I Know the Church is True

Try this experiment. Type the expression in quotes “I know the church is true” into a Google search, and see what you get. Page after page after page of material set in a Mormon context. That kind of affirmation is a specifically Mormon thing; it is not something other Christians are in the habit of saying about their churches. If you can go through an entire Fast and Testimony Meeting and not get at least a dozen recitations of that statement, it has been a slow Sunday.

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.

One does not have to be an expert in religious epistemology to see how this can be a problem. With a steady stream of testimony bearers reciting absolute convictions of unquestioned certainty, what does that do to the young person who hopes, who believes, who at least tentatively feels the flicker of faith, who is willing to trust, but whose offering along those lines is trodden under foot of testifier after testifier? Those seedlings of faith can be fragile and are easily ground into the dust by the ubiquity of what seems to be overwhelming certainty.

The scriptures tell us that faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things (e.g., Alma 32:21), but increasingly we seem unwilling to believe them.

I’m not sure how this trend arose, but I have a guess. When I was young I can recall Elder Bruce R. McConkie campaigning against travel-monies or thankamonies. Bearing a testimony was not the time to tell stories, but rather to recite simple, declarative statements on the fundamentals of the Gospel, such as I know Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know [X] is a prophet, and I know the Church is true. Increasingly testimonies began to lack any statement of the reasons one had for one’s faith, and became formulaic statements of absolutes.

Personally, when I bear testimony over the pulpit I don’t do so using “know” statements. I much prefer to use the language of faith. There are a number of reasons for this preference on my part (e.g., what role does a testifier’s background knowledge play in this? Does one distinguish between a Sunbeam knowing and a mature adult knowing? How did this person come to know–by what process of investigation? If this knowledge is absolute, why have I known people who testified in this way and then lost their knowledge and left the faith? What does it even mean to predicate the word “true” of a mortal organization? Is a corporation sole the only true way to organize God’s church?) And yet people are often puzzled that I express myself as having faith in such and so, and maybe even a little troubled by my lack of professed absolute knowledge about this or that proposition.

Faith crises are a thing these days, especially among our youth. And yet, increasingly, we’re not even allowing them room to have faith. If only a perfect knowledge will do, and our young people conclude they don’t have a perfect knowledge, can we blame them for increasingly concluding that there is no place for them at Church?

If you like to use the language of knowledge when testifying at Church, that’s fine, but somehow we have to communicate to our people, especially newer converts and young people and those returning after a period away, that there is nothing at all wrong or deficient in having faith or something less than perfect knowledge. I like to use the language of faith at the pulpit so as to model for our people that it is perfectly appropriate to ground a testimony in faith rather than absolute knowledge.

What are your thoughts about this?

Comments

  1. I whole heartedly agree. Thank you for expressing it so well. I have always had trouble when primary children get up and bear testimony to knowing the church is true. It seems like they are just parroting what they have heard.
    I am not sure that they have understood what building a testimony is according to faith. Don’t get me wrong – it is a start but we should be teaching more about experimenting on the word and letting the seeds of faith grow up so that we can become more rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and firm in our testimony of him and Heavenly Father.

  2. I’m a new convert of a year (currently inactive), but have always found this “I know the church is true,” script to be embarrassing. Even children say this. Really? Five year old’s ‘know?’ I’ve had friends visiting and I wouldn’t invite them to church because I don’t want them to hear about all these people ‘knowing,’ as opposed to all these people ‘believing.’ ‘Knowing’ comes across as either arrogant or programmed. Take your choice.

  3. “Faith isn’t certainty, I know that by now. If I was certain, I wouldn’t need faith. I think it’s a gift and a choice, sometimes at the same time. I think it’s a confidence in the midst of doubt, it’s work and it’s rest. ”

    This is one of my favorite quotes. I found it recently on Sarah Bessey’s blog. “Flutters and Faith”mid the name of her post.

  4. 3 Nephi 12:2 seems to indicate that it may be better to believe than to know
    https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/3-ne/12.2?lang=eng#1

  5. I think we are a long way from this. Case in point when Elder Anderson told the youth in the last conference to “Consider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek.” This seems a step farther away from the language of faith you outline.

  6. EmJen, talk about vain repetitions!

    See also: sacrament talks composed entirely of quotes from GAs.

  7. Back at Ricks College my bishop (who is now an Idaho Area Authority) held a testimony fireside where he challenged us to leave out the travelmonies and thankamonies and to start all of your sentences with “I know…” and “I testify….” It was a spirit-filled meeting and I was totally converted to this new way – so much so that I am embarrassed that I’ve even said the words in a testimony meeting, “I know, and I know that God knows I know it – and I cannot deny it.”

    Sigh, I now can eke out an “I know God lives and loves me” and a “choose to believe” for the rest. I like the idea of incorporating more terms of faith into our vernacular.

  8. A good friend of mine has recently decided to leave the church. In our many discussions, she told me that she has never known that the church was true. She said she didn’t feel she had a place in a church where everyone “knows”. I told her that she would be surprised at the number of people at church that would be uncomfortable saying “I know”. I assured her that every Sunday there are people sitting next to her who have doubts. There are many of us who believe, hope, and demonstrate their faith by showing up each week.

    I wish our testimony meetings were less about the church itself and more about Jesus Christ and the real life application of His teachings.

  9. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 10). Reading this in light of the rest of the writings of Paul (assuming he actually did write Hebrews, which is debatable), it is clear that when he talks about faith, it isn’t in the same sense that Mormons understand it. Faith is a place at which we can arrive in our Christian walk. And when we have arrived, the circumstances that have brought us there grant us an assurance of the things for which we hope. And for what do we hope? Romans 8:23-24-25. We hope for the redemption of our bodies. We have an assurance of this, if we have faith. And thus, through our faith (and not our works) we are saved (redeemed). Faith is an assurance of salvation. If it is real faith (James). To stand in front of a congregation and express “knowledge” or belief in the “truthfulness” of an organization comes very close to blasphemy. Faith should extend only to God.

  10. I agree, Bonjo. I’ve left the church for similar reasons as your friend, and that ‘knowing’ line is one of them.

  11. EmJen says: “I think we are a long way from this. Case in point when Elder Anderson told the youth in the last conference to “Consider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek.” This seems a step farther away from the language of faith you outline.”

    I agree, and don’t like this at all. This feels like self-programming.

  12. Anon for this says:

    The word choice is problematic. But the real problem is that it feels like there’s this underlying mandate that you *have* to know or at least really believe things to participate in church. And because I don’t, it feels like there’s no room for me there. At one time, I thought I knew the church was true. But I can’t say that anymore. I don’t know the church is true. I don’t even know if I believe the church is true. There are some teachings that I hope are true, but when it comes to other teachings, I actually hope the church *isn’t* true – or correct.

