A WAY WHICH SEEMETH RIGHT:
My Experience in Mormonism
by David A. McCament, Formerly LDS
(Updated April 2011)
Of all the faithful members of the Church I have ever met, I never thought I'd be one of those seemingly faithless few who leave it. But I did.
I did because of God.
I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 27, 1970, at the age of sixteen. On November 1, 1983, nearly thirteen years later, I sat before a Church High Council and requested that my name be officially removed from its records. Some members claimed I never really believed in the Church or had a testimony of my former faith. Once I did.
I once believed with all my heart that the Church was true. No religion seemed so right. But God showed me differently.
This is my testimony, the story of what great things Jesus Christ has done in my life. I want to share how faithful God is and what He has done for me personally. I'd also like to include those scriptures found in the Bible which convinced me to trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation and in His Word for finding truth.
I. Setting the Stage
My experience in Mormonism began indirectly, over a simple misunderstanding of sacred scripture many years before I knew anything about the LDS Church. My parents at that time were nominal Christians and did not attend a church themselves, but they encouraged my older brother and I to worship wherever we wished. When I was about seven years old we were invited by some school friends to visit a Baptist church nearby. My attraction to Mormonism actually began there.
After several visits to Sunday School I recall the teacher one day sharing with our class how to be saved. It involved receiving Jesus Christ as my Savior. Our pastor had previously mentioned in the church service that we were all sinners and destined for hell without accepting Christ and asking His forgiveness for our sins. I loved God and wanted to be forgiven so I followed her directions as she led us in prayer, inviting Jesus into my heart. I expected to feel wonderful being saved and the fear of going to hell gone, but when the prayer was over, I sat in my chair alarmed and ashamed. I didn't feel any different. While others in the class were expressing great joy after receiving Jesus, I felt hopelessly lost. I wondered if I said the prayer right or if I was sincere or even good enough to be saved. I confided secretly to my teacher after class how I felt. She acted surprised, almost alarmed. Although she prayed for me to feel assured, I could be not be convinced of my salvation. My feelings led me to believe I was still unforgiven and unsaved.
I spent the next ten years visiting different churches and listening to what everyone was saying about God and how to be saved. I listened to Gospel radio programs on Sunday mornings while washing the breakfast dishes. I would feel uncertain and anxious each time I'd hear a pastor ask if their listeners were certain of their eternal destiny. I even went to a Billy Graham Crusade with my grandparents but had no feeling assuring me I was saved, no matter how many times I asked Jesus to be my Savior.
My heart was longing to understand about God and salvation. There was so much I couldn't figure out. I dabbled with playing Ouija and certain ESP games but these led to little more than alienating me further from God. I conjured up in my mind what God must look like and what His attitude towards me might be. I sometimes felt like God was indifferent and unconcerned about my salvation, yet there were other times I was certain I only needed the right person with the truth to tell me exactly what was required to be saved. I listened with interest to anyone who claimed to have an answer. Thus, when I was offered an opportunity to hear the message of Mormonism, I was immediately interested.
Mormonism's opportunity presented itself during my junior year in high school. A boy sitting next to me in class mentioned to another student that he was a priest in the Mormon Church. I was surprised a boy his age could be ordained. When I expressed an interest in what he believed, he asked if I would like the missionaries from his church to talk to me. I was delighted and accepted his offer.
A pair of visitors came to my home a few weeks later. They introduced themselves as Elder Baker and Elder Fogg, missionaries from the Mormon Church. I thought it strange they both had the same first name. Once the discussion got underway, they told me about Joseph Smith. They were convinced he was a modern prophet who had actually seen and spoken with God the Father and His Son.
The personal testimony of Joseph Smith says he struggled with knowing which church was true at a very young age. The two missionaries, sharing his story, said he asked God during his vision which of all the churches he should join. His account of the matter says he was told by one of the Personages addressing him to join none of them, for all the Christian churches were corrupt and had fallen away from teaching the truth about God. The elders claimed that no other church on earth had the proper authority to baptize nor perform any other act in God's name since the original church Christ established had collapsed. They declared that Joseph Smith was called by God to restore the true Church of Jesus Christ on earth, including the reinstatement of the priesthood that the original church of Christ once held and the installation of twelve new apostles.
I was amazed to discover that my own preconceived ideas and images of God were very much like the physical descriptions and attributes as given by Joseph Smith. What's more, I could recall from some past conversation, the details of which were now vague, of God being able to talk to people personally. I don't know who told me this or why I believed it. But when the missionaries related to me the rather unlikely story of God the Father and Jesus Christ coming in person to speak to Joseph Smith, I had no trouble believing it. It was like I was prepared for accepting Mormonism in advance.
The elders were very confident and self-assured that what they were telling me was the truth. They assured me they knew the only way to salvation and that I could know it, too. They asked me if, once I became convinced in my heart that what they were saying was true, would I consider being baptized by someone from their church who held the priesthood authority to perform it? I answered, "Yes," without hesitating. My positive response completed their objective. My first lesson was over.
I watched the missionaries drive away. I was already eager for their return. Their message inspired in me a hope for my salvation I had never felt before. They appeared to have a thorough understanding of the Bible and were very confident in what they believed. It was like I was finally hearing, for the first time in my life, the truth about God and how to be saved. I was excited.
The missionaries were back the following week. As the two men took their places on the sofa, I noticed Elder Baker was carrying another book along with his Bible. It was a blue paperback bearing the name, "The Book of Mormon." At my first sight of this book I felt strangely interested in it. There was a curious warmth and attraction about it that drew my immediate attention. I hoped they brought this book for me to read. Indeed they had.
Before discussing the nature of their blue paperback the elders opened our lesson in prayer and then reviewed what we had discussed the previous week. They emphasized the collapse of the early church and how God restored it to the earth again through their prophet, Joseph Smith. The subject of my baptism came up again, too. Having said all this, the missionaries were ready to introduce me to the blue book.
This work had an unusual origin. The two Elders testified that an angel named Moroni directed Joseph Smith to recover a set of golden plates from the ground near his farm. These plates, written in Reformed Egyptian by Jewish descendants, contained a religious history of ancient American inhabitants who migrated from Palestine in Old Testament times. Joseph Smith claimed to have translated this record, naming it the Book of Mormon. When he finished his work he returned the plates to the angel.
The elders proudly pointed out many highlights of the Book of Mormon to me, including the most important event recorded in it: the account of the appearance of Jesus Christ after His resurrection to the Americas. This event, they said, was foretold by Jesus Himself in the Bible and stood as one of the most significant contributions of their new scriptures: a second scriptural witness of Jesus Christ.
The missionaries believed this book was true because of the personal witness they both experienced. Their premise was based on a Book of Mormon verse that promises God would reveal the truthfulness of that book to anyone who asks in sincere prayer, the reference being Moroni 10:4-5. The elders had me read this passage aloud:
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
This verse released a remarkable sensation in me. As the missionaries continued to share their own belief in the Book of Mormon and how they had come to know it was a true book of scripture, I was momentarily overwhelmed myself with a convincing sense of assurance that this book was indeed the Word of God. My admiration for the blue paperback in my hands so preoccupied my mind that I unconsciously shut out all outside distractions, including the missionaries, to ponder the significance of it.
My attention turned again to the missionaries. With great belief and sincerity, they each told me of their complete trust and assurance in the genuine divinity of the Book of Mormon. There seemed to be no doubt in the minds of either man that this book was exactly what Joseph Smith purported it to be. This was quite a story to believe in. But they did. They testified that they knew the Book of Mormon was a true record of scripture. They assured me I could know it, too, simply by asking God.
To substantiate the truth of any ordinary historical record such a method would be too subjective. But this was supposed to be scripture and the subject was spiritual. As oversimplified and subjective as it was, their method seemed correct to me. It made sense. Frankly, I didn't know enough about the Bible to compare their religion with Biblical teachings. I had only a sincere heart to offer and that's all their method required. In my innocence I was culpable, naive, and easily beguiled, completely unaware of several Biblical imperatives for discerning truth of this kind.
Of course, I didn't see myself as a target for deception. I was an honest seeker of God's truth. And I was very sincere. In fact, I even believed the less I questioned the claims of the missionaries, the more faith in God I was displaying.
The elders suggested I try asking God right then. All of us knelt around the coffee table and bowed our heads. One of the elders began by praying for me that I might know the truthfulness of what they had shared. I followed his prayer and asked my Heavenly Father about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's claim to be a prophet of God.
