One of my favorite books on Mormon doctrine is “Line Upon Line“. It is a collection of essays on Mormon Doctrine, and its evolution to what we have today. I especially loved learning about things we believe today as “the gospel truth” (pun intended) that started out much different years ago.
We all grew up learning that Mormon’s were special, because we knew that Jehovah was Jesus Christ. Jesus was the God of the old testament, and used the name Jehovah as such.
Well guess what, that was not always the case. In fact Joseph Smith used the names Elohim and Jehovah interchangeably. From Boyd Kirtland’s essay in the book:
Given the interchangeability of the roles of the Father and the Son in earliest Mormon theology, it is impossible to identify specifically Smith’s first few Jehovah references as applying to either the Father or the Son. However, after the identities of the Father and the Son were more carefully differentiated around 1835, Smith clearly began to use the divine name Jehovah to refer to the Father. Significantly, he never seems to have specifically identified Jehovah as Jesus, nor Jehovah as the Son of Elohim. Rather, he followed the biblical Hebrew usage of the divine names in specific verses and either combined them or used them interchangeably as epithets for God the Father. The following prayer, which he wrote in 1842, demonstrates this: “O Thou, who seest and Knowest the hearts of all men–Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah–God–Thou Elohim, that sittest, as saith the Psalmist, `enthroned in heaven,’ look down upon Thy servant Joseph at this time; and let faith on the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, to a greater degree than Thy servant ever yet has enjoyed, be conferred upon him.” On a few occasions, Smith referred to the Father by the title Elohim alone.Line Upon Line, page 37
One of the fist mention of Jesus as Jehovah came in 1871 by George Q Cannon, who said that Jesus was “the being who spoke to Moses in the wilderness and declared I am that I am” (Juvenile Instructor Sept 1871)
The Jehovah is Christ “doctrine” did not get solidified until 1915 when James Talmage’s book “Jesus the Christ” was punished under the direction of the First Presidency. In it he states:
“Jesus Christ was and is God the Creator, … the God of the Old Testament record; and the God of the Nephites. We affirm that Jesus Christ was and is Jehovah, the Eternal One.”Jesus the Christ, Talmage
How this plays out with the Temple Endowment story line is another whole post. While we see it today (post Talmage) as God sending Christ and Adam/Micheal down to create the world, that is not how Joseph Smith saw it, and it is definitely not how Brigham Young saw it, with the Adam-God doctrine coming out of this temple ambiguity. If you are interested in this, I recommend reading Kirtland’s entire essay here.
How do you cope with changing doctrine? Is their another explanation to this changing view of God? Is it a big deal, or are we “staining at gnats” when we even talk about this?
I recall hearing Gregory Prince saying that every doctrine in the LDS church has gone through significant revisions. I would like to see him outline a few of these as examples. But I can’t ask him to do this when I myself could validate it with some work.
But to your question of how I handle it. I am somewhat OK with some changes, but I am bothered when I hear top church leaders say that doctrine never changes as it seems that Gregory Prince’s statement is correct.
You should also mention “The Father and the Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” first issued in 1916 and reprinted in the Ensign in 2004. It worked in tandem with Talmage’s books to clean up the various messy and confusing LDS views of the persons in the Godhead that circulated in the 19th century. Here’s the link to the Ensign reprint:
“We all grew up learning that Mormon’s were special, because we knew that Jehovah was Jesus Christ. ”
Nope. In my very Mormon circles in the Northwest we did not learn that as a reason we were “special.” In fact, that one was of the things we had in common with our trinitarian friends of multiple Protestant and Catholic denominations.
From Emma Smith’s 1835 hymnal was also inconsistent with later doctrine. (Maybe BKP didn’t consider all LDS hymnals to be “a course in doctrine.”):
Hymn 56 • Salem’s bright King, Jesus by name
3 Down in old Jordan’s rolling stream;
The prophet led the holy Lamb,
And there did him baptize:
Jehovah saw his darling Son,
And was well pleas’d in what he’d done,
And own’d him from the skies.
Change and development in people’s thinking and teaching does not bother me. Inerrancy is not part of my view of human expressions, however much they may include revelatory elements. What does bother me are statements like “the doctrine never changes” and “teach pure doctrine” — perhaps because the former is false if it refers to teachings of the Church and Church leaders and the latter is incomprehensible.
