Failure to have an effective strategy can result in an encounter between a Christian and a Mormon that goes like this. The Christian shows the Mormon a Bible verse that contradicts lds teaching. The Mormon then responds with another verse that he feels supports his beliefs. The Christian then counters with another verse, to which the Mormon replies with still another, and so forth. Such a Scripture-bashing discussion can be described as “biblical Ping-Pong.” Doctrines and supporting verses bounce back and forth, perhaps for hours on end, with no tangible results other than the sweaty exhaustion that follows a real Ping-Pong game. Even if the Christian seems to have come off the winner in the debate, this carries no more weight with the Mormon than if it had been a mere Ping-Pong game he had lost. He is still not about to change his religion.
What is wrong with the above approach? Principally, timing. It is the timing that is wrong, not the biblical discussion itself. In fact, we wrote our book Mormons Answered Verse by Verse to aid in just such a discussion. Starting off with the Bible often works well when dealing with someone who has just become involved with the sect or with an “infant” Mormon who is not fully indoctrinated. But when dealing with a more mature member an effective strategy usually requires that consideration of Bible verses and doctrines come as a second step to be taken after the authority of the lds Church has first been undermined through the use of materials and techniques that we will outline here and in the chapters to follow.
Why does a Christian who starts off with a doctrinal discussion supported by a barrage of Bible verses usually fail to make a dent in a seasoned Mormon’s thinking? The reason is that this form of attack is based on a wrong assumption. It assumes that the Mormon believes certain things based on what he has read in the Bible and that he will change his beliefs if he is shown other verses as proof texts for a different doctrinal stance. But anyone making this assumption has already fallen victim to the sect’s propaganda: the idea that Mormons are Bible readers who rely on it as authority. Actually, their Bible reading is diluted by also having to read and study their three additional sacred volumes: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, one book each year in a four-year cycle. And they base their beliefs not on what they find in the Bible or even in the Book of Mormon but rather on what they are taught in lesson and training books, official speeches, Church newspaper and magazine articles, and books by top leaders.
This explains why a barrage of Scripture verses can bounce off a Mormon like so many Ping-Pong balls with no effect. He may look at the verses, but what he sees in his mind’s eye is the lds Church’s interpretation of those verses. It is as if he is looking at the pages of the Bible through Mormon-colored glasses. So, the first step in your strategy must be to remove those distorted lenses. To accomplish this, you will have to get the Mormon to look at the lds Church itself. You will need to demonstrate that its leaders have made repeated false prophecies, have changed doctrines and scriptures1 back and forth, and have misled followers to their spiritual harm. In other words, they are not reliable guides to follow. The Mormon may then be forced to think for himself or herself; in effect, the Mormon-colored glasses may be removed. After this has been accomplished, it now becomes possible to enter into an effective verse-by-verse doctrinal discussion.
Although this strategy of undermining lds Church authority as the first step and then examining Bible doctrine as the second step generally achieves the best results with fully indoctrinated Mormons, Christians untrained in countercult work almost always want to jump into the Bible right away. You may feel that way yourself. This is understandable because you are, no doubt, more familiar with the Bible than with Mormon history. At this point you would feel more comfortable with a biblical approach. You know some of the doctrinal differences between Christians and Mormons, and your natural response is to answer them on each point. But as long as you debate doctrines with your Mormon loved one, he or she will never see the forest for the trees, as the expression goes. At some point you must interrupt the issue-by-issue argument to focus attention on the big issue, the lds Church itself.
Picture the Mormon Church, for a moment, as an ancient walled fort with archers and spearmen standing guard atop the wall. Your army surrounds the fort. Your archers shoot arrows at their counterparts on the wall, and your spearmen hurl missiles. Sometimes your men score a hit, and sometimes theirs do; but the battle goes nowhere. Nowhere, that is, until a contingent of your men stop trading shots with the enemy and instead, with helmets on their heads, shields on their backs, and shovels in their hands, dig around the base of the wall until it is undermined and collapses. As it falls, so do the host of archers and spearmen who stood atop it and were seemingly invulnerable only moments before.
Disputing with a well-versed Mormon over questions of deity, theology, and the afterlife can be like the archers and spearmen exchanging shots with those on the wall. But attacking the lds Church itself, destroying its credibility by exposing its long history of error-this is akin to undermining the wall and causing it to topple over. When lds Church authority falls, so do all the teachings and doctrines that depend on it for support.
It will take discipline on your part to ignore some of the “spears” and “arrows” thrown at you in the form of doctrinal challenges and to focus your attention and the attention of the Mormon on the lds Church itself; but it will be well worth the effort. Once the leadership’s authority is undermined, the doctrines will be much easier to deal with.
