As I have reflected from time to time on this oft-repeated phrase I must admit that it has puzzled me. What does it mean for the “church” to be “true”?
I usually think of the word church in the sense of the Greek word ekklesia, or Hebrew qahal, the “assembly.” That is, the church is us, its members collectively, in all our imperfect glory. What does it mean to call a community of believers, each of whom is sinful and weak, true?
Others, however, may think of the LDS church in terms of a divinely inspired organizational pattern. Yet clearly both anciently and modernly the organizational schema of the church has changed at times due to (from a believer’s perspective) divine revelation and/or human choices. If one adopts this position, is the phrase that is the topic of this post just another way of saying, “I know the church is guided by God/revelation”?
Others yet may see the LDS church primarily as God’s kingdom on earth. However, I would argue for scriptural and theological reasons (e.g., 1 Nephi 11-14) that there others who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that too are a part of God’s kingdom/church on earth (not to mention that there are members of the LDS faith who are no doubt opposed to this kingdom/church). Is one affirming, then, by the phrase in question God’s support for this larger body of believers? I would say in most cases the answer is probably “no”; the testifiers usually mean the LDS Church specifically.
I think the answer that has most satisfied me is more sociological in nature: By saying, “I know the Church is true,” one is self-identifying with a specific community of believers and affirming one’s solidarity with that community. It is a way of saying, “my loyalties ultimately lay here.” I also think that it may be another way of saying that one believes, for non-empirical or purely rational reasons, that God is purposefully active in the world in unique ways through the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If that is the case though, then it does seem that the phrase, as mentioned above, may just be another (perhaps less clear) way of declaring one’s belief that the LDS Church is guided by God/revelation. Could not someone who is not a member of the LDS Church affirm this though too? And what about the inverse question? I, for instance, think that God is active in unique ways in many other churches and organizations. Is it ever proper to declare that they are “true”?
Finally, there is the question of the usage of the word “know.” Faith, hope, and belief to me often seem more impressive than knowledge, so I am not entirely sure why the word “believe” has come to be used less frequently in testimonies or looked on by some as less meaningful or powerful than the verb “know.” Moreover, using the word “know” can be confusing for outsiders who use this word rather differently than the way most Mormons seem to mean it in a confessional religious context. Again, then, it seems that this word is a way of declaring that one is an insider, that one belongs to the community, as well as that one’s belief in the LDS Church is grounded in divine revelation and not empirical data or rational proofs.
What do you think?