What does the Christian Church have to offer a member of the Mormon Church? The glib, spiritual answer is the true gospel, salvation, a personal relationship with God, assurance, and so on. It is very easy to operate only on a spiritual level and think that making a commitment to Jesus will make everything right. But what happens when you compare “Pie in the sky when you die” with “Cake on a plate while you wait”? People respond more to what they can see and relate to now than to promises about a distant future.
Surveys have confirmed that people rarely join cults for doctrinal reasons. Mostly it is for psychological, social or emotional reasons. If you listen to a lot of Jehovah Witnesses’ testimonies, for example, you will frequently hear, something like “I was feeling very low after my mother died and when the Jehovah Witnesses called it was like the answer to a prayer.” Mormons are the same – because they knock so many doors, sooner or later they are going to meet someone who is bereaved and in need of comfort, or at a low point in their life and needing encouragement and support, or lonely and needing company.
Mormons also place great emphasis on friendship evangelism, and one of their recent Prophets coined the phrase “Every member a missionary.” So they go out of their way to make friends with neighbours, work colleagues, school mums etc., to begin to share the companionship they find in their Church.
One of the first things that people find so attractive about the Mormon Church is the friendliness. When you walk in the door everyone wants to shake your hand and make you feel welcome. When, at the age of 19, my job took me 300 miles across the country, I was not afraid to set out on my own – I simply contacted the local Mormon Bishop, and by the time I arrived I had transport to Church and help with finding accommodation. Once, when I found myself alone in a strange city, I went to the local Mormon Church on Sunday morning and within minutes had three different invitations to dinner and a lift to the station the next day.
This aspect is not to be belittled – companionship and acceptance are very important. Today’s families no longer live close to one another, and the divorce rate is increasing. More and more couples are living together without marriage, and statistics show that these relationships are seven times more likely to fail than marriages. All these factors mean that often there is no extended family to turn to. Sometimes even your own immediate family is far away or does not keep in touch. There is no support system any more for young people starting out on their own, for young couples starting a family, or for older people who are divorced or widowed. People move often with their careers and lose touch with friends and neighbours.
This is why the emphasis on families is so attractive. A proper family, close-knit and supportive, is becoming a rarity these days. The Mormon Family Home Evening programme will strengthen you in keeping your own family together, and if you are single, you can meet with other singles and have your own Family Home Evening.
The Mormon Church believes that they should provide for all your needs – that members should not need to go to the world for social life and entertainment. Consequently regular social events are arranged, including dances, sports days, drama and music festivals. There are groups for young singles, older singles, as well as the youth and children’s work. There are priesthood meetings for the men, which include lessons on fatherhood and being a good husband as well as scripture and doctrine classes. The Relief Society is the oldest women’s organisation in the world, and includes a regular program of homemaking (cooking, sewing, crafts etc.) and childcare, as well as appreciation of the arts, along with the scripture and doctrine classes. Where else can people find support, information and encouragement at every stage of their lives, all ready and waiting for them when they walk in the door?
But what about the spiritual side of life?
Mormon missionaries may be guilty of not telling the whole truth about what they believe, but no one is baptised into the Mormon Church without some basic doctrinal teaching. Some people are honestly seeking God, others are looking for a purpose to life, and many have no spiritual interest at all until they are attracted by the warmth and friendliness and want to know what makes these people this way.
I recently read a book by Josh Moody, called Authentic Spirituality, in which he began by looking at the ‘mental background’ to the way people think about God today. In the past, God’s existence was accepted without question. During the Enlightenment in the 18th century, reason became king. Anything that could not be proved by reason and evidence was no longer accepted. The result of this was that the underlying attitude, the mental background, became that it is not possible to know God for certain. Even if we decide there is a God, it is not possible to know him intimately, only at a distance.
