The Testimony Trap: Does it Matter if the Church Is True?

“If I claim to possess the truth, I will be unlikely even to entertain the possibility that others may be right, or at least partly right, and I wrong, or at least partly wrong; unlikely to enter imaginatively into the world of others so as to learn to appreciate the force of their account. . . . Claims to possess the uncontestable truth aren’t always wrong, but they are always dangerous–especially when a person’s claim to possess the truth matters more to her than the truth itself.” –Miroslov Volf, The End of Memory

 

I’m not a relativist, moral or otherwise. I believe that some things are true and other things are false, and that it is often possible (though rarely easy) for human beings to know the difference. And I believe that the difference matters.

And yet, it has been years since I have been able to say with conviction the words, “I know they Church is true.” Like nearly all life-long Latter-day Saints, I learned to say these words in primary, and I said them faithfully on the first Sunday of every month for many years. When I got older and learned bigger words, I started saying, in effect, “I REALLY, REALLY know the Church is true,” and “I know that they Church is REALLY, REALLY true.” (Adverbs, for a while, seemed important.) I was in college, I started to worry that the Church might not be true, and this thought felt too awful to even entertain.

Several years ago, though, it occurred to me that I have no idea what the phrase “I know the Church is true” means. It’s not that I think that the Church is untrue. It’s that I simply can’t comprehend what it might mean for a group of 15 million people or so to “be true”–or, for that matter, to be untrue. Statements can be true. Ideas can be true. Accounts of specific events can be true. But a Church, it seems to me, needs to have some relationship to truth other than just being it.

Along with not being a relativist, though, I’m also not an idiot. I know what people usually mean when they say “I know the Church is true.” They mean that the Church makes accurate claims about the nature of God and humanity, that it has the right understanding of sacred history, that its claim to have the authority to represent God on the earth are factually and uniquely correct. 

It is important to point out here, without belaboring the point or trying to use it to prove too much, that a fair number of the horrible things that have been done in the world have been done by people who felt absolutely certain that their claims of divine authority were factually and uniquely correct. It does not follow that everybody who thinks that they have divine authority does horrible things, nor does it mean that everybody who claims authority from God is wrong. As Miroslov Volf says, claims to absolute and uncontested authority aren’t always wrong. But they are always dangerous. We need to understand why. 

Volf’s 2006 book The End of Memory is as good a meditation on truth as I have read in some time. Volf is a Croatian theologian who endured the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the genocidal campaigns that followed among the Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim inhabitants of the former Communist nation. Absolute truth claims, whether theological or historical (and Volf is mainly interested in historical claims), have consequences–and these consequences can be awful even when the truth claims are accurate.

For Volf, the most dangerous claims come “when a person’s claim to possess the truth matters more to her than the truth itself.” Let’s call this the “testimony trap,” or the tendency to believe that the mere fact of making accurate claims about the nature of God or the universe is an end in itself rather than the means to accomplishing something of genuine moral or spiritual value.

Jesus had a lot to say about this kind of thinking, none of it good. It is a major focus of the Sermon on the Mount:

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:13-16)

Jesus was not telling the Jewish people in his audience that they, the Jews, were “the salt of the earth” or “the light of the world.” He was telling people who already thought that they were these things that they were indeed but that it didn’t matter. Simply being the salt of the earth is meaningless; you have to actually do salt of the earth. Same with light. And the same with “being true.”

We fall into the testimony trap when we start to think that “being true” is the sort of thing that churches are supposed to do. This can stunt our spiritual development in many ways. It can cause us to think that being right is more important than doing right. It can encourage us to turn obedience into a sacrament and to confuse displaying loyalty to an institution with loving God.

But the most damaging thing that can happen is that we can start to think of spiritual truth as something wrapped up in a neat package and handed to us at church. When this happens, we don’t feel the need to do the hard work of searching for truth ourselves. We will never be willing to entertain the possibility that we might be a little bit wrong, and that other people might be a little bit right. And we will be “unlikely to enter imaginatively into the world of others so as to learn to appreciate the force of their account.” And this, it turns out, is how real spiritual truth gets found.

