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?

The scriptures give us a framework not for invalidating experience but understanding it

It is claimed that when religious experiences of people of other faiths sound similar or actually do have similar experiences, it calls LDS spiritual experiences into question. It is often asked if these experiences of other people are as valid as the experiences that Latter-day Saints claim for their conviction. The answer is a resounding "yes"! Every experience is a real experience and should never be dismissed as a figment of imagination. However, the way we understand these experiences is crucial and we have been given a framework for understanding them from the scriptures.

Primarily secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim that the use of spiritual experiences in Latter-day Saint epistemology is unreliable, ununique, and of dubious provenance.

This particular question is more about how Latter-day Saints explain diversity or the supposed ununiqueness of the use of spiritual experience as the basis for commitment or belief.

When any secularist critic shows the experiences of other people in other religions, they are not simply showing you the experiences but trying to get you to process those experiences through a certain framework. That framework is the one mentioned above--that all supposed "spiritual experiences" are the result of brain function, that they aren't unique, and they can't be used to lead one into truth.

How do we respond? We have to provide a framework for spiritual experience that can absorb and understand all spiritual experience in a comprehensive, coherent, theological whole. How do we do that? The prophet Moroni had very interesting words to say on this subject. Moroni 7:12-25

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.


13 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.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?

21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.

23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.

24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.

25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.[5]

What we learn from this passage is that to understand what comes from God and what does not come from God, we must.

  1. Have the Light of Christ (Cf. D&C 84:46-47)
  2. Use the light of Christ to discern what is good and what is bad.
  3. See the words of the prophets that have come from angels since the beginning to know what is good and what is bad (Cf. JS-Matthew 1:37).

This article outlines a framework taught by Latter-day Saint scripture that we may adopt in order to understand the experiences of religious persons outside of our faith. We can adopt it since the epistemological assumptions that we could take on are arbitrary. In other words, what we believe about the Spirit is a choice. We can believe in the Spirit as the scriptures have revealed or we can believe in the way that our critics would have us believe. It is a choice (Joshua 24:15). Some people claim at the outset of the process that it's fallacious to even assume that a framework that can understand these experiences has been revealed. They claim this on the basis of the circularity inherent in claiming spiritual witness for something. The claim of anyone saying that we cannot use a framework that God has given us assumes that:

a) God cannot exist or at least cannot reveal exclusive truth through revelation and/or spiritual experience.

b) There is no framework that can absorb and understand all of the different types of spiritual experiences that people are having.

To assumption "a" we respond that it's equally circular to proclaim that God does not or cannot exist and that he cannot or did not reveal a framework to understand spiritual experience through and that exclusive truth can't be revealed to a particular religion.

To assumption "b" we respond with the scriptures in this article.

Experiences Seen as Positive in Latter-day Saint Scripture

There seems to be four experiences that Latter-day Saint scripture positively envisions people having:

  • A Softening of Heart to the idea of God, Christ, the Gospel, or Religion in General

Alma 16:16-17 states that:

16And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming —

17 That they might not be hardened against eh word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.

A few observations:

Notice how this scripture does not connect any truth claim from the Restored Gospel to the experience. It seems as though the experience of the Spirit is one that all people should feel at some point and, in a remarkable way, that experience doesn't have to be explicitly tied to a proposition from the Restored Gospel. People need to experience this softening of heart. It is imaginable that these experiences can come from anything that is good (AoF 1:13; Moroni 7:12). This softening of heart is preliminary to receiving a full conversion to God, Christ, and/or the Restoration.

Another thing to note with relation to this type of experience is that the scriptures and the experience of converts show that some people can feel the Holy Ghost and not recognize it as such. They may feel stirrings of the spirit trying to soften their heart or convert them to God, Christ, and/or the restoration but not recognize it as such. Such is a testament to the Book of Mormon's assessment that we the ability to judge spiritual impressions that is apart from the impressions themselves (Moroni 7:14). Consider a case from the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9:20

20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Or this case of a convert from Mexico recounted in Preach My Gospel (Chapter 9):

As a child, I was never taught to read the Bible. I went to church on Sundays, but I contributed nothing and felt nothing in return. I was disillusioned. … I searched for … God—wanting to know if He even existed. I thirsted to know Him and His words. But I could not seem to find what I sought.