However, if you start off openly attacking the Mormon Church or obviously attempting to convert your friend, your attack may backfire and damage or destroy your relationship. Techniques to avoid such a disastrous result are discussed in the next chapter.
There is no set formula for witnessing to Mormons. Each witnessing opportunity is unique and different, and you must depend on the Holy Spirit to guide you and direct you. But there are some basic principles you can apply, things you should or should not do, and knowledge you should have or should gain. It will not be easy, and indeed it may be very frustrating, but you should do it anyway.
The ultimate goal is to lead the Mormon into a personal relationship with the one true God of the Bible. Keep in mind, he thinks he already worships the one true God. It is up to you to show him that he has a different God, a different Jesus, another gospel, and that he is breaking the first commandment. The strategy is to first undermine the Mormon’s testimony and confidence in the Mormon Church organization—its teachings, official history, unique scriptures (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price), and biblical mis interpretations. (Our previous book Mormons Answered Verse by Verse deals with biblical misinterpretations.) Your skills in selecting and presenting the information is important. The Mormon must become teachable. Until he is, it is usually best, as emphasized at the start of this chapter, to stay away from biblical proofs; such discussions usually turn into unprofitable Scripture bashing.
In any case, depend on the Holy Spirit to guide you. Before you witness you should know the following basics:
1. What does the Bible say about witnessing?
“Warn the wicked … to save his life” (Ezek. 3:18–19). “Go ye therefore, and te
ach” (Matt. 28:19–20). “Preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2–4). “In meekness instructing those that oppose” (2 Tim. 2:24–26). “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age” (Heb. 5:14). “Be ready always to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). “Earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3).
2. What do you need to witness to a Mormon?
First, have a desire born of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). Prayer is a powerful tool when witnessing. Use it regularly.
Second, be a strong Christian yourself. Have a personal relationship with God and be familiar with the biblical foundation of your own beliefs.
Third, know the role of “feelings” (the Mormon’s personal testimony) and how “feelings” can be used as a substitute for factual proof, knowledge, and wisdom.
Fourth, know the subject. There is no substitute for detailed factual knowledge about Mormonism, its beliefs, and its church history.
Fifth, base your arguments on well-established factual information backed up by hard-copy documentation organized for quick and easy access. Actual photocopies from Mormon sources are much more powerful than paraphrased quotations from memory. Stay on the main subjects, such as those discussed later in this book.
Sixth, stay on one topic until you have presented all of your points. The Mormon will try to change the subject. Tell him gently that you will talk about that later, but now you are talking about this.
Before considering specific points to raise against the lds Church, however, you would be wise to learn some techniques that work and to familiarize yourself with the tools you will need to use.
Techniques That Work
The best techniques to use in speaking with mature Mormons—those who are well past the missionary and new-members’ lessons—depend on what you want to accomplish, how much time you have, and what you are able to invest. For example, suppose a young missionary at your door tells you that this is his last week in your community and that he will be flying back to Utah on Friday. In this case you should present a barrage of information that will quickly demolish Mormonism, conclude with your testimony and what it means to have Jesus in your life, and stuff a tract into his pocket as he leaves. Perhaps you will have planted or watered a seed that the Holy Spirit will use other Christians to cultivate later. That powerful presentation would be inappropriate, however, for a Mormon employee at your place of work assigned to work alongside you on a two-year project, or for a close friend or relative who has become involved with the sect. The rapid-fire approach you used with the missionary might give your workmate or relative something to think about, but the workmate would probably ask the boss for a transfer, and the relative might henceforth avoid you.
In the case of a fellow employee, relative, neighbor, or close friend you see on a regular basis an entirely different approach is called for. First, build rapport and credibility. Let your Christian manners and your lifestyle speak for you. Talk modestly about your relationship with the Lord and show a mild, friendly interest in your Mormon associate’s religion. Ask questions (examples follow) that reflect curiosity rather than hostility or condemnation. To some extent a Mormon will feel obligated to assume the role of official spokesman when representing the Church to any outsider, but the more informal and relaxed you can make the circumstances, the more likely you will be able to truly communicate rather than simply exchange clichés.
If you start off openly attacking the Mormon Church or obviously attempting to convert your friend, you will likely trigger a defensive reaction. The stronger your attack or the more vigorous your conversion attempt, the greater will be the response that you will provoke. If you come to be viewed as a real enemy of the Church, that may mean an end to communication with this individual, or at least an end to communication on religious subjects.
