You may know them as Mormons, but they are officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You probably spot their missionaries walking around your neighborhood, and you might even dread that knock on the door.
I grew up as a Mormon, but left before I was old enough to go on the two-year mission that is one of the most visible faces of Mormonism. Many in my family are still Mormons. The rise of celebrities and political figures who embrace the Mormon faith and the use of various media to put a “normal” label on this relatively new religion have caused many Christians to think about how to relate to their Mormon neighbors.
Although I was far from God for many years after leaving Mormonism, in time the true Creator God opened my eyes to the gospel. I became excited to share the good news of the forgiveness of sins available only in Christ. I was able to find rest that Mormonism can’t offer.
Yet having been trained in the sciences, my natural inclination was to use lots of evidences and arguments as I talked to Mormon colleagues, friends, and students during and after my years as a public school teacher. I studied materials that showed the contradictions between the Bible and the LDS Scriptures and had lists ready to pull out when the young elders knocked on the door. I was ready to point them to the contradictions in the Book of Mormon and to the failed prophecies, inconsistencies, and truly bizarre claims of their modern prophets. I had prepared several “slam dunk” arguments sure to make them realize they were following a false prophet and trusting in a false Jesus . . . but was this method effective?
While these tools are useful in certain circumstances, a few years ago I had a shift in my thinking. After I left public education and came to work at Answers in Genesis, people would stop by my desk and ask for advice about sharing with a Mormon neighbor or getting prepared for a return visit from Mormon missionaries. At first I offered a few of those contradictions and doctrines that clearly contradict Scripture. But now I suggest setting those things on the shelf in favor of another approach. Let me explain.
If you know Mormonism only from the happy-family commercials, you have a skewed view of what life is like in many Mormon families. Mormonism is based on earning righteousness for salvation. In 2 Nephi 25:23, a verse in the Book of Mormon, they are told, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
In Mormon theology and doctrine, people are placed on the earth to be tested by the Heavenly Father. Those who are obedient will receive blessings from their god in the present life and spiritual blessings in the future life, depending upon their faithfulness (Doctrine & Covenants 130:20–21). These spiritual blessings include being promoted to one of the three levels of heaven and future exaltation to become a god, potentially being given their own planet to populate and reign over. All of this comes with a tremendous amount of pressure to perform in the family and Mormon community. You do your best, and Jesus will do the rest.
This idea of working to earn God’s favor and to earn salvation flies in the face of biblical passages like Ephesians 2:8–10, which tell us that our salvation and favor in God’s eyes is based solely on the person and work of Jesus Christ—not on our own works, regardless of how much we do. The Mormons you meet are likely weary of trying to meet an unattainable standard in order to be accepted by their families, their church, and their god.
A Conversation With Roger Patterson
Is there a difference between reaching a Mormon and others?
There are really only two religious systems—the true religion that God laid out for us in the Bible, and manmade ideas. All those manmade systems require doing things to get in God’s graces.
The key to reaching Mormons is knowing who Christ really is and how God has saved us in Him. Then you need to sit down with them and love them. You can point them to the rest you have in Christ, admitting your failures and shortcomings, and trusting in the gospel.
Is it necessary to know all the areas Mormons get wrong?
We often get trapped into thinking that we have to have an answer for every argument. Apologetics isn’t about answering every single objection and memorizing all the areas where they are wrong. That task would be impossible.
If you don’t know much about the Mormon’s worldview, simply ask questions. Then, knowing what the Bible says about our real need, and understanding God’s Word, we can lovingly explain how their views do not line up with Scripture.
How open are Mormons to talk freely with evangelicals about the Bible?
There seems to have been a shift in recent years. As I was growing up as a Mormon, we were told that we weren’t the same as other churches because the true gospel had been restored through Joseph Smith. The typical Mormon today, however, seems to have a different emphasis: “Oh, we’re Christians, too.” So interacting with them can be a little tricky. Mormons use a lot of the same terminology—the atonement, baptism, the gospel—but mean something different. You have to take great care to draw out the meaning of those terms.
What are some resources?
Knowing what you believe and what Scripture teaches is really the key. Christ told us we can come to Him, all who labor and are heavy laden, and He will give us rest (Matthew 11:28). The Mormon religious system is not that.
For specific apologetics, see Ron Rhodes’s book Reasoning from the Scriptures with Mormons, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (carm.org), Alpha & Omega Ministries (aomin.org), and Utah Partnership for Christ (upfc.org).
Growing up in Utah and southern Idaho, I experienced this pressure. Though my experiences are anecdotal, two close friends in Mormon families chose suicide after committing sins that would have brought shame from their community. They did not know that Christ was willing to fully forgive them and offer them His righteousness as a free gift.
Under the surface of the happy-faced façade, the heavy yoke of performance and works salvation hangs around the necks of Mormons. Rather than offering clever apologetics upfront, I offer them the peace and rest that can be found in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a powerful message that every believer should know by heart. Ask your Mormon friends and neighbors if they are weary of trying to earn God’s favor, and then point them to the true Jesus whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Point them to true rest in Christ’s righteousness rather than striving in their own righteousness.