Friday, April 4, 2014

My Encounter with LDS Missionaries

I was really tired. I saw them approaching on bikes, and I figured they would smile, wave, and pass right on by. I was wrong. Instead, they stopped as they got to where I was (walking home from school). They saw I was wearing a backpack, had a book in my hand, and was over the age of 18, so naturally, the apparent leader of the two LDS missionaries said, “Hey, you aren’t one of those seminary guys, are you?”

I smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am!” After they introduced themselves, the leader (there’s always a leader, and a silent partner) asked, “What’s that book?” Great, I thought. How am I supposed to explain Swinburne’s Epistemic Justification on two-and-a-half hours’ sleep? Instead, I just explained that it had to do with the idea of knowledge, and religious knowledge in particular. They asked me how I could know something, and I explained that it was justified, true belief, and that God created us to be knowers, and so knowing Him was the highest calling of all.

It was at that point he started quoting the prophet Joseph Smith. I recognized the strategy; it’s what all “random chance evangelistic situations” call for, no matter who you are. Find a common point of discussion, relate to it, relate it to your message. I sensed an opportunity to try out a couple of my current areas of research. “I want to see what you guys think about this.” They nodded politely and showed they were listening.

“I know not everyone believes what I’m about to say—maybe you guys don’t believe it—but a lot of LDS people do believe it. It’s the idea that before Elohim—Heavenly Father—became God, there was another god before him, and so on and so forth back infinitely into the past. Many people, completely independent of religious thought, think there might not be able to be an actually infinite collection of things, formed successively. So, take moments of time. A lot of people think there had to be a first moment in time because for any moment you choose, such as this present moment, if an actually infinite amount of time has passed, then this moment should have arrived an infinite amount of time ago. But it didn’t arrive an infinitely long time ago, it’s now! So then, by the rules of logic, an actually infinite amount of time has not passed. But if an actually infinite amount of time has not passed, then there cannot be an actually infinite number of gods, like some of LDS theology would claim, and thus those conceptions are falsified. What do you guys think of that?”

The elders shifted uncomfortably. I interjected quickly, “I’m not trying to say you believe it, or to put something on you that you don’t believe. I’m trying to be fair.” They nodded. The leader said something like, “I don’t know what to think of that. I do know that I believe everything on, and you can go on there and read the doctrines.” (I knew this was part of the strategy as well—avoid getting bogged down in discussions and refer to the website) “As far as all that goes, I’m not sure.”

After briefly discussing my reading of an LDS philosopher, I politely moved to the Gospel. “If I died, how could I ensure that I would be with Heavenly Father?” They gave me a lot of religious language, most of which was identical to the Gospel. One phrase interested me, however. He said, “We must enter in at the gate….”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but what do you mean by that?”

“Well, I mean that in Nephi [edit: I believe this is what he said, perhaps not. I was tired!] we are told to enter into the narrow gate, to start on the path to Heavenly Father.” I don’t remember his precise wording, but it was clear the way to salvation involved works. I wanted to dig deeper.

“So, what would you guys say to someone who wanted to challenge you [since they had insisted one was saved by grace] by saying we are saved by grace, after all we can do?”

They immediately laughed (a polite chuckle, nothing derogatory) and said, “Oh, you’re quoting us now!” I laughed along with them. The leader started on a long explanation about how grace is central, but it is that commitment to Christ (which involves “all we can do”) that secures salvation. I said, in response, “There’s where we differ, and I don’t want to be mean or rude to you guys at all! In orthodox or traditional Christianity, what you’re describing is the doctrine of sanctification. It’s what happens as we become more Christ-like, in Romans 8:29 and that whole passage. If I don’t act in righteousness ever, I don’t have the right to call myself a real Christian. But in Pauline theology, as it says in Eph. 2:8-9, ‘Not by works of righteousness…’ oh wait, that’s Titus 3:5-6 [hey, I said I was tired!], so as it says in Ephesians, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest [or because otherwise] any man should boast.’ Both of those passages show faith and works as being opposite each other. The point of works, in James, is to show your faith, not add to it or be a part of it. The Gospel is through Jesus Christ, by grace, through faith, but not of works! And again, I am not trying to offend at all. But if I really believe this, if I really believe this is the true way of salvation, and I don’t tell you, that’s not very friendly or good at all.”

