Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mormon Conversation

A friend of mine asked me to post concerning the last “missionaries” that came to my door wearing name tags designating them as elders, though it looked as if they still had baby faces after a week of not shaving. If this had been video taped I think I might be a minor celebrity on YouTube, as it was quite hilarious in its own way. They left shaking a bit. I hope they think about the conversation for a long time.

Tell you the truth, everyone in my neighborhood knows me. I walk the dog quite often, and spend time talking to people. It is a novel idea, but it works for me. So I was a bit surprised on a Saturday morning to hear the bell ring. I wasn’t expecting anyone. I haven’t had "missionaries” ring my doorbell in quite some time. The elders left in Utah spend most of their time talking with other Mormons. Laura was still in pajamas, a sight to see, but one I reserve for myself. So when I opened the door I was wondering what I might do. I normally invite the “missionaries” in, but the last thing I needed was two snot nosed kids identifying as elders drooling over my wife. This quickly resolved itself though, as the timid kids looked at each other and then asked “and you are”? That, before introducing themselves.
Fact is, they knew who I was. My house is marked, I am sure. They knew I was a pastor before they rang the bell. This is why they were bumbling about themselves when I answered. But with such a rude ice breaker I was not about to invite them in anymore. I answered that I was Pastor Erickson.
They told me they wanted to tell me about Christ. I retorted that they did not know Christ, and therefore could not tell me anything about Him. They did not like this. And tried to tell me they did. So I asked “Is Jesus God”? They answered “He is the son of God.” Again I challenged, “No. Yes or no, is he God? That is the question." They answered, “no.” At which point I said, “Well Jesus says he is God, identifies himself as God on many occasions. So who is lying, you or Jesus?”
It has been a couple of months now, but I think it was at this point that the conversation changed briefly to the Book of Mormon, their real purpose in ringing my bell. In my opinion this book has one too many Ms in its title. Up to this point I had tried to read it. Never got past the first couple pages, before it dawned on me that I ought read the Bible, which I had claimed to believe before reading the Book of Mormon. I read the Bible and have since found that I do believe it. But never picked up the Book of Mormon again until quite recently, it has confirmed all my suspicions. What a tedious read.
In any case, they brought out the Book of Mormon. At which point I asked them, “do you believe the the Bible to be the word of God”? They answered “as long as it is translated correctly, or insofar as it is translated correctly.” I told them, “I don’t care about translations. I read Greek and Hebrew. Is it the word of God or not?” They answered that it was. I followed up. “Is the Bible enough for salvation? Were people ever saved without the Book of Mormon”? They had to answer that yes the Bible is enough, and yes people were saved without the book of Mormon. I answered “Good. We have established that. Now anything you try to convince me of from here on out has to be from the Bible, not ‘The Book of Mormon.’ We have established common ground.”
Mormon’s by the way, give lip service to both “The Book of Mormon”, and “The Bible.” They don’t believe in either of these books, not in the same way that we Christians believe in the Bible. These are really nothing more for them than historical documents. When they say they believe in them, they mean they believe they are historically true. They do not mean that either of these books operates as any sort of rule, guide or norm, for doctrine, or even rules for living. The Book of Mormon they believe to be true, and therefore they believe Joseph Smith to be a prophet, who has bestowed on others the ability to be prophet in his absence. Whatever the current prophet says is what they believe in regards to who God is, how man is saved, or what is morally right and morally wrong. For instance, in the aptly named book of Ether, towards the end of the book of Mormon, Jesus says “I am the Father.” Now if they believed that then they would have had no trouble telling me that Jesus is God. That actually betrays a heresy, namely Modalism, that is at the opposite spectrum of the heresy that Mormon’s currently believe, namely Arianism. (No not Aryanism, Arianism. There is a difference. Arianism is the belief that Jesus , or the son, is a creature, having been created, not begotten, of the Father. Mormon’s do nuance this though. It isn’t a one to one here. Arius would never have been so blasphemous as to say that we were all begotten of God, and that Jesus was begotten in Mary through carnal relations with the Father in the form of a man.)
In any case, these kids were not about to give up “The Book of Mormon.” So they asked me if I knew about Joseph Smith. I answered that I did, and did not regard him as a credible source of knowledge about God. They tried to then tell me his story starting with the myth that ALL the churches in Joseph Smith’s day had consigned all the members of other churches to hell. Now this may have been true of some churches, but definitely not all. In fact, even with Lutherans believing that they are the one true VISIBLE Church on earth, they have always considered that other churches who teach the Trinity, and in which the Gospel is heard, are Christian, and the members therein are saved. I mean Martin Luther couldn’t be the only Roman Catholic ever to have heard the gospel and been saved. He just happened to challenge the rest of Roman Catholic teaching based on the gospel he believed. That is to say, Lutherans are often very polemical, and harsh in our treatment of other churches and what they teach. But we don’t go so far as to say they aren’t Christian, or that people belonging to other churches aren’t saved. (Some individuals may or may not have made that claim, but the Book of Concord, a book of official doctrinal statements of the Lutheran Church, says quite differently.) So I said I don’t believe that is true at all. As I happen to know there had been Lutherans in the New York area since the days when it was New Amsterdam.
