How can I be sure the Church is true?
May 1984

“How can I be sure the Church is true?” New Era, May 1984, 10–12

“I think the Church is true, but sometimes I have doubts. How can I be sure?”

Answer/George D. Durrant

You have asked the most significant of all questions and have indicated a sincere desire to find the answer. If we were together discussing this sacred subject, the first thing I’d want to do is tell you that I love you. Only in an atmosphere of love and in the spirit of truth can we discuss and understand the spiritual processes that can reveal to one’s soul that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s divine church.

Alma gave us the formula for knowing the truth (see Alma 32:28–43). He said that if we can believe enough to give place in our hearts for a portion of the Lord’s words, we can begin an experiment to determine if indeed those words are true.

He compares our allowing a place in our hearts for an experiment of this nature to the planting of a seed. If the seed is a good one and if it is not cast out by unbelief or our resistance to the Spirit of the Lord, it will begin to swell within us and we will know that it is a good seed.

In other words, by considering a doctrine, making a commitment, changing an attitude, or performing a service, we plant a seed within us. If after doing so we feel growth, satisfaction, and joy, we will know that the seed was a good one. And by its growth we will know that what we have thought or done is good. As we nourish the small plant, it will continue to develop and bring forth sweet fruit that will fill our spiritual hunger and be as water to our thirsty souls.

There will never be a better answer to your question than the one Alma gave. It has been my experience that the way he said it would work is exactly the way it does work.

Many of us at some time stand on the brink of a spiritual springtime. Then if we do something we ought to do or change in a way we ought to change or help in a way we ought to help, we plant an eternally significant seed that swells and grows and fills our souls with fruit so good we cannot deny its reality. In time, almost as imperceptibly as the gradual coming of springtime, we realize that we know and we are not fully aware of just when we found out. Thereafter, if we nourish the tender plant by studying, serving, and praying, there follows line upon line, precept upon precept, and we have a strong, undeniable testimony that brings us an abundant harvest.

During my youth I had cultivated my spiritual soil. I had planted the seed of prayer in my heart and had felt the growth of knowing that there is a God and that he answers prayers. I had planted the seed of service by home teaching and performing other Church tasks, and I had felt the growth that told me that there is joy in such deeds and that in serving my fellow beings I was truly in the service of my God. I had paid my tithing and had felt the joy of having the windows of heaven opened to me.

Because of these and other thoughts and feelings and commitments, I was in a springtime condition when I planted a mightier seed than I had ever planted before. I accepted the call to serve a mission.

After my bishop announced to me that the Lord would like me to serve a mission, I left his office and went directly to the service station where I worked and told my boss that I was going on a mission. He replied, “That’s good. It’s great training. You’ll be able to speak up and have a lot more confidence when you come home.” Then he added, “Just don’t stand up in church and say you know the gospel is true, because you can’t know that. Those who say such a thing are liars. They don’t know it’s true.” I could not tell him at the time that I knew the Church was true, but I did tell him that I thought it was.

The most abundant harvest came for me some two months after I arrived in England as a missionary. Those first weeks were difficult, and I had been homesick and heartsick. But at the same time I had an intense desire to be a good missionary. I had been assigned to tell the Joseph Smith story to the other seven missionaries in the Hull District. I stood up to recite that which I had diligently and prayerfully prepared and planted within my heart. At first my message was just words, but then something happened. I felt a swelling within my soul which filled me with such joy I could scarcely speak. In my heart I could see the Sacred Grove and I could see Joseph Smith and I could see that he could see God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Then I knew it was good and was true. I didn’t think anymore that the Church was true—I knew. When I returned from my mission, I said in the presence of my former boss that I knew the Church was true. To have not done so would have been a denial of the very real harvest that had grown within me.

Your experience may not be like mine in process, but it will in outcome.

