More Discussion About Spiritual Truth

I just mentioned in my last post that I’d had two recent discussions dealing with spiritual truth. The first discussion, and the one that peaked my curiosity in the first place, was with a non-Mormon who (among other things) berated my testimony for relying on “feelings” (you can read our conversation in my post, “An Apple Not Quite Ripe”).

The second discussion, which hasn’t concluded yet, is with a good friend and pastor in a central California Christian congregation. I thought it might be an interesting read for Latter-day Saints and non-Mormons alike, and I will update this post as the dialogue continues.

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From: Me
To: Pastor, Good Friend

I have another question for you! I hope it’s not bothersome. You’re always great about answering.

And thanks for those resources from last time. (I had asked him about the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” on YouTube before doing a post in response.) That was really interesting.

But anyways, I’m having this discussion with someone who found my blog (she’s from the UK – how cool is that?). Long story short, she brought up the common criticism that we can’t base our testimony off of feelings because feelings change all the time, and different people feel different things, etc (I’m sure you’re familiar with it – it’s a response to how Mormons often talk about a testimony from the Holy Ghost that gives them feelings of peace).

My question is this. It’s irrefutable that scriptures in the New Testament talk about knowing truth through the Holy Ghost (some of them from the Savior’s own words!). Now, Mormon’s don’t believe that the only way the Holy Ghost talks to us is by using warm fuzzies, but I wanted to know how normal Christians might answer the question, “How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?”

No rush on this at all. I’m sure you’re busy.

Oh, and one last thing. I listened to your sermon! That was really cool. Let me know if there are any other Sunday’s that you’re recorded.

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(This was early on a Sunday morning, and he was good enough to send a quick response before heading into his service.)

From: Pastor, Good Friend
To: Me

Hey hey!

First of all, thanks for listening to the sermon. Glad you enjoyed it!

As far as the testimony question (which is awesome that the girl found your blog, and I have about 10 minutes to answer, so I’ll do my best) I tend to initially agree, but then again not completely.

Initially, I 100% completely believe that we can base everything off of our testimony. That’s how we came to know Jesus as our Savior. If you don’t have your testimony then what do you have? Your testimony can be emotional, and that’s great! Sometimes we have to get to a super low point before we can break and the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives (when everything is great, we tend to not be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; at least that’s my experience). 

But I tend to slightly agree that our entire testimony can’t be just emotional. If we have no knowledge, no truth in our testimony, then the testimony is shallow and some would even say less meaningful. I disagree that it’s less meaningful. I think that someone’s testimony who has known Christ for a week is just as powerful (sometimes more so) as someone like you or me.

As far as your question goes about “How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?”, I’d say that it is in our worst, most vulnerable place in life. Not always, but more often than not when I hear about the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life, it’s always “I was at rock bottom” or “I had nowhere to go but up”.

I think if every believer talked like this that there would be something wrong with the church and Christianity. It’s not just about emotional response, but that’s typically where it begins.

I need to go now, but I think you can get my basic thought process. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask me. I love some good dialogue to start my morning. Hope you’re well and that the move goes smoothly! You’re the man!

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From: Me
To: Pastor, Good Friend

I’m not sure that you answered my question, but I think I could have set it up better. I’ll give it another shot if you don’t mind.

Again, don’t feel rushed by this.

Let’s distance the discussion, for the moment, from the LDS position on emotion and the Holy Ghost. I think we’re talking past each other, and we can definitely take some time to get on the same page later, but you know how long winded I can get when I clarify LDS theology. If you don’t mind, let’s shelf that for now as far as it doesn’t interfere with the answers you have.

I have my own opinions about the first two questions, but I’m really interested in the Christian perspective on them (if there is one in this case). The third question, I want your thoughts on; I just started really thinking about it recently and would like you to weigh in.

Okay…

Question 1 – How does someone come to know spiritual truth?

For example, how can someone come to know the Bible is true? We can’t use the circular logic of “The Bible is true because it says in the Bible that the Bible is true” (that’d be like saying the Book of Mormon is true because it says in the BoM that the BoM is true).

Or, as another example, how can someone come to know that a specific principle is true, something you teach over the pulpit to your congregants? Again, we can’t say something is true because it’s in the Bible unless we first settle how someone comes to know the Bible is true.

Question 2 – How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?

This questions assumes that one of the answers to the above question is “through the Holy Ghost”. I think that’s a fair assumption, and I’ll defend it briefly:

John 14:26 (see also 1 John 5:6 and John 15:26) – “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

“All things” is pretty all-inclusive. There are these other references, too, that suggest the Holy Ghost is involved in teaching us truth (this is not meant to be exhaustive):

• Teaches us the “things of God” – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11
• Guides us to truth – John 16:13
• Testifies of the Son – John 16:14
• Gifts of the Spirit include faith – 1 Corinthians 12:3,8-9
• Answers when we lack wisdom – James 1:5-6

So, the Holy Ghost can teach us truth, but how?

I’m not sure that you’re response really answers the question I meant (again, totally my fault). Sure, we’re more receptive when we’re humble, and we’re more humble when going through tough times, but that seems to answer more “when are we most receptive” rather than “in what manner does the Holy Ghost communicate”.

Also, wouldn’t that limit the scope somewhat? Surely “all things” includes more than just the truths that strengthen us in hard times, truths like ‘God loves us and is with us’. How does the Holy Ghost teach us other spiritual truth?

Question 3 – What does it mean to “not be seen”?

The definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1 is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.

Other scriptures (like 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:7-9; and John 20:29) contrast faith and belief with “sight”.

What does “sight” mean? Like I said, I don’t know if I’m settled either way on this yet, but I’m leaning towards “sight” being equated with other physical senses – hearing and touch, for example.

By extension, I’m persuaded to extend this definition of “sight” to other empirical evidence or proofs (how often sign seekers are condemned in scripture!). Latter-day Saints believe, as you probably do, that “signs follow those that believe”, but we don’t believe that faith *comes* by signs or empiric proof. Some Latter-day Saints pump a lot of resources into scholarly efforts (like FAIR and FARMS), but still this is not what we preach on doorsteps or in Sunday school.

So that’s it for now. I hope it’s not too much. Thanks!

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(Awaiting reply)

If there are any mainstream Christians out there who want to take a stab at answering one or more of those last questions, feel free!

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