If Jesus was the One God of the Old Testament, then the Jews were wrong to worship him and pray to him, as only the Father deserves worship, a la McConkie. And thus, according to the dizzying nature of Mormon Doctrinal Logic, even worship of YHWH was the worship of a false god.
The reality is that by rejecting centuries of Christian doctrinal development, Mormons have had to reinvent the wheel. And it shows in the half-baked theology of Mormonism: burnt on top, raw in the middle, nothing at all really satisfying to eat.
You’ve opened a can of worms. Are we to believe that ancient peoples (Nephites or Israelites, Hittites, Canaanites, etc.) or even modern-day Native Nations, Christians, Muslims, or Jews, are not intentional about praying to/worshipping THE great spirit- THE supreme being- as opposed to another deity? Poppy-cock!are we to believe that the Lord doesn’t glory in plainness (as Nephi testified) or is close to mankind, but has devised some sort of obtuse freaky-Friday switcheroo that only the most advanced Kolob-esque theology can untangle? Again, poppy-cock.
Roles are quickly confused when we get over flowery and honorific with language, when men start confusing characters and making up excuses for doing so instead of admitting mistakes, and when men start over-thinking theology (cough cough, Brigham!).
It’s astonishing to me that we in Mormonism have bungled understanding Christ and God the Father so much with this very muddled theological problem, and continue to completely ignore Heavenly Mother. (The entire conundrum is completely myopically Misogynistic!)
It just doesn’t feel right when we start replacing God with JC in triple-luxes of mental gymnastics. Does anyone else feel a big emotional “thud” doing so? At the same time, we have clear scriptures showing us the actions/roles of God the Father and JC, and even modern revelation where they have at times shown themselves to our faces. We shouldn’t be getting this so wrong. Because (in response to your question) it IS important. Vital. What is more important than knowing the nature of God? Doesn’t everything g else build/flow out of that fundamental understanding, including salvation, trust, and sanctification/connectedness?
This.one.thing. We should get right. THIS is essential. In this, we should have crystal clear clarity. This- is a place for Occam’s razor, if ever there were a time to use it.
The doctrine was clear in scripture and teachings until Orson Pratt began arguing for Christ being Jehovah in the late 1800’s, which Talmage adopted and pushed later. Prior to that, Jehovah was God the Father, and Joseph referred to it. In the quote above, this quote is found in our D&C – D&C 109, the dedicatory prayer given by Joseph for the Kirtland Temple. He and others always referred to God the Father as Jehovah, and D&C 109 even shows the distinction, specifically calling Christ as being another God.
Moses 1:1-6 clarifies things further – God the Father, speaking to Moses, and referring to His Son. That wasn’t Jesus the Christ speaking to him THEN. There should be no problem with Christ speaking to Moses n the Mount in subsequent visits with Moses, but the Moses first visit was WITH the Father. The “I am” really meaning the CREATOR – first person causative form of “I am”, meaning I caused to be , or “creator”.
I don’t think I understand Mortimer, but this caught my attention: “What is more important than knowing the nature of God? Doesn’t everything else build/flow out of that fundamental understanding, including salvation, trust, and sanctification/connectedness?”
To the best of my self-reflection and observation of others, the relevant fundamental understanding from which those things flow is an experiential understanding/knowledge of the nature and character of God and not knowledge of propositions about God — whether names or alleged physical attributes or history or relationships to others or whatever.
I am not at all convinced of the necessity of knowledge of some of those things taught by JS in the King Follett discourse or of sorting out conflicting ideas about names, etc. . John 17:3 strikes me as more relevant to salvation, trust, and sanctification/connectedness. (“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. ” NIV) For me the key is being in a relationship with God, not cogitations about God. That relationship leading to life eternal is described in Matthew 25 as a function of service to others, not in terms of knowledge of theology:
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me….
46 … but the righteous [shall go] into life eternal.
The BoM story of the Brother of Jared and the 16 stones strongly suggests that saving faith has little or even nothing to do with knowing things about God like divine physical or spiritual form. Incidentally, that story as given in the BoM pretty much fixes the BoM theology of an identity between the God worshiped by Jared’s people and Christ — whether that identity has anything to do with the apparently trinitarian language in the BoM or not.
