Although anyone can attend most Mormon services and activities without being a member, conversion is required to experience everything the Church has to offer. Mormonism is actually a nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the principles of Mormon conversion are based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose mission is as central to Mormonism as His name is to the true name of the Church.
A book called True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, which offers introductions to many Mormon principles, explains that conversion is not an event in Mormonism. It is a process. Simply announcing that we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior does not complete the process. Gaining a testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not complete the process. Nor does baptism or confirmation as a member of the Church. Conversion, for a Mormon, is a life-long process, and even an eternal one. It may be why Pew Foundation studies often show Mormon teens and adults score higher than many other religions in various aspects of religiosity. An understanding that conversion requires constant effort and strengthening will naturally lead one to work harder at keeping the commandments, studying, praying, and improving faith.
Conversion is expected of all Mormons, even those who were born into Mormon families. From very early childhood, Mormons are taught to study the gospel and then to pray to God to know if it is true. Only God can give a sure answer to the question of which church to join. Mormon children are baptized at age eight and are encouraged to pray for their initial testimony prior to that time.
Those who join at age nine or older meet with missionaries prior to baptism. A series of lessons, called discussions, help them learn the very basics of the gospel. They certainly won’t know everything prior to baptism, but they have a foundation to start with and can continue to study and pray afterwards.
Conversion is normally a very quiet and personal event. While some experience miracles, such as the one received by the apostle Paul, most do not. Their prayers are answered in very quiet ways, sometimes so quietly the person has a testimony without even knowing it.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a Mormon apostle, calls this “waiting on the road to Damascus.” This is a reference to Paul’s miraculous conversion. Because they haven’t had a big dramatic revelation or miracle, they think God hasn’t given them a testimony yet.
We know that manifestations such as this happen. In fact, we testify that a similar divine experience happened in 1820 to a boy named Joseph Smith. It is our clear and certain testimony that the heavens are open again and that God speaks to His prophets and apostles. God hears and answers the prayers of His children.
Nevertheless, there are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe.
They spend their days waiting on the road to Damascus. (See Waiting on the Road to Damascus by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.)
Those working to gain a testimony are taught to study the gospel. You must read the Bible and the Book of Mormon to know they are true. You can’t have a testimony of something if you don’t know it exists or don’t know enough about it. Often, as a person is studying the teachings of the Mormons, he will begin to feel a warmth and peace in his heart. This comes from the Holy Ghost and is the only way conversion occurs. Another way to gain a testimony is to act as if it were true. If you want to know if God really wants you to keep the Word of Wisdom, the Mormon health code, begin to keep it and see what happens. God can better testify to you of the truthfulness of something while you are living it, because he can show you the blessings.
David A. Bednar, also a Mormon apostle, helped listeners at a recent conference understand the principle of gradual conversion in a talk called The Spirit of Revelation:
We as members of the Church tend to emphasize marvelous and dramatic spiritual manifestations so much that we may fail to appreciate and may even overlook the customary pattern by which the Holy Ghost accomplishes His work. The very “simpleness of the way” (1 Nephi 17:41) of receiving small and incremental spiritual impressions that over time and in totality constitute a desired answer or the direction we need may cause us to look “beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14).
I have talked with many individuals who question the strength of their personal testimony and underestimate their spiritual capacity because they do not receive frequent, miraculous, or strong impressions. Perhaps as we consider the experiences of Joseph in the Sacred Grove, of Saul on the road to Damascus, and of Alma the Younger, we come to believe something is wrong with or lacking in us if we fall short in our lives of these well-known and spiritually striking examples. If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are quite normal. Just keep pressing forward obediently and with faith in the Savior. As you do so, you “cannot go amiss” (D&C 80:3).
Once a Mormon or potential Mormon has received this testimony from God, he is expected to act on it. If we go to God with a request for help or advice, we must act on the light He gives us.
This initial testimony is only a beginning place, however. Over the coming years, Mormons will continue to study and pray. They will plan for experiences that will strengthen their testimonies of Jesus Christ and become more familiar with His teachings. They will continue to improve their ability to live the commandments of God. All of these things will continue a lifelong process of conversion. As our testimonies grow stronger, our ability to obey God becomes easier. As obedience becomes easier, our testimonies are strengthened. It is those first steps that are critical; after that every step circles back to strengthen the previous steps and to make the next ones easier.
Treating conversion as a process rather than a single event makes it more likely a person will sustain the initial conversion and more likely he will continue to work on improving his testimony and spirituality. True to the Faith offers several benefits that come from being truly converted:
1. A desire to do good. Someone with a true conversion will not be perfect, but will be filled with a desire to make gospel-appropriate choices out of love for Jesus Christ. The motive behind the goal is one sign of true conversion.
2. A refusal to rebel against God. A person who is truly converted will accept the teachings of God and of the prophet without rebellion or trying to “exempt” any teaching or action that does not match other non-spiritual aspects of his life.
3. A willingness to share the gospel. When we have something we know will make the lives of others better, we long to share it. If we have a testimony of the gospel and know how much happier it has made us, love for others will cause us to share it with them.
4. An increased love for others. When we are truly converted, God can fill our hearts with love for others and a desire to help them be happy and safe. It impacts the way we treat others and the way we view them.
These goals often take a lifetime to achieve, but each day we are actively working on our testimonies and conversions, we are bringing ourselves closer to a Christ-like life and a complete conversion.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.