It is such an ‘inspiring’ scene. The proud father walks up to the podium with his young son. He hoists him up to the microphone and whispers in the boy’s ear.
“I live my mother and father. I know the church is true. I know that Thomas Monson is a prophet just like Joseph Smith. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I am thankful for my family and for my friends. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
They return to their seats where the mother beams with joy at the strength demonstrated by her child. The words tend to change slightly, but the pattern persists for the meeting, interrupted periodically by a rambling travel monologue. As the testimonies shift from the youth to the mature members of the ward, more often than not, the testimony contains expressions of gratitude for the church, for the gospel, for the restoration, for the prophets and apostles and other leaders. The list is fairly short.
As the next Fast and Testimony meeting approaches next week, I turn my attention to the scriptural basis for the expression of our testimonies.
If you ask an evangelical Christian about testimony, you will often be told their story of how they became a Christian. This typically describes the events around their personal ‘coming to Jesus.’ For Mormons, it is somewhat different. The testimony becomes more of a series of statements that has been more or less validated by their experience in the church. In the earlier example, our youth are taught that it is appropriate to stand before the congregation and recite a series of ‘knows’ even though there may not yet be a basis for the ‘knowledge.’ What should our personal testimony reference? Should it be based on a standard set of catechisms regarding the church, the gospel and the leadership?
I turn to the scriptures for examples of testimonies. In these first examples, we find the person accused of serious crimes and are called to defend themselves. Paul has been taken by the Jews and was brought before the Roman king for an audience. Here is what we read in Acts, chapter 26:
1 THEN Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself:
2 I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:
3 Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers:
7 Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.
8 Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?
9 I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.
12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
21 For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me.
22 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:
23 That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
24 And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
25 But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
29 And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
In this lengthy quote, Paul describes his early worldview and his diligent efforts to rout the Christians, followed by his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. His mission was then to bring people to Christ so that they could receive a forgiveness of their sins and be sanctified. Is that not what we are called to do also? Are we not to bring people to Christ where they can be joined with those who have been sanctified? Join with the Saints?
What Paul presented to king Agrippa was the gospel. The path by which we can be sanctified and return to the presence of God. He preached of the resurrection of the dead, Christ being the first. This was the testimony of Paul.
Let’s consider Abnadi as another example of testimony. While the entire dialog between Abinadi and King Noah’s court is found in Mosiah, I will pick several excerpts.
1 AND now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—
3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—
4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.
5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.
6 And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
7 Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.
8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—
9 Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice. (Mosiah 15)
8 But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
9 He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
10 Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—
11 If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation—
12 Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would not; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.
13 And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?
14 Therefore, if ye teach the law of Moses, also teach that it is a shadow of those things which are to come—
15 Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord, who is the very Eternal Father. Amen. (Mosiah 16)
Abinadi also testified of the redemptive power of the gospel – that Christ would provide the means of salvation to those who seek Him. Yes, Abinadi was called to preach repentance to King Noah; he did it be expressing to these men his testimony of the gospel and of Jesus Christ. Should this be a model for our testimony? Are we to use our meeting time to praise ourselves and our fellow saints or are we to use our testimony to convict and recommit one another?
Another source for testimony comes from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 76.
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
40 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—
41 That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
42 That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;
43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.
44 Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—
45 And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows;
46 Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof;
These testimonies were all focused on Christ, His atonement, and the salvation that is afforded each and every one of us if we seek Him. Should this be used as an example of what a testimony includes?
There is one more example I wish to include from Alma, chapter 31.
12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.
14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand.
22 Now, from this stand they did offer up, every man, the selfsame prayer unto God, thanking their God that they were chosen of him, and that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.
23 Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner.
Here the Zoramites demonstrated what not to include in a testimony. As Alma notes, they thanked God that they were elected to be saved while all others would be damned. They thanked God that they were a chosen and holy people. Should we exercise care when we offer testimony that we don’t follow, even slightly, the pattern of the Zoramites? Should we take care that we don’t use our testimonies to express exceptionalism?
But that is not all, we find that the poor were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their dress. Have you ever wondered if the poor investigator felt out of place when they came to a church meeting? Do we unintentionally express exceptionalism by the way we dress? These poor among the Zoramites helped build the synagogues that they were not allowed to attend. Do we blindly bar the poor from our midst with our fine clothing and pomp?
I fear that we have come to align more closely with the Zoramites than we do with those who bear testimony of Christ and salvation.
To me, just as in a court of law, a testimony must be based on our own true experience. We are not called to testify about events that we know not of. We must search our hearts and souls to understand explicitly what we have that rises to the level of a testament. We should avoid using testimony time to express how blessed we are and how were are a chosen people. We should testify only of those things which we have truly experienced.
And what of my testimony?
I can testify that the Book of Mormon is scripture because the Spirit bore an unquestionable confirmation to my heart and my mind.
I can testify that the Holy Ghost is real and can cleanse us of our sins for I have felt of this healing and sanctifying power.
I can testify that God does speak to men and women for I have heard His voice.