This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 22, number 04 (2000). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal click here.
What are we after when we talk with members of the Mormon church? Do we want to “best” them with words, leaving them stunned and speechless? Is our desire to make the Mormon missionary at our door look and feel foolish? Or, is there an underlying concern for the neighbor who is raising his or her family to be moral and temple-worthy, a compassion fueled by the recognition that even “good” people can still be bound for outer darkness?
Mormon missionary, Mormon neighbor, Mormon co-worker, Mormon relative — all provide us with opportunities to relate in a way that brings them one step closer to true repentance and faith in Christ. And that, I suggest, is the ultimate goal of any witnessing encounter: to win their heart rather than win the argument.
Using a Latter-Day Saint’s Own Scriptures. This article explores practical ways to dialogue with Latter-day Saints with this goal in mind and to use the Mormon’s scripture to achieve this goal. Why use Mormon scripture? Because it is Mormon scripture, and as such it puts the conversion on comfortable ground for the Mormon, at least initially. Using LDS scripture also demonstrates that we care enough about them individually to try to understand their religious beliefs and the things they revere. Our care for the person must always be what moves us into their lives.
Which Mormon Scriptures Do We Use? Effective verses from LDS scriptures are ones that raise questions about the person’s life and relationship with God. Many LDS people are blind to their own sinfulness and the ineffectiveness of the Mormon system to make them worthy before the heavenly Father. We want to stir up within their hearts an awareness of how far they fall shot of god’s standard of perfection and encourage them to take a realistic look at their lives.
Example 1 — Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 — Past sins come back to haunt you. This verse states, “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your god” (emphasis added).
The idea that even confessed sins return and make us guilty once more before God can be sobering to Mormons who think they’re leading a fairly moral life and therefore are right with god. One possible way to open the conversation is to ask, “Have you ever committed the same sin over again?” or “Have you repeated a sin even after confessing it to God”? Most people know they have lied, disobeyed, and cheated — more than once!
Within the LDS system, what is the result of such sinful behavior? Guilt added on top of guilt. Consider the words of former LDS President Spencer W. Kimball regarding this verse: “We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness. The Lord anticipated the weakness of man which would return him to his transgression, and he gave this revelation in warning [cites D&C 82:7].” (Ibid., 170.).
Earlier in this same book, after quoting D&C 82:7, Kimball states, “Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to sin and be forgiven again and
Then return to sin and be forgiven gain and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load.” (Ibid, 170.)
In light of this Mormon scripture, is unreasonable to ask Latter-day Saints how they are doing spiritually and what they think their current standing is before god, or if guilt has been a heavy burden to them because of repeating a particular sin? Meanwhile, gentleness and compassion must cushion our approach. We certainly don’t want to slam-dunk a Mormon in his or her sin and stir up resentment rather than true repentance.
Example2 — 2 Nephi 25:23 — Has anyone done all he or she can do? This Book of Mormon scripture states, “For we labor diligently to write to persuade our children and also our brethren, to believe in Christian and be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (emphasis added).
The concept of doing all we can do and then accepting the grace of God to make up what we lack appeals greatly to our culture today. Mormons are proud to be doing their part to make themselves worthy, and they are confident that though they are not perfect, the grace of Christ will more than make up for whatever they lack. Yet few Mormons have considered the implications of this conditional grace. How many of us in any given hour have done all we can do? On a given day, have we been faithful to do all we can to live holy lives, to honor God, to be selfless and loving, meek humble? Now multiply those hours and days by a year and a lifetime, and which of us could ever claim to have done all we can?
Once again, asking our LDS friend questions can open the door for dialogue rather than debate. “Have you ever come to the end of a week and realized there was so much more you cold have done for God?” or “Do you think there is anyone who would dare to stand before God and claim they had done all they could possibly do for Him and the welfare of others?” Honest people will recognize their imperfections and shortcomings. At that point we can refer to 2 Nephi 25:23 and ask about its implications. What chance do they have to qualify for God’s grace?
It is quite possible Mormons will turn the issue back on you, and the fervor and intensity with which they do is likely a reaction of the conviction they themselves have felt. It may come n rapid-fire shorts: “So, what about you? Are you perfect? Have you done all you can do?”
The short answer is “Yes,” and it will more than likely produce looks of incredulity and further questions such as, “What, you’re perfect? You don’t sin anymore?” Therein lies the awaited opportunity to introduce a person who is perhaps confident in his or her own self-righteousness to the doctrine of true grace. For we know what it means to be a sinner who deserves judgment and condemnation but, instead, receives mercy and forgiveness. To fall short time and again and be under the wrath of god, but then to receive unmerited favor, not on the basis of what we do, but on what Christ has done in our behalf — this is the grace of God.
Such a conversation also provides the opportunity to ask Mormons if they have ever considered the true biblical teaching on forgiveness, of sins removed from us as far as the east is from the west, of a god who has promised that if we confess our sins, He is both faithful and just to forgive those sins and cleanse us of all our unrighteousness (Ps. 103:12; Heb. 8:12; 1 John 1:7-9).
What Are We After? The Mormon church does all it can to produce “good” people, encouraging them to focus on their exterior façade of morality, civility, and citizenry. We can use heir own scriptures to help them face the true condition of their heart and the futility of a system based on self-perfection and self-justification. Our witness then assumes the posture of a friend who comes alongside to help, rather than an enemy who attacks to hurt and destroy. Our relationship is then defined by respect, compassion, and the right to speak the truth, rather than being based on debate and defensiveness, which invariably results in distrust and distance.
What are we after anyway? What we are after is to share the love of God in Jesus Christ with our Mormon friends.— Joel Groat
Joe Groat is Research and Counseling Associate with the Institute for Religious Research in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is a graduate of Cornerstone College and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary.