Part 38: CES Letter Testimony/Spiritual Witness Questions [Section B]
by Sarah Allen
Last week, I spoke about the progression of ideas I see in the CES Letter and how dangerous I think this section is. Jeremy Runnells isn’t just targeting other flawed human beings or messy historical events without much documentation this time. He’s not talking about controversial statements or doctrines, either. He’s directly targeting a member of the Godhead and the way in which our Father and Savior speak to us. If he can cast doubt on that, if he can make you think that They don’t speak to us the way we’re taught They do, then the easier it becomes for him to convince you that They don’t exist at all.
I truly believe that’s at the crux of this. There’s a reason why some former members of our church don’t join another church when they leave and instead become atheist or agnostic. Things in our church are often presented as all or nothing. Last week, we went through several scriptures that taught that we can either choose the things of God or the things of Satan. Either our temple covenants are necessary for exaltation or they’re not. Either the Priesthood was restored to the Earth or it wasn’t. Either Joseph Smith knelt in a grove of trees, saw God the Father and the Savior, and later spoke with a resurrected Moroni face to face, or he didn’t. Either the story he told us surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is true, or he’s a liar. Either the Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient record translated by revelation, or it’s made up. There’s no in-between. Even the Savior Himself told us that if we’re not with Him, we’re against Him.
While that concept isn’t true for our testimonies (it’s normal if we don’t have perfect faith in everything right away, or if we have to build our testimonies brick by brick), it’s true for a lot of things in the Gospel and in the Church. And if Jeremy can make you doubt enough of those very basic, fundamental cornerstones of your faith, eventually, he’ll make you doubt whether God is even real.
But God is real. The Savior is real. The Holy Ghost is real. And the way that They speak to us is through the Spirit. Regardless of whatever doubts Jeremy tries to sow, we are not alone. They did not abandon us to find our own way without Their help. We just have to ask for it.
The CES Letter lists nine questions or doubts regarding the Spirit. The first one states:
- Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book(s), and teachings are true.
In my experience, this isn’t really true. Some religions do, particularly other Christian sects, but that isn’t something that Buddhists or Hindus do, for instance. Even many other Christian denominations seem to rely more on tradition or authority rather than promptings or the witness of the Spirit. As an example, the Pope doesn’t claim to receive revelation to lead the Catholic Church. He claims both authority and tradition, and refers back to the doctrinal teachings for his decisions. Catholics believe revelation ended with the death of the Apostles. In fact, part of the official Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
“God has said everything in His Word [Christ]”
“‘In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son.’ Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In Him, He has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. … ‘In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and He has no more to say. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.’”
“There will be no further Revelation.”
“‘… [N]o new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ … Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. … Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfilment, as is the case in certain nonchristian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations.’”
Two guesses who that last line is aimed at.
The Catholic Church also defines those “private” revelations as calling people to Christ, or visions like those given to Joan of Arc, rather than a witness that the Pope is divinely called of God. And Catholics aren’t the only Christians who deny that certain types of revelation are still possible. As FAIR points out, a lot of Evangelical Christians have long claimed that revelation is not a reliable way to determine the truth.
Point #2 is a long one, but it begins:
- Just as it would be arrogant for a FLDS member, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic, a Seventh-day Adventist, or a Muslim to deny a Latter-day Saint’s spiritual experience and testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism, it would likewise be arrogant for a Latter-day Saint to deny others’ spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion. Yet, every religion cannot be right and true together.
I wholeheartedly agree that it’d be arrogant to deny others their spiritual experiences just because we don’t belong to the same church. My very best friend, her husband, and their daughter are Baptist, and they’re some of the most righteous, devotedly Christian people I know. They lean on God and His Spirit for guidance, and they act on the promptings they receive. I know that He loves them even more than I do. He speaks to them and guides their paths, just as He does for me. They are some of the kindest, best people I have ever met. I would never claim they aren’t really listening to Him, or that He’s leading them astray, or that their feelings aren’t as real as mine are, or whatever it is that Jeremy’s trying to imply here. I don’t believe any of that.
God speaks to us according or our understanding, and the Holy Ghost testifies of truth wherever it is found. None of our leaders have ever claimed that our church is the only source of light and truth in the world. In fact, they’ve repeatedly claimed otherwise. Here are a handful of those statements.
