“I know the Church is true” is one of the first testimonies we hear Primary children repeating. But somewhere along the path to adulthood, even when there is real feeling behind it, it starts to become a thoughtless introduction to the bearing of a testimony.
What does this phrase really mean?
Truth, as has been said in general conference, is unchanging (Diane Dibb Forbis, “These Shall Be My People,” Ensign, Oct. 1980).
But with modern prophets, it seems that this Church is anything but unchanging. Think about all the announcements that have been made in the last year alone:
The Boy Scout program is being phased out.
High priests and elders have been combined.
Ministering has replaced home/visiting teaching.
A new hymn book and Primary songbook are being produced.
And who knows what changes are yet to come…
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The point is that from the beginning of this Church, established as the restored Church of Jesus Christ through a living prophet, Joseph Smith—it has always been changing. But does that mean it can’t also be true?
Curious about this phrase and idea, I went in search for the origins of “the Church is true.”
Of the 25 million words in 10,000 talks from 1851 to April of 2018, that phrase has been used over the pulpit only four times. And three of those instances were of general authorities quoting other people.
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If it isn’t something that is addressed in general conference, I thought, maybe it’s in the scriptures? I turned to the foundation of the restored Church, Doctrine and Covenants 1. And there, in plain sight, was my answer.
In verse 30, Christ refers to this Church as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”
There it was—the origin of the phrase and the answer to my question of how the Church can be true and changing. It is not just true, it is true and living.
So if the Church is true and living, where do we find the core of truth? I read a few scriptures to help me figure this out.
- The “gospel is true” (“Holy Ghost,” Guide to the Scriptures)
- “The holy scriptures are true” (D&C 20:11)
- The “work…[is] true” (D&C 6:17)
- “God is true” (John 7:18)
In other words, the things the Church teaches about and espouses are true. But what about “the Church” itself?
I realized it was like a target, where the very center is the gospel (which is truth), radiating out from the middle is the Church (which is true and living), and then on the outer edge are the people (who are just living).
When you look at it in that perspective, when people say that they are “leaving the Church,” we need to make sure we understand why, because it is sometimes not the core truth they are leaving, but rather the organization of the Church (policies, culture, PR), or the hurtful, thoughtless words of other people.
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I urge all of us to stay close to that which is true. Do not let the winds of the adversary blur the lines between the gospel, the Church, and the people. Neither the scriptures or the leaders of the Church claim the Church is perfect—rather it is meant to house that which is perfect and help its members come a little closer to truth.
Let's all try a little harder not to let what we see as flaws in people and programs interfere with our testimony of our perfect Savior.
Let’s stop touting culture as doctrine.
And yes, let’s all do our part to help this living Church become even more focused on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.