    Maybe church isn’t the right place to express half-hopes, doubts, fears, etc. But then having nowhere to express them leaves me feeling even more lost and alone. I can understand why some people become inactive. It makes it tough when you feel like you don’t fit in with the culture or the rhetoric or even the entire belief system. I don’t go every week, and I can probably count on one or two hands the number of times I go for more than just sacrament meeting in a given year.

  13. anonymous says:

    Maybe we could start by not excommunicating people who express doubt.

  14. I hear one ward member each month say, “I don’t believe, think, feel, hope, etc… I KNOW!”. I always cringe when it is said each testimony meeting for the very reasons posted in this article. We all walk by faith. The thoughts about new converts and young members are absolutely spot on, imho.

  15. I have wondered about this very language, statement’s such as “I know…” (that the church is true is a separate topic for a separate day see D&C 10:67-68).

    For the very sincere who utter these words, I have concluded that they know they have felt something spiritually significant, something sufficiently spiritually powerful to impel them on a course of action. They (and I) could do nothing more than to place our trust and faith in the “knowledge” that we felt or experienced something, and they are now acting on it.

    I am satisfied that this is indeed faith.

    I wish we could openly define it as such and allow people to act and be and live on whatever point of that continuum of spirituality they find themselves.

  16. I seldom hear the Savior mentioned in testimonies any more. It’s always about “I know the Church is true,” “I know the Book of Mormon is true,” “I know Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson are true prophets.” We have drifted so far away from teaching about Christ in our Sacrament talks and testimony meetings that it appears to be a Church of prophet-worship rather than worshiping our Savior Jesus Christ.

  17. Remind me on the temple recommend questions. Is it “do you believe…” or “do you have a testimony that…” or “do you have faith that…” Pretty sure not one is “Do you know…”

  18. To me, the real culprit is the misunderstanding and misapplication of the seed parable. It’s easy to see how a person can read it and walk away with the impression that the continuum of non-belief to absolute knowledge can always be completed via personal hard work. And while I do think it’s possible to obtain a perfect knowledge in some things, they are but a fraction of the specific, and not the entirety of the issue. To me, the ratio of faith to knowledge on any issue will always be heavily weighted towards the unknown, but hoped for.

    The problem with the seed parable is when it’s taken literally to mean you can obtain absolute knowledge of anything, and you do so through hard personal work and dedication. Thus, if you have knowledge you’ve done the work. But if you are stuck in the belief or faith segment of the continuum, it’s because you haven’t applied yourself fully. This is why you often hear the “I know this church is true” types tell the believing types that they’ll get there, to keep at it. They literally think they are more advanced in their spirituality. It’s that attitude that shows in their behavior, and why so many of us feel patronized, or are made to feel less than. It’s an unwelcoming feeling.

    I teach Sunday School. For several years I had the youth class and I always challenged them, when bearing testimony, to forego the “I know” part (especially the “I know the Church is True” – I told them to me it’s akin to saying “I know this building is here”, an overused phrase that has lost any sort of meaning), and testify to their beliefs, to their actions based on their faith. I may have created a local generation of non testimony bearers, but I have seen them periodically employ it in various settings.

    I now teach the investigators and new members Sunday School class. I definitely make it a point to talk about faith and belief and knowledge, and sprinkle my lessons liberally with “I don’t have independent knowledge of x, but I have a deep desire for it to be so, and that desire makes me act on it, which is faith. I have a tremendous amount of faith in X, because …”.

    I must admit that I don’t do this from the pulpit often, as I dislike the “there, there” pats on the head afterwards. This thread is making me think that the greater good of modeling the behavior is worth the personal discomfort.

  19. The brethren openly discourage the language of faith. There are so many of us who doubt issues like the historicity of the Book of Mormon, race and the priesthood, LGBT issues, and polyandry. But yet many of us choose to believe despite these very apparent doubts. For me it’s the transcendence of the idea of eternal progression, beautiful, poetic teachings in the Book of Mormon (king Benjamin or the psalm of Nephi) and other moments where the church seems to really dial into the divine will. But sometimes we seem to get it so wrong. Jesus condemned the literalistic attitude the Pharisees espoused which seem almost exactly like our testimony meetings. When we’re discouraged from uncertainty and doubt, the church no longer becomes a safe place for those of us (and it should be us all) who are on a faith journey that involves a degree of skepticism.

  20. An Anon Nom says:

    While I agree that faith crises are a “thing” right now, I would be careful not to equate them with a passing fad. Minimizing the current issues (which I believe are quite profound) could lead to us all looking back 30 years from now and saying that the church as we know it now was just a “thing”.

    I couldn’t agree more with the OP and comments. I just can’t figure out why I don’t hear this at weekly meetings or at church conferences. The silence from leadership on issues like these is terribly troubling.

  21. The thing is, it doesn’t take a lot to change the tenor of your ward’s testimony meetings. One or two people using authentic expressions that break the mold can open a space for others to follow. And it seems like there are always people longing to speak truths that don’t quite fit the standard narrative. There’s a reason for the constant harping on “proper” testimony-bearing form: wild, uncontrollable, uncorrelatable grace breaks out all the time in our stories. The charism can’t be completely extracted from testimony meeting, thank god.

  22. John M. Barry, in his outstanding biography of Roger Williams (“Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul”) made the following pertinent observation about the religious world in which Williams found himself:

    “Conformity is a function of the desire for certainty; the greater or lesser that desire, the greater or lesser the demand for conformity. This was the age both believing in and seeking certainty, certainty of everything from the infallibility of Scripture to one’s place in God’s plan. The very sense of society as a body, with each person in a fixed and place and performing a fixed task, reflected that view, …”

    Sound familiar?

    Williams had no qualms about living with doubt and uncertainty. Indeed, his life’s motto was: “I desire not to sleep in securitie and dreame of a Nest which no hand can reach.”

    Williams’ attitude did not endear him to his fellow parishioners. From personal experience, I understand all too well why.

  23. Gladiolas says:

    Excellent OP and thought-provoking comments. I’ve been in the process of relearning the meaning of faith as I’ve undergone my own faith crisis. I love the original meaning of the word with its ties to loyalty and faithfulness. I was also really taken with Adam Miller’s idea that the only testimony is a testimony of Jesus Christ, and that one can really only have a testimony of all the other parts of the church inasmuch as through them one has accessed the atonement. That was a comfort to me because in my personal experience, almost the only time I have powerful spiritual experiences is when I get a glimpse of the love of Jesus.

