By Eric Johnson
Over the years that I have studied world religions, I have found it fascinating to dialogue with the adherents of these faiths. So many times I come away with a better appreciation of each one and, in turn, find ways to better practice what I believe to be true.
For instance, from Judaism I have been challenged to have a deeper love of the Bible. Whole chapters from the Torah are read each Sabbath, and the Jews so revere the written word that they will kiss their personal copies of the scripture and then touch them to the scroll as the rabbi parades it down the aisle.
From Islam I learn the value of prayer. Five times a day the devout Muslim gets on his knees and face as he turns towards Mecca to pray to his God Allah. Such devotion to what I consider to be a false God compels me to spend more time worshipping the true and living God as revealed in the Bible.
Meanwhile, Hinduism and Buddhism have taught me to better respect my place of worship. Shoes are not worn in the temples of these Eastern religions-the same is true in the Muslim’s mosque-and the admiration both Hindus and Buddhists have toward their idols are obvious. While I don’t see any Christian church building as anything more than concrete, wood, and carpet, the idea of coming there to commune with God should cause the Christian to enter with an attitude of awe and reverence.
Just as I have benefited from observing these world religions, so too I believe that we Christians can learn important things from our Mormon friends. Although a person might question the motives of the Mormon when it comes to the points listed below, we must admit that the actions are certainly commendable. So here is my personal top 10 list.
10. Dedication to the heritage and the faith.
From a young age, Mormon children are taught about their heritage and the struggles that the early LDS pioneers faced when it came to living their faith. On the other hand, most of us Bible-believing Christians have very little knowledge of our history, including the conflicts and persecutions of the early Christian church. As a result, we do not benefit from the examples of our own past.
Being an exceptional Mormon is a high priority. Nominal Mormonism is frowned upon. There are certain expectations a Mormon must meet in order to attend the temple, a place where only “worthy” Mormons can go. To get a temple recommend card, a person is not only expected to attend regular services, but he must continually wear the temple undergarments, pay a tithe to the church, and not imbibe in social or hot drinks, among other requirements. To do this often requires the Mormon to pay a price in the secular world, as co-workers and neighbors can easily misunderstand the reasons why anyone would succumb himself to what might be considered a mundane lifestyle.
9. Overall morality.
While Mormons struggle with sin just like everyone else, they are generally well known for keeping a high moral codes and abstaining from a secular lifestyle. Faithful members are not to partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Remaining chaste, personal modesty, and being honest (along with the other commandments) are important virtues in the LDS lifestyle. Of course, there are hypocrites in the LDS Church, just like anywhere else. Yet we as Christians need to be reminded that one’s Christianity does not take a hiatus upon walking out the church doors on Sunday morning. Rather, our faith should influence our actions in everything we do.
8. Politics and religion mix.
The Mormon Church is willing to put its money where its mouth is when political issues warrant a moral response. Certainly not every member may like the conservative stance that the LDS Church takes. But it is admirable how the Church is willing to support those things it strongly believes in. When Proposition 22, which would have given special rights to homosexuals, came up in California’s Spring 2000 election, the LDS Church spent plenty of money and was quite vocal in helping to defeat this morally decrepit scheme. They rebuffed public intimidation and stood firm on their principles. Perhaps more of our Christian denominations need to understand that politics do not have to be separated from the Christian faith.
7. Organization in its leadership.
The LDS Church is a well-oiled machine when it comes to organization, from the top down to the bottom. When the leaders make decisions, there is no second-guessing allowed in its ranks. There is no friendly opposition in the LDS Church. This can be a negative, of course, since a laity that is not allowed to question what its leaders do can easily become pawns, opening the doors to spiritual abuse. This is the reason why Martin Luther was compelled to write his 95 theses. He felt the Catholic Church had overstepped its boundary of authority upon its people. The Bible does not command Christians to be blindly led like sheep to the slaughter. The Mormons also have of way of getting people involved. Assignments from those in authority motivates members to become an active part of their church rather than just an observer on the sidelines. In many cases these “callings” have compelled members to stretch beyond what they even thought was their own potential.
