We have seen that, despite the inflated ambitions of early Mormonism, the Mormon kingdom is confined to the American Mid-West. We have found that many of the issues, historical, social and political that are bound to preoccupy those ministering “behind the Zion curtain” needn’t concern those meeting and witnessing to Mormons in the wider world.
What should concern us? What should be our priorities? What are some good basic guidelines for witnessing to Mormons? What is the Mormon attitude to Scripture? How can the Bible help us in witnessing?
Often an encounter with a Mormon can be all-too-brief and a testimony and/or a brief explanation of “what you believe” is all you can reasonably leave them with. However, there are those times when an in depth discussion is possible. Perhaps they will be prepared to make a series of visits to your home, or have you in their home, in which case it is important to be ready with a basic strategy.
You might begin by suggesting that, to establish truth, it is important to have some mutually agreed guidelines so that discussion actually goes somewhere. The following are reasonable and non-threatening and difficult to disagree over:
- The only common ground you share is the Bible. Insist that you stick to the Bible in your discussion. They use the KJV but will usually acknowledge other versions.
- You need to address no more than 1 or 2 issues at a time otherwise you can end up talking about everything and nothing in particular and “majoring on the minors.”
- Agree that it isn’t a contest but about finding God’s truth from Scripture.
- You must both agree to admit it when you don’t know or are wrong on an issue.
Establishing ground rules is important and it helps them as well as you. As far as possible subjects are concerned, always stick to fundamentals and avoid those enticing but eventually fruitless discussions about Joseph Smith’s wives etc. These would include:
The nature of God (not a man)
The Person of Jesus (not a second god)
The nature of man (not a potential god)
The fall (a disaster not a blessing)
The Cross (central to the faith)
Salvation (by grace, through faith in Christ)
The authority of Scripture (beyond challenge)
This last is important because, although they say they trust the Bible, they really don’t know what that means. Although they use the words they have no concept of what it is to sit under the authority of God’s Word. Indeed, they don’t even have a truly submissive attitude to their own scripture, as we will see. Having someone they regard as a ‘living prophet’ makes it very easy for them to defend a shift in position by saying ‘that was then this is now’. Submitting to God’s Word, as a Christian might understand the idea, is simply not something they know so you need to model that to them.
A friend of mine has a way of challenging Mormon missionaries by saying, “I have heard that you don’t fully trust the Bible. I am a Christian and wouldn’t be happy with that position so tell me, do you trust the Bible?” If they say that they do then they cannot later appeal to the oft-repeated Mormon claim that it is incorrectly translated or transmitted (they don’t know how we got our Bible so if you can confidently explain this, perhaps have a Bible with a preface that explains that translators go to the earliest reliable documents, that will come as a revelation to them).
When it comes to applying specific texts to particular issues it helps if you read the verses together and then ask, “What do we learn from these verses about...?” This helps focus the discussion on the text and avoid opinion-based discussion. A good example is Romans 6:23. “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life”. What do we learn from this verse about eternal life? Is it earned? What do we learn about death? Have we earned it?
Finally, always try and take the shortest route to the Cross. In the end this is what it is about and they must come to a place where a) the living Word of God judges them (Heb.4:12) and b) the Cross is there when they see how hopeless are their efforts to be ‘worthy’ (Gal.3:24).