Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
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I am a devout Christian and my girlfriend is Mormon. We have been dating about a year. My question is: What is the best way to go out about understanding, accepting, and growing together towards spiritual mothers and fathers? I have drawn from the your past sermon on condemnation engineering that "I'm right, she's wrong" is not the best approach to our discussions about faith.
Sincerely, Boyfriend of a Mormon
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Dear Boyfriend of a Mormon,
We have many wonderful Mormon neighbors. I truly respect their emphasis upon family values and their sincere zeal to share their faith. That being said, you need to be aware that Mormonism and evangelical Christianity are worlds apart. So how do you approach this when you care about so deeply for someone of a different faith?
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I agree with you wholeheartedly that you can be seen as harsh and judgmental if you use “condemnation engineering” (Matthew 7:1-12). The concept of condemnation engineering is based upon Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7. Condemnation engineering uses statements like, “You should stop doing it like that” (Matthew 7:1-5); or, “I know how to fix it. You ought to do it my way!” (Matthew 7:6). On the other hand, Jesus encourages us to draw people into the kingdom rather than belittling or coercing them (Matthew 7:7-12).
Let me now share a few thoughts which may be of help.
To begin with, here is a principle I have followed for years: Don’t trash someone else’s religion or their religious and/or spiritual beliefs. Instead, show them something better—like the attractiveness of Jesus Christ. In other words, lift up Jesus instead of tearing down others’ spiritual foundations.
Next, living a caring and loving Christian life in front of your girlfriend might initiate in her a desire to have the same Christ-filled life you have. Peter encourages this sort of approach in 1 Peter 3:1-2. Peter says that the best way for wives to win their husbands to Christ is not by talking but by living out the abundant life of Christ before their eyes: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.”
You might consider initiating a frank discussion of both your religious beliefs and hers. I believe that it is fair to say that Mormonism and Christianity are quite different. In fact, their basic tenants are mutually exclusive.
May I share with you a simple overview of some of the basic differences?
For example, I understand that the God of Christianity and the god of Mormonism are not the same. I believe it is correct to say that Mormons believe that the “Heavenly Father” is a glorified man who was once a human just like us. The spirits of all people on earth are the product of his union with “heavenly mothers.” The Christian God is the Creator of all things, infinite and eternal, completely different from us, yet we are made in His image. According to Mormonism, Jesus was the firstborn spirit-child of the Heavenly Father. He became mortal through the Father’s physical union with Mary. Jesus’ atoning death and a person’s good works are the basis of our salvation. That is not at all the Christian understanding of Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine—perfect God and perfect Man. He died to pay the penalty for our sins, rose from the dead, and will come again someday.
From what I understand, Mormonism teaches that there are multiple levels of heaven—not just one as described in Christianity. I think it is correct to say that Mormonism is a “works” type of religion with 14 steps or activities which must be climbed or accomplished in order to reach the highest level of heaven. Lower levels of heaven are populated by other Mormons in proportion to how many special activities they did accomplish. I am rather certain that a basic Mormon teaching is that non-Mormons will serve Mormons in the afterlife.
Christianity, on the other hand, is not a “works” religion. Christianity is based on the concept of grace. Though we aren’t perfect—we’ve sinned and missed God’s standards so many times—God chose to provide a way for us to be made clean in his eyes. We can never do enough to earn or deserve our salvation, so Jesus died in our place, taking on the penalty for our sins. That’s grace. Heaven and eternal life are freely given by grace through faith to all who surrender their lives in repentance and humility to Jesus Christ.
According to the Bible and Jesus’ numerous declarations, He Himself is the only doorway into eternal life in Heaven. He clearly explained the His feelings in John 3:16-18: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.”
Not only is believing in the crucified and resurrected Jesus essential to eternal salvation, the Apostle Paul elaborated on Jesus’ teaching by explaining that if anyone teaches or trusts in anything in addition to the Work of Christ on the cross, they are deeply misguided and under the curse of God (“already condemned” is how Jesus put it). In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul made clear that any attempts to climb steps or do special activities to earn a standing in Heaven are doomed to failure. He wrote: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Paul’s gospel formula” was quite simple: “Faith in Christ + nothing else = salvation.” To put any thing else in the formula is to pervert the gospel. Evil teachers were perverting the gospel by changing the formula to “Faith in Christ + the Jewish rite of circumcision = salvation.” In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul was pleading for the Galatian Christians not to be seduced by the new formula. With fire in his soul, Paul wrote to them: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
If I understand correctly, the Book of Mormon was delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Maroni. As best I can tell, the salvation formula used in Mormonism is “Faith in Christ + other essential steps or activities = salvation.” Considering what he wrote to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul would be appalled at this “perverting” of the formula.
For further study you might want to read the following two books: Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2000); and Mormonism Unmasked: Confronting the Contradictions Between Mormon Beliefs and True Christianity by R. Philip Roberts (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998.)
I have shared the above information in order to help you understand some of the basic differences between Christianity and Mormonism. I do not advise you to dump all of this information on your girlfriend because you would most likely be entering into the realm of condemnation engineering. You may, however, find the information helpful in a frank discussion of your beliefs and hers.
Finally, let’s consider your question about growing to maturity together as spiritual mothers and fathers. It is not good to try to grow to spiritual maturity alone. Christian spiritual growth is best accomplished in the context of community.
The best way for you and your girlfriend to mature together into Christlikeness is to be in lock-step in your spiritual journeys. If your girlfriend continues as a Mormon while you remain a Christian, you are heading down two different paths—thus, you will never mature together as spiritual mothers and fathers.
The only way for you and your girlfriend to fulfill this desire of your heart is by following the Christian ideal of a maturing, intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as described by Paul in Philippians 3: “That I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” The meaning here is a personal, full fledged, and intentional surrender of self in following the Jesus Christ who is presented in the Bible.
I hope that these thoughts are helpful to you in your relationship with your girlfriend and in your growing relationship with Jesus.
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