What Do We Mean When We Say the Church Is True?
June 2024

“What Do We Mean When We Say the Church Is True?,” Liahona, June 2024.

What Do We Mean When We Say the Church Is True?

Led by the Savior Himself, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the teachings, priesthood authority, ordinances, and covenants that lead us back to our heavenly home.

man speaking in church

Our hearts are often warmed when we hear someone testify, “I know the Church is true.” It is a significant thing to have the Spirit bear witness of that truth to us as well.

Yet it seems that current cultural trends have brought with them widespread mistrust in institutions generally and in religious organizations more particularly. By contrast, Latter-day Saints covenant to support The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its fundamental mission to build up the kingdom of God on the earth and to establish Zion, all in joyful anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In doing so, we recognize that it is only through the formal institution of the Lord’s restored Church that those precious purposes can be accomplished.

The New Testament is clear that during His mortal ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ not only inspired a community of believers but also organized His Church with called, trained, and ordained leaders (see Ephesians 4:11–16). The Church mattered to Him. The Church today, as then, is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20; see also Matthew 16:17–18). The Bible says that after His Resurrection, “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

What If Church Leaders Aren’t Perfect?

Perhaps some are hesitant to testify of the truth of the Church because they sense that the Church and its leaders may not be perfect. Indeed, neither the Church nor its leaders are perfect, nor have they claimed to be! It is noteworthy that nowhere in the scriptures or the teachings of Church leaders is it stated that the purpose of the Lord was to perfect the Church. Rather, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13; emphasis added).

So the purpose of the Lord is the perfecting of the Saints, not the perfecting of the Church. We can take real comfort from that principle because it implies that there is room in the Lord’s Church for all of us imperfect people!

In fact, in the October 2013 general conference, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said:

“To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

“I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes. …

“It is unfortunate that some have stumbled because of mistakes made by men. But in spite of this, the eternal truth of the restored gospel found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not tarnished, diminished, or destroyed.

“As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as one who has seen firsthand the councils and workings of this Church, I bear solemn witness that no decision of significance affecting this Church or its members is ever made without earnestly seeking the inspiration, guidance, and approbation of our Eternal Father. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. God will not allow His Church to drift from its appointed course or fail to fulfill its divine destiny.”

Sometimes we defend a concept about the way the Lord deals with the leaders and members of His Church that does not serve us well. We might expect that the Lord should control everything that leaders and administrators in the Church do so that no mistakes of any kind can be made. It may be better to recognize that the Lord gives guidance to those servants as they prayerfully do their best in their respective charges to direct His work. That is how loving parents teach their children.

The Lord gives us guidance but does not generally exercise control, except in matters that bear directly on our salvation. Once again, it is not His purpose to perfect the Church but rather to perfect His children, including Church leaders and administrators. This pattern of inspired operations at Church headquarters is not substantially different from that used in stakes and wards and homes.

While the Lord does give direct revelation at times, especially to those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, He also expects us to study things out in our minds (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:8–9) and to “bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27) without being “command[ed] in all things” (verse 26).

We can trust that the Lord will guide us along the path of our salvation as we follow the apostolic leaders of His Church. And we can take great comfort from the Lord’s promise that He will confirm to each of us the truth of all things as we individually seek it (see Moroni 10:5).

Blessings in the Church of Jesus Christ

So what do we mean when we say the Church is true if we don’t mean that it’s perfect?

  • First and foremost, we mean that it is led by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself through living prophets and apostles.

  • We mean that it has all the scriptures God has revealed and every doctrine and truth of importance for our salvation.

  • We mean that it holds the priesthood authority to direct the Church and to administer the essential ordinances, and we mean that those ordinances will be valid both in this life and in the eternities.

  • We mean that those who follow its precepts will have enduring joy both in this life and forever.

  • We mean that those who receive the saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, repenting sincerely as required, positively will be exalted in the celestial kingdom of God.

  • And especially we mean that the Holy Ghost will bear witness of these things to sincere seekers of the truth.

Following the teachings of the Church works—it makes us better people, brings us peace and joy, and prepares us to return to our Heavenly Father.

“The Church is [the] prophesied latter-day kingdom, not created by man but set up by the God of heaven,” taught Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. How important it is for sincere believers in the truths restored by Jesus Christ to stand up and testify boldly that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).

We offer our full love and respect to all who believe in and follow truth wherever it may be found. We respect and value the radiant goodness we observe in so many other churches, and we do not criticize the beliefs of any group or individual. But it is folly to imagine that we can believe in Jesus Christ and the precepts He taught and receive the full benefit of the blessings and ordinances available only in His restored Church without believing in, championing, and defending that Church.

Of course, we should testify that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and other fundamentals are true, but there is also great importance in testifying of the truth of the Church as an institution. In the temple we learn that that is where our consecration is focused. As we feel the truthfulness of the organization that the Lord Himself directs, then we feel responsible to be true to the doctrine and practices taught by the Church.

young woman speaking in church

Being True to the Church

The truths of the gospel do not require the defense and loyalty of the Saints to maintain them. They are true in and of themselves. But belief in general can become so vague as to have neither motivating nor saving power, and near-infidels can claim adherence (see James 2:19–20). By contrast, a conviction that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and guided by the Lord leads one to attend meetings, pay tithes and offerings, serve in callings, receive ordinances, and keep the associated covenants. With clear belief and conviction come clear and compelling commitments. In other words, once we know it is true, we become morally obligated to act like it’s true.

I testify that I know through personal experiences and by the sure witness of the Holy Ghost that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and living Church that the Lord Jesus Christ leads through our current prophets and apostles. May we not only know that the Church is true but also, in our words and deeds, may we be true to the Church.