Dealing with “Contention”

By Eric Johnson

 I’m sure many regular readers of our site have had face-to-face dialogues with Latter-day Saints when, all of a sudden, the Mormon stops talking. This person may even get agitated, perhaps not liking a particular point made by the Christian. The Mormon’s goal may be to end the conversation, so at this point, 3 Nephi 11:29 in the Book of Mormon is often utilized. It says, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

Is this the end of your conversation? And is there anything you can do to revive it?

The next time the Mormon tries this tactic, consider asking, “Before you leave, would you please look up 1 Nephi 14:10? What does it say?” How harmful can looking up a verse in this important LDS Standard Work be? After all, this is an opportunity for the Mormon to quote from the scripture that Joseph Smith once called “the fullness of the everlasting gospel.” Smith even insisted that “a man could get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.”

First Nephi 14:10 says,

“And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the bother is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.”

There’s plenty of evidence that Mormon leaders in the past have shied away from directly pointing to churches outside the LDS Church as belonging to the “church of the Devil.” Still, this is a good time to ask the following question: “Of these two churches, which one would you say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is associated?” Nine times out of ten, the faithful Mormon will immediately reply, “The Church of the Lamb of God.” Then ask, “Would you consider me a member of this Church of the Lamb of God? Or would I belong to the Church of the Devil?”

Remember, your conversation must have been upsetting to the Mormon because he/she just threatened to walk away. The many differences between your faith and theirs might have been upsetting. For the Mormon at this point to flippantly say that you belong to the church of the Lamb of God would mean that your view of water baptism (efficacious even if performed by someone outside of LDS authority), your denial of Joseph Smith as a genuine prophet, and your belief in justification before the all-holy God by grace through faith alone and not by having work done in the LDS temple are all somehow legitimized.

At the same time, you have placed the Mormon in a politically incorrect situation. While he doesn’t feel that you are a member of the church of the Lamb of God, he may feel uncomfortable telling you that you belong to the church of the Devil. However, this didn’t stop BYU professor Kent B. Jackson from explaining,

“Since whoever does not belong to ‘the church of the Lamb of God’ belongs to ‘the church of the devil,’ as Nephi announced, then all systems of worship outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be classified as ‘the church of the devil’ by Nephi’s definition” (“‘Watch and Remember’: The New Testament and the Great Apostasy,” John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 1:87).

If the Mormon is going to accept 1 Nephi 14:10 to be scripture, Nephi’s words must be properly interpreted. According to the verse, there are only two churches.  If a person has not aligned with the Mormon Church and instead openly opposes its teachings, then that person has denied the essentials of the Mormon religion. The logic for this approach, which reflects on what is called the law of the excluded middle, is quite straightforward. It says:

  1. If I belong to the Church of the Lamb of God, I do not belong to the Church of the Devil.
  2. If I belong to the Church of the Devil, I do not belong to the Church of the Lamb of God.
  3. I cannot belong to both the Church of the Lamb of God and the Church of the Devil.
  4. I do not belong to the Church of the Lamb of God.
  5. Therefore, I belong to the Church of the Devil.

As difficult as it might be, the Mormon has no choice but to classify any such person who rejects Mormonism as belonging to the church of the Devil. Press the point by reminding the Mormon that this person is you.

Now consider what God supposedly told Joseph Smith in D&C 18:20: “Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.” According to the LDS God, a defense of the faith needs to be made by the Mormon against those who belong to “the church of the devil.”  In fact, remind the Mormon that Jude 1:3 in the Bible says how Christians are “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.“ Remember, Christian, that while we are commanded to “contend” for the faith, we must do so in a way that epitomizes both “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16). While disagreements are certain, never aim personal barbs against the opponent. As Colossians 4:6 commands, “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…”

Hopefully this tactic will help you continue your discussion rather than have it end so suddenly.

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