There were moments when I felt close to quenching my thirst. When I held my first child, a daughter, in my arms for the first time, I had a feeling that God really did exist. Many years later, when her sister was born, I experienced the same feeling. … Most of the time, however, an inexplicable tiredness weighed upon my soul. I was spiritually thirsty and could find no place to drink.

In April 1994 I was living in the city of Monterrey, Mexico, earning a living as a taxi driver. One day it rained for hours, sending water cascading down the mountainsides. After driving around in the rain for hours, I found myself in a little town about eight kilometers (five miles) from Monterrey. It was about … nearly time to go home. Suddenly I saw two young men on foot. They were wearing dark trousers and white shirts, and they looked drenched from head to foot. When I approached them, I opened the door of the taxi and called, “Get in! I’m going to Monterrey.”

The taller one … replied, “We don’t have any money.”

“No charge,” I replied.

They quickly got into the taxi.

As I drove, we talked. They asked if they could share a message about Jesus Christ with me. I agreed and gave them my address.

When I got home, I woke my wife and told her about the two young men. “What a coincidence,” I said. “One is Mexican and the other is American, and they are both named Elder.”

“Elder means missionary,” my wife answered, knowing just a little about the Church.

From deep within me, I felt something stir. These young men had left a feeling of exquisite wonder in my heart. I felt that I was close to finding the water that would quench my thirst, that it was within reach.[6]

Notice how the man felt “something” stir in his heart but that he couldn’t identify it as the Spirit. Many people are having these experiences but aren’t able to identify it as God working with them and don’t have the framework provided by revelation.

  • Conversion to God

The next type of experience envisioned as positive is conversion to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that anything that inviteth and enticeth one to love God and to serve him is of him (Moroni 7:13). The Doctrine and Covenants similarly teaches that when one feels the Spirit, they are coming unto God (Doctrine and Covenants 84:47).

This experience may come because God needs someone to serve him, even if it isn’t in his Church. Elder Orson Whitney stated:

“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” [7]

Even the Lord seems to be okay with this as portrayed in Luke 9:49-50. Certain men were casting out devils in the name of Jesus even though they didn’t follow Jesus:

49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.

50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

However people can also be converted to certain principles of truth found in other Churches. Latter-day Saint scripture and even the Bible affirm the presence of beauty, truth, and goodness in other churches (Amos 9:7[8]; Alma 29:6-8; D&C 134:4; AoF 1:13; 2 Nephi 29:11).

Preach My Gospel states the following:

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.

Click here to view the complete article

Along with the scripture from Alma 29:6, we might include 2 Nephi 29:11-12 that may be interpreted to mean that God has inspired the texts of many religions:

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.
  • Conversion to Christ

The next experience is the experience that converts a person to Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that all things that invite a person to come unto Christ are from the Spirit of Christ.[9]This conversion can come through other Christian religions or the Lord's Church.

By adopting the preceding framework for understanding religious experience, we adopt “religious inclusivism” where we seek to understand the spiritual experiences of religious persons outside of our faith in light of the Plan of Salvation without adopting “religious exclusivism” nor “religious pluralism”. It softens the load that we have to explain and additionally can show us, perhaps in a new and enlightening way, the love God has for all his children and how he seeks to include everyone of them in the Plan.

