In a recent survey, one of the greatest stumbling blocks for those who left the Church was its claim to be the one true church. This video shares statements from the Church and its leaders to clarify what is meant and not meant by this claim, as well as discusses the many valid truths held by people of different faiths around the world. Also reviewed is how God has interacted with ALL his children throughout history.
Hey. On this video, I want to talk about one true church. What led me to think about doing this video was actually reading this book, The Next Mormons that just came out by the journalist Jana Riess, How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church. She did a big survey in here. In the survey, there was a chapter on those that have left the church and the reasons why they left. There’s 30 different things listed here. The number two reason was, “I stopped believing there was one true church.” Actually, for Gen Xers, it was number one. I thought it would be good to have a video talking about this.
I will definitely say it’s fascinating to think about how small the church is. I have a strong testimony of the reality and truthfulness of the Church, but it is very small, 16.3 million members in a world of 7.7 billion people. How does that work? It’s a great question. Think about Israel back in the early days at the height of Israel with King David. It was still a fraction of the world population at that time. Think about the small band of Christians when Christ was here and set up His church.
I even took it a step further and thought about what about all of the Christians that have lived on the earth, everybody that’s existed throughout time? What percentage of the world’s population would that be? I estimated it would probably be around 10% at the very most because it’s very hard to calculate this, but I can say it’s certainly not above 20%. But you could say there’s probably over a hundred billion people that have lived on this earth that never even knew of Jesus Christ. How does this all work with God’s plan? I’m going to talk about that.
Matthew 7:14 says, “There’ll be few that find the path.” 1st Nephi 14 verse 12, Nephi’s vision of the latter days of the Church. He said, “The numbers were few, but they were upon all the face of the earth, but the dominion was small because of the numbers were few.” But it says in verse 14, “They’ll be armed with righteousness and power of God in great glory.”
A daunting task as it was to the early Christians that we are to go out and teach all nations there and to be the salt of the earth. If you think about that analogy, little pinch of salt will flavor the entire dish. Also, the leaven, the yeast, which makes the whole loaf rise there in Luke 13. I want to talk about our relationship with other Christians first and then talk very importantly about the world and the history of the world. But first about the Christians.
Actually, first, I want to share one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith. “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard.” Now, if you look here, this is straight from the Church, the Church Newsroom, under the topic Authority in the Church. “The fact that the original Church of Jesus Christ would eventually fall into a state of apostasy was foretold by ancient prophets and by the apostles in Christ’s day. Although Latter-day Saints believe that divine authority was lost in the ancient church after the death of the apostles and required a restoration by divine intervention, they do not dismiss or diminish the validity of other people’s religious experiences.”
“Much of the true doctrine taught by Jesus Christ is found in churches today. Members of other churches who accept Jesus Christ and try to live by the principles he taught are entitled to divine guidance and inspiration in their lives. Faithful Christians who are not Latter-day Saints still go to heaven, and those who live according to all the truth and light that they have will open themselves to further light in the hereafter. Anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Redeemer of the world is a Christian, regardless of differences in theology. The Bible is a revelation from God of immense value for the powerful impact it has to change the lives of men and women. It is not diminished by the existence of additional scripture.”
Finally, I love this. “Informed Latter-day Saints do not argue that historic Christianity lost all truth or became completely corrupt. The orthodox churches may have lost the fullness of the gospel, but they did not lose all of it, nor even most of it. Many Evangelicals caricature or overstate the actual LDS view, which is that the orthodox churches are incomplete rather than corrupt. It is their post-biblical creeds that are identified in Joseph Smith’s first vision as an abomination, but certainly not their individual members or their members’ biblical beliefs.”
Robert Millet, who was the dean of the BYU Religious Department, put together a great piece called the Only True and Living Church. I’ll link to it in the notes. In it, he talked about several different things. One of these is about the creeds that were spoken of in the First Vision. These were post-New Testament creeds that sought to really redefine who God was and the nature of God. These also became political in nature. They became exclusionary tools, a way to define who a true Christian is. He talks about that. I’ll put it on the screen here. You can freeze it and read the long description here. But then also the professors mentioned in the First Vision there seem to be the antagonistic ministers in Joseph Smith’s immediate neighborhood.
In fact, Elder William Bangerter down at BYU Devotional said, “Do we believe that all ministers of other churches are corrupt? Of course not. Joseph Smith certainly did not intend that.”
Now, the other thing that Robert Millet does is he talks about what only one true church means, what it does not mean, and what it does mean. I’m just going to put it on the screen here. You can look at it, freeze the frame if you want. These overlap with some of the stuff I just read straight from the Church Newsroom department here, but seven things of what this does not mean, the only true church.