    It would be truly beautiful if we could rejoin testimonies with stories. A declaration of knowledge has almost no meaning without the story of how that knowledge came to be in the messy humanity of the individual telling it. I think the stripped-down, no-stories-attached version stems in part from the belief that the content of the words “I know the church is true” in and of itself will inspire a witness of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of listeners, when in fact it is usually through stories that we connect and open our hearts to truth. It’s tough for us to talk about dark times in our life in front of other people. But some of the most powerful and inspiring testimonies I have ever heard in my life were ones where people were honest and specific in describing the hard things that brought them to the place of grace.

  24. I completely DISAGREE!

    “Knowing” has more to do with certainty than anything else. Whereas a belief is a persuasion. Look up the word “know” here:

    http://webstersdictionary1828.com/

    There are many fools of certainty in this world. Thus, a testimony of “knowing” can be very correct, even if wrong. Someone’s use of the word “knowing” is, therefore, more closely a derivative a credibility than truthfulness.

    In the end, knowing and believing are not mutually exclusive terms.

    Also look up “doctrine” and you’ll understand why it is not the least offensive to believe (correctly) that doctrine changes. It’s not dogma. It’s just a teaching.

  25. I know OP is true says:

    Bravo, Kevin. I KNOW your post is true! :)

  26. Aaron Brown says:

    Kevin, I just gave a talk on this very issue. Too bad I didn’t have this blogpost in front of me as I was preparing. Would’ve saved me some work.

    Excellent.

  27. I topic dear to my heart!
    Here are my musings on it from beliefnet.com a few years back:
    http://bit.ly/1APHYj8

    Also, when my son was on his mission he wrote that he was planning to give up doubt for Lent. “What? No!” I immediately wrote back. “Doubt is one of the most robust aspects of faith. Don’t give it up; just learn what it can do!” Not having grown up LDS there are some aspects of the culture and lingo I never adjusted to. My husband tells me as far as all things Mormon go, I’m “fluent but not native.” I’m okay with that.

  28. I think this underscores the fact that we have yet to establish a church-wide definition of faith. Some people use it when they actually mean blind belief. Others use it to mean statistical confidence from past experience (“the sun rose the last several thousand days so I have faith it will rise tomorrow.”) We hear trite little soundbytes that claim to tell us what faith is, but instead tell us things about faith (“Faith is a principle of action”), but it’s more than a little maddening that we can’t even agree on the meaning of something we’ve declared to be the first principle of the gospel.

    I read Faith to mean confidence in God’s promises that comes from a past spiritual witness. There was a time in my life when I prayed about the church and received a strong feeling that God had established it. Later on, when I see potential evidence that it might not be true, I choose to exercise faith (i.e. confidence) in my personal experiences, choose to believe what I’ve been taught, and feel some hope that (1) the contrary evidence is not true, (2) I will know the whole story someday, or (3) it is true but the church is still divinely inspired in spite of it.

  29. Not sure what the problem is here. Anyone can know by the power of the Holy Ghost it is true. Even a 5 year old… With as much certainty as any adult. So many doubters… If you have received the witness of the Holy Ghost you know. Faith becomes knowledge with the confirmation of the spirit.

  30. Making room for the uncertain to express faith, hope, and trust seems great to me. Helping those who do have certainty to express their certainty in more authentic ways also seems great. Denigrating certainty to make room for faith doesn’t seem that great. And these conversations often seem to tend in that direction. Why not maintain ever-increasing certainty as an ideal while simultaneously giving place and expression to all the evolutionary stages of faith, trust, hope, knowledge, conviction, etc.? Isn’t that what Alma 32 does (cf. your reference to Alma 32:21 with verse 34)? Certainty obviously doesn’t have to mean the end-point of inquiry. It certainly didn’t mean that for Joseph Smith–who, by the way, is a much more compelling source for Mormon certainty rhetoric than Bruce R. McConkie. Why not reform and rehabilitate certainty instead of replacing it with a regnant doubt? These endless conversations about the beauty and benefits of doubt haven’t convinced me that absolute certainty of some fundamental truth claims is not desirable, attainable, and authentically expressible.

  31. I like your measured approach on this topic. Elder Holland reminded us that having faith in a gospel truth is worth celebrating. I think what matters most is that we are honest and sincere. If we have faith, express it so. If we have knowledge, express it so.

  32. Anon for this says:

    I love the idea that the only real testimony is of Jesus Christ. I do have a testimony of Him. I wish that’s all you needed a testimony of to be considered faithful or have a temple recommend.

  33. I strongly suspect that “faith” carries some different nuances in different passages. I have some lengthy notes somewhere where it very much seemed to me that Alma 32 and some other passages seem to use “faith” to mean something like “certainty without objective external proof, whereas knowledge is certainty with objective external proof.” If so, then “perfect” would modify not the degree of certainty, but the extent of the knowledge, something like “complete knowledge.”

    I would love to see us move away from overly-formulaic testimony. I can’t help but think of a very young couple in a ward of mine who enthusiastically bore formulaic testimony, and are now militantly atheist (one of them) and really struggling (the other).
    Some of the formula reminds me of the “pure doctrine” rhetoric. I’ve blogged on it before, but I still have no idea what it means. Is it just simple propositional statements? (Would that make the Gospel Essentials manual “pure doctrine”?) I think, rather, that testimony should include some of one’s experiences, reasons to believe (per 1 Peter 3:15). I’m not particularly edified or built up by repetition of simple propositional statements; these repetitions are “vain” because they don’t work
    (per Matt 6:7.) Our testimonies should be personalized and personal.

    I think the Givens’, in particular, have been countering this cultural trend, relying on passages like D&C 46:13-14

    To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

    On the other hand, and the OP is not suggesting this, I can imagine some kind of alternate, in which most people use language of belief in their testimonies, but a rare few use “know,” creating elitism or a class division of sorts.
    >>(sharp intake of breath) “Did you hear Bro. Johnson? He knows.” <<

    Kind of how I imagine how the sacrament is among the Jehovah's Witnesses. It's only passed once per year, and you only take it if you count yourself among one of the 144,000.

  34. It’s worth adding that this language of “I know” also hinders our missionary efforts by isolating us from the kinds of questions people around us actually ask. While there are some people with the same question that animated Joseph Smith (at least in the 1838 version of the First Vision), for many people the question of “which church is true” is totally alien. I see the fact that many people inside the Church no longer quite relate to this question as a symptom of a broader reality that the social situation in which the Church necessarily operates has changed since the 1820s and 30s. If we believe that the gospel is relevant to people in our modern situation, it seems worth investing time in working out the details of that relevance, which would first require a greater understanding of “the world” than is usually conveyed by our opprobrious use of that term.

  35. “Increasingly testimonies began to lack any statement of the reasons one had for one’s faith, and became formulaic statements of absolutes.”