The feelings of warmth from within my heart I had experienced earlier when I saw the Book of Mormon in the elders' hands returned even stronger. I just knew inside what the missionaries had been telling me was true. I was so overwhelmed with joy and an unexplainable sense of inner peace that tears came to my eyes. When my prayer concluded I lifted my head and looked at the elders. One of them responded, "Dave, what you are feeling is the Holy Ghost witnessing to you that the Church is true."
I was transformed, completely convinced. I was certain the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. There was literally no doubt in my mind that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon, together with the other standard works of the Church, were authentic scripture. There was nothing contrived or made up. And each time thereafter, when I asked God in the same manner, I got the same answer: the Church was true. It seemed so real, so right, to me.
To the observer, this method of discerning truth would appear self-authenticating. The missionaries had introduced Joseph Smith, who claimed to be a prophet of God by virtue of his vision of the Father and the Son. He said it was impossible to come to a knowledge of divine truth by making an appeal to the Bible. God had chosen him in the latter-days to restore the missing plain and precious truths taken from the Bible to the world again in the form of extra-Biblical revelations. Because he claimed to be a prophet of God he could attest to the truthfulness of his authority to act in God's name. This would be circular reasoning indeed if it were not for the Book of Mormon promise that anyone questioning the claims of Joseph Smith had only to ask God in prayer to verify the story. How could one account for the supernatural feeling I just experienced? I didn't consciously invent it and Joseph Smith couldn't put it there. The missionaries identified it as the Holy Ghost. But was it?
I decided to put my trust in this feeling. By doing so I knew for myself that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true beyond doubt. Although the elders offered various Bible verses as scriptural support and made profound assertions that the ancient ruins found in South America were built by "Book of Mormon" people, I believed in the Church and all it taught me mainly for one reason: each time I prayed and asked God to tell me the truth about the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the Church he founded, I got a favorable response - something I had searched for since my experience in the Baptist Church years before.
My conversion to Mormonism followed. On December 26, 1970, having completed all my missionary lessons, I was baptized. I was confirmed a member of the Church the following day. Like my high school friend who sent the missionaries, I was ordained to the priesthood. Following my first year of college I went to work to save up money for my mission. At twenty years of age I became a full time missionary and served in both Holland and Montana. Soon after I was released from my mission, divided and eventually shortened as it was by a recurring illness, I met a young LDS woman who had also converted to the Church years earlier. Five days from meeting her, after praying and receiving an answer from the Holy Ghost, I asked her to marry me. Eight months later we were married "for time and all eternity" in the Los Angeles Temple. Within six years three lovely children entered our little family. More than ever I believed the Church was true. I had everything. But most important of all to me, I had a testimony.
III. Latter-day Life
I loved being LDS! I was very satisfied as a Latter-day Saint and proud of my religion. I told nearly everyone I met about the Church. I was dedicated to my faith and zealous to defend it whenever someone attempted to find fault with the Church or Joseph Smith. My activity and zeal impressed my non-Mormon family members. My brother, who had accepted Jesus as his Savior when only ten years old, called me a "Mormon of Mormons."
My experience in Mormonism was very positive at first. With lots of Church socials and activities for my wife and I to go to, we made many close LDS friends. I can't recall the number of times I laid my hands on the heads of those who were sick or in need of a blessing. I, too, had often been prayed for and healed. When I needed help the Church responded without hesitation. I have great admiration and many fond memories for the people in the Church I have known.
I had a particularly special relationship with one of the bishops of my first ward. I became closer to him than with some members of my own family. He and I were more than friends. More, even, than father and son. I cannot explain it apart from the belief that we were members of the true Church and both holding the Priesthood of God. We shared many intimate aspects of our faith together. I learned to trust and admire his opinion. He helped to shape my belief in the Church and my view of God.
I didn't win his approval the day I wore a Christian cross to a meeting at the Institute building where he was also the director. He pulled me aside and politely but firmly informed me that crosses were inappropriate attire for a Latter-day Saint. "It might offend someone here," he said. I humbly submitted to my bishop's request and pocketed my cross, never as a Mormon to wear one again. He was deeply disappointed when I came home early from my mission, attributing my illness to God's retribution for past sin in my life. Down in my heart I knew better. As much as I respected my bishop I couldn't agree with everything he said about God. He once told me I brought my Christian background with me when I joined the Church. With respect to my opinion of God's love and forgiveness maybe I had.
This view I had of God's love allowed me to feel accepted by Him instead of assuming every trial in my life was the result of punishment for sin. I met many LDS people who did not. This was typified the time our house first flooded from heavy rainfall. I had a well-meaning but rather insensitive LDS friend come by to help me. As we stood in two feet of water he asked me, "Dave, what did you do wrong that God would punish you like this?"
But there were more serious challenges to my faith than these, like the time Walter Martin came to town. Dr. Martin was a Christian apologist who spoke out against churches considered to be non-Christian. Mormonism was one of them. My non-Mormon brother challenged me to go and hear what would be said against my religion at one of Dr. Martin's local meetings. I had previously heard Dr. Martin on tape and was deeply offended by his attitude and lack of respect for what I held sacred. He even said things against the Church that I was certain couldn't be true. With the approval of our ward's new bishop, himself a recent convert to Mormonism, my wife and I headed off to hear what slander would be perpetrated against God's True Church and attempt to straighten out an obviously misinformed Martin.
Dr. Martin spoke for over an hour, yet I didn't retain a thing he said. It didn't register, as if my ears and eyes were turned off. All I could think about was how far off he was from understanding what my religion was about and what Joseph Smith really taught. When he completed his portion of the meeting he turned the time over for a question-and-answer dialogue. I got up to the microphone and began defending the Church. Martin had several rebuttals to my comments but these didn't phase me. I continued until I sensed that Dr. Martin, and every Christian in the auditorium as well, were spiritually blind and couldn't understand the things of God. I was more convinced than ever that my Church was right after that meeting.
My brother had also attended the Martin conference and recorded everything said that night, including my dialogue with Dr. Martin. He and other Christian members of my family were praying for me on a regular basis that I might recognize the difference between Mormon doctrine and the teachings of their faith. Having thoroughly studied the Bible themselves they concluded that Mormonism was wrong and were very concerned that I had embraced its theology. One afternoon in particular, while I was closing my garage door, I sensed my brother was praying for me at that very moment. I can't explain it; I just knew what he was doing. I was so upset I said out loud, "Chuck, stop praying for me! I will not leave the Church." Upon questioning him later, he admitted both he and his wife were praying heavily for me to see the errors in my religion.
I resented my brother's interference. It was like spiritual persecution. Although my brother meant well, I couldn't help feeling like he and every other Christian had nothing better to do than attack my Church. Did I or any other Mormon I knew go around criticizing other religions? We were busy doing good, helping other members and carrying out our Church assignments. We weren't spending our time tearing down other churches. How often I would look at the other non-Mormon members of my family after this kind of "ridicule" and think to myself, "And they call themselves Christians?"
I could not have been convinced then that my brother had any scriptural grounds for what he was doing. I was unaware of the Biblical command found in Jude 3, where all believers in Christ are exhorted to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints." I interpreted my brother's prayers and continual scriptural challenges as harassment, not as an act of love for me and not out of obedience to God. My pride was at stake, my religion threatened whenever he cornered me with some verse from the Bible. His may not have been the kindest approach but he was concerned and he was trying. I certainly didn't use the most sensitive approaches in sharing my faith with him. Recently he reminded me of the time I once slammed my bedroom door in his face when he saw me wearing my priesthood garments, instead of patiently explaining their sacredness to me. This kind of tension between us was counterproductive to truth. Worse, it often lead me to feel even more certain that my Church was true. Ironically, right when I felt my testimony of the Church was the strongest it had ever been, my brother and others in my family were the most aggressive in their efforts for God to reach me somehow and show me my Church was wrong.
IV. The Unexpected
In the past I would have laughed at my non-Mormon family's efforts to save me. Mine was a strong testimony of the divinity of the Restored Gospel. I knew the Church was true. No one by human reasoning could have convinced me otherwise. Looking back now I realize how I underestimated the effectiveness of my family's prayers in my behalf. I am certain God used their prayers to trigger a series of events which soon followed, challenging me to spend two and one half years researching the historical background of the Church, its leaders, and the scriptures it produced.
