Since that time I have had experiences and questions that both cause my testimony to grow and create doubt as to the truthfulness of the church. This I believe is necessary in the our quest to know God. A testimony that never questions itself doesn't grow. A testimony that never doubts never tests. Faith is not immovable never changing. Faith has growing pains, times when we root ourselves in the ground and times when we fly.
There are some doctrines I don't agree with. You can't convince me that plural marriage was inspired, nor do I believe that only men should hold the priesthood, or that the priesthood should have been denied to African American's for so long.
But although there are many things that our church has in common with others – the gift of redemption, the belief in Jesus Christ the Savior, the sanctity of family, charity, there are other things unique to the church that I hold dear and cannot find anywhere else.
The First Vision
This is where my testimony of the church comes from. As sure as my testimony that God exists, I sincerely believe that Joseph Smith was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I sincerely believe that he was directed to restore the church. I may have problems with some of Joseph Smith's other actions such as instituting plural marriage, his apparent manipulation of members, and destroying the printing press of the enemy, but what he did later in his life has little bearing on what he did when he was a young, innocent and teachable man. I see Joseph like I see David of biblical times. What David did while he was king does not take away from his killing the giant in his youth with the help of God.
Explaining my surety of the First Vision to non-members of the Church of Jesus Christ is like trying to explain the existence of God to an atheist. We do not speak the same language, nor does our sense of logic match. Although it's illogical to me that this world just happened without any direction, an atheist cannot imagine a being capable of creating such a wonder.
I always come back to the question I had when I first learned of the first vision. If God is all powerful, why couldn't he appear to a fourteen year old boy?
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
A few years ago when members of the church were challenged by then prophet President Hinkley to read the Book of Mormon within a certain time span, I took up the challenge. As I did so, I highlighted every time Jesus is mentioned or speaks. My Book of Mormon is covered with these little highlights. On every page in fact.
There are those who claim that Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon. It is impossible for a man with Joseph Smith's little education to have written the Book of Mormon. Studies done on the Book of Mormon reveal several different authors as well as different styles of writing. There is no other viable explanation for it that I have come across. How did the Book of Mormon come into existence?
It is also a testament to me that Heavenly Father cares for all his children. Those who view the bible as the only word of God overlook that the bible comes from one area of a vast world. Wouldn't it make sense that if God loves His children He would provide prophets and guidance for all of them, not just the ones in a small area? And wouldn't it makes sense that those leaders would keep a record? It would also stand to reason that there may be other records out there that have not been discovered or that are purposely hidden away. A God that provides direction to only small portion of the people that He created is illogical.
There are also stories in the Book of Mormon - most notably for me the visitation of Christ to the Nephites, that testify of His love and concern for all. When I read this I have no doubt as to the truthfulness of the record.
Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost Are Separate and Distinct Beings United in Purpose
The bible testifies of this.
Genesis 1:26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:
Not only does this show God speaking to someone who is like Him, but it also hints at a Heavenly Mother, for Eve was not made in the exact image of Heavenly Father but she was made in the image of someone.
Matthew 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Here we have an example of three distinct beings. Jesus rising from baptism, the Holy Ghost descending like a dove, and the voice of Heavenly Father saying how pleased he is with His Son.
1 AND after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
Another example of Heavenly Father and Jesus being separate and distinct beings.
In the Garden of Gethsemane -
And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
At the age of 12 Jesus astounded those in the temple with his wisdom. He explained to his parents who chastised him because they didn't know where he had been
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? Luke 2:49
32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
This apparently has caused some confusion by Christ's statement that the Father is in him and many churches use this as an example that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all the same being. Yet Jesus continues to reference the Father as a separate being. We can be one with another and yet be distinct separate beings. We are all asked to be one with the Father.
John 14 is filled with Jesus referencing the Father. Here is an excerpt.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
29 And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.
30 Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.
31 But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.
John 15:1 I AM the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
29 ¶ Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
I hadn't intended on focusing so much on this point but there's so many examples of this principle and it's in the Bible, the scriptures that we share with our Christian brothers and sisters. How did this other concept of them being one being come to be embraced? It's not logical. A simple and straightforward principal has become complicated and confusing.
As far as I know, the LDS church is the only one who has apostles. It's astonishing really. Jesus Christ set His church up calling His Apostles and after His death Peter became the head. If Christ did this, why hasn't every other Christian church done the same? We see another example of this in the Book of Mormon when Jesus comes to the Nephites and establishes His church there setting aside twelve apostles. To the other churches I ask “Where are your apostles?”