 

Comments

  1. Great insight. I have really enjoyed a couple of your most recent posts. Thank you.

  2. That title was certainly attention grabbing. How sad for you. I agree that worshiping an institution is not the intent of the gospel, in my opinion. And before you might leap to the conclusion that I drank the kool-aid at 8 years of age and have been blindly following along ever since, mouthing things I didn’t mean or feel; stop. You’d be wrong. I was ‘actively challenged’ for the better part of my life, only coming back to the gospel in my winter years. Maybe I did expect a ‘package’ or a blinding revelation to convince me as a child and youth in the church. I now know that one must FEEL it, in their hearts – that burning that lets one know Christ spoke the truth and He shared this gospel with us. It’s LISTENING that’s important. Nobody will be struck, literally, with the knowledge. And I don’t share my testimony often. Because people don’t understand the way I believe. Or maybe they do, but I’m afraid because most people are pretty damned stupid. Just my opinion.

  3. Very good – summarizes my feelings about “I know this church is true” quite well. What concerns me most is that I hear the phrase most often from youth and primary children. How can we teach them to gain their own witness to truth, and then speak it without a cliche that I feel heavily dilutes the knowledge of truth they’ve acquired.

  4. Reading this from (what I am learning is) essentially a pragmatist point of view, I wonder whether the word “possess” isn’t the crux of the matter. If you think “truth” is something you can possess (as opposed to observe or experience or dance with) the end result is likely to be unsatisfying, Whether that end result is a false sense of ownership or a false sense of loss.

  5. It probably won’t happen, but it would be nice if a BCS author said they know the church is true because of a God given testimony.

    I can say with conviction and certainty that Joseph Smith is God’s prophet and the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be. I know the church is true because of the manifestation of the Holy Ghost. I was given a testimony of the Book of Mormon by the power of the Holy Ghost.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I may be wrong, but I don’t believe I have ever uttered the words “I know the church is true.”

  7. I stubbornly hunker down in the church–not gonna let anyone take it away from me or run me out of it–because of a lot of things and in spite of a lot of things. One of the most important “because” things, in reference to JFK above, is a testimony founded on personal revelation. I’ve felt the Spirit way too many times, and have heard the still small voice (very clearly, running counter to my own internal voices or counter to what I wanted to hear), and cannot deny that testimony.

    At the same time, I have very often asked myself the same questions you have asked, Brother Austin. What do I mean, and what do other people mean, by “I know,” and, for that matter, what’s the value of knowing?

    Not a big fan of Paul, but I keep coming back to “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” and I suspect that believing is more important than knowing. Expressions of supremely confident conviction convey nothing to my soul, whereas expressions of humble belief move me profoundly.

  8. Betty Rosales says:

    I loved this. A great thinking piece.

  9. This church is the “true AND living” church. I think that statement summarizes the OP (for me at least). “True and living” has a much different meaning to me than just “true”.

  10. “True” has a broader range of meaning, of course. Per Merriam-Webster, it can mean “ideal, essential”; “consistent (true to character)”; “steadfast, loyal”; “legitimate, rightful”; etc. But, by all means, construe it narrowly and try not to throw your arm out of socket as you pat yourself on the back for your moral superiority over the rank and file.

  11. I can’t get enough of Michael Austin posts. Great stuff, thank you.

  12. I love this. Very insightful. I love the thought of having to “do” the salt of the earth vs be it. I used to be someone who also said “I know this church is true” and I felt that truly all growing up. I think what I meant is that the priesthood was real and that Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon were called of and inspired by God. That prophets still existed and ordinances, etc. Since then I’ve felt challenges to that knowledge and have relied more on faith and belief and the doing. Is what I’m taught here bringing me closer to doing the work of God? Absolutely yes. I feel motivated and inspired often in specific ways. The attitude of belief (vs knowing), however, has profoundly humbled me and allowed me to appreciate faith and beauty wherever I may find it.

  13. This had been on my mind a lot lately. I feel that the actual phrase is nonsense but can understand the meaning behind it having been raised in the church. For those new to the church or visiting, saying ours is the”only true church” is sure to seem prideful and naive. This phase needs to go away and be replaced with acts that prove we are the “saints” we claim to be. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  14. We use the word ‘true’ in all sorts of ways other than for propositional truth, like “a true friend,” “a true balance,” “a true heart,” “the true sword of Gryffindor,” or even as a verb, like “to true a bike wheel.”

