For they were all wrong

In our Pearl of Great Price Summer Institute class this evening we studied Joseph Smith History verses one through twenty. You know the story. It’s the First Vision. We had a substitute teacher this evening, a judge from the local divorce court. He’s funny and shoots from the hip so he invited discussion. There were a lot of First Vision stories shared both from the first time hearing and the first time sharing, as a missionary.

There has been much discussion on the Bloggernacle about “The One True Church.” When we got to verse nineteen, I eagerly anticipated some discussion about The Lord’s response to Joseph when he asked which church he should join. I thought someone would bring up, as I have read in so many comments on various LDS blogs, why it is so offensive to claim that we are “The One True Church,” and that all others are wrong.

Nothing. Nobody said anything. So I raised my hand and volunteered that there was a lot of truth in other churches and a lot of good people in other churches. I wondered aloud if anybody had run across this argument before that we are considered arrogant and perhaps downright insulting to others when we make this claim. Nope. Nobody. These are all young adults, most born and raised in the church but a few converts, some recent.

Perhaps it’s just a Bloggernacle thing

I have written about this subject before. Several others have written about it lately and have been taken to task for making such a claim. I am a little puzzled. Is it or is it not an issue to others who consider what we have to offer? I think of the sister in Sacrament meeting sitting next to her husband, who is not a member of our faith, when the speaker bears testimony, “I know that we are the only true and living church on the earth today.”

We discussed the Lord’s response: “…all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” Creeds of course are statements or professions of belief, in this case religious beliefs. The most well-known are the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Apostles Creed. Many religious groups have and use creeds. Labeling them as abominations is certainly harsh. It means exceptionally detestable, loathsome, hateful, wicked or vile.

The Lord also said that the professors of these creeds were all corrupt; that “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” I wonder if the Lord meant the preachers or the believers when he referred to professors. Either way, it is quite a condemnation to be called corrupt by the Lord, isn’t it?

They were all wrong

But the part of the Lord’s response that seems to have sparked the most debate over the years, and it continues today on the LDS blogs and discussion forums, is the instruction to Joseph that he “must join none of them for they were all wrong…” I think it is the idea of rightness and wrongness that some people find offensive. I can only imagine that they must say to themselves that Joseph made this whole thing up, for how could the Lord say such a thing? All churches are good that teach of God, right?

Why is the concept of rightness and wrongness so important in a religion? This is the thing that bothered Joseph so much as he considered which church to join. He wrote that the people argued with each other about points of doctrine and each claimed to be right. He also pointed out that they lost all good feelings one for another because of their arguments. I see the same thing happening today right here in many of our LDS blogs.

Intelligent discussion on a group blog is one thing but it so often descends to personal attacks that you are right and they are wrong. Yet when I visit the blogs of some of these individuals I note that the contents of their blogs are mostly uplifting and contain essays that are right in line with the “orthodox” views of most members of the church. I really had to laugh the other day when one blogger wrote, “My opinions are orthodox. The rest of you are nuts.”

Religious discussions are healthy

I guess it all depends on what you seek in your religion and in your discussions on the subject. Some are looking for intellectual stimulation and want to explore viewpoints that are perhaps not basic to our revealed theology. Others want to engage in dialog on a subject that has bothered them and are looking for clarification or justification from others. There are probably as many reasons why people discuss religion as there are people who discuss religion. I personally am looking for understanding of the views of others.

I hate arguments. I don’t care to prove my points right or wrong. I believe that truth can stand on its own. There have been so many defenders of the faith before me who have done a masterful job of explaining what we believe. We have a wealth of history and religious discourse over the years. We can draw upon our heritage of published writings to keep us busy for a lifetime if we could find the time to digest and summarize it.

I love most of the blogs I read that are listed on my sidebar. I don’t have the time to comment on all of them but enjoy reading the comments of those who do. There are some incredibly smart and faithful people out there. Thank you all for your lively discussions and for making your points of view understood. Your dialog helps me in my personal efforts to study the gospel. I am drawn to the scriptures over and over again through your remarks.

Summary and conclusion

The claim that we are right has been a central part of our religion from even before the church was organized. It’s not going to go away. It’s also something for which we do not need to apologize. It is based on scripture. This church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” Yes, the Lord’s statement that all the other churches are all wrong is a bold statement, but it is fundamental to Mormonism.