These events began during my first year of teaching seminary, a high school course designed to familiarize LDS students with Mormon doctrine. In addition to Church-supplied materials, we would study from the four standard scriptural books the Church uses: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. My first year of teaching covered the Book of Mormon. As I prepared my seminary lessons I read this book more carefully than I had done before. I grew increasingly aware of anachronisms, Biblical plagiarism, and doctrinal contradictions. The more I considered the magnitude of the problems the more I became convinced of its dubious historicity.
Down inside my heart, where no one but God could see, I secretly questioned the Book of Mormon's claim to be a sacred record of scripture. But because of my testimony - itself a divine manifestation of the genuine nature of the Book of Mormon - my suspicions seemed academic, irrelevant, and very unspiritual. I decided the Church had to be true or I would not have felt the way I did when I prayed about it. Doubt and suspicion were tools of Satan's device against the unfaithful; I knew better. Besides, I reasoned, if this Church wasn't true, which one was? Acting on faith in the Church alone, I accepted the opportunity to teach Seminary again the following year.
In this second year our course of study for seminary covered the entire Old Testament. I read every Old Testament book that summer to prepare myself. It was an exciting course. I had never read the Bible through before so this experience was particularly delightful. I found the Old Testament refreshingly alive and rich, so detailed and inspiring. I knew without doubt it was the Word of God.
I made a special effort to prayerfully study the Book of Isaiah. When I got to the 40th chapter and beyond, I noted how frequently Isaiah emphasized the existence of only one God. For example, Chapter 43, verse 10 reads, "Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen, that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me." Chapter 44, verse 8 reads, "Fear not, neither be afraid; have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? Ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside Me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any."
Isaiah's point got my attention: God is and has been God all by Himself; there is no other God besides Him. There will never be any other God "formed" or made after Him either. Isaiah was teaching something in direct conflict with a principal tenet of Mormonism called Eternal Progression, a doctrine introduced by Joseph Smith. He asserted that, just as God was once a man and had become a God Himself previously, we may also become Gods like Him by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel as understood in LDS terms. I made note of the conflict between Isaiah and Joseph Smith and set the matter aside for the time being.
Before summer ended, I was invited to attend an Old Testament conference to help prepare seminary teachers for the courses outlined in the coming school year. A BYU Old Testament professor, who was also instrumental in the development of the Church's new LDS King James Bible, had been invited as a guest speaker. At the end of his lecture, time for questions and answers was offered. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to ask the professor to explain the Isaiah conflict. When my turn came for my question I read Isaiah 43:10 and asked the professor to comment on the apparent contradiction. He replied after a brief pause, "That's a good question. Does anyone have an answer?" A longer pause followed, with no response. The professor's only comment on the passage was, "You will often be asked some rather difficult questions by your students, so be prepared." That ended the discussion and my pursuit of the matter with the professor.
I went on with teaching the Old Testament course that year and loved it. But in spite of the fact that my faith in the Bible had grown as a result, my testimony of Joseph Smith and the Church had declined. Minor problems that I had previously ignored surfaced, like having to swear in the Temple by my own life never to reveal the things I learned there. Didn't Jesus and the Apostle James warn never to swear at all but say only "yes" or "no" (Matthew 5:34; James 5:12)? Though these and other concerns were minor, I felt hypocritical telling people the Church was true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I felt uncomfortable hearing other members share their testimonies in front of me as well.
My reluctance to be involved in the Church forced me to share my fears and concerns with my wife and my bishop. I asked to be released from my position as seminary teacher, at the same time expressing my need to investigate the Church. Their reactions were different. My wife expressed great anxiety over the matter. She tried to help me by privately consulting experienced Church leaders. My Bishop was more understanding. He felt it best that I continue in some facet of church work while I examined my religion. I agreed and accepted his offer to be our ward's Webelos den leader while beginning an in-depth look into the writings and history of Mormonism.
V. Beneath the Surface
I began my study with the Book of Mormon, since it was the "keystone" of my faith and the foundation upon which all of Mormonism rests. At the outset of my reading I consulted secular sources of information primarily, but shortly thereafter, at the suggestion of my wife and those church leaders who followed my progress, I incorporated corresponding LDS Church publications in order to maintain a balance between the secular and religious opinions before me. I felt much like a detective attempting to track down every clue available.
Over a period of several months, I read up on the latest information available concerning the history, culture and archeology of South and Central America. This data contrasted sharply with the supposed historical accounts and statements of the Book of Mormon. For example, there is no evidence that the language of the Jews was spoken by the ancients in America nor that they ever wrote in "Reformed Egyptian" hieroglyphics. No Book of Mormon city has ever been discovered; no Book of Mormon character can be historically identified. To date there is no tangible proof to credibly substantiate the existence of the civilization which produced the Book of Mormon. While some LDS scholars disagree, honest, empirical evidence does not exist to uphold the Book of Mormon as a historical document.
While I was not surprised at what I learned I was deeply confused. I had prayed and asked God if the Book of Mormon was true. Without a doubt I felt in my heart it was, yet the findings of modern science disproved my testimony. Caught in a conflict between fact and faith, I was partially paralyzed. I had read for myself enough evidence to logically dispute the historical validity of the Book of Mormon, but did that make it non-scriptural? Was I beginning to question God by comparing my testimony with science? Whether I was or not, sound reasoning wouldn't allow me to accept the Church's method of praying about the matters of my religion alone to determine its truthfulness. In spite of the possible outcome I continued with my reading.
The tension I experienced between fact and faith in the Book of Mormon was heightened after I completed a similar study of the Book of Abraham. This is another standard work of the Church, accepted every bit as scripture. I became interested in studying the book after reading several publications compiled by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, former Latter-day Saints living in Salt Lake City, Utah. The source of the Book of Abraham, according to Joseph Smith, originated with some Egyptian papyri which came into his possession. He claimed to have translated the papyri, which consisted of Egyptian hieroglyphics, by divine means. At that point in history little was known concerning hieroglyphic writing.
His translation of these papyri became known and accepted as the Book of Abraham. Once considered lost, the papyri Joseph possessed were rediscovered and their contents providentially available for translation by modern scholars, unlike the gold plates of the Book of Mormon, which were retrieved by an angel, according to Joseph Smith's testimony.
I found the modern translation of the papyri, conducted by qualified Egyptologists, very revealing. The artifacts possessed by Joseph Smith were actually part of an Egyptian funeral text known as the Book of the Dead, or Book of Breathings. While the papyri only date back to around the 1st century AD, the Book of Abraham itself purports to be written by Abraham's own hand, thus making the papyri approximately 2000 years older than they actually are. As translated by Joseph Smith, the Book of Abraham bears absolutely no resemblance to the papyri's actual meaning. To deal with this significant problem, some LDS scholars familiar with the Book of Abraham now claim that Joseph Smith did not translate the papyri at all but transmitted a cryptic, mnemonic message, hidden to uninspired readers of hieroglyphics. While I am not a scholar myself, I found that kind of reasoning evasive and unreasonable.
Accompanying the writings themselves were several drawings which had significant ceremonial meaning within the context of the Book of the Dead but bore no relationship to the meaning Joseph Smith ascribed to them. I found pictures in library books with similar detail as the drawings in the Book of Abraham, with the accompanying explanations being completely different from the interpretations of Joseph Smith. Although I could not read hieroglyphics I could see for myself how incorrectly this book had been translated by comparing what qualified Egyptologists were saying the writings actually meant. It was indisputable proof that Joseph Smith did not obtain the Book of Abraham by translation as he said.
I felt I had found significant, tangible evidence against the claims of the Church and Joseph Smith. I showed the various pictures relating to the Book to Abraham to my wife, hoping she might understand my concern and even become sympathetic to my undertaking. I was greatly mistaken. She looked directly at the evidence I presented her and exclaimed, "There's nothing wrong. I don't see what you're talking about." Whatever hope I held for easily winning my wife to my side looked unrealistic. It was, after all, my problem of doubt, not hers. She was hoping I would forget the whole matter and embrace the Church again. She had also thought through the reality of my leaving the Church and this was evidence to her that I was possibly nearing that decision. She gave me her ultimatum: if I chose to leave the LDS Church, she would leave me and take our children with her.
