Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

MYTHBUSTERS: The “One True Church”

Posted by Andrew on January 21, 2008

There are a lot of myths both inside and outside Mormondom about the LDS claim to be the “one true Church.” That claim is difficult for people of other faiths to accept for obvious reasons. But it may also be difficult for many Mormons to reconcile that claim with their belief in a just and merciful God who loves all his children. I do not expect it will ever be “easy” to accept the “one true Church” claim. However, I think Church members sometimes make it more difficult to accept by drawing implications from the “one true Church” claim that do not necessarily follow from it.

In order to correctly understand what the “one true Church” claim truly means, we first need to understand what it does not mean. The following is my attempt to bust the myths surrounding the “one true Church” claim and its companion doctrines, the Apostasy and Restoration, using the words of Church leaders and Church publications.

Myth: God stopped communicating with mankind for hundreds of years during “the Apostasy,” when the priesthood was not found upon the earth.

MythBuster:

“The line of priesthood authority was broken. But mankind was not left in total darkness or completely without revelation or inspiration. The idea that with the Crucifixion of Christ the heavens were closed and that they opened in the First Vision is not true. The Light of Christ would be everywhere present to attend the children of God; the Holy Ghost would visit seeking souls. The prayers of the righteous would not go unanswered.” Elder Boyd K. Packer[i]

“All down the ages . . . good and great men, not bearing the Priesthood, but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows, have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fulness of the Gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.” Elder Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Elder Howard W. Hunter[ii]

Myth: In Joseph Smith’s day, the Christian churches were completely corrupt and were an abomination to the Lord.

MythBuster:

“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. . . . [T]he actual LDS view, [] is that the orthodox churches are incomplete rather than corrupt. It is their postbiblical creeds that are identified in Joseph Smith’s first vision as an ‘abomination,’ but certainly not their individual members or their members’ biblical beliefs.” Stephen E. Robinson (as quoted on http://www.lds.org)[iii]

Myth: Because Mormons are the only people currently guided by true prophets with the priesthood authority, they are the only people eligible to receive God’s inspiration.

MythBuster:

“[W]e claim that God’s inspiration is not limited to the Latter-day Saints.” Elder James E. Faust[iv]

“All men share an inheritance of divine light. God operates among his children in all nations, and those who seek God are entitled to further light and knowledge, regardless of their race, nationality, or cultural traditions.” Elder Howard W. Hunter[v]

“[T]he Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have.Book of Mormon[vi]

Myth: As God’s covenant people, Mormons are the people God has chosen to perform his great and marvelous work.

MythBuster:

“God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” Elder Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Elder Ezra Taft Benson[vii]

Myth: Although well-intentioned, leaders of other religions and churches are unwitting servants of the devil who are deceiving and leading God’s children astray.

MythBuster:

“We believe that most religious leaders and followers are sincere believers who love God and understand and serve him to the best of their abilities. We are indebted to the men and women who kept the light of faith and learning alive through the centuries to the present day. . . . We honor them as servants of God.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks[viii]

“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. … We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation.” Elder James E. Faust[ix]

Myth: People belong to either the LDS church or the “Church of the Devil,” also known as the “great and abominable Church.”

MythBuster:

“[I]ndividual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records.” Stephen E. Robinson (Ensign magazine)[x]

“We must understand . . . that not everyone is going to accept our doctrine of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the most part, our neighbors not of our faith are good, honorable people-every bit as good and honorable as we strive to be. They care about their families, just like we do. They want to make the world a better place, just like we do. They are kind and loving and generous and faithful, just like we seek to be.” Elder M. Russell Ballard[xi]

Myth: God wants everyone to be a Mormon.

