Testimony & Spiritual Witness


A Closer Look

Some Claims

Spencer W. Kimball Enlightenment
CES Letter Core Question

Does every major religion claim that God's spirit bore witness of their teachings?

Every major religion has members who claim the same thing: God or God’s spirit bore witness to them that their religion, prophet/pope/leaders, book(s), and teachings are true.

CES Letter, Page 75

The church doesn't claim an monopoly on the Lord's spirit. The Lord loves each of his children and seeks to each and every one of us no matter our background. That said, most other faiths do not place as strong of an emphasis on the Holy Ghost and modern revelation as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do. Some faiths shun the notion of modern revelation.

Outsider Test for Faith

CES Letter Core Question

Does the church have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?

Just as it would be arrogant for a FLDS member, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic, a Seventh-day Adventist, or a Muslim to deny a Latter-day Saint’s spiritual experience and testimony of the truthfulness of Mormonism, it would likewise be arrogant for a Latter- day Saint to deny others’ spiritual experiences and testimonies of the truthfulness of their own religion. Yet, every religion cannot be right and true together.

LDS Member in 2017

I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s true Prophet today.

FLDS Member in 2017

I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Warren Jeffs is the Lord’s true Prophet today.

RLDS Member in 1975

I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know that W. Wallace Smith is the Lord’s true Prophet today.

LDCJC Member in 2017

I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know The Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ is the one and only true Church. I know the Book of Mormon and the Book of Jeraneck are true. I know that Matthew P. Gill is the Lord’s true Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator today.

Same method: read, ponder, and pray. Different testimonies. All four testimonies cannot simultaneously be true. Is this the best God can come up with in revealing His truth to His children? Only .2% of the world’s population are members of God’s one true Church. This is God’s model and standard of efficiency?

Praying about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not follow that the LDS Church is true. The FLDS also believe in the Book of Mormon. So do dozens of Mormon splinter groups. They all believe in the divinity of the Book of Mormon as well. Praying about the first vision: Which account is true? They can’t all be correct together as they conflict with one another.

CES Letter, Page 75

As the Apostle Paul tells us, there are "many kinds of voices" (1 Cor. 14:10) in the world. There are also many different perspectives, beliefs, and life experiences. The Lord works with each of us. He tells us, "draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you." (D&C 88:63) He also said he'll teach us, "line upon line, precept upon precept." (2 Nephi 28:20). We all have insights the Lord is waiting to unfold to our minds. Through regular study and faith, the Lord can and will open more light and knowledge to each and every person in this world.

Joseph Smith Jr.

Joseph Smith Speaking

"“Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’"

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B Hinckley

“We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work’”

Unreliable Method

If God’s method to revealing truth is through feelings, it is a very ineffective and unreliable method. We have thousands of religions and billions of members of those religions saying that their truth is God’s only truth and everyone else is wrong because they felt God or God’s spirit reveal the truth to them. Each religion has believers who believe that their spiritual experiences are more authentic and powerful than those of the adherents of other religions. They cannot all be right together, if at all.

CES Letter, Page 75

Think about if we had a 100% crystal clear communication with God at all times. How would that impact free agency? The Holy Spirit is not inefficient.

Multiple scriptures predict that there will be few who gain exaltation (see for example Matt. 7:14, D&C 132:22). Joseph's teachings reconcile the fact that most of earth's inhabitants have not learned of Jesus Christ, but through spirit world missionary work and proxy ordinances, all may be judged according to their works. (Click here)

CES Letter Core Question

Why did Joseph attempt to sell the copyright revelation?

Joseph Smith received a revelation, through the peep stone in his hat, to send Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery to Toronto, Canada for the sole purpose of selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, which is another concern in itself (why would God command to sell the copyright to His word?). The mission failed and the prophet was asked why his revelation was wrong.

Joseph decided to inquire of the Lord regarding the question. Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer (note: this is David's interpretation of what happened) testified:

...and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God; and some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.’ So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.

How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell?

CES Letter, Page 75

Book of Mormon addresses the revelation in the above video and further in the following link.

The revelation was clearly conditional—Joseph Smith's revelation was not wrong as The CES Letter alleges.  (Click here) Newly published copies of the actual revelation state that the copyright would be sold only "if the people harden not their hearts against the enticings of my spirit."

This quote about the revelation being "of the devil" is David Whitmer's interpretation of what happened, not what actually happened. David was out of the church when he made this interpretation and clearly believes Joseph's attempt to sell the copyright was uninspired. The above quote is from David Whitmer's 1881 letter titled An Address to All Believers in Christ. 

CES Letter Core Question

How are we supposed to know what revelations are from God, from the devil, or from the heart of man if even the Prophet Joseph Smith couldn’t tell?

