Missionaries are taught to bear their testimonies to cause you to
"feel the spirit." A testimony is a spiritual conviction
that you know something or another is true. "Bearing testimony" means to
express with certainty and confidence that they know that what they are
teaching is true. Their testimonies are to relate directly to the
point they are teaching, should be free from jargon, and should "maintain
an equal relationship" with the investigators.
The Missionary Guide quotes Boyd K. Packer as
Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A
testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere
in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that "leap of faith,"
as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to
the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the
way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. "The spirit of
man," as the scripture says, indeed "is the candle of the Lord." (Prov.
It is one thing to receive a witness from what you
have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning.
It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that
what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will
be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there
is a replacement, with increase! ("The Candle of the Lord," Ensign,
Jan. 1983, pp. 54-55)
The implications of this are important for the
investigator to understand. When a missionary bears his testimony
and says, for example, "I know from the Holy Ghost that the priesthood was
restored," that doesn't necessarily mean that he has that spiritual
conviction, but rather it could mean that he is looking for that spiritual conviction.
He may be bearing his testimony in an effort to find his testimony.
The fact that missionaries are taught to express convictions in efforts to
gain convictions must be taken into account when weighing their
testimonies as evidence that their message is true.
The Missionary Guide quotes the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie
as saying, "Perhaps the perfect pattern...is to teach what is found in the
scriptures and then to put a seal of living reality upon it by telling a
similar thing that has happened in our dispensation and to our people
and--most ideally--to us as individuals" ("The How and Why of
Faith-promoting stories," New Era, July 1978, pp. 4-5)
Missionaries are instructed to be simple, clear, and direct when they
share their experiences. They should keep the story focused on the
point, only share the uplifting details of the story. One part that
is emphasized is "Do not share past transgressions, even if you are trying
to help a person who is having problems that you have had." (Missionary
Guide, pp. 77) It's interesting to note that the scriptures,
including the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and even the
Doctrine and Covenants, don't hesitate to tell details of "past
transgressions" of the heroes, be it when David slept with Bathsheba,
Peter denied Christ, Alma Junior tried to destroy the church, or Joseph
Smith disregarded God's commandments and gave the manuscript to Martin
Harris. But now, Mormon historians are excommunicated for telling
the whole truth about past church leaders and missionaries are taught to
only expose a holy facade.
Personally, I find the honesty
of telling the truth about "past transgressions" and the way you overcame
it or deal with it to be more inspiring pretending that your life has
always gone according to the blueprint. Don't you respect the man
who gets up in front of a group and says, "My name is Jason Thomas, and I
am an alcoholic."
Identify the Influence of the Holy
The Missionary Guide doesn't give much help in how,
specifically, to identify the Spirit. Rather, it assumes that
whatever the investigator is feeling during the message is in fact, the
Spirit. In the section of the Missionary Guide that deals
with instructing the missionaries to develop their own Christlike
attributes, the missionary is told, "You must learn the difference between
your own desires and feelings, and the promptings of the Spirit.
Revelation from the Lord will always be in harmony with the scriptures and
revelations of the Lord's prophets." (Missionary Guide, pp. 29)
Other than that, they don't give you much clue of how to tell if a
particular feeling is the spirit or your own emotions and thoughts.
Returning to the section on the commitment pattern, the steps the
missionaries follow are these:
Ask the investigator how he feels.
Explain that feeling is the Holy Ghost telling them
the Church is true.
A friend of mine was having the missionary discussions.
After one of the discussions, they knelt down to have a prayer, and after
the prayer they stood up. My friend was feeling a little dizzy
head-rush that was clearly due to having been sitting and relaxing for a
while, and then kneeling down and standing up. One of missionaries
asked her how she felt, and referring to the head-rush, she said, "I feel
pretty good." The missionary quickly responded, "that is the
Holy Ghost telling you that our message is true!"