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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Perhaps you are asking the wrong question.

A few months ago I joined an online group discussing LDS topics online. I quickly found that the group was nearly entirely members who had left the church and the vast majority were very bitter in their feelings toward the church. I did not plan to continue in the group as the atmosphere was one of insults and anger and not one conducive to constructive conversation. However, I realized that it was a chance for me to ask a question that I had been curious about. I asked how many of the people in the group had abandoned christianity altogether and how many had found a new faith life in a different christian denomination. The results were overwhelming. The vast majority of people said they no longer belonged to any religious denomination. Some maintained a belief in God but the majority shared the sentiment of the man who said “once I realized that Joseph Smith was a fraud, Christ and the rest of it soon fell apart too”.

In my experience with those who have left the church (including the majority of my immediate and extended family) almost none have moved on to a different Christian faith. I began to ask myself why this was? Members of the church usually have 3 main beliefs at the root of their membership and each one flows from and is based upon the previous belief.

  1. A belief in God

  2. A belief in that Christ was the divine son of God and Savior of the World.

  3. A belief that Joseph Smith was called by Jesus Christ to restore his Church.

What confused me was why belief 2 was usually dropped as a result of evidence that seemed to suggest belief 3 was not true. While I don’t prefer that a member of my faith join a different Christian church it is much less painful than seeing a person completely lose faith in Christ and or God. Seeing a person changing theological beliefs but maintaining a Christian basis for their life is nothing compared to the distress, confusion, frustration, resentment and pain that comes from a completely lost and undefined spiritual life.

In pondering this issue I realized the question many people who leave the church are asking may be the wrong one. Many people struggling with their faith don’t struggle with a belief in God and most will say they are believers in Jesus Christ, it's just that the Joseph Smith restoration narrative that is hard to swallow. But then they ask “Is the Church True” when they should be asking “Is the Church Christ’s?”  This may seem like a semantic distinction but it's actually very important if a person has a full and vibrant testimony of the divinity of Christ. The church is not “true” in the sense that it is free from errors of various kinds and if you look, you will find them. However, how you evaluate if the church is Christ’s will be very different than how you evaluate if it is true. You will first need to come to know Christ, his teachings, his ideas, his methodologies. Some make up some Jesus they believe in off the top of their head, and it always amuses me how “their Jesus” always seems to have the same opinions as they do and how often “their Jesus” contradicts the Jesus written about by the people who were actually there with him. That’s why I like to go to the Bible as the first source for understanding who Jesus was.

If you come to believe in the Jesus of the Bible the next step is to ask the real question. Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints the church Christ would have you join if he were on the earth today? In other words, not is the Church “true” but is the Church Christ’s. Without the backdrop of a solid belief in the biblical narrative of who Jesus was the LDS church will make no sense to you, but with the backdrop of a deep faith in the Jesus of the bible the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints will shine in a completely new light. You will see that the Church is not arbitrary, it’s practices that many find strange are consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the bible. While not a biblically based religion it is certainly both biblically consistent and biblically comprehensive as it takes on consistent biblical themes like Temples, Prophets and Priesthood largely ignored by other Christian faith traditions. However, more details on this are the subject of another blog post. Still, ultimately the question of if the LDS Church is Christ's is not going to be answered by study alone. If you are a believer in the Christ of the bible shouldn’t you go to his word to see how he would have you come to know how to recognize his handiwork?

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"- (Matt 7:7)

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" - (James 1:5)

"Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." -(Matt 16:17)

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."- (John 15:26)

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."- (Gal 5:22)

"My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:16)

 On the other hand, in our efforts to help our loved ones experience the voice of the Spirit and the vast, eternal, and profound beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ, telling them to “listen harder” may not be the most helpful way. Perhaps better advice—for anyone who wants to increase faith—is to listen differently. The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek the voice that speaks to our spirit, not just to our ears. He taught, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” Or perhaps we should consider the words of Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, who said: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”- Deter Uchtdoft.

The Church grew rapidly over the past 150 years in an environment of people that already had a firm belief in the biblical Jesus. Historically, much of our preaching style and emphasis was based on helping people who already had belief 1 and 2 take the next step into believing number 3 and all that it entails. However, the world has and is changing. While western societies still largely long for spirituality and in the U.S most still claim a belief in God, biblically based Christianity is dying. Many (if not most) “cool” Christian sects only give lukewarm partial attention to the bible and traditional christian theological and moral ideologies. In our day the question is asked, “Is the Church True” (meaning are all 3 beliefs true) vs in the past the central question was “is Joseph Smith Christ’s Prophet” (as belief 1 and 2 were already assumed true). As people in society are abandoning faith generally and the biblical Christ specifically, the Joseph Smith story and its miraculous nature becomes less and less palatable. Therefore, when any portion of the restoration narrative comes into question the already corroding atmosphere of a secular society that has rejected the biblical Christ magnifies the doubts. On the other hand when a person has a firm belief in the biblical narrative of Jesus Christ the challenges to the restoration (while still often disconcerting) are minimized because the LDS message is so consistent and so comprehensive to their pre-existing faith in the biblical narrative of Jesus. Ultimately, Christ's biblical message of learning by the spirit provides personal revelatory confirmation that they are where Christ would have them be.

So what does this all mean? It means that while the attacks are framed as attacks on the restoration narrative, in practical terms they are actually an attack on the entire belief system and very much on the divinity of Christ. Just observe the practical effects. Saints are not leaving our faith and becoming Baptist, Catholics and Evangelicals. They are becoming atheists, or deists without any testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Faith in JESUS CHRIST is the first principle of the gospel for a reason. If you have placed your faith on Joseph Smith, your testimony will fail but if you place your faith in the Jesus Christ of the bible he will lead you to his restored Church. I always say to people that Jesus is the one who got me into Mormonism and only he is going to be able to get me out. I always say that I was a Christian long before I ever was a Mormon but it was Him that led me here. If there is another Christian denomination that brings me closer to Christ than this I would love to hear about it, but I am all in on Christ, he is my entire hope for this life and the next. When I have doubts about the restoration narrative I ask myself like Peter "where will I go" and the only place I can see is right in front of me. I have put all my chips on Christ and the only way I can be moved is if he directs me elsewhere. I hope we can all remember that it is our faith in Christ that has led us here and that our faith in Christ is the only thing that should lead us elsewhere.

"Make me know Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day."- Psalm 25:4-5

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