Elder Boyd K. Packer said the following:

Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. (See Moro. 7:17.) Be careful lest you be deceived, for the devil may come disguised as an angel of light.

The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary.

What kind of a method is this if Heavenly Father allows Satan to interfere with our direct line of communication to Him? Sincerely asking for and seeking answers?

Are we now expected to not only figure out when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and not as a man while also trying to figure out whether our answers to prayer are from God, from the devil, or from ourselves?


CES Letter, Page 75

No question the adversary can tempt us. Just like Elder Packer referenced in Moroni 7:17 "whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work." 

The goal in this life is to sift through the carnal temptations and suggestions we're tempted by. 



As a believing Mormon, I saw a testimony as more than just spiritual experiences and feelings. I saw that we had “evidence” and “logic” on our side based on the correlated narrative I was fed by the Church about its origins. (Note: this is a false dichotomy. Evidence and logic are not contrary to the spirit.) I lost this confidence when I discovered that the gap between what the Church teaches about its origins and what the primary historical documents actually show happened, and between what history shows what happened and what science shows what happened...couldn’t be further apart. (Note: as addressed elsewhere, the church has made tremendous strides on providing original documents and scholarly analysis of those publications.)

I read an experience that explains this in another way:

I resigned from the LDS Church and informed my bishop that the reasons had to do with discovering the real history of the Church. (Note: many don't lose their testimony reading church history.) When I was done, he asked about the spiritual witness I had surely received as a missionary. I agreed that I had felt a sure witness, as strong as he currently felt. I gave him the analogy of Santa; I believed in Santa until I was 12. I refused to listen to reason from my friends who had discovered the truth much earlier...I just knew. However, once I learned the facts, feelings changed. (Note: there are facts and interpretations of facts. Many don't lose their testimony reading church history facts.) I told him that Mormons have to re-define faith in order to believe; traditionally, faith is an instrument to bridge that gap between where science, history and logic end, and what you hope to be true. Mormonism re-defines faith as embracing what you hope to be true in spite of science, fact, and history. (Note: believers would firmly disagree with this last sentence.)

CES Letter, Page 75

Is Believing in the Church Like Believing in Santa?

Outgrowing Santa isn't the same as one losing their testimony. A belief in God and the gospel is up for vigorous debate. Most in this world still believe in God and don't simply learn for a fact that he doesn't exist as the might with Santa. The same can be said of one's testimony of the church.

A Gap Between What the Church Teaches and What the Historical Record Shows?

The alleged gap between what the Church teaches about its origins versus what the primary historical documents actually show happened is an illusion. Elder Snow, then Church Historian, explained:  "The Internet allows the Church to do many things it could not before. Transparency is important." Thousands of primary documents are being uploaded to the Internet. If there is a gap, then it should become obvious as these documents are becoming more available, but The CES Letter only makes the accusation. (Click here)

History vs Science

Science does not have all the answers. Neither does it conflict with the teachings of the restored gospel. It is not an either-or proposition. Joseph Smith explained: "One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may." (Click here)

Unfortunately, "what history shows" and "what science shows" in these cases is very ambiguous.  Our conclusions about history change as new evidence emerges, as do our conclusions about science. One could reasonably ask: "If those who participated in the historical events that the author of The CES Letter now finds so troubling remained faithful, what is the difference?” Is The CES Letter’ author’ view over a century later so much more nuanced and insightful  than the perspective of those who lived through it?"

Paul H. Dunn

CES Letter Core Question

What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories? What does this say about the Spirit and what the Spirit really is?

Paul H. Dunn : Dunn was a General Authority of the Church for many years. He was a very popular speaker who told powerful faith-promoting war and baseball stories. Many times Dunn shared these stories in the presence of the prophet, apostles, and seventies. Stories such as how God protected him as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped away his clothing, gear, and helmet without ever touching his skin and how he was preserved by the Lord. Members of the Church shared how they strongly felt the Spirit as they listened to Dunn’s testimony and stories.

Unfortunately, Dunn was later caught lying about his war and baseball stories and was forced to apologize to the members (Note: Dunn was not forced to apologize he requested to publish his open letter. See here.) He became the first General Authority to gain “emeritus” status and was removed from public church life. (Note: There is zero indication he was removed from public church life. The First Presidency released a statement saying, "In consideration of factors of age and health, Elder Paul H. Dunn was given emeritus status on Sept. 30, 1989, along with seven other General Authorties.")

What about the members who felt the Spirit from Dunn’s fabricated and false stories? What does this say about the Spirit and what the Spirit really is?

CES Letter, Page 75

All can agree that it's unfortunate that Paul Dunn exaggerated and conflated elements of his stories.

The larger question pertains to the nature of God and how he communicates with humanity. It's a theological question.  Would the Lord allow the Holy Ghost testify of true principles in a story that is conflated or untrue?