I was thunderstruck. I pleaded with her to reconsider the position she was putting me in. I had joined the Church because I believed in my heart that what the Church claimed was true. My search for the truth was leading me to a different conclusion. But, though the attitude of my heart was no different now than when I had first accepted the message of Mormonism, it was of little comfort to her. She had married me as a faithful Mormon and Priesthood holder. By my leaving the Church I would be taking those special blessings away from her. This was her way of stopping me.
Admittedly her threat seemed too drastic and unreal at first. I was confident she would someday understand and even support my decision. I tried to apologize for the unintentional hurt I was causing her but confessed I had to continue searching for the truth about the Church. Discretion suggested I change my study habits. I had openly read much of the research books in her presence but, from this point on, I kept most of my notes and research to myself. When I was ready to decide and face the possible consequences, I would tell her. Not before then.
This seemed to lessen the outward feelings of anger and frustration between us but the inward feelings of fear that came with the threat of a family break-up gnawed at my heart. It was as though Satan was battling us from every side, trying to discourage me in my studies and divide my family. One night in particular I was awakened by my wife. She exclaimed, "There's a snake on the ceiling!" I jumped out of bed and looked up. I didn't see anything. We both laughed, thinking it was a dream. I have every reason to believe it was symbolic of something more; I would eventually see it myself.
I had now come to a crucial study point: the history surrounding the rise of Mormonism and the life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet. I discovered right away that the historical setting of the early LDS Church I had been taught was neither complete nor accurate. I also found a direct correlation between the doctrines and practices of the LDS Church and what many people of Joseph Smith's day were either debating or practicing themselves, such as polygamy and the establishment of a perfect society. Even extra-Biblical revelations were common among other aspiring, self-proclaimed prophets of God.
My objective in researching the biographical information available on Joseph Smith was to examine the "fruit" he bore as a Prophet of God, in accordance with the command of Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20. I found his lifestyle and his disregard for the authority of the Bible inconsistent with his claims. In his position as prophet he expressed no obligation to adhere to the Word of God, for his newer "revelations" took precedence whenever a conflict arose between his doctrines and the truths of the Bible. His premise was that the Bible had been intentionally tampered with by those responsible for copying its pages, thus altering God's true teaching. His position as a prophet of God entitled him to restore the missing elements of Biblical Scripture and correct its teaching, as prophetically "foretold" in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:34-40). By misuse of his prophetic calling and inserting his revelations as he saw fit, Joseph Smith attempted to convert the Bible to Mormonism.
What troubled me most about his disregard for the Bible was his involvement with the occult. Using a seer stone like a crystal ball, he sought buried treasure and was later arrested as "Joseph Smith the Glass Looker." He condoned divination, he used enchantments, attempted communication with the dead and even wore a Jupiter talisman (a highly occultic object) at the time of his death. I found copious evidence directly linking Joseph Smith to occult beliefs and activities in spite of many clear Biblical warnings against such practices. Nothing disturbed me more about his life. It is a matter of history, though the Church has attempted to hide it in its records. I tried to share what I had discovered with my wife in a mistaken attempt to prove to her conclusively the Church was covering up the truth about Joseph Smith's involvement with the occult. She was very upset that I had brought books on occult practices into our house, yet Joseph Smith was practicing the very acts and rituals she was condemning. She would look no further. If she had she might have seen that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet of God by the fruit he bore.
VI. Looking in Utah
I became increasing doubtful of the Church. My ward's Bishop, sensing my feelings, came by one evening to my home with an LDS visitor from out of town. He was a Church leader, his exact position I don't recall. As they sat on my couch the Bishop explained that he had previously related my story to his visitor. Upon hearing it he desired to speak to me personally. His hope was to sincerely persuade me to reconsider my course. The visitor pointed out that my wife deserved to have me be faithful and active, honoring my priesthood, since she saved her virginity for the man she would marry. She did her part. And that man was, of course, expected to honor the Priesthood. That was the unspoken condition, the obligation, the "debt" that I owed her in return. My faithlessness was not satisfactory. It was selfishness on my part not to think of her and the Priesthood blessings I would be denying my family if I forsook the faith. I thanked him for his concern and the conversation drew to a close. My testimony of Joseph Smith and the Church was not a commodity to be bartered or manipulated by any means.
My wife secretly arranged for me to visit my former Bishop, who had since moved to a town near Salt Lake City, Utah. Her hope in making these arrangements was that he would help me find "answers" to the contradictions that were causing me to question the truthfulness of the Church, thus keeping my failing testimony intact.
I was grateful for this opportunity. I flew to Salt Lake and stayed with him for nearly a week. We began our discussion with a review of my findings, my questions and my areas of concern. He attempted to address some questions, and others he admitted had no direct answers.
He called the archeological findings of scientists "profane" and said these findings could not be trusted when there was a conflict between archeology and LDS scripture. He pointed out that it could take an entire lifetime of studying archeology alone to understand the facts of history, as they relate to the Book of Mormon, to come to any conclusion. He said I had to accept the Church strictly on the grounds of spiritual faith and not be concerned about the conflicts between archeology and Church history, for the scientist or "natural man" could not understand the things of God. He concluded I couldn't come to know whether or not the Church was true by the research I was doing. His solution was spiritual: I needed to rely on the "burning in the bosom" experience I once had. The key for understanding the truth about the Church was that simple, at least for him.
When I expressed the anxiety I felt over so many unanswered questions, he suggested I place these concerns and questions about the Church on an "intellectual shelf" in the back of my mind. By shelving these conflicts, I could remain a faithful member of the LDS Church, serving and teaching as in the past, while keeping an eye open for the answers I sought. He also offered his own testimony for me to stand on until I gained mine back, saying if I needed to, I could lean on his testimony and believe in the Church because he did.
That didn't help except to buy some time. What I wanted was something more, something tangible, some kind of sound explanations. I was mostly getting spiritualized excuses.
Sensing my frustration, the bishop tried a different approach. He cited the humble home out of which Jerald and Sandra Tanner operated their store as proof that God blesses those who remain faithful to their testimony but will not allow Church critics to prosper. He offered to drive me past the Tanner's place and see for myself the conditions these ex-LDS members were living under.
I remained unconvinced, though admittedly I was tempted to see where the Tanner's bookstore was located. The bishop looked at me very seriously, studying my face. He replied, "Dave, if you had seen and experienced the things I have personally witnessed you would know the Church is true without a doubt."
I had experienced many unusual, supernatural phenomena myself. I believe many Mormons do. But I didn't think it was right to put my trust in them, to accept them as "proof of truth". I asked the bishop if he had ever "tested the spirit", that is, if he had ever compared his own experiences with the Bible for truth as explained in 1 John 4:1. He questioned my interpretation, asking me if I really thought the verse meant to compare personal revelation from God with Scripture. I said I did.
Before the end of my stay I made several visits to the library in the Headquarters of the Church, researching what Church leaders and scholars had to say about the Book of Abraham problem. Meanwhile, the bishop arranged for to me to meet personally with a General Authority, LeGrand Richards. After my introduction the bishop asked Elder Richards to address some of my concerns from his own perspective, specifically the aforementioned problem found with the Book of Abraham papyri and translation. Instead of addressing my concerns directly, the elder calmly explained that the Church had its critics but it also had its supporters in the outside world. He suggested I ignore the critics of the Church in favor of the majority who view the Church as good. His answer was so vague and nonspecific, I wondered if Elder Richards even knew of the problems which brought me to Salt Lake to solve. It was almost like he was innocently ignoring the issues and concerns raised by critics by spiritually discounting their implications. Problems like the Book of Abraham were of little concern from his perspective. His faith was centered in the feelings of his testimony, not in factual academics. I left his office unconvinced and without answers.
As the end of my stay neared I came to no conclusion, only confusion. During the day prior to my return home, I separated myself from everyone and spent several hours alone in prayer. My soul hungered for making the right choice. I wanted desperately to discern whether or not the Church was true. Alone in a room overlooking the temple, I poured my heart out before the Lord. I told God I wanted only to please Him. I felt confused, alone and deeply afraid I would make a decision that would separate me from God forever. I had an awful sense of dread as though all Eternity rested on my shoulders. I thought of my wife, how hard she was trying to save me. I was fearful to leave the Church, knowing it could mean the breakup of my family. I cried bitterly as I knelt beside the window. Confused and exhausted after several hours, I left the building, passing by my friend's office. He asked what happened to make me look so shaken and miserable. I could hardly express the bitterness and turmoil within my soul.
