Mormonism and Evangelism

Man floating on puzzle piece seaI received this question from one of our members via email. I sent  the response which follows. As these are common questions and the answer is of more general use, I also share them here. (Used with permission and change of name)

Hi Pastor,

I hope you are having a good day and like the snow!  I need help with how talk to a Mormon.  A woman at my new job recently converted to Mormonism. Prior to that she was a Jehovah witness and a Baptist before that.  We have talked and she seems open to listening and I see her reading the Bible online.    I’m just not sure what to say when she says they believe in Jesus as the savior.  I want to get it right!

I know you are a busy man so no rush.
I appreciate you!
Thank you,

On Mormonism:

Mormonism has many, many problems theologically:

  • New Scripture which isn’t scripture. Mormons believe that special revelation continues beyond the canon as we know it. Consequently, they affirm the Book of Mormon (“translated” by Joseph Smith in the 19th century) as scripture, as well as other revelations to their ongoing apostles and prophets. Their canon is open (ours is closed).
  • The new revelation often contradicts the old. This new revelation thing might not be as big a deal if the new revelation basically re-hashed the old. It doesn’t. It is contradictory at many points.
  • Mormons believe God was once a man. The eternal, omniscient, all-powerful being we worship was once a man as we are (on another planet, of course). He sort of graduated to deity. And you can too (but only if you’re a man, and a Mormon).
  • Mormons deny the full divinity of Jesus Christ. This won’t be obvious. They may even reference him as the Son of God. But, don’t be fooled. They don’t believe he is of the same substance and essence as the Father. They actually believe something pretty close to tri-theism (at least seem to sometimes) – this would affirm that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, but are not all one. Big trouble. Other times they seem to affirm a view of Christ that affirms a lower level of deity – still big, big trouble.
  • Mormonism is essentially a works-righteousness religion. Though they will nod their heads understandingly at our proclamation of the gospel, Mormons hold to a form of religion that is man-centered. It is about human endeavors and good works, particularly missionary endeavors. We please God not through trusting in Christ’s finished work, but by doing good stuff for him.  In contrast to this, the Christian faith is from beginning to end about the grace of God to sinners who can do nothing on their own to please him. It is only Christ’s work on our behalf (and appropriated by faith alone) which can render us or any of our works pleasing to God.
  • Mormons are generally super-duper people. This may not seem like a theological problem, but it really is. The apparent outward goodness blinds the conscience to the true heart condition of even the devoutly religious. In short…if we’re apparently good in human terms we can mistakenly believe that means we’re OK before God. A really bad assumption.
  • Lots of other weird things: Native Americans are actually Jewish (the ten lost tribes of Israel), Jesus visits North America, Baptism for the dead, etc.  And the polygamy thing.  Theological problems.

How to engage your friend:

  • Be her friend. It sounds like she’s bounced from religion to religion and probably doesn’t have a terribly strong doctrinal commitment to Mormonism either. She is likely seeking community in a faith context as much as she’s seeking that faith in and of itself. Befriend her, seek opportunities to be her community. This in and of itself can weaken the hold this false belief system has on her.
  • In the context of your friendship, ask questions. Once you’re friends, you can really engage her in conversation. “What caused you to change from this faith to that one?” “What is it about Mormonism that attracted you?” Your goal isn’t just to convert her, but to genuinely get to know her better. And it is in that context that you are most likely to gain a hearing for your perspective.
  • Use the Bible! If she’s reading the Bible, is open to the Bible, by all means use the Bible! Be aware that Mormons have their own translation of the Bible, translated by Joseph Smith (the same guy who “translated” the Book of Mormon!). This means their official Bible does have some problems. But open up your Bibles together (you use a trustworthy one) and look at what the scriptures say. I would say that Romans would be a great place to go, as Paul is so clear there about how serious a sin problem we have (this is death to works righteousness).

One warning particular to Mormonism: The Mormon church has been very adept at disguising itself as another Christian denomination. They call themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. They use orthodox Christian lingo, but all the words are redefined with a completely different content from what we know and understand. For instance, a Mormon can say quite sincerely, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. He died on the cross in my place and was raised from the dead on the third day. I will live forever with him in heaven and look forward to his coming.” That all sends great, but none of the words mean what you and I mean by them. Every term is redefined. So you have to spend time defining terms. “What do you mean by saved?” for instance. You’ll find (if they know what Mormonism teaches) that none of these terms means what they mean. So you’ll have to start with “here’s what I mean…”.

This isn’t accidental. The LDS has calculated that one of the best potential opportunities for their missionary activity is clueless Christians. People who will hear a statement like the one in the last paragraph and they’ll say “Well, that sounds OK!” They will assume that Mormons are just another Christian denomination. In other words, clueless nominal Christians are among those most likely to be converted to Mormonism. This is part of the reason why the Church of Jesus Christ (the real one), needs to get much more serious about catechesis – actually teaching our kids and our people generally what it is that the Bible actually teaches.