Many will be aware of The Changing World of Mormonism,(1) as it has been so succinctly described. We have often commented on the Mormon Church’s continued quest to establish in people’s minds an image of acceptance, even orthodoxy, by changing their image. In this they have been very successful, as witnessed by the fact that these days we are often met with the question “Is the Mormon Church a cult then?” Whilst the image of Mormonism has radically changed, the message of Mormonism remains essentially the same. Some sixty thousand missionaries take that message to our friends and neighbours today and in this and future issues we will look at the message they bring, how they present it, and what might be our response. The following is comment on the Missionary Discussions issued by the Mormon Church, copyright 1986, obtained from a former missionary who used them in the mission field in the early 1990’s.
The Uniform System for Teaching the Gospel is a set of discussions that the Mormons at your door will want to go through with you. All six are routinely covered within two weeks of regular visits, although they can occasionally take longer. It presents the essentials of their message in six lessons, each accompanied by a commitment on the part of the ‘investigator’ (person looking into the Mormon Church), covering:
The Plan of our Heavenly Father – in which the investigator is introduced to the idea of prophets who reveal God’s plan; Joseph Smith; Restoration; the Book of Mormon; The Holy Ghost and Moroni’s promise. (Commitment, read and pray about the Book of Mormon)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ – LDS teaching on Faith; Repentance; Baptism; The Gift of the Holy Ghost; Obedience. (Commitment, set a date for baptism [that was quick wasn’t it?] )
The Restoration – Apostasy; Restoration; The True Church; Church Membership. (Commitment, Attend a Sacrament [Communion, Eucharist, Lord’s table] Meeting)
Eternal Progression – The Mormon Plan of Salvation covering Pre-mortal Existence and Eternal Progression; Work for the Dead; the idea of the Eternal Family; Chastity and the Word of Wisdom. (Commitment, Live the law of chastity and live the Word of Wisdom)
Living a Christ-like Life – Keeping the Commandments; the idea that Sacrifice brings Blessing; Fasting; Tithing and Giving. (Commitment, Pay Tithing)
Membership in the Kingdom – Christ’s part in God’s plan; Exaltation through Christ and His Church; The 3-fold Mission of the Mormon Church, Perfecting the Saints; Proclaiming the Gospel; Redeeming the Dead; Enduring to the End. (Commitment, Be an active member of the Church and help fulfil its mission)
INSTRUCTIONS TO MISSIONARIES
In preparing to teach this message Mormon missionaries are instructed to evoke feelings of trust and confidence in their investigators, building strong ties of affinity with them. The emphasis is on making them feel good about the messenger and the method rather than exercising judgement as they investigate the message of Mormonism. Although scripture is used in the discussions the aim is to convert your listener by the strength of your conviction [testimony] rather than by any appeal to reason or the Bible. The following are extracts from just the first few paragraphs of the Instructions for the Discussions used by every missionary.
“Your goal is to help investigators become converted by the Spirit…To do this you must help them feel and recognise the influence of the Spirit. As they feel the Spirit, you will be able to help them make and keep the commitments that lead to conversion and baptism.”
first you prepare the investigators to feel and recognise the Spirit. When they feel the Spirit, invite them to make a specific commitment.
“… help them feel you are interested in their good. As they feel greater trust in you, they will feel greater confidence in what you teach them…building a relationship of trust must be a constant concern.
“When you use the scriptures in your teaching…Help the investigators understand the context and meaning of [them]. Use them to promote spiritual feelings, not to prove a point.”
Great emphasis is placed on the promises of Mormon scripture that truth is confirmed through feelings. First through Moroni’s promise:
“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.” – Moroni 10:4, (emphasis added)
And also through other “restoration” texts, including these words uttered by Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdrey:
“But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause your bosom to burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupour (sic) of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” – D&C 9:9, (emphasis added)
Making your investigator feel good about your visits, your character, your sincerity, becomes paramount, and statements like “I wouldn’t have come 3,000 miles to share this with you today if I didn’t really believe it was true” are designed to impress the investigator with a sense of sincerity and authenticity. In the last issue we pointed out that they believe their testimony is spiritually powerful, and will bear their testimony when they are in a corner or when they feel it is an appropriate moment, e.g. to testify to key points in the Mormon story, or if an investigator shows signs of warming to their message. At these times they might challenge the investigator to express their own feelings by asking “Do you feel the Spirit too?” Remember the instruction to missionaries:
“First you prepare the investigators to feel and recognise the Spirit. When they feel the Spirit, invite them to make a specific commitment. “
They expect testimony to have a profound effect on the listener and have no doubt that it is testimony that convinces people more than reason or evidence.
This is clearly illustrated in a February 1998 sermon given by Mormon Apostle, Boyd K Packer. Speaking to young Mormons of those who criticise the Mormon Church he states:
“Never feel inadequate and unsettled because you cannot explain them [Mormon doctrines] to the satisfaction of all who might enquire of you. Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction.” – Ensign, April 1998.
Ending the address with the inevitable testimony he urges his listeners to do the same and ignore the mountain of evidence that militates against the Mormon faith. He suggests that perhaps someone will be impressed by the sincerity of the testifying Mormon and come to the same conviction, not by the weight of evidence but by the force of sincerity.
