Hardly a week goes by without hearing of another church member losing their faith. There is even a lawyer who, for no legal fee, will help members remove their names from church records. He may even think of himself as a good Samaritan.
“The internet era is taking a toll on the faith of many church members”. This is a frequent explanation for what’s happening. Meanwhile, the Tribune and Mormon Stories increase revenue with each account of lost faith they publish.
Question: is the internet really the primary cause for loss of faith? Or is there something else at the heart of the internet generation’s dissent? I think there is.
Here’s how I see it. The Lord set up a way for his people to acquire a testimony. This is taught in Moroni 10:4-5. Those who have paid the price to gain a testimony in the Lord’s way are not the one’s dissenting from the church. They have built their faith on the rock of their redeemer (Helaman 5:12).
Students of the scriptures know the Lord permits trials of faith to come to his people. I’ve experienced these trials and know by my own experience what it is like. I am also well versed in the trials related to the internet. Starting in 2007, I began to study the content of sites that cover the troubling issues of Mormon history and doctrine. I’ve read scores of exit testimonies of church members and know about the issues that caused the excommunication of prominent intellectual dissidents. I’ve read their blogs and publications.
Am I troubled or concerned by the things I’ve learned? Yes, a rational person couldn’t help but be troubled. I am troubled and concerned, but the testimony the Lord gave me has not diminished.
The God revealed in the Book of Mormon and other scripture declares he will have a tried people. Students of the Book of Mormon understand God will both chasten and try the patience and faith of his people (Mosiah 23:21). The trials the Lord permits his people to experience are real. Anything short of a God given testimony won’t do. Those who don’t have a God given testimony are not going to stand strong if they rely exclusively on the testimonies of their parents, loved ones, or church leaders.
Back to the question: is the internet really the primary cause for loss of faith? No, not based on what I know from scripture. The content on the internet is a secondary problem, the primary problem is taught in the Book of Mormon. One example:
The Lord’s people “forget the Lord their God…because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity“. Prosperity is the greatest destroyer of faith. It is human nature to be “slothful because of the easiness of the way“.
Harold B. Lee said:
“Today are we suffering the greatest of all the tests and temptations that have ever been given? The test of gold and affluence and ease, the like of which no people of any generation have ever experienced.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, p.329)
Prosperity can rob people of their spiritual initiative, and strength, while poverty and hardship can open the doors to heavens blessings. The Nephite cycle of being prospered when they kept the commandments, and being cut off from the Lord’s presence because of iniquity is repeated over and over in the pages of the Book of Mormon. The lesson taught is that prosperity can draw the Lord’s people into the arms of pride and harden their hearts towards God, while hardship can humble his followers and open their hearts to God.
We live in prosperous times. The availability of goods and services in America and many other countries is a measure of God’s blessings. In recent years, it has also become evident that America and other prosperous countries are moving away from God. We will be cut off from his presence as we do, resulting in the loss of blessings.
I believe the Lord intends to try his people’s faith to prepare them for the second coming of Christ. All the troubling aspects of church history and doctrine found on the internet are ways faith is being tried. I believe he is using these things for his purposes.
In our day of prosperity, as a church are we witnessing the early stages of a decrease in faith and righteousness because of the wickedness of the rising generation (3 Nephi 1:30)? Time will tell.
In our day of prosperity, as a nation, are we witnessing the early stages of God’s judgments coming on us as we forget him?
I hope we will return to our spiritual senses as a church and nation and cease to harden our hearts towards God. Otherwise, we will bring God’s judgments on ourselves.
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