Throughout the bible there are example after example of a prophet or even several at the same time since there wasn't the communication then that we have now. Those men stand for God and are His mouthpiece. The argument is that since Christ came and fulfilled the law we have no need of prophets, but that has proven to be untrue. Why? Because the Christian church has splintered all over the place. The trick here is to know true prophets from false ones. I believe that President Monson and the presidents that came before him were prophets.
The Pre-Existance or Pre-Mortal Life
When I first heard this principal I had what I call a heart memory. It was instant knowledge that we did indeed live before with the Father up in heaven. There are several references to it in the Bible.
Jerimiah 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
I love that scripture. It was directed towards Jerimiah but it stands to reason that God knew us all before we were born.
Revelations 12:7 And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The LDS church has scriptures that support these and go into greater detail. I know of no other church that teaches of our premortal life. Now there's an exciting adventure story.
All Will Have the Opportunity to Hear the Gospel.
There is no arbitrary picking and choosing of those who will get an opportunity to return home. If God is fair and loving He provides a way for all to return home. There are Christian churches that teach that if you don't accept the Savior in this life then you will never be able to. How fair is that?
The Innocence of Children
All children are innocent before God. They are not accountable for things they have no control over. We have no infant baptism for children do not need to be baptized. How marvelous to know this especially for those parents who have lost children.
Forever Families and Marriages
This is a promise that the relationships that we forge here on earth can continue in heaven if we choose. Many churches don't teach this and yet many people believe this. Most likely another heart memory. A mass heart memory. It's a part of those who believe in God. The concept of never seeing our loved ones again is too harsh a punishment for most of us to bear. The church also teaches that those who do not have the opportunity to obtain or retain an eternal companion in this life will have the opportunity later. How comforting. Especially for someone like me who has gone through a necessary divorce. I read the last book in the Left Behind series that taught that those who were righteous but didn't have a chance to marry would forever be alone. That doesn't sound like something from a kind and loving God. That's your reward for being a follower of God? It doesn't make sense to have to be punished for being good.
Worlds Without End
The LDS church believes in other worlds, other planets, other people. It's logical that if God had created one earth He would have created others. In fact it smacks in the face of the atheist who believes that the earth somehow happened, because the impossibility of it happening once only rises in improbability that it happens again.
Three Degrees of Glory
It's good to know there's more than two choices. We are not all bad and we are not all good. We are a little of both so it stands to reason that there are different degrees of righteousness and one bad mistake will not send us hurtling to hell.
Children of God
We are all children of God. Everyone. Every single person who has ever been born or ever will be. He loves ALL of us. Even the unrighteous and wicked. As a parent, I understand this. It doesn't mean He excuses bad behavior and in fact he probably feels more sorrow than we can begin to imagine for He will have to turn away so many of His children. He has provided a way for ALL to return yet many of us will choose not to.
No sitting around on clouds playing harps. Heaven is a place where we grow and learn and teach. It's a place where we love and are loved. A place where we feel joy and sorrow. We are ever growing and never stagnant in Heaven and our potential is unlimited.
I am sure there are other things that I have momentarily forgotten. There is so much within the church that I would never find out of it. So what if there are things that I don't understand, or agree with.
In fact knowing that the prophets and apostles are human and make mistakes only adds to my testimony. Heavenly Father loves all of us and uses us in our imperfections. If that means growing pains for the church then so be it. I love the fact that the church does not stay stagnant yet still holds on to the principles that are truly important. I love that I am not expected to blindly follow anyone off a cliff but I'm to pray about the things that I am told and then proceed as I see fit. Heavenly Father allows us, expects us, to make mistakes and that includes the leaders of the church because that's how we learn. So at one point we had polygamy which I am sad to say hasn't born any good fruit. But the church corrected itself. At one point not all men could receive the priesthood, that too has been corrected. There was the situation when women in the church were excommunicated for supporting equality. The very things they fought for are being embraced. At one point birth control was frowned on. Counsel has changed on that as have a lot of beliefs regarding abuse, rape and sexual relations between husband and wife. Things change because knowledge changes and it appears that Heavenly Father does not give us or prophets knowledge that we or society is not ready for. Yet the real things stay the same. Heavenly Father loves us. We are all children of God. Jesus Christ is the Savior and suffered for us in Gethsemane, died for us, and then was resurrected so that we will be as well.
For more on the church go to mormon.org or lds.org These are both official sites of the church and more in depth study can be found there.
I do not speak for the church. I do not have the authority to do so, thank goodness. I speak for myself and have formed my own opinions.