By far the most common way people come into contact with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, is through speaking with two young well dressed men, wearing a little badge with Elder on it. These guys spend two years of their lives, usually when they are 18-19, in an allocated area by the LDS Church, working 6 and a half days a week, either seeking to make new contacts or following up with contacts already made, with a view to sharing the LDS gospel and baptizing people into their church. Its a genuine joy for them but sometimes not without its pressures and strains.
Often times Christians see them as annoyances, or lost causes, far too steeped in Mormonism to be worth the time to share the gospel with. Others see them as the perfect witnessing opportunity, enjoying the opportunity to throw everything they know that’s wrong with Mormonism right at them.
This article, over the course of 10 points, is seeking to show that these guys are so worth the time and effort that it takes to share the gospel, and also that it’s not necessarily helpful to see them as targets to which you should throw everything false you have ever heard about Mormonism. I hope this is helpful and I look forward to comments from Mormons and Evangelicals alike.
1. Be aware of how they see their role and the probable immaturity of their faith.
Mormon Missionaries are by and large 18-20 year old guys, (there are girls too, the same applies) who have been raised Mormon and like every teenager have likely spent the last few years with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward Church. They will have however reached an age where they will have been told it’s time to grow up, grow in your own faith, and go on a mission. (There will be some who have spent their teenage years lapping up all things church and will have done a lot of reading, however my experience has not brought many of these.)
Mormon missionaries do not see themselves as apologists, theologians, scholars or defenders of the faith as such. They see themselves as teachers, wanting to teach the “gospel” to all who will listen. They will, varying from missionary to missionary, have dialogue with people critical of Mormonism, but this will rarely last long. They simply do not see this as their role; there is nothing dishonest on their part about this.
They will have started their missionary life with 6 or so weeks at Missionary Training Centre (MTC), this is where they are introduced to the disciplines of Missionary life. This includes always being with their “companion” (apart from bathroom visits) working 6 and a half days a week, with every day starting with 2 hours of study, starting at 6:30am. Not being allowed to watch a movie over a U rating, not being allowed to read anything but approved church material, and not being allowed to listen to any music but church music and so on. During the MTC they are not being trained in the depths of Mormon Theology or history, but rather they are learning back to front by heart the lessons in the Preach My Gospel Manual.
These lessons are basic foundations of Mormon belief. There is much that they would never talk about with you, such as the teaching that God was once a man, and many others. Sometimes they are not telling because they are abiding by the “milk before meat” concept (more on this below), or they just don’t know. They just know that they are to teach you the lessons from the manual, and that they want you to have your own “Testimony” or internal witness of the truthfulness of what they are saying. Some will engage in some theological discussion with you, however if and when they realize that you are looking to dialogue with them, and are not intending on being baptized a Mormon, they will likely stop meeting up with you. This happens to us all sooner or later.
2, Don’t rush! Lay a foundation and build genuine relationships. Always be loving and respectful.
This article is assuming that you are meeting with missionaries in your home for a number of meetings. If this is a meeting in the street, I would recommend arranging to meet them at your home or another location when you have more time. If this is not possible, try as best you can to apply this article to your circumstance.
So whenever I have met with missionaries in my home, I have always sought to lay two foundations in the first meeting. 1 – Get to know them. Missionaries are excellent, sincere, overworked, usually quite happy people. Get to know them, their background, their interests etc, build genuine relationships. 2 – Very simply tell them that you are going to patiently listen to what they have to say and take it seriously, however whatever they say will be measured against the Bible. I have never known this be a problem. You might also take them to Acts 17:11. (As a side note, Mormons tend to use the King James Version of the Bible, when speaking with them I usually do the same, however this is not a massive deal.)
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
I simply say that if the Apostle Paul was subjected to scripture then I intend on doing the same with them. It is perfectly fine as the weeks go on to develop this, ask them about some teaching or historical aspect of Mormonism that you might want to use to witness to them, however not too much too fast, or you will be seen as an “Anti-Mormon” type, and the meetings will soon end.
3, Don’t hold them accountable for all the wrongs that Mormonism has ever done.
