Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Know the Church Is True (and Yours Isn’t)

Quick story: My wife is the visiting teacher to a good friend of ours. The Friend was raised in the Church, but for years has been pretty spotty on participation. She married a man who is not a member of the LDS Church. Our Friend likes a lot of things about the Church, but does not like the “One True Church” (“OTC”) idea. Not surprising, given her background and experience. What was surprising was the conversation my wife had with her visiting teaching companion. The Companion is a lifelong member born and raised in Church, baptized at eight, married in the temple. She has been an auxiliary president and counselor multiple times and her husband is currently in the bishopric - - you get the picture. My wife explained to the Companion that our Friend did not really like the OTC idea. The Companion says, without batting an eye, “Yeah, that’s not my favorite idea, either.” I did not see that coming (from her, anyway).

So what about this One True and Living Church idea? What do you think it means? It has made us unpopular with other religious people from the very beginning. See JS Hist., v. 21-22. And, it is not like the idea has gained popular support outside the LDS Church since that time. The OTC concept can be presented a number of ways, but the bottom line is always, “My church is better than yours.” Representing points along the spectrum, here are some of the ways the ways the OTC concept can be explained:

1. If You Are Not in Our Church, You are in the Wrong Church. Isn’t this basically what Joseph Smith says he was told in the First Vision? All other churches were wrong? See JS Hist., v. 19. Just for back up, look at 1 Nephi 14:10, which says there are two churches: The Church of the Lamb of God, and the church of the devil.

2. All Churches Are True, Ours Is Just the Most True. President Hinckley liked to formulate the OTC concept this way. Unsurprisingly, I think he said it about as diplomatically as it can be said. (See his comments at “Essence of Missionary Service,” here). But still, our Church is better than everyone else’s, right?

3. Our Church is the True and Living Church Because We Have the Priesthood and Ordinances. This is a main thrust of Pres. Eyring’s recent talk (see my the link in my last post). I think it is the implied message of Lesson 9, though it is certainly soft-pedaled. The idea is that many, maybe most, other churches are very good and teach true and important things, but only the LDS Church has the authority to administer the saving ordinances necessary to achieve exaltation. But once again, you can see how this is perceived as saying, “Your Church is nice, but it won’t get you to heaven.”

I don’t know about you, but I am uncomfortable with the idea that, if you are not member of the LDS Church, you belong to the church of the devil (I don’t even think that is what 1 Nephi 14 means). And, while I love the Church, have a testimony, and am a committed believer in every sense of the word I can think of, it makes me a little uncomfortable to explain to my friends of other faiths why mine is the OTC. On the other hand, if this is not the OTC, what was the point of the restoration? What is the point of priesthood and ordinances?

Help me out here.


  1. I think what you may be failing to realize is that everyone thinks that their church is better than everyone else's. Else, why are they attending that church? Remember, the protestant reformation was decried as a heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. Individuals in those churches may not subscribe to that theory entirely but I can almost guarantee you no one would start a new religion because they thought all the others were right.

  2. Brian Scott, the Protestant denominations as sort of a loose group don't feel that way about each other; you can freely move between them without, for example, requiring to be rebaptized.

  3. Yet they require a rebaptism for a Mormon coming to their churches...

  4. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of the LDS church being the OTC, I think you need to ask yourself what it is that would legitimize other churches? Is it just discomfort with the OTC concept, or is there something that gives you pause to say that other churches also are true? Because if it is just discomfort then there really is no reason to question the OTC concept, one needs only to overcome their discomfort, and have more confidence in what they believe. But if you see truth in other churches, something that legitimizes them, then that would be a good reason to question and doubt the OTC idea. So, do you see anything in other churches that would legitimize them as a true church?

    Brian Scott, you mention, "I think what you may be failing to realize is that everyone thinks that their church is better than everyone else's. Else, why are they attending that church?

    I go to the Episcopal church. I know my church is not better than others, and that it has some serious problems to contend with. This is actually one of the reasons why I go there. So it is not entirely true that everyone "thinks that their church is better than everyone else's".

