The Experience with Doorstep Missionaries
What to know when talking with Mormon missionaries.
My roommate and I have recently had the opportunity to speak with Mormon missionaries. Neither of us had experience in this before. We didn’t know what to expect, but we learned some monumental lessons that will last for a lifetime. It’s my intention to share this experience so that we may know how to better witness to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This article will emphasize what the experience was actually like and not necessarily the hard theology; the intent is to better understand how to break the true gospel through to their hearts. This article will emphasize what to expect mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For Mormon church facts, history, evidence, and theology in contrast to Biblical Christianity.
Experience, Emotion, Truth?
We spoke with Mormon missionaries upon the request of a Mormon friend of ours. Our meetings consisted of the two missionaries, our friend, and her dad and it took place in our friend’s apartment.
Amongst the four Mormons we spoke with, all of them testified for Mormonism based on their experiences with it and a couple verse-references. They say, “I know the Book of Mormon is true, because of what it has done in my life. And I prayed about it, and God has revealed it to me that it is true.” This, to them, proved that it was true. Though a testimony could be a powerful witness, the Book of Mormon needs to stand firm in more areas to be proven true.
Does the Book of Mormon have the contextual consistency and literary diversity like the Bible does? No. Does it have the vast archaeological support for the events that were recorded like the Bible has? No. Is it consistent with scientific facts? No. Are there any geographical references in the Book of Mormon that are verified by our geographical knowledge today? No. Does the Mormon church preach the same, monotheistic God, salvation, Christ, nature of man or afterlife that the Bible teaches? No. How am I supposed to disregard these, and believe for the sake of someone’s experience? Our friends met a dilemma at this point.
I don’t want to step on toes by disregarding their story, but is there any other evidence that would make me believe the Book of Mormon to be God’s Word?
The Problem of Other Religions
They say (in more or less words), “I know the Book of Mormon is true, because of what it has done in my life. And I prayed about it, and I have had a burning in my bosom reveal this to me.”
So then where do I go when someone from the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses says to me, “I know our interpretation of the Bible is true because He has revealed it to me”? Why, then, isn’t the Quran true if Muslims proclaim that they have had a revelation about it? I have a Buddhist friend the possibility of reincarnation (Heb. 9:27). All these claims contradict each other; how can I decipher which is correct if I’m basing truth on personal experience? We know of people who claim to be abducted by aliens (no sarcasm here), and it was an experience that changed their lives – and they testify to its truth! Ought I to believe them? If not, why not? Is there some other evidence that suggests their inaccuracy?
The missionaries testimonies may be compelling experiences (though they’re all suspiciously the same: “I prayed about the book and God revealed it to me”), but it does not prove the Book of Mormon as authoritative Scripture. Their emotions were the foundation of why they believed, and we know this can lead a person into an unbiblical foundation for truth.
We, as witnesses, ought to remember a couple things.
1) Passion is not always validity for truth. There are martyrs who die for lies, people who protest for the wrong things.
2) It is not wrong to ask for more proof beyond experience. Ask, “What am I supposed to do when four conflicting beliefs were passionately experienced?” Mustn’t I reason via some other means?
3) Present the archaeological, historic, geographic, and scientific evidence that suggests, or proves, that the Book of Mormon is inaccurate and ask, “What do you make of this?” Regardless of his or her answer, it will get him or her to think about it later.
4) Remember to do these with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) as a chief attribute.
5) Don’t expect for them to get saved by the time you’re done talking to them. There is a lot more to this than just a quick theological lesson.
The Psychology Factor
If you want to witness to Mormons, this is a phrase you should understand, because you will hear it. The significance of this psychological factor must not be undermined; it ought to be understood by anyone who is going to meet with missionaries, or hopefully understood before becoming victim to certain feelings.
Many times, they told us to pray about the Book of Mormon with true intent to see whether it was the Word of God or not. This seems honorable, for everything we do, should be done with honest intent and godly gain. However, if I through research, study and prayer conclude the Book of Mormon is not inspired revelation, I am accused of being insincere or dishonest. So I am left with one of two options: proclaim that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God, or look like an insincere man. Backed into a corner, the easily-persuaded persons would give in to this psychological pressure. This is used in a subtle way by the Mormon missionary to convince potential converts that the Book of Mormon is the inspired word of God.
This presents an important issue:
Should Christians pray about the Book of Mormon with true intent to ask if it is true?
My roommate and I both prayed (in private, and at separate times) about the Book of Mormon, upon their request. Simply put, we both got terrible feelings upon this prayer. But the question remains: did we need to do this? Christians do not have to pray to God to ask Him if the Book of Mormon is His Word. Did you ask the Lord if Confucius’ proverbs were of divine inspiration? Is it necessary to pray to ask God if Mein Kampf is Scripture? God has given us wisdom and we can use that (so long as we use it righteously) to weed out false teachings.
And have these missionaries prayed “with true intent” over other religious texts to see if it were God’s Word? No.