2 Nephi 26:13 says of Christ:
And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.
It says that by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Savior manifests Himself unto all those who believe in Him. I don’t see the part where it adds, “But only if they’re Latter-day Saints.”
Additionally, President Hinckley once said, “We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work.’”
Joseph Smith said, “Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc. any truth? Yes, they all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up or we shall not come out pure Mormons.”
At another time, he said, “We don’t ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more.”
And Brigham Young taught:
“With your mind’s eye look at the millions of them in all nations who are doing according to the best knowledge they possess. What! the Roman Catholics? Yes, and then every one of her daughters down to the latest Protestant Church that has been organized. They are all doing just as well as they can, and living according to the best light they have—a great many of them, though not all. What shall we do with them? They pass from the world, their spirits go into the spiritual world, and their bodies go back to their mother earth, and there sleep, while their spirits are before the Lord.
“Are they happy? Every son and daughter of Adam who live according to the best light and knowledge they have, when the go into the spiritual world, are happy in proportion to their faithfulness. For instance, take a view of some of our late reformers; take the best specimen of reformers that we have, who are all the time full of glory and happiness and full of praise to the Lord—who meet together oft and sing and pray and preach and shout and give thanks to the Lord Almighty; and in a great many instances and in a great degree they enjoy much of a good spirit, which is the Spirit of the Lord, or the Light of Christ, which lighteth the world.
“Now, this may be singular to some. What! they enjoy the Spirit of the Lord? Yes, every man and woman, according to their faith and the knowledge they have in their possession. They enjoy the goodness of their Father in heaven. Do they receive the Spirit of the Lord? They do, and enjoy the light of it, and walk in it, and rejoice in it.
“What will be their state hereafter? Every faithful Methodist that has lived up to and faithfully fulfilled the requirements of his religion, according to the best light he had, doing good to all and evil to none, injuring no person upon the earth, honouring his God as far he knew, will have as great a heaven as he ever anticipated in the flesh, and far greater. Every Presbyterian, and every Quaker, and every Baptist, and every Roman Catholic member,—every reformer, of whatever class or grade, that lives according to the best light they have, and never have had an opportunity of receiving a greater light than the one in their possession, will have and enjoy all they live for.”
Joseph and Brigham also both used to invite non-Latter-day Saint ministers of different denominations to give sermons to the Saints because they knew they had truth in their religions.
While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of man and is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth, yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there… speaking to them through means that they can comprehend; not always giving a fulness of truth such as may be found in the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ; but always giving that measure of truth that the people are prepared to receive. “Mormonism” holds, then, that all the great teachers among all nations and in all ages are servants of God. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them. Hence it is not obnoxious to “Mormonism” to regard Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher and moralist, as a servant of God, inspired to a certain degree by him to teach those great moral maxims which have governed those millions of God’s children for lo! these many centuries. It is willing to regard Gautama, Buddha, as an inspired servant of God, teaching a measure of the truth, at least giving to these people that twilight of truth by which they may somewhat see their way. So with the Arabian prophet, that wild spirit that turned the Arabians from worshipping idols to a conception of the Creator of Heaven and earth that was more excellent than their previous conceptions of Deity. And so the sages of Greece and of Rome. So the reformers of early Protestant times. Wherever God finds a soul sufficiently enlightened and pure; one with whom his Spirit can communicate, he makes of him a teacher of men. While the path of sensuality and darkness may be that which most men tread, a few, to paraphrase the word of a moral philosopher of high standing, have been led along the upward path; a few in all countries and generations have been wisdom seekers, or seekers of God. They have been so because the Divine Word of Wisdom has looked upon them, choosing them for the knowledge and service of himself.
Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.
Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.
Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.
It’s not that we deny those of other faiths their spiritual witnesses. It’s not that we believe they haven’t ever been taught truth. It’s not that we say that their testimonies aren’t valid. They are children of God, and of course He loves them and speaks truth to them. Why wouldn’t He?
Though we don’t have the original transcript to compare it to, Brigham Young is recorded as saying, “I do not believe for one moment that there has been a man or woman upon the face of the earth, from the days of Adam to this day, who has not been enlightened, instructed, and taught by the revelations of Jesus Christ.”
