If the Church Really Isn’t True, Then Why Have I Felt the Spirit?

Prayer

Once the truth is learned regarding our church, there is usually a very important question that naturally follows. This question comes from an earnest heart and certainly merits our attention. It is usually something like the following:

“If the Church isn’t really true, then why have I felt the Spirit?”

Or the question might be more in-depth, such as:

“After seeing all the evidence, if the Book of Mormon is fictitious, if the Book of Abraham is fictitious, if Joseph Smith had a clear track record for fraud and dishonesty, if the earth is actually much older than 6,000 years, if man actually originated in Africa and not Missouri, if blacks are actually equal to whites, and if so many more of our doctrines and beliefs are demonstrably false, then why have I felt the Spirit testify to me that the Church is true?”

Many good people have been taught to accept religious beliefs on the basis of emotion. They may have been taught to believe in a church, leader, or doctrine, because they “feel good” about it, regardless of whether there is factual evidence that it is false. Some obstinately resist the need for study and evidence in religion. They view faith as a “leap in the dark” based on feelings. A popular song said, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” That expresses the approach some take to determining their religious views.

Examples of Spiritual Witnesses

In order to answer these questions, let us first examine some examples of feeling the Spirit, so that we can see more clearly how the Spirit works. There are many people of many faiths throughout the world who feel the Spirit:

  • Our Catholic friends “know” by the Spirit that their church is true. I have had Catholics tell me of spiritual experiences when they “knew” that Mother Mary had helped them and answered their prayers. Are they being sincere? They have truly felt these spiritual witnesses, which are very real to them. There are currently around 1.2 billion Catholics (17% of the world). [Read Catholic testimonies here.]

  • Our Baptist friends “know” that Jesus has entered their heart and that they are saved. I have spoken with a Baptist friend who “knows” of a surety that her church is true because of her spiritual experiences during Baptist services. Was she being sincere? She has truly felt the Spirit’s witness that her church is true. There are currently more than 41 million Baptists (0.6% of the world). [Read Baptist testimonies here.]

  • Our Muslim friends rely on those same spiritual feelings to confirm to them that Mohammed did indeed see an angel of light and that the Koran is the word of God. They “know” that the Koran is true, and that their religion is the one true religion on the earth. Are they being sincere? They have felt the Spirit guide them in very real ways. There are currently around 1.6 billion Muslims (22% of the world). [Read Muslim testimonies here.]

  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses “know” in their hearts they are the one true church. They feel the Spirit testify of the truthfulness of their church while they read their “inspired” version of the scriptures and pray. There are around 19 million Jehovah’s Witnesses (0.3% of the world). [Read Jehovah’s Witness testimonies here.]

  • Members of the Bahá’í faith say that they “know” by the Spirit that their church is the one true church upon the earth. They sincerely believe that God’s revelation has not ended, that He has spoken once again to mankind through His chosen Bahá’í prophets, and that mankind’s response to God’s new revelation will culminate in the establishment of God’s long-promised Kingdom on earth. There are currently around 8 million Bahá’í members (0.1% of the world). [Read Bahá’í testimonies here.]

  • Sadly, the terrorists who caused devastating pain and destruction on 9-11 also “knew” that God had called them to an important work, for which they would be rewarded with exaltation and plural wives in the next life.

And consider the parallels between what the different LDS sects “know” with certainty:

  • LDS member: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s true prophet today.”

  • FLDS member: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Warren Jeffs is the Lord’s true prophet today.”

  • RLDS member in 1975: “I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that W. Wallace Smith is the Lord’s true prophet today.”

All of these groups and denominations are sincere in their beliefs that they “know” with certainty to be true. How important it is, therefore, that we take a more meek and humble approach to what we “know.” As you can see from many examples, feelings of the Spirit are clearly not good measures of truth. They may be good measures of other things, such as an individual’s spiritual intuitiveness, but unfortunately they cannot be relied upon as measures of truth. If the Spirit could be relied upon to measure truth, then all of these above mentioned religions would be the “one true church!” As Albert Einstein observed, “How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology?” (Albert Einstein, The World as I See It, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 24 – 28.) Einstein thus recognized that no particular theology has an exclusive on spiritual witnesses, and that these feelings are universally visceral (deeply personal and subjective for everyone).