Now, here what only true church does mean. Number one, “The word only,” Neal A. Maxwell wrote, “Asserts a uniqueness and singularity about the Church as the exclusive ecclesiastical authority-bearing agent for our Father in heaven in this dispensation.” This is critical when it comes to the ordinances that pertain towards salvation and exaltation, that authority. If you look here, he defines the word true and then he says, “Thus, to refer to the restored Church as the only true church is to speak of it as being the most steady, sure, and solid institution on earth, the closest to the pattern of the primitive Christian Church.”
I share this quote here from Bishop Caussé. If you remember, when he was involved with the Paris, France temple, and the mayor of the city where it was going wanted to study the church before they authorized the approval of building the temple there. After this study, Bishop Caussé met with them. He describes this meeting. He says, “‘So what are your conclusions?’ I asked feeling a bit of anxiety. She replied, ‘We discovered that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the closest to Jesus Christ’s original church than any other church we know of.'”
I think that’s powerful there and it’s not just partially true, as listed here. “Not, therefore, conceptually compromised by having been made up from doctrinal debris leftover from another age, nor is it comprised of mere fragments of the true faith.” Also, it’s living. “It’s alive, aware and functioning. It’s not a museum that houses a fossilized faith.” Number two, “The only true living church means that doctrinal finality rests with apostles and prophets, not theologians or scholars.” In fact, part of the Reformers was the idea of sola scriptura or the scriptures alone. Which if you think about it, it says here that everyone brings their own set of cultural biases and personal agendas and it becomes somewhat of a theological free-for-all without some authority being involved. Everyone becomes their own theologian. We believe the spirit needs to be involved, but there needs to be prophets to really… The final prophetic interpretation rests with the prophets.
Also, Christ told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But this was talking about revelation. The process of revelation would be key. “It was as though Christ was saying, ‘Peter, you have gained the witness of who I am by revelation from God and is by revelation that I will build my church. As long as my people live in such a manner as to enjoy that spirit of revelation, individually and institutionally, the power and dominion of the devil will never be allowed to prevail over my kingdom.'”
Lastly, number three, he says “It means that while God will bless and strengthen and lead any person who follows the divine light within, each man or woman is responsible to be true to that light which leads unto all truth, to seek, search, weigh, and prove all things.” C. S. Lewis quotes here his mentor, “The highest good that men and women can do is to seek tenaciously for the greatest amount of light and knowledge that God will bestow.” Then, “Latter-day Saint doctrine affirms that all men and women will receive all the light, knowledge, divine attributes, powers, and heavenly rewards they desire to receive.” Keywords: desire and receive. “Either in this life or the next.
Remember part of our mortality, and in a sense, our second estate, let’s say, is the spirit world. God wants to give us everything that we will receive. If you look at D&C 76, it talks about the key is what we’re willing to receive. D&C 137 verse 9 talks about we’ll be judged by our works and by the desires of our heart. We just heard a passion plea in the April 2019 conference from President Nelson about seeking that desire and receiving it, not procrastinating. We’re responsible for the light and the promptings that we have received.
I think it’s much harder in the spirit world for those that have maybe received a great degree of light. I will talk here in a minute about many of the the hundred billion people that maybe did not receive anything and the spirit world is the key for them.
Okay. Speaking of these hundred billion people, I love this piece from fairmormon.org about when you think about how, again, they did not have even Christ in their life. How does this work in the end with God’s plan? If you look here, fairmormon.org did a piece here. “Many of the goals of the Plan of Salvation are achieved even without being a member of the Church. Among the most important purposes of life according to the Plan of Salvation are the following: receiving a physical body; experiencing trials, pain and other challenges, and having the opportunity to try to overcome them; experiencing joy and happiness; developing Christ-like attributes.”
“Developing Christ-like attributes is vital to our eternal happiness and development and living a mortal life accelerates us along that path. All these experiences are perfectly and regularly attainable without being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, they are perfectly attainable without even being a Christian. For some, they are even attainable without believing in God.”
“That being said, there are tangible and extremely advantageous benefits to being a member of the Church, and more specifically, of knowing and understanding why we are here. Those advantages, though, are not necessary for a successful experience in mortality. The saving ordinances and covenants we make through proper priesthood authority accelerate and magnify our purposes for being here, and eventually, they will be available to all people whether in mortality or post-mortality. In the meantime, billions of people are here living the Plan of Salvation with a bit of ignorance about it, but happily and successfully nonetheless.”
