Do Christians understand Mormonism as well as Mormons understand Christianity? Based on the growth of the Mormon church, much of which comes from those who defect from the Christian faith, the answer is no. Christians can't minister to Mormons until they understand Mormons and Mormonism.

Pastor Mark Cares has developed his own approach to ministering to Mormons. Rather than follow one of the two traditional models for witnessing to Mormons - emphasizing the history of Mormonism or the nature of God, both of which can stress human reasoning at the expense of the good news of Jesus Christ - Cares says his method puts the gospel in the forefront. "By concentrating on the gospel's positive message, we hope also to convey the message that we are trying to help Mormons rather than attack them," Cares writes. "We need to stress what Jesus has already done for them that relieves the pressure of their trying to do everything for themselves."

How can Christians best communicate the gospel? Cares says Christians must first know certain things about Mormons: their goal, their chronological plan, their theological plan, their authority and their culture.

  • Know their goal: Godhood. "Because they don't often talk about it, the fact that godhood is the Mormons' goal can easily slip from view," Cares writes. "Instead they talk about exaltation, or gaining eternal life, or having an eternal family. But all these expressions are synonymous. Each refers to becoming a god!"

    The foundational verses for the Mormon doctrine of godhood comes from the Doctrine and Covenants (132:19,20), one of the four Mormon scriptures. Many Mormons today try to downplay the doctrine of godhood as a relic of the past, but church manuals from as recently as the 1990s reaffirm the doctrine.

    Godhood is also labeled "exaltation" in Mormon doctrine, one of the many terms that Christians would define differently than Mormons.

    The church's intermediate goal is perfection. Cares explains, "One might wonder how they [Mormons] can seriously talk about perfection when sin is so evident in everybody's life. One answer is that they substantially weaken the concept of sin. ... Another answer is that, although the Bible says, 'Be perfect,' and many times they urge each other to be perfect, they explain that as becoming perfect. They teach that people are to progress towards perfection."

  • Know their plan chronologically. The Mormon "plan of salvation" begins, chronologically, in premortality, when, Mormons believe, all people existed as spirit children. Gospel Principles states, "Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansion of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body."

    In Mormon teaching, all humans are "spirit brothers" with angels and demons, including Jesus and the devil. Because humans possess God's divine nature, Mormons believe that each human has the potential to be divine.

    Mormons believe that this life is a time of great progress toward exaltation because this life allows them to have a body, which, in turn, allows for physical temptations.

    The last step, chronologically, is post-mortality, when a person's spirit enters either into paradise or into spirit prison. The spirits in paradise continue to do good works as they progress toward godhood. One of their main activities is to minister to spirits in spirit prison. Once a spirit accepts Mormonism, it can only enter paradise only if someone has been baptized on behalf of that spirit.

    All of this spirit work will continue until the Day of Judgment, when Christ will assign everyone to one of four kingdoms: outer darkness, the telestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom and the celestial kingdom, which is the highest kingdom.

  • Know their plan theologically. Mormons view the Fall of mankind into sin in a positive light, because by becoming mortal, mankind was given the capacity to have children. Cares counters that argument: "From the moment they were created, Adam and Eve were designated as 'man and woman' and 'male and female.' ... Before they fell, God told them to be fruitful and multiply. These facts demonstrate that God created them capable of bearing children.

    "In spite of that, Mormons cling to their unique definition of mortality. It allows them to overlook the Fall's negative aspects and view it in a positive way."

    Mormons also distort other important theological concepts. For instance, Cares writes that Mormons downplay the concept of sin, talking instead about "mistakes, blunders, bad judgment calls, inadequacies, bad habits, imperfections and the like."