Building a Testimony On Shaky Ground vs. A Firm Foundation

These days, we can get overloaded with information about the gospel from many different sources, especially online. The catch is knowing who and what information we can trust when we want to build our testimonies on a firm foundation. Do we fall into the trap of accepting everything a blogger, reporter, podcaster or author says about the Church, just because it’s out there? Do we get caught up in believing self-appointed teachers who may or may not have pure motives? How can we become better, more critical and cautious consumers of information, especially when it comes to what we read or hear about the gospel?

These are questions that we probably should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. LDS blogger J. Max Wilson, was featured in an excellent two-part RiseUp podcast on FairMormon. The title of the first podcast is “Building a Testimony on a Sure Foundation.” With permission from the author and the good people over at FairMormon, I’ve compiled some of the main points in an effort to help us know how to become better at discerning between good and not-so-good gospel-related information online. I also recommend listening to the the podcast in its entirety.

Here are a few of the main points from Part 1 that really stood out to me:

1. How can we build a solid foundation for our testimony by becoming a critical consumer of information? We need to be cautious about our sources of information on the gospel.

Wilson begins by explaining that being a critical consumer of information means that we don’t simply accept everything we hear or read just because it’s there. When we accept everything we read or hear, it can cause us to develop incorrect expectations or understandings. We need to be cautious.  We don’t want to build our testimony on shaky or incorrect information just because we weren’t critical of it when we first came across it. We shouldn’t be too ready to accept and believe everything we read or hear. We can accidentally damage our own testimonies by being too ready to believe everything we hear or read from other members of the church on the internet or elsewhere.

He also says that we shouldn’t invest our testimonies too readily on sensational information. This requires a willingness for us to be self-critical on our own assumptions. This doesn’t mean we advocate skepticism or doubt. We must be believing, but we should be careful when online.

Through personal experience, Wilson explains that he has learned that not everyone who teaches the gospel are doing it for the right reasons. It is a good thing to be suspicious of self-appointed teachers—of anyone who has set themselves up to explain the gospel or to teach what it means. This includes bloggers, academics, podcasters, pundits, film makers, and authors. Even if they are promoted by semi-official Church entities.

It would be right of you to be suspicious of a bloggers’ or podcasters’ motivations. Are they really trying to build up Zion? Do they have their own reasons for doing this? These are appropriate questions to ask yourself.

2. We need to be better consumers of information in gospel teaching and learning situations.

The church actually has some very specific guidelines for teachers in the Church (and this can include everyone who blogs or comments about the Church online). It’s called “Teaching: No Greater Call” and has been the official training manual for teachers. The manual provides several cautions for teachers, however it is highly applicable to anyone who teaches the gospel in any capacity. We’re asked to avoid:

1. Speculative Teaching
2. Misquoting Doctrine and Church Leaders
3. Gospel Hobbies
4. Sensational Stories
5. Reshaping Church History
6. Private Interpretations and Unorthodox Views

Wilson makes a few more points, including the following:

  • We should avoid speculation in the gospel. There are some people who unfortunately place their faith and testimonies on speculative doctrines, and that is a big mistake. It creates for a weak testimony. Instead, we should be focusing on the pure doctrines of the Church.
  • As critical consumers of information and for those trying to build a testimony, it’s important that we know that not every teacher (blogger, writer, podcaster, author, etc.) is trying to uphold the teachings of the church. Some may make it so that the history and the teachings of the church become more acceptable to the world and to academia and secularism. Watch for those things that tend to minimize the true authority of the church.
  • There should be a lot of caution against private interpretations and unorthodox views. Be aware of the real teachings of the church in order to know when someone is presenting their own interpretations or unorthodox views and see them for what they are. Especially when it goes contrary to that which the church has officially taught.
  • We need to be familiar enough with the scriptures and the teachings of prophets and apostles so we can recognize when things deviate.

 3. Additional (and Valuable) Info from Teaching: No Greater Call:

Reshaping Church History

President Ezra Taft Benson cautioned: “There have been and continue to be attempts made to bring [a humanistic] philosophy into our own Church history. … The emphasis is to underplay revelation and God’s intervention in significant events and to inordinately humanize the prophets of God so that their human frailties become more apparent than their spiritual qualities” (“God’s Hand in Our Nation’s History,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [1977], 310).

Speaking of these attempts, President Benson later said, “We would warn you teachers of this trend, which seems to be an effort to reinterpret the history of the Church so that it is more rationally appealing to the world” (The Gospel Teacher and His Message [address to religious educators, 17 Sept. 1976], 11).

Private Interpretations and Unorthodox Views

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said, “Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church” (in Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). We should not teach our private interpretation of gospel principles or the scriptures.

Elder Spencer W. Kimball stated: “There are those today who seem to take pride in disagreeing with the orthodox teachings of the Church and who present their own opinions which are at variance with the revealed truth. Some may be partially innocent in the matter; others are feeding their own egotism; and some seem to be deliberate. Men may think as they please, but they have no right to impose upon others their unorthodox views. Such persons should realize that their own souls are in jeopardy” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 109).

For the full podcast, please visit: http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/10/29/riseup-podcast-building-a-testimony-on-a-sure-foundation-part-1/

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Angela Fallentine

Angela Fallentine is the Co-Founder of Mormon Women Stand. She is a native of Alberta, Canada and has loved living in New Zealand and briefly in Europe. She is a researcher and analyst for a think tank in New York which focuses on social issues, religious freedom and international policy affecting the family at the United Nations.

6 thoughts on “Building a Testimony On Shaky Ground vs. A Firm Foundation

  1. Kim

    I agree that being a critical consumer of information means that we don’t simply accept everything we hear or read just because it’s there. I have come across some quotes attributed to Joseph Smith. I would like to confirm if he said them, and if so, in what context. Does The Church provide a way to help me research this? Any suggestions?

  2. Rebecca Anderson

    I am so glad to read this. I get weary of reading about those who want to change one doctrine or another. The gospel is beautiful and designed to help us all achieve our greatest good. thank you for a wonderful article.

  3. Mitch

    I think that every member should be deeply familiar with all of the topics discussed on FAIRmormon.org. This is the only website staffed entirely by scholarly LDS professors and researchers. They can explain all of the hard questions about church history, doctrinal changes, so-called historical scandals and institutional racism that so many of the opponents of our Church keep using as evidence against the Church. Once you read and understand the FAIR articles about all of these topics you will have all the information you need to refute any anti-mormon and their so-called “facts.”

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