The position of our church has always been that we can add to the truth that people already have. There are varying degrees of truth found in every religion. Some of those religions have a great deal of the truth. We just believe we can offer a little bit more. We believe we can offer the fulness of the Gospel.
When Jeremy says that “every religion cannot be right and true together,” the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that yes, they can. They may not all be equally right or true, but they all have truth and correct doctrine to some degree.
The Letter continues:
LDS MEMBER IN 2017
I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s true Prophet today.
FLDS MEMBER IN 2017
I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Warren Jeffs is the Lord’s true Prophet today.
RLDS MEMBER IN 1975
I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that W. Wallace Smith is the Lord’s true Prophet today.
LDCJC MEMBER IN 2017
I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know The Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon and the Book of Jeraneck are true. I know that Matthew P. Gill is the Lord’s true Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator today.
Same method: read, ponder, and pray. Different testimonies. All four testimonies cannot simultaneously be true.
They can simultaneously be true in some things: the Book of Mormon as scripture, Joseph Smith being a prophet, etc. As for the other things, maybe we all are receiving some sort of witness of the truth, even if they’re witnesses of different things.
Remember, God teaches us according to the understanding and knowledge that we already have, in the language that we’ll understand. Is it true that other denominations may regard their various leaders as prophets when they aren’t? Yes. But is it also true that some of those other leaders might be inspired by God? Absolutely. Is it also true that some of them are good, righteous men doing their best to obey His commandments? Most definitely. Belonging to a different religion does not make them bad people who are incapable of hearing God’s word and feeling His Spirit.
Can people belonging to different religions get the assurance that their leaders are led by God? Of course they can! They may not be prophets called directly by God, but it doesn’t mean He leaves them to wander through the wilderness without guidance. He still inspires and leads them as far as they’re willing to be led.
And is it also true that, in the case of three of these testimonies in particular, their churches were founded by apostate leaders who had lost the authority and Priesthood power they had once been given? I personally believe so, yes. As we discussed a few weeks ago, when we harden our hearts even just a little, the light and knowledge that we previously had is taken away until eventually, we know nothing of the things of God. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people in this state aren’t good men and women, but it does mean that they’re operating with less tools of the Spirit at their disposal than those who are not in apostasy.
In the case of Jeffs in particular, he is an evil man and while there are innocents among his followers, there are also those who seek to prop up and emulate his wickedness. I would suggest that, accordingly, their ability to feel and understand the Holy Ghost may be somewhat skewed by that sin they willingly accept in their leaders.
Obviously, many adherents of those religions feel that we’re in apostasy too, and that’s fine. It’s for God to sort out. Those who are faithful and diligent in living God’s laws as they know them will be rewarded for that faithfulness, regardless of how much light and knowledge they currently have. It’s okay that they’re receiving answers to their prayers that may be different than the answers we receive to our prayers. We’re each at a different point in our spiritual journeys, and Heavenly Father will direct us accordingly. Ultimately, we’re all going to arrive at the same source of divine truth. Some may arrive there sooner than others, but it’s not a race.
Is this the best God can come up with in revealing His truth to His children? Only .2% of the world’s population are members of God’s one true church. This is God’s model and standard of efficiency?
Is the best way for God to reveal His truth to His children being that, when they ask Him for guidance, He gives it to them? Well…yeah. What other way would be better?
He could come down and teach us face to face, but then we wouldn’t need to exercise faith. And exercising faith is how we learn and grow as those divine children of God. Just like you wouldn’t do everything for your children and never teach them how to be independent beings capable of making their own decisions, Heavenly Father has to give us room to grow. This way, He gives us guidance and allows us the space to accept it or reject it, and to go forward based on those choices.
Blake Ostler gave a FAIR presentation some years ago where he discussed the guidance of the Spirit as an extra sense that God has planted in our hearts. It’s an experience we have that’s more than a feeling and more than a thought. It’s a combination of the two that is wholly unique, and lets you experiment upon the word as you progress toward exaltation.
I thought that was a fantastic way of putting it, because it’s true. It’s like the seed of faith Alma describes so eloquently in Alma 32 that grows into something tangible and eternal when you nurture it. When you exercise that faith and experiment upon the word and guidance of the Spirit, you grow in ways you could never imagine.