Does the Book of Mormon not stand against any other test? Is it true that its validity depends upon this premise? Why must we disregard archaeology, history, geography, prophecy, and even centuries of interpretation by the church fathers and theologians for the whole 1,800 years prior to Joseph Smith?
“Ready to Hear”
Concluding the meetings, they told us that we were not ready to hear the gospel. They said they wanted to move on to people who were ready to hear the gospel, thus ending the meetings with us. I was shocked to hear that they categorized us as “not ready” to hear the gospel, which really seemed to imply “unwilling” to hear their gospel. It saddened us that they wanted to give up, but upon later reflection we realize how much that little criticism subconsciously ended all argument and conversation. No matter what we said from then on, we would already be categorized as “unwilling.” Within these boundaries, there is no movement because they will automatically discredit anything else we have to say.
We had to look for a way to break through that psychological barrier of being automatically discredited.
The Right Place, The Right Time… Right?
The Purpose of a Missionary
Coming into the conversations with the missionaries, I brought many questions for them. Some were hard questions like: “What do you make of Hebrews 7-9 with how the priesthoods were fulfilled and concluded in Jesus’ life in light of the Mormon Church claiming to have restored these in the 1830’s?” We also spoke extensively of God’s monotheistic nature verses their belief in a polytheistic God (essentially henotheistic – a belief in a chief god amongst many others), and also the difference between salvation by grace and exaltation.
But we had to stop there. Apparently, their purpose for meeting with us was not to defend their faith nor respond to our concerns, but to simply show us what they believe and offer an invitation for us to go to their church. They admitted this after the sixth week of meeting. Was this really all they’re going to try? If I had the true, ultimate light, I would try to shine it on everyone that was in the dark! If they had the light, they ought to be zealous to go to the furthest lengths to help save a person (our Great Commission)… right? I don’t think they cared about that.
We couldn’t move any further; we kept having questions, and this led either into circular arguments, agreeing to disagree, or interruption by the time. It saddened us, but for the sake of keeping these friendships we told them, “If that’s not your purpose here, then that’s fine.” How many times can you ask the same questions? Some of the facts against the Book of Mormon simply don’t have answers – and they never will. I did ask them, “Who could we talk toabout these things on the level we’re asking them?” We thought it would be them, since it is not likely that we would get many more opportunities to ask these sorts of questions to Mormons. “If not you, that’s fine, but is there anyone in the Mormon Church that can address these issues?” I have yet to hear if there is.
It is important to understand how much information you can get out of a person before they give up on you, and to stay within those boundaries until other doors open.
So was it appropriate to ask the missionaries why archaeological discoveries conflict with the Book of Mormon? Was it effective asking questions about deep theology? Was it appropriate asking them questions coming from an apologetic perspective? Was it wrong to read to them that their main contention about the priesthoods were not needed, were useless, weak, obsolete, and ready to vanish away as quoted in Hebrews 7:11, 18 and 8:13? The missionaries were not there to defend their faith (despite 1 Peter 3:15). They weren’t there to discuss conflicts betweentraditional Christianity and Mormonism; they only intended to tell us what they believe and then invite us to church. This was their duty. It seemed like they only wanted to clock in and out on the mission field.
When we get to meet with Mormon missionaries again, there are things I would do different. I would ask them if I could present probing questions (but do it from a peaceful, biblical framework). I would also be sure to take the offense more (but not aggressively). I would especially ask more external questions regarding the Book of Mormon’s formation and authority, the foundation of their church, and then encourage them to question its validity logically.
What do I remember next time I witness to Mormon missionaries?
1) Terminology is necessary to define, regardless how long it takes to decipher (salvation, the natures of man and Jesus, and the Father all differ greatly from the traditional Christian perspective).
2) I don’t have to worry about being an insincere man if I conclude that the Book of Mormon is not the Word of God; God has granted us reason, Scripture, and our very Earth to find His truths, none of which support the Book of Mormon more than the Bible.
3) As essential as these first two points are, this third is possibly most important. We ought to love them as our own brothers. Their church is so intertwined with support they get a lot of love in their circles. So it would be easy for them to view traditional Christians, Catholics, and other denominations as not as loving as they are (especially when they see a watered-down American type of Christianity). If anyone should show love, it ought to be Christians (1 Cor. 16:14).
4) The Bible has much external support (archaeology, science, history, manuscripts, etc.). The Book of Mormon does not. Present this evidence with citations, and emphasize the significance of these evidences.
5) Lastly, we must know that they will not get saved by the time we’re done talking with them. The missionaries are trained very well, and have a large family they would have to forfeit if they got saved and exited the Mormon Church. Sometimes the most we can do is be satisfied with just planting seeds and praying.
My prayer is that these Mormon friends of mine think about the issues we discussed and ask themselves further questions about the Book of Mormon. I pray that they start to read the Bible through new spectacles, striving for ultimate truth above all else. I believe seeds were planted, and I am content with that.