I really have no problem with it nor think it’s a big deal. We may want to make a clear distinction between The Father and The Son, but beyond their basic roles, I wonder how much they care about it. The only differences between the two of them that I’m currently aware of is that God is older and higher in seniority. Other than that, they’re basically interchangeable.
As an exalted being and Father to us all, I have a difficult time believing Heavenly Father would be content to delegate all things to another. Reason tells me He has been and is a little more involved than we might think, speaking either as Himself or The Son, just as The Son has for Him.
I know I’m weird, but when I pray, I sort of picture myself on a direct phone line to Heavenly Father, with the Savior and Holy Ghost listening patiently on third party lines (with maybe an eye roll here and there or a forehead slap.). Once the conversation is over and I hang up, the three of them discuss my situation. I can picture the Father saying “Eli messed up, but he is trying to fix it. You know what help he needs. Take care of it.” After pondering just how interchangeable they may be, it wouldn’t surprise me if every long once in a while He says “Eli messed up, but he is trying to fix it. Let me take this one.”
My observation is that top Church leaders chronically shoot themselves in the foot by their messaging about a change rather than the change itself. The primary reason for this is that, from the time of Joseph Smith to the present, the organizational culture has allowed leaders to manipulate our perception rather give us complete and accurate information.
” James Talmage’s book “Jesus the Christ” was punished under the direction of the First Presidency.”
Did you mean “published”, not “punished”?
The fact of the matter is, if you look at the Documentary Hypothesis, Genesis 1 and 2 seem to use Jehovah and Elohim interchangeably. Over the next few weeks, I”m going to talk not only about the conflation of Jehovah/Elohim in Genesis, but Israelite deities (they weren’t monotheistic) and the Documentary Hypothesis. In the meantime, I did discuss this issue with Benjamin Shaffer & David Patrick (of Christ’s Church) and how it affects the Adam-God Theory. Benjamin said it is pretty much impossible to make a distinction in early Mormon scripture, sermons, and writings between Jehovah and Elohim. See https://gospeltangents.com/2020/03/documentary-hypotheses-adam-god/
The nature of God is a real mess in Mormonism, which may be why the brethren have largely avoided talking about specifics in this century – even Pres. Hinkley wanted to gloss over it in a news interview. Our god is an exalted man whose god is an exalted man and so on through both directions of eternity. Is there an original Supreme God with a capital “G”? Who knows.
As has been pointed out, the particulars of Godhead doctrine have changed considerably over time. I am coming to view it almost like fan fiction. There are nearly 58,000 Lord of the Rings fan fiction books (thank you Google). People get into heated arguments about the “truthfulness” of a particular derivative work using the “original source material” as the lodestone. The problem is that the original source material is also a work of fiction.
When one views the Bible as a collection of (sacred) myths, it gets hard to argue points of doctrine definitively. One can even trace the evolution of the story of Jesus from him being a teacher to a prophet to the Messiah to the Son of God. What power does the Abrahamic Covent hold when there is no historical evidence that he existed outside of being a character in a sacred myth?
Like Gandolph, ancient prophets seemed to come with much better and more useful powers than do modern prophets. When the faith “not to be healed” is a conference talk, there are no contemporary tales of healing – let alone raising the dead, and most “miracles” fall into the category of beneficial happenstance, how are we to formulate the nature of God and his/her/their role in our lives?
I am accountable to God – not some system of belief that seeks to define and speak for God. Figuring that out is up to me.
Questions like this are one reason why I’ve decided not to care about the finer details of theology. Have courage and be kind – that’s all that matters.
Happy Hubby says, “ I recall hearing Gregory Prince saying that every doctrine in the LDS church has gone through significant revisions. I would like to see him outline a few of these as examples. But I can’t ask him to do this when I myself could validate it with some work.“
It’s not by Gregory Prince, but I have to recommend reading This Is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology by Charles Harrell. I have recommended this book before. Perhaps he doesn’t go through every doctrine, but he traces the most basic ones. After reading it, I would have to say that I agree with Greg Prince.
See the following URL for a discussion Dan Wotherspoon had with Charles Harrell about doctrine.
We can’t expect to know the answer to every question. But if we (LDS) can’t even get a totally clear and consistent view of who the Father is and who the son is, what’s the point of religion? It’s hard to believe we still have to debate this. But heck, we still debate who was there for the First Vision. If we don’t have this straight, why do we speculate on things like homosexuality and eternal progression?