    I’d like to know how and when this began to evolve. I can’t imagine Saints in Joseph’s day saying “I know the church is true.”

    What’s the history behind this? And when did it become the cultural norm to refer to the church as the hierarchy in Salt Lake rather than the community of believers?

  36. ” I see the fact that many people inside the Church no longer quite relate to this question” Nate had a good post about this at Times&Seasons.

  37. From now on, I’ll only bear testimony, “upon information and belief.”

  38. Perhaps one of the problems that is driving this is that people who honestly express doubts about a particular aspect of the church orthodoxy (like the historicity of the Book of Mormon or prophetic leadership in an age of mall building and Proposition 8) are denied temple recommends or worse. Apparently one’s faith must be perfect to enter the temple these days, which is a fairly new and very unfortunate development.

  39. kamschron says:

    In October General Conference, Elder Hales quoted from Section 46, “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and … to others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” Then he said, “From my perspective, this does not mean that some people will forever be dependent upon the testimonies of others.”

    It seems natural to me to interpret this as implying that a real testimony has to include knowing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but there probably is room for a different interpretation. Perhaps having belief or faith that is supported by personal experience or by the witness of the Holy Ghost can be counted as not being forever dependent upon the testimonies of others, even for a person who is never given the gift of knowing. My feelings about whether or not I have a testimony, and about how I ought to express the testimony that I have, have not always been consistent but have varied over time. To some observers, or at least to my own internal critic, this inconsistency would prove that I never have had a real testimony, but I am not convinced of that.

  40. J. Stapley says:

    I think Kristine is absolutely correct. I live in a ward where expressions of belief and hope are relatively common. I think that curating such a space can sometimes require performative testimonies.

  41. On the other hand, “faith” and “belief” can too easily be taken as just facts. Joseph Smith reminded us (in the Lectures on Faith) that “as faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual; for the Savior has said, and that truly, that “He the believeth and is baptized shall be saved.””
    What I want to hear in a testimony is that there is belief or faith sufficient to action. And so I generally translate (in my mind) the all-too-common “I know” as just that–an emphasis that says “sufficient to act”.

  42. I like that people can know the church is true. I like that a central paradigm of the church is that you can pray and receive personal revelation and know things. I like believing in a God who speaks to us and gives guidance to us today, and that we treat inspirational experience as a valid form of knowledge accumulation.

    I like what Adam Miller said in regards to the parlance in Letters to a Young Mormon.

  43. This scripture was thrown around a couple times in the comment section:

    “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”

    I liked the article, as I do think that the phrase “I know that___” is probably thrown around too easily. But then again I don’t think that means we should completely get rid of the phrase. The article correctly cites the verse from Alma 32 that talks about how faith is a hope in something which is not seen which is true. But then it fails to discuss what we learn from the parable of the seed starting in verse 28, particularly what we learn in verse 34 and 35:

    34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.

    35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good;

    Of course it is a whole other discussion about how far that knowledge stretches. The rest of verse 35, and verse 36 say,

    35…and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

    36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

    I guess for me it seems like someone can pray to know if the Church is true (was restored, had the priesthood, etc), and if they feel a confirmation they know that they felt something, and therefore they know that they’ve been told by God that it’s true. Not that they’ve scientifically measured it and can write it up in a journal, but that they’ve been told from the source.

    Again, I believe people use I know too lightly, and that it can be off putting to those who are struggling. I just think that Alma shows there’s room for knowledge, too.

  44. Faith is not testimony; faith is a prerequisite for testimony (see Moroni 10:3-5). It is by faith that we obtain a testimony and lay hold upon every good thing (Moroni 7:25). Faith is a principle of power, and is necessary for the universe to run (Lectures on Faith). In scriptural terms, faith is hoping for that which is not seen, which is true (Alma 32:21).

    What trips people up, in our intellectualized culture, is that this is not an intellectual definition. It is a definition intended for simplicity, given to the poor and humble (Alma 32) and is difficult for many people to apply to scholarship. Fortunately, Alma 32 goes on to discuss faith in terms that are entirely compatible with intellectualism: the seed is planted (experimentation), which leads to the seed sprouting (limited knowledge), which must be nurtured (continued experiments, faithful to our limited knowledge), leading to a fruit-bearing tree (perfect knowledge). Our testimony is a limited knowledge; knowing God for ourselves is a complete and perfect knowledge, and is eternal life (John 17:3). Faith isn’t the tree; faith nurtures the tree.

    In scholarly terms, faith is a rational and positive approach to uncertainty. The scientific method is an expression of faith in a lawful universe. Relationships depend on faith–a rational and positive approach to our uncertainty about another person. The Gospel depends on faith in Jesus Christ, a being whom we do not know perfectly. Even faith in ourselves is important–we don’t know ourselves perfectly; how will we respond to new challenges? By exercising faith, which Elder Bednar says consists of evidence, assurance, and action (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Sep. 2007 Ensign), we can lay hold upon every good thing.

    These principles are not widely understood, which is why I am going to be presenting them in much more detail at a conference for LDS scholars next month. :)

  45. melodynew says:

    I know a few things. I believe a lot of things. I hope to be able to believe all true things and to know a few more things before I die. Having said that, I’ll just say, “Amen” to this post. Thanks, Kevin.

  46. bwmwhitney says:

    So, I see the “I know…” declarations as a form of social mirroring. Every religion does this in some fashion. It could be the way you genuflect in the Catholic or Orthodox tradition. It could be the call-and-response styling of your worship at an AME or Black Baptist church. It could be your speaking in tongues during the worship service at a Pentecostal church. It could be the way you cantor the Torah when asked to do a reading at Shabbat service. All religions have some sort of mirroring the way others perform their outward expression of faith, and social norms are derived from this. For a Mormon, “I know” typically simply means “I deeply believe,” or “I am convicted in these principles.” It’s a memetic device, but performed with all the sincerity of any of our other religious rituals.

    And I say these things in the name of our Savior, even Jesus the Christ.

  47. wreddyornot says:

    I know I believe I like this post. Thanks, Kevin.

    I know I believe the church is true.

    I know I believe the gospel is true.

    Time. It only exists in the moment of choosing.

    Verity relies upon fancy. We know perhaps better this moment, but even then we use fancy to choose. The past involves recollections fancied up. The future . . . well, the future relies entirely on fancy.

    Choice catches knowledge . Choice is active; knowledge stationary. Exercising faith and agency happen now. In the present. I know I believe this now. Maybe tomorrow I won’t fancy it the same way. I imagine it can be different in the future.

    My imaginings.

