I was listening to another Mormon Messages extract recently, this time an interview with a man who works for the Church History Department. I found this fascinating and gave me some food for thought. It was focused on what to do when shown events in Church History that haven’t been experienced before.
Firstly, I want to make something clear. There is a reason I have given this post the specific title it’s been given. When we come up against questions of faith in the Church it is very often for this reason: the Church. It is rarely (although it does happen) questions about the Gospel. The Church and the Gospel are two completely different entities. One is the eternal plan devised by a loving Heavenly Father, whose goal and focus is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The other is the earthly institution, instigated by Jesus Christ Himself, which officiates in and makes available the ordinances and support structure for Heavenly Father’s children to live the Gospel easier. You cannot have the Church without the Gospel, but our faith is sometimes built upon the ‘Church’ rather than the ‘Gospel’. Whilst it is important to have a living testimony of the Church (which involves the passing on of priesthood keys and living prophets and apostles), it is more important to have a testimony of the Gospel (which involves our Saviour Jesus Christ and the plan that has been prepared for us). In this post when I refer to struggles of faith, I am referring to the unfortunate cases where a member doubts the truth of the Gospel because of questions they have about the Church and in particular, events where they are unsure why certain things happened in Church History.
I think it would be naive to think that no adult member of this Church has ever come across some of the challenges to faith that could occur when it comes to Church History. Questions about polygamy, Joseph Smith, the Priesthood and other such topics are often discussed in modern popular culture, never mind some individuals who actively go about and seek to undermine the Church and its teachings. However, every now and again there will be stories or rumours about certain events that will shake us. We have a doubt, and that leads us to question.
However, this is a very important stage and it’s important for the individual to recognise that this is completely normal. The brother in the Mormon Messages segment was very clear on this. There seems to be a cultural anomaly that has developed within the Church – that to question things is wrong. If we have a question we had better forget about the question and just keep doing what we’re meant to. However, as he wisely pointed out, that culture isn’t doctrinal. In fact, to say we shouldn’t question goes against doctrine. We read throughout every part of the Standard Works that we should ask the Lord about anything we so feel:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. (D&C 8:1-2)
Asking questions is strongly recommended in developing and maintaining a testimony of Jesus Christ, not frowned upon (looking at the doctrine). The important thing is that we are honest seekers of truth, that we want to find out the answer and act on it.
Foundations of Faith
In considering all of this, this brother reminded the listener of something else. Whatever it is that someone has questions about regarding Church History, what is important to remember is that we are looking back and making judgments without full knowledge of the context. We also need to remember the foundations that we have already placed our faith on.
He likened it to the analogy of Santa Claus. When he was growing up, he learnt that certain details about Santa Claus weren’t completely the truth. That the reality was not exactly what had been painted for him whilst he was learning about Christmas and the traditions surrounding it. However, he had a choice. He could find out more and continue sticking with the things he knew to be good about the Christmas season – the gifts, the traditions and so on – or he could cut all ties with everything to do with what he had learnt about Santa Claus, including Christmas itself.
The point he was trying to make was that if we come across events from Church History that make us question, the important thing to consider is that you have developed faith on principles of truth. There are certain things that you have testified about that you have experience in finding out to be good and trustworthy. When faced with doubt, it is important to remember that. You can then search out answers through study, prayer and so on. Sometimes there may not even be an answer to the question you seek (yet), however we can be assured that there are answers to things we can find out about.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22-23)
We can always turn to the Lord for guidance and reassurance – but we must develop a relationship in times when things seem straightforward for those times when faith seems difficult to find.