Sunday, June 26, 2016

THE TESTIMONY TRAP - being blindsided by men

In a recent multi-stake youth-only fireside (transcript, recording), one of the attending youth directed the following question to elder Oaks.
"What should we pray for to receive the same testimony and/or conversion that Alma the Younger experienced, for our friend who are not members?"
The question is good, but not great. It could've been better. As now phrased, it focused on how we can apply the scriptures on people around us. That's certainly appropriate at times. Most of the times, though, we ought rather to "liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Ne. 19:23).

Elder Oaks, to his credit, answered the question in this way, likening it to ourselves. He said:
"I don't think you're likely to have an experience like Alma the younger had, remember he had a miraculous appearance with an angel and really got hit over the head spiritually. Most of us don't have that kind of experience but I interpret your question […] as how can we get the kind of testimony that he received. I don't think we'll get it like Paul did on the road where an angel appeared to him or where Alma the younger had a startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of experiences and they are recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention. 
"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 didnt 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."
As we see, elder Oaks, to his discredit, had the chance to inspire the attending youth to seek to be born again, but instead presented a great example of the "testimony trap".

Alma's experience

Together with the sons of Mosiah, Alma went about trying to destroy the church. Eventually, as an answer to his the prayer of his father, an angel appeared, shook the ground and warned Alma that he, if he continued walking this path of rebellion, would be "cast off". Alma was struck dumb and lay motion- and speechless for three days. When he awoke, he said that,
"I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit. 
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; 
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. 
I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off. 
Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God. 
My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.  
I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.  
Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye." (Mosiah 27:24-31)
The (most) important part of Alma's experience wasn't the appearance of the angel, but rather what he went through in his motion- and speechless state. It's hard to misunderstand him - this experience HAS to be ours. If it's not, then we will be cast off. Elder Oaks is right that all of us might not see an angel like Alma did, but to miss out on teaching about the necessity of being born again has to be an apostolic misconduct and huge disservice to the youth listening and seeking guidance from under his hands.

The "testimony trap"

The need we have of being born again is downplayed in the church today. Instead, there's an increasing focus on the acquiring of what's termed as a testimony.
What is a testimony?

A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves His children; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior's true Church on the earth; and that the Church is led by a living prophet today. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.
According to the Church, a testimony is a spiritual witness of a certain set of facts. Facts won't save you, neither is gaining a testimony the same thing as being born again. The testimony trap hinders unsuspecting and trusting members of the Church from being born again, basically because they are told that they don't have to. If this isn't a clear example of how someone, who's called "prophet, seer and revelator", leads others astray, I don't know what is.

After reading Alma's words, how can we believe that the most miraculous part of Almas experience was the visiting angel and not the spiritual rebirth? How dare we focus anyone of gaining a spiritual witness of facts when a rebirth is required? How can we go on believing that an institution can or will save us, when the Lord wants to make us into new creatures? How can we sing follow the prophet when we need to become the sons and daughters of Jesus?  The testimony trap is vicious, for it blinds us.

If our leaders, the ones who are supposed to lead us to Christ, won't focus our eyes on the doctrine of Christ as it's presented in the Book of Mormon, what need have we of them? I guess we're better off staying at home searching the scriptures and deepening our prayers.


  1. So... why aren't you fixing Elder Oaks's omission by teaching your readership, with actionably specific directions, how to be born again?

    Otherwise, aren't you and Elder Oaks in the same boat? Neither of you are telling people what to do, and merely bringing up the topic isn't helpful.

    1. I'm sorry you didn't find me bringing up the topic helpful.

      Since what I write reflects my spiritual journey, you can easily see that I'm at the beginning of it. Having been a dogmatic Mormon, I now tend to be a dogmatic ... whatever I am right now. This is something I'm repenting of. From this point of view, it is helpful to note what a spiritual rebirth is not.

      My hope is to be able to point to my own experience of the born again process shortly. Until then, I can only point my readership to the scriptures. And who knows, I might do that some of these days.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I want to thank you again for sharing with me The Second Comforter; I'm reading it and finding very interesting things; however I don't understand why D. Snuffer would suggest that I should continue to join Church's programs and follow it's procedures in order to obtain the Second Comforter (he says this in the introduction). Nevertheless I am open to any idea presented in order to get that blessing.
    But you made a great point here I hadn't thought about in a long time. I used to believe that a true conversion was not the same as gaining a testimony but I forgot that notion and now you are right, obtaining a testimony is nothing compared to being born again. Good post.


    1. That post clarified my concerns, thanks a lot!

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  5. I believe those who lead the LDS Church believe they HAVE been chosen by God to be where they are even though they have little understanding of many of the spiritual aspects of the Gospel and have NOT had any experiences as described in scripture. And since THEY have not had them, no one else should seek or expect them. Thus, they lead the sheep astray.

    1. Jon, I believe you're right. You might call it out as following a blind guide. But, the question whether we're being led astray can't be answered unless we first establish where we're supposed to be or should be led. If we believe that we are exactly where we should be, then we've not gone astray. But, if we should be somewhere else, then it all changes.