    So I understand the phrase “the true church” to mean the genuine, or legitimate, or authorized church, the one God recognizes as holding his priesthood. But this view doesn’t entail the Church has a monopoly on propositional truths, or that all its current propositions are true, or that it doesn’t have more truth to learn. I think these latter interpretations misunderstand the meaning of “true” in “the true church.”

  15. I’m sure I’ve said “I know the church is true, “
    but now I don’t. A few years ago when my faith began evolving I started to think about that statement and
    what it meant to me. The last time I bore my testimony in church I said as I’ve gotten older I find I have more questions and fewer answers, but “I choose to believe.”

    The next person to bare (or bear?)their testimony was adamant that they “know the church is true.”

    To me, knowing something without any doubt doesn’t seem to entail faith. Does being a “true church”
    leave room for the mortal men running it room to make mistakes?

    Thanks Michael for this.

  16. Michael, given what you’ve written here, what’s your gloss on these two verses from the D&C, in which Joseph Smith, in the Lord’s voice, refers to the church as being true?

    “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to 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.” (D&C 1:30)

    “And, behold, it is your duty to unite with the true church, and give your language to exhortation continually, that you may receive the reward of the laborer. Amen.” (D&C 23:7)

  17. I love the original post and all of the comments in response. From the time I was a teenager (raised in the church by my member mother and non-member father) the song “Oh Say What Is Truth” really spoke to my heart, so I have held the idea of truth – real, eternal, ever abiding truth – as a treasure to be pursued. I believe that God can ask nothing more of us than to seek and follow truth with an honest heart. Every culture in every time and place is embedded with glittering gems of truth, the greatest being to love one another. Anyone (and I mean ANY one) who comes to, pursues, and lives truth as he/she honestly understands it will ultimately be led back (even more so, welcomed back) to Him and His celestial glories.

  18. Kathy Hardin-Walker says:

    ‘The Church is true’ is short for ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His (true) church’ just as ‘have more faith’ is short for ‘have more faith in Jesus Christ’… Part of the idea is left out in both statements and they turn into really confusing phrases.

  19. I love this blog. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this point summed up so nicely. I “Know the church is true” but it wasn’t because I was just raised to think that way. true spiritual growth happens when you take the time to decide for yourself. Keep writing this blog. it’s uplifting in the best way.

  20. I agree with who ever above said that there is another way that the word true is used besides as a true statement or a fact. An arrow is true if it does what it was built to do, fly straight and hit the target. An arrow can be true, but if used by an imperfect human will not necessarily fly straight or hit the target, depending on the skill or lack of skill of the human using it.

    So, is the church true in that it does what it was built to do? Not for me it isn’t. It taught me that God loves rich people more than poor people, that is you are not of the “right”political party, that the bishop will let your children go hungry. That God loves his sons but not his daughters. It taught me that God does not love God’s children who are not white and delightsome. Or his children who do not fit the Mormon cultural mold.

    I don’t think that was what God wanted “his” church to teach me, so therefore the church is not true for me. It is not doing what God would have his church do.

    I thought for a long while that maybe it was just the imperfect people trying to shoot a good arrow, but ending up killing anyone who got in the road of their badly shot arrow. But as I have studied, and pondered my life experiences, I have decided that even the best marksmen cannot hit the broad side of a barn with this curved arrow. No, not the marksmen’s fault when the curved arrow goes astray and kills innocent bystanders.

    But different people have different experiences with this church and maybe your experience is that the arrow always goes where it should, even when shot be an imperfect marksman, because God corrects for human marksmen. So, for you, maybe your experience is that the church is true and always, or mostly, works as God designed it to.

  21. I struggle with the statement “the Church is true”. Yes, I agree there are many ways to take the word true, but when I hear that said by someone in testimony meeting all I hear is that everything the Church teaches is the truth. I also see truth as eternal. It is either correct (according to God and nature) or it isn’t. It does not change. I am a convert of 35 years (joining in my teens). I went on a mission, married in the temple, and graduated from a Church school. I jumped through all the right hoops. I was pretty sure I knew what the Church believed and it was truth. I know many times I had said that phrase over those years and I truly believed that everything the Church taught was truth directly from God himself. Now that my life has slowed down over the last few years I have had time to really think, ponder, and study what the Church teaches and what they have taught in the past. It has completely thrown me for a loop! My understanding of truth is either flawed or the Church being true and correct is flawed. How can what a prophet taught as doctrine (truth) 100 years ago all of a sudden no longer be doctrine (truth). Is there even a such thing as ultimate truth, never ending truth? Or, does truth change on God’s whim? This is a really hard struggle for me.

