Mormonism and other religions/Spiritual witnesses

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Do Latter-day Saints believe that members of other religions can receive a spiritual witness that their own teachings are true?

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Question: Do Mormons believe that other religions can be inspired by God?

Latter-day Saints believe that the good in every religion is inspired of God

Latter-day Saints believe that other religions have portions of the truth. We believe that religion is instituted of God (D&C 134:4).

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"

Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, (2004)
Just as the Christian world was blessed by the courage and vision of the reformers, many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion “that [God] seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Teachings of other religious leaders have helped many people become more civil and ethical.


Buddha (Gotama): Born in 563 B.C. of a Hindu chieftain in Nepal. Concerned with the suffering he saw around him. Fled from his father’s luxurious palace, renounced the world, and lived in poverty. Seeking enlightenment, he discovered what he called the “path of deliverance.” Claimed to reach Nirvana, a state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality. Became a teacher for a community of monks.
Confucius: Born in 551 B.C. Orphaned as a child. China’s first professional teacher. China’s greatest moral and social thinker. Said little about spiritual beings or divine powers. Believed that heaven had entrusted him with a sacred mission as champion of the good and true.

Mohammed: Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.

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2 Nephi 29:11-13

11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

13 And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.

Moroni 7:13 states:

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.


Question: Do all other religions confirm their beliefs through spiritual witness?

Not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness

It should be noted that not all religions claim that the truth of their beliefs are confirmed through a spiritual witness. In fact, a fair number of Evangelical Christians have spent a great deal of time trying to prove to the Mormons that a spiritual witness should NOT be relied on to establish truth. Most major religions and sects rely on claims of authority alone (the Pope in Catholicism and the Bible in Protestantism) or simply tradition and majority and obviousness (Islam, Hinduism, etc.). Latter-day Saints establish truth by following the Law of Witnesses (see Matthew 18: 16; 2 Corinthians 13:1), claiming unique authority (Hebrews 5:6; Alma 13:14-19; D&C 1:30), and receiving the witness of the Holy Ghost which we believe can give us a testimony of anything related to the Gospel should we desire it. (see John 14:26; Moroni 10:3-5).

Latter-day Saints accept that God and God's Spirit will witness truth whatever its source. As a member of the Church we are encouraged to find truth in many places. Nowhere in our beliefs do we claim that there is no truth in other religions. In fact, our scriptures actively affirm that there is truth in other religions and that God has been the one to inspire them.

Most religions have differing understandings of the Spirit or a spirit which is why it plays lesser roles in other traditions (and which might affect their religious experiences). Religions differ primarily in understanding the spirit as dynamic (Playing active roles such as confirming truth through phenomenon. This occurs generally in only Christian traditions. Thus this would naturally exclude any religion that doesn’t accept the New Testament as scripture) or as animistic (something that lives in all things and gives them life). See Holy Spirit on Wikipedia for a discussion of the differences. [1] Mormonism stands as one of the only religions under Christianity that understand it and utilize it in any sort of dynamic way (the many people who convert and compliment the church for encouraging them to seek their own answers through prayer are evidence of this) and with a totally unique pneumatology.

Some Christ-based religions incorporate or have attempted to incorporate the Spirit into their theology in some form

Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604), according to Robert Markus, taught that:

The scriptures contain what the reader finds in them; and the reader’s mind is shaped by his inner disposition: ‘unless the readers’ minds extend to the heights, the divine words lie low, as it were, uncomprehended…. It often happens that a scriptural text is felt to be heavenly, if one is kindled by the grace of contemplation to rise to heavenly things. And then we recognize the wonderful and ineffable power of the sacred text, when the reader’s mind is permeated with heavenly love…. For according to the direction that the reader’s spirit takes, so the sacred text rises with him…’”

Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) stated the following, regarding the possibility of the Holy Spirit inspiring non-Catholics:

“Every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit….. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God’s Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience…. In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer…. We can hold that ‘every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person’”.

It may be worth noting that these statements from John Paul II and Gregory the Great would be official Catholic doctrine, but not binding per se. Mainstream Catholics by and large, as mentioned before, rely on tradition and a claim to authority and don't emphasize teaching akin to this.

