There is a trick I like to play on friends occasionally. I wait until someone consults their watch then ask them for the time. They will almost invariably look at their watch again. “But you just looked at your watch,” I say, “Why did you look at it again?” Of course, they don’t know, it is just something they do instinctively.
They may well have very short memories but I think there might be another explanation. You see, the first time they consult their watch they are not looking at the time but at the time in relation to some event in their lives. They want to know if they are early or late for an appointment, if they will catch their train, when they need to leave for the theatre. It is the time of the event and not the time per se that interests them.
In the same way, when we share the gospel with Mormons they don’t look directly at it but consider it in relation to what is going on in their faith lives. They already have a world-view, constructed for them by their faith, and it is natural that they should compare your message with that paradigm, immediately fitting your words into the definitions given them by Mormonism.
We must help them look at the important things in their life in relation to the gospel; bring their attention to here and now and this particular text. They have preconceptions about the Bible, misconceptions about the Christian faith and apprehensions about what it will mean for their lives and we must help them understand what is true and what is not and that is not usually as easy as dropping a text into the conversation.
A typical misconception is that Scripture is a record intended to be exhaustive and designed simply to inform us, that it is incomplete and needs supplementing, restoring. But to a Christian Scripture is a message that is God-breathed and, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.3:16-17) We need to draw their attention to God’s true purposes in inspiring, preserving and transmitting Scripture. Show them the difference between exhaustive and sufficient.
A typical preconception is that, since Christians believe we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ and not by works, Christians don’t believe in good works. This is often expressed in the question, “So you believe you can go out and murder someone tomorrow and still go to heaven?” It is as though Mormons think Christians ignore or are ignorant of the numerous injunctions to act on their faith: the Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, the words of James that “faith without works is dead.”
But the Christian Church has a long and noble history of practical service in the name of Christ, from mission to prison visiting, feeding and sheltering the homeless to schooling and mentoring the young. The Good Samaritan is a Christian exemplar, James’ concern for orphans and widows (Js.1:27), Paul’s concern for his neighbour (Ro.15:2) a byword. The Christian message is one of salvation, sanctification, equipping and growing in the things of God. In this picture sin is something we repent of and for which we gain forgiveness not something we callously indulge because we have our ticket to heaven.
Where do these ideas come from? Why do Mormons miss these things? Because, just as my friend looks at his watch but fails to register what it is telling him about “now” so the Mormon is looking at the message but failing to see what it is telling him about Christ. Just as my unwitting friend looks as though he has already consulted his watch and discovered the time, so our Mormon friends may look as though they have considered your message, thought about it but...
Mormons think what we believe is foolish, but Paul said that the gospel is foolishness to those who are dying (1 Cor.1:18). They think our hope is a false hope but the Bible tells us it is a sure hope because it is founded in Christ (Ro.8:1). Mormons, finally, are understandably apprehensive because the gospel is counterintuitive, teaching salvation by grace. They think of modern prophets, extra scripture, temple work, families are forever and shrink at what they believe they will lose. To embrace this message seems unthinkable to someone who already “knows” so much, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor.1:25)
We are called to witness, to do it with love and respect, to be patient in the face of stubborn misunderstandings, doubts and fears and to realise that it is God’s wisdom and God’s strength that has to be seen, that one may plant, another water but God who gives the increase (1 Cor.3:6) When we have shared a good message we need to persevere because we cannot know how God will use our continuing witness. It is easy to give up because we don’t see something come of it but we forget to consider the Spirit’s ongoing role in that person’s life.
We don’t pick the times and seasons. When someone finally does “see it” it isn’t because we have shown them anyway but because God has shown them that what you have told them is true. When they come to faith, while they need your support and friendship, the most important source of strength and encouragement will be the Spirit and we must model dependence on God in our own lives so it is with them from the beginning. My Christian friend witnessed patiently to me for ten years before God showed me the wisdom and truth in his words. This seems a good model for witnessing and living in general.