MythBuster:

“Perhaps the Lord needs [] men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They . . . can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted . . . the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose.” Elder Orson F. Whitney, quoted by Elder Ezra Taft Benson[xii]

________________________________________________________________


[i] Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2005, 11 (quoted on Church website at: http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/).
[ii] Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 32-33 [quoted by Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18].
[iii] Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 61 (quoted on Church website at http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/).
[iv] Elder James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12 (emphasis added).
[v] Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18 (emphasis added).
[vi] Alma 29:8 (emphasis added).
[vii]
Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59 [quoted by Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, Jul 1972, 59].
[viii]
Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84.
[ix]
Elder James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12 (emphasis added).
[x]
Stephen E. Robinson, “Warring against the Saints of God,” Ensign, Jan 1988, 34.
[xi]
M. Russell Ballard, “Doctrine of Inclusion,” Ensign, Nov 2001, 35.
[xii]
Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59 [quoted by Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, Jul 1972, 59].

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24 Responses to “MYTHBUSTERS: The “One True Church””

  1. Jonathan said

    Way to continue to lay it out in a straight-forward and easy to understand style. It’s clear that some statements can be misinterpreted.

  2. Jay said

    Very good post. Even I fell victim to believing some of these myths. Thank you for backing them up with references.

  3. Shawn L said

    Intersting post. I tend to agree with your line of thought, but it (again) raises an issue at the core of any disccusion of Mormon beliefs: what is doctrine and what is opinion? For example, according to Joseph Smith, God himself said that all other churches on the earth are “all wrong,” “their creeds were an abomination in his sight” and their leaders “were all corrupt.” (JS-H 1:19) Pretty strong language withour much in the way of ecumenical outreach. Moreover, for each of your points, I’m sure there are an equal number of General Authority quotes aupporting the myth. Heck, a quick run through McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” might hit them all. I think we are seeing a definite shift away from such thinking under Pres. Hinckley’s leadership. But it is undeniable that at least some of our leaders have taught these “myths” as doctrine.

  4. Andrew said

    Shawn L,

    I agree that “at least some of our leaders have taught these ‘myths’ as doctrine” in the past. I call them “myths” because, as I understand our belief in continuing revelation, the more recent words of today’s prophets and apostles trump what previous ones have said (e.g., Elder Packer trumps Elder McConkie). So in my view, something that was taught in the past as by McConkie as “doctrine” is demoted to “myth” status when the current prophets and apostles debunk it. A debunked “doctrine” of the past is perpetuated as a “myth” when Church members keep repeating what they read in Mormon Doctrine 30 years ago instead of paying attention to what has been said in General Conference more recently.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to clarify the thinking behind my choice of words, which I probably shouldn’t have assumed all readers would figure out.

  5. Andrew said

    Shawn L,

    As for the JSH quote, I agree with hawkgrrrl’s comment above about the need to examine Joseph Smith’s statements in verse 19 in the context of the specific question he asked in verse 18, keeping in mind the specific and limited scope of his question.

    Also, we should not forget Joseph Smith did make plenty of Universalist, ecumenical-sounding statements, such as this one:

    “The inquiry is frequently made of me, ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?’ In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” (Joseph Smith, quoted in History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1949), 5:499 (quoted on Church website).

    So I don’t see us as reversing course at all on what Joseph Smith taught.

    How do we reconcile the Lord’s exclusive-sounding statement in JSH that the sects were “all wrong” with Joseph’s more Universalist language quoted above? When we consider that all the “sects” in Joseph’s day held exclusivist beliefs, then the statement that they were “all wrong” is, paradoxically, a statement of a greater principle of inclusion. Joseph wanted to replace the fragmented, exclusivist sects with an all-truth-encompassing Church led by a prophet of God who would have the final authority to avoid and settle doctrinal disputations and contentions (a big theme in the Book of Mormon) and achieve the “unity of faith” that Paul described in the New Testament.

  6. Jay said

    So in my view, something that was taught in the past as by McConkie as “doctrine” is demoted to “myth” status when the current prophets and apostles debunk it.