I think of two scriptures that come to mind. Isaiah 55 verse 9 where God tells us His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts and our thoughts. There’s something to how this is working that in my mind, it’s not the way I would do it, but I’m not in charge. His ways are higher than my ways. I think of Jacob 5, the allegory of Zenos, and where He says about the vineyard. He says, “Counsel me not,” about what He’s doing. Even about poor spots of ground. He says He’s nurturing them and He knows what He’s doing on there.
Let’s talk about how God speaks to His children. Joseph Smith said, “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed.” D&C 1 verse 24, “Behold, I am God and have spoken it. These commandments are of me and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language that they might come to understanding.”
There was a great presentation given in the 2017 FairMormon conference by Michael Ash called After the Manner of Their Language: The Key to Wisdom. Put this on the screen, you can read through this, but I’m just going to give you two little quick highlights. He says, “You as a parent, know how to modify your communication according to your child’s cognitive limitations. God does the same thing.” Then quoting that D&C 1:24, he says, “I believe that language refers to a much broader composition and includes not only spoken and written words but context influenced by cultural, education, era, as well as cognitive, visual, and auditory disabilities or vulnerabilities including bias, assumptions, and preconceived notions.”
He went on to talk about the three Rs. That as God communicates with people over time, that they have to recognize it and they have bias towards that and their culture. They have to recontextualize it in how they understand it, and even recording it then going through all those filters are affected by culture and bias.
Now, let’s talk about who God communicates. This is straight from the First Presidency. In 1978, they said, “The great religious leaders of the world such as Muhammad, 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.”
B. H. Roberts, he said, “God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means they can comprehend. Wherever God finds a soul sufficiently enlightened and pure, one with whom His spirit can communicate, lo, He makes of him a teacher of men.”
Did this happen in the dark ages as an example? We call them dark for a reason. Right? Well, here’s President John Taylor. “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages, I pray God to give me a little darkness.”.
Then lastly, Ezra Taft Benson, April 1972 General Conference, “God, the Father of us all, uses the men of the earth, especially good men, to accomplish His purposes. It has been true in the past. It is true today. It will be true in the future.” Elder Benson then quoted the following from a conference address delivered by Elder Orson F. Whitney in 1928. “Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them than anywhere else.”
Now, note this particularly poignant message. “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people.” Elder Whitney then pointed out that we have no warfare with other churches. “They are our partners in a certain sense.”
It made me think of what just happened in Rome. If you look at the picture here, President Nelson meeting with Pope Francis. President Nelson said after this meeting that they had, he says, “‘The differences in doctrine are real and they’re important.’ President Nelson said afterward as he stood just outside St. Peter’s Square, ‘But they are not nearly as important as the things we have in common. Our concern for human suffering, the importance of religious liberty for all society, and the importance of building bridges of friendship instead of building walls of segregation.’ The two world religious leaders shared a belief that faith in God brings morality and stability to society.”
Okay. Now, how about the writings to His children through His servants? 2 Nephi 29:11-12, I want to share this and help us all think about this maybe in a way we don’t normally. Verse 11, “For I commanded all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them. For out of the books which shall be written, I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.”
Verse 12, “For behold, I speak unto the Jews and they shall write it. I shall speak unto the Nephites, they shall write it. I shall speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it.” Now, notice this. “I shall speak unto all nations, everyone of the earth, and they shall write it.”.
Very interesting. Where are these writings? That’s what they’ll be judged by. Let’s talk about that. I want to recommend two actually fantastic books here. Religions of the World. This is a fantastic one. A Latter-day Saint view, and he does a fantastic correlation with Latter-day Saint corollaries in various religions. He has a great chapter here of religious similarities at the end. He talks about the five different theories or ways this could have happened. Maybe diffusion is one key way, he says, back to an original source, back to Adam, days of Adam or divine inspiration. Those are the top two ideas. But anyway, there’s a chapter on all the major world religions.
The next quote I’m going share is from this book, Light & Truth: A Latter-day Saint Guide to World Religions. I highly recommend this book from Roger Keller. But I’m going to share this here with you. “God will speak to all nations of the world and they shall write.” The scripture we just read. “These books have to be the Quran of the Muslims, the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus, the Analects of Confucius, the Tripitaka of the Buddhist, and the many other religious writings found among the great religions of the world.”
