Mormons are coming from the position that the claims made by the Church are authentic and conforming to reality. This would mean that, among other claims, Joseph Smith had a genuine encounter with a physical God, and that he translated an ancient record that was tangible. These are the types of things they wish to communicate in their testimonies.
In his recent talk at BYU-H, Elder Ballard said, "Our position is solid; the Church is true." I am interested in the solidity of my readers' positions--do you frame your testimony with the words, "I know the Church is true?" What does this mean to you? How is your "knowledge" different than belief?