Some have known since they were children that the Church is true. It has never been a question for them because they’ve always had a spiritual witness. We’d all like to be that way. Yet even they come to a spiritual springtime—a time for new planting. And if they don’t plant, their harvest could be barren. Jesus Christ challenged us to plant seeds when he said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

President Kimball advised us to plant when he said, “Do it.” Go on a mission, get married in the temple, pay your tithing, love your fellowmen, be honest, seek after good things, don’t cheat, give up some of the things you know you are doing that are not right and which bind you down. We do not have to be perfect to know the Church is true, but we must desire to be perfect. We’ve got to become as the Nephites who listened to King Benjamin’s address and had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

Prior to and in the early days of my mission I had desired to know the Church was true. Yet it had not been my main all-consuming concern. The big issue for me was the heartfelt desire to be a good missionary. As I sought after that goal, almost from the side instead of from head-on, I came to know that the Church was true.

Many years after my first mission and while I served as mission president, an elder came to me and said that he did not know the Church was true. Because of that he wanted to return home. I pleaded with him to not do so stating, “You can’t learn the Church is true if in the back of your mind you’re thinking ‘I’m going to go home.’ By such lack of faith you cast out of your heart the very seed that could bring you the answer that you seek. First of all you’ve got to say ‘I’m going to stay. Whether or not the Church is true is beside the point. I’m staying.’” In summary I told him that the seed to plant in his heart was the seed of commitment to stay and serve, and the harvest that would grow was the sweet fruit of testimony.

The answer to your question “How can I be sure?” is simple. You’ve got to dive into the work. The fact that you think the Church is true shows that you’ve got at least your toe in the water. Now to be sure, you must dive completely in. Some want to know that the gospel is true before they dive in. They don’t want to get wet for nothing. But for me, I had to get wet first and then I knew. I believe to get the answers which you seek you will have to do the same thing.

You could reply, “I’ve tried all that.” I’d respond, “Well, try it some more.” There’s no other way. Dive in and ask the Lord if it is right. Make an effort to learn the truth. Don’t “sit” and ask the Lord for a testimony. Instead, “do” and ask the Lord for a testimony. Thrust in your sickle, and you’ll find some spiritual wheat to cut. Don’t expect the wheat to appear before you begin to cut. Have faith and be believing.

Don’t make a headlong confrontation out of your spiritual quest to know that the Church is true. That is like trying to pull a tender plant to its mature size. Let it grow naturally and surely. Don’t expect to reach the mountain peaks without being willing to climb the foothills. Life is like a cloth, and you can’t just sit and weave spirituality without weaving the rest of the fabric of daily life. You don’t have to go out of your way or say endlessly long prayers. You don’t have to travel to a distant land to find a service project. You just pray as you go and serve as you go and commit yourself to seeing how you can make yourself a better person and whatever part of the world you happen to be in a happier place. It’s how you treat your parents, how you treat your associates, how you serve them that creates the warm soil in which spiritual seeds can grow.

Walk forward into life. Hold your head high enough to see ahead but not so high that you can’t see those who need help. Say your prayers often and include among your statements of gratitude, thanksgiving, and devotion a simple request for spiritual confirmation to your questions, hopes, and desires. Keep a prayer in your heart always.

Make a commitment to serve, to love, to study, to pray. God will reach down and touch you, and the Holy Ghost will testify to your soul that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith did see him and the Father, that the Book of Mormon is true, that the gospel has been restored. Then you’ll know that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and that through the holy ordinances administered by the priesthood of his restored church we can become clean and thus candidates for the celestial kingdom.

It’s that simple. It really is. If you make it more complicated, you’ll be ever learning but never come to a knowledge of the truth. It’s simple, but it is difficult in that it requires a whole soul effort. Where much is given much is expected.

Dive in. Plant the seeds. Nourish them. Then someday, someday soon, you’ll know the truth and you’ll be free to know and be all that you and God, our Heavenly Father, desire you to be. The answer to your question is indeed the key which will open the door to your eternal future. What you seek is worth all you have, for it is indeed the pearl of great price.

  • Bishop, Mt. Olympus 3rd Ward, Salt Lake Mt. Olympus Stake