  48. “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” ~Socrates

  49. Going beyond simply the language we choose to employ in fast and testimony meeting, i think the OP’s point is well-exhibited by our observance of the word of wisdom. It is rare to hear someone say that we do not drink coffee or alcohol or ingest tobacco because a prophet of god told us not to. Rather, we can smugly say that we knew it was unhealthy before everyone else.
    With all the scientific evidence “proving” the word of wisdom, the faith required by us collectively to observe the law previously has given way to a current “knowledge” that is spiritually weaker than an expression of faith would be. On this point, i am jealous of our jewish friends who do not have such a strong scientific defense for avoiding pork.

  50. It is facinating that so often when we think we have disagreements with each other, we are really just arguing over the definition of words.

    For me, I never use the word “know” in testimony because frankly I’m not even sure that I won’t wake up any moment from a dream where I was laying in bed and typing a blog comment to on my phone.

    When someone says “I know” in testimony meeting, I just translate in my head to “I feel great confidence”.

    It is too bad, however when a listener feels out of place because they assume the everyone else’s definition of “know” is the same as theirs and they can’t live up to that.

  51. I did a little digging around about how the phrase “I know … is true” has increased with time in General Conference talks. It looks like the frequency of the phrase has actually DECREASED in GC over the past century, see figure here:
    https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bga2V99XlopAXee9c7Mmq8gZS0NrJHeO31sDxrb7Bhc/edit?usp=sharing
    which was computed using the tools at http://www.lds-general-conference.org/. I’m not sure if there’s a more rigorous way to test this or not, or if there’s a way to find out the frequency of it’s use by average members.

  52. Along the lines of Kristine’s comment, I think it is easy to change the tenor of a testimony meeting. And it is even easier to change the tenor of a (smaller) sunday school class or an (even smaller) elders quorum or relief society lesson. Perhaps we should strive even harder to inject “belief” statements in these more intimate settings where we are more likely to receive the kinds of immediate responses that we hope for.

    Also, I think it is important to recognize that there are some things we can “know.” For instance, I “know” that reading the Book of Mormon makes me less selfish (even if I only “believe” that it is the Word of God”). FWIW, I actually wrote something over at Normons on this very formulation (“I hope” “I believe” “I know”). http://www.normons.com/i-hope-i-believe-i-know/

  53. unendowed says:

    Lots of great thoughts in the comments. Oishinfield, your point is one I’ve struggled with but now really appreciate. I’ve often made myself miserable in church when someone would say something that sounded terrible but was merely a matter of poor word choice. I’d sit there and let it consume me, totally distracting me from any good messages that came after. Now I’ve learned the importance of translating the words people choose plus their intent into the words that *I* would use to describe what they’re saying. It’s a tricky but vital skill: you don’t want to rewrite everything into merely comfortable statements, but it’s also incorrect to take every word at face value.

    For a while, I was really bothered by “know” statements. Lately, I’ve started considering “I know” a shorthand for “I know, as far as it is possible for me to know, within the extent of any human’s ability to know…”

    Like several others, I was taught that to say “I am thankful for” is good, “I believe in” is better, and “I know” is best, and our testimonies should grow into “I know” completely. Now I don’t think it’s linear, and I think all three are useful and meaningful. At different times in my life, all three could be considered truest:

    “I know that God is loving.”
    “I believe in a loving God.”
    “I am thankful that God loves me.”

  54. LDS_Aussie says:

    I too have a problem with the connection of the word truth with the word “church”. The church, meaning the collection of people and policies that are a vehicle of the truths of the “gospel” cannot be “true” by definition. People are sinners, policies are flawed – and that is the church. I have made a conscious decision never to say that the church is true again. I believe in the gospel, Christ and God. The church itself has said that it operated for many years in denying men of colour the priesthood, for reasons that were not right then or now.

    Also, it grates on me a bit when I heard it said that, “the church perfect, but the people aren’t”. I get that they are trying to say that the church/gospel/teachings are perfect, but people are sinners. But I feel that we need to more fully separate what we really mean, rather than unthinkingly using lazy language.

  55. it's a series of tubes says:

    On this point, i am jealous of our jewish friends who do not have such a strong scientific defense for avoiding pork.

    Dunno, prior to modern antihelmintics, cystericosis and taeniasis were exceptionally widespread among pork-eating cultures. Still very prevalent in certain parts of the developing world. Worms in the brain? Yikes.

  56. This one definitely caused me problems as a teen before I was able to separate what “church” and “true” meant. I could certainly see that the gospel contained true principles (that sense of the word truth), but the church being true was a tough one. Did it mean the people in the church were true to the principles of the gospel? I clearly saw counter examples to this in my home ward, and it pushed me out for several years.

  57. “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” – Moses

  58. LDS_Aussie, what you said resonates with me. I believe the gospel is true. The church is not perfect, and I’ll never use the phrase “I know the church is true.” But I choose to be part of the church because it’s the only place this gospel is being taught. Sometimes, occasionally, we get it right.

  59. hope_for_things says:

    Thanks, this is wonderful. I’ve been trying to put together my thoughts for a first Sunday Priesthood lesson coming up, and I wanted to talk about this very subject. This is extremely helpful. We do need to create space for those who don’t know, and not relegate them to something less than. I find faith and hope much more rich than knowledge now.

    Knowledge has a fundamental flaw in that it keeps people from being open to learn new truths.
    Knowledge seems to be a form of pride for some. I want people to understand the risks of absolutist thinking so they can see how a professed knowledge can sometimes lead them astray from being open to the inspiration that God may be speaking to them.

  60. Thank you, Kevin. This is an extremely important post, for many reasons. The older I get, the less I “know.” I am increasingly reluctant to use the word “know” regarding things I just have strong feelings about. I believe a lot of things. And I don’t believe a lot of things I used to. Such is life. I am very concerned, though, when I see a parent at the pulpit whispering words into a four-year-old’s ear, and the four-year-old then repeats, “I know the Church is true.” We are certainly abusing the word “know” in this church.

  61. James Sneak says:

    The LDS church is moving toward totalitarian regime status. Many of the “truths” of yesteryear turned out to be completely false but never acknowledged. General Authority motto: “Often wrong, never in doubt”

  62. hope_for_things says:

    “Knowledge has a fundamental flaw in that it keeps people from being open to learn new truths. Knowledge seems to be a form of pride for some. I want people to understand the risks of absolutist thinking so they can see how a professed knowledge can sometimes lead them astray….”

    Roger T says:

    “The older I get, the less I “know.” I am increasingly reluctant to use the word “know” regarding things I just have strong feelings about. I believe a lot of things. And I don’t believe a lot of things I used to. Such is life.”

    Yes, and yes.

  63. There should be simple rule for testimonies. Any time a person uses the words “know” or believe” they must also use the word “because.”