Latter-day Saint philosopher and theologian Blake T. Ostler stated:

Now we may be called into question if somebody has a vision, for instance, of the Virgin Mary; because I don't believe that the LDS believe that the Virgin Mary puts in many appearances. However I suggest that we look beyond what divides us and look to "inclusivism," and that is, "What is it that they learned? What does their religious experience teach them?" Because God will adapt his message to any culture, and any means that He can, to increase the light of a person (see Alma 29:8). So I suggest that by adopting "religious inclusivism" we minimize the challenge from "religious pluralism."[10]
  • Conversion to the Restored Gospel

The last type of experience that Latter-day Saints envision (hopefully for as many of God’s children as possible) is that of being converted to the Restored Gospel. Moroni 10:3-5 argues that Moroni’s “things” are those things which he has compiled in the record that is today the Book of Mormon. These include propositions such as Joseph Smith being the prophet of the Restoration (2 Nephi 3), God being the creator of the universe (2 Nephi 2), Jesus being the Christ (2 Nephi 9), the necessity of priesthood in performing sacred ordinances pertaining to the Gospel (Alma 5:3; Mosiah 18:13,17,18; 3 Nephi 11:25), and so forth. By reading the Book of Mormon and praying about its contents, we are promised to receive a testimony of it by the power of the Holy Ghost. Everyone of us will have different experiences and receive a different degree of light in this life. What we eventually expect is that all will have the full opportunity to hear the Gospel and choose whether or not to hearken unto the voice of that Spirit that leads to eternal life (2 Nephi 2: 27-28) Ultimately, as the prophet Moroni taught: Moroni 7:13:

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.

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. . . . If it invites to do good, it is of God. If it inviteth to do evil, it is of the devil. . . . And if you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in your heart what the Spirit is saying to you.

You recognize the promptings of the Spirit by the fruits of the Spirit—that which enlighteneth, that which buildeth up, that which is positive and affirmative and uplifting and leads us to better thoughts and better words and better deeds is of the Spirit of God.[11]

All of these experiences should show that the Latter-day Saint approach to spiritual experience is inclusive. It should be remembered, however, that the use of spiritual experience to establish the basis for commitment or belief is not a mode of epistemology used/favored by all or even most religions.

Not all experiences are intended to be understood positively according to Latter-day Saint scripture

Now, the preceding outlines positive spiritual experiences. The scriptures and the experience of Latter-day Saints have demonstrated that there are times when the experience (or claimed experience) isn’t supposed to be understood positively:

  • Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies. There are those that claim that a spiritual experience has taken place (when it really hasn’t) that proves to them the falsehood of the Book of Mormon or who propose other scenarios that supposedly defeat Latter-day Saint epistemology. These people are who the scriptures describe as those that "pervert" the Gospel. (Alma 30:60)
  • Some experiences are caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53). Anything that entices us to worship him or to do evil is of him (Moroni 7:17)
  • Some experiences are caused by false spirits. D&C 50 was revealed for discerning spirits with D&C 50: 31-33 being the way to (following the counsel given in 1 John 4:1-2) test the spirits (See also D&C 52:15-19)
    • When the preceding two occur and it invites someone to do evil then it must be rejected.
Consider what Joseph Smith told Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright. Be careful and not turn away the still, small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their heart open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good.[12]
  • Going along with the preceding, some have been deceived by false Christs. Some have had experiences that draw them towards these false Christs i.e. by wonders performed by these false Christs. Some claim to be the risen Savior but violate some of the counsel that he gave to his followers to know how he would come. There are many scriptures that can help us to discern between the true Christ and False Christs (Matt 24: 5, 24-28; Mark 13:22-29[13]; D&C 45:36-44; 52:15-16).
  • Continuing that theme, some have been deceived by false prophets. These include people of Latter-day Saint breakoffs and others that don't look to proper authority to receive revelation. The scriptures give us many warnings of false prophets and ways to discern them.
  • It may be that there is no real spiritual stimulus that is "confirming truth" for people. Since we believe that the body and spirit are intricately connected (D&C 88:15) it is not surprising that a thought, warm feeling or heart tremor can be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. This is what the scriptures might call having "foolish imaginations of the heart" (Hel. 16:22; 3 Ne. 2:2; Moses 8:22).

