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RS/MP Lesson 3: “Our Testimony of Jesus Christ” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on February 4, 2012

For this week’s lesson, I’m going to focus on the section titled “Each of us can gain a personal testimony that Jesus is the Christ,” and the scripture John 7:17 (“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine”).

My day job requires me to do data-driven research. This is because in our scientific age, there is a quest to discover objective knowledge—knowledge that cuts across individual differences, and that does not depend on the particular mood or desires of the person conducting the research.

Since the values of modern science are so deeply infused in our modern culture, this idea of receiving “personal testimony” is counter-cultural. It marks a significant break from many trends in the world. To live faithful to this kind of testimony requires conviction and courage. We can’t just point to a consensus of scholars and claim that Jesus is the Christ, or that the Book of Mormon is true. Personal testimony requires personal investment and sustenance.

In Pres. Smith’s words:

We have another testimony, another evidence that is even more perfect and more convincing than the others, because it is a testimony that comes to the individual when he has complied with the requirements of our Father in Heaven.

Why is personal testimony “more perfect and more convincing” than other forms of evidence? Because it “comes to the individual,” Pres. Smith says. He continues:

It is a testimony that is burned into our souls by the power of the Holy Ghost, when we have performed the work that the Lord has said must be performed if we would know that the doctrine be of God or whether it be of man.

How does personal testimony differ from scientific and/or cerebral knowledge? I know the world is round, but this knowledge isn’t burned into my soul, and it’s not really something I have personal experience with. There isn’t the same kind of personal significance attached to my knowledge about the roundness of the world, compared to my testimony that Jesus is the Christ. The latter is salvific, and it inflects everything I do, everything I am, and everything that really matters to me.

Whereas the KJV says “if any man will do his will,” other translations say: “If anyone wants to do God’s will” (NET); “anyone who resolves to do the will of God” (NRSV); “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will” (ESV). These alternate translations suggest less emphasis on what we do and more emphasis on a kind of kenotic willingness on our part to yield to God’s will. This seems to echo the Old Testament idea of a “freewill offering”, which, according to one Torah commentary, is “designed to enhance an individual’s relationship with [God]. Therefore, the freewill offering is symbolic of voluntary commitment . . . [in contrast to the] second type of offering [which] is mandatory . . . for the rectification of sin.”

The “own free will” wording in LDS scripture (and the temple) suggests the importance of not just doing God’s will, but choosing God’s will, in a voluntary manner. My kids are at an age where they will oftentimes obey with an obviously unwilling attitude. It’s scary to see them give such explicit expression to the way that I often feel on the inside when doing things with reluctance. It’s forced me to think about the manner which I am submitting to God’s will, and the extent I am truly offering the Lord my “heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34).

Receiving a personal testimony of Jesus Christ is not the same as maintaining an intellectual belief about the proposition that Jesus is the Christ. A testimony of Jesus Chris is personal. It requires personal sacrifice, courage, and fidelity. It is rooted in personal experience, and a willingness to allow ourselves to be transformed—by the Spirit, the commandments, our covenants and, above all, the Atonement.

7 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 3: “Our Testimony of Jesus Christ” (George Albert Smith Manual)”

  1. utladyhawk said

    Thank you. I enjoyed your thoughts and plan on using them in my lesson.

  2. Kim Berkey said

    Thanks, Robert. Here a few of my own preliminary thoughts:

    1.) The entire lesson seems more or less organized around the three points that President Smith thinks Latter-day Saints are uniquely positioned to understand: the Savior’s “divine mission,” that he is the Son of God, and that “at the present time he is enthroned in glory” (22). In fact, all of page 23 neatly follows this outline. The first paragraph identifies Jesus’ divine mission, the second and third reiterate that he was the Son of God, and the fourth paragraph attests his resurrection and exaltation. The second section (“We accept the Bible’s testimony of the divine mission of Jesus Christ”) again emphasizes his mission, followed by further emphasis on his divinity in the section “The Book of Mormon and the testimony of Joseph Smith give us additional evidence of Christ’s divinity.” The vast majority of what President Smith says in this lesson fits topically into one of those three categories.