I avoided conversation with others as much as possible as I slipped outside. I walked aimlessly around, carrying the same dread from upstairs within my soul and feeling lost. I walked into one of the Visitor's Centers on Temple Square and found a quiet place to pray. I struggled with how the Church could be true in light of all that I had read concerning it. I didn't want to lose my family, but I struggled with how I could possibly believe in the Church after all I had learned. Maybe, as my wife once told me, I knew too much for my own good.
I looked up at that moment and a display depicting the LDS plan of salvation caught my eye. As I read it, I was reminded of the early missionary lessons and the time I first believed in the Church. Suddenly, a peaceful calm rested in my heart like I felt when I had first prayed and asked God if what the missionaries were teaching me was true. I had a burning in my bosom again and the awful sense of dread began to lift. The Church must be true, I thought. I wept with joy as I returned to my friend's office and recounted my experiences with him. He was greatly relieved and excited for me, too. There was an anxiousness in his voice as he urged me to call my wife and tell her I would be coming home with the one answer I sought so hard: I knew the Church was true again. In that phone call I discovered she was excited too. Before retiring to bed that evening, I cried in humble appreciation to my Heavenly Father for answering my prayer. I had felt an answer. I had some direction.
Yet, while in this attitude of prayer, I was again seized by an even deeper sense of dread. Though I tried I could not suppress the feeling that I had made a decision which would result in my separation from God for all eternity. I fell asleep only to awaken to it again in the morning. I thought I had done away with all the doubts and problems on the shelf in my mind but they returned, beckoning me to beware. Though my former Bishop was feeling sick that morning, I asked if he could give me a priesthood blessing. He rose forcefully out of bed in a magnificent self-determined manner to lay his hands on my head. He pronounced a protective blessing both on myself and on my family.
He was too sick to accompany me to the airport, so his wife and one of their children took me. As I gazed out the window of the plane I recounted my experiences in Utah. How could I explain to my wife these feelings of dread after telling her I believed again? My situation seemed too overwhelming and hopeless.
When I met my wife at the airport I attempted to hide my doubts, relying solely on my recollections of how wonderful I had felt the day before. My wife was overjoyed, to put it mildly. I felt such acceptance again, I was ashamed to even entertain the thought of confessing to her how I really felt. For the first week I shelved every hint of concern and just enjoyed the freshness and friendship my wife offered me as we revived our bruised relationship. Her relief to have me again as a believing Latter-day Saint gave her the confidence to confide in me one of her own secrets. She admitted she had seen the relationship between the Egyptian mummification pictures and the Book of Abraham facsimile I had previously pointed out. She didn't tell me then, fearing I might be even more persuaded to believe the Church was false if she had.
A few days passed and I found myself confronted all over again by doubt, conflicts, and questions. The mental shelf my bishop suggested I store my problems on collapsed, sending fragments of doubt into every corner of my mind. I was deeply distressed and confused. What was I to put my trust in? Should I believe in the Church because I had a testimony and I felt in my heart it was true? Or was I to set my testimony aside, deny those feelings and accept my course of action based on facts alone? Could the bishop be right about my method of finding the truth taking a lifetime? And would even a lifetime of reading to find the truth guarantee me an answer?
Things came to a head one Sunday while I attended a typical LDS Sacrament meeting with my wife and children. I don't recall why now, but for some reason we came to Church separately that day. From the pew where I sat I heard the same rhetoric from the pulpit, the same empty statements and testimonies about Joseph Smith being a prophet of God. I felt like a foreigner amidst a people who needed Jesus Christ. I walked out of the meeting and rode away on my motorcycle to the nearby mountains to be alone.
I parked in an isolated area and headed off on foot with my Bible. I walked for a while beneath the wind-whistled pines and then knelt down. Mentally gathering my notes in one corner of my mind, my testimony in the other, I came before God again in prayer. I believed with my whole being that the answer about the Church would have to come from Him alone. I had grown tired of searching in vain. Whatever internal resistance I once had against accepting the truth from outside the Church was now gone. It was like some great barrier in my mind toppled. I didn't care who was right or wrong anymore. It didn't matter to me if it was Brigham Young or Billy Graham who told the truth. I wanted the turmoil in my soul to cease and to worship the Lord in truth so much I was willing to accept the truth from any source. Even the threat of divorce if I should leave the Church was not enough to stop me from being willing to accept whatever answer God gave me. I had never before realized how helpless I was without God. I had come to the conclusion that I couldn't find the answer I sought through the research I conducted. I was no longer satisfied with the pat answers I was getting from Church members. I was scared, tired, desperate, disillusioned, and completely surrendered.
In this state of helplessness I began praying out loud. "What do you want me to do, Father? I've studied hard, I've learned of significant problems with my Church, but when I've prayed I have felt a warmth in my heart that I have always believed was the Holy Ghost telling me the Church was true. Now I don't know what to believe. Who is right, Lord? What church is the true Church of Jesus Christ? If it isn't my church, then which one is right? Where do I find the answers? Help me discover what is the truth."
As I knelt there, waiting prayerfully upon the Lord, a gentle but persuasive calm came over me. I cannot explain it nor adequately describe the entire experience but somehow I heard the Lord speak to my spirit through a series of thoughts or impressions. "Dave, I love you," He assured me. "I know how hard you've looked for an answer about your church and what to do. You thought you could figure it out on your own. Now you realize you cannot. I've been waiting all this time to help you but you had to come to Me first, like you are right now, helpless and surrendered, before I could. What you hold in your hands contains the truth about the Church and what you are to believe. You must place all of your trust in Me and in My Word alone."
When God answered me with this 'revelation,' I opened my eyes and stared at my Bible which I had been holding in my lap while I prayed. Ironically, I had the answer all along, in my very hands. The truth about Mormonism... and more importantly what I needed to believe in order to get right with God.. was right here in this Book. Something like a veil of unbelief was stripped off my eyes at that very moment, because I suddenly 'knew' the Bible was correct and reliable and I was able from that moment on to read it with an understanding that I never had before. In fact, as I knelt there, reflecting on what God had just revealed to me, I opened my Bible and I came to 1 John 5:11-13 and just began reading those very verses. The scripture read as follows: "And this is the testimony: that God has given to us eternal life, and this life in His Son. He that believes in the Son has this life, and he that does not believe in the Son does not have this life. These things I have written to you that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe in the Name of the Son of God." The very key issue I came seeking an answer from God about was revealed to me from scripture: the "Life" we all should seek, that is eternal life, is not found in a church and not in any religion. It is found in a relationship with the Son of God. What's more, God's Word is given to us in order that we know that we have this Life by believing in Jesus & trusting that what He did on Calvary is the very means by which we please God & get right with a Perfect, Holy, Infinite Being. There is absolutely no other way to have life with God the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). The life - that is, the way to the life - is revealed to us through the Word of God (Romans 10:10-17).
I was beginning to sense what a paradox of truth my church testimony was. I had been trusting that this testimony in my heart was true, yet that very testimony I attributed to God also consisted of believing in a church which contradicted, criticized, and even denied the truthfulness of the Word of God. I had been trusting in my own feelings and understanding instead of trusting in God and His Word alone with all my heart.
I had developed the wrong attitude toward the Bible, a mind-set that would not or could not accept the Word of God as authoritative or complete. I decided right then I would believe it by faith apart from feelings. As incredible as it sounds, the moment I made this conscious decision to trust the Bible, the heavy burden of doubt and doom I carried for so long was gone, giving me great relief, joy, and a sense of security. Then I got the picture. While I had the answer all along in my possession, pride and disbelief kept me from turning to the Word of God alone. Instead, I had been trusting in my own efforts or in my feelings to find the answer. It was so obvious now. The veil of doubt in His Word was gone! Tears filled my eyes as I thought of how merciful God is, that He didn't let me go on wondering what to believe or where to turn next. In His grace He empowered my faith in the Bible, obliterating the prejudice I developed against His Word. I thanked God from my heart for hearing and answering me as I knelt there, just enjoying His presence and peace.
VIII. No Reason to Doubt
I headed home with the responsibility and challenge of searching the Bible for the answers I sought. It would be years later before I felt I had really begun to uncover the great spiritual riches of the Bible. Of course, I am still in the process of discovering the endless nuggets of truth found in the Word of God and look forward to a lifetime of getting to know His Word better. What my Father in Heaven revealed to me through my prayer in the mountains was that I had a reliable source of truth to turn to. He illuminated the stone in my path I was tripping on. It was doubt in His Word, a pebble of prejudice subtly supplied by Satan himself.
