LDS members and Apostles need to stop bearing false witness by being dishonest concerning their witness of Jesus Christ, God and the truth of the church. When someone is called as a ‘witness’, their job is to witness what they have seen, felt and experienced—plainly, honestly and without misleading innuendo.
The purpose and calling of an Apostle was according to the Bible, and is according to modern scripture, to be a special witness of the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ to all the earth. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were given this title early in church history, because they witnessed that they saw Christ in vision (see D&C 76). In the case of our present “apostles”, if that witness is a first hand visual witness as was the case for Christ’s original apostles they need to proclaim that witness clearly and honestly. If it is a witness only by the Holy Ghost, this also needs to be proclaimed clearly and honestly.
I have observed first hand many leaders and members of the church (including apostles). Talk about their ‘witness’ of Jesus Christ in a manner which led us to believe that they had possibly seen Christ in vision, but then say the experience was ‘too sacred to share’. This is dishonest, and we should have none of this mysterious and deceptive language. If God is a completely honest God as we believe him to be, then when he calls someone as witness of Him, he NEVER would then swear them to secrecy or tell them to speak in hushed muted terms concerning the experience. That’s not a witness. It is an absolute contradiction to call oneself a witness of Christ and then not proclaim the specifics of that witness while pretending that somehow the experience was too sacred to talk about or that you are sworn to secrecy after “being called” to be a witness! If you are called as a witness… witness! The current practices of LDS apostles in this regard tend toward evil and need to be reformed to accord with complete openness and honesty.
The same goes for the testimonies of church members. We have a cultural practive of hinting at our experiences in testimony meeting in ways that lead others to believe they were more than they were. We also have developed a cultural tendency of saying we “know” this or that when in fact we actually only believe or have faith in it. This actually causes a lot of guilt, shame, confusion and contempt. It is dishonest of us to redefine the word know to mean believe. It is also unscriptural. Alma says in Alma 32:21 “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true”. If you have not seen God, you should not stand up in front of the congregation and say “I know god lives”, that is a lie, you should say “I have faith and hope that god lives for such and such reasons. The Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon teaches us how we should differentiate faith and knowledge.
19 And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.
20 Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him. (Ether 3:19–20)
By saying we “know” God lives or we “know” the church is true, we are effectually saying by the definitions in our own scripture that we no longer need faith because we are redeemed from the veil. At the very least, we are reading into our experiences and claiming that they say universal or objective things about truth that they dont, and it’s time we as a church stop promoting it as a cultural practice of both leadership and members.
Stop manipulating people into thinking every church related spiritual experience or emotional reaction to spirituality is proof that “the LDS church is true”. Care must be taken in the way we frame arguments for our faith.
Much like the intrinsic human experiences of love or infatuation, the “burning heart” or spiritual awakening is experienced by members of most religions. These experiences can connect people to a religious tradition and seem to typically yield good fruits but can easily be used to manipulate people into cults. When we use manipulation techniques to suggest to youth that spiritual emotions or a burning heart, prove the Mormon church is the only true one, these individuals will likely be bitter when they find people of many, many religions experience them. (see this youtube video for many such examples) Many ancient and modern religions promote better systems to explain the phenomena of spiritualism in terms of spiritual connection, activated endocrine glands or spiritual centers attached to the human nervous system. (see this wikipedia article on kundalini)
Our current system of gaining a “testimony” is manipulative. If members or investigators “feel the spirit” during a discussion of Joseph Smith or while reading the book of Mormon, we ask them to accept this as proof that Mormonism is the only true church. If they “feel the spirit” while listening to a general conference address, we ask them to accept this as proof that these men are called of God and essentially everything any of them say is the word of God. This is synonymous with asking people to kiss someone or hold a baby or view a sunset and then asking them to accept these good feelings as testimony that the one involved is their only love or that the LDS church is God’s only true church and thus all its tenets are true. We need to stop manipulating people into drawing man-made conclusions which aren’t necessarily true, from their very personal spiritual experiences. See ‘Is The LDS Church the Only True Church? Understanding Religion and Truth‘, for a detailed exegesis on how religious truth relates to religious pluralism and real truth.
Watch the following video to see how impossible and dangerous it is to believe that spiritual emotional confirmation can serve as the sole basis for testimony.
Quotes concerning whether the apostles have objectively ‘seen’ Christ, etc...