However, they continued their little story anyway, and proceeded to tell me that they “knew Joseph Smith was the true prophet of God.” I told them they didn’t know anything. I think I might have been a bit more colloquial than that. At this point I began to lay into them hard.
“You don’t know anything. You know how many men I know around here who thought they knew Joseph Smith was a prophet, and went on mission? Today they sit in the bars, they drown themselves in liquor. And they won’t let you touch them with a ten foot pole to talk about Christ. Why? Because they woke up one day and realized it was all a lie. They realized that they had been lied to their whole life, and they had lied to others for two years. You kids don’t know what you are doing. You don’t know anything. Yet you walk around blaspheming God door to door. 18 years old thinking you know, when you don’t. You flippantly handle the name of God. You are careless with it. And you will be going to the outer darkness for that. (Outer darkness is their term for hell.) Walking around telling people in the name of God that they shouldn’t drink coffee, and making them feel guilty for it. Who are you? What gives you the right to do that sort of thing?”
Well they proceeded to tell me that they knew. The one kid said he had come all the way from Brazil, and do I think he would do that for a lie. To which I answered, “Oh, hell yeah. It wouldn’t even take that to get me to go to Brazil.” (Of course this brings up something else. I talked to one missionary who went to Trieste, and couldn’t pronounce it properly yet. He spent two years there mispronouncing the name. Now if you ask me two years in Italy, without being able to go to the beach, drink the wine, grappa or coffee, flirt with the girls at the disco techs, etc. That would be hell on earth. The only hell Mormon’s seem to know. Thankfully, I spent two years there with no such constraints.)
But they kept insisting that they knew. So I bit. “O.K. Tell me how you know that Joseph Smith is the true Prophet of God.”
“Well we read the book of Mormon. And have you ever heard of a burning in the Bosom”?
“A liver shiver! (Thanks Rod, that is Dr. Rosenbladt a cherished mentor of mine from undergrad, who instructed me in apologetics. Liver shiver was his term for any mystical or quasi mystical experience one was supposed to base their faith on. ) A liver shiver?! You mean to tell me you had a liver shiver? And based on your liver shiver you expect me to believe that Joseph Smith, a treasure digger, sorcerer, and man of ill repute in Upstate New York, is a prophet of God? Are you kidding me? You expect me to believe based on a liver shiver that Mormonism is true, despite all the evidence to the contrary? Tell me, what is the difference between your liver shiver and the one that every mystic in the history of the world has claimed? The Pentecostals claim a liver shiver, Muslim dervishes claim liver shivers, Theresa de Avila, Thomas a Kempis, they have all claimed liver shivers. What makes yours any different”?
To this they responded, the little boy from Brazil. “Some people pray with their heads, but we pray with our hearts?”
I couldn’t help but to ask, “are you calling into question the sincerity of my prayers?! How dare you.”
“Well sir, we really didn’t come to argue about religion.”
“No, you knocked on my door. Now you are going to hear it. I’m telling you, you don’t know what you are doing. You are blaspheming the name of God. You will go to the outer darkness for it. The word of God is more holy than to be handled in the flippant manner of which you are doing. It deserves a lot more study before you go around knocking on doors claiming to speak in the name of God, and filling the ears of others with this nonsense.”
They offered to shake my hand. I refused. I told them that, “I don’t give the right hand of peace to those who knock on my door and blaspheme God. “
They turned and left.
Well that was the story. You may notice I never gave them the gospel in all this. Part of me feels bad about that. Yet, I wonder if they were ready to hear it. Evidently not. It was a confrontational and polemical encounter. Perhaps now they know why my door is marked on their roster, as I presume it is. A couple days later, my neighbor came by asking if he had offended me in some way, and inviting me to the temple opening. I think the story got back to him. I admit, I had a little fun with these boys. At the same time it wasn’t about having fun. I pray for them. I hope that what was said sinks in, and they begin investigating Christianity a bit more. There is salvation for them. Christ died on the cross for them too. I don’t think they strut through neighborhoods as cocksure of themselves looking for trophy conversions anymore though.
In any case, I record this conversation as a help for others to see how you might cut through a lot of garbage, and get to the heart of the matter with these guys. As far as how one can know that Christianity is true? Well that is based on the claim that Jesus is God and the resurrection that proves it. One wanting to investigate that event might check out “History and Christianity” by John Warwick Montgomery, or perhaps even Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ,” as well as a host of other books that make a reasonable case for Christianity. It all centers on the resurrection though. If Christ did not rise from the grave we are all doomed, and Christians most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15.


