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The Church is True: Whoopity Doo

This might be a controversial post to some, but it shouldn't be. It might be controversial because our culture has been embedded with it for the last 50 or so years. It shouldn't be controversial because of its plainness in the teachings of our Church leaders, scriptures, and ordinances.

As you could surmise from the title, I am talking about the idea that 'the Church is true'. We have all been in testimony meetings where this phrase is, more often than not, expressed more than a testimony of our Savior. In my opinion, the idea of there being a true Church is not necessarily what is false, but it is the emphasis we put on it as a culture that is false and hollow.

What do I mean? It is very similar to the experiences I expressed above. The idea of there being a true Church of Jesus Christ is spelled out very plainly in scripture and implied heavily in even more scriptures. A quick glance through the topical guide under the Church of God shows that clearly. What is scripturally inconsistent though is how often we divorce the idea of a true church from Jesus Christ. Many perhaps do this unintentionally, but when they are trying to express with their hearts what they have a testimony of and they leave out or only talk little about Jesus but make a big to-do about the 'true church', this ought to show a disconnect in understanding and conversion.

The Church Throughout Time

One of the easiest ways to see the church in its proper context is to monitor its history throughout time. We can go all the way back Adam.
"Beginning with Adam, the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached, and the essential ordinances of salvation, such as baptism, were administered through a family-based priesthood order. As societies grew more complex than simply extended families, God also called other prophets, messengers, and teachers. In Moses’s time, we read of a more formal structure, including elders, priests, and judges. In Book of Mormon history, Alma established a church with priests and teachers.
Then, in the meridian of time, Jesus organized His work in such a way that the gospel could be established simultaneously in multiple nations and among diverse peoples. That organization, the Church of Jesus Christ, was founded on “apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” It included additional officers, such as seventies, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons. Jesus similarly established the Church in the Western Hemisphere after His Resurrection.
Following the apostasy and disintegration of the Church He had organized while on the earth, the Lord reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ once again through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The ancient purpose remains: that is, to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the ordinances of salvation—in other words, to bring people to Christ. And now, through the instrumentality of this restored Church, the promise of redemption is placed within reach even of the spirits of the dead who in their mortal lifetime knew little or nothing of the Savior’s grace." (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "Why the Church", October 2015 General Conference)
In this context, we see that the Church as an institution, while very important and vital to this latter-day work, is a modification and an adjustment of procedure in order to reach out to a larger demographic. There have been other times in which there has been no Church but the family-based priesthood order reigned instead.
"And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression." (3 Nephi 5:12, italics added for emphasis)
LDS Scholars have commented on this verse giving a clear interpretation thereof:
"Insofar as a Nephite organization is concerned, the word church does not appear in the Book of Mormon until Mosiah 18:17. While it is clear that Nephi and his successors taught the people of Christ, there is no textual evidence that the early Nephites had an ecclesiastical organization independent of that associated with the law of Moses." - Rodney Turner (The Three Nephite Churches, BYU RSC)
Other scholars like Hyrum Andrus and Terryl Givens agree on this point. In summation, it appears that the Church did not exist among the Nephites until Alma brought a large influx of new people into the fold. The Church is established by Alma under the direction of King Mosiah in order to provide the same means and purposes that Elder Christofferson describes above. What the Nephites had before that was the same thing Adam and his posterity had for a time. It was a family-based priesthood order that is sometimes referred to as the Patriarchal Order or is scripturally referred to as The Holy Order. This can help us make sense out of Nephi reporting that they built a temple among themselves (see 2 Nephi 5:16) well over 400 years before the first Church is established among the Nephites (see Mosiah 18:17)

This is why President J. Reuben Clark Jr. taught the following:
"The Church is the organized priesthood of God. The priesthood can exist without the Church, but the Church cannot exist without the priesthood." (1)
Is the Church Eternal?

Maybe the church is what the Lord had in mind in the long run. Maybe you are thinking that it is possible that this family order existed, but this doesn't take away from the possibility that the Church is a vitally important and eternal institution. I will agree that the church currently is vitally important, but it is not eternal.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of what the brethren have taught on this idea:
"The Church was created in large measure to help the family, and long after the church has performed its mission, the celestial patriarchal order will still be functioning." - Ezra Taft Benson (Conference Report, October 1970, p.21)
"President Harold B. Lee once said the Church is the scaffold with which we build eternal families. Elder L. Tom Perry observed, “There are two principal reasons why I appreciate President Lee’s metaphor for the Church—as scaffolding for our eternal families. First, it helps me understand what the Church is. Second, and equally important, I understand what the Church is not.”
That’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it? Although the Church plays a pivotal role in
proclaiming, announcing, and administering the necessary ordinances of salvation and exaltation, all of that, as important as it is, is really just the scaffolding being used in an infinite and eternal construction project to build, support, and strengthen the family. And just as scaffolding is eventually taken down and put away to reveal the final completed building, so too will the mortal, administrative functions of the Church eventually fade as the eternal family comes fully into view. In that context, it’s important to remember that our Church assignments are only temporary, and that at some point we will all be released either by our leaders or by death. But we will never be released from our eternal callings within the family." - M. Russell Ballard ("Women of Dedication, Faith, Determination, and Action", 2015 BYU Women's Conference, bold added for emphasis)
For those unaware of what scaffolding is, here is a plain picture:

Elder Ballard hits on why I felt inspired to write this article. For too long in my life, I mistook the Church as the Summum Bonum (Latin for 'the greatest good') of the gospel. Or at the very least, I talked like it was. In other words, I didn't understand what the church was and, as equally important (to borrow Elder Ballard's words), I didn't understand what the Church was not (sorry for the double negative riddled sentence, but hopefully, it gets the point across). I soon realized that when I got up to bear my testimony in testimony meetings I was emphasizing something that wasn't eternal. I would shed well-intentioned tears about scaffolding. 