So I said I would think about what they had said, and asked them to think about what I had said, that what makes us distinct was the Gospel, and who God is. “There can only be one God—one Greatest Possible Being [I found this to be easier terminology]. For any Greatest Possible Being has the power to create anything outside itself [and indeed is such a creator], so there cannot be two, as they would have power over each other! Also, I know if we hashed out the details, you would say he is the only God ‘with whom we have to do,’ but it’s far more than that. And I know you say you have the Bible, so long as it is translated correctly. But no one is claiming Ephesians 2:8-9 is being translated incorrectly. But you guys have been polite, and I thank you for listening.”

After that, we parted company. They were nice guys. I didn’t expect to convert them. Who knows what they expected. I tried to treat them with respect (calling them “LDS” as much as possible) and blunted my criticisms in the area of rhetoric. My criticisms were not intended to show them how wrong they were, but to show them the God they needed was not the God they had, and the Gospel they have accepted is not the Gospel of the Bible.[1] We ought to be as loving as possible to these people, and not insulting, degrading, or seeking to beat them in a debate.

[1] Incidentally, LDS people should more or less believe something like this, because this was the reasoning that Joseph Smith was given in his vision as to why he needed to start a new church.


  1. Well done! I had a similar encounter with a young Jehovah's Witness a few months ago. He was sent to my door alone while the rest of his team waited in the car.

    I had never read their translation of the Bible at that point, so I didn't know where the New World Translation (NWT) differed from other translations. However, during our discussion, the Spirit kept leading me towards John 1:1. And oddly enough, I had him read it from the NWT. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was *a* god."

    I did remember enough of my one semester of Greek to know that this wasn't an accurate translation! But after briefly discussing that, I asked him who John was talking about when he used the term "the Word". He replied, "Jesus".

    "But I thought you believed that Jesus was a created being?", I asked.

    "That's right!", he replied.

    "Then read John 1:3", I said.

    "All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence."

    "So", I asked, "If Jesus is the Word, and the Word created EVERYTHING, then how can Jesus be a created being? Wouldn't that mean that he would have had to create himself?"


    For the next 20 minutes or so, I got to share the true Gospel of grace with this young man, until one of the older members of the team came to see what was happening and rushed him out.

    I actually did something that I've not done before or since... I actually invited this young JW back! Unfortunately, I've never seen him again. I can only hope that I put a large enough stone in his shoe that he finds the truth.

    1. Thanks for the comment, TL! Good story as well. That's all we can do at the end of the day--give them something Gospel-related to think about.

  2. What you have said, you said well and your guiding principles appear to have served you well. However, I must point out that not all encounters with LDS are as genteel as the one you have described. I wonder, is this the only type of encounter you have had with LDS or the only degree to which you have challenged their belief system?
    Having been apart of the Mormon culture for my entire life I am qualified to say that 1. Many Mormons (particularly leadership) are not as congenial as the young and tender youth they send to the missionary front lines. And this is a purposeful, tactical maneuver. 2. God uses more than one style of engagement to deliver His message exactly where He desires it go. Some are meant to be genteel, some argumentative, some defensive and some confrontational.
    The biggest mistake to be made by a Christian is to assume that there is but one way (primarily the genteel crowd) to appeal to this people. God knows exactly what each Mormon person needs and will deliver accordingly.

    1. Tracy, thanks for your comments! Depending on what we mean by "argumentative," mine was argumentative as well. After all, I provided them with such arguments! :) I knew, however, that being insulting won't work--at least not on any more than a superficial level, or God's working in spite of it. Now I'm certainly not suggesting that you are suggesting to be insulting. However, given the context, and what I knew their strategy was going to be, it was easier for me to present some challenges to their worldview, explain the substantive differences between them and me, and explain the Gospel of grace of the Lord Jesus. I didn't expect to convert them, but I hope that God will use it as he sees fit, and I hope they, in their hearts and minds, will think about it.

  3. Great work. I hope many other LDS friends out there begin to think about God and theology (not just what's on the website). I've had encounters that pretty much identically mirror this. And you touched on the major points I raised with them.
    1. salvation by grace alone faith alone not of works (this is - as you say - important)
    2. Impossibility of an infinite regression of gods. (Many LDS folk don't even realise this has been part of LDS history).

    Great work and great presentation of the Gospel to them. keep it up.


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