A brief rhetorical suggestion

In our culture, we claim to enjoy the privilege of belonging to the only “true” church.  However, the language of truth leads us into uncomfortable positions when we attempt to share our faith, when we are uncertain about which aspects of our complex, bureaucratic church are truly “inspired,” and when we might feel the word pressures us into feeling that anything short of certainty about our beliefs is unacceptable.  So, could we use a better term for describing the restored church? 

I would like to suggest that instead of claiming that we belong to the only “true” church that we say more frequently that we belong to the only “authorized” church.   This rhetorical shift seems both to better express what we mean by “true” when referring to our institutional and founding contexts and to avoid the divisive pitfalls that applying the word “truth” to an organization rather than to specific principles entails.

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  1. Mark Brown says:

    This is funny, Natalie. I was part of a similar conversation earlier today, and we reached the same conclusion.

  2. I think that is a great suggestion.

  3. Amen, and amen.

    Gospel principles are “true”. An organization designed to administer ordinances is not “true”, per se.

  4. StillConfused says:

    I do like that. I am borderline offended when folks refer to it as the only “true” church. My friends are all of different faiths.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Doesn’t “true” mean more than authorized, though? That’s more than a shift between synonyms you’re proposing.

  6. Latter-day Guy says:

    “…only true and living…” is a phrase in the D&C. You’d have to use a helluva good argument to gain much traction with “authorized.” Not that I disagree with you, but since the other has been ensconced in scripture, you would have to present truly compelling reasons to abandon it.

  7. And “authorized” still has some of the same “ours is the only correct one and yours is false” tone that “true” sometimes implies.

    How about “restored”? The word “restored” implies God’s imprimatur, without all of the awkwardness of describing an organization as “true.” (Then again, there is that sticky thing called Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants where the church is described in a revelation as “the only true and living church.” Hmmm, what to do, what to do?)

  8. True, authorized, living, restored, it all sounds the same to me. One way or another you claim that you’re right and everybody else is wrong.

    There’s no getting around it. I say stick with “true” since it’s in your scriptures.

  9. I agree with those who say that we’d have to explain it no matter what. I had to explain this very phrase to a member’s friend who came to Church a few weeks ago. She was fine once I explained it, but didn’t like that so many people were saying it.

    Also, about the D&C line… is the Church the only “true” Church _and_ the only “living” Church or is it the only “true and living” church? As in… a person could be tall (and not be the only tall one), and a person could be skinny (and not be the only skinny one), but could be the only tall and skinny one in a group. (I hope that makes sense)

  10. Last Lemming says:

    I apologize in advance to those who detect me shifting into broken record mode, but for those who have not heard my argument before….

    The scripture in question refers to “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased…”

    If we could just get rid of that pesky comma between “earth” and “which,” (remembering that the original text was not punctuated), we could acknowledge that there might be other “true” and/or “living” churches out there and that the Lord might even be mildly pleased with them. But he is only “well pleased” with one of them.

    No doubt this will come of as condescending, but it beats coming off as hostile. And if it leaves others less defensive, then they might be open to listening to what makes our church more pleasing. (Hint: It’s not because we have the “real” priesthood and they don’t.)

  11. “authorized” sounds a bit bureaucratic, no?

    A lot of non-Mormons are offended, I think, when Mormons say theirs is the only “true and living church,” so, from a proselytizing perspective, some other phrase might be useful. How about “most true”? Didn’t Brigham Young acknowledge people can find some amount of truth in other places (truth that he then claimed for the church as well)?

  12. StillConfused says:

    I would prefer that LDS people simply say “my chosen faith”. I think it is a given that someone thinks their church is true if they belong to it.

  13. Randall says:

    A little French mission humor for Monsieur Evans.

    For some reason, the French signage at the wrong end of a one-way straight (or the wrong direction in a rond-point) would say “Vous n’avez pas l’autorité”. Translation: “You don’t have the authority”

    One of my unfulfilled mission goals was to surreptitiously get a picture of a Catholic priest in front of the sign. I did have at least one chance, but lacked the gumption to pull it off.

