What does the phrase “only true and living church” mean?

The following is the entire sentence in which this phrase is found in our scriptures:

The Lord said, “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; and he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (D&C 1: 30-33)

I have heard many interpretations of what this phrase means. I have heard members assign different definitions to each of the four main words: “only,” “true,” “living” and “church.” Is this scripture really that hard to interpret? Can it really have so many meanings and interpretations? Or is there but one way to interpret this scripture?

Before I joined the church, the Holy Ghost told me that the church was, and I quote, “the ONLY true church!” I didn’t, at the time, fully understand all that that meant, but I knew that it did mean that I must get baptized, which I subsequently did. Over the years, I (lazily) allowed the meaning that others were placing on the phrase to be the actual meaning of the phrase and left it at that. That is, until I looked hard at the above scripture and also at the communicated message of the Holy Ghost to me those many years ago.

Here is my own analysis: There are three adjectives (only, true and living) modifying one noun (church.) So, before the adjectives can be addressed, the noun (church) must be defined. Some of the meanings I had heard from other members of what the word “church” meant in the above scripture were: the inspired organization (of the church), the doctrine (of the church), the GAs and especially the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12, the Melchizedek priesthood power (of the church,) etc.

But when I put these meanings into the scriptural sentence, it didn’t work because in the sentence the Lord states,

“speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; and he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man.”

It became apparent that the “church” that the Lord was speaking to was something that could repent, that could be forgiven, that the Spirit could strive with, that could be collective and also individual. The organization of the church did not fit, nor did the doctrine of the church, as these were things or concepts, and not people. Only people can repent. The priesthood power also was not people, but a thing or concept, and thus was incapable of repentance. Finally, the GAs, First Presidency, and Twelve, although they were people, they did not exist at the time of this revelation. Thus, the only definition that fits this scripture is that when the Lord uses the term “church” here, he is talking about his people, the baptized people of the Lord. We, therefore, are the church that the Lord said were true and living. This is in keeping with another scripture:

Peter said, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

How, then, are we true? How can a people be true? My own conclusion is that true refers to our ordinance of baptism, which is truly authorized and valid, being performed by actual priesthood of God. It is our valid, true baptism that allows us to become one of the actual (true) people of God. It is not a dead work, because it is authorized and has God’s sanction. This is why we baptize people of other faiths that have already been baptized.

Finally, how are we a living people? Again, the conclusion I came to was that “living” refers to the Holy Ghost, specifically the laying on of the hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We are alive (living) because of the Spirit. Take away that Spirit and we are spiritually dead. (Joseph Smith, at one time, did say that the difference between this church and other churches was that we had the Holy Ghost, meaning, as I understand him, that we had the gift of the Holy Ghost, whereas others did not.)

When these terms are defined in this way and the scripture is read again, it takes on a new meaning. The church is not something we belong to, or something distant in Salt Lake City, it is us. We are the only true and living church. If we lose the Spirit, we are still the true church, but are spiritually dead, nevertheless, we can repent and receive forgiveness, as the Lord explained in the scripture. But if we don’t repent, we will lose what light we previously received from the Spirit. Viewing the scripture in this way makes the scripture much more personal. It is, I believe, the actual meaning of these verses.

Now, what does this phrase mean to you?

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  1. Great post! I think your insight is very compelling. Personally I feel that when the “church” is referred to it is another way to say the body of Christ. Seeing as how individual members make up the body then he can be displeased on a individual basis because certain members are not doing their part to strengthen the entire body. While those who are doing their part, when zoomed out to view the whole body as one, He is well pleased because of the growth and influence it is having on the world.

    As for true and only, many Christians in the world today claim to be a part of the body of Christ but all have different viewpoints and interpretations of doctrines found in the Bible. Absolute truth cannot exist inside such confusion. Seeing as how Joseph Smith was the prophet to make the truth known and he established the “only true body of Christ” back to the earth, then we being members and believers can be classified as true. In other words Christ himself established the body during his mortal ministry through the power of the priesthood and without this power no man, no matter how well intended, can act in the name of God. So Joseph Smith didn’t do anything new, he only reestablished the truth that had been lost after Christ’s ascension and the deaths of his apostles.