  22. “Or, does truth change on God’s whim? This is a really hard struggle for me.”

    It was hard for Abraham, too :) One way to read most of the scriptural record, and most of the LDS Church’s history, is as a clear signal that being in relationship with the Truthteller is the only way to know what’s what. I mean, God did say, “my thoughts are not your thoughts,” so our delusion that we can pin down any static understanding of God’s will as “truth” in our un-godlike minds probably makes the struggle more difficult than it has to be.

  23. Left Field says:

    The idea that the Mormon Church has all truth is the most un-Mormon idea imaginable. We’re the people who believe in revelation, and who believe that many “great and important things” are yet to be revealed. Revelation and Restoration is a process, not a completed event.

    Thinking that you have everything all figured out is what led to the idea that revelation was unnecessary, which is what led to the idea that there would be no revelation, which is what lead to the “great apostasy,” which is what required the Restoration in the first place.

  24. I am a literalist when it comes to this statement: The church is true,

    The church is a building made of wood and concrete and such, True is a construction term that means everything is level and the walls are perpendicular to the floors and so forth. This worked pretty good for me ….

    Until a bully we called Fatdog punched me during a church basketball game before my mission and I tripped him and he caved in one of the walls. That wall is still crooked, they never fixed it. That was not the end of violence in church basketball games, it went on until I got too old to play or care.

    Then I became a sometimes fan of former vice president Al E.Gore, something like that.

  25. Thank you for this important post! I have some thoughts on the following excerpt:

    “We fall into the testimony trap when we start to think that “being true” is the sort of thing that churches are supposed to do. This can stunt our spiritual development in many ways. It can cause us to think that being right is more important than doing right.”

    Let me first state partially in response to JFK and Michael H (although I am not a BCC author, I might as well be since I agree in some fashion with most of what I read on BCC):
    I know God lives and loves me.
    I know Jesus is the Christ and all that entails
    I know the Book of Mormon was revealed by angels and plates, and urim, and thummim, and all of that, etc, and it stands with the Bible as astounding witnesses of Christ and his mission.
    I know priesthood keys were restored through angelic ministration, so they must be important.
    I know the Q15 has those keys which allow them to administer God’s church and ordinances in the efforts of the church to bring people (writ large of course) to Christ.
    I know that ALL OF THIS MIGHT NOT MATTER AT ALL – meaning what have we done with this truth? Many thangs both wonderful and horrible (both lists are long, I find Anna’s litany of criticism to be on mark and as a people we would be wise to repent – and her list is not even a beginning of criticism that could be leveled – but again I think the wonderful list is also huge). So having the truth doesn’t help the fact that we are all doomed if it were not for Christ (everything else is an appendage right?), AND props to eillen369 that the most important thing we can do is to learn to love. I don’t think we were sent here just to learn that the church is true, or even to learn faith, or even to learn hope (I am a big fan of Paul btw), but the primary reason we were sent here is to learn love, and that is something none of us can avoid having to engage with if we are accountable, all of the other stuff will have the capability to be made available to us if we have really tired to learn how to love…, so… we have all messed THAT up royally, so Oh yeah YAY for Christ, I need him, the church needs him, the prophets need him – we can have patience, and some really bad and wonderful days, don’t stop repenting. And may we all strive every day to not misappropriate the truth for some purpose other than the love that it was intended for. It can be a sword or a salve. I have written a little septet about this that resonates with the OP for me, it is called “Is Epistemology a Whore or a Mother or Both?” Hope its ok to leave the link.

    https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2018/07/21/btt-37-is-epistemology-a-whore-or-a-mother-or-both/

  26. Michael Austin says:

    Lona, thank you for those thoughts, and for the link (I love it). But mostly, thanks for really getting what I was trying to say.

  27. A pleasure Michael, I am grateful that you liked the poem. I think your OP is one of the most important pieces I have read in a great while. I did mean to type “tried to learn to love” instead of “tired to learn to love” in my comment – although trying does get tiring. Thank you.