Elder Dallin Oaks spoke yesterday at a multi-stake fireside on Jan 23rd in Seattle.. A youth in attendance asked him if they should seek to have an “Alma the younger” type of experience and get a personal witness of Christ. His answer was refreshingly honest and direct. He told them that neither he nor anyone in the 1st presidency or Q12 have ever seen Christ, had a vision, or supernatural experience. He reaffirms that the basis for the Q15 testimony is no different than the typical member.
Just after the 30 minute mark. The question is asked. The response that I transcribe here is starting at time mark 31:38:
“I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually. Like so much dust on the windowsill or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony. And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow.”
Brigham Young was almost exclusively referred to as the President of the Church, never as a prophet and he actually made many public statements saying that he was specifically not a prophet. For example: ” I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don’t profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser;” Brigham Young, Sermon, July 26, 1857, JD 5:77. Brigham also made it very clear several times that he had not seen Jesus. For example: “I cannot bear the same testimony of Jesus that I can of Joseph, because I never saw him with my natural body. Peter, James and John etc., were apostles of Jesus, they were called and ordained by him, so they could testify of him, but they could not testify of Joseph as I can. –Brigham Young, June 27, 1854, The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young 2:809.
When called before congress to testify in the Reed Smoot hearings, President Joseph F. Smith similarly testified that “I have never pretended nor do I profess to have received revelations”. His testimony was that he was unsure if he had been inspired or not and compared his experience as the prophet of the church to the “same as any Methodist, Protestant, or preacher”
I had come to the conclusion long ago that none of the Apostles had reasons to believe beyond what they publicly taught. It always seems that when they dodged the occasional probing questions about seeing Christ, that they were deliberately trying to be vague and let people believe what they wanted to believe. I’m happy to see Oaks owning up to reality with a clear statement.
If you pay close attention, you will find that none of the modern apostles even say that they are special witnesses of Christ anymore. The phrase used now days is “special witnesses of the name of Christ”.
Oaks has gone on record several times explaining this. He quotes D&C 107:23 – “The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” and then says “This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission such as the atonement and the authority or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do. Of course apostles are also witnesses of Christ just like all members of the church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost”
There are accounts of supernatural experience both among some early apostles and more modern members…
Descriptions of the experience can also be found in the annals of the membership. Here we find a description from the journal of Parley P. Pratt.
My dear wife [Thankful Halsey Pratt] had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and when the child was dressed, and she had looked upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh. Her death happened about three hours after the birth of this child of promise. A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz: twelve o’clock. She was overwhelmed with a joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972. p. 166; italics added.)
President Lorenzo Snow also relates the choice experience of his rebirth:
Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work … and I began to feel very uneasy. I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelope me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.
I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …
I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, … I knew.’ that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences … impart[s] an inspiring influence … and I trust will to the close of my earthly existence.
(Biography – Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.) http://jesus.christ.org/teachings-of-jesus-christ/born-of-the-spirit-baptism-by-fire
We have examples of the baptism of fire in scripture, we find them infused in the testimonies of several of the early saints. Are there modern day occurrences of being born again?
I wanted a spiritual experience, so I prayed and fasted the next day, Sunday. I broke my fast because we were invited to eat at someone’s house that night. On Monday I decided to do as Enos and Nephi and fast and pray all day. I went out into a bungalow and prayed vocally for as long as I could. When I couldn’t think of things to pray about I read my scriptures. I prayed until the afternoon, but nothing happened. I was really discouraged. That night I went to my … friend’s house to talk about things. He gave me a blessing.
The next day was Tuesday. … I decided to give it another go. I broke my fast and went out to the bungalow to pray again. I prayed for about an hour and this happened:
From my journal:
I knelt down and was praying to the Lord with all my heart that I might receive evidence that what I was doing was right. I could feel the spirit in my chest and my face was tingling. While feeling this I pleaded that I might have greater evidence. All of a sudden I felt power come into my body. As Nephi said it consumed my flesh. So much so that I felt that my hands were out stretched and my chest was pulled up and power surged through me like I have never felt in all my life. It was so powerful that I could hardly control myself. I felt like I was being shocked with energy. I knew it was the energy of God. I felt His power!
At the time I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it wasn’t long after that Heavenly Father began to help me understand that I had experienced the baptism of fire.