Author: Christensen, Clayton
Testimony bearing among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a person's verbal expression of what he or she knows to be true concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ, the restoration of the fulness of his gospel in our time, and the blessings that come from living its principles. By divine mandate, bearing testimony is to be done "in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things" (D&C 100:7). Latter-day Saints often bear testimony when teaching in Church services, when explaining gospel principles to members of other faiths, and in the fast and testimony meeting, held monthly in each congregation.
Bearing testimony while teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ is pervasive in the Church and is based on two central beliefs. The first is that the primary responsibility of members is to "teach one another" (D&C 88:118) rather than to depend upon one formal teacher or minister only. The second is that the power that motivates individuals to live as Christ taught is the power of the Holy Ghost, rather than the power of logic or the eloquence of gospel teachers: "For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men" (2 Ne. 33:1). Testimony bearing complies with the Lord's instruction through Isaiah: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God" (Isa. 43:12).
Latter-day Saints who speak in Sacrament meeting or teach classes in the organizations of the Church (i.e., Sunday school, primary, Relief Society, young women and young men, and priesthood) are urged to conclude their presentations by bearing personal testimony that the things which they have said are true. Hearing testimony borne under the influence of the Holy Spirit enables those listening under the Spirit's influence to understand the message both intellectually and spiritually (1 Cor. 2:11; D&C 50:17-24;100:6-10).
Latter-day Saint missionaries, in particular, rely on testimony bearing, rather than on logic or artifice, to reach their listeners. The impact of this faith and practice is illustrated by Brigham Young's account of his own conversion to the gospel when as LDS missionary, Eleazar Miller, bore his testimony: If all the talent, tact, wisdom and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning, and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, "I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord," the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true [JD 1:90].
Fast and testimony meetings, usually held in each congregation of the Church as part of the Sacrament meeting on the first Sunday of each month, provide all members the opportunity to bear testimony. In these meetings, no one is assigned in advance to prepare a sermon. Rather, any member who desires may stand before the congregation and testify of the things he or she has learned to be true through trying to live in the manner Christ has taught. Members typically come to these meetings fasting, abstaining from food and drink for at least two meals. Opportunities to bear testimony are also given to young children in Primary, to young people in youth conferences or family home evenings, to missionaries in various conferences, and to all members in a wide variety of settings.
Spoken testimony is the foundation of faith and with written testimony becomes the essence of scripture. Faith comes by hearing-as well as by reading-"the word of the Lord." The Doctrine and Covenants says, "Whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost [whether or not it is recorded or written] shall be scripture" and "the power of God unto salvation" (D&C 68:4). Said the Prophet Joseph Smith, "No generation was ever saved or destroyed upon dead testimony neither can be; but by Living" (WJS, p. 159). He taught further that the living word of the Lord "has such an influence over the human mind-the logical mind-that it is convincing without other testimony" (WJS, p. 159). "Faith cometh by hearing the word of God through the testimonies of the servants of God," he said, and is "always attended by the spirit of prophecy and revelation" (WJS, p. 3). These principles are the background of the constancy of the mode of testimony bearing in Church life.
Patterns of testimony bearing in ancient churches closely parallel today's practice. The apostle Paul, for example, said that he was "determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," and spoke "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:2-5). In early Christian sources (e.g., the Didache) one reads of Sacrament meetings or feasts where hymn singing was followed by an opportunity for individual testimonies (Davies, pp. 342-43). The Book of Mormon prophet alma 2 concluded that the only way to reclaim his people from selfishness and pride was "in bearing down in pure testimony against them" (Alma 4:19). Amulek testified in a manner similar to Latter-day Saint testimony bearing today: "And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it" (Alma 34:8).
Davies, J. G., ed. The Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Philadelphia, 1986.
Stoker, H. Steven, and Joseph C. Muren, comps. Into Your Heart Like Fire. Ogden, Utah, 1975.