"I know the Church is true" is the key assertion in the standard "Mormon testimony" or upbeat personal confession of faith. One bears testimony not only in monthly "fast and testimony meetings," but also quite often at the tail end of talks from the pulpit, Sunday School lessons, and missionary discussions or lessons. Bearing a testimony and explaining how one came by it is, for Mormons, roughly equivalent to knowing one is saved and recounting that special "Jesus moment" for Evangelicals. In this first installment of a weekly feature going through the list of 100 LDS seminary scriptures, I'll talk about D&C 8:2-3 and Mormon testimony.
Oliver Cowdery, an associate of Joseph Smith during the period he dictated the manuscript that was later published as the Book of Mormon, was directed (in a revelation to Joseph) to ask God, with faith and an honest heart, about the knowledge he sought (specifically about ancient records he was trying to translate):
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 8:2Shortly thereafter, another revelation intended for Oliver Cowdery (through Joseph) similarly directed:
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. D&C 9:8
That is the simple framework Mormons use to distinguish their knowledge of Mormonism's correctness from mere faith exercised by other Christians: Mormons ask in prayer then feel that they are right (at the moment of prayer or sometime thereafter), therefore they know they are right and recite that conviction in standard Mormon testimonies. Besides the declaration that the Church is true, related assertions that appear in Mormon testimonies are that Joseph Smith or the present LDS President are true prophets of God, that Joseph accurately translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient document written on metallic plates, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior.
Mormons do recognize that members of other denominations have sincere faith in God and a belief in God's favorable disposition toward their particular denomination, whether exclusively or jointly with some subset of other denominations, but see that faith and belief as incomplete. In the Mormon schema, Mormons "know" while others have only faith. In fairness, I should note that there has been a noticeable effort by LDS leaders during the last several years to encourage closer association with other denominations and the adoption of a friendlier form of discourse that plays down the LDS claim to exclusive religious truth and authority. This is a promising development and has created a lot of good feeling in Utah and elsewhere.
Mormons feel there is truly a difference in how Mormons read, ponder, and pray to affirm their religious convictions versus how members of other denominations go about reading and praying concerning theirs. I have a hard time finding any Bible text where prayer is used as the equivalent of a truth detector. Paul wrote: "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Cor. 12:12). Mormons seem to say that everyone else sees darkly and knows in part, but prayer allows Mormons to see clearly and know completely, despite Paul's statement to the contrary. I kind of like Paul's more limited formulation, which takes human weakness and fallibility into account. It makes me think of wandering down a narrow, fog-shrouded path, clinging to a metal rail for guidance as one feels the way, carefully, toward God. Nice metaphor.