That’s what God wants for each one of us. He wants us to become all that we are meant to be. And in order to help us achieve that, He has to teach us how to exercise that faith. We do that by seeking revelation and listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
And the really remarkable thing about it is that it’s unique to each of us. It’s individualized in the way that will help each of us the most in that moment. As BookofMormonCentral.org states:
…[N]ot every person will receive a spiritual confirmation in exactly the same way. Whereas some may experience a powerful burst of spiritual feeling, others might perceive a subtle but consistent stream of subtle impressions. At one time, a person might receive an answer while on bended knees in solitary prayer, and at another time, may obtain a witness while acting on faith to keep the commandments. Whatever the timing or method, Moroni declared that God only “worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men” (Moroni 10:7). In all cases, it is faith in Jesus Christ that activates the spiritual witness of truth.
So, yes, I think that’s a great way for Heavenly Father to reveal truth to His children. He’s allowing us our agency in whether or not we’ll listen to His voice, He’s giving us room to test it for ourselves and learn to utilize it without His urging, and He’s teaching us how to become more like Him.
If He did everything for us and took away all of the challenges, we wouldn’t be able to move even an inch forward. He’ll help carry our burdens, but He won’t give us a life without trials and struggles, and He won’t give us a brightly lit, clear path free from every obstacle.
If He carried us everywhere we went, we’d never learn how to walk on our own. We’ve progressed past our infancy, and now, He’s letting us grow toward adulthood. And yeah, we’re going to trip and fall occasionally. We’re human and that’s part of life. But when we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue moving forward, following His voice all the way, that’s when we show ourselves and Him what we’re really capable of.
Also, it’s interesting that now, Jeremy’s directly attacking God Himself as being inefficient. Talk about trying to destroy a testimony. I said earlier that he’d try to cast doubt on God’s existence, and this is the beginning of it, right here. Remember this moment going forward, because I think it’s probably the most telling comment in the entire CES Letter. It’s the ultimate goal, and Jeremy just slipped and let that show.
As for the membership of the Church being 0.2%, I seem to recall something about a strait gate and narrow way, and few being able to find it.
But if not many, comparatively speaking, will find the Gospel in this lifetime, there will be many more who are taught it in the Spirit World, and that’s what temple work is for. That’s what the Millennium is for. That’s why we have more than 250 temples in varying stages of completion, because so many are waiting for their work to be done that we can’t keep up. We’re going to need every moment of that thousand years just to be able to get through everyone’s work.
I don’t believe for a moment that Heavenly Father won’t give us every opportunity to find our way back to Him. But it’s up to us to accept it. He can’t force us to come back to Him, or He’d be no better than Satan, removing our agency and our ability to think and act for ourselves. That’s why we have the Spirit in the first place, so that we can have that agency while still receiving His guidance if we want it.
This is our mission, should we choose to accept it.
Praying about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not follow that the LDS Church is true. The FLDS also believe in the Book of Mormon. So do dozens of Mormon splinter groups. They all believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon as well.
Jeremy’s talking about two separate questions here, and implying that the answer to one should be the answer to the other. The question of whether or not the Book of Mormon is true scripture is not the same question as whether or not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Christ on Earth.
People of every “Mormon splinter group” are likely to get the same answers to the questions of whether or not the Book of Mormon is an ancient record translated by the power of God and to the question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God. Why in heaven’s name wouldn’t they get the same answer that the scriptures are true?
But it doesn’t automatically mean that their particular sect is the correct one, or that it’s being led by a prophet called by God. Those are entirely different questions, and each should be asked separately.
Praying about the first vision: Which account is true? They can’t all be correct together as they conflict with one another.
As we went over before, they don’t conflict. People tell the same story in slightly different ways each time they retell it. If it’s identical every time, it shows the story was rehearsed and is actually much less believable than if there are subtle differences. But just because different elements are emphasized at different times to different audiences does not mean the accounts contradict one another.
Again, you can read each account here to compare them:
In wrapping up this particular question, I just wanted to say again that God will not leave us comfortless. He will come to us when we need Him. This is the same feeling of peace that President Oaks explained was the “burning in the bosom” so many people describe. And, more importantly, it’s the same feeling of peace that the Lord Himself has told us is the greatest possible witness we could ever have. It is not inefficient, and yes, it is the best possible way for Heavenly Father to communicate with us while still allowing us the room we need in order to become more like Him.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.