Should we offend others by claiming to be members of the only true Church?
It has been my privilege during the last thirty days to meet with missionaries and members in Great Britain, South America, South Africa, and here in North America. Always as we meet we find a common question that confronts us. Members of the Church, especially our missionaries, often hear this statement: “If there is anything I resent, it is those that say they are right and everybody else is wrong.” They object, of course, to the declaration concerning the exclusive delegation of authority in this church. Now I understand, of course, why one would feel that way. Nevertheless, I would say to him: “Hold on, think for a moment. Surely you can’t believe that in the great confusing variety of religious beliefs, not one of them is true, is right.”
Such a proposition generates atheism. When I think of an atheist, I believe with Sister Carol Lynn Pearson in what she wrote in her verse dedicated to the atheist:
“God must have a huge sense of humor
So righteously to resist
The temptation of turning the tables
On your pretending he does not exist.”
The other view, the one most widely held, is that all of them are right, that they are all alike. If there is a typical response to our missionaries, it is, “I already have a church. One is just as good as another and it doesn’t matter really which one we belong to, or if we belong to any. We will all end up in the same place anyway.” Surely no one who really thinks would hold to that position. Nevertheless, many people accept it when they would not for a moment apply it or relate it to any other phase of their life. They would not, for instance, take the same position with regard to education. Who would not smile at a statement that all schools are alike, that one is just as good as another, and that a person deserves the same diploma no matter which school he attends, or which course he takes, or for how long?
Would you agree to send students to just any school, taking any variety of courses, and then award them specialized degrees, anything they wanted—in architecture, law, medicine? Such an attitude would suggest that a man would be just as good a surgeon by not studying for it as he would by following the prerequisite courses. No person who has given it real substantial thought would take such a position, and neither you nor I would want to be under the knife of a surgeon who had been trained, or maybe I should say “untrained,” in such a pattern. Isn’t it strange, then, that so many are able to apply such a view toward religion. They advocate: Go to any school, take any course, or go to no school at all, and we’ll all end up in the same place with the same heavenly diploma.
That just isn’t reasonable, nor is it true. The position that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church upon the face of the earth is fundamental. Perhaps it would be more convenient and palatable and popular if we were to avoid it; nevertheless, we are under a sacred obligation and a sacred trust to hold to it. It is not merely an admission; it is a positive declaration. It is so fundamental that we cannot yield on this point. Now to those who think us uncharitable, we say that it was not devised by us; it was declared by Him, for he gave commandments to the early brethren, and I quote: “… 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.” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30)
Now this is not to say that the churches, all of them, are without some truth. They have some truth—some of them very much of it. They have a form of godliness. Often the clergy and adherents are not without dedication, and many of them practice remarkably well the virtues of Christianity. They are, nonetheless, incomplete. By his declaration, “… they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith History 1:19)
The gospel might be likened to the keyboard of a piano—a full keyboard with a selection of keys on which one who is trained can play a variety without limits; a ballad to express love, a march to rally, a melody to soothe, and a hymn to inspire; an endless variety to suit every mood and satisfy every need. How shortsighted it is, then, to choose a single key and endlessly tap out the monotony of a single note, or even two or three notes, when the full keyboard of limitless harmony can be played. How disappointing when the fullness of the gospel, the whole keyboard, is here upon the earth, that many churches tap on a single key. The note they stress may be essential to a complete harmony of religious experience, but it is, nonetheless, not all there is. It isn’t the fullness. For instance, one taps on the key of faith healing, to the neglect of many principles that would bring greater strength than faith healing itself. Another taps on an obscure key relating to the observance of the Sabbath—a key that would sound different indeed, played in harmony with the essential notes on the keyboard. A key used like that can get completely out of tune. Another repeats endlessly the key that relates to the mode of baptism and taps one or two other keys as though there were not a full keyboard. And again, the very key he uses, essential as it is, just doesn’t sound complete when played alone to the neglect of the others.
There are other examples, many of them where parts of the gospel are endlessly stressed and the churches build upon them, until alone they sound nothing like they would if blended with the full measure of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t say that the key of faith healing, for example, is not essential. We not only recognize it—we rely on it and experience it; but it is not the gospel itself, nor its fullness. We would never hold that baptism is not essential, absolutely essential, for it constitutes the official enrollment in the church and kingdom of God. If that key, however, is played alone, without the counterpart key of authority, the fullness and the harmony are gone and it becomes dissonant. And without the key of faith and of repentance, it is meaningless, and perhaps worse, it is counterfeit. This happens when the authority we speak of is lacking. Now we do not say they are wrong so much as we say they are incomplete. The fullness of the gospel has been restored. The power and the authority to act for Him is present with us. The power and the authority of the priesthood rests upon this church. The Lord revealed: “… this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–21.)
Now in these last days when the consummate power of evil moves against us, the great apostasy spoken of in the scriptures moves to its inevitable conclusion. The Christian churches that should be the bulwark against it seem to provide little substance for their members or for their clergy. And we see the frightening specter of empty churches and a clergy promoting causes they, above all, should resist. In these last travels I mentioned, it has been frightening to me to see the churches closed, boarded up, with weeds growing in the yard, or open but empty. We face the frightening thought of a generation raised without any contact with scripture. It is not unusual to find people who take an interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but give only casual attention to the ideal that the fullness of the gospel is here. They become attracted by a single key, a doctrine, often one to which they take immediate exception and object to. They investigate it by itself alone. They want to know all there is about it without reference, in fact, with specific objection and rejection, to anything else. They want to hear that key played over and over again. It will give them little knowledge unless they see that there is a fullness—other complementary ideals and doctrines that present a warmth and a harmony, and a fullness, that draw at the right moment upon each key, which if played alone might seem discordant.
Now that danger is not limited to investigators alone. Some members of the Church who should know better pick out a hobby key or two and tap them incessantly, to the irritation of those around them. They can dull their own spiritual sensitivities. They lose track that there is a fullness of the gospel and become as individuals, like many churches have become. They may reject the fullness in preference to a favorite note. This becomes exaggerated and distorted, leading them away into apostasy. I counseled, think about this matter. More than that, I would urge you to pray about this matter. Thinking alone can be the basis for man’s wisdom. There is another more perfect manner of communication through the spirit: “… for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10.) Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, said: “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:13–14.)
Any soul has the right, indeed the obligation, to make an appeal through prayer for the answer to this question: Is there a true church? That is how it all began, you know, with a fourteen-year-old boy who went into a grove. Two questions: Which of all the churches is true? and Which should he join? There he experienced a marvelous vision of the Father and the Son, and the dispensation of the fulness of times was ushered in. Subsequently the authority to act for Him was restored and rests yet with this church. We heard in this meeting a prophet of God, Joseph Fielding Smith. I bear witness that he is a prophet of God. I have a witness that Jesus is the Christ. He lives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church upon the face of this earth, of which I bear witness in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.