    So are you saying that something like the priesthood ban was actually doctrine until David O. McKay said it was just a practice or until the 1978 revelation given to Kimball? It seems that if a current prophet says it was wrong, then it was always wrong, even if a prophet insisted it was doctrine.

  7. Shawn L said

    Andrew (#4): fair enough. My issue was with your use of the word “myth,” which connotes that the teachings always have been folklore.

    Andrew (#5 — yes, I know its the same person, but I’m trying to make this readable): I agree that JS made ecumenical statements at times. My point simply was that he taught, and we have believed in the past, that all other churches are wrong, period. I like your formulation of the JS-H quote, and I tend to think along those same lines, but I think its a stretch. Simply, although he may have believed it, Joseph never actually said it. There are certainly explanations for our current beliefs regarding other churches, but I don’t think “he never said it” works. (But hey, what do I know, I’m one of those darn lawyers as well!)

    Jay: The Priesthood ban may be unique in that there is a real question as to whether it was ever elevated to the status of “doctrine,” or whether it was simply “pratice.” Greg Prince’s book, “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” has a very interesting discussion of this point. I tend to believe it was a practice, which weel-meaning leaders tried to justify by way of various lines of reasoning (curse of Cain; fencer-sitters, etc.)

  8. Andrew said

    Shawn, agreed that “myth” was a questionable choice of words due to its ambiguity, as demonstrated by our current discussion about its meaning. You’ve broken me, and I confess that I wanted to use a catchy title for my post (“MythBusters”) and so I settled on the word “myth”. However, I do think it was an appropriate choice of words based on this dictionary definition for that word: “a belief or set of beliefs, often unproven or false, that have accrued around a person, phenomenon, or institution.” I’m not sure whether a myth always has to have been regarded as “folklore” in order to be a myth. I might be wrong, but I always thought the Greeks and Romans “back in the day” believed the stories we now regard as “myths” were actually true. However, I understand those formerly-believed stories are now widely regarded by the Greeks and Romans as fictional. So the fact those stories were once regarded as true does not prevent them from being referred to as “myths” today, as far as I understand. Similarly, the fact that many people may have once believed all other churches are part of the Church of the Devil does not prevent that belief from being considered a “myth” today because, as I see it, that notion has since been debunked.

    As for the statement in JSH that the various sects were “all wrong,” in isolation that statement has multiple possible meanings. I think when we consider it in light of everything else JS said about other churches, I understand that statement to mean the other churches did not have Christ’s official sanction as they lacked priesthood authority. I do not believe for a minute that JS was saying all of the teachings of all other churches were wrong. JS made too many statements to the contrary, such as the one quoted above. I chose the JS statement above because I think it demonstrates how JS differentiated between a church’s beliefs and its authority (or lack thereof). JS recognized other churches had much truth (otherwise, he wouldn’t have advocated an approach of gathering all truth from its many sources). But he was strong in his stance that they lacked Christ’s official stamp of approval.

    That’s one of the unfortunate things about language; its clumsiness. As I understand it, saying a church (as in institution) is not “true” is saying it is not “truly Christ’s church” because it lacks Christ’s official approval as an institution. But it does not mean we believe (or have ever believed) that all of the teachings of all other churches are wrong, or that all other churches are of no value whatsoever in God’s plan.

    So I guess I am still saying “he never said it” if what is mean by “it” is that JS said all the teachings of all other churches are wrong.

  9. Andrew said

    Jay,

    “Doctrine” is another word with many possible interpretations. According to the dictionary, it means “a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion.” So in short, something qualifies as a “doctrine” if it is taught by a religion, irrespective of whether it is actually true.

    With that definition in mind, let me address your example of the priesthood ban. I understand that the ban itself was a “policy” (i.e., certain people not allowed to hold priesthood), but that there were “doctrines” or teachings that attempted to justify that ban/policy. As for whether they were ever “official doctrine”–that’s another can of worms because when I researched that question, I found at least a dozen different definitions of official doctrine.