Concerning conflating emotion and thoughts with the spirit, President Howard W. Hunter said:

Let me offer a word of caution. . . . I think if we are not careful . . . , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.[14]

All of these experiences (both positive and negative) exist on a spectrum between the most light and the least light.[15] We're promised that the light can continue to grow until the perfect day (D&C 50:24). We can also lose light until it is ultimately diminished. This the scriptures might term "dwindling in unbelief" (e.g. 2 Nephi 26: 15, 17, 19; Hel 15:11,15). The Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines dwindle as:

  1. To diminish; to become less; to shrink; to waste or consume away. The body dwindles by pining or consumption; an estate dwindles by waste, by want of industry or economy; an object dwindles in size, as it recedes from view; an army dwindles by death or desertion.
  2. To degenerate; to sink; to fall away.

As we seek the light, we are promised it (Matt 7:7; Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

But how do we know that this is the way we are supposed to understand spiritual experience?

A final question that we should deal with is: “How can one actually know that this is the framework through which spiritual experience is supposed to be understood?" Isn't it circular reasoning to assume such? The answer might be three-fold:

1. We can’t prove it. We can only provide evidence for it. Again, this isn't a bad thing since agency is central to Latter-day Saint doctrine. If we could prove the validity of our framework empirically, would God be allowing us a choice to believe in him?

2. Evidence may be found in the framework itself. Can any other religious system absorb and understand all religious experience in such an inclusive and enlightening way?

3. We might also add the Book of Mormon as evidence. The better we can defend the Book of Mormon and other Restoration Scripture, the better we can defend the validity of the framework revealed through Joseph Smith and other prophets. The Book of Mormon and other Restoration Scripture can be defended vigorously as historical on scholarly grounds and has been for roughly eight decades.[16]

What about Nephi who was commanded to kill even when forbidden too? (Exodus 20:13)

The spiritual experience that Nephi received was not invalid in his days.

Nephi's killing of Laban


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.” [17]


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.[18]


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.[19]


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. Interesting to note in this passage is Moroni's emphasis of non-subjective revelation giving this to prophets i.e. "he sent angels to minister unto the children of men. God declared unto prophets, "by his own mouth" that Christ should come.He is responding to those that might claim that all revelation was simply subjective to him and other prophets.
  6. https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-find-people-to-teach?lang=eng
  7. (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.)- Orson F. Whitney (This was also cited by Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report April 1972. He offered Kane and Doniphan as examples.)
  8. In every scriptural commentary consulted, it is averred by scholars that this verse affirms the inspiration of God in other groups of people besides his covenant people.
  9. Some may argue here that the experiences that convert a person to Christ and God are one but the Book of Mormon separates the clauses with verse 15 and “For behold, my bretheren…” The beginning of verse 15 starts a new clause in which a different type of experience is described—one that brings a person to Christ
  10. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," FAIR Conference 2007 Presentation.
  11. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1997), 260-261.
  12. (quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873, 114)
  13. Some may claim that the Gospels aren't historically reliable enough to count these scriptures from Jesus as reliable epistemological axioms. For demonstration of the Gospels as reliable see Craig Blomberg, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief” (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2006); Most recently and persuasively, see Craig S. Keener, "Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels" (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).
  14. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  15. For a wonderful discussion of this, see Roger Keller, “Light & Truth: A Latter-day Saint Guide to World Religions” (Provo and Salt Lake: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2012) 247-9.
  16. See Brant A. Gardner, “Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History” (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Brant A. Gardner, “Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon” 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John L. Sorenson, “Mormon’s Codex” (Provo and Salt Lake: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2013); John Welch et al., “Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True” (American Fork: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds (ed.), “Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins” (Provo: FARMS, 1997). For evidence of the Book of Abraham, see here. For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, "In God's Image and Likeness" (Salt Lake City: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey Bradshaw and David Larsen, "In God's Image and Likeness Vol 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel" (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Publishing, 2014).
  17. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  18. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:86.
  19. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46