There is much good in other churches. There are so many good people who do so much good as part of their faith and belief. We do not force people to accept our claim to be the only true church. We simply present the evidence of the revealed word to the prophet Joseph and invite them to decide for themselves if it has credence or not. We can simply add our testimony and witness that we have found it to be true by our own study and prayer. Without arguing, we can discuss the doctrine and enjoy the spirit in our work.

I enjoy the confidence and surety that comes from this personal testimony that I belong to the only true church. I hope that it never becomes a stumbling block to anyone else. It is not something that we wave in the face or rub in the noses of others. I know that others do not enjoy this confidence. In fact, there are some who do not believe the doctrine and yet still associate with our church. They are welcome. I hope they feel that welcome.

9 thoughts on “For they were all wrong”

  1. Tim–I do not think that as a Church we strongly emphasize that other churches are "wrong." President Eyring's recent talk about our being the true and living Church makes no mention of this or of the First Vision. newest Church video with respect to the First Vision does not mention God's words in Joseph's account that the other churches were "wrong."When Elder Holland visited our stake a year or so ago, he emphasized that the wording states that the "creeds" were an "abomination" and the "professors" "corrupt"–implying to me in his exegesis that while the churches and teachings themselves might have been "wrong", the churches, members and ministers (as distinct from professors and creeds) were not an "abomination" or "corrupt."David H

  2. I think my favorite part of this essay is your following statement:”I don’t care to prove my points right or wrong. I believe that truth can stand on its own. There have been so many defenders of the faith before me who have done a masterful job of explaining what we believe.”No single blog (from people like you and me) should pretend to take on the responsibility of being THE defender of the truth. The truth stands pretty well on its own, and besides, as you say, there have been plenty of masterful defenders of the Church who have preceded us.The main thing I have learned from your blog essays is that the Church works in your life, producing blessings that could not originate from anywhere but God. You are one of the most effective bloggers in the delivery of that most practical message. Thanks.

  3. Hey Tim, thanks for this. I appreciated your thoughts, which were well-reasoned and with a good spirit.

  4. David H: I love Elder Eyring’s talk on The True and Living Church and have reread it several times. I agree with your point about what we do and don’t emphasize as a church these days. That’s an interesting observation that Elder Eyring does not mention the First Vision. I had not noticed but do now.I noticed another thing about the newest First Vision video. It makes no reference to Joseph’s encounter with the adversary. I thought that striking the first time I saw it and commented aloud to Carol why they left that out. I think any reference to Satan in this day in age seems to cause people to feel uncomfortable. It was much more common in recorded discourses in the early days of the church, as in Brigham and Heber and Jedediah.Thank you for sharing the points Elder Holland made in your Stake Conference about the creeds being an abomination and the professors being corrupt. That’s an very important distinction. Corrupt in this instance can mean damaged or altered, implying unintentional change. I agree that we should not impugn abomination upon the believers or the ministers, only upon the corrupted creeds. I have been enlightened. Well shared!

  5. I think the point is so important that I wrote in the margins next to JS-History 1:19 –“Creeds are an abomination; professors are corrupt; but churches, ministers, and members probably were neither even if wrong.”I don’t know if this interpretation will hold under analysis, but I like it.

  6. every church believes to be the one and true church. Or else where is the point of attending it? I mean can you picture anyone saying: “yeah, I know I am doomed if I go to this church but I go anyway because I am an idiot”?The thing is that this is also a test: what do we do with the surety that this is the one true church? Do we look down others because they just don’t see the light? Do we plug our ears and make noise so as not to hear them when they tell us something? Or do we acknoledge that the “one and true church” is not only what our salavtion is about?Becoming proud about it would totally ruin the purpose so to me there is no shame in saying that this is the one true church. But there is a way to express it that would probably be acceptable for any other believer that we should adopt as a way to speak in general.

  7. The first vision is not the only place we find this doctrine. The Lord said to Joseph Smith, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 1:30, “My servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon. And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power 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”Those who point out that only creeds were wrong, and not churches, might ponder the implications of this. I believe that there are many great people in other churches, and many true doctrines, but the Lord said that this church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is the only one that is both true and living,

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