Imagine your friend approaches you with a question she is struggling with—one that happens to be about Church history. You care about her and want to help out, but you’re not even sure you know the answer yourself.
It can be an uncomfortable position to be in. As Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Church history can be a significant source of faith, but for some people, it has been misunderstood or overlooked. Some people have even purposely misrepresented stories of the past to sow doubt.”1
So it’s no wonder that people might have questions about certain things from Church history today. But these discussions don’t have to lead to doubt! As Elder Cook said, “I promise that studying the history of the Church can deepen your faith and desire to live the gospel more fully.”2
The following tips have helped me handle discussions about Church history with an attitude of faith.
I believe that what Jesus taught—“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7)—absolutely applies to answering questions about the Church and its history. Seeking answers to our questions can be an opportunity to learn more truth and develop our relationship with the Savior. God welcomes sincere questions.3
Imagine how pleased He was to see young Joseph Smith asking a question that was important to him and seeking answers with real intent. So don’t avoid asking questions when you have them. And don’t judge others for asking. Instead, walk with them in the search for truth.
In my experience, things we don’t understand about Church history are best resolved by seeking more knowledge, not less. The Church publishes volumes of historical information using the highest scholarly standards because Church leaders believe that studying accurate history will strengthen our faith.4
We can also trust that there are answers. Receiving an answer to a question might involve reading a reference material, like a Gospel Topics essay, that explains something we didn’t previously know; it might involve acknowledging that those in early Church history were human, just like us; or it might involve a calm feeling of reassurance from the Holy Ghost letting us know that—despite things we don’t or can’t know the answer to—the gospel is still true. And when we don’t receive answers right away, we can continue to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ while we wait for answers to come.
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has counseled: “While we work and wait together for the answers to some of our prayers, I offer you my apostolic promise that they are heard and they are answered, though perhaps not at the time or in the way we wanted. But they are always answered at the time and in the way an omniscient and eternally compassionate parent should answer them.”5
It’s a fact: some things just matter more than others. We shouldn’t get caught up in such minute details that we lose focus on the big ideas. For example, we know that Joseph Smith used a couple of different methods while translating the Book of Mormon. I think those details are cool to learn about; however, I’d be missing out if I knew all those details but failed to recognize that the power behind those methods was the “gift and power of God,” or if I didn’t see the incredible doctrinal teachings in the book and its stunning testimony of Jesus Christ.
In my mind, just the miracle that this book exists dwarfs any concerns about how it was translated.
If you want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, you might ask yourself, “Are these the words of Christ?” rather than, “How did Joseph translate it?”
Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, an emeritus General Authority Seventy, has given an example of asking four primary questions that will answer any other questions you have:
Is there a God who is our Father?
Is Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
Was Joseph Smith a prophet?
Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the kingdom of God on earth?
Elder Corbridge also said: “By contrast, the secondary questions are unending. They include questions about Church history, plural marriage, people of African descent and the priesthood, women and the priesthood, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, DNA and the Book of Mormon, gay marriage, different accounts of the First Vision, and on and on.”6
You can’t gain a testimony by a process of elimination, in which you try to answer possible objections one by one. There is so much to know—maybe an infinite number of things to know—so we won’t get where we want to be unless we put the most critical truths first. You can know the central divine truths of the Restoration, and when you do, the other details fall into their proper place.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently taught: “All of your questions can be answered by the Lord Jesus Christ. He truly has the great answer for every one of our questions.”7
And that includes answers to our questions that may arise from Church history or doctrine. As we try to hear Him, He will lead us to the truths we need to know.
Faith is a choice. During our search for answers, we will come across both reasons to believe and questions to explore.
I believe that God allows us to experience uncertainty because that makes faith an act rather than merely passive acceptance. He leaves us with a choice, because we make eternal progress by using our agency to “do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us]” (Abraham 3:25). Choosing Christ—no matter what questions or doubts we might be experiencing—will help us draw closer to Him.
As you and your friends seek answers, ponder also on the goodness of God (see Moroni 10:3). Realizing how much God loves and cares for you and how He only wants the best for you will help you see that He has a greater purpose for all things, even those we don’t have the answers to yet.
I love studying Church history, but ultimately, I am here in the Church because I’ve felt Christ’s love for me. I stay because I have a testimony of Jesus Christ and know that this is His Church where we do His work, and it is the place where I will become who He wants me to be.