Attending a Latter-day Saint testimony meeting, or listening to testimonies at the ends of talks, you will hear a pattern. We talk in shorthand, about how we know the truth of “the Gospel” or “this Gospel” or even “the Church”, and we assume everyone else knows what that means. Those terms function as bundles of many different ideas, and we use them as shorthand to avoid having name their contents. Sometimes we may use them to avoid having to think about the ideas in detail. What do these bundles contain? Some common bundles of ideas Mormons may include in “the Gospel” are:

  • Current doctrine and practice of the LDS Church
  • Past but currently unpopular doctrine of the LDS Church
  • Doctrine and widely accepted culture of the LDS Church
  • All teachings of all Church leaders since the founding of the Church.
  • All teachings pronounced by the united voice of the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
  • The scriptures and the doctrines explained and taught by Joseph Smith
  • Messages delivered by all true messengers, regardless of Church leadership or even membership status
  • Truth learned by personal revelation, by observation, and by reason

Each of these smaller bundles contains very different concepts. There is some overlap, but also some marked and important differences. There are even differences between them on fundamental ideas such as the nature of God; how a person is saved; what are God’s commandments; to what and to whom do we owe our obedience; and the identity, nature, and destiny of God’s church on the Earth.

Because different people bundle ideas into “the Gospel” differently, two Mormons sitting next to each other on Sunday can believe and practice two very different religions, both of which could be as false and vain as the Christian creeds condemned by Christ in 1820. We are each entitled to wrestle with our religion and determine truth from error. We shouldn’t enforce creeds on one another, and we should allow the diversity of ideas among us to proceed naturally and without any exercise of compulsion.

That is not to say that how we bundle truth isn’t important, or that there is no standard of truth by which our definition of “the Gospel” is measured. JST Genesis 9:22 says that the group of people who will signal to heaven their readiness to receive Zion from above, and thus to receive Christ at his coming in glory, will be those who “embrace the truth, and look upward.” Uncritically including false ideas in our religious beliefs is called “unbelief” by the Book of Mormon, and it damns us (Helaman 15:15; Moroni 10:24). God does care a great deal about what we believe and embrace as truth.

These are all things we should consider when we bear testimony. Is it proper to use shorthand and code words when they don’t have reliable shared meanings? Shouldn’t we be more careful when sharing the particular ideas of which we are witnessing, so that their truth can be meaningfully weighed and received by listeners? Shouldn’t we spend some time interrogating our own bundles of ideas to become conscious of what they contain? Shouldn’t our personal study, fasting, and prayer, be devoted to correcting our false beliefs so that we can replace unbelief with belief and access God’s power?