Mormon Missionaries know overall very little about the problematic issues of Mormonism’s past. They do not necessarily know that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives and so on. While these can be helpful points for trying to show them the falsehoods of Mormonism, it is not fair to pose them as challenges, expecting them to give an excuse for these things.
4, Understand the differences between how they use certain terms and the way you do.
It is so easy to sit with Mormon Missionaries for an hour and find nothing to disagree with them on. Imagine this dialogue between me and a fictional missionary.
Me – I believe that Jesus is God.
Missionary – Great so do I. Jesus is so important in our faith.
Me – I believe that salvation is a work of grace.
Missionary – So do I. Unless it’s by Gods grace, I have no hope.
Me – I believe the Bible is God’s word.
Missionary So do I. the Bible is central to our faith.
And the list could very much go on, however the meanings that they have for these terms and names are so different. Let’s go through them one by one.
10th Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said this:
“CHRIST GAINED FULNESS AFTER RESURRECTION. The Savior did not have a fulness at first, but after he received his body and the resurrection all power was given unto him both in heaven and in earth. Although he was a God, even the Son of God, with power and authority to create this earth and other earths, yet there were some things lacking which he did not receive until after his resurrection. In other words he had not received the fulness until he got a resurrected body, and the same is true with those who through faithfulness become sons of God. Our bodies are essential to the fulness and the continuation of the seeds forever” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:33).
In Mormonism Jesus is God, or rather a god, because He went through His plan of salvation and earned His exaltation in the same way we all have to. The difference was that in being the firstborn of our heavenly parents He had an elevated status from the start. This is not by any means what Christians generally understand by believing that Jesus is God. Mormons deny the Trinity, instead teaching that the Father, Son and Spirit are three separate gods.
Mormons are taught that there are 6 different meanings for the word salvation.
- Salvation from physical death
- Salvation from sin
- Being Born again
- Salvation from Ignorance
- Salvation from Second death
- Exaltation or eternal life.
Often when Mormons say they believe in salvation totally by grace they are referring to this. With reference to salvation from sin, the manual says this:
To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, you must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37–38). If you have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority, you have already been conditionally saved from sin. You will not be completely saved from sin until you have finished your life on the earth, having faithfully endured to the end.
In the scriptures, the words saved and salvation often refer to eternal life, or exaltation (see Abraham 2:11). Eternal life is to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and dwell with Them forever—to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom (see John 17:3; D&C 131:1–4;132:21–24). To receive this great gift, we must do more than repent of our sins and be baptized and confirmed by appropriate priesthood authority. Men must receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and all Church members must make and keep sacred covenants in the temple, including eternal marriage.
“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. . .”
5, Tell them what you appreciate about their faith.
So often we Christians can get so wrapped up in the “falsehoods of Mormonism”, that we can see Mormons as people trapped in some killer cult that makes them miserable, leaving them waiting for someone to rescue them out of it. The reality is many Mormons love being Mormons. They have an excellent sense of solidarity, community, and purpose in their movement. The Mormon Church is active in humanitarian work and meets its members social needs often very well. Its worth looking into this a little and sharing what you appreciate about their faith, showing you are not just some “Anti-Mormon” trying to tear apart their faith.
6. Share with them your story, and the assurance you have of your hope.
Some of us, when we get a knock on the door from groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, love the opportunity to debate theology and “put them in their place,” as it were. However many more of us want to say something but don’t necessarily know all the Bible verses or have the time to back that up. Simply sharing your story of how Jesus has changed you and saved you can be very powerful. I would say though really emphasize the assurance that you have of your forgiveness from God and ultimately, eternal life or your eternity to come with God.
In 1 John 5:13 it says:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
We as Christians can be sure of our right standing before God. We can know that we will spend eternity with Him not based on our works but by His grace. Mormons by and large will not say this, whenever I have asked this of Missionaries the response is usually “I hope I will spend eternity with God.” Spencer W Kimball an LDS Apostle who later became president wrote this in his book, the Miracle of Forgiveness.
“Immortality has been accomplished by the Savior’s sacrifice. Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 208)
They cannot know for sure that their eternity will be with God as they have not “endured to the end” faithfully yet, the Bible does not leave us with this doubt. Confidently and lovingly share this with them even if you are going to have them in over a longer period.
