Though I was taught to "know" that something was true as a Mormon I soon realised that the terms "know" and "believe" were interchangeable, especially when I saw tiny children spouting concepts they hadn't a clue about.
I know a Mormon lady who was born in the LDS Church (now a member of NCCG) who related how she was taught her "testimony". She could never remember the name of the LDS President Ezra Taft Benson and would spend time trying to memorise it, always thinking of him as "Extra Saft Benzene". She had no idea who he was, had never read anything he had said, but had heard others parrot off their "testimony".
Now I am not, as you must know, saying that all Mormons learn their "testimonies" off like parrots. However, there is a certain vocabulary which is unique to Mormonism, in the same way as we Europeans assume that when Americans say something is "cool" that it is an object at a low temperature. Call it "Mormon colloquialism" if you like.
For a Mormon a "testimony" practically embraces everything - the Church, Christ, Joseph Smith, the current prophet, etc., and may be said to be all-inclusive, even though people do, of course, seek for "testimonies" about individual principles.
As to whether I am "wrong" or could be "wrong", that is something all honest men and women must admit. We arrive at beliefs through a process of examination, comparsion, and assimilation. We are in the process all the time. If you accept the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which seems to be valid in many areas, then we cannot ever be 100% sure about anything. Everything boils down in the end to epistemology anyway, especially if we are discussing things.
I believe that Jesus is the Messiah He claimed to be. That knowledge has deepened over time ALTHOUGH MY PERCEPTIONS OF WHAT THE "MESSIAH" IS HAVE CHANGED. Moreover, I had an inner picture of Jesus that was different somewhat to the one I have now. We at best see glimpses of the truth.
To claim, as the LDS do, that a "testimony" implies "knowledge" in an absolute sense is, of course, guesswork, because none of us can stand up and say what the ultimate "knowledge" reference is anyway. Much knowledge rests on very shakey assumptions and which may be toppled. From the earliest times the Mormons were taught that Joseph Smith had the Book of Mormon dictated to him, viz. that he saw a character from the gold plates in front of him in his peepstone/Urim & Thummim and then saw the literal English translation underneath. This story created in the minds of Mormons the idea that the BoM was word for word perfect which in turn gave them a sure "testimony" that it was true.
As time went by and the Book of Mormon manuscript (MS) was examined more carefully it became evident that such a view could not be sustained because the text was full of Joseph Smith's grammatical errors, suggesting instead that instead of it being a graphical dictation that somehow the inspiring power (whoever you claim it to be) worked through the mechanism of Joseph Smith's own mind, leading to what has come to be known as "conceptual" revelation. But this theory opened a whole new can of worms for Mormons because it left a huge area of doubt: How do we know that Joseph Smith didn't distort the text here and there? How do we know he didn't wander out of the spirit (whatever it was) and insert his own thoughts into the text? Indeed, how can we be certain about any kind of revelation at all?
Well, we can look beyond the words and grammar and examine the principles, which is the level most of us work at these days (except when countering the literal word-for-word rendition hypothesis) but we still come up with questions as to whether the concepts are faithfully transmitted. This begs a whole set of other questions such as, for example, is the Book of Mormon strictly speaking a "translation" at all? Since the author had no knowledge of the original language, it was in no sense of the accepted word a "translation". Thus we have another example of a vocabularly peculiar to Mormonism. This method was also employed to "translate" the Bible and the alleged apostle John's "parchment" of D&C 7 (which magically doubled in size in a later edition).
As I examine Mormon claims to a "testimony" I am left to wonder exactly what is meant. The nearest term in the Bible is a "witness" but these people were usually "witnessing" what they had seen and heard with their natural eyes...which is why I suppose God manifested Himself in the flesh in the first place in order to avoid the nebulous occult-like "testimonies" of Mormons and others.
I was a Mormon and I had a "testimony". My "testimony" was that God had led me to the Mormon Church When I asked Him if I should join it He told me that I would be blessed if I did. I never asked the trap-all "is the Mormon Church true?" since it was a meaningless question to me.
In my search for appellations of "truth" in Scripture I saw that it was only ever made in one place, and that was of the Person of Jesus: "I am the Way, the TRUTH and the Life." He claimed to be the incarnation of the Truth Principle, and I believe that, for I consistenty find His words and practices harmonising with my experience and with themselves.
When Jesus told His apostles that "ye are witnesses" His commission was to go and tell the world what they had seen Him do and heard Him teach. That commission has remained unchanged - we know what He said and did for it has been recorded for us and preserved faithfully over the centuries in the Bible. And we have four witnesses in terms of Gospel Writers (thus obviating the need for any other witnesses like the Book of Mormon, since in the mouths of two or three witnesses the truth of a matter, the Scriptures say, is established in a jurisdictional sense).
The Gospels and Epistles contain a methodology for the search for truth and what it is we are to search for, and not search for. Paul made it clear that the Gospel he preached was that which had been delivered "once and for all" to the saints. All that the first apostles and disciples had was sufficient for salvation, including a broad canon of scriptures. True, some Bible books are missing, but we know what they are and will be able to identify them when they turn up. They're all named. (One has since been found, the Book of Jasher). Interestingly, this same witness was to be taken to "all the ends of the world", starting in Jerusalem. There is no prophecy of a competing gospel starting in Palmyra, New York State, USA, and going out from there into the world. The Bible says it all starts in Jerusalem and ends there.
The Gospel I believe in is the one that started in Jerusalem and which was taken to the "lost sheep" of the House of Israel - the 10 Tribes scattered in the world. I am not given any grounds in the Bible for believing that another Gospel would start elsewhere or in a "New Jerusalem" starting on another continent at "Adam Ondi Ahman" or anywhere else - the only New Jersualem mentioned in the Bible existed in New Testament times and was in heaven, and shall return to the earth where the earthly Jerusalem is. I see no evidence of two theocratic epicentres - rather, the Bible testifies that the 10 tribes will return to ISRAEL at the last day, and to the inheritance allotted them by the Lord through Ezekiel as is recorded in his book. By contrast, the Mormons teach that the Ephraimites will go to America apart from their Jewish brethren to form their own "kingdom". The Mormons in this sense are the ultimate Protestants, for unlike the historical Protestants who protested the abuses of Catholicsm, the Mormons are protesting the Unity of Israel and wish to have a chunk all to themselves. Ignoring the clear meaning of the "Two Sticks" prophecy in Isaiah which speaks of a reuniting of Ephraim and Judah as one nation in one land, the Mormons have wrested this scripture to make it out to have something to do with the "Bible" and the "Book of Mormon", an hypothesis entirely demolished by the context of these prophecies.
Thus the apostles and their descendants, emerging out of Biblical Christianity, have gone out into all the world from the sole epicentre of the faith, Jerusalem. I believe in their witness and I "know" it is true in every sense that the Mormons understand that wordt. But as far as the English dictionary defininition is concerned, it is by faith by which I am justified (made right) with God. From cover to cover, as amplified and clarified in the New Testament, I am saved by faith as were the patriarchs and all since -- not by "knowledge" in the sense of facts -- but by active faith - faith expressed in works.
It is true that Christianity (in the broadest sense of the word) has had its apostacies or fallings away from truth, something even the Mormons recognise as an internal phenomenon in their own faith (hence the "Reformation" period in early Utah) and the more bizzare and unbiblical rebaptism insisted on by Brigham Young (repudiated by later Mormon leaders). For Mormons, apostacy is essentially a single event in time, a point where the Church so departs from the truth that it is, to all intents and purposes, withdrawn to heaven to await a "restoration". Yet the sense of "apostasy" in the New Testament (in the age prefiguring the Millennial Theocracy) is to be understood differently for Jesus defines the Church Age "Kingdom" as an inner condition where apostacy may be found too. Apostacy is therefore ever present, waxing and waning as the affairs of humans so often do, the Church (as a whole) sometimes being truer at one time than at others. A fundamentalist LDS I know would recognise this in the history of his own Mormonism for he believes the main LDS church is in "apostacy" and that he is a part of a remnant that is being true. This being so - apostacy being a natural condition, to one degree or another - then we have two "apostacies" in two opposite traditions: one which originated in Jerusalem, as Christ said it would, and one in Palmyra - the one started by Christ in the flesh and the other by an angel who, according to LDS ideas of apostacy and the necessity of having Priesthood authority "restored" on the earth again, is obviated by the fact of the so-caled presence of 3 Nephite apostles and John the Beloved who have, according to LDS lore, been roaming the earth incognito for nearly two millenia (keeping a pretty low profile, incidentally, contrary to the wish John expressed to the Saviour).
Since apostacy is with us always, then it follows we are all wrong in some things at some time. The gifts come and go - are the same spectacular miracles happening amongst LDS apostles as happened amongst Peter and Paul? Or amongst anyone else today? To the latter, I must say, yes, for these things are happening amongst Christians, particularly in the Third World where faith, stripped of Western scepticism, has found a natural footing. And yes, apostacy is in the New Covenant Church of God too - it has to be, since the Church is its people, ever striving to reform and be true.
If we examine processes we find that the Mormons are no different from anyone else. They have their "testimonies" as do others, but these are subjective things shaped by many factors, not least of which is peer expectation. Even the pagans have their testimonies, as one ancient Canaanite inscription testifies: "I know that Baal lives". Sounds familiar? Well, Baal doesn't live, only demon impersonators, but generations of pagans believed in him and doubtless experienced occultic miracles. They exercised faith/testimony and their religion eventually crumbled, as have a thousand others.
But the faith "once for all delivered to the apostles" lives on in that invisible Body of true born-again believers who serve where the Lord places them, shining lumps of leaven in dead and dying churches, or in no churches at all, even in apostate and heretical churches. When the call is made, they will gather out. That gathering is starting as the Millennial Church slowly, sometimes hesitatingly, and even sometimes clumsily, becomes progressively visible. Though weak, they are made strong in Christ. They have no fantastic organization to boast of, no well-coordinated missionary program, no vast wealth accumulated through the investment of a century-and-a-half of tithing, commerce and business speculation, but they have something which can never be put on paper. They know only one God and one Saviour, one Universal Church, and one Gospel Epicentre at Jerusalem, from which the Gospel has been sent forth, and is continuing to be sent forth. Nobody says, "I know this is the true church" because such is meaningless to them. They may inadvisedly, when pressed, occasionally be persuaded to say that they believe that they are in the "truest church...so far" but on the whole the testimony would be otherwise, viz. That they are in Christ, alive in Christ, rejoicing in Christ, and in the security of His simple yet all-satisfying Gospel. They need no buildings for secret ordinances of salvation or exaltation, and wouldn't have the wealth for such anyway, but follow the simple ordinances laid down by the apostles. They understand that the ultimate reality is within, that human institutions fail and fall, and that ultimately all these things will be burned away in the great and dreadful day of the Lord, which is at hand.
"Let God be true and all men liars", said Paul. It is enough. All that we have is His anyway - all truth, knowledge, revelation, miracles, whatever - our epicentres are just a little different from the Mormons, but it makes alot of difference to the operation of the Spirit.
I do not pretend this is a satisfactory answer since there are none for Mormons - they believe they have "the truth" and therefore, ipso facto, anything outside it must be a lie...with a small concession to a "sprinkling of truth" here and there.