Before joining the Church I had no reason to doubt the Bible, but from the very beginning of my experience with Mormonism I was actually taught to doubt God's Word. For example, 1 Nephi, chapter 13, verses 23 through 29 of the Book of Mormon state that the Bible has been intentionally tampered with for the express purpose of leading men astray, causing them to stumble from finding the truth. This is completely contradictory to such passages from the Bible as John 16:1, where Jesus said He gave us His Word to keep us from going astray, and in 1 Peter 2:7,8, which states that men stumble out of disobedience to the message of truth concerning Jesus.
Notice this wonderful passage from the Bible, found in 1 Peter 1:23-25. It promises that God's Word is eternal. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is like grass, and the glory of man like the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and its flower falleth away, but the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." Likewise, in Deuteronomy 29:29, the promise is given that what has been revealed to mankind belong to us and to our children forever. There's no place for "Bible prejudice" according to God's Word!
I set aside science and Church-related materials in preparation to study the Word of God itself. From the Bible I learned it doesn't take a particular religion, but a personal relationship with the living God of the universe to save me. I had been looking for the true church. The Bible taught me to start looking to the true Christ. It isn't that I didn't believe in Jesus Christ or love Him as a Latter-day Saint, either. I did, deeply. But I loved Him as I understood Him to be, according to my LDS concept of Christ. There is an eternal difference between the two!
I want to digress from my testimony for a moment and discuss these differences because I am often told by LDS people that, "We worship the same God," "We believe like other Christians," "There is no difference between Mormonism and Christianity!" But there is! For example, according to the Word of God, Jesus has been God the Son from eternity past. Psalm 90:2 says of Christ, "Even from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God." His eternal Godhood is declared in such verses as Micah 5:2, Habakkuk 1:12, and John 1:1-4. He is the God who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). He's God and He never changes - He's "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). As the great "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58, the Son is self-existent and not a created being. He has coexisted eternally and equally with the Father, and He set aside His position and glory in heaven to take upon Himself the form of a man (Phil. 2:5-11). He is not the product of Eternal Progression and divine evolution.
I could continue with other differences but I believe these are the most important, for they reveal a difference in His Deity. Simply stated, Jesus is reduced to a finite being in Mormonism. He, once a man, was made a god. Such a difference in the nature of God is a sure sign of a false prophet, according to Deuteronomy 13:1-5.
The message of the Gospel, the "Good News" of the New Testament, is different as well. The Bible declares that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and face eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23) unless we confess our sins and believe that Jesus died on the cross,in our place, to save us (Isaiah 53:3-6). His shed blood is the only payment required to cleanse us and make us right with God (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). We enter heaven and escape hell simply by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior (John 5:24; Romans 10:9,10; Acts 16:30,31). We are saved (made right with God and allowed to enter His presence after death) by grace through our faith in Christ, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-10). We are then a part of the true Church: Christ's body (Ephesians 1:22,23; Colossians 1:18,24).
How this Gospel of historic Christianity differs from Mormonism is shown in the following LDS illustration. I learned this illustration from my seminary lesson manual and taught it to my students. On the blackboard I drew a pit to represent where mankind had fallen as a result of sin. It suggested separation from God. To return again into His presence required a means of getting out of the pit of separation. Jesus Christ became that means. This much is Biblical. Here's the difference: Jesus' atonement, represented as a ladder in my illustration and lowered down into the pit, becomes only an opportunity afforded mankind to escape the result of sin. The work to be saved is up to the individual. Each step on the ladder represented the works to be performed by the individual to effect deliverance from the pit (salvation to the Christian; Exaltation to the LDS). In my illustration the first step on the ladder represented faith in God; the next represented repentance; the third was baptism; the forth, the receipt of the Holy Ghost by the laying-on of hands; the fifth was receipt of the Priesthood for men; the sixth was receiving the Endowment in the Temple; etc. This process of earning a right standing with God is summarized in the Book of Mormon, "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23)
If I illustrated salvation according to Christianity there would be no ladder for man to climb up from the pit into the presence of God, for God Himself promises to lift that man or woman out (representing salvation to the Christian) who exercises enough faith to look up at the Son of Man (John 3:14,15). The effects of sin and spiritual death are completely overcome by trusting in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:1-7), not by works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-7; Ephesians 2:8-10). When I shared this Biblical truth on how to be saved with my wife, she replied it was "too easy" that way, too simple perhaps. The Apostle Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 11:3,4 that the way to be saved is simple unless someone corrupts it with false teaching: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his craftiness, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (put up with false teachings)."
I found the "simplicity" that is in Christ has been replaced in LDS theology by a system of requirements and steps to accomplish our exaltation. Paul's warning points to Mormonism, for it introduces another Jesus (one who evolved to Godhood from manhood), another Gospel (not the "Good News" of salvation by faith in Christ alone but manmade laws and ordinances which Christ removed by His death on the cross-Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15), and a false Spirit (one which can misguide someone sincerely asking God for truth by supernaturally imparting a "burning in the bosom" to them).
I believe it is this last aspect of Mormonism which is the most dangerous and deceitful, for it is this false spirit which binds every believing Latter-day Saint to the Church and blinds them from understanding Biblical truth when it is presented to them: "But if our gospel be hidden it is hidden to them that are lost, in whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them". 2 Corinthians 4:3,4 (Also see Isaiah 44:19,20). I encountered the effect of this spiritual blindness personally when I went to hear Dr. Martin many years ago. He spoke on the very issues I later researched myself, including the verses in Isaiah and the papyri problems of the Book of Abraham. After listening recently to the recording my brother made of that evening's conference I was amazed to discover I was right there when Dr. Martin addressed those issues and I didn't hear what he was saying then. It was like Satan had turned my mind off that night, veiling my ears from the truth.
The key ingredient in my conversion to Mormonism was that spiritual sensation I experienced after my introduction and prayer concerning the Book of Mormon. The missionaries attributed the feeling which resulted as the witness of the Holy Ghost. I experienced that feeling often after joining the Church, especially during prayer. My former Bishop in Utah described his own personal experience with this witness or "burning in the bosom" as a tingling in his spine. He mentioned that he sometimes got a similar feeling while watching a particularly moving program on TV. I will never deny that I felt this convincing spirit telling me the Church was true. That spirit confused and bound me to the Church as long as I assumed it was from God. But the Bible says we are obligated to test whatever spirit is attempting to influence us before believing it: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1.
Isaiah wrote how to recognize a false spirit: "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20. The Word of God is the standard! Whether it is a false spirit or prophet, the Bible is the instrument of comparison, the divine benchmark of God (for example, see Deuteronomy 13:1-5;18:20-22; Jeremiah 23:26-32). The discerning ability of the Bible is described in Hebrews 4:12: "For the Word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
See what great qualities the Psalmist attributes to the Word of God in Psalm 119:
Best of all, Jesus said in John 17:17 that His Word is true. We don't need to look any further for what to put our trust in! When I realized this I discovered a real basis of truth to compare everything else to. Without doubt God worked a marvelous miracle in my life through His Word. He removed the false spirit blinding me, honoring my brother's prayer for me years before. I could make an eternal decision about the Church without wavering. What's more, I could know for myself with full assurance that I possessed eternal life by believing in what was written about Jesus: "And this is the testimony, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God." (I John 5:11-13) The search for feelings to confirm my salvation was over; I had God's Word that I am saved!
IX. Cost of the Cross
Life for me would never be the same again. My testimony, instead of being based on how I felt in my heart from a burning bosom, was based on what God has promised in the Bible. I wasn't the same. And when I turned my life over to Jesus, I found I had turned away from Mormonism. God led me in a new direction, separating me automatically from my former faith. But this was a process. I didn't have all the answers to my questions, I just knew where to find them.
As I studied the Bible and submitted my life in faith to Christ, there was great division in my home, too. Since the Bible declares in Hebrews chapter 7 that only Jesus, who alone has the power of an endless life, can hold the Melchizedek priesthood, I realized the Church doesn't have the priesthood authority it claims to act in God's name. I had been wearing the priesthood temple garments since I received my endowments in 1974 in the Los Angeles LDS Temple. They symbolized the priesthood covenants and promises I made there. I could no longer tolerate the deception they represented. At the very moment I took my garment off permanently something like a spiritual veil was taken away from my eyes, permitting me to see for the first time how decidedly wrong and deceptive the Church is. The effect on my family was immediate.