  28. This is a great post. This is one of the most toxic parts of our religious culture. The enormous social pressure among Mormons to use the rhetoric of certainty actually biases us against discovering truth. (No wonder such a huge proportion of us voted incorrectly in 2016! After all, how are we supposed to discover truth if we think we already have it?) I also think it’s absurd because there is no way that a person can possibly know that ‘the church’ is ‘true.’ We get this very vague and nonspecific feeling of transcendence, and then we are told to interpret it to mean that ALL OF THIS STUFF is ‘true.’ Who says we should interpret it that way? It’s basically confirmation bias. Whenever I hear that phrase now, in my head I hear “I know the emperor has clothes.”

  29. “but the primary reason we were sent here is to learn love, and that is something none of us can avoid having to engage with if we are accountable, all of the other stuff will have the capability to be made available to us if we have really tired to learn how to love…”

    Amen!!!

  30. @MormonPostcards – Consider this: D&C 10:67-68

    67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
    68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church

  31. Michael A – I thought you might enjoy this – touches on the topic of “The Church is True” from slightly different angle. (I am not the author) http://mormonuniversalism.com/10003/pride-in-the-lds-only-true-church-doctrine/

  32. One Love: Thank you for that. You may have mistaken the reason for my question. I have no objection to Michael’s broader point, which I take to be that ritualized displays of knowledge that the church is true aren’t really what the church is about and may, in some cases, be a distraction. But Michael seems nonplussed by the specific form of expression in those displays: saying that “the church is true.” Michael’s a smart guy and a serious student of scripture. So I’m curious as to how he understands the (apparently) same expression as used in the D&C. Is it equally puzzling to him? Does he think those uses are comprehensible, but in some way distinguishable from how today’s members use the expression in witnessing?

  33. Let’s accept for a moment that true = trustworthy.
    This equation works particularly well in English since “truth” and “trust’ are cognates. “true” is also of course very frequently paired with “faithful”, especially in Mormon discourse.
    These sorts of Germanic-Latinate word pairs have their origins in early-modern English legal writing and are very prominent in the Elizabethan/Jacobean era writings that formed the backbone of Anglophone literacy for the past four centuries.
    So, with English, every time you play around with the meanings of true/truth, you’re allowed, even compelled, to play around with faithful/faith.
    That’s a lot of meaning to play with. I mean, just take a moment to play around with the meanings these words have with regard to marriage and the marriage covenant. You almost can’t do it because a moment is far too short a time to deal with the flood of meaning that comes rushing in.
    So, for a supposed academic like Michael Austin to say “I have no idea what the phrase ‘I know the Church is true’ means” is to reveal an immense poverty of theological imagination.

  34. Michael Austin says:

    One of the things that they teach us in Supposed Academic School is that etymology is not the same as ideology and that one can know a whole spectrum of linguistically possible meanings of a word without actually understanding a particular usage. I see no evidence that when three year old children stand up and say “I know the Church is true,” they mean that the understand that the institution is trustworthy. I also don’t think they are using it the way that a dog breeder would use the term, i.e., “I know that the Church is an actual descendant of a pure breed that copied its species-specific DNA onto its offspring.” In fact, I included a whole paragraph about what I do think the usage means in the process of suggesting that this usage is problematic. “I have no idea what it means” should be read as, “I have no idea how to fit contemporary usage as I understand it into a logical framework that is internally consistent with what I think that those using it are really trying to convey.”

    “Theological imagination” is a wonderful thing, but I am trying to understand contemporary orthopraxy, which is a different thing.

  35. Kevin Christensen says:

    So it’s important that the formal claims in D&C 1 regarding “mine authority and the authority of my servants” explicitly renounce the conditions stated in the leading quote”: “If I claim to possess the truth, I will be unlikely even to entertain the possibility that others may be right, or at least partly right, and I wrong, or at least partly wrong; unlikely to enter imaginatively into the world of others so as to learn to appreciate the force of their account. . . .”

    Besides stating that the Lord had spoken to Joseph Smith on certain, limited topics, we get an explicit declaration that God had also spoken to unspecified “others” and that “I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh; for I am no respecter of persons.” That makes both truth and revelation explicitly “non-exclusive” and accounts for Joseph Smith’s notable statements that he is willing and eager to learn from any and all sources, LDS or not. The problem with creeds, he explained, is not their content “all of them have some truth” but their function “I want to come into the presence of God and learn all things, but creeds set up stakes and say, ‘Hitherto thou shalt come, and no further.”