    So I think your other question is, when a policy changes, does that mean all of the doctrines, i.e. teachings, previously used to justify the old policy are tacitly rejected as false? I don’t know. In some circumstances it might, in others it might not.

    I’d say as a general rule, a policy change does not necessarily debunk all the doctrines or reasons formerly used to justify it. I can think of circumstances where the reasons used to justify a policy in the past remain valid because those reasons were valid under the particular circumstances in which they were given, and maybe the new policy is appropriate simply because circumstances have now changed. But if you’re asking my two cents on the specific question about whether the doctrines/teachings used to justify the pre-1978 priesthood ban were tacitly rejected as false when the policy changed, my personal opinion is “yes.”

  10. Jay said

    I agree, however, it is my understanding that Brigham Young taught the priesthood ban as doctrine and stated as much. Am I wrong?

  11. Andrew said

    Hi Jay, I may be confused by what you mean when you say “BY taught the priesthood ban as doctrine and stated as such.” My understanding is that whatever BY taught is considered “doctrine” simply by virtue of the fact that he taught it. (A doctrine is simply a teaching.)

  12. Jay said

    To me a doctrine is something that can not change, a teaching is something that may change. Brigham Young said that polygamy would always be required to enter the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom, it is my understanding that he made similar comments about blacks in the priesthood (it would not change). Now both of those things have changed which leads me to believe that what he taught as doctrine was really just his opinion. The only problem I have with that is that we tend to trust our prophet too much. When he says something is doctrine we believe it is without questioning. So when do we know we have to question what we are told is doctrine? Is it doctrine that women don’t hold priesthood leadership positions or that a homosexual can’t marry a same sex partner? Is it OK to disagree with these things because in the future they might change? It seems like we can’t really rely on what the prophets say because our “doctrine” is always changing which means we have little real doctrine at all.

  13. Shawn L said

    As I see it, “doctrine” is not nearly as black-and-white for our Church as the term might suggest. Because of continuing revelation (an innovation most others don’t accept), “doctrine” is, by its very nature, fluid. So, it may be true to say that (i) it was doctrine that polygamy is required to get into the highest heaven, and (ii) it is current doctrine that polygamy is not a requirement.

  14. Andrew said

    Jay said: “To me a doctrine is something that cannot change.”

    I’m not familiar with the source for that position. The Ninth Article of faith, that we believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, to me suggests that we ought to expect our doctrine to change.

    It’s entirely possible that a leader’s opinions may sometimes be taught as doctrines, and Joseph Smith acknowledged as much when he said that “some revelations are of God, some are of men, and some are of the devil.”

    I have to disagree strongly with your statement that “we can’t really rely on what the prophets say.” The possibility that a prophet might be mistaken 1% of the time does not mean he is not a prophet; it just means he doesn’t stop being a human when he becomes a prophet, and we ignore his counsel at our own peril. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have questions about it; we are encouraged to seek answers and seek to learn whether what our leaders have said is true.

    For some quotes from GA’s about these issues, you might want to check out: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/01/13/10-things-every-mormon-needs-to-know/

  15. Jay said

    Andrew said: “A doctrine is simply a teaching.”

    Jay said: “To me a doctrine is something that cannot change.”

    Andrew said: “I’m not familiar with the source for that position.”

    If doctrine is just a teaching then David O. Mckay’s statement about the priesthood ban is confusing (see below).

    “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this Church that the Negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the Church of any kind pertaining to the Negro. ‘We believe’ that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

    If doctrines can change, why then is it so important to President McKay that the priesthood ban be a practice and not a doctrine? It is because he understood that doctrine does not change.

    Why would David O. Mckay say the Church had no teaching that blacks are under a divine curse when there indeed was such a teaching repeated by Brigham Young and many succeeding leaders? This quote only makes sense when you accept that doctrines do not change, but practices or policies can.

    If we accept the notion that doctrines can change then will we one day believe in the Trinity or that temple ordinances are not necessary?