Consider the example of Jesus Christ who, when he came to earth, did not loudly proclaim who he was but rather let his works speak for him. After fellowshiping with him for some time, his disciples still asked, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And it took the doubting Thomas the entire length of time he was associated with Jesus, and more, before he could finally confess Christ as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Likewise, we are more effective if we let the facts speak for themselves in our conversations with Mormons than if we try to push them prematurely to the conclusion that they should reject the lds Church and embrace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The best example we can turn to for techniques is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the master teacher. Besides miracles, he used well-chosen words to draw people to himself. And he had to teach some startling new concepts to those Jews who became his disciples. So we can learn much from his teaching methods that will help in our efforts to share the true gospel with Mormons.
Jesus knew how much his listeners would be able to absorb at one time; therefore, he did not try to overfeed them. Even after he had spent many months with the apostles, he told them, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). The gospel consists of both “milk” and “solid food” (Heb. 5:12–14 nkjv). If you give solid food too soon to a baby, he will choke on it and spit it out. Realizing that it may take a long time for a mature Mormon to unlearn false lds doctrines and relearn Bible truth, we should not give him too much to digest at one time.
Jesus could leave much of what he had to say until later, because he knew that the Holy Spirit would continue to teach the disciples—that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 nkjv). We, too, should trust that the Holy Spirit will teach new believers today, just as he did in the first century a.d. We need not take it upon ourselves to correct every notion that a Mormon has in his head. The Holy Spirit will take over where we leave off.
Moreover, Jesus was a shepherd, not a cowboy. He did not ride herd on the sheep shooting guns and cracking whips like cowboys do in a cattle drive. No. He gently led the flock. Jesus called, and his sheep heard his voice and followed him. We can do the same by kindly presenting the gospel from the Word of God, confident that the sheep will hear and follow without our having to bully them into it.
Notice, too, Jesus’ effective use of questions. Glancing quickly over any one of the four Gospel accounts, you will observe that many of his sentences had question marks at the end. Question marks are shaped like hooks (?) and they function much the same way in hooking onto answers and pulling them out through the other person’s mouth. Jesus was highly skilled at using these “hooks.” Rather than shower his listeners with information, he used questions to draw answers out of them, thereby causing them to think about the subject. A person can close his ears to facts he doesn’t want to hear, but if a pointed question causes him to form the answer in his own mind, he can’t escape the conclusion because it’s a conclusion he has reached himself.
Generally speaking, you should ask only questions that you already know the answers to and can document. This is important because (1) the Mormon may not really know the correct answer, or (2) the Mormon may purposely evade the correct answer. But, when you know the answer yourself you can ask supplementary questions to teach him the facts or to draw out knowledge that he is concealing. For example, if you ask whether a Prophet of the lds Church ever taught that Adam of the Garden of Eden was God the Father (Elohim),
and the Mormon either denies it or claims not to know, you can then go on to ask more specifically about Brigham Young, inquiring about references to this teaching in his writings. (See the discussion in chapter 13, “Strange Teachings.”)
It takes patience to draw answers from the Mormon rather than provide them yourself. But, if you provide the answers, the effect can be quite different. For example, you can tell a Mormon: “You have been deceived. Joseph Smith is a false prophet and the lds Church is a cult!1 You need to get saved!” But, if he has not yet reached those conclusions in his own mind, he is likely to become offended and to reject whatever else you have to say. So, if you want him to reach those conclusions, you must lead his thinking in that direction.
Rather than comment, “Look at what Isaiah says in chapter 44, verses 6 and 8! He says that no other gods exist, besides the Lord,” you would do better to ask the Mormon to read the verses aloud and then ask, “Whom, do you think, the writer was referring to in this verse? What did he say about him?” The Mormon may not say the right answer out loud, but you will see his facial expression change when he gets the point.
Although a loved one who is beginning to look into the lds Church should be warned boldly that it is a pseudo-Christian cult—and should be supplied proof of this to offset the Church’s effective public relations campaign—that approach may be too strong for someone who has been involved for some time as an active member. In his or her case it may prove more effective to take a more roundabout, indirect approach. We have a scriptural example of this technique being used by the apostle Paul. He did not get up before his Greek audience in Athens and proclaim, “Your religion is false; I’m here to convert you to Christianity.” Rather, he established common ground first by presenting it this way: “ … as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
We ought to be aware, too, that Mormons may actually attempt to deny or cover up some of their more bizzare teachings and justify this by their concern for people like us who are “not ready” to encounter these concepts yet. For example, when one Christian householder asked a missionary whether he believed in only one God, the young Mormon answered enthusiastically in the affirmative. Yes! He believed in just one God.
“You don’t believe in many gods?” the Christian asked again.
“No! Just one God, the same as you believe,” came the reply.