    2.) I’m struck that the lesson is called “Our testimony of Jesus Christ,” as opposed to something like “Gaining a personal testimony of the Savior.” The way President Smith talks about the Latter-day Saints’ belief in the Savior makes me wonder about the general idea of collective testimony, and what its LDS content might look like.
    I’m also strongly inclined to take this lesson in the direction of how our testimony ought to parallel and dialogue with other Christians’, while steering clear of the “are-Mormons-Christians” debate. The lesson opens with a story about this question precisely–how “outsiders” view Mormonism, specifically regarding their testimony of Jesus. My personal feeling is that we Mormons have a lot to learn from fellow Christians about grace and sharing the gospel. Is there a way to make that a productive discussion without it falling into some sort of Christian rivalry?

    3.) There’s a strong emphasis in this lesson on Jesus’ divinity. He “was more than a good man” (23) despite those who have “desired to rob Him of the divinity of His birth” (25). I wonder how much of this emphasis comes from the intellectual trends of President Smith’s day. Was this a more pervasive idea back then? I’m also interested in why President Smith identifies LDS as particularly privileged in this regard: “there are no other people in all the world who have all the information that we have with reference to the divinity of the Savior” (29). It strikes me as interesting that the Book of Mormon (as discussed on 25-26) and the temple endowment depict Christ as exalted and all-powerful, whereas the Gospels portray a Savior who is much more down-to-earth. Is this why Mormons see Christ as more transcendent than other Christians do? It’s not uncommon for me to see Facebook statuses from my Christian friends thanking Jesus for being such a good friend, taking a personal interest in their lives, helping them with daily challenges, etc. Mormons don’t do that. Could it be because our (unique) scripture begins from the standpoint of an exalted Jesus? And if this is an accurate portrayal, of course, what do we make of it?

    • Robert C. said

      Kim, thanks for the good thoughts and questions. Sorry I don’t have good thoughts to offer in response — except for this link to Joe’s post at T&S that I think addresses your #2. That is, I think Joe offers some good reasons for questioning some typically unquestioned ways that we think about the apostasy — which, in turn, instill an unnecessary rivalry with our (esp. Christian) friends and neighbors….

  3. Bruce Gilbert said

    I offer comments with regard to Kim’s observations and analysis, bearing in mind that this is according to my experience and understanding. Being a convert to the Church and, at one time, holding a “secular” viewpoint of the mission of the Savior, I gained tremendously valuable insight to who He was and is with the additional information afforded to me through modern revelation. I find Him to be even more personal and involved with my life, than previously. The difference is that now I am more awe-struck by His condescension toward me. I realize His majesty and importance, causing me to approach Him with more reverence and respect. One of the differences is that before I felt that I could stand in His presence . . . making Him more of a peer. Now, I feel that I should kneel in His presence . . . making Him more of the God that He is. (It is one thing to stand and quite another to be raised up.) I used to think of Him as a “buddy,” now I think of Him as a Master. I am most amazed that it is His desire that I should be like Him, whereas before it was my desire that He should be like me. Its not that He has changed, but my perspective of Him has. Surprisingly little could be more personal and revealing about His personality than the account given in the Book of Mormon of His visit wherein He wept for joy at His children’s faith. I not only love Him because of that, but because He wants me to love like that, too. His gospel and His Spirit are teaching me how I can. I am being transformed, (albeit slowly); day by day, to be like Him. The wonderful thing is that I can. (The thought of this would have been heresy before!) I don’t ever want to make mention of the Savior and my relationship to Him as common place. It is special; it is VERY personal; and it is lifting.

