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Intersection of Life and Faith

Speak the Truth in Love to Mormons

  • Christian Hamaker Senior Editor, Arts & Culture
  • 2002 18 Feb
Speak the Truth in Love to Mormons
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."

  • Know their authority. For Mormons, the Bible is only one of four scriptures. The other three are the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. The four books are referred to as the "standard works."

    Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God only insofar as the Bible is "translated correctly."

    Mormons also answer to the authority of a living prophet, a teaching they say is based on Amos 3:7: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." The president of the Church of Latter-day Saints fulfills this role. Cares says this person "supposedly receives direct revelation for the whole church."

    Another authority for Mormons is their feelings. Although the living prophet is their greatest external authority, feelings "constitute their greatest and highest authority," Cares writes.

    But Mormons promote feelings as actual revelations from God, described as a "burning in the bosom." This "burning" confirms the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, as explained in Doctrine and Covenants: "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 that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that is right."

    "In other words," Cares writes, "what we would call a feeling, they would call a revelation."

    This emphasis on feelings also manifests itself in Mormon testimony, most of which Cares says contains the following points: (1) they know that Jesus is the true Son of God, (2) they know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, (3) they know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church on earth, and (4) they know that the Book of Mormon is true.

  • Know their culture. Mormons not only have unique beliefs, they have a unique lifestyle, Cares says. Certain terms (deseret, telestial, Lamanites) commonly used in Mormonism are not found elsewhere. Mormons also avoid certain beverages, wear unique garments and cross their arms when they pray.

    Cares says the Mormon's worldview revolves around church, which has activities each day of the week. "Nearly every ward sponsors its own Scouting troop," Cares writes. "Mormons also are very strong on athletics. Many of their meetinghouses have well-equipped gyms and lighted softball fields, with the result that they often have their own leagues in basketball, volleyball, and softball.

    "They especially try to center the world of their youth on the church. Their young people can participate in many of the above activities and others.

    "Most important, every school day, high school students are to attend 'seminary.' In contrast to the common usage of this word, an LDS seminary does not train future full-time church workers. Rather it applies Mormonism to the teenage years for the high-school students."

    Mormons also stress physical labor, prize success in business pursuits and promote increased self-sufficiency. "The emphasis on being self-sufficient is tied in with their belief that, before Christ returns, the world will become so ravished that they will need to fend for themselves," Cares writes.

    The Mormon emphasis on family is also evident to most outsiders. LDS-specific beliefs about the family include their main motivation for having children: to provide bodies for spirit children. Mormons also take a strong interest in genealogies and family history.

    "The thread that ties together the various patches of this cultural quilt is the control the LDS church exerts over its people," Cares concludes. "The church has set policies and procedures on matters from how to garden to what to teach in Sunday school, from who is eligible to play on a ward softball team to who is eligible to enter the temple. From daily seminary classes to monthly visits from the home teachers, the church is constantly in their lives.

    "Add to that the mindset of never questioning priesthood authority and you have a carefully controlled society."

Adapted from Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons, copyright 1993 by Mark Cares. Published by Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wis., www.nph.net.

Mark J. Cares has lived and served as pastor since 1981 in southwest Idaho (Nampa), where Latter Day Saints' influence is great. Prior to that he served four years in Boulder, Colo. Pastor Cares has also served as a district evangelism coordinator and on his district's mission board. Says Pastor Cares, "I have read extensively in current Mormon writings and have talked extensively with both grassroot Mormons and LDS leaders."

The 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah – headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – has focused the world’s attention on Mormons. Have you ever discussed issues of faith with Mormons you know? If so, how did God work through that experience? You can discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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