    Living. Much like our physical bodies, the proverbial body of Christ is a living thing. Meaning it has the capacity to grow, expand and change. The body of Christ will only stop growing once all have heard the truth and been given the same choice the current members have been given.


  2. Thanks for the compliment and your two cents.

  3. I liked this post a lot too, especially the part about repenting. It is pretty strange to think about calling an organization to repentance; can a chain of command feel godly sorrow or experience a change of heart? I like to think, like you, that the people–the Church in this sense–are the ones who need to repent, and when everyone in the organization has, or at least the majority, then we could say that the church has repented, that the collective body of the saints is headed in a new direction, more towards God than before.

  4. Thanks for your input. I also find the concept of an organization repenting bizarre.

  5. How is it that people do not understand Gods words .The meaning of the True and living Church, Who is the head of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Is it no Jesus Christ him self .Are not members to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ for all things, and to see that the Lords Church is in order at all times. But yet members seem to for get this, and many in there calling do not seek the Lord Jesus Christ for help in what needs to be done, Why because of the Pride of the people, so the members forget who is the head of the True and living Church ,and the purpose of Jesus Christ’s work. All those that have been to the temple have come into a covenant with the Lord to all ways call upon him for all things epically members in there calling so that the Lords Church can be the way the Lord wants it to be ,but like I said there are to many prideful members that seek for no counsel for Jesus Christ who is the True and Living Church Amen posted Dec 13 From a true servent of the Lord .

  6. Ye fools do ye think that ye can return to live with the Father and Son if ye repent not of your sins .For did not Jesus Christ say to the women sin no more. For it is very true that no unclean thing can inter into to the kingdom of the Lord. For this cause we are taught to repent and learn to change our ways .When ye do wrong to a person are you then to ask that person to forgive you for offending them yes of course . AND IT IS THE SAME WITH THE Lords commandments .When we break his commandments we are to ask the Lord to forgive us also FOR OUR DISOBEDANCE, why would God give commandments then ,and what would the purpose be if God did not show us a way for us to ask him to forgive us our trust passes .Now ask your self this, do you keep Gods commandments and if not do you ask God to forgive you for breaking his commandments. If not, then ye commit the greater sin and ye are wicked in the sight of God because of your disobedience to his commandments .I hope that all who will read this, will them selves learn the true meaning of repentance .so you see the more you break the commandments and repent you then learn to not break the commandments so that the Lord can bless you in your life .Amen

  7. I was looking over some of the older posts today and when I came across this one, it reminded me of why I started this blog. I’ve chosen from the beginning to not name the blog that banned me, but five years have passed and I think it might be good to lay things out historically, for those that are a little curious.

    Historical note: This post was the primary impetus that caused me to look into starting the LDSA blog. I started commenting on a large Mormon blog as “LDS Anarchist” on September 20, 2007. You can read the comments that I left on that blog by clicking the links that follow and then doing a page search for “LDS Anarchist” or “LDSA.” These are the links: here, here, here, here, here, here. On September 20 and 21, 2007, I commented on this post: here. Finally, on September 21, 2007, I left the comments that got me banned from that site: here. The first comment of that last post was about the information concerning what the phrase, “the only true and living church,” meant. I guess I wasn’t as clear in writing as I should have been and I was misunderstood, called a troll, and when I tried to answer someone’s question about what i wrote and explain my meaning a little better, I was repeatedly censored and not allowed to post any more comments concerning the matter. They did allow me one more comment, though, which didn’t go over too well with them and they subsequently banned me.

    Being banned turned out to be a blessing, though, as I started to consider starting my own blog, and after much prayer and thought, I made the decision to do it. So, thank you By Common Consent blog, for banning me!

    Btw, since being banned I turned by back completely on that blog and, except for the rare occasion that someone has linked to something they wanted me to check out there, have never gone back to read anything they write nor the comments. I assume that I am still banned. I probably ought to test that out and go comment on something over there… Maybe if I’m no longer banned, I can get myself kicked out again… Or worse, maybe I can actually cause some people there to click on my name and come over here… Boy, wouldn’t that tick them off! Lol.

    One last thing, when I started the LDS Anarchy blog, I began with a series of scriptural discussion posts. This was patterned after what they did over there, except done on a daily basis and not just on Fridays. These type of posts were discontinued by me early on though (there are only 16 such posts, published during the first 16 days of the blog), as I realized that I didn’t want to pattern this blog after any other blog. I wanted it to be different than the rest. That, and also I didn’t see enough interest in these type of posts (hardly anyone commented on them) to justify me in dedicating the time to publish a new one every day.

  8. Okay, I have tested the waters over at By Common Consent and left three comments on this post, one with a link that went immediately into the moderation queue, then another one a day later asking if someone was going to take my comment out of the queue, and that second comment also went immediately into the moderation queue, and then a final comment acknowledging the apparent banning. So, I guess it is official. After five years, I, LDS Anarchist, am still banned from commenting on the By Common Consent blog.

    Hmm…perhaps I will put all of this into a Blog Notes post, for historical purposes…

  9. I think there’s a permanent list of “banned persons”. Once your name is flagged — you’d have to be expressly “unflagged” to ever get back out.

  10. inspiring interpretation

  11. “And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying, Blessed art thou, Alma; and blessed are they which were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi. And blessed are they, because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them. And blessed are thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people. Yea, blessed is this people, which is willing to bear my name: for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine. And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed. Thou art my servant; And I covenant with thee, that thou shall have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me, and go forth in my name, and shall gather together my sheep. And he that will hear my voice, shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church; and him will I also receive. For behold, this is my church; whosoever that is baptized, shall be baptized unto repentance. ”

    a church (the true defintion, not what people want it to mean) is a lot like a tribe. a group of brothers and sisters working together to move towards zion. or as god told alma, whoever is repenting and making baptismal covenants

  12. about what true and living mean, a church can be true but be dead. they can follow all the laws of god with exactness, but without living revelation they will not be able to adapt to changing circumstances and new needs. there are many churches that do this, they obey (most of) the laws of god, but they have no healings or visions or prophecies. for example, lets say the catholic church truly was founded by peter at some point and they kept passing their priesthood authority down the line, a resoration would still be necessary because they had become dead. they not only no longer had the gifts of prophecy and revelation and tongues and healings, they taught (maybe not expicitly) that they were no longer necessary, so that even if god did speak to one of them and reveal all he had in mind, he would be written off as a heretic.

    “But woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

    in like manner a church can be living but not true. there are many pentecostal churches that recieve gifts of the spirit such as tongues, dreams, immunity to snakes, healings etc. but practice corrupted forms of tithing and teach false doctrines concerning the role of men and women and the nature of revelation and scripture. that’s why, i believe the gifts of revelation, interpretation of dreams and prophecy to be the greatest, they will set you in order and point the way to the other gifts as well.

    “And the king saith, That a seer is greater than a prophet. And Ammon saith, That a seer is a revelator, and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater, can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can”

    “I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied; for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”

    now are we still true and alive like we were in joseph’s day? yes, but we are nearer to death i believe, the good news is, like the original scripture says all we need to do is repent, we’re still not as bad off as niniveh was and we still know the truth even if we aren’t living it completely. if the day comes that we hear prophets and apostles preaching saying we no longer need the gifts of the spirit, LOOK OUT

    “And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth, that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men, if this be the case: for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God. And wo unto them which shall do these things away and die, for they die in their sins, and they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God; and I speak it according to the words of Christ, and I lie not.”