  64. I really really really dislike the grammatically problematic phrase “I know the church is true.” If you know because of the confirmation of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the son of God, say it. If you know because of the witness of the Spirit that God established this church, say. I know Jesus lives, and that God spoke to Joseph Smith and told him to establish this church. I have felt the Spirit testify of this to me, and I share that experience with you.” If someone knows it, say what they know. But a building, an group, cannot be “true.” Even say “I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and real because I have felt the power of keeping commandments and the Atonement in my life.” The phrase “the church is true” makes no sense and I cringe every time it is said because it sounds hollow, trite and meaningless. It alienates me, a long time member. Because for me, the Gospel of Christ is everything. It saves me from wanting to toss my hands up and leave the church, whose culture and practices are not always in harmony with Christ’s Gospel. Church true? I will never say that at any pulpit.

  65. I think the “I know the church is true” line is a cultural thing. People are honestly not thinking when they say it. Yes, it would be better if people would get away from rote testimonies, but culture is hard to change.
    All religions have their own lingo and culture. I have Catholic relatives, (and other relatives of different religions). When they speak about Catholicism and use Catholic terms I have to ask what it means. I have a LDS friend whose mother was raised Catholic and joined the LDS church. My friend has her mother’s Rosary. My Catholic relatives were delighted and excited to explain to my friend and myself what the Rosary means and how to use it. I went out and bought one. They learn about my faith and I learn about theirs.
    I have had people of other religions tell me their church is the only true religion and that I am going to hell.
    I had doubts about the LDS religion. I am bothered by some things, past and present. I studied and continue to study.

    @ Pmc: In agreement.

  66. I’m not a member, though I have often felt a deep kinship with LDS faith. Yet it is the talk of constant knowing about the church and restoration plus living prophets that just seems required not known. It is not that I don’t believe a church can be more accurate or that their are prophets, it just the NEED to affirm it is always true. I’m Methodist we hv so much in common and much different but I could never know as total acceptance that a church or prophet was true.
    But having shared this and please don’t feel insulted. I really believe so much of what u do symbolically or metaphorically and enjoy being on the path with you with Jesus. :)

  67. “the grammatically problematic phrase “I know the church is true.” ”

    I think it’s a distorted shortening of D&C 1:30.-

    lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually

  68. Charlotte says:

    A phrase I have heard used in testimonies only occasionally but which appeals to me is “I do not doubt . . . “

  69. It seems like when we are young we need to find out if the Gospel (Church) is True. As we get older we tend to wonder just what exactly is the Gospel (Church). I know the Truth of the basics like the first principles etc. But we have to have more than that to make sense of life. What I understood the Gospel to be as a youngster has changed a great deal through several decades. If I say that the Gospel is True to somebody, they must take that to mean that I am affirming that their particular understanding of the Gospel is True as far as I am concerned. We just do not have a set definition of the Gospel that we can all use consistently to convey to others. I see the Gospel (and likewise the Church) through study, prayer, and life experiences along with my own speculations and interpretations. I put that to the test and see what happens. What can I say about that when it comes testimony time? I say I am glad for what I have.

  70. I don’t know whether I believe that saying, “I Know the Church is True,” is similar to what Catholics do with rosaries, saint devotion and/or genuflection, etc. Are we suggesting that this exact passage, these words are ritualistic, a required part of expressing this particular religion?

  71. This became a problem in my own family for my 16 year old niece. She is autistic, and abstract ideas such as faith are hard for her to grasp. One night she wept in my arms, convinced she is a terrible person because she doesn’t have a testimony– she doesn’t “know” the church is true! It broke my heart. My own son with autism is a pre-teen now and I can see that this will be a problem for him, too. He doesn’t “know”, so therefore he doesn’t care. An atheist in the making!
    Thank you to the many commenters who have given me some language to share with both of them. I really like the idea of choosing to be believer.

  72. I keep this on a card posted in my faithful & hopeful kitchen — which is the closest i can get to keeping it posted in my heart: “we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
    2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
    3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.”

  73. “when I bear testimony over the pulpit I don’t do so using “know” statements. I much prefer to use the language of faith”

    “I KNOW” is the language of faith in LDS culture. Ask people what they mean by” I know” and you’ll get the same epistemology you’ll find in witnesses of faith in other denominations.

  74. I’d much prefer people say envious when they use jealous but I don’t get caught up it.

  75. Ten years ago when my family resigned their membership I reassessed my testimony and found I knew nothing. I didn’t even know anymore what was meant by the statement that the church was true. Which part. And how could it be true if there was continuing revelation. The statement became a nonsense to me. But in my questioning I found that I loved the saviour, that I had faith in him and a hope for many things. I also found myself having little faith that the temple was from god. These revelations brought me so much joy and made my heart bubble because they brought me to focused prayer and study. I don’t say I know any more. I have faith and hope and I am grateful for that.

  76. DEFINITIONS: I agree with the comments about translating.

    It may help to remember and inform those who are frustrated that Mormons simply use the word differently. In Mormonism, the expression “I know” may signify as little as the declarant’s HOPE TO EVENTUALY KNOW. Elder Packer expressly taught that “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!” At most, it means belief combined with a mystical experience that generates a sensation of confidence.

    BE THE CHANGE: Allow me to add my witness. When I have conspicuously said that “I hope” and even that “I desire to believe…,” some people look uncomfortable but many nod. And, at least three times, people have thanked me for my candor and said that it encouraged them.

  77. “The LDS church is moving toward totalitarian regime status.”

    More like totalitarian non-profit entity status. Get a grip.

  78. Joel Winter says:

    A gun has several components, a barrel, handle, trigger, firing pin, sights, etc. A modern gun will have rifling in the barrel to make the bullet spin. A well calibrated firearm would have a clean and unobstructed barrel and firing mechanism, and the front and rear sights would be properly aligned. A good marksman, confident in her own ability, then could take that weapon and be confident that the bullet would strike the target where she desired to strike it. After taking aim, firing and striking the target so, the shooter could exclaim with satisfaction, “the gun shoots true.” Why? Because it is able to accomplish the design of its maker—to fire a bullet, send it down the barrel, creating proper spin to overcome variation in air turbulence and density; which bullet proceeds on the intended course, the course laid out by aligning the sights to the target, and then does indeed strike the target. The maker of the instrument of delivery is God. His aim is sure. The instrument is the church. The target is “the immortality and eternal life of man.” He is well pleased that this church can deliver his children to the object of their creation—life with Him as He lives it. With great satisfaction, He proclaims the church, “true and living.” It is not exclusionary when He says it but it may be when we say it.

  79. I banged down to the end to comment without reading the other comments, as Kevin asked for our thoughts; so I apologize if what I say has been better expressed by previous commenters.

