Each week I receive letters from people who have left or are trying to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintsthe Mormon Church. The following are typical:
"I feel cheated, deceived and spiritually raped by a doctrine and philosophy I embraced and trusted."
"I need help! Am I being brainwashed? Can these good people be devils in disguise? Please write or call soon."
"The one thing Id tell anyone is that its easy to join the Mormon Church, but a physical and mental hell to get out."
My Christian friends are astonished at these letters. How can such nice, clean-cut people be dead wrong, members of a cult? How do we reconcile our patriotic, industrious Latter-day Saint neighbors with the distressing reality of their religion?
Understanding Mormonisms heart requires going deeper than the Donnie-and-Marie Osmond, apple-pie image painted by sophisticated Mormon public relations. What began in 1830 as a group of polygamists has grown into a large (10 million members), wealthy and politically powerful nation-within-a-nation covered with a veneer of earnest wholesomeness.
The Mormon Church wields remarkable power. In Salt Lake City it owns both daily newspapers, the largest TV and radio stations and most of the downtown real estate. It controls the state legislature and dominates most municipal governments. All of Utahs U.S. Congressmen are Mormon. And some civil rights have evaporated as the line between church and government has blurred.
Sociologists say Utah, which is two-thirds Mormon, has higher than average rates of rape, divorce, child abuse and teen suicide. The oppressive social system is the inevitable tainted fruit from Mormonisms legalistic roots. Mormons believe they must work to achieve higher levels of salvation that could culminate in their becoming godsif their obedience is complete.
Many Mormons are weary, empty and discouraged. Some feel the church is insensitive to their needs. Women particularly seem discouraged by its inflexible advocacy of large families and the inability to integrate career women.
Changes on the Way?
But there is hope. Challenges are coming from the outside by Christian organizations such as Ed Deckers "Saints Alive!" and inside by honest scholarship at Brigham Young University.
BYU history professor D. Michael Quinn, for example, is rewriting whitewashed accounts of Mormon beginnings. In his Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Signature Books, Salt Lake City), Quinn documents Joseph Smiths dabbling in witchcraft as Mormonisms foundation.
And BYU anthropology professor Ray T. Matheny is skeptical about the allegedly divine origin of the Book of Mormon. "Kingsize problems" exist in accepting the book as a historical document, he says. For example, Smith wrote about a North American civilization that rudimentary archeology proves never existed.
Encountering Latter-day Saints
Confusion in the Mmon pulpit translates into doubt in the pew. When a disciple loses confidence in Mormonism, he is vulnerable to a bold Christian witness. But the Christian needs to be sensitive as well. Knowing when to be tough or tender is challenging.
Generally, if the person seems sincere, go more slowly and be softer. If he only seems interested in delivering the missionary message, bring him up shorta tactic one evangelist to Mormons calls "knocking the polish off his testimony. The late Walter Martin, author of The Kingdom of the Cults, said "people who convert to Mormonism must be converted from it." Conversion into the cult is a formal process, including a presentation of "facts," scriptural investigation, testimony and argumentation. Similar steps are required to exit.
Many Christians are uncomfortable with such encounters. We dislike confrontation, correctly fear manipulation and tend to view argumentation as negative and unpleasant. Were more comfortable "just loving people into the Gospel."
But the 50 million Americans trapped in cults and occult practices will not be won by normal fellowshiping tactics. They are victims, locked out of the true church by their belief that they already possess "The Truth."
Mormons wont hear the Gospel until they realize what they have is inadequateif not plain devilish. Reaching them requires us to become, as Paul did, "like a Jew, to win the Jews." He challenged Jews in Israels synagogues, philosophers in Athens and sorcerers at the temple of Diana in Ephesus. We may not have Pauls boldness, but we can learn his tactics: He confronted their doctrine in their own language.
Of all the variant ideas and concepts of Mormon doctrine, I recommend discussing these three with Latter-day
The nature of God, specifically the Trinity.
The nature of revelationthe inspiration of the Bible.
The Book of Mormon, and why it cannot be Scripture.
The Nature of God
The best thing to discuss is Gods nature, because Mormons do not worship the God of the Scriptures.
Mormons are polytheistic. They believe their god is an exalted manwho had physical relations with the Virgin Mary to produce Jesusand one of countless gods. Every active and faithful Mormon will become a god as well, if obedient to Mormonisms rules of salvation. They recite, "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become."
Smith spoke about his polytheism this way: "You have got to learn to be Gods yourselves the same as all the other gods have done before you .until you are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and sit in glory " (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 4).
The witnessing Christian doesnt have to bog down in discussions of Gods omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, holiness or other eternal attributes. All he must do is master basic Trinitarian theology: There is but one God, and within his nature are Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
If I had only five minutes with a Mormon, I would ask if he believes his churchs polytheistic teaching. Then Id confront him with the God of the Bibleas I did recently with a Mormon college administrator. I shared a chain of memorized verses from Isaiah, beginning with 43:10-11:
You are my witnesses," declares the Lord, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior."
The other verses are Isaiah 44:6-8; 45:5-6 and 18-22; and 46:8-9.
When I finished, the man was uncharacteristically quiet and gentle. He didnt admit that Mormonism is wrong, and I didnt win him to Christ. But I did something in a few minutes he wont forget: I declared the nature and glory of God.
He said a few revealing things. He had secretly watched the movie The God Makers in a small Christian church, and his brother was "one of those born-againers." I believe our meeting was providential, and I continue to pray for him.
Another key area is the nature of revelation. Mormons believe Christianity collapsed in the first centuries and that they are the "Church of the Restoration." Smith claimed he was given the Book of Mormon because "many plain and precious truths" had been lost from the Bible. The cults Eighth Article of Faith claims the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, but the Bible is divine only "insofar as it has been translated correctly."
To reach Mormons we must show the Bible is authoritative. Ive developed a simple overview of the Bibles miraculous, word-for-word preservation over the centuries (which I discuss in Have You Witnessed to a Mormon Lately?).
The Book of Mormon
One simple but effective discussion involves revisions in the Book of Mormon. Smith claimed he translated the gold plateswhich conveniently were taken back into heaven before anybody else could see them"by the gift and power of God." He declared the work to be "singularly without error." Mormon
officials still claim its a perfect book and that only "sons of Belial" say it has been changed.
But nearly 4,000 changes have been made, one as recently as 1978 when President Spencer W. Kimball allowed blacks to enter the Mormon priesthood. After Kimballs "revelation," the Book of Mormon was amended so that dark-skinned converts are no longer said to become "white and delight-some;" now they become "pure and delightsome."
Proving changes in the Book of Mormon is easy. Go to a Mormon bookstore, ask for a reprint of the original 1830 edition and compare it with current editions. Changes pop up on nearly every page, some of them important doctrinal changes. When I confront Latter-day Saints with these, it is sometimes unsettling enough to cause them to reevaluate their faith.
Fight a Good Fight
To win Latter-day Saints, we must understand that Mormonism is not Protestantism with doctrinal problems. It preaches "another Jesus," possesses "a different spirit" and presents "a different gospel" (2 Cor. 11:4).
Being convinced of that is the foundation needed to reach Mormons for Christ. By building a specific presentation on the nature of God, revelation, and the Book of Mormon, these precious people can be won to the lordship of Jesus.