[ Author: Brock Marshall ]
Sincerity is both an inward quality of conviction along with a perceived quality of being free from pretenses, deceit or hypocrisy.
This is a quality I admire and respect among professing Latter-Day Saint [or LDS] believers. I have found that the culture within Mormonism fosters this type of environment that is quite honestly disarming to a certain degree.
I can’t help but to think about how much my life has changed as a result of the countless discussions with LDS believers over the years. In fact, I have them to thank for bringing me into a healthy and stable atmosphere after I left my Jehovah’s Witness faith. What you have to understand is I lost everything! My reputation forged within the JW community was all but lost as a result of me leaving. I had nothing to fall back on at the time, nobody to talk honestly and openly about the questions I had. This was a time when I needed my friends the most! Trying desperately to reach out and foster some sympathy as my spiritual world was crumbling beneath me, all of my JW friends fell to deaf ears.
In spite of this, I was able to slowly recover as a result of the new friends that stood alongside me and were there for no other reason than to be a friend. One such friend was a member of the LDS Church, who would eventually introduce me to others within his church. [One such person eventually became my wife] That support structure that still exists in my life is something I am indebted to this very day!
Walking the tight rope
Over the past 10 years I have forged many friendships within the LDS community in spite of our disagreements. Up to this point, I hope that you can empathize with me as it pertains to the tight rope I have to walk almost constantly. Because of the love I have for these amazing people and the natural obsession I have for learning about their faith and culture, at some point this has to transcend beyond cultural pleasantries.
This is where the rubber meets the road. At the end of the day, we can both lay claim to sincerity and conviction in what we believe, but the doctrinal divide between us is so large, my concern and love for their spiritual well-being must be addressed. The issue isn’t just what to say, but how to say it. For now, I want to focus on the spirit and attitude we should have even before we approach topics of doctrinal distinctives.
I firmly believe that the attraction to Mormonism isn’t so much as a result of the doctrines themselves, but the culture of Mormonism itself. You will find that when you attend an LDS Ward, you will be welcomed with open arms. If you stay a bit longer you will discover a wide ranging cohesive support system for the family. Everything from after-church activities, boy scouts and welfare programs just to name a few. Their teaching programs include before school seminary classes, which cover the entirety of the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. It doesn’t stop there either, after high school the youth are encouraged to attend “Institute” classes free of charge which will give them credits for college at BYU. (I attended these classes as well, and believe me they get into the meat of LDS doctrine)
It should go without saying that members of the LDS church are perhaps some of the most doctrinally and scripturally informed people, when compared to other churches.
When you consider this along with the family centered culture, it makes sense why this church is so successful in recruiting perspective members!
It should come as no surprise, that then when you encounter LDS missionaries at your doorstep, you need to remember the cultural backdrop–which fuels their conviction. It should also be a healthy reminder to Christians that our faith is also rooted in convictions as well. The conviction of Jesus’s death and resurrection and that death accomplished a purpose; the purpose to redeem fallen mankind by faith in His work alone.
The dividing line that ultimately separates us:
- The sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive work
- The nature of who Jesus is
In future articles I will be going over the details of those doctrinal divisions; but the focus of this article is to provide you with the cultural context of the LDS believer. It’s important to remember when engaging our LDS friends and neighbors, it needs to be done in the spirit of restoration and love. In other words, a genuine concern for the person with whom you are speaking with. In contrast, playing “Bible ping pong” accomplishes little to nothing if not done in the spirit of Love.
I can’t tell you how many times I have personally witnessed this style of evangelism, such an approach lacks human compassion or concern. Some Christians take more pride in gaining theological hit points rather than winning over the hearts of unbelievers. This behavior [in the mind of some Christians] is immediately justified for their passion for the truth. I understand this reasoning and it’s flawed. I am all about passion and truth. However, it’s important to remember that when Jesus cast out the money changers from the temple with a whip, not only was this a fulfillment of prophecy [Psalms 69:9 ; John 2:17] his anger was directed at those responsible for perpetuating such practices. The same is true with the personal insults Jesus directed at religious leaders. [Matthew 23:33; Matthew 15:7]
That being said, LDS people are generally very mild in their temperament especially when it comes to preaching and teaching. Any perceived evangelism that comes across as “judgmental” or a lack of concern, immediately is translated as being “contentious” which they believe comes from Satan. Again, I am just telling you how they perceive it. The end result may be this: You may win the battle, but ultimately loose the war.
Feelings don’t determine truth
In my experience, I have found that LDS people respond very well to personal testimony, rooted in conviction and sincerity. Why? Because they attribute these qualities to acts of the Spirit. In fact, when missionaries introduce the Book of Mormon to perspective members of the church, they will ask the “investigator” to pray to God with sincerity of heart to know it’s true. Therefore, sincerity in prayer and its accompanied witness [feeling] becomes the primary basis for how they measure truth. [This is not the only basis, but certainly the primary basis]
That being said, sincerity does not equate to being right. I was raised in a religion which we can all agree did not teach the truth of scripture. In spite of this, I was sincerely convinced of its precepts. In hindsight I have found that much of my core beliefs were rooted in issues that had nothing to do with my salvation at all! You would be surprised to find out how many discussions and debates Christians choose to engage in with Mormons which have nothing to do with salvation. I call that “majoring in the minors”; issues like polygamy, undergarments and eschatology to name a few. Not to say these types of conversations don’t have their place, but this should hardly be the springboard issues we use to introduce our differences.
We have to remember that for the individual LDS member, the unique doctrines that separate the church do not necessarily constitute the reasons why that individual is a Mormon to begin with. Although these issues might be important to you, they are not necessarily important to them. I have discovered that the glue of their faith is rooted in their love and respect for their authority figures. It’s the natural outgrowth of accepting the Book of Mormon as truth.
When you go into an LDS Ward, you will quickly discover pictures framed with the Prophet, counselors and the apostles. When you go into a home, you will find a picture of their local temple hung on the wall along with a declaration of faith and family. In other words, both mind and emotion is tied up into the church. The authorities of the church constitute the glue which holds everything together. The battle for the mind and heart will not be won simply by winning an argument. All this does is appeal to your own authority. Good luck with that.
The battle for the heart can only be won when our discussions are centered on Jesus and his authority and sufficiency.
Ultimately, this is what won me over to Christ, seeing Jesus for who he really was, becoming convinced that he came for sinners like me, and recognizing that about myself. Jesus didn’t come for those who think that they are righteous! [Matthew 9:12]
For me, that’s exactly what I was trying to do in my religious system, trying to prove myself to God that I was worthy. The more I advanced up the ladder of influence, the more I was convinced of God’s blessing.
In the next article, I will go over the distinctive topics which we as Christians should focus on in our discussions with LDS friends.