John Calvin, founder of the protestant sect of Calvinism, wrote:

“’We must regard the authority of Scripture as higher than human reasons, factors or conjectures. This is because we base that authority on the inner witness borne by the Holy Spirit,’” Institutes, 1539 edition. The doctrine, particularly stressed by Calvinism, that the Holy Spirit provides an ‘internal witness’ to the authority of Scripture…..”

Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5, reads in part as follows:

“’our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of the scriptures], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.’”

Many protestant theologians have abandoned such appeals for academic exegesis and hermeneutics. The larger issue here is that the theologians of the diverse protestant denominations (including Calvinism), have to believe that scripture is formally sufficient, self-authenticating, and self-attesting and this creates problems. LDS apologist and Biblical scholar Robert Boylan elaborates:

Often, in a desperate attempt to support the doctrine of sola scriptura some Protestant apologists will argue that all a Christian needs is the Holy Spirit, not an authoritative Church and/or additional Scripture such as those that Latter-day Saints accept (i.e., Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants; Pearl of Great Price). Of course, this would mean that the Holy Spirit is schizophrenic, guiding Protestants who embrace sola scriptura to radically divergent views on central, not merely “minor” issues, such as baptismal regeneration which affects salvation itself(!)

See "A Self-Attesting, Self-Authenticating, Formally Sufficient Scripture?" in this article

This was one of the very reasons that the Book of Mormon came forth, to settle the discord. As taught in Preach My Gospel:

As you use the Book of Mormon and the Bible as companion volumes of scripture, they will overcome contention and correct false doctrine (see 2 Nephi 3:12). The Bible teaches the following about the law of witnesses: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:). In harmony with this law, both the Book of Mormon and the Bible testify of Jesus Christ.[2]

Latter-day Saint Offshoots

For Latter-day Saint Offshoots we respond by giving the indications that Brigham Young was the true successor of Joseph Smith. See this article for our response to that.



Question: Do Latter-day Saints discount the spiritual witnesses that members of other religions may receive?

Latter-day Saints should never deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions

It would be arrogant for a Latter-day Saint to deny the spiritual experiences of those who belong to other religions. We should never try to tear down what someone believes. We should, however present the Gospel in its fullness and encourage those who are so inclined to accept it.

Gordon B. Hinckley talks of some of the comments left at Temple Square by visitors: [3]

  • From a Protestant from New Jersey: “I have often heard the word Mormon and associated it with a fanatic religious group. I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
  • From a Congregationalist from Massachusetts: “I have always felt that religion should be a joy, and you certainly show it!”
  • From a Christian from Maine: “This is beautiful; it is the first time in my life I have wondered if my religion is the right one.”
  • From a Catholic from Pennsylvania: “I envy your way of life.”
  • A Presbyterian from Canada: “God is in this place; we see him everywhere.”
  • A Christian from Germany: “I enjoyed myself very much here. I cannot believe such a place exists that offers so much and asks for no money.”

The deeper question being asked here is about purpose, nature, and timing of spiritual experiences. See here for more information regarding that.


Question: Can non-Mormons feel a spiritual experience that cause them to devote themselves to service within another Church?

One purpose of this life is for us to gain a body, and then have experiences that help us to learn and grow and to demonstrate the extent to which we will respond to the light that we do receive

Could it be that non-Mormons feel similar feelings that cause them to devote themselves to service within another Church? Certainly. We are taught in our Church that not everyone will join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this life, but everyone will eventually have the opportunity to do so, if that is what they want. The purpose of this life is not only to get baptized into the true Church of Jesus Christ. If that were so, God's plan for us in this life would seem to fall dramatically short of meeting its purpose since so few people have ever even heard of the Church nor ever hear of the Church. So the larger purpose of this life is for us to gain a body, and then have experiences that help us to learn and grow and to demonstrate the extent to which we will respond to the light that we do receive. That should be the focus of Latter-day Saints--to view how these experiences prepare God's children to receive more light (Alma 8:10; 16:16-17). All of God's children receive light in one way or another. We will all have different experiences and we will all receive different amounts of light. So the test for any of us individually is to respond in the best way that we can to the light that we receive.

A deeper question being asked here is regarding nature, purpose, and timing of the spiritual experience by non-latter-day Saints. See here for more information on that.