I don’t think we need be too hard on ourselves when it comes to figuring out the nature of God. It took early Christians centuries to agree on the Trinity which is just as much of a theological mess as anything we’ve put out there. If you take the position believing Christian position that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and that the God of the Old Testament is connected to the New Testament, then it follows that you have to figure out all these identities and relationships and the bits and pieces of scripture we have to figure it all out certainly don’t make it an easy task. Sure, we belive God could have laid it all out very clearly and neatly, but for whatever reason, he’s decided to make us puzzle it out.
Not a Courgar, Another possibility as to why God didn’t lay “it all out very clearly and neatly”: it doesn’t matter. Maybe God wishes we wouldn’t waste so much effort and discord on puzzling it out and would get on with serving God by serving our neighbors.
Rockwell, thanks for pointing out that Harrell made the statement also. I don’t care which of the two said it first. I did read “this is my doctrine” very early on in my faith crisis right when the book came out. I remember walking away thinking, “I read 500 pages and I am still just as confused as before!” I think at that time I was hoping it was going to solve my question of “what is / is not doctrine” – to give me the formula. I may just put it back on my “to read” and give it a second try with a different point of view.
Josh h raises a good point. I don’t think in the end that the differences matter that much, but it’s the church itself that keeps insisting on the importance of things like three separate members of the godhead, etc. So once again, it’s the church itself that created the problem. On a related note, one thing I’ve always been confused about is who is talking to Joseph Smith in the D & C. Is it God the Father? Is it Jesus? Is it both/neither? The Holy Ghost? If anyone has insights or sources about that subject, I’d appreciate them sharing.
The Trinity is not nearly the theological mess that Mormon theology is. Not even close. The Trinity is hard to wrap one’s mind around, and there are a lot of bad analogies to explain it, and it does require some background in definition of terms (being vs person, for instance). Mormon theology is all over the place, however. Mormon theology has never truly been codified. The Mormon “Godhead” consists of three persons/beings, but there is also Heavenly Mother thrown in, too, but her place and role is never fully fleshed out. Heavenly Mother is like the divine equivalent of those old flannel board displays that old-timers like myself remember so well from Primary. You try to stick her on the flannel board, but she just keeps wanting to fall off. No one really knows how to get her to stick. There just seems to be no comfortable place for her in Mormon thought.
And there are so many internal contradictions. We are on this earth to get a body because a body is required to become like God, yet the pre-existent (and therefore disembodied Christ) was already a God, and the disembodied Holy Spirit is a God. The poor Holy Spirit…will he ever get a body? Is he like the 17-year old priests at the sacrament table who has to wait until everyone else has partaken before he finally does? (That was the custom in my ward growing up, at least)?
Like I said above, Mormon theology is half-baked. It is not even close to being fully worked out. It is a cop out, in my opinion, to say that maybe God doesn’t care. Well, maybe God doesn’t care. But for all the confidence in its “rightness” that Mormonism likes to present to the world, the church really needs to have something to back it up. You can’t just say “We’re right,” but then have no real way of explaining how or why one is right. What, exactly, is the church “right” about?
Brigham Young wasn’t even praying to the same person as contemporary Mormons. He was praying to Adam when he was praying to Heavenly Father. The second High Priest and Prophet of the Restoration of Jesus Christ’s original church! And he apparently didn’t know who God was.
Yea…..I think it actually does matter. It can mean the difference between true devotion to the Most High and idolatry.
How do I cope? First by by checking my own eye for beams, which means looking at both my expectations and my own efforts to gain understanding, as well as putting the expectations of others in context as well.
D&C 1 formally sets out expectations for leaders by saying “inasmuch as they erred, it shall be made known” and by tying knowledge to inquiry, and saying that revelation comes not all at once but over time. This applies to both ecclesiatical leaders and scholars. That is, it is not just the church leaders who make errors, but the scholars. And I pay attention to Jesus in 3 Nephi 11:31-40 as he formally and forcefully specifies what is, and is not doctrine, and what happens to those who build their foundation on any other definition.
Then there is seeking out of the “best books words of wisdom,” rather than out of “approved or popular books words of orthodoxy.” The best book on the issue of El Elyon and Yahweh happens to be Margaret Barker’s 1992 The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God. This is far far better than anything the LDS have done on the topic, and post-dates the essays in Line Upon Line. In her chapter 1 she notes that even the most comprehensive books on how the Bible treats “the two different words for God and therefore ignores a crucial distinction. There are those called the sons of El Elyon, sons of El or Elohim, all clearly heavenly beings, and there are those called the sons of Yahweh, or the Holy One, who are human. This distinction is important for at least two reasons; Yahweh was one of the sons of El Elyon; and Jesus in the Gospels is described as a son Son of El Elyon, God Most High. In other words, he is described as a heavenly being. Thus the annuciation narrative has the term ‘ Son of the Most High’ (Luke 1.32) and the demoniac recognized his exorcist as ‘Son of the Most High God’ (Mark 5.7). Jesus is not called the son of Yahweh, nor the son of the Lord, but he is called Lord.” (Barker, 4-5). She concludes the chapter by pointing out that “All the texts in the Hebrew Bible clearly distinguish betwen the divine sons of Elohim/Elyon and those human beings who are called the sons of Yahweh. This must be significant. It means that the terms originate at a time when Yahweh was distinguished from whatever was meant by El/Elohim/Elyon. A large number of texts continued to distinguish between El Elyon and Yahweh, Father and Son, and to express this distinction in similar ways with the symbolism of the temple and the royal cult. By tracing these patterns through a great variety of material and over several centuries, Israel’s second God can be recovered.” (Barker, 10). I highly recommend a careful read of The Great Angel. For me it was a transformative experience.
For instance, having read Barker, I tend to see 1 Nephi 11:6, “blessed art thou Nephi, for thou believest in the son of the Most High God” in a different light than I did before. And I also consider Jesus in 3 Nephi 9:17 saying “to them (humans) have I given to become the sons of God”. And 3 Nephi 15: where Jesus says “Behold, I AM he that gave the law, and I AM, he who covenanted with with my people Israel” (my punctuation and capitalization). Brant Gardner did a very good FAIR presentation based on Barker and Mark Smith’s The Early History of God, and incorporated those insights, on when and why the title of Father can apply to both El Elyon and Jehovah in his Second Witness Commentaries.
And if various LDS thinkers thought of Jehovah as a divine title at times and used it that way, rather than a name, none of us come out of the waters of baptism with a miraculous and instant gift of omniscience and clarity. But rather, a charge to learn, and keep learning.
And I think about the sacrament Hymn that goes, “Jesus once of humble birth, now in glory comes to earth, …once a meek and lowly lamb, now the Lord, the Great I AM.” This, I notice was not discussed in Line Upon Line. Nor Pratt’s “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah, Jesus annointed that prophet and seer.”
Part of the problem is the muddiness of the Bible itself, and the varied traditions and limited understandings of various people, for which a little grace is helpful. Barker’s discussion in The Older Testament, of how the Second Isaiah fused El and Yahweh is helpful, as was when I noticed that the Isaiah chapters which contain that argument (Isaiah 41-47) do not appear in the Book of Mormon. (I wrote this up in a section of Paradigms Regained.) Barker also notes the importance of the difference in the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Deuteronmy 32:8-9, which explicitly depicts Yahweh as a son of El Elyon. The Masoretic Hebrew in verse 8 changes “sons of God” to children of Israel.”
Ari Bruening and David Paulsen wrote a very good essay called “The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths” that is very much worth a read.
Their footnote 3 lists several of the essays included in Line Upon Line, and comment, “Most proponents of this developmental theory make the same
claims and use the same proof texts.” Their essay offers a much more comprehensive and careful approach.
John, we’ll have to agree to disagree on which is the bigger theological mess, though I’ll make no arguments that Mormonism’s concept of God is flawless or historically consistent (but neither was early Christianity!). However, you’re comparing a belief system that isn’t even 200 years old with a tradition with origins in the 2nd century AD. Give Mormons a few hundred more years before piling on. I would still argue the trinity makes no more inherent sense than other Christian positions on the nature of God and Jesus (the Jehovah’s Witnesses certainly have something to say about this) when compared against the generally accepted Christian canon, and moreso when only using the Hebrew bible.