When an investigator meets the commitment of the third discussion, i.e. to attend a Sacrament meeting, it will often be a fast and testimony meeting to which they will be invited. Much of this meeting is taken up with members giving testimony to their faith, just as the missionaries have done in the home, thus reinforcing both the message and the method of confirming it, i.e. through feelings. On these occasions the typical testimony will confirm that Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, the Mormon Church is the only true church, and is led by a living prophet today. Although personal stories inevitably vary these elements are almost invariably in there and again confirm the message of the missionaries. (2)
Testimony, then, is a key element of Mormon belief and teaching and if we are to challenge the Mormon message we must answer the question , where is doctrine to be found? How do we know that what we believe is consonant with the faith once for all delivered?
It is certainly true that “no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God,” and those who understand what God has freely given us only have that understanding because they have received the Spirit, who is from God (1 Cor.2:11-12). It is “God who said, ‘let the light shine out of darkness,’ [who] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Christ.” We cannot know, then, unless God in his mercy shows us. But how does he show us? The writer to the Hebrews declares:
We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
This salvation which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb.2:1-4)
Here we have four key proofs confirming the message of God to men. 1. The words of Jesus; 2. the confirming reports of his close followers [see the qualifications for an apostle in Acts 1:21-22]; 3. the testimony of God himself by a demonstration of divine power; 4. the witness of the Spirit working in people’s lives. We are solemnly cautioned that to ignore such great salvation is to risk punishment, and urged to pay careful attention to such testimony.
Christians are prone to emphasise one of these proofs over the others, as witnessed in the rallying cry of some of Sola Scriptura, and, on the other hand, in the current emphasis in the church on signs and miracles. There is always this danger and we should recognise that without the working of the Spirit in our lives the Bible becomes just another book, Jesus just another Saint, miracles just an interesting phenomenon. However, with only our feelings to go on we could end up anywhere, and this ministry is solemn witness to the fact that many do. What if my heart disagrees with the other proofs? What if Jesus has said it, his disciples confirmed it, and yet we don’t ‘feel’ it is right? Surely it seems reasonable to expect that none of these ‘proofs’ given by God will contradict each other. Indeed the personal inspiration so cherished of Mormons, if it is from God, will serve to confirm all other testimonies God has given. Experience has taught us that the Mormon testimony is often at odds with what God has already revealed demonstrating that Mormon teaching seeks not to supplement, as they would have us believe, but to supplant God’s revelation in his Son, in Scripture and in the working of his Spirit. The tragic consequence of such a wholly subjective testimony is illustrated in the words of one of our correspondents:
“My testimony is unlikely to be knocked by any evidence you present. I don’t say that to be closed minded, arrogant or complacent, but because the kind of evidence you present is not relevant to my testimony. As you know, the LDS Church stands or falls on the doctrine of personal revelation.”
This person was very sincere and honest in his correspondence and, no doubt, felt that his sincerity carried the force of testimony we have already discussed. In emphasising personal revelation he discounted all other proofs graciously provided by God. The evidence we presented, and which he declared irrelevant, was the testimony of scripture. How can that be not relevant to a believer’s testimony? The attitude seems to be, “I don’t care what scripture says, I know in my heart…” But this is not God’s way. His way is, “I know in my heart and his word and works confirm it.”
John tells us that our hearts alone are not reliable for they can condemn us. “But God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). He tells us that when our hearts do condemn us we can set them at rest in God’s presence by confirming that we belong to the truth (v.19). How do we confirm that we belong to the truth when we can’t look to our hearts for this confirmation? We confirm the truth by 1. heeding the message we heard from the beginning (1 John 1:1-5; 2:7; 3:11); 2. having in us the testimony of Jesus (4:2); 3. by the power of the Spirit (3:24); and 4. by the outworking and evidence of these things in our lives (2:14). All God’s proofs work together to confirm the truth.
Does God answer prayer? Of course he does. Does he answer by means of feelings? Yes! Can we rely on God’s answers? Yes. Can we rely alone on our feelings? No! John has already said that our hearts can condemn us and that we should not rely on them alone to confirm that we are in the truth. What does he mean by that? In 1 John 5:13 he writes:
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
“But John, I don’t feel as if I have eternal life!”
“You have it. However you may feel.”
“But John, I don’t feel worthy of eternal life.”
“You are not worthy of eternal life. It is a gift from God (Rom. 6:23). It doesn’t matter how you feel. You see your heart can deceive you, but God is greater than your heart and has confirmed his truth, the message of grace, in many ways, all of which tell you that you who believe have eternal life.”
“How can I be sure if my heart tells me otherwise?”
You have my word on it (1 John 1:1-4); You have the word of Jesus on it (John 5:24); You have the evidence of your changed life (1 John 2:5); and you have the confirming activity of God (Heb. 2:4).
“…that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matt.18:16)
(1) Title of a book by Jerald & Sandra Tanner
(2) For a flavour of how this works see Mormonism, A Gold-Plated Religion, page 19, First Contact. This tells the story of the typical investigator’s first experience of the Mormon Church.