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 29:12-13

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.). Mormonism relies on both a claim to authority, the law of witnesses, and the witness of the Spirit to establish truth.

Latter-day Saints accept that God and God's Spirit will witness Truth whatever its source. (D&C 109:7) 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.

Most religions have differing understandings of the Spirit or a spirit which is why it is plays lesser roles in other traditions (and which might affect their religious experience). Religions differ primarily in understanding the spirit as dynamic (playing active roles such as confirming truth through phenomena) or as animistic (something that lives in all things and gives them life). [1] Mormonism stands as one of the very few religions that understand it and utilize it in any sort of dynamic way and with a totally unique pneumatology.

Some religions do rely on a spiritual confirmation of certain true principles

Moroni 10:3-5

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

2nd Peter 1:21

21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

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.’”

John Calvin 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…..”

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 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’”.

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).



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: [2]

  • 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.”


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. 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. 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.


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

Moroni: "every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God"

It is claimed that when religious experiences of people of other faiths sound similar, it calls into question LDS spiritual experiences

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[3]

People of different faiths can also receive revelation, or have spiritual experiences

Blake T. Ostler said:

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."""[4]

Are all spiritual experiences true?

  • Some people intentionally lie to try and hurt member testimonies.
  • Some experiences are caused by the devil, see for example (Alma 30:53)
  • To claim that all religious experiences are equivalent is an unproven (and perhaps even unprovable) assumption since spiritual experiences are completely self-verifiable and are only able to be evaluated by the individual experiencing them. Just because some of the experiences that people describe sound the same, does not mean that they are always the same. They may be simply emotions, thoughts, etc. Some experiences are truly spiritual but, as the Book of Mormon shows, this proves no threat to our theology. Thus, we may accept an experience while remaining perhaps “agnostic” to the nature and purpose of it.

Concerning wanting to be spiritually directed in all things and the danger of it, Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:

[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don't receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable.

We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of "false revelation"[5]

Concerning conflating emotion 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[6]

We can never know exactly what other people experience,and many of us don't have the right to judge the experiences that many people claim to have, but we can know what we experience ourselves. Spiritual experiences are not given to convince others--at best, they can persuade others to undertake the same search for truth through study, reflection, and asking God for revelation.

What about extremists that claim to hear voices in their head?

If a personal revelation tells people 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” (quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873, 114)

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

Nephi's killing of Laban

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

2 Nephi 29:12-13

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 7:16,18 (Touching on the Light of Christ)

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.

[...]

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.

Alma 16:16-17

16 And 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 the 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.


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.” [7]


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.[8]


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.[9]


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. "An Ensign to the Nations," October 1989 General Conference
  3. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1997), 260-261.
  4. Blake T. Ostler, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," (2007 FAIR Conference Presentation)
  5. Dallin H. Oaks, "Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," Ensign (Oct. 1994), 13–14.
  6. Clyde J. Williams, ed., The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 184.
  7. Joseph Smith, in 1843, History of the Church, 5:498.
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:86.
  9. "Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004) 46