    The factual information that we have is also expressly limited:

    These commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

    And inasmuch as they erred, it might be made known;

    And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;

    And inasmuch as they sinned, they might be chastened that they might repent;

    And inasmuch as they were made humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

    So what we have is imperfect and incomplete, as well as non-exclusive with respect to truth and revelation and virtue, according to the Lord’s formal definition of our authority. So the anxiety inducing condition that “the possibility that others may be right, or at least partly right, and I wrong, or at least partly wrong” should be a part of of LDS acculturation if we read D&C 1 now and then.

    The common testimony phrase “the church is true” has four words, whereas the key verse in D&C 1:30 has 29. I’ve elsewhere made the case that all 29 words matter and that the key is not to remove every word that does not say what we expect, but in comparing the themes of D&C 1 as a whole with the Biblical uses of “true” and/or “living”, in images like “true vine” and living bread/waters/stones, the tree of life, the true treasure, the use in Jer 10:10 of True God, Living God in a voice of warning passage, and “new and living way through the veil,” and so forth.

    There remains the issue of human development which happens to us all, and for that I like the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, and note that Joseph Smith by precept and example tries to get us to Position 9, whereas “only true church” thinking demonstrates Position 2. Because that is a human thing, there will always be LDS at that Position. But we don’t have to stay there.

  36. Mormons exist in a world where certainty is more important than just about anything. To be able to say “I know ___ is true” is more important for many Mormons than knowing, for instance, exactly what they believe about certain conflicted doctrines. But saying the Church is “true” is often a meaningless statement, although it implies much. Often, unfortunately, the claim that the Church is true is also a claim that every other Church is false. And this puts us in confrontational relationships with other Christians, who may actually understand more truth than we do. Considering the fact that our doctrines are imperfect (and sometimes internally inconsistent), our scriptures are imperfect (yes, even the Book of Mormon), and our leaders are very much fallible, the statement that the Church is true falls woefully short of saying anything significant. One thing I have noticed is that the more I learn, the less I’m certain about. The reason is that when you get beneath the surface, almost everything is more complicated than it appears at first. I’ve had spiritual confirmations of certain events in LDS history, but even those need to be understood in context, and sometimes the context has the effect of restricting the scope of what a confirmation is actually confirming. Add to that the fact that spiritual feelings are often very difficult to decipher, and truth can become quite elusive. So, be cautious about your certainty. It may prevent you from actually finding more truth.

  37. @Michael
    I’m not responding to what is in the mind of three-year-old children, but to what has come from the pen of Brother Austin. It was you who wrote that you cannot with conviction utter the words “the Church is true” due to a lack of understanding of what that phrase means. I offer you one possible avenue of wordplay by which you may construct the meaning necessary to regain that conviction, should you wish to do so. Such wordplay may indeed open the gates to the dead end of etymological fallacy, but it is also the grist for those theological imaginings that are the sense-making Rube Goldberg machines of our religious life.

    @Wally
    >saying the Church is “true” is often a meaningless statement
    >it implies much
    >it puts us in confrontational relationships with other Christians
    >it falls woefully short of saying anything significant

    You’re giving me whiplash.

  38. “that are the sense-making Rube Goldberg machines of our religious life.”
    I’m not sure I want Rube Goldberg machines making sense of my religious life, given their intention to insert unnecessary complexity into simple tasks.

  39. Wilhelm, I wonder if you’re being purposely obtuse. I cannot speak for Michael, but for me it has also “been years since I have been able to say with conviction the words, ‘I know the Church is true.’ ” And that is not because of any lack of conviction, though my understanding of the spiritual manifestations I have received has grown and changed. It is also not because I don’t know multiple meanings of “Church” and of “true.” It is because there is no point in saying it that way when I have good reason to doubt whether it will be understood in the way that I mean it. I much prefer other ways of bearing testimony that are aimed at communication and not at repeating a stock phrase of indeterminate meaning beyond its function as a declaration of allegiance.

  40. Joseph Stanford says:

    Recently, at a local testimony meeting, a church leader said. “I know the Church is true. I believe it’s true. I hope it’s true.” I thought it was an honest progression of meaning and I appreciated it.

  41. ray nash.
    i kinda chuckle now when young people say they know the church is true.
    “its funny cuz its true”. but what should they say?
    im saddened by the teens who say they know the church is true,
    while you can tell that inside they are saying “i sure the heck hope this is true”