When it comes time to discipline or even excommunicate a member, the LDS Church is willing to follow through with its threat. If you are caught doing something that the church says you ought not to have done-i.e. adultery, heresy, not willing to be corrected, etc.-the local leaders have the ability to end your church membership. If you are officially excommunicated, you are prohibited from joining any other LDS ward in the entire world until you have demonstrated a satisfactory repentance. A person who is excommunicated in Christianity merely means that he must leave that particular church; in too many cases nothing prohibits him from going to the next church down the street, with no repercussions to the guilty.
6. Positive peer pressure towards missions.
Many Mormon young people look with anticipation for the day when they can leave on a church mission. For the males this is a two-year commitment, 18 months for females. From an early age LDS children are taught the importance of serving their church as a missionary. Savings accounts are often started at birth, and while many young Christians are saving for bicycles, skateboards, clothes, and cars, Mormon kids are setting aside their resources for their mission. Tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries serve each year, two-by-two, all over the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian young person were encouraged to spend two years of his or her life on the mission field? Perhaps many more career missionaries would be a result if short-term missions became a Christian priority.
5. Respecting Sundays as sacred.
Sundays in the Mormon Church are treated as a quiet day, a time to reflect and be with the family after attending the morning service at the local ward. Recreational and sporting activities as well as retail excursions are discouraged. At an LDS softball field located next to the Spokane temple, posted signs clearly prohibit anyone playing there on Sundays. While such a rigid rule can certainly become legalistic, the biblical mandate to have a day of rest is too often ignored by many Christians who live in a stress-filled, gotta-do-it-now/gotta-have-it-immediately world. We should not forget that the day of rest was created for the benefit of man.
4. Religious education for the youth.
The LDS Church is very concerned about educating its young people in the ways of its faith. First, the system is very uniform. What the LDS children learn in California is taught to another ward in Florida. When the child becomes a teenager, he is encouraged to attend daily before-school “seminary” classes at the local ward or stake center. Studies in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, church history, and doctrine are rotated over a four-year period. By the time the Mormon teen graduates from high school, he or she has been given a systematic overview of the faith’s basic beliefs.
For those who end up going on a mission, the training given at a Missionary Training Center is condensed, well organized, and prepares the young person to be effective in recruiting new members. Later, when the college years come and the young adult is challenged in his faith, he will have some possible answers to help him remain faithful to his religion.
3. Helping to supply the needs of the membership.
Mormons are known for being generous, even going out of their way to help their fellow members. Many times a group of Mormons will band together to help in a project that benefits another Mormon. The LDS Church also has a welfare program, with a food pantry available for members who are out of work or in a low-income category. The individuals are expected to give back in some form of labor, including volunteering at the Mormon-owned canneries or food processing plants. Truly actions, not words (“be warm and filled”), are what it means to be part of a functioning body.
2. Preventing members from falling through the cracks.
When a Mormon fails to attend the services of his designated local ward for several weeks, he is sure to be missed. Home teachers who visit once a month will try to find out if there are any problems and figure out how to remedy the situation. It is not like there is anywhere else to go, for the Mormon is required to be registered with a particular ward. While I am not suggesting that Christian churches should become legalistic nags in order to force its membership to attend meetings and volunteer for projects, perhaps the general idea of following up on those who all of a sudden are no longer there would fulfill the shepherd role that the church is supposed to have.
1. The importance of families.
And the number-one thing we can learn from the Mormons is (drum roll, please) the priority the Mormon Church places on family life. Certainly many Christian families are very successful. Yet few churches emphasize the importance of the family like the Mormons do; they even set aside every Monday evening for Family Home Evenings to play games, talk, do devotions, etc. I would stop short of saying that Mormon family life is utopia despite the image portrayed by LDS television commercials. But I do commend them for their efforts.
Conclusion: By making this list, I certainly would not want to insinuate that all Christian churches fail in these areas. And these are certainly not reasons to authenticate the Mormon Church. After all, each of the 10 points do not deal with doctrine, and the Bible is very clear that a false view of God, Jesus, scripture, and salvation cannot be overwritten merely by a positive lifestyle. Part of the Christian experience is how we live our lives. If we can benefit from observing others in the practice of their faith, then I think we can grow in our own relationship with the God whom we serve. As Dr. Walter Martin so eloquently stated years ago, “Are we willing to do for the truth what others are willing to do for a lie?”