There is a phrase commonly spoken among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The phrase is “the church is true.”
I’ve said it myself. I hear church members say this frequently – usually weekly in church services, and certainly every monthly “Fast and Testimony” meeting.
I’ve become so accustomed to hearing it that I never gave it a second thought. It was just part of the church vernacular. However, it was pointed out to me recently that this is an ambiguous phrase. If one thinks about it literally, it conveys almost no useful information.
It is a math equation: (church = true)? Then if (church = true) then (what = false)?
Is the speaker trying to say that the doctrine being taught is truthful? Are they conveying that the members of the church are faithful to their stated beliefs? Is it that the church is authorized of God? In the example of the math equation, we’d need to define “church” to understand exactly what is true.
The listener in the congregation might even believe that they understand what is being said, but they may in reality have a completely different interpretation than the speaker has.
Do other organizations use this sort of language? For example, if a chess club meets once a week at the school, could they say of themselves that the chess club is true? Could the principal of the school make that declaration? If the chess club added or modified a time limit rule to their game, would that make the chess club false? If they met once at the library, is their location no longer true? Who declares them true or false? Which governing board approves the rules or admits or denies entry to the individual organizations?
So, when “the church is true” is declared – no matter how passionately or sincerely – what is really being spoken by the declaration?
In modern revelation, the Lord spoke through his prophet these words: “…Those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased …” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30, emphasis added).
I suspect that “the church is true” is a derivative of the phrase “the only true and living church” as described in that verse.
However, that thought just opened up a whole new set of questions for the non-believer.
Who is making that declaration? A previous verse declares that Jesus Christ is the author. “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24). If this chapter of writing is accepted with faith as being authentic, then God is declaring that the organization of the church is authentic and authorized, or “true and living.”
What about “living?” Can an organization “live”?
A living thing, generally speaking, has some power to affect another object. For example, a living plant has ability to grow, displacing earth as roots expand below and trunks shoot up to the surface. The plant continues to grow upward, overcoming the forces of gravity. Thus you might define a living thing as having ability to act under its own power.
Ordinarily I’d say that an organization cannot do this. The individuals who make up the organization can, in united effort, bring forth good works in the name of the organization. The organization itself does not live – at least not under this definition.
In any other organization – the chess club, a political party, a scout troop, or even any other church – the organization is dead, and is under the control of the leadership within to direct it and give it life, through the efforts of its members.
The Church of Jesus Christ, however, has one thing going for it that no other organization has. The power and promises of God are behind it and in it. Said Jesus to another group of people, “If it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it” (Book of Mormon | 3 Nephi 27:10).
The key difference in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has is that it is authorized by God. When the works of the members are carried forth to fulfill the purposes of the organization, other-worldly miracles and power are promised to show forth in the lives of the members.
All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, by revelation and commandment through the medium God has appointed on the earth to hold this power, have the promise and blessing of continuing on eternally. All contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead (see Doctrine and Covenants 132).
A simpler way of saying it is that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:21).
By participation and obedience to the “true and living” church, the participant can receive the blessing(s) of eternal life.
Anything else may bring some temporary measure of joy or fulfillment, but is simply not true in the long term.