    I do tend to use “know” statements. I also use what Kevin calls “the language of faith,” but whether I use “know” or “faith” language, I tend to speak in very specific terms rather than in broad-brush generics. I’ve actually talked to missionaries about this, since the LDS habit of saying semantically meaningless things like “I know the Book of Mormon is true” rubbed me the wrong way as an investigator. I usually substitute, and have encouraged my kids and our ward’s missionaries to substitute, something that might have meaning to the non-Mormon listener: “I know that the BoM is Scripture/the Word of God/contains the words of prophets.”

  80. Kristine A says, “I am embarrassed that I’ve even said the words in a testimony meeting, “I know, and I know that God knows I know it – and I cannot deny it.”

    There are a lot of things to know, and a lot of things to believe, and a lot of things to hope for, and a lot of things about which I have no idea. One would not figure from the average LDS testimony meeting that knowledge of the Gospel is a process involving study, prayer, and an incremental accretion of testimony, faith, and (yes) knowledge about many different things. Thus, about some things, I am comfortable saying, “I know, and I know that God knows I know it – and I cannot deny it.” About other things, not so much – I believe, I hope. I have faith. “Nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

  81. This reminds me of Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability, and how we deal with it.

    “The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. Just certain… There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation.”

    I’m not saying this is what everyone does, but it seems to explain some of it. No one goes around insisting that they’re right unless they doubt. A friend of mine once promoted a not-scientific, not-medically-tested remedy for some ailment on her facebook page, and she prefaced it with “Guys! There’s some serious science behind this!” – Well, no one has to say that about penicillin, or gravity or anything else that’s not questionable – we only go around insisting on (or trying to convince ourselves of) things we’re not sure of.

    When I think I really *know* something, I’m not threatened by anyone who disagrees with me. I’m much more open & willing to be wrong (and more willing to listen to opposite points of view) the more confident I am in my own convictions (which is why I partially cringe at absolute and certain statements made by the church – there are so many of them now, throughout our history, that have turned out to be wrong.)

    The OP reminds me of one of my favorite George MacDonald quotes, “The man that feareth, Lord, to doubt, In that fear doubteth thee.”

  82. In the early 70s, the Church came out with a new set of missionary “discussions” designed to repair problems in the discussions being used since the early 60s. We were assured then that the new discussions had the divine seal of approval for the whole world and they would not be amended at all right up until the Second Coming. OK, I cannot prove the authority for that assertion, and maybe it was just rumor. But it sounds like something someone in authority might say. Thus, the constant search for certitude.

  83. Kevin: I wholeheartedly agree. I believe bearing testimony this way can touch a lot of people. I have faith that it can help fellow church members feel the breathing room they need to allow the seed of faith to grow.

  84. So, long ago, when I was a senior in highschool I prayed to know the Book of Mormon is true. I had gone to seminary, I had gone to church, I read my scriptures I prayed.I remember being really scared in the “what if it isn’t true” way. After a bit of time, I felt a little voice say…you already know it’s true. I had never said I knew the Book of Mormon was true before then. I can look back on scriptures I had learned particular lessons from, or tiny steps, but I would not have assumed I knew…but I felt that “you already know”.

    That has changed how I feel about the word “know”. Science does not get the corner on the word. I know I love my children. I have wondered about the song “faith is KNOWING the son will rise…” Are there gradients of knowing? Have many of us felt we knew something, then had experiences that made us wonder just how much we do know? So I know the Book of Mormon is true, that does not explain every story in it, or how it blends with actual history or geography. It doesn’t explain how to take the cultural slant off of it’s authors and see the word of God there. I just know it is true in it’s testimony of Christ.

    I still know very little…mostly surrounding Jesus and God and that they love us and have a plan for us. I still have heaps of doubts. I express both freely and the huge gap between what I am asked to do and the faith I think I need to get there.

    In any public group it is difficult to express yourself IN the journey and IN the doubting and growing process. We all prefer to look back and say what we learned instead of saying in the moment what we wish we knew or what we are struggling to know. We seldom talk about how we feel IN the mourning process from the pulpit…but mostly after and reflective and having learned. I think it is valuable to be able to communicate IN and THROUGH the struggle, but that is difficult. It helps to at least share where you honestly are at plateaus along the way.

  85. LDS_Scoutmaster says:

    I know I’ve said this with such conviction in the past. I think I personally got there buy the old stipulation that “if the BOM is true it all must be true” testimony by association. I had a spiritual confirnation, so extrapolate that, and suddenly everything that the church does is infallable. My fault for thinking that way though.

  86. cookie queen says:

    As Manuel said “I know nothing.”. Fantastic post.

  87. Thanks for this Kevin.

    Some time ago I decided to put my thoughts on a blog but being a visual person I choose to express my thoughts in cartoons. One such attempt to express your same point (though not as well) was this: http://www.rileyyates.com/2011/09/faith-is-fact.html

  88. That is awesome, Riley! :)

  89. Kevin Barney says:

    Riley, well done!

  90. Thank you Riley.

  91. As others have said, it all depends on what you consider knowledge. To have a perfect knowledge that Jesus is the Christ would probably require an actual appearance of Christ. However, there is a knowledge that comes from faith. When we are confirmed members of the Church following our baptism, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost. And if we truly listen, the Holy Ghost will confirm our faith with spiritual knowledge. Although I agree that “I know…” is probably overused in testimony meetings, the people who say it likely believe it as something that has been confirmed by the Spirit.

  92. From my tradition
    “I Know Whom I Believed”
    I know not why God’s wondrous grace
    To me He hath made known,
    Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
    Redeemed me for His own.
    Refrain:
    But “I know Whom I have believed,
    And am persuaded that He is able
    To keep that which I’ve committed
    Unto Him against that day.”

    I know not how this saving faith
    To me He did impart,
    Nor how believing in His Word
    Wrought peace within my heart.
    Refrain
    I know not how the Spirit moves,
    Convincing men of sin,
    Revealing Jesus through the Word,
    Creating faith in Him.
    Refrain
    I know not what of good or ill
    May be reserved for me,
    Of weary ways or golden days,
    Before His face I see.
    I know not when my Lord may come,
    At night or noonday fair,
    Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
    Or meet Him in air

  93. I haven’t read through all the replies here, so I hope this is not a repeat. I agree with a lot of the sentiment behind this post, but I also really liked this post from James Faulconer defending the use of “I know” in our testimony meetings:

    http://www.patheos.com/Mormon/I-Know-James-Faulconer-06-28-2012.html

    I like his account of knowledge as not an objective account, but rather “productive intimacy.” It also allowed me to teach a gospel doctrine lesson comparing faith and sex, which was fun.