  14. A recent post on Mormon Matters touched on the concept of truth, and I think it brings an interesting perspective to the conversation.

    “In the 19th century, when sailors would get their bearings on ships, they would say that their heading was ‘true’ if it would lead them to their destination. If they found that their heading was not leading them to their destination, their heading was considered ‘false’. In 19th century America, when people would debate about religion, they would often argue if certain beliefs were ‘true’ (or if they were useful for steering your life so that you would end up in heaven). If a belief was ‘false’, it would not help you get into heaven and by default, it would send you to Hell.”

    With true-ness understood as a bearing that indicates the fidelity to a particular direction you’re trying to head, perhaps the word is appropriate in reference to the LDS claim that the Church is the only “true and living” one on the face of the earth. This particular definition of “true”, however, has fallen out of popular use, and most people assume the phrase means that the Church is the only one with “living truths” (in other words, doctrines that are not false). This of course implies that all other churches and religions teach false doctrines, when that is clearly not the case, and not really a way to win friends and influence people. Plus, the phrase “true and living church” is not about the teaching of correct doctrines that will point one to heaven. Rather, its about who is authorized to act for God in the administration of ordinances associated with the doctrines that will open the gate on the path of salvation.

    My feeling is that “true and living” was meant to connote “authorized” to early members of the Church in the 19th century, but that true-ness was conflated with truth, and misunderstanding abounded. Still, claiming to be the only “authorized” church of Christ is audacious, because it implies that all other Christian churches _aren’t_ authorized to act in Jesus’ name.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    i don’t like the rhetoric of “only true church,” either, but I don’t think I like “authorized” any better. The problem is that it presumes a concept of religious authority that will be meaningful to Catholics but not to Protestants. Most people will find it a meaningless claim, because they don’t accept our concept of a necessary religious authority.

  16. #15: ” The problem is that it presumes a concept….(?). No, the problem is Mormons can’t define their own terms or stand by them.
    Why have most of the posts placed fault at the feet of the non-Mormons, when it is Mormons themselves who can’t define (as a group) what a church is, what truth is, and what having authority means?

  17. Natalie B. says:

    I don’t think the word “authorized” implies true. An idea that is authorized could be shown to be true, but authorized doesn’t necessitate truth. The authorized edition of a book, for example, might contain errors, but it is still the edition that the author gives permission to publish.

    Similarly, the fact that something is true doesn’t imply that it is authorized by anyone. If churches x and y have exactly the same doctrine, and let’s assume it is all true, then it is still possible that only church x was initially authorized and that church y just copied church x later without permission.

    I’m not saying that “authorized” is perfect, but I do think that the word truth is a bomb waiting to explode and that authorized doesn’t carry the same degree of problems. I also don’t think it makes sense to talk in our current language about institutions being true, because institutions are not ideas that can be verified or proven false.

  18. Natalie B. says:

    “Why have most of the posts placed fault at the feet of the non-Mormons”

    I think you are onto something – the people who care about being understood should have the responsibility to use language that others will understand. That actually might involve changing our language and terms depending on the context (are we talking to a Catholic, a Protestant, or another Mormon?), but it certainly is unreasonable to blame non-members for not getting us. And, I also agree that part of the problem is that we don’t even understand what we are trying to express. Until we do, I’d prefer that we were more humble about claiming the “truth.”

  19. StillConfused (#12) said “I think it is a given that someone thinks their church is true if they belong to it.”

    In the corner of the South that I am familar with, most protestants seem to view themselves as part of one large Christian faith community made up of different denominations. One does not necessarily have to belong to the correct denomination to be saved. They generally recognize baptisms performed by other denominations. When you ask what church they belong to, they will most likely name a specific location (“St. Phillips,” or “the Methodist Church in Acmeville,” etc.) rather than name a denomination (although they do usually identify themselves with a specific denomination if asked further). So “membership” has more to do with the building they attend than the location of their baptism.