My wife noticed I had removed the garment the moment she saw me. She was deeply hurt and angry. She knew I now believed in Christ in a different way, but did that mean I no longer believed in the Church as well? She pressed me hard to give her an answer concerning my feelings toward the Church. Although it was extremely difficult to say, I told her I no longer believed in the doctrines of the Church and could no longer wear my garment. I realized the Church wasn't true, and I would have to leave it. With deep disappointment and anguish, my wife demanded I leave home while she gave the matter thought. Uncertain what was best for my children and trying to please my wife, I moved out. I was heartbroken and overwhelmed.
While the move was painful for us as adults, I believe it was worse for our children. They became the real casualties. I struggled hard with accepting my separation from them and the bitterness of feeling victimized and deceived by this Church that I had given my life to.
But acceptance of the painful truth concerning the Church made my decision to officially notify the proper LDS authorities all the more imperative. I had been meeting with the former Patriarch of our stake in his home for the past two years or so. He had volunteered to monitor my progress when the matter of my apostasy was brought to the attention of the Stake President. He helped to assist me in maintaining a balance between outside studies and LDS publications. He was my religious counterweight, along with the Stake President and local leaders. The purpose of my final visit to his home was to announce to him my conclusions regarding the Church. He sat across from me, sadly staring into my eyes. He shook his head slowly and remarked, "I have failed, Dave. I feel I have lost you. I have lost the battle." I showed him the ladder illustration I had learned in seminary and compared it with the Biblical way of salvation. He said he was familiar with my explanation and noted that if I felt the way I did about the Church the best thing I could do is leave it. We parted as friends.
Writing to the Church, I requested that my name be officially removed from the Church's records, an act once referred to as excommunication. My letter read:
To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and all concerned Christians:
Having been a member of the aforementioned L.D.S. church for nearly thirteen years, eleven of which were spent in full profession of that faith, and in general harmony in belief and behavior to the standards it prescribes, I now freely, willingly and by principals I consider sacred and true, ask that my membership be terminated and dissolved in the appropriate manner as constituted by that church. Such a desire and action as I request comes not out of personal offense by any member or action inflicted upon me, but by a sense of religious obligation in adhering to and in obedience with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as defined and testified to in the Holy Bible.
I humbly testify that I prayerfully submitted the past two years of my membership to the pursuit of establishing the validity of the church and the claims of Joseph Smith as Prophet, Seer and Revelator by such unbiased and empirical means as historical and archeological data, and by the greatest and most conclusive means as set forth in the Biblical accounts of Divine Revelation, and having objectively and spiritually weighed and considered all that pertained to this search for truth, I bear in most sober words and in the spirit of compassion and reason, that I found the church, its prophets and the doctrines, teachings and scriptures produced, to be erroneous, non-historical, and sadly contrary to the Biblical definitions of the nature of God, grace and salvation.
In so stating my beliefs I am keenly aware of the sensitive feelings of many who are very dear to me. I ask forgiveness of those who may be subjected to hurt or offense by my position of faith. I pray that my action be understood as necessary in expressing, conveying and testifying to that which I most humbly claim as true. There are those members, including the Stake President, the Bishop, and close friends of the church, to whom I stand indebted for their attitude of loving concern and respect in behalf of my family and I. So sincerely has this love been exhibited, that I found it more difficult, though necessary still, to declare my beliefs openly regarding the church. As dedicated servants, I hold these people in high regard.
I choose to complete this request and testimony with a personal admonition. We must all be reconciled to God our Father first and foremost and not to man. When placed under subjection to Biblical authority, prayer can be an effective means to begin the search for knowing God's Love and Truth. If we seek to establish His Kingdom of Righteousness above our personal will and desires, He will lead us to trust in Him, in His Holy Word and in His Son, Our Lord. Amen.
October 17, 1983
David A. McCament
There would be a trial before a Church High Council, during which my case would be heard and a decision reached concerning my membership status. It would not be necessary for me to attend this trial, but I wished to publicly express my request and make certain everyone understood why I was leaving the Church. I could only pray my family would be restored in spite of my request.
I was called into the Stake President's office for a brief report prior to the trial. After reviewing my letter the President asked me if I indeed no longer believed in the Church and wished to proceed with the trial. I said I did. As I was leaving the President said, "You have found fault with the Church and Joseph Smith. You've been critical of certain things and have now decided to leave your religion. I hope you will be just as critical of whatever church you decide to join next." I explained I wasn't leaving Mormonism to go join another church but that I was now simply believing in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation and no longer in an organized religion. Exasperated, the Stake President replied, "That's not fair. Who can find fault with Jesus Christ?" My thoughts exactly!
I had moved in temporarily with my parents at this time. My trial of excommunication was scheduled for November 1, 1983. When my father learned I was going alone to the trial he was very concerned. I assured him there would only be a few men from the Church in attendance, and that the trial itself was strictly private. I also told him I didn't care if there would be a dozen men from the Church at the trial. In fact, the more men present would mean the more I'd have to share my testimony with. God honored that boastful statement I made: on the day I walked into the Church courtroom, there were fifteen men seated around a very large oval table. I was surprised and slightly overwhelmed.
Fortunately, the men present were kind and sensitive. I was not ridiculed for my reasons for leaving the Church but there was some censorship in what I was permitted to say. I had prepared a message to deliver in my defense in which I quoted from the Book of Mormon why the Bible was supposedly untrustworthy. When I began to point out specifically why it was the Book of Mormon and not the Bible that would lead men astray I was cut short by the Stake President and kept from delivering the remainder of the message I had prepared. The President said, "You are the one on trial, not the Book of Mormon." He offered to read my letter requesting excommunication aloud to express my feelings instead. I agreed and he proceeded. When he finished reading it he asked me if I wished to make any additional observations I felt might be helpful that were not covered in my letter. I simply concluded that I did not consider it mere coincidence my trial was held the day after Halloween. I said, "I am leaving this church because it isn't what it claims to be; it's only masquerading as the true Church on earth. Behind its mask is a religion of falsehood and error. It cannot be the true church of Jesus Christ at all." While I made my point about the Church and my decision to leave it, I felt I didn't say enough about my faith in Jesus and how He was now my personal Lord and Savior. I felt somewhat inhibited and restrained in using the name of Jesus openly in front of these men. I later discovered the boldness I needed required more maturing in the Lord and lots of empowering by the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless my request for excommunication was graciously granted. As I left the courtroom each man shook my hand. Some welcomed me to return to the Church at any point in time I discovered the Church was really true after all; a few said they hoped I'd find what I was looking for out in the world. To them I was leaving my salvation and my comfortable little world of Mormonism and going off into oblivion. I understood their sentiments and appreciated their kindnesses. What I was unable to express to them was the personal assurance of salvation I now possessed in Christ. I had the eternal life they needed. The attractiveness of Mormonism was over for me, subdued by the power of the Holy Spirit using God's Word. I now knew the truth and it had indeed set me free. I could only pray that these men would find the Lord, too.
The Bishop of my ward met me outside the door of the High Council office. Like my father, he wasn't allowed to actually be in on the proceedings. He had come to be there for me in case I needed someone, some support. He hugged me and I felt accepted by him despite my decision. Before I left, the Stake President called me alone into his office. As we sat the president wasted no time in pointing out the gracious position the Church took in my leaving and how nicely I had been treated during my membership. In his opinion I needed to leave the Church quietly and not go around telling everyone about the faults of the Church and what happened to me. He said, "Dave, I admonish you to let the door close quietly behind you."
X. Conclusion in Christ
The drive back to my parents' home from the trial was filled with praise for God. There was no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision but I still missed being with my wife and kids. The loneliness I felt being without them compelled me to really listen to God and seek His peace and comfort from the Scriptures. My brother met with me couple of days later and strengthened me greatly in the Lord. I listened to Christian tapes and radio broadcasts as often as possible for encouragement.