This attitude existed initially among the academics and great thinkers of the day. Right up until the twentieth century the majority of the common people still went to church all their lives as a matter of course. But today, this thinking has reached the common people. Despite a rise in spirituality, most people do not think that God can be known on a personal level, or that He has very specific characteristics. The New Age is everywhere, and religion, or spirituality is ‘pick and mix’, with no thought of relating personally to God.
The obvious result of this is a great freedom to believe whatever you like. You are only required to decide what is true for you, and as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, you are entitled to pursue it. What may be true for you may not be true for others, and ‘tolerance’ is the watchword.
What is less obvious, is that it creates a great uncertainty. Just as there are no longer anchors in our daily lives, of family and old friends, so there are no longer any absolutes in our spiritual lives. It may be very appealing to design your own spirituality, but what if there really is a true God and He is expecting things of you that you are unaware of? What if there is a power lying untapped that could make you feel less powerless and helpless?
“So the contemporary world considers that knowledge of God is irrational and impossible, but knowledge itself is viable and useful. This is the crucial issue. It means that [the] characteristics of the world’s attitude to religion are not ultimately going to be tackled satisfactorily until we have solved the basic problem of how to get knowledge of God.” – Josh Moody, Authentic Spirituality, p. 31.
Even in the 19th century religion was proliferating. Denomination after denomination split into new factions, and new groups were appearing all the time – in the Christian Church as well as what we now recognise as cults.
Then, into the middle of all this comes Joseph Smith. A young man with a new message containing two great assurances: God is real, and He speaks today. The First Vision declared that God Himself had appeared to Joseph in physical form, so there could no longer be any doubt as to His existence or his form. The Restoration of the Church from Jesus’ times, with a living Prophet at it’s head, guaranteed that mankind could know the mind of God without a doubt. What a lifeline! People are attracted to the certainty, in an area where the world says you cannot know.
And this applies to salvation too. The final thing I want to highlight that makes the Mormon Church attractive is legalism. As Christians, sold out on “grace not works”, we find it hard to see the attraction of legalism. And believe me, having tried it as a Mormon for 18 years, I know how hard it is to live that way. But initially it looks very attractive. Here you are, a seeker after God, not knowing what He wants or how to please Him. Along comes someone with a list: go to church, read the scriptures, pray, obey the commandments, etc. Now life is simple – keep to the list and everything will be fine. You have security in knowing who God is and how to stay right with Him, and a whole group of people to help you along the way. It is only later that you begin to find out how difficult it is to do some of these things in your own strength, and just how many commandments there are.
So what should the Christian Church do to ‘compete’ with these attractions? What this means for the Christian Church is two-fold: We need to be aware of what we are asking when we ask people to leave the Mormon Church, and we need to be aware of the competition we are up against.
Asking People to Leave the Mormon Church
This is not simply a change of ideology, giving up one set of doctrines for another. Nor is it the more painful process of parting with friends and making new ones. If the Mormon Church has provided all their social activities, life is going to be very empty, and not only socially empty.
Almost every member has some sort of ‘calling’ – a job to do. Sometimes these are as simple as keeping the attendance register, or more important callings such as teaching or leading in a group. But all callings are treated very seriously, with prayer and interviews and the ‘laying on of hands.’ Thus everyone in the Church feels important, needed. As a new Christian, there is very little service they can render, as they have no experience. Consequently they can feel unwanted and useless. I was the Relief Society President around the time I left the Mormon Church, and was saved into a Christian Fellowship that didn’t even have a ladies meeting. Suddenly my week was empty, and I had nothing to offer.
When I left the Mormon Church, I had been attending the same Ward for 13 years. People who had been close friends, whose children had grown up with mine, crossed the street when they saw me coming. Not from malice, they were just afraid to talk to me in case whatever made me leave rubbed off on them. My children were asking me “Why can’t I play with my friends any more?”