Wondering, you could be 100% correct that “it mattereth not.” Of course, you also have non-Christians who believe this is all a pointless grafting of ideas onto a separate and distinct monotheistic religion (and one into which the new ideas don’t neatly fit). We all, I hope, do the best we can.
John: “It can mean the difference between true devotion to the Most High and idolatry.”
I expect that’s possible.
On the other hand, I’m currently inclined toward the resolution in C.S Lewis’ “The Last Battle” of his Narnia world: A devout Calormene soldier named Emeth enters the stable voluntarily, determined to meet his god Tash. He vanishes into Aslan’s Country, where he meets Aslan and realizes where his true devotion lies. Aslan tells him that “all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me”, and further explains that “no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him”. He explains that Emeth’s pious devotion, because it was rooted in a love of justice and truth, was really to Aslan rather than to Tash.
I remain unconvinced that cognitive error in the name or even identity or theological descriptions of God can change devotion, love or service rooted in a love of justice and truth into idolatry of the kind that offends God. I do fret occasionally as to the extent to which Christians of various stripes maintain the rightness and certitude of their particular theologies might constitute idolatrous worship of an idea rather than of God.
Interesting discussion that I’ve never thought about. However, it seems to me that if Elohim and Jehovah are considered titles rather than names, or perhaps as descriptive names rather than proper names, the whole issue becomes less of an issue.
One of the problems I think we have as Mormons is that we like to think we know more about the gospel and the nature of God than we really know or we like to think that more has been revealed about the gospel and about the nature of God than has actually been revealed. John said that, “Mormon theology has never truly been codified.” That’s very true and is in fact one of the hallmarks of our religion.
I find it humorous that Mormons use the “line upon line, precept upon precept” passage to explain how God reveals truth. The original context of those passages in Isaiah carries a completely different meaning, which I think is far more relevant to this discussion:
And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 28)
It would indeed be ironic if the Mormon use was from Isaiah, though perhaps not significantly different in type than some of the NT’s uses of OT scriptures. But it isn’t from Isaiah. However, much the phrases are identical, the Mormon use is from D&C 98:11-12
“And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.” or from 2 Nephi 28:30 “… I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more…”
The Mormon use IS from Isaiah because that is where Joseph found the expression. He just used it incorrectly.
Sorry, John, I hadn’t realized that in your world one is never allowed to use a phrase outside the context in which one first encounters it, or that “Mormon use” is limited to JS and does not include those many Mormons familiar with 2 Nephi and the D&C but not so much with Isaiah. I’ll try to keep in mind that “correct use” of a phrase is limited to its oldest use and context.
Thanks for lowering the level of discourse with your juvenile response.
You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.
“the church really needs to have something to back it up. You can’t just say ‘We’re right,’ but then have no real way of explaining how or why one is right. What, exactly, is the church “right” about?”
Interesting perspective, and others have already mentioned what a puzzle LDS doctrine can appear to be. I’m curious though as to what society would consider a valid explanation of how or why “right” is when it comes to theology. On the other hand, one interesting complaint I’ve heard from those outside the Church is that we spell it all out a little too much or too clearly. I had one CES educator who, early in his career, taught Institute in a small town in which a Baptist minister attended. The minister genuinely wanted to learn but admitted he was also there for recon. He was cordial, but dropped the class 2/3 of the way through the semester. My teacher later saw him in the grocery store and asked if they had offended him. He said “No, it’s just that you have too many answers to my questions. I don’t think God is lacking in that much mystery.”
So much about the Church and Gospel made sense to me before I got a spiritual witness of it. To answer your question, I’d say that a witness is the initial “why” of what’s right about it, but I think it’s cyclical. We pray about correct teachings to get a witness of them, but then getting that witness can also help us understand those teachings on a newer level depending on what we seek. It’s not always necessarily our place or expertise to be able to fully explain what’s right about it. That may be more the domain of the Spirit. And as much as the Church already does to spell things out, I feel it certainly expects its members to search, ponder, fast, and pray. It’s a personal journey as much or more as it is an institutional one. What’s right is to get the basics of a testimony and grow from there. Maybe it all sound sounds too esoteric, (or hogwash, or another cop-out), but I think there’s wisdom in recognizing there is an entire spectrum of knowledge at play here, and additional wisdom in recognizing there are people on either side of us when it come to that knowledge.