As expressed in Preach My Gospel:

Throughout history, many people have sincerely believed false creeds and doctrines. They have worshipped according to the light they possessed and have received answers to their prayers. Yet they are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it" (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12).[4]

Question: Are non-Mormons' spiritual experiences with the Holy Ghost as valid as those claimed by Latter-day Saints?

Joseph Smith (1843): "I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination"

Joseph Smith, in 1843:

The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon.’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.” [5]


Joseph Fielding Smith: "when the millennium comes...There will be millions of people...of all beliefs, still permitted to remain upon the face of the earth"

Joseph Fielding Smith on the Millennium (Doctrines of Salvation 1:86):

Some members of the Church have an erroneous idea that when the millennium comes all of the people are going to be swept off the earth except righteous members of the Church. That is not so. There will be millions of people, Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, Mohammedans, people of all classes, and of all beliefs, still permitted to remain upon the face of the earth, but they will be those who have lived clean lives, those who have been free from wickedness and corruption. All who belong, by virtue of their good lives, to the terrestrial order, as well as those who have kept the celestial law, will remain upon the face of the earth during the millennium. Eventually, however, the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters do the sea.[6]


Preach My Gospel: "many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God 'seeth fit that they should have'"

"Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service:

Just as the Christian world was blessed by the courage and vision of the reformers, many other nations and cultures have been blessed by those who were given that portion that God "seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Teachings of other religious leaders have helped many people become more civil and ethical.

Buddha (Gotama): Born in 563 B.C. of a Hindu chieftain in Nepal. Concerned with the suffering he saw around him. Fled from his father’s luxurious palace, renounced the world, and lived in poverty. Seeking enlightenment, he discovered what he called the “path of deliverance.” Claimed to reach Nirvana, a state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality. Became a teacher for a community of monks.

Confucius: Born in 551 B.C. Orphaned as a child. China’s first professional teacher. China’s greatest moral and social thinker. Said little about spiritual beings or divine powers. Believed that heaven had entrusted him with a sacred mission as champion of the good and true.

Mohammed: Born in 570 A.D. in Mecca. Orphaned in childhood. Lived a life of poverty. Gained reputation as a trusted peacemaker. Married at age 25. In 610 prayed and meditated on Mount Hira. Said the angel Gabriel appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah (God). Claimed to receive communication from God through Gabriel from 620 to 632. These communications, which he recited to his disciples, were later written in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam.[7]


The FairMormon Blog responds to these questions

SteveDensleyJr,"FAIR Questions 1: Truth in other religions", FairMormon Blog, (10 August 2011)


We accept truth where ever it is found. Others having truth is not a problem as we make no claim to be the sole repository or source of truth. What we do claim is that only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can you find priesthood keys through which you can properly covenant with Heavenly Father so as to affect your return to His presence as a joint heir with Christ. We also claim to have that portion of light and knowledge necessary to affect the same, but this is NOT an exclusionary claim. So, do not be surprised to feel spiritual confirmations of truth from sources outside the Church, such as the Bhagavad Gita, as such confirmations in no way diminish the power of the priesthood keys you can only find here. There is nothing that says that God cannot speak to and influence peoples of all cultures.

SteveDensleyJr,"FAIR Questions 2: Recognizing the Voice of the Spirit", FairMormon Blog, (28 August 2011)


In order to put the various voices we hear to the test, it is first important to learn how the Spirit communicates with us. The Spirit can manifest itself in a number of ways. In the account of the two disciples who met the resurrected Savior on the way to Emmaus, one of the believers said, “Did not our heart burn within us?” (Luke 24:32.) We are all familiar with the counsel given to Oliver Cowdery as he attempted to translate the Book of Mormon. He was told that, after he studied it out in his mind, and prayed about it, he would experience a “burning in the bosom” if he was right, but a stupor of thought if not. (D&C 9:7–9.)

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Notes

  1. See “Holy Spirit” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Spirit
  2. Preach My Gospel, Chapter 5 "The Book of Mormon and the Bible Support Each Other"
  3. "An Ensign to the Nations," October 1989 General Conference
  4. See Preach My Gospel Chapter 3 “Study and Teach”, Lesson 1, “Great Apostasy”.
  5. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  6. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:86.
  7. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46