  94. I agree that “I know” is a language habit in the Church often used to express feelings, hopes, firmly held beliefs, and on occasion illogical conclusions (rarely in my experience). It is also used casually and carelessly by people who are not wordsmiths or parsers by inclination or training. We are, in large part, sincere people in the category of the believers described in the 13th article of faith: “we believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and we hope to be able to endure all things.” Your article reflects a problem that can occur when a person relates to the Church by comparing himself to other members or occupying himself with “his place” in the Church. What is wanted is each person seeking after God and developing charity for other humans. Once someone humbly seeks God in his life, the noticed differences, faux-pas, idiosyncrasies, habits, other personal attributes–and sins–of our fellow travellers become unremarkable and beside the point. If I have the faith to seek after God, and the charity to allow others their journey, I won’t compare myself to “them” or allow “them” to lead me into reaction rather than action. And I won’t use their habits or cultural traits, to serve as my excuse for not humbling myself before God and looking to heaven for my salvation. This goes as well for people whom we perceive as critics, mockers, enemies, and other inhabitants of the “great and spacious building.” Love them and bear them and seek to work out your salvation before God.
    Years ago, I presided at my own ward’s fast and testimony meeting. A little boy who was visiting that week bore his testimony, and said: “I know that this Church is true, and I know that all churches are true.” I chuckled quietly and said to the Bishop, “do you suppose that I am supposed to correct this statement of doctrine?” He laughed as well, and of course, we let it pass. We are not about to discourage the enthusiasm of youth who wish to please, to show off, to express themselves at a level they have heard and seem to understand, just so we can satisfy some internal impulse to conform everyone to the “right” meaning or to our preference. We are going to let them grow up, at whatever age they are, into a more mature and accurate faith and expression thereof, even if they die before that becomes evident to others.
    That being said, the language of faith is perfectly acceptable in the Church, and should be in the minds of members. Perhaps as a commenter suggested, the dogmatic style of Bruce R. McConkie has led to this “I know” habit, I can’t say, but I feel like there is a significant question raised by the concept of genuine and authentic knowing, or possessing knowledge of the truth, in connection with the communication of the Holy Ghost, which is the present-day earnest of the eternal promises of the Lord. (Ephesians 1: 13-14) The Holy Ghost is by my own experience a witness of the Father and the Son. I sincerely disclaim knowledge and understanding of all things, as well as the successful incorporation of all that I know into my soul, but I feel compelled to say that in the full sense of the word, I know that I have received witnesses of the truth of many things by the power of the Holy Ghost. I would not deny the witnesses received, or else I would be lying to myself and rejecting a gift freely given by God. What can I say if I bear my testimony? I can be careful to use the word “know” advisedly, not extending its scope to what appear to me to be logical derivatives of truths I have received. I can express my faith in the promises yet to be realized. I can say that I hope that my sins will be forgiven, my weaknesses repaired, and my spiritual strength sufficient to overcome the enemies of my soul. I can say that I felt like the Lord was present in some recent experience. I can say that I have confidence in, and sustain, the Brethren. But, can I truthfully say that I “believe” the precious knowledge vouchsafed to me by the Holy Spirit? I can’t. I must stand as a witness, and I must admit the hand of the Lord in my life through the gift of the Holy Ghost as that has occurred over my lifetime.
    I suppose the summary is that “I know” is not only not inappropriate at times, but it is the only appropriate descriptor of the testimony given. Let us be careful and not take knowledge for granted, or take the name of God in vain as we testify, but speak plainly, simply, and distinctly as to the things we know, believe, have faith in, hope for, and guess.

  95. Joseph Stanford says:

    Brilliant post and discussion!
    There is a narrative in the LDS church, expressed by some of the person discussing here, and very often in General Conference, that belief is what you have at an early or less advanced level of spiritual development, and that knowledge=certainty is what you have at a later or more advanced level of spiritual development, at which you arrive by living the gospel, keeping covenant, studying, praying. My experience in the decades since my mission, to my surprise, is almost exactly contrary (or perhaps in the bigger view complementary) to that narrative. As expressed by other persons here, the type of progression I have experienced is a major decrease in certainty, while living the gospel, keeping covenant, studying, praying. To me, it feels guided by the Spirit and part of my spiritual progress, even though it is sometimes uncomfortable and does not fit the dominant narrative at all types of church meetings.

  96. Thanks Kent. I liked your comment. I also like what Joseph Stanford just said. The more I know, the less I know. My immature, cocky, self-assured ‘knowing’ has become something I feel somewhat humiliated about now – now that I know so much less – but more.

    If you’re someone who likes parsing words like ‘know’ and ‘true’ – the Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s entry on Truth does an excellent job. http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Truth

    I also think it’s not unhealthy to examine our culture and seek to improve things that might put people off. I remember someone giving my daughter Sheri Dew’s book ‘No Doubt About It” Whenever I saw the title I felt frustrated and had to turn the book upside-down – it bothered me, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on, but can more now (thanks in large part to this OP & comments). I think I even threw the book away it bothered me so. Perhaps it should not have bothered me to that level, but if we can spare others in the future from feeling repulsed by our language or thoughtless traditions, I think we should strive to do so.

  97. You are missing hope. Humble seekers of truth can have a spark ignite in them – a spark of hope – as they hear honest testimonies that ring true and cause their spirit to stir in remembrance of a heavenly home and a real connection with Heavenly parents. It isn’t the content. It is the honesty. A mustard seed of faith is a widow’s mite if in a heart that is broken and a spirit contrite. If someone is given to know, as Joseph Smith was, that doesn’t take away from their faith. Faith is not perfect knowledge, but it doesn’t contradict it. The three witnesses were given knowledge and they dared not deny it but their faith was still tested. What God gives you, bear it and it will grow and bless others. And as others bear a testimony sincere, rejoice and be edified regardless of the words.

  98. Right now I’m in a philosophy of Buddhism class. We’re all puzzling about what it’s like to achieve Nirvana, to be enlightened. One practitioner told us that in all his time in Buddhist centers and monasteries he’s never known anyone who claimed to be enlightened, nor has he met anyone who knew someone who was enlightened. This individual said in his mind Nirvana is just the daily struggle for peace and happiness. (He also said a lot of Buddhists would disagree with him about that.) “Nirvana,” as we normally use the word, sounds like final arrival, a state that can’t be improved upon. “Knowing” (as opposed to believing or hoping) sounds the same way epistemologically. All I know is that I that I’m still struggling, and some days I struggle more than other days.

  99. If something really was true, why would you need to have testimony claiming that you ‘know’ it’s true? People who are confident wouldn’t need to convince themselves that they ‘know’. To non-LDS people, claiming that you ‘know’ your church/religious book is true, without any logical evidence comes across as wierd at best, and arrogant at worst.

  100. Agreed never understood such talk