Quick Thoughts on D&C 1:30 “the only true and living Church”

A few scattered thoughts on what “the only true and living Church” might and might not mean.


President Hugh B. Brown made the point quite forcefully that we do not have a monopoly on truth.

“We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers–that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.” – An Eternal Quest

We also do not have a monopoly on faith, goodness, family values, or other things of that nature.

What, then, does the LDS Church have a monopoly on? One thing.

The authority to perform ordinances. That’s it. That’s not a small or unimportant thing, but it is more limited than many people have realized. (I believe the Givens’ have written about this, but can’t remember in which book.)


There’s a tension in every religion and every believer, between maintaining the received and ancient tradition and adapting to new circumstances, in knowing when and what to change.

LDS sometimes use two different scriptural models for this, namely, the Iron Rod and the Liahona. This has been pushed too far in the past, in my view. For individual LDS, it is far more comfortable to follow the unambiguous certainty of a straight and undeviating iron rod than a Liahona that guides only a little at a time before turning unexpectedly in a new direction, or even ceases to work at times.

However, the changing Liahona was the day-to-day reality of the Nephites’ journey (1 Nephi 16:10, 29), while the undeviating Iron Rod existed only in the inspired dream of Lehi and Nephi. Let me emphasize that. The unambiguously certain Iron Rod only existed in the reduced reality of a dream state, whereas the actual day-to-day guidance was the changing, unpredictable, and fallible (in the sense that sometimes it failed to respond) Liahona.

We must live in tension, holding fast to what comes through God’s prophets while also anticipating new revelation pointing in new directions. A Church founded on continuing revelation, “line-upon-line,” (2 Nephi 28:30) and the doctrine that “God will yet reveal many great and important things” (Ninth Article of Faith) is a living Church that changes, adapts, and grows through divine revelation and adaptation.

This tension, or at least the two different sources,  has been recognized in the past.

“The Latter-day Saints do not do things because they happen to be printed in a book. They do not do things because God told the Jews to do them; nor do they do or leave undone anything because of the instructions that Christ gave to the Nephites. Whatever is done by this Church is because God, speaking from heaven in our day, has commanded this Church to do it. No book presides over this Church, and no book lies at its foundation. You cannot pile up books enough to take the place of God’s priesthood, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost. That is the constitution of the Church of Christ. … Divine revelation adapts itself to the circumstances and conditions of men, and change upon change ensues as God’s progressive work goes on to its destiny. There is no book big enough or good enough to preside over this Church.” Conference Report, Ensign May 1976, p.65-66

Perhaps this accounts for the full phrase “the only true and living Church” in D&C 1:30.

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11 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on D&C 1:30 “the only true and living Church”

  1. Well, that’s kinda like saying the only difference between this jet aircraft and the others is that it has engines. Maybe not a huge difference aesthetically, but humongous functionally.

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    1. Oh, certainly. My intent was not to downplay ordinances.
      But I’ve met too many Mormons who move to Chicago or New York or Paris, and are shocked to find non-LDS who have many children and family values, or are sincerely religious, or are just really good people. These are things we do not have monopolies on, and yet, some assume that we do.

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      1. Agreed. I’d even say that we don’t have a monopoly on jet engines. 🙂 But ours are of the GE 90 variety, enabling us to, perhaps, ascend a little higher.

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      2. Jack, it’s hard to know exactly what you mean here since comments are pretty abbreviated and I have very little context to go on. I’ll have to make some assumptions.

        When you say “But ours are of the GE 90 variety, enabling us to, perhaps, ascend a little higher,” if you mean what I think you mean, I’d say 1) many people in the church think likewise and 2) I look at this much differently than you and others.

        “Ascend a little higher” sounds to me like you’re saying we have an advantage over other churches/faiths that enables us to gain more holiness faster or, for example, make it to the Celestial kingdom faster, etc. For example, you might argue that having temple ordinances now rather than later (like, after this life) simply gives us more time than others to live these principles. Another common example may be that our having the Book of Mormon is such a unique treasure (and I do consider it a treasure) that having it and studying it helps us to become more perfected than others. Put this way, I can see how many in the church see these as advantages, maybe even significant advantages.

        Generally, I don’t. Rather, I view our membership in the LDS church as more of a “responsibility” or “calling” than I do sheerly a “blessing” or “advantage.” Being members of the church will certainly give us some unique experiences on this earth. Serving a full-time mission is very unique and has potential to give a missionary invaluable perspective and experience to add to their arsenal of learning experiences. Attending and serving in the temple can be a wonderful thing for many people, and it’s also a unique experience. And there are many other unique things like this.