  5. At its base, I think my discomfort arises from a desire not to offend good people with whom I share many beliefs and values. I think there are some out there like Brian describes (i.e., they think there Church is better or "more true" than mine), and people obvioulsy attend the church they prefer. But I also perceive an increasingly ecumenical trend, especially among the "mainline" Protestant churches. Do you think I am right about this, didymus? I certainly see many of the teachings in other Christian churches (and non-Christian religions) as true and wonderful and "legitimizing." I guess I am hoping to find common ground with people of other faiths, while being true to my own belief in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  6. This is an especially good line of discussion for a gospel doctrine class. I've often been asked how I can believe the OTC concept. I'm often met with incredulity when I reply "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't belong."

    So I agree, Teacher, that there is an ecumenical trend in protestantism, and in many other religions that the OTC idea might be passe. A greater ideological give-and-take seems to be gaining traction, while the denominational definitions are losing meaning.

  7. Oh, and to respond to your original posting (the questions at the end). I think it's legitimate to feel uncomfortable with the idea, especially given the current generation of religious thinking outside the LDS Church. The OTC idea is an old one that is losing ground for the last 50 years.

    Being a fan of the past, I'm unabashedly alright with the idea. I'd expect any person in any religion to believe that same idea about their church. What's weird to me is when they don't. And I'm not talking about harboring minor doubts - every honest believer has doubts about certain doctrines or ideas.

  8. Easton: I agree that the OTC idea is not in vogue. And yet our Church, along with a handful of others for which authority is paramount, can't really distance itself effectively from it. It is just too central to what we are about.

    It has been interesting to read some of what Joseph Smith said about respect and tolerance for other religions. Although clearly a booster for the restoration, he was also very clear about showing respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others and was a vocal supporter of freedom of conscience/religion. Although a bit of balancing act, that seems like an important way to temper what might be perceived as haughtiness or judgment by us OTC believers. Not that it always worked for Joseph Smith!

  9. For me, the most interesting part of this line of thinking boils down this: what does the average member really mean by the word "true" when they say they know the church is the OTC on the earth. What conception of "true" is bouncing around in your head when you make this statement?

    True? Sheesh, by some measure of thinking this keyboard is true.

    Other churches exist. They add value to the lives of their members. It is easy to see how for nonmembers it is insulting when they hear LDS people indirectly claim their church isn't true.

    But, if by "true" you mean the only means to eternal life in the celestial kingdom... well then church members can't really escape their claims to being the OTC. That is the church's stance, regardless of how we might want to nice talk our way around it. Straight is the gate.

    Nonetheless, I agree that it is a confrontational doctrine and a PR nightmare for the Church.

  10. WhutzNekst: Yes, it is interesting to think about what "true" means as a descriptor of "church." It is also interesting to think about the meaning of the phrase "true and living church."

    I have noticed in the recent past a little more willingness by Church leaders to stake the flag on the OTC idea, or at least more directness. Elder Holland's recent talks on the Godhead and the canon come to mind. Do you think I am right about that? How do you think that is perceived (if it is perceived) outside the LDS Church?

  11. The problem lies not with the church but with man's seperation of the body through false interpretations of the word. So much so that we have come to call the following of god a religion.

    Jesus made the comment to a few people who had been in the service of casting out demons "depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you" We can all get so wrapped up in the "church" that we forget the main thing, relationship.

    I once saw a T-shirt with the inscription, "I'm playing to the audience of one" That "one" is the one true God and not the one true church.

    The true church is made up of all those born again believers who have bowed at the knee in obedience to Christ and are living their lives to an audience of one; the God of Abraham, Issiac, and Jacob.

    We can call ourselves anything we wish; bishops, nuns, priests, fathers, brothers, sisters, bishops, etc, but untill we lose our lives and focus on the great I AM then we are simply being busy.

  12. Amen Missionary!

  13. #1 is dependent on the first vision story being a) accurate and/or b) true. Historical references show 7 or 8 differing written versions of the first vision which puts it into question. If you then consider the possibility that JS was decieved by demons posing as angelic beings/christ (which is wholelly possible) then there leaves little merit for the first vision account.

    The reference of Nephi depends on the validity of my point above

    #2 this depends on the validity of the first vision

    #3 so does this.

    What the LDS fail to see is that NO RELIGION is the true church. As defined by Jesus himself in the new testament, the church is NOT an organized group!!!!!

    Did jesus start a church while he was here? Nope... He started a movement


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