7, Passionately and theologically communicate Jesus. Be prepared to explain what you believe from the Bible.
Mormon Missionaries today are easily as quick as any Christian will be to talk about Jesus. They will genuinely talk about how central He is to their faith, and how much they desire to follow Him and proclaim Him to all. Again this is very genuine on their part, however this is where really having a good biblical grasp of the doctrine of Christ and a little background information on Mormonism can really help.
For Christians, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who has always existed as God. In coming to the earth He laid aside His glorious position as God and became a man, going through the humiliation and pain of the cross, returning back to the glorious position He already held. All things were made by Him and For Him (Colossians 1:16).
In Mormonism Jesus is the firstborn son of our heavenly parents. He held the position of being a god in the pre-existence by virtue of being the firstborn, however He had to come to earth to gain a physical body and prove Himself worthy of exaltation in order to be fully exalted after the resurrection. Jesus went back to the Father, a god in the fullest sense, which could not be said for His state when He left the Father.
The well-known Mormon Apologetic book “Offenders for a word” (p.58). In response to the common evangelical charge that Mormons believe in a different Jesus put together this comparison.
Historically the Jesus Mormons follow is the same, however theologically they are worlds apart, be careful to make this distinction and really communicate to them the differences and why they are so important. Gordon B Hinckley the 16th Mormon Prophet said this:
“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.'” (LDS Church News Week ending June 20, 1998, p. 7).
Jesus said unless you believe “I am He” you will die in your sins (John 8:24). What we believe about Jesus counts in an eternal way. This is the most important area that you can communicate to a Mormon. It’s the difference between a Jesus who earned His exaltation that can save us by both His efforts and ours, or the eternal, glorious by nature Jesus who saves us by His mighty works.
8, Be prepared for how you will respond to the request to pray about the Book of Mormon.
It’s almost guaranteed that in your first meeting with Mormon missionaries they will turn to this passage in the Book of Mormon with you.
3- Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the creation of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4- And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5- And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Mormons will almost always appeal to their “testimony” to explain why they “know” the Mormon Church is true. They will say you can know this too by reading the Book of Mormon and praying to ask God if its true. If you have an internal feeling when doing this they will say that this is confirmation from God that their faith is true. The problem is that if you feel nothing or even feel that it’s not true this does not end the discussion. They will take you back to the verse and say you need to go back with more sincerity and real intent and ask again. This cycle is, in theory, a never-ending one.
I would suggest that when this comes up you take them to Acts 17:11-12 and read this:
11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
These “noble minded” Jewish Bereans searched the scriptures, meaning the Old Testament, to see if this New Testament gospel was true. The response is that many believed. I would suggest simply telling the missionaries that you will use that same method with the Old and New Testament to check the validity of what they are saying. This is by no means an aggressive response nor is it intended to be, this is usually accepted by them with no problem.
9, Don’t use strawman arguments.
I’m sure if Mormon Missionaries were given a pound for every time they get asked “aren’t you the polygamous guys?” they would not be short of pennies indeed. This one is simple; just make sure any points you make are actually points about what they believe and not simply something a critical person or website has said without full possession of the facts of Mormon belief. Many Mormons have different views of things, and of course the easiest way to know where your missionaries stand is simply to ask them.
However on the other hand it’s worth noting that missionaries may not present many aspects of Mormon belief to you unless you bring it up, even though they probably do believe them. This is called “milk before meat” and is something they are taught to do.
So don’t use strawman arguments but also be aware that they may well believe many of the things you have heard that they do. So again just simply ask them.
10, Be encouraged, Mormons do become Christians.
Often the biggest hindrance that can arise in witnessing to Mormon missionaries is just that sense of doubt that they would ever respond anyway. There are two things to note here. First, they may well not respond in their time of meeting with you. Leaving Mormonism is a massive cultural shift not without its consequences in family and social circles. So while you very likely will plant seeds, don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the fruit of that.
Secondly it actually does happen. Mormons even while on their mission have become Christians. The most well known recent case is that of Micah Wilder. Please take the time to listen to his story.