        That said, there’s a host of unique and wonderful, holiness-inducing experiences that those who are not Mormon are having and that Mormons are generally not having. Ever made a pilgrimage to Mecca? I haven’t. But I know people who have. For many, it sounds to me like it’s been life changing, both the pilgrimage and the anticipation of the pilgrimage. Ever served in the Peace Corpse? I haven’t, but I’ve seen doing that change the lives of Peace Corpse members, not to mention those they help. Ever lived as an atheist? I haven’t. But I know atheists couples who, because they’re atheist, cherish living now, being with each other now, much more than plenty of Mormons I know, because those atheists I know believe this life is it, and this seems to have impacted in a real way how they live “today” and embrace “today.”

        Once you spend enough time around the world (I’ve traveled globally extensively for work for over a decade), or even a little, you start to realize that people are progressing in marvelous ways in literally every walk of life. Even in the most repressive circumstances I’ve seen people in, they’re gaining extraordinarily unique experiences that, as bad as they are, are both unique and powerful in transforming those people into more God-like people.

        So, they’re having those experiences that we’re not having, and we’re having our unique experiences they’re not having. Whose is “better” we might ask? I’d have to say… really nobody’s is better. They’re simply different.

        Many friends I have in the Mormon church will say “But we have the benefit of having the ordinances here on earth rather than have to wait until the next existence.” I’d simply respond by saying that I’m not sure my Mormon baptism is any more powerful here on earth than, say, the baptism of my Lutheran friend or any of the rites or ordinances of any faith on earth. It simply doesn’t make any sense that 99.9999999% of all people ever on the earth missed out on the massive benefit of our particular ordinances under the priesthood authority.

        Does that mean there’s no benefit or advantage? Benefit, there absolutely can be; advantage, I don’t think so. Just different, not better.

        So why, then, are we doing all this work trying to convert people to the church and the other massive work of doing the ordinances for the dead? Well, my theory is that all of this stuff (specifically the ordinances) has a lot to do with our progression after this life rather than our progression during this life. Perhaps the main value of this life is to simply have had the experience. I have a feeling that will end up being of the utmost importance as we reflect back on our time here as long or short or good or horrible as it was/is.

        And why convert people to the church? Well, our teachings and “church” definitely have a lot to offer (as do those of many churches and faiths) so 1) why not? and 2) if these ordinances are indeed somehow important after this life, then God simply needs a significant group of people focused on carrying them out, and they can get a unique Mormon experience in the process.

        Sure, we do have some wonderfully unique things like the Book of Mormon and some profound and inspiring theology, but I’m not really sure they give us an advantage. I can’t argue, for example, that the Book of Mormon connects me with God (as I think is ultimately its intent) any more than the Bible or any other great literature. I also can’t argue that temple marriage makes my marriage and relationship any better than the civil marriages of my friends who are not mormon. It certainly doesn’t seem to have affected the divorce rate.

        That’s why I view our membership in the LDS church as much (or more) of a “responsibility” or “calling” than an “advantage.” It’s hard work. For whatever reason, you, me and everyone else who belongs to the church ended up, somehow, getting that “calling.” But in getting that particular calling, we didn’t get other callings, like that of being Hindu or Jewish or of making a pilgrimage to Mecca or of growing up in a war-torn city like Aleppo. But our calling is definitely unique and, I’d argue, of high importance. But that doesn’t make us better than any other faith or people. It just makes us different.

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      3. OK. Others are ‘moral.’ But in terms of truth, the LDS have long claimed other churches are bereft. See LeGrand Richards’ MWW, where he says Catholics don’t have a leg to stand on. According to LDS doctrine, the other churches are “abominations,” regardless of what common truths they hold. Hard to rewrite what Jospeh Smith taught — LDS claim they have secret ordinances, unique Scripture, new and ongoing revelation, a divine revision of the KJV Bible… Not exactly just ‘ordinances,’ by any stretch. The Church does teach it has a monopoly on access to divine revelation — that’s the whole point of a Living Prophet, General Conference, etc. It actively evangelizes other Christians because it thinks it has unique and special access to Truth, even if others have been left some artifacts from the original. If you can’t even get the the Celestial Kingdom without being a Mormon, well… do the math, not the PR exercise.

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      4. If you read carefully, what is formally “doctrine” is “faith, repentance, baptism, reception of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” Anything more or less than that, according to one who ought to know, is building on a sandy foundation. (See 3 Nephi 11:31-40).

