The Central Religious Experience of Mormonism

March 3, 2009 | 23 comments

What does Mormonism portray as the central religious experience?

Maybe its the achievement of Godhood in family, you could make an argument for that. Although that’s pretty remote and abstract. We don’t have any visuals or stories about that.

In the temple, and in our central book, the Book of Mormon, and in its central passages, the 3 Nephi narrative of Christ in the Americas, the central experience is seeing Christ, and hearing his voice, and pressing his wounds.

Note that D&C 130 (the one on marriage) implicitly combines these two.

See also here.

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23 Responses to The Central Religious Experience of Mormonism

  1. DavidC on March 3, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    I think the central religious experience of Mormonism is learning to recognize and follow the promptings of the spirit. Everything else follows from that, and without it nothing else is possible.

  2. Eric Nielson on March 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I don’t know for sure what you are getting at. If it is the central experience for the church as a whole, would it not be the First Vison of Joseph Smith?

  3. Rameumptom on March 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I believe theophany and becoming one with the Godhead is the core focus of the gospel. It begins with Adam in the garden, then falling and trying to regain God’s presence. Lehi has his theophany in 1 Ne 1, and then it is expanded for him and Nephi in 1 Ne 8-15.
    The endowment is our basic primer and practice on entering into God’s presence.
    Even reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost entails coming into the constant companionship of a member of the Godhead.

  4. Kent G. Budge on March 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    That is correct. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost constitutes a partial redemption from the Fall, since it brings you back into the presence of a member of the Godhead.

  5. Adam Greenwood on March 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Theophany is the Christian thing. What Mormonism add is, like Lehi, the experience of bringing your family in with you.

  6. liberty on March 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I have to agree with both Rameumpton’s and Kent’s comments. The fulness of the priesthood would be both the accumulation and culmination of this theophanic process. Even the life and mission of Joseph Smith seems to demonstration an evolution of events and revelations which culminated with the temple ordinances. All things unique to Mormonism point in that direction.

  7. lngrid on March 3, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    For my two cents’ worth, I’d have to say that the central religious experience for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints would be the discovery and daily reaffirmation of a testimony that the Savior’s pure gospel and church have been restored, that the Book of Mormon truly testifies of the Savior and complements the Bible, and that Joseph Smith, having been the agent in the hand of God to bring this to us, is a true prophet.

    That is the hub of my spiritual life and those of the fellow saints I see. Remove it and celestial marriage, eternal family units, priesthood powers, and even scripture-reading become meaningless.

  8. quin on March 3, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    As for me and my house-

    The central religious experience would be forming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accepting Him as Lord and Savior in my life. Because of Him and through Him all things have been created and can be perfected. Without Him all would be lost.
    None of the rites/ceremonies/covenants of the gospel can take effect if we do not put off the natural man and experience the mighty change that is possible only through complete submission to the will of the Father and His Son.

  9. Kevin Christensen on March 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    I wrote a paper on this topic a few years ago. Two excerpts:

    hose I shall discuss in this paper (following Barbour) can be seen as generally framing a movement:
    (a)From responses to external impressions regarding:
    Order and creativity in the world
    The common mythic symbols and patterns underlying most religious traditions
    Key historical events that define separate traditions and bind individuals
    (b)Through the innermost experiences of the individual:
    Numinous awe and reverence1
    Mystical union
    Moral obligation
    Reorientation and Reconciliation with respect to personal sin, guilt, and weakness, the existence of evil, suffering, and death, and tensions between science and faith.
    (c)Then returning to the external world as human action:

    Personal dialogue where you begin interpret external events as God speaking to you, and you answer through your own actions.
    Social and Ritual behavior
    These matters cannot objectively prove the existence of a God (whether personal or impersonal), but, as I hope to demonstrate, they do constitute the core of religious experience for believers. They provide the ground of experience on which reasoned and feeling assessments of the validity and worth of faith are based. They encompass the ways in which spirituality is manifest in history and symbol. They are the wine—and doctrine the wine-bottles. To argue and contend about doctrine is to emphasize the wine skin over the wine. In Alma’s terms, it is to emphasize what you think you “know” over what ultimately gives “cause to believe” (Alma 32:18).