That's the challenge that lies within each of us -- hearing and understanding the voice of the Lord.  The Lord informed us, "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost." (D&C 8:2). Our mind likely referring to thoughts and our heart referring to feelings. Gerald Lund said, "someone has compared human consciousness to a great stream of thoughts and feelings. Every waking moment of our lives (and often in sleep as well), our minds are filled with thoughts and experiencing feelings. It's like a mighty Mississippi River of thinking and feeling... It is as through from time to time there is a soft plop as one of the Lord's "pebbles" is dropped into this mighty Mississippi of our consciousness. Should we be surprised, then, that many times when the Lord speaks to us in this way we miss it entirely?" (Hearing the Voice of the Lord,p. 53-54Who is to say that during a talk by Paul Dunn or someone else that the Lord cannot speak to our mind?

Apostle Counsels

CES Letter Core Question

Does bearing a testimony help you gain one? Is it dishonest for Apostles to encourage those to share their testimony to gain one?

The following are counsels from members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on how to gain a testimony:

It is not unusual to have a missionary say, ‘How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?’ Oh, if I could teach you this one principle: a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!

— Boyd K. Packer, The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge

Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.

— Dallin H. Oaks, Testimony

(In this talk, Elder Oaks also counsels people to fast, pray, and study in order to build a testimony. Neither he nor Elder Packer are asking people to bear a testimony that they do not believe to be true.)

It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet...Consider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly...Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek.

In other words, repeat things over and over until you convince yourself that it’s true. Just keep telling yourself, “I know it’s true...I know it’s true...I know it’s true” until you actually believe it and you have a testimony that the Church is true and Joseph Smith was a prophet.

How is this honest? How is this ethical? (an appeal to morality here) What kind of advice are these apostles giving when they’re telling you that if you don’t have a testimony, bear one anyway? How is this not lying? There is a difference between saying you know something and saying you believe something. (Note: Yes there is a difference in knowing and believing. The quotes don't encourage people to lie or use "I know" language.)

What about members and investigators who are on the other side listening to your “testimony”? How are they supposed to know whether you actually do have a testimony of Mormonism or if you’re just following Packer’s, Oaks’, and Andersen’s counsel and you’re lying your way into one? (Note: Elder's Packer, Oaks and Anderson would agree that nobody should lie when sharing their testimony.)

CES Letter, Page 75

These leaders are simply paraphrasing a revelation given to Joseph Smith:

“But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.

D&C 100:7-8

This seems to be unacceptable to the author of The CES Letter. (Click here)

Does Bearing a Testimony Help you Gain a Testimony?

The CES Letter dismisses all spiritual experiences, portraying them as the result of self-deception, group psychosis, or mental programming. Unbelieving therapists today have also echoed these accusations, which have been made for 1,000s of years.

How Reliable is the Spirit?

CES Letter Core Question

Can relying on the spirit lead to 'disastrous' results?

There are many members who share their testimonies that the Spirit told them that they were to marry this person or go to this school or move to this location or start up this business or invest in this investment. They rely on this Spirit in making critical life decisions. When the decision turns out to be not only incorrect but disastrous, the fault lies on the individual and never on the Spirit. The individual didn’t have the discernment or it was the individual’s hormones talking or it was the individual’s greed talking or the individual wasn’t worthy at the time.

This poses a profound flaw and dilemma: if individuals can be so convinced that they’re being led by the Spirit but yet be so wrong about what the Spirit tells them, how can they be sure of the reliability of this same exact process and method in telling them that Mormonism is true?

How are faith and feelings reliable pathways to truth? Is there anything one couldn’t believe based on faith and feelings?

If faith and feelings can lead one to believe and accept the truth claims of any one of the hundreds of thousands of contradictory religions and thousands of contradictory gods... how then are faith and feelings reliable pathways to truth?

CES Letter, Page 75

The author of The CES Letter does not mention the millions of people who have received genuine answers to their prayers, which is why they keep believing. While individuals can be deceived by their own feelings and by false spirits, we must not forget that the Spirit can and will lead us into trials so we can be tested. The Holy Ghost does not guide us to instant joy, but to eternal joy. (Click here)

Real vs. Not Real

CES Letter Core Question

Why is this Spirit so unreliable and inconsistent? How can I trust such an inconsistent and contradictory source for knowing that Mormonism is worth betting my life, time, money, heart, mind, and obedience to?

Inspirational and uplifting feelings can come from many sources. However, the Holy Spirit does much more. Joseph Smith taught: "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator." Elsewhere he explained that the Spirit leads us "to do good. . . to do justly, to walk humbly, [and] to judge righteously" (D&C 11:12-13).  Warm feelings could be the Spirit, but its influence generally transcends those emotions. (Click here)