Two years ago, while at work, I noticed several of my co-workers engrossed in a discussion. I gathered that they were talking about a book or document of some sort, and as the day passed I became intrigued by what had so captivated their minds.
I finally asked one of my coworkers what they were all so fascinated by. He looked at me a bit awkwardly and said, “I don’t know if we should tell you,” suggesting that the reason had to do with me being a devout Latter-day Saint.
Of course, that only made me more interested to find out what they had all been talking about. I pressed him on the subject and he divulged the name of a 90-page document discussing one man’s reasons for rejecting the LDS Church. I had heard of the document before (it’s one of the more popular pieces of anti-Mormon literature produced in recent years), but never thought to read it.
This time I decided I would.
I found the document on-line and began reading. I didn’t expect to do more than skim over it, but ended up reading the document rather closely.
As someone who has studied argumentation and rhetoric, I was immediately struck by the subtle tools of deception used by the author. Whether the author was purposely relying on misleading presentation techniques, I do not know. But I do know that the most emotionally impactful parts of the document were based on deeply flawed logic and zero substance.
However, I did learn things about Church history that were in fact true and were also unsettling to me. Obviously it was impossible to have all the context, but some of what was true was enough to bother me pretty deeply.
I was suddenly plunged into confusion. Many of the claims made by anti-Mormons were based in half-truths, presentation tricks, and outright lies, and yet some of what was true seemed to have no good or plausible explanation and simultaneously could not simply be brushed aside as unimportant details.
In the midst of this confusion, Brittney and I prayed and considered the implications. For the first time in many years, we asked with uncertainty: was Joseph Smith really a prophet? Is this really Christ’s Church?
Before serving my mission I had a life-changing testimony experience. But as I looked back on that experience, I realized that the powerful witness I had received centered on Jesus Christ and God’s love, not on Joseph Smith or the Restored Church. Brittney’s experience was similar.
Of course, we had felt assurances of peace about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and the Restored Church. But these experiences were temporarily overshadowed by some of the surprising things we had learned.
So, we found ourselves praying to God, saying, “We know that there is a Christ, but if this isn’t His Church, we aren’t afraid to leave what we have for something more.”
The morning after fasting about our concerns, I received an answer as I studied my scriptures.
I didn’t really know where I wanted to study that morning, so I took my Bible off the shelf, opened it haphazardly, and began reading.
As I read, I became engrossed in an account of faith, doubt, and questions that the Jews and Christ’s disciples had faced 2000 years ago. I quickly saw striking parallels to dilemmas of doubt faced by Church members today. And perhaps even more powerfully, I saw that there were others in the scriptures, like me and my wife, who had sincere questions that seemed unanswerable.
At first, the passage discussed the doubts of people who never really had a testimony and didn’t care to seek for one. They said things like:
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, “I came down from heaven?”” or “What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee?”
The first question points out a seeming logical inconsistency with one of Christ’s claims and the second asks, “if what you say is true, where is the evidence?”
These questions would be easily answered and dismissed by Christ’s disciples (maybe not to the satisfaction of the critics, but at least to their own satisfaction).
But Jesus’ disciples were about to face a doubt that would not be so easily dismissed.
You see, Christ proceeded to teach the following:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh…”
As I read, I was struck by how absurd this statement would sound to someone who knew nothing about the atonement, nothing about the symbolism of the sacrament. It would have sounded like Jesus was literally saying that his disciples needed to eat his flesh in order to receive eternal life.
And that’s exactly what the Jews thought. Which is why many of them immediately began criticizing Christ:
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
And even Christ’s disciples, those who had pressed forward in faith while others wrote Jesus off as a lunatic or demon, may have also thought Jesus’ statement was a little odd.
They may have expected that Christ would clear up the misconception, but they were sorely mistaken.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”
That is strong and strange language considering an audience that is unfamiliar with Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Suddenly, even the strongest of Christ’s disciples had to wonder, at least for a moment, “maybe the critics are right. Perhaps Jesus isn’t a prophet or the Son of God. Maybe he really is a lunatic; perhaps he really is possessed of a devil.”
The scriptures then read:
“Many of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? [And] from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”
Sad isn’t it? That some of Christ’s disciples turned away from the Savior because something he said seemed more controversial than it really was. How foolish to ignore all they had experienced as they walked with Christ and pondered his teachings–the joy and peace that they had experienced… all because they didn’t fully understand one small aspect of His ministry. Oh, if only they had waited for the full context.
I realized then that considering all of my experiences with the Book of Mormon, pondering the teachings of modern and ancient prophets, sharing the Gospel as a missionary, etc., I could wait until all the context was revealed regarding a couple of incidents here and there that, honestly, are anomalies relative to the whole of Church history.
I also realized that there was nowhere else I could go to be brought closer to Christ. Every avenue I considered required me to abandon knowledge about Christ that I knew was true but that I had learned through the Restored Church.
So, like Simon Peter, there were things I didn’t fully understand, things that had led others to doubt and reject the Restored Gospel. But when faced with the question: “Will ye also go away?” I knew my response had to be: “Where else shall I go?”
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By Dustin Phelps
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