“This means that God has also given these books to his children and that they are holy scripture for them. They are as sacred to them as any holy writ that we have for us. In them, God addresses members of His family. He ignores none of his children. He gives them all guidance against which they will be judged, for God is a just God. Thus, Muslims are judged against the Quran, the Christians against the Bible, the Buddhist against the Tripitaka, the Hindus against the Bhagavad Gita, and the Latter-day Saint Christian against the four canonical volumes which God has given them. God holds no one accountable for what he has not given them, but each of us is responsible to live by what God has personally given to us.”
He carries on. He says, “Given the above, one can imagine a scene in which Heavenly Father called before Him a choice spirit and commissioned him to bring more light and truth to South Asia knowing that he would never hear the gospel. Would he do that? Of course, the only request being that someone later perform the saving ordinances for him in a temple. His name on earth was Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Likewise, another choice spirit was asked if he would do something similar for those in Southwest Asia. Again, came the positive response with its request for someone to eventually perform his temple work. His earth name was Muhammad.”
“Now, imagine today as Buddhists and Muslims pass through the veil. Each is greeted by the Buddha or Muhammad with the words, ‘Welcome. Now, let me tell you the rest of the story.’ Is this not what D&C 138 is about: missionary work to the dead who have never heard the fullness of the gospel in this life and who need its saving ordinances so that they may have all that their Heavenly Father wishes for them?”
Remember, Christ went to the spirits in prison after He died. D&C 138 helps us understand Joseph Smith’s vision of the redemption of the dead. These big missionary forces were set up. There was this dramatic dream that Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal where he saw Joseph… I’m going to put the full quote on here, but the key thing was everyone was frantically hurrying around. He finally was able to ask, “Joseph, why is everyone in a hurry?” This is the part I love about what Joseph said. “Each dispensation has had ample time to do this work. We have not. We are the last dispensation and so much work has to be done. We need to be in a hurry in order to accomplish it.”
Now, last couple of quotes. Church Newsroom – Treasuring All Truth. “Of course, our world is full of diverse individuals. Truth claims do and will continue to diverge, but they need not violently clash. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ founder Joseph Smith aspired to a better way. ‘If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in his own way, if I cannot persuade him my way is better.'”
President Hugh B. Brown. “Even with the Church’s many important and unique truths, there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.”
Then last, and then I’m going to talk for a second about something called holy envy. The Church Newsroom – Treasuring All Truth. This is straight from the Church website. “Because truth is scattered among all nations and peoples, we believe in learning out of the best books of things that have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad, the wars and perplexities of the nations, and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” This is a verse out of Doctrine and Covenants.
“Such knowledge helps Latter-day Saints be not only better citizens and neighbors, but also better saints. An expansive vision of truth can bring more depth, clarity, and love into our lives and make us more willing to listen, more able to understand, and more inclined to build up rather than tear down.”
I want to finish by sharing something from the late Krister Stendahl who was an Emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden in the mid-80s. He actually taught at the Harvard Divinity School as well. He was a professor there, but he shared something. He fought for the Church actually. There was a lot of controversy about the building of this temple in Sweden. He fought actually for the Church. He talked about interfaith dialogue and interfaith understanding. He has three rules for it.
Number one is to always seek to understand from faithful members of that religious organization, not from their detractors. Number two, don’t compare your best to their worst. Number three, make room for holy envy, he called it. In fact, his holy envy for us was baptisms for the dead. He talked about how amazing that doctrine was. It’s a beautiful idea to try and find something that’s impressive or admirable in the traditions of various religious organizations. It doesn’t make one feel disloyal to their own faith.
I’d like to just share just briefly some of the holy envy I have for some of the major world religions. You think of Islam. The Muslims have the call to prayer five times a day. I think that’s beautiful. The Buddhist, if you think about, they have mastered the ability to ponder through meditation, especially in our world today. It’s very hard to ponder with all the distractions. I love the Hindus how they say, “Namaste.” That’s the divine in me recognizes the divine in you. I think that’s beautiful especially as Latter-day Saints, what we understand about that. I love the Christians with the… If you think of the Catholics and the Orthodox with their beautiful cathedrals, their love for that architecture, for ritual, the symbolism in so much of their practice. I love symbolism so I love that aspect.
The Protestants. I love their focus on grace. As members of the Church, we get so caught up in the works. We are judged by our works, we’re told, but the works don’t save us. At the end of the day, it’s the grace of Christ that does save us. I love that focus that the Protestants remind us of there.
I hope you enjoyed the video and subscribe for more content to come. Thanks.
Light & Truth: A Latter-day Saint Guide to World Religions by Roger R. Keller
Religions of the World: A Latter-Day Saint View by Roger R. Keller and Spencer J. Palmer
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.