There is a great danger in the lack of follow-up in evangelism. Some people seem to think that once someone has made the prayer of commitment, that is all they need. Every new Christian needs discipleship – Jesus told us to go and make disciples (Matt.28:19-20), not converts. ‘Disciple’ literally means ‘pupil.’ A disciple is someone who follows a teacher and learns to be like them. In this case the teacher is Jesus, but we cannot make an excuse. They need to be shown how to talk to Him and listen to Him, how to read the Bible and apply it in their lives, and they need role models among Christians.
Sometimes people join the Mormon Church because they have personal problems, and they think this will solve them. Often they come out with the same problems, and some new ones caused by the legalism etc. which they lived under. We helped a married couple to leave the Mormon Church and two days later the husband turned up on my doorstep because his wife had thrown him out. She said that when they went to their Bishop with their marital problems she was told she should stay with the marriage because they had made covenants before God in the Temple. Now they no longer believed in those covenants, she no longer saw any point in staying together. Thankfully, they had help and resolved their problems and saved their marriage, but not until after they left the Mormon Church and worked through all the confusion.
Facing the Competition
Perhaps it is not right that we should ‘compete’ with the Mormon Church on their terms, but it is good to learn some lessons, wherever they come from. I once gave a seminar on “What does the Christian Church have to offer?” This challenged people to be more aware of the needs of those they are evangelising, whether from inside or outside the cults. For those who have no religious background and may not yet have seen the importance of God’s grace in salvation, we have to be able to answer the question “Why should I join your church rather than theirs?” Where the Mormon Church is concerned, often their packaging is more attractive than ours.
There are very few issues of faith in the Mormon Church that are not already cut and dried. Members are not encouraged to think for themselves, but to ‘toe the party line.’ They also have answers for things which in truth are a mystery, and that we have to accept on faith, or which have very hard answers, whereas the Mormon Church has the sort of answers we would prefer to hear. For example, we all grieve for loved ones who died without accepting the gospel. Although we do not like to think about it, we know they missed their chance for salvation. But the Mormon gospel teaches that in the three days between His death and resurrection, Jesus inaugurated missionary work among the dead. Everyone will have another chance in the next life, and when they see where they are they will be more likely to accept the gospel.
We need to bear things like this in mind when we are teaching Mormons and ex-Mormons the gospel. Being asked to accept certain things on faith, and needing to work some things out for yourself, is very hard for someone who has always believed what they were told. The first time I asked my Christian leaders what we believed about something and was told that it was an issue I needed to decide on for myself, I felt as if a great chasm had opened and I no longer had a sure footing. It is very scary! This needs careful handling.
On the other hand, of course, the fact that you can gain assurance of your salvation now, rather than work hard all your life and still never know whether it will be enough, is an enormous advantage that no other faith can offer. The power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to guide, direct and transform us to the likeness of Christ (2 Cor.3:18) is another. These far outweigh the other things mentioned above – but we have to present them in a way that makes this clear. Paul stated that he considered all other things rubbish compared to what he found in Christ Jesus (Philip.3:8). Can you present the gospel so that others will feel the same way?
I suppose the summary of what is needed would be friendship and apologetics. If the person does not feel welcome and supported, they will not stay to learn the whole of the good news and how it works out in our lives. If you provide plenty of welcome and support but no teaching, it will be as if they joined a club, and they will receive no eternal benefit. Programmes have their place, but they are a stepping stone to the gospel. Those we attract by our programmes must have someone to turn to with their questions. I know of a single mum who became a Christian through first attending the mothers and toddlers group at church. The welcome she received and the friends she made gave her the confidence to look further. But when she asked questions it was Jesus that we pointed her towards and apologetics that gave her answers. We must be careful not to give the impression that someone should join our church because our mothers and toddlers is better than someone else’s.
These things do not spring fully formed from good intentions. They need planning and preparation. We have long taught that the time to consider what to say when a Mormon or Jehovah Witness knocks on your door is not when it happens, but well in advance. The same applies to evangelism and discipleship. What will you say to answer the question “Why should I join your church instead of theirs?”