Nancy said...

When they left...the shaking...was it their feet? I hope it was a liver shiver...as their hearts registered your words!

Jonathan said...

I have serious doubts whether debate with Momo "missionaries" works. Although the Word always works.

This last summer I was approached by a female 'missionary' while I was out and about--that was a first. What came to mind was something like this: "I'm not interested in your religion; it requires more from me than I can deliver and there's no guarantee I can win in the end. My trust in Jesus is a lot simpler; He's promised me that I've already won because of what He's already accomplished by His death and resurrection--I don't have to add anything. Why would I want to trade a sure thing for the uncertainty your religion is offering?" And I left it at that.

I know the HS will give us words to speak, but, what is the best, simplest way to fire a Gospel shot right to the heart of these guys without the debate?

Brigitte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bror Erickson said...

Truth be told there is no easy answer. The best book on Evangelism to Mormon's though is "Speaking the truth in Love to Mormons" By Mark Cares.
With Mormon's I would say they don't need the Gospel up front. They need to be wacked over the head with the law. They need to be shown that they are sinners. That they are going to hell, or to speak their lingo outer darkness. And in my opinion it needs to be straight up and in their face.

Frank Sonnek said...

" I told them they didn’t know anything. I think I might have been a bit more colloquial than that. At that point I began to lay into them hard."

ahem. We need more Lutheran pastors like you.

from Brasil?! Trust me when I tell you that Mormons here in Brasil don´t come even close to "walking the talk" when it comes to restraint...

Frank Sonnek said...

Love means getting to know someone and befriending them. I always invite these kinds in, offer them a nice lunch or milk and cookies or... and try to get to know them. If I have time. I try to love them. I think of what mom and grandma would do with me. walking the dog and talking is a great example bror. I try to do that in my own neighborhood.

people who want to immediately go to a religious discussion I tell them that they don´t really care about me, I am just more missionary bait for them, and when they get sincere and real, they can seek me out.

Bryan said...

Yes, Rev. Cares book is the best out there on Christian outreach to Mormons. From one Utah Lutheran pastor to another, very well said, Bror! They do need to hear the law in all its severity so that they are prepared to receive Christ and His forgiveness. We hope the Lord turns those two poor boys at your door to forgiveness and life before "outer darkness"!

Bror Erickson said...

Yes. Sometimes I cringe when I hear people extolling the door to door method of Evangelism. They tout the Mormons as being good examples. I don't think they are. (It has a pitiful track record for them.) Most people convert to Mormonism through genuine relationships. Very few because a couple teenagers knocked on their door.
I contemplate going door to door at times. It just seems so contrived though. On the other hand some evangelism, any evangelism would be better than none. So...
Though I do wonder how many people really enjoy having their day interrupted in such a manner for a religious conversation these days.

Bror Erickson said...

Yesterday, I had a couple guys in their mid twenties. The one kept asking me questions about the church. Not so much theology, just things like, can you get married etc. He kept referring to what Catholics do, so I figured him for a lapsed Catholic. Turns out he is a lapsed Mormon. Went on Mission etc. He said religion is stressful. He doesn't believe in God anymore. Asked me why I did. I pointed to the resurrection and casually let him know there was more evidence for this then that Ceaser crossed the Rubicon. I then told him I believe he was stressed out and run to depression by Mormonism, that many religions are stressful. But I don't see how mine can be stressful. How can "your sins are forgiven" be stressful? He kept probing for the rules of our faith. I pointed to the ten commandments, and shocked him by saying, but we use these primarily to show that we are sinners. We all sin. I do. He was shocked to hear someone so casually confess that he was a sinner. Again I pointed him to the cross. He went home with a copy of "the Spirituality of the Cross." Pray for him and his partner, who was also quite receptive to the Gospel. Pray for me that I might be able to continue to give them the gospel.

Brigitte said...

Glad to hear. Thanks for this thread.