But this householder was an informed Christian and knew to press the issue further by asking, “Do you mean to say that you believe there is only one God in all the entire universe?”
Now the Mormon began fidgeting. Looking down at his feet he admitted, “Well, no. We believe there is just one God for this planet. Naturally, other planets have their own gods. I thought we were just talking about this planet.”2
This demonstrates that Mormons sometimes talk with their fingers crossed, so to speak. Not intending to harm you but rather to bless you through conversion to the lds Church, they may hold back certain information while at the same time they supply other information that is actually misleading. This may take the form of using familiar words with different meanings, as in the case of the young missionary who claimed to “believe in only one God.” He did not see himself as lying but rather as going out of his way to help the Christian by avoiding offensive language or concepts.
Similarly, Mormons typically object to Christian efforts to expose Mormonism by saying, “We don’t attack you; why are you attacking us? Why not say only good things about each other?” But in doing this the Mormons conceal the fact that Mormonism’s very reason for being rests on Joseph Smith’s alleged First Vision with its message that the churches are “all wrong” and their members “corrupt.”3 So, it is the Mormons who attacked first. Christians are defending, not attacking. The Mormon argument that Christians should not attack Mormonism is merely a smoke screen.
The following list of dos and don’ts should prove helpful as a quick-reference guide to review before you enter discussions with Mormons:
Do love them. Let the love of Christ radiate from you.
Do “turn the other cheek” when you are abused verbally or even physically.
Do pray with Mormons before and after a discussion, but you lead the prayer and use it to teach Christian principles.
Do your homework. Know your Bible and the subject you are covering.
Do use only the King James Version of the Bible. It is the only one most Mormons recognize as valid.
Do discern the meaning of Mormon terminology. They use Christian terms, but with very different meanings. See the glossary in appendix 3.
Do become familiar with the lds Church’s canonized scriptures or standard works. Notice which Mormon doctrines are found in the standard works. This will enable you to deal with the typical Mormon defense that an embarrassing teaching “is not in the standard works and therefore is not really Mormon doctrine but just someone’s opinion.”
Do learn to distinguish between valid and invalid references. Not all Mormon writers and writings are of equal authority. High status is given to statements by Prophets and Apostles speaking at official lds Church functions, especially conferences, or published in Church manuals. The words of the living Prophet take precedence over those of his predecessors.
Do take control and keep control of discussions. Well-trained Mormons (such as missionaries) will try to change the subject rather than face embarrassing facts. Keep bringing them back to the subject at hand by saying, “We were talking about …” or “You didn’t answer my question about …” Be polite but bold.
Do use questions as a teaching technique. Generally, only ask questions to which you know the answers. Ask questions that lead your listeners to question their own beliefs.
Do be prepared to document information that the Mormon has never heard or understood before.
Do require the Mormon to provide documentation and references for points he or she wishes to make.
Do stop to look up references you are given to be sure they are being used properly and in context.
Do maintain a low-keyed, soft, friendly approach in order to keep the door open for further discussions. Reserve a bolder and more aggressive approach for one-time meetings with strangers who are unlikely to return.
Do focus on important matters. Avoid wasting time on trivia.
Do arrange for a captive audience by inviting Mormons to your home for a meal and asking them to arrive an hour or two before dinnertime so you can talk together. This will make it more difficult for them to escape when their position becomes indefensible by “remembering” an urgent appointment or inventing another excuse to leave. They are already committed to remain for the meal.
Don’t try to witness to Mormons if you are a new Christian yourself; especially do not try to witness to lds mission aries. Remember, they are thoroughly trained to win you over.
Don’t be rude or ridicule their beliefs. Always be polite.
Don’t assume that the individuals you deal with know Mormon doctrine. Many members have little knowledge and understanding of their Church’s unique teachings. Others comprehend everything. Some are aware of the strange doctrines but conceal this knowledge in an attempt to appear Christian.
Don’t argue or get angry.
If a discussion becomes irrational or heated, walk away.
Don’t try to cover too many subjects in one sitting. It is better to cover one subject thoroughly than to touch on several matters and not bring any to a conclusion.
Don’t let the Mormon get away with speaking in generalities. Any accusation such as “The Bible is all wrong,” or, “You people deal in half-truths and misrepresentations,” should be challenged for lack of specific examples.
Don’t place stumbling blocks before Mormons, such as offering them coffee, tea, or alcoholic beverages, or smoking in their presence.
Don’t agree to pray about the truth of the Book of Mormon. Since God has already said not to accept “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6–9), this would be praying to discern whether you should do something God has already said not to do. It would be sidestepping your own responsibility to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.