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: How can you know if your answer to prayer, your personal revelation, is true?

If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it

How can you know if your answer to prayer - your personal revelation is true? This is not like political advertising, calculated to convince us of half truths. This is not about competing narratives where only one can be really true, while the rest must be false. If you want to know the truth of your own personal revelation, then you must test it. If you feel the promptings of the spirit to do something, then do it, and see what happens. Alma, in the Book of Mormon, suggests that we treat it like a seed, and make an experiment out of it. But debating its validity in a sort of theoretical way, won't ever provide you with that answer.

Joseph Smith talks of "pure intelligence" flowing into you:

A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God,will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.[1]

However, as Boyd K. Packer points out, revelation does not "flow without effort" on the part of the person desiring it.

To one who thought that revelation would flow without effort, the Lord said:

“You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [2]

This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.

Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. Such promptings are personal and strictly private![3]

Each individual's personal revelation is different

Latter-day Saints don't believe that differences in personal revelation between different individuals means that those others who pray and receive different messages than we do are wrong and not really receiving answers to their prayers. What it means is that they are receiving personal answers to their prayers from a loving Heavenly Father, and we are receiving personal answers to ours. Personal revelation is this wonderful thing precisely because it creates these differences. Some may have "spectacular" experiences, while others may experience revelation only through a still, small voice.

Boyd K. Packer:

We do not seek for spectacular experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the many who "have no ear for spiritual messages … when they come in common dress. … Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication."[4]

A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church

A revelation given to the whole Church is limited by the whole Church. Joseph Smith said that "It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.[5]

On the other hand, the revelation we receive comes to us individually, personally, and from our unique perspective helps us to refocus on that distant absolute truth that are slowly working towards. It isn't about "getting it right now" so much as it is about making it more right so that we become better people. And in the end, it is the light that God gives us (individually and collectively) that becomes the ruler that we are measured with. And this of course gives us great hope that we (individually) can be saved despite all the strange notions and ideas we have both believed and sometimes abandoned over the years.

Just because someone else receives a different message than you did doesn't mean that either you or they are wrong

And of course, just because someone else receives a different message doesn't mean that you (or they) are wrong. We are all working towards that perfection even if the roads we take start from different places and have different turns and twists. The idea that revelation to all individuals about a specific topic should always be the same really stems more from a Protestant view of religion, with its inerrant view of texts.


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 acknowledge that the good in every religion is inspired of God. 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.

Latter-day Saints do not claim that a spiritual manifestation to another Mormon is evidence for the truthfulness of the church, nor are we impressed with someone's claim to a spiritual witness in favor of another church. The LDS message is that each person must receive the witness for himself and that only that person can judge the truth of what he has experienced.


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 (the Pope in Catholicism and the Bible in Protestantism) or simply tradition and majority and obviousness (Islam, Hinduism, etc.).

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.

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

DC 109:7:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;

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’”.


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 indeed 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: [6]

  • 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.


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. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 151.
  2. D&C 9:7–8
  3. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  4. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 21.
  6. "An Ensign to the Nations," October 1989 General Conference
  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