  13. Multiple readings of this posting have produced varied thoughts.
    Yes, the Church is us – the members.
    Yes, when Joseph and Oliver established or organized the church, it was created and based upon “consent” principles by members, and many of those involved were acting in righteousness in accordance to the knowledge they had.
    The church today continues to be the vehicle (infrastructure) from which we serve/function, but it no longer offers the collective “righteousness” it did when organized.
    Look at Isaiah 28 and see our true status in the eyes of a reputable, proven prophet…
    Vs 1… Woe to the crown of pride (Benson’s talk) to the drunkards of Ephriam ( LDS.org definition, priesthood) whose glorious beauty is a fading flower…
    Vs 7. But they also have erred through wine, (no longer used for sacrament) and through strong drink (drunk with power???) Are out if the way; (no longer on God’s path for us) the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink …. they err in vision they stumble in judgement.
    Vs 8 for all their tables (councils, sacrament, etc.) So that there is no place clean.
    Vs 14. Wherefore hear the word of the Lord , ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem (don’t we profess to be of Israel, have we not built BYU Jerusalem ????)
    THEN visit Isaiah first chapter…
    Read the tone to us which begins in the chapter header… ” The people of Israel are apostate, rebellious, and corrupt” (have we changed the temple ordinances, have we withdrawn from the united order, have we eliminated the eternal marriage covenant established by Joseph.???.. and on, and on)
    Vs 11 … Do you know of any other church which hosts “the law of sacrifice in a temple today???
    Vs 13 .. Bring no more vain oblations; … the new moon and Sabbath’s ( not just Jewish holidays, what abt Fast Meetings each new month???) See it again in vs 14…
    Vs 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, (perhaps in the true order of prayer) I will hide mine eyes from you, when you make many prayers, (in a prayer circle and repeating the prayer, isn’t that ” many” prayers, with all the names on the altar, isn’t that many prayers???)
    I will not hear: your hands are full of blood … (Learn about abortions, volume, etc)
    Vs 17 Learn to do well; seek judgement ( ask God if you could be doing better???) Relieve the oppressed … (look up tent cities and learn about the how bad the economy really is, read about how many families attend FREE medical and dental services, wake up saints!!!!)
    I won’t go further, but our church is no longer collectively worthy of representing God on earth. We do not and have not tried to establish Zion since the United Order was abandoned and we are NOT carrying God’s purposes as Joseph established them, in his temples… Really, we are not.
    I’m still a recommend holding member, but I cannot now answer the questions acceptably to allow me to obtain a new one when this one expires. I don’t use this one for the reasons Isaiah clearly outlined.
    When someone bears testimony stating the church is true, I want to run screaming. The church is not true, the GOSPEL us true, the RESTORATION us true, JOSEPH was/is the prophet that has brought the gospel into the last days.
    I love the brethren individually, but when Pres. Monson “dedicates” a bank of Zion like he would a temple; when Pres. Oakes tells me I cannot question the brethren, even when they are wrong and he doesn’t believe Christ when he says all flesh is equal, and he doesn’t realize he’s list his priesthood when he says I cannot question the brethren (section 121); when the brethren interfere in Stake disciplinary procedures when the D&C States otherwise, and they demand excommunication for men and women “disagreeing” with them, when excommunications reserved for “apostasy” which means preaching against Jesus Christ, against there being a hell, etc.; No, I know the church is not true.
    I’m very grateful the church offers the opportunity for awareness of Joseph and the restoration and Latter-Day scriptures ( which we see they edit for their own purposes endlessly).
    I wait the second coming, and hope to be worthy to be affiliated with the “last days servant” toward living for a season in the MILLENIUM. I hope and pray many if us will.

  14. I think that you’re correct. Looking at the church (us) collectively, He is well-pleased. However, He wanted to make clear that although He is well-pleased with us (the church) generally, there are individuals who need to repent. I don’t think he was referring to the general collective church as needing repentance…just individuals. I like you feel that a collective can’t repent. Still, there are times when the church is in condemnation (ie…not reading the BoM). Repentance in that case is possible by individuals reading and living the BoM. If enough of them do so, then the collective church is no longer in condemnation.

  15. LDSA-
    Thought you might find this article (and this unique movement) somewhat interesting: http://www.aggressivechristianity.net/articles/ecclesia.htm

  16. God knows the future. When he spoke through Joseph then he was speaking only to the remnant today. Not to the LDS ‘church’ individually. He was speaking to the Remnant of the true church. Not to an abomination that lost its authority and betrayed its covenants by trying to gain worldly power.

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