        And rather than reporting that other Churches are “abominations”, Joseph Smith reported that “all their creeds were”. And Joseph Smith carefully explained the problem with creeds. ” Joseph Smith opposed creeds, not because they are false teachings, (“It dont [sic] prove that a man is not a good man because he believes false doctrine”; Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center Monograph, 1980), 183-84), but because “creeds set up stakes, and say, “Hitherto thou shalt come, and no further’; which I cannot subscribe to.” (TPJS, 327). The message of the First Vision is not that a true creed had come to replace the false ones, but that the heavens had opened. You don’t need to worship at a cistern when you’ve got a fountain (see Jeremiah 2:13). Creeds tend to create rigid background expectations which become “abominable” by promoting static authoritarianism that resists further light and knowledge. (See Jeremiah 17:5-13; also Luke 5:37-39; John 7:38; 2 Nephi 28:29-30; D&C 1:24-28. When creeds are intact in any community, whether scientific, political, or religious, the question of questions becomes “Do you preach the orthodox religion?”) This is not to say that we should bow without resistance to every wind of doctrine that happens to blow by (Ephesians 4:11-16), but that resistance to new ideas should be just as carefully considered as acceptance of such (Acts 10:9-28). Too often, creeds buy present conformity (as when the Inquisitors came to chat with Galileo about astronomy, torture, and correct thinking) with the coin of future faith (such as those for whom the Galileo incident becomes the defining myth of the relationship between science and religion). Creeds make for spiritual vulnerability in those whose cisterns are too brittle to change shape and too fragile to take shocks.

        The LDS scriptures and history are full of statements and examples that contradict the notions that the LDS have exclusive access to truth and revelation which are very much worth considering as to whether they are more reliable and accurate than claims to exclusivity.

        For instance, “Alma explains that “the Lord doth grant unto all nations of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). Nephi remarks that God “speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), Alma reports that God speaks not only to “men but women also (Alma 32:23), and Mormon explains how the light of Christ is given to all, and there are “divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men which were good” (Moroni 7:24).

        Joseph Smith explained that “We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” History of the Church 4:595

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  2. A few decades back, I started looking at Bible passages that used the imagery of true and/or living. Living bread, living waters, tree of life, the way, the truth and live, living stones, “living way through the veil,” true vine, true treasure, and so forth. It turns out that the Biblical passages that use such imagery match the themes of D&C 1 point for point, verse for verse. For instance Jer 10:10 use true God, living God in a voice of warning passage. True vine clearly refers to priesthood, just as Peter’s comparison of the priesthood as living stones does. Living waters, living bread, tree of life, living way through the veil, all have connections to ordinances, covenants and the temple, as well as ongoing revelation.

    Verses 24-28 in D&C bluntly state LDS imperfections, the incompleteness of our knowledge, and that further knowledge is forthcoming and based on our asking. D&C 1:18 and 34 emphasize that neither revelation or truth is exclusive to the LDS.

    And if we carefully read all 30 words in the key phrase in verse 30, rather than trimming it down to three (only true church), considering that every word is important, it is apparent to me that the word “only” modifies the phrase “with which I, the Lord am well pleased…” which means that the distinction we have is of pleasingness relative to the specific qualities that “true and living” should illuminate. And that is priesthood, ordinances, covenants, the Book of Mormon and other revelation, the temple, which things, it happens, are the very things that in fact and practice distinguish the LDS people from other assemblies. The interpretation cannot be to exclusive truth or revelation or virtue because D&C 1 expressly denies such as part of a format declaration of “mine authority.. and the authority of my servants.”

    I published this in an Interpreter essay, Sophic Box and Mantic Vista.

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  3. I think one of the problems is that the Apostasy has been overplayed. We would not have a hymn book if not for the majority of beautiful and uplifting hymns borrowed from the Dark Ages.

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    1. The twitter feed was set up by someone else, and I don’t know if it was automated or fed by one of the content people. Patheos was sold recently, and is under new management, so that may make a difference.

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  4. I’ve written a pretty extensive article on D&C 1:30 at Mormonuniversalism.com. Be sure to follow the link to “exegesis of D&C 1:30”, which specifically goes through the verse clause by clause. My conclusion is that we have completely twisted the meaning of this verse by calling Mormonism “the only true and living church”. It is the heavenly church which is the only true church… and Mormonism will get to help bring that kingdom to earth IF (and that’s a big IF) they prove worthy.
    http://mormonuniversalism.com/10003/re-examining-what-lds-scriptures-say-about-the-only-true-church-doctrine/

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