    Language. My language has changed. I use to be very cerebral and dealt with things in a quasi-intellectual manner: logic; deduction; inference; reason; rationale; etc.; etc.; etc. By personal revelation I have learned that I was missing a whole dimension to “language.” A “complementary” style of communication has been given to me through a quasi-spiritual manner: feeling; inspiration; discernment; empathy; compassion; etc.; etc.; etc. “The bestest communicators and the bestest instructors utilize both.” It is the “heart” and “mind” paradigm. To put it simply, Kim, teach by the Spirit and don’t get caught up worrying about “Christian rivalry” or perceptions. Heavenly Father’s Spirit knows the needs and message that will promote the best outcome for participants.

  4. Bob Wilde said

    In addition to teaching President Smith’s three points addressed above I plan on having the class talk about “testimony.” We know that Elder McConkie’s template of what should be included in bearing a testimony is that Jesus is the Christ, the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet, and a prophet leads the Church today. That doesn’t consider how a testimony fits into our salvation.

    The scriptures give some insight. The tablets Moses brought down the mountain were referred to as tables of testimony (Exodus 32:15). The 76th Section talks of those who receive a testimony as inhabiting the celestial kingdom (vs 51) and those who are not valiant in their testimony of Jesus as inhabiting the terrestial kingdom. Revelation speaks of finishing a testimony (11:7) of overcoming by testimony (12:11) and of a testimony of Jesus being the spirit of prophecy (19:10). Abinadi’s testimony is his blood (Mosiah 17:10). In 2 Nephi the testimony of two nations runs together (29:8). Alma found the only way to reclaim the unrighteous was to bear down with pure testimony (Alma 4:19). In addition to prophets testifying the scriptures do also (John 5:9) as will earthquakes (D&C 76:22) and persecution (Luke 21:13). Finally, the just people observed by Joseph F Smith in his vision of the spriit world were those who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus (D&C 138:12). Clearly a testimony is more than the words spoken on fast Sunday and probably much more than that which we feel as the spirit teaches us.
    My experience with the high priests is that thoughtful consideration of an amalgamation of related scriptures invites the spirit and teaches precepts we had not considered before.

  5. joespencer said

    Nice notes and discussion. Just to add a thought:

    I’m struck that for all the talk of Christ in the lesson, the atonement as such is never mentioned once. The emphasis is consistently on Christ’s divinity and on the resurrection through which He (re)claimed that divinity.

  6. Robert C. said

    Bruce (#3), I too have found that opening myself up to the wonders of the Spirit, and the wonders of creation, has instilled a deeper sense of reverence and gratitude toward my creator. And, this attitude has helped me overcome the tendency I often have of divorcing my intellectual thinking from the more fundamental aspect of my spiritual being. (For more on this idea, of the givenness of our spiritual being as a more fundamental aspect of our existence, and the Gospel, than thinking and cognitive understanding, see this interesting post at the T&S blog.)

    Bob (#4), thanks especially for these scriptures. You got me wondering about the Greek and Hebrew roots of this word, testimony, which has led to a rather interesting search into the relation between words ranging from testify, test, attest, testy, testicular, etc. As far as I can tell, there are two distinct (though possibly related) Latin roots at play in these words, one connoting the testing process used in purifying gold, and the other having a more covenantal/witnessing connotation. I’m very intrigued by the possibility of there being a relation between these two notions (we read in Abraham about this life being a test, and I’m wondering whether this can/should be understood as related to testimony…), but since the Latin roots are distinct, I don’t yet see good justification for making this connection. At any rate, the covenantal (testament) aspects of testimony are interesting to contemplate, and I’m wondering now about the relation between testimony and our temple covenants. In marriage, we covenant to be true to each other in a marriage that is bound together and oriented by God, who is a third, mediating source that keeps the marriage . . . well, dynamic — perhaps analogous to the way that moving water stays fresh and pure (which also suggests a possible relation to the purifying/testing connotations of that other Latin root…). To relate this to the comment and link I just gave to Bruce, I think it’s useful to conceive of testimony first in terms of the Word of God as it has been given to us, and secondly in terms of how we respond to this word, whether we give space to it and orient our lives in response to it, or whether we ignore it….

    Joe, yes, nice observation. Similar, perhaps, to how the Book of Mormon focuses so much on the resurrection?

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