    Like it or not, people within the Mormon tradition can and do enjoy the full range of all the experiential and historic aspects of religion, along with access to rich symbolism. Each aspect becomes like a thread in a rope: awe at the creation, numinous and mystic encounter, moments of reorientation of the mind, and reconciliation of the heart, moral obligation, the likening of scriptures to ourselves, making ancient stories into personal biography, dipping into the common mythic experience of humankind, or any number of individual historic events that define and bind our community. Like it or not, when you look at the Mormon community and the Mormon faith at this level of core experience, all that defines religion anywhere exists here. Therefore, like it or not, at the outset, any assessment of the religious value of Mormonism should admit that here the fountain of living waters flows briskly. In assessing Mormonism, in dealing with questions raised about any particular thread in what can be a complex bundle of threads of varied strengths, some more significant than others, but no single thread carrying all the weight, keep in mind that the validity of Mormon spiritual life must be accepted as a given.

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  10. Wilfried on March 3, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you for the question, Adam. I think that, if the experience of Mormonism is viewed as an individual experience, it may depend on where you come from. For converts who already had a deep faith in Christ in their life, gaining a testimony of the First Vision and the Restoration would count as a first core “Mormon” experience (not “accepting Christ”, which they had already). Next, it seems that over the years we may move from one central experience to another, depending on our growth and life experiences. It seems part of the dynamics of Mormonism, which makes it different from other, more static religions.

  11. Alex Valencic on March 3, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    I have always thought of the central experience of Mormonism being that which is described in Alma 32, when one’s faith moves from a mere desire to believe to a knowledge of truth rooted in the testimony affirmed by the Spirit.

    I guess another way to say that is that the central experience is when a member of the Church is able to confidently move from saying “I believe…” to “I know…”

  12. Shawn on March 4, 2009 at 9:16 am

    The central experience of the Gospel (not just Mormonism) is to be brought into the presence of God and see His face. This has been the mission of all prophets since the creation of the world and the fall of mankind – to prepare a people to see the face of God and to dwell with Him in righteousness. It was the mission of Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Joseph. It remains the mission of Thomas.

  13. Paul S on March 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I think Adam gets at the central religious experience but doesn’t quite nail it. The experience is the weekly sacrament (as evidenced by the experience in the Americas). Everything in the Gospel stems from the Atonement. As Pres. Packer states, it is the root and everything else is simply an appendage (even the Restoration and the Spirit). Without the Atonement everything else is dead. Thus Sacrament meeting each weekly is centered around a reenactment of the Atonement, the Temple is centered on the Atonement, etc. Recognizing the Spirit is empty without the Atonement, so is theophany and eternal families. This may be the message of all Christianity but only Mormonism contains the restored truth and authority to fully understand and take part in the Atonement.

  14. Paul S on March 4, 2009 at 9:43 am

    I guess I should say the central experience should be the weekly sacrament meeting and our interaction with the Atonement. From the above comments, it seems clear this is not the case. However, I think we do ourselves a disservice when we put other events/aspects of our religion above the Atonement. Or when we think the Atonement is implied, no need to mention it–instead let’s focus on what separates us from mainline or traditional Christianity. In fact, I think this is one main contributing factor to other religions viewing us as non-Christian. We too often take the Atonement for granted in our discourse, choosing instead to focus on what makes us distinct (though I would argue that our restored knowledge of the Atonement and authority to perform ordinances that enable us to enjoy the power of the Atonement in our lives is what makes us distinct–truly a spark to a moribund Christianity).

  15. Wilfried on March 4, 2009 at 10:20 am

    It probably also depends on the definition of “experience”. The experience of doctrine? Of ordinance? Of commandment? Of interpersonal relations? Is there not a good chance that we define the “central” experience as our own beloved topic in the Gospel? E.g., emphasizing the “achievement of Godhood in family” as the central one may be valid for many of us, but less or even painful for those who are single. These people may focus on other priorities to experience Gospel centrality. And shouldn’t we respect that choice?

    If the focus is on commandment, Christ said the “greatest commandment” is: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

  16. Adam Greenwood on March 4, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I expected that the comments would be the good part of the thread. Expectations met. Thanks.

  17. gst on March 4, 2009 at 11:14 am

    The central religious experience of Mormonism is pon farr.

    Hope this helps.

  18. Brad Kramer on March 4, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Let me also just say, you’re welcome Adam.

  19. Geoff J on March 4, 2009 at 11:39 am

    You’re very welcome Adam. (I also enjoy my comments immensely)

  20. Steve Evans on March 4, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    You’re welcome, Adam. We aim to please.

  21. Floyd the Wonderdog on March 4, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    “Central religious experience”?

    Seems that it would be the revelation of God to us individually. The revelation that He is and cares for us. That is to me the first message of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. We can also receive that message for ourselves. It serves as a foundation upon which all other religious experiences and lessons are based.

  22. matt b on March 4, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    You’re welcome, Adam.

  23. Paradox on March 5, 2009 at 1:08 am

    You can sum up the answer in one word: Progression

    That’s the entire purpose of the Plan of Salvation.


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