Emotional Subjectivity

So why do we as Latter-day Saints have the tendency to believe that we can know the “truth” by the witness of the Spirit? Unfortunately this belief has been programmed into us for many years during church lessons, talks, and through the repeated misleading teachings of the Book of Mormon (now known to be fictitious). For example, Alma teaches: “Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God.” (Alma 5:45-46) These types of erroneous teachings have led us to believe, over many years of indoctrination, that the Spirit is the only way to know something of a “surety,” and that this “spiritual surety” trumps all other evidence and knowledge. This method of learning “truth” is called emotional subjectivity—a state of being subjected to (or dominated by) one’s feelings, which robs a person from objectively utilizing their intellect, logic, reason, and intuition in order to learn and understand the real truth. To believe that all spiritual impressions come as “truth” from God is a prime example of emotional subjectivity.

An extreme example of this Book of Mormon teaching occurs when Nephi states: “I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head” (1 Nephi 4:18). A more recent example of a Mormon being influenced by this teaching is when Ron and Dan Lafferty received a “revelation” of the “Spirit” to kill Brenda Lafferty and her infant child because, like Nephi’s rationale, Brenda was interfering with the future progress of their religion.

One can easily see that the Spirit testifies of fictitious (untrue) things by looking at the stories told by Elder Paul Dunn of the Seventy. Many people said that they powerfully felt the Spirit during General Conference when Elder Dunn spoke. Later, it was discovered that the stories and experiences he was sharing were actually fictitious, and that he was using these spiritually uplifting (but fabricated) stories to “promote faith.”

Also consider the many instances in which people have felt the Spirit during fictitious movies and books. Although they are not true, it is possible to feel the Spirit during parts that resonate with us. But to insist that these stories must be true “because we felt it in our hearts” would not be right, and would mislead us from the actual truth. It is important that we control our feelings and our hearts so that we are not misled into believing that every impression we have is true. Instead, we should seek to wisely understand our feelings for what they really are: feelings, not truth. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool; but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

I also know of a faithful member who was giving a blessing to his expectant wife and had the strong spiritual impression that she would have a baby boy. He said he would have given his life for this impression, and that he would have told anyone that if the baby was a girl he would give them every penny he owned. This was how sure he was of his strong spiritual feeling. When the baby was born, it was a baby girl.

Spiritual Feelings Are Not Measures of Truth

Thought

Throughout our lives, we have been taught to pray to know the truth, and that God will answer in the form of a feeling of warmth, peace, or conviction. Some call this a “burning in the bosom.” However, such feelings often come naturally, such as when one’s ball team wins, while watching an inspiring fictitious movie, after performing service, or when a person meets someone whom they find attractive. But when this feeling occurs after a church leader has suggested that we watch for it, we wrongfully conclude God is telling us that the teacher and his message were from God. The result is that beliefs are accepted on the basis of feelings, not actual truth.

All of us know of instances where feelings have led to serious mistakes. Movies, books, and songs urge people to “follow your heart.” Strong emotions may lead to adultery, killing, stealing, and other evils. When Joseph Smith was caught for dishonestly hiding his polygamous practices from his wife and the church members, he excused himself by saying of his strong feeling to take these additional wives: “God commanded me to obey it.”  (Joseph Smith, Contributor, Vol. 5, p. 259.) To believe that we can know what is right by following our emotions or praying for a feeling is to misunderstand the purpose of feelings and to expose ourselves to all sorts of falsities. Strong emotional appeals are wrongfully used to justify certain practices, regardless of whether they are true or false. People may feel a doctrine is true because “my dear mother (or other loved one) believed this, and I just can’t believe she could have been mistaken.” Or some programs and organizations make emotional appeals for support to save lost souls, despite the fact the program or organization itself may be corrupt. Many such examples could be given.

Another example includes that of the Church’s position toward people of colored skin. For 125 years, 11 consecutive prophets maintained that those with black skin were “cursed from God,” that they were not valiant in the pre-existence, that they were spiritually “handicapped,” and thus were not worthy to hold the Priesthood. This, of course, is untrue. But unfortunately, the prophets felt these spiritual impressions and wrongly interpreted them as being of God. (See Part 3 of the Gentle Awakening series.) Many a prophet has mistaken his inner religious feelings as “the wisdom of God” when in reality his impressions were merely “the philosophies of men.”