    We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

    While this lets us look forward to future revelations, is it right to think our doctrines will change as a result? Or is the more correctly interpreted to mean that we will receive more new doctrines that help us to understand God’s plan.

  16. Andrew said

    Jay, I like Pres. McKay’s statement above, however, I don’t see it as supporting the idea that “a doctrine is something that cannot change.” Doctrine simply means “teaching,” i.e., it is what is taught within the Church. But I should clarify: a doctrine is something that is taught within the Church that is binding upon the Church members. So the fact I say something incorrect as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, for example, does not require everyone else to believe it. And our teachings i.e., doctrines, can and do change–perhaps the better word is “continually progress”–all the time.

    My take on Pres. McKay’s statement that you quoted above is that he was aware of what BY and others had said in the past, but that he thought what they had said about blacks was their mistaken personal opinion and was not binding on the church to follow. This is in harmony with what the Church still says today:

    “A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.” (See http://www.lds.org/newsroom.)

  17. Jay said

    I really am sorry to drag this on, but the priesthood ban was taught by multiple leaders and on multiple occasions. The excuses for the ban were repeated likewise and continue to be by some people, most unfortunately.

    So if doctrines do change can the LDS Church theoretically become Trinitarian? Is there any teaching in the Church that is not subject to change?

    Thank you for indulging my questions, I have enjoyed reading your answers.

  18. Andrew said

    Jay asked: “So if doctrines do change can the LDS Church theoretically become Trinitarian? Is there any teaching in the Church that is not subject to change?”

    I think the answer to that question can be found in the following statement that recently appeared on the Church website:

    “Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

    “Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: ‘The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.’”

    Based on that quote, I’d say the precise lineage of certain races and whether or not they were connected to Cain would fall into about the same category as the location of the Garden of Eden or present location of the lost 10 tribes or Kolob.

  19. Jay said

    So core doctrine can never change?

  20. Andrew said

    Jay,

    If what you mean by “core doctrine” is “the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven,” I’d say that’s a safe bet.

  21. Jay said

    LOL! I think you already quoted that:) Fair enough, I won’t bother you anymore on this post.

    Thanks.

  22. BHodges said

    As far as “doctrines changing,” I think it is safe to see God as one who condescends to our capacities, and feeds us the milk, and the meat, in good time as we are capable to receive it. Interestingly, Brigham Young talked about the limited capacity of the revelations in which we believe. None are absolutely “perfect.”

    To record the visions of eternity in scripture is nearly impossible. The scriptures contain hints and pieces. Brigham said:

    ” …I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities…

    If an angel should come into this congregation, or visit any individual of it, and use the language he uses in heaven, what would we be benefitted?[sic] Not any, because we could not understand a word he said.

    When angels came to visit mortals, they have to condescend to and assume, more or less, the condition of mortals, they have to descend to our capacities in order to communicate with us. I make these remarks to show you that the kingdom of Heaven is not yet complete upon the earth. Why? Because the people are not prepared to receive it in its completeness, for they are not complete or perfect themselves.

    The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little to-day and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive; if they do not, they are left in the shade, and the light which the Lord reveals will appear darkness to them, and the kingdom of heaven will travel on and leave them groping. Hence, if we wish to act upon the fulness of the knowledge that the Lord designs to reveal, little by little, to the inhabitants of the earth, we must improve upon every little as it is revealed.”

    More here:
    http://lifeongoldplates.blogspot.com/2007/08/are-scriptures-perfect.html

  23. Andrew said

    BHodges,

    Thanks for the great quote! I’ve never seen that one before.

  24. Brother Paul said

    Ephesians 4:4 says there is one Lord, one faith (church?) one baptism. I think we can safely say that there is one church. Yes, it had many names but only one doctrine.

    Are you really saved? Can you afford to be wrong??? Please look at trulysaved.blogspot.com. Blessings to you.

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