D. Jason Wallace
Utah is a graveyard of evangelical gimmicks. Nearly every conceivable attempt has been made to reach Mormons with the gospel, but no large inroad has ever been made. Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over 60,000 missionaries in 165 countries and grows by over 300,000 members each year. A recent Southern Baptist study estimates that they lose 282 members per week to the Mormons.
The most popular approach to reaching Mormons over the last thirty years has been to show them the blatant errors and contradictions that their "prophets" have uttered. For example, the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, claimed that American Indians were the lost tribes of Israel who had their skin turned dark as a curse for their rebellion. Yet modern archaeology and genetics refute those claims. Mormonism also has an extensive paper trail that shows its false prophecies and how its prophets have contradicted earlier prophets. As popular as this approach has been, it has borne little fruit. It shows that Mormonism is wrong, but it doesn't present much of the real gospel. If people leave the LDS church over these issues, it is generally for atheism or some other error.
Cheap grace and "friendship evangelism" have also made few inroads. Mormons observe the worldliness of modern evangelicals and consider themselves more moral. The failure of these methods has led many to extremes. Fundamentalist street preachers stand outside the LDS semiannual conference and scream insults. Charismatics offer uncontrollable laughing or the "miraculous" transformation of mercury fillings into gold. None of this makes much of an impression on Mormons.
So how do we reach Mormons? God may bless a variety of approaches, but I believe that the first step is to realize that Mormonism itself is not the real problem. It is just a symptom of their unbelief.
The second step is to realize who Mormons are. They are not possessed with some special demon that makes them unreachable. Mormonism is simply an American version of gnosticism. The Mormon gospel boils down to the familiar plan of salvation in which a god helps good people save themselves. They believe that their god was once a man who achieved godhood by obedience to the gospel plan. They believe they may do the same if they are obedient and participate in the right ceremonies in their temples. Their gospel is as old as Satan's lie in the Garden.
The third step is to communicate the true gospel clearly and in love. The temptation is to start immediately by condemning their legalism, but they have been taught to hear such approaches as cheap grace. They quickly resort to "proof text Ping-Pong," shooting back the biblical call for holiness to every passage that deals with free grace. I try to avoid this by explaining that legalism and cheap grace both deny the new birth: legalism denies its necessity, and cheap grace denies its effect.
It is important to realize that legalism is never the fundamental issue. It is simply a symptom of idolatry. The god of Mormonism is not that holy. In fact, the fall of Adam is seen in Mormonism as a good thing! Adam had to sin, they say, in order to keep God's command to be fruitful and multiply. By Adam and Eve multiplying, we could have bodies and prove our worthiness to become gods.
Since their god is not that holy and sin is not that bad, real grace is not needed-only a grace described like this in the Book of Mormon: "If ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you."
It is important to show Mormons who God really is. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals present a sentimental view of the love of God that doesn't challenge the Mormon view of their "heavenly Father." Few Mormons are familiar with the stories of God's judgments in the Old and New Testaments. They show a God who is not a sentimentalized, exalted man, but a God who is a consuming fire. It is only when they understand God's holiness and hatred of sin, that they can appreciate his love for sinners and their need of a Savior.
It is disarming for Mormons to hear this from someone who frankly admits the evil of his own heart. They are used to wearing masks for others and themselves. When someone doesn't bother with a mask, but admits that he is a sinner, saved only by undeserved mercy, this can be very attractive.
Finally, we must pray. If we think that we can educate people into the kingdom, we are just as wrong as those who think they can love them or entertain them in. It becomes just one more gimmick. These things are too great for us, but as we know from our own conversion, nothing is impossible for God.
The author is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2004.