Recently, in an address to church historians, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared that “the evidence of the world contradicts [our church’s claims].” (For examples of the abundant evidence which contradicts church truth claims such as the Book of Mormon, see Parts 2-3 of the Gentle Awakening Presentation Series.) When all the evidence is against us, then what are we left with? When it appears that our truth claims are invalid, when it seems that somehow we are being asked to believe a select few “witnesses” who contradict themselves and each other, then we are left with only one thin thread of faith that we tenaciously cling to: the witness of the Spirit. But why would the Spirit testify of something that is untrue? Because, as we can see from an abundance of examples in the world, religious feelings are not a measure of truth. Otherwise, we would have to consider many, many untrue religions and impressions as true, and this would mislead us from seeing “things as they really are.” Feelings are important, and spiritual experiences are important, but these are not the way to measure or obtain truth. Following these spiritual feelings as “truth” has unfortunately led to much division, contradiction, and misunderstanding among many people, including the very prophets of our church.

As Mark Twain observed, “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

May we build our lives on truth, rather than on myths or subjective feelings, that we may more clearly see things “as the really are” and thus make the world a better place through greater understanding and loving one another.

Further Resources for Understanding Spirituality & Truth

Watch a video of many different religious followers bearing their testimonies of their strong spiritual witnesses that their churches are true below:

Take the quiz below and see if you can match the 21 witnesses of the Spirit to the religion of the individual who made the statement. Can you find the Mormon among them? 🙂

  1. “I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”
  2. “But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my…faith, as I…beg[ed] [God’s] blessings for myself and for those I love?”
  3. “The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”
  4. “As I read these books in a…bookstore,…I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”
  5. “[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine]…he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”
  6. “I was praying…when I felt a burning shaft of…love come through my head and into my heart.”
  7. “I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which… answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything…and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for…his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”
  8. “A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”
  9. “We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”
  10. “Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God]…One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.’”
  11. “A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness…I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth]…”
  12. “I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”
  13. “That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church]…I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”
  14. “For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family…However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free…I felt like a new person.”
  15. “Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”
  16. “Every time I was with the [church members], I felt this warm feeling, a feeling of peace and for the first time in my life since my church-going days, I wanted to follow [God]…”
  17. “About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]…I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”
  18. “The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to…stop myself from falling backward.”
  19. “[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”
  20. “[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”
  21. “I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon…As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished…The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”

Answers: 1) Protestant; 2) Islam; 3) Protestant; 4) Catholic; 5) Hindu; 6) Catholic; 7) New Age; 8) Islam; 9) Protestant; 10) Islam; 11) Hindu; 12) Protestant; 13) Islam; 14) Catholic; 15) Buddhist; 16) Mormon; 17) Universal Unitarian; 18) Catholic; 19) Hindu; 20) Protestant; 21) Atheist

[archived from pages 225 through 230 of this book]

See also: Testimonies of Other Faiths

See also: Gentle Awakening Presentation Series

Related: Four Essentials for Accepting Truth

Sources

Additional Video Resource: Understanding the Psychology Behind Religion

5 thoughts on “If the Church Really Isn’t True, Then Why Have I Felt the Spirit?

  1. This makes so much sense now. This was a question I always had which I never understood. Seeing the examples you listed has definitely opened my eyes!!!!

  2. This was a question I always had too. Thanks for covering this topic so well. As Mormons we were all taught that our feelings teach us the truth. Now here I am a grown adult before I finally realized that some things just aren’t true no matter how we feel about them.

  3. May I respectfully add some “nuance” from my experiences as a Southern Baptist Christian? While our theology recognizes that accepting Christ as Savior often is accompanied by a transcendent spiritual experience which feels like a transformation, it is also emphasized that feelings are neither the measure nor the testament of our having been brought into God’s family through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is God who is faithful to His promise that “as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them who believed on His name.” We do not make our spiritual feelings the determinant of God’s working in us. I like that the writer quotes Jeremiah 17:9, because that was an important “memory verse” for us in my junior high and high school years. I remember a number of Bible Studies on “feelings” and their capacity to deceive believers. We were also taught to apply Biblical principals to decisions and not trust our own feelings if they were contrary to what the Bible taught.

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