God used many sources of comfort. One night, while I lay half-asleep in bed there in my parents' home, an image of a coiled, green snake appeared over me, similar to the one my wife had once seen overhead. Like watching a movie before my eyes, the snake was about to strike me when suddenly a large rock came from out of nowhere and smashed the serpent. As I watched, the rock transformed itself into a book, then gradually vanished. As I stirred myself from sleep I realized what I had seen. The snake represented Satan and the rock the Word of God. It was symbolic of Jesus' supremacy over Satan and the great work accomplished by His Word for me and all who trust in Him. I knew God was protecting me and watching out for my well-being.
As Christmas-time approached my wife consented to my coming home. On the surface things looked good, even hopeful, that we might save our marriage. It wasn't exactly ideal, however. I had to walk on eggshells when it came to discussing my faith in Christ; my wife even insisted that I not pray out loud for the sake of the children as I might confuse them. She was obviously concerned, perhaps threatened, by my decision to leave the Church. It wasn't long and I began feeling spiritually censored. I tried attending Church with my family and was told by local Church leaders that I was not to verbally participate in discussions at Church; I was to listen only. I was even lectured from the pulpit by a well-meaning member as she bore her testimony publicly. I found I could no longer fellowship there with my family and friends. We had nothing religiously in common.
One day I came home to find an old letter out on the dining room table; it was from some long time LDS friends of ours. As I read it I discovered these friends had strongly admonished my wife to leave me and take the kids away if I ever decided to leave the Church. After a few months had passed, while I was at work, my wife's bishop came to see me. He looked concerned and asked me to sit down. Very compassionately he explained my wife had filed divorce. She was simply unable to accept my new belief and walk with the Lord. I shouldn't have been so surprised or shocked but the news the bishop brought overwhelmed me. We had just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary the night before and everything seemed fine, like it was going to work out after all. I sat in my chair and wept miserably.
I was deeply distressed at the division of my family. When I sought reconciliation it was refused. I felt great bitterness towards the Church at first for not discouraging the divorce. Even the President of our Stake, the man who headed my excommunication trial, admitted he could not see how our marriage would work since we both believed so strongly in our separate faiths. Though I wrote many letters to the LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake requesting that my children not be baptized into the Church until they were each eighteen years of age and capable of making that decision on their own as adults, the Church ultimately permitted my wife to do so. Except the kindness shown me by my wife's bishop I received no encouragement at all from this Church, which publicly claims family first and emphasizes the important role of the father as head of the household.
Admittedly, in the midst of my loneliness, I had my days of doubt. I wanted my wife and family back. I actually wondered if I did the right thing in leaving the Church. I woke up one morning to my radio alarm playing LDS Church hymns and I nearly came apart. I was living with my grandmother then and she listened with great compassion to my confusion. She prayed earnestly for me. The results were wonderfully effective. Christians whom God had brought into my life would call or visit me and share the very Biblical truths and insights I needed to help me cope. I could feel the comfort and support of many people praying for me. And for the first time in my life I began receiving great solace from the Book of Psalms. My favorite became Psalm 27:14, "Trust in the LORD: be of good courage, and He will strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, on the LORD." I am certain I could not have made the change from Mormonism to Christianity on my own. I needed God more than I can say now.
I was beginning to feel like I was getting back on my feet again when another blow came. I had since moved out on my own when someone in the Church began a false rumor about me personally. I was devastated by this. The rumor caused such a stir that the Stake President called me into his office and threatened my job security. Local Church leaders even interrogated an elderly LDS friend of mine after I had visited her. She told me afterwards that she had been called into an office at Church to be questioned concerning the nature of my visit with her. Late one evening, after I had gone to bed, a very close LDS friend of mine came to the home where I was boarding and accused me of lying in public about the Church. He threatened me with a priesthood curse if I continued. I was intimidated by his attack and anger. It seemed like everything in my world was turned upside-down and the people and things I had once relied on for comfort were gone. I had no idea the price to be paid for becoming a Christian was so great.
Next I lost my job. Upon hearing the news my former wife looked me in the eyes and asked rhetorically, "Okay, Christian, where's your God now?" I may not have known a lot of theology then but I did know enough about the God I worship to reply in love, "He hasn't gone anywhere. He's still on the throne and in control." I said this in faith and I was right!
I discovered my trials had a purpose. God used those lonely moments when I felt so rejected and abandoned to teach me I was never without Jesus. He promised in Hebrews 13:5 that He will never leave us nor forsake us. I found this to be so true in my life. I was gradually being molded, shaped, and refined. My trials were teaching me to trust God in everything.
In December of 1983 I had visited one of several, local Christian churches where the Word of God is proclaimed. Following the divorce I returned. Although the process was slow, I gradually gained an entirely new family of church friends and discovered a new life-style of living in Christ. God was supplying the spiritual and emotional healing I needed. This was His handiwork; I found the answer I had sought and The Life I needed. It was all in Christ.
The Lord in His grace has blessed me beyond all I could ever ask for or imagine. Several years after the divorce I met and married a Godly, wonderful woman in Christ. She has been a constant source of assurance, comfort, and companionship. I am completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He has proven Himself faithful to me in every situation. I am prayerfully trusting God to save my former wife and my children according to His will. I have confidence that His love for them will prove victorious.
In closing, I admonish every Latter-day Saint to carefully consider the source of their testimony. If it is the Holy Ghost bearing witness in your bosom then be honest and ask yourself why are there so many doctrines of Mormonism in disagreement with the Bible? Why was Joseph Smith heavily involved with the occult at the same time he professed to be a prophet of God? How could the Bible now be incomplete when Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 that His words would never "pass away"? Why the attack by Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon on the Bible in the first place? Was Jesus right or wrong in saying that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church? The necessity of a Restored Church and modern revelation is at stake. How can you know what to believe in? It all depends on whether you take God at His Word or Joseph Smith at his.
If you are LDS and convinced the Church is true, I urge you to reconsider for Biblical reasons. Ponder the meaning of this verse from Proverbs 14:12: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." I was once certain the Church was true - that it was the "way which seemeth right." You too may believe with every fiber of your heart that the Church is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God but the Bible warns you that your heart can be easily deceived, a deception leading to death:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
"He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool, but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered." (Proverbs 28:26)
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (Proverbs 3:5)
"He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" (Isaiah 44:20)
Please don't let the lying spirit of Mormonism deceive your heart and keep you from recognizing the truth. Stop trusting in your feelings and start trusting in the Lord with all your heart. You do not hold the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods of the Bible, but you don't need them to work the works of God: you need to believe in Jesus (John 6:28,29). You don't need to have your Temple Endowments and years of active Church service to make you righteous before God. You can't; those things won't help. Seriously consider what Jesus did for everyone who puts their trust in Him: He "blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross"(Colossians 2:14); "For God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
This is the work of God. This is what the Bible teaches, "...that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." (John 20:31)
This is the account of what great things God has done for me and what He has promised me through faith in Him. This is my testimony. May it be yours, too, I pray in Jesus' name and for His glory. Amen.
"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32)
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Epilogue (April, 2011):
Since preparing this testimony, much has happened to further strengthen my belief in Christ alone for salvation. My wife, Lisa, & I have been blessed with many opportunities to serve Jesus through our local fellowship, at work, and in our neighborhood. I had the opportunity to serve on a short term missions trip to Nazareth; what a joy to see first-hand God at work in the lives of people wanting to know more about the God of the Bible. I have taught Sunday School classes, done volunteer work as an usher and for our church’s sound department, maintained an email-based mentoring ministry, and shared my testimony in countless meetings and firesides. I am also serving as a club adviser to the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ chapter that meets on the college campus where I teach. Lisa is currently serving with several local ministries (including a local Good News Club meeting at a nearby elementary school; she also assists me whenever the occasion calls for her expertise. Our three children from my first marriage have all remained in the LDS church. They have each married lovely partners; as a result, Lisa & I are blessed now with eight wonderful grandchildren; by God’s grace, we anticipate there will be more to follow. We hope and pray they may all come to a saving knowledge of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and be reconciled to the Father through Him (Titus 2:13; 2 Cor. 5:19-21).
As I reflect on God’s goodness, His wonderful provision of grace and mercies new every morning, I can truly echo what Jeremiah expressed in Lamentations 3:23, ”…great is Your faithfulness.” Jesus has never failed to provide, guide and protect us, and His Word seems ever more dear to me. I pray that you, the reader, might consider God’s greatness and faithfulness in keeping His Word and His promises ~ and that you might place your trust in what Jesus did on the cross to save all who believe. Amen!