    Like Kevin said in #15, Catholics might identify with the “true” or “authorized” idea, but protestants . . . probably not so much.

  20. #17: “I do think that the word truth is a bomb waiting to explode and that authorized doesn’t carry the same degree of problems.”

    For Joseph Smith “authorized” was the bomb that caused the anger against him. Everyone claimed the “truth”. (As it was written in the Bible). Everyone agreed in some matter, what saved you. (Grace or your Good Works). But Joseph Smith claimed only through him and his “authorized Priesthood”, could you be saved. (Baptized).

  21. I agree with #14. I’ve always viewed “true and living” as “of the right kind; such as it should be; proper: to arrange things in their true order” and “(eternal) life-giving or regenerating – as in ‘living’ water.” I have no problem with the verbiage; I just think most members define the words horribly wrong.

    I wrote the following post on Mormon Matters last August, if anyone is interested in a much longer, parsed look at D&C 1:30. (I don’t know why the post name got messed up.)


  22. I think the focus is entirely on the wrong word here. The most important word in the phrase “only true church” isn’t “true”, it’s “church”.

    A “church” is different than the “gospel” or even “true” principles–a church has (a) an organization with prophets and apostles, and (b) authority to perform holy ordinances.

    I think Church members get too caught up in trying to defend the “true” part, in terms of saying that naturally our church has no monopoly on “truth”, when they’d be better served starting from the “church” part, and explaining what specifically makes our *church* true (or ‘authorized’ in this case…) and distinctive than others.

  23. …distinctive from others, rather.

  24. Natalie B. says:

    I was thinking more about the comments that the word “authority” has at some times been as explosive as the word “truth.” I think that there is a good argument to be made that claiming truth is less exclusive than claiming authority, since truth is in theory open to all.

    So I was then asking myself why I feel significantly more uncomfortable with truth, and I think it is because in our current culture we dislike and distrust authority, but do place value on knowledge and truth. In other words, I think we are far more prone to feel confused, worried, or hurt when we are told that our worldview is wrong or when we worry that it is wrong, then we are if an organization that we are not affiliated with just says that they have authority, because we can just dismiss their claim to authority if we disagree without feeling that our way of life and understanding is being threatened.

  25. A claim that the Church is true and living (or whatever you all decide to replace that phrase with) does NOT equal a claim that you have a perfect personal understanding or witness of the entirety of that truth or living-ness (?). That distinction seems to have been clouded over a little in this discussion.

    Whatever word you decide to use to describe the Church, you’ll still end up claiming a significant distinction between it and any other church. I don’t think that’s usually what’s most offensive- if it is, there’s no way to get around the general issue without denying integral characteristics of the Church. In my experience, it’s when people interpret the Mormon as having said that they personally have a monopoly on [truth-or-whatever-else-you-decide-on] that they get all riled up. Maybe it’s been different for you all.

  26. Sounds to me like we want all of the rights to call ourselves the true church, but none of the consequences or expectations.

    Since the problem with that is our behavior, then perhaps it isn’t our wording we need to change.

  27. #24: “…since truth is in theory open to all”. I don’t think this is the claim of Mormonism. I think the claim is (mostly) that the Truth comes though a Prophet, Seer, and Revelation. Or, received by those who have been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost..by those with “Authority”.
    A lot of the Reformation was about the little guy getting his own Truth directly form God, not from the Catholic Priesthood.

  28. I actually mentioned this idea to a dear friend recently. “Oh, we don’t make that claim anymore!” If only it were true! I like the sentiment of this post but I think we need to get out of the “we’re right/authorized; you’re wrong/unauthorized” business all-together.

  29. I prefer to focus on the difference that we have a prophet today.

    Many good people are lead by the light of christ and have quite a bit of truth.

    It is true that all of this does make us more responsible for how we live.

    I like the different focus of authorized…but I always hesitate when we change words. Perhaps the real problem is our attitude when we say it. How we live our lives like Paradox said. IME faulty speech said in obvious love goes over much better than the most carefully chosen words said coldly