To follow this logic further, it is interesting to consider the Church's definition of doctrine:
"Doctrines are eternal and do not change; however, the Lord, through His prophet, may change practices and programs, according to the needs of the people." (Teachings of the Living Prophet Student Manual, Chpt 2) 
"A doctrine is a fundamental, unchanging truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ." (Gospel Teaching and Learning Manual, The Objective of Seminary and Institutes of Religion)
If we accept this definition of doctrine (in amusing irony) the Church itself is not a doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, What?

With this in mind, we can still believe the Church is true. But this begs the question, how are we to express ourselves in regards to that truth?

The best example of this, as usual, comes from the brethren. Below are snapshots of charts from the General Conference Corpus on how often various words or phrases are used in General Conference.

"The Church is True"

Over the past decade, this phrase has been used just over a handful of times. It has been used once in the past 5 years and not used at all over the past 2.5 years. This is interesting in light of a newly minted Family-Centered and Church-supported stance the brethren have taken.

"The True Church"

This phrase hasn't been used in General Conference for 18 months and is only said a few times a year in the previous years of this decade. I can't provide all the references, but every time this phrase has been used in General Conference in the past decade it is closely associated with the Savior (e.g. "This is the Church of Jesus Christ - the true church" & "the true Church of Jesus Christ").

For purposes in this article, it is hard for me to graph the phrase that is almost universally used by the General Authorities and officers in the Church. A simple search yourself will find it to be true, but the most popular phrase is "This is the Lord's Church" by far. 

This is consistent with how we should understand the Church. It is ultimately scaffolding the Lord has set up to school us and gather us into the garners of the Holy Temple. It is the Lord's Church so we can have zeal in Him. We can have zeal towards the institution of the Church, but we can temper it and speak more purely about it. This will do nothing but give us more power as we testify, teach, and learn about the Gospel.

How should we and missionaries, therefore, teach about the concept of the Church? Some might think this is too nuanced of an idea to try and convey to new people. I would agrue that we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to refine our language even more so that the whole picture becomes simpler for those whom we seek to teach. For example, we should teach about the Restoration from the standpoint of how God gathers and scatters his covenant people. If we did this we could teach about the Church from the standpoint of how God has restored His covenant and is seeking to gather his people again by using His Church as a vehicle. This, then, should be a simple step to the temple. In other words, the Lord is gathering people into His covenant; not the Church, per se. 


This article ought to spur even more questions and a hunger and thirst to learn even deeper about the themes discussed shortly here. Like, what is the Holy Order? Or, How does this play into my worship and my religiosity? Or, How does this change my perspective about the priesthood within the home? Or, How does this make sense out of the recent policy and procedural changes in the Church over the last few years? Or, what other truths are out there to be discovered now that I have removed this "error that [has] crept in through the years"(2)?

It is my belief that understanding this nuance is one of the first big steps towards beginning to have a more grand understanding of the priesthood. We can begin to see the kingdom of God in more purity for what it actually is and not let overmuch zeal towards scaffolding get in the way.

In closing I share this favorite (although imperfect) analogy of the themes discussed above:
"... Sometimes looking at the kingdom is something like looking at a circus. A circus has, at least back when I was a kid, what they called the big top. The big top is where all the things went on, the high trapeze and the clowns and the elephants and the things of that nature and people sat there and looked, and then you got out of the big top and mingled around on the grounds and then had some little side shows. You could pay an extra nickel or a dime back in those days and go into a side show. Sometimes we get the idea that the church is the big top and the temple is the side show. Let me suggest that you just turn that one over. The temple is the big top and the church is the side show... This is a family program. It is a rebirth into Christ’s family." - Hyrum Andrus (The Idea of the Temple in the Pearl of Great Price, Lecture 1)


  1. This is how God has defined His church, and it’s not a 501c3. Also take note what God says about those who change His definition.

    D&C (LDS 10:67-69) (RLDS 3) (1833 9) (1835 36) (1844 36)
    67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever REPENTETH and COMETH UNTO ME, the same IS MY CHURCH. 68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. 69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

    Mosiah (LDS 26:22) (RLDS 11:126-130) For behold, THIS IS MY CHURCH; WHOSOEVER IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE BAPTIZED UNTO REPENTANCE. And whomsoever ye receive shall BELIEVE IN MY NAME; and him will I freely forgive.


    1. I find the definition given in D&C 10:52-55 interesting on this point. How can someone be considered a member of the Church before they are actually baptized?
      I think, most of the time, the term Church used in the scriptures is both more open and also more specific than what our cultural notions put upon it.
      I whole heartedly agree with the scriptures you put above.


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