“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 62–63
Response by Kent P. Jackson, professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University.
Individuals who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often puzzled when they hear us say that ours is the true church. Because the Lord has declared such to be the case, we need not apologize for this assertion, nor should we think ourselves overly bold for believing that ours is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” (D&C 1:30).
“This is not just another Church. This is not just one of a family of Christian churches,” President Ezra Taft Benson said. “This is the Church and kingdom of God, the only true Church upon the face of the earth, according to the Lord’s own words. [It is] His Church—it bears His name and it is directed under the authority of His priesthood” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, pp. 164–65).
If a church is true, it is not necessarily because the people in it try harder to please God. A church can be Jesus Christ’s true church only if the Lord himself establishes it, authorizes it, and recognizes its works as valid and binding. The question is not one of good intent but of divine authorization and guidance.
Divine authorization is manifested in God’s giving authority to earthly servants to act in his name, and in ordinances and teachings revealed by him and acknowledged by him to be correct. Thus the true church must possess true authority and ordinances and true doctrine, all of which are revealed by God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meets these requirements.
When the Lord taught his ancient Apostles, he said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). This short statement is a fundamental principle of the Lord’s true church. People do not have the right to call themselves to act in God’s name. Neither a desire to serve nor a love of God and fellowman—however heartfelt and sincere—authorizes one to claim God’s authority in matters relating to his church. Scriptural precedent shows that when God has true servants on earth, the call comes through them, his representatives.
The New Testament teaches, “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). The Lord’s authorized servant, Moses, learned by revelation that it was God’s will that Aaron serve (see Ex. 28:1). Accordingly, Moses called and consecrated him (see Ex. 40:12–16, Lev. 8:9–13).
During his earthly ministry, the Savior called twelve Apostles (see Matt. 4:19–22; Matt. 10:1–4) and seventy others (see Luke 10:1) to minister in his name. Following the Lord’s resurrection, the Apostles, who served as his representatives on earth, called another to join them in their work (see Acts 1:15–26). They also called seven others to important assignments (see Acts 6:3–6), and they called and ordained elders to preside in local congregations (see Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). This is the pattern that is followed when authorized servants of God are found on earth.
Many honorable people with pure motives have devoted their lives to the service of Christ and their fellowman. We know they will be rewarded abundantly in the eternities for their devoted and Christlike efforts. But with respect to priesthood authority and its ordinances, “we believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (A of F 1:5; see also D&C 42:11).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could not assert that it is the Lord’s true church unless its own claim to authority were consistent with these principles. Our testimony is that the Church meets the scriptural standard in every way. Joseph Smith was literally called of God. He was ordained and authorized through the ministering of heavenly messengers. John the Baptist ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and the ancient Apostles Peter, James, and John ordained him to the holy apostleship, conferring on him the keys of directing the kingdom—the authority for mortals to preside on earth in Christ’s name as his earthly representatives. Moses, Elias, and Elijah conferred on him vital keys (see D&C 110:11–16).
These powers continue in the Church. All who have been ordained to the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have received it through a chain that links them to Joseph Smith’s ordinations under the hands of God’s heavenly servants. Individuals are called through the spirit of revelation by those possessing priesthood keys, and they are ordained and set apart by them. They, in turn, become the Lord’s authorized servants, and their works are valid and acknowledged of God.
As with priesthood, doctrine can be recognized as true and authoritative only if it is revealed from God. Otherwise, it represents—at best—an honorable attempt to understand the mind of God without knowing it.
Knowing that the Bible contains the word of God, many today rely on it as a source of personal authority and doctrinal knowledge. And, in fact, were it not for the Restoration, a belief that the Bible is the sole repository of revealed knowledge would be an option available for honest seekers of truth.
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, however, we learn that the Bible does not contain all that God revealed anciently, nor did it arrive in our day without inaccuracies. Joseph Smith taught that “many important points, touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled” (The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989–94, 1:372). He also taught that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (History of the Church, 6:57). These are not new ideas to serious Bible students, who have long recognized imperfections in the language of the Bible as it has been transmitted to us, for example.
Consequently, the doctrinal restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith involves the revelation of new books of scripture, which Latter-day Saints view as authoritative. Indeed, the Prophet added more to the canon of scripture than any other known individual in history. The Book of Mormon, which he translated, is a sacred record similar to the Bible. But its teachings on Christ and the plan of redemption are unsurpassed. The Doctrine and Covenants contains more than one hundred divine communications from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Pearl of Great Price, a collection of doctrinal revelations reserved to come forth in our day, reveals things not found elsewhere in scripture.
With the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, the Prophet restored truth lost through the corruption of ancient texts and gave us the scriptures “even as they are in [God’s] own bosom, to the salvation of [his] own elect” (D&C 35:20). The Prophet’s sermons and writings are another source of divine knowledge, because Joseph Smith “understood the fulness of the Gospel from beginning to end—[and] could Teach it” (The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1980, p. 215).
Latter-day Saints are blessed with a doctrinal outpouring that is perhaps unsurpassed during any time in history except when Christ himself was on earth. Because we know that Jesus is the source of latter-day revelation, we trust the teachings of Joseph Smith and other modern prophets to be the mind and will of the Lord for our time. Their teachings are true because they pass the only valid test of doctrinal authenticity: they were revealed from God.
We proclaim that the Church of Jesus Christ, long absent from the earth, has been restored and is acknowledged by him as his church.
“Let it be understood by all that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this church which bears His sacred name” President Gordon B. Hinckley has declared. “He is watching over it. He is guiding it. Standing at the right hand of His Father, He directs this work” (Ensign, May 1994, p. 59).
Why is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the true church? Because the Lord established it, revealed its authority and its teachings, directs its affairs today, and recognizes its work as valid and binding, and because he himself declares it to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30).