Chapter 22: Reaching Out with Love to New Converts and Less-Active Members

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

We have a great responsibility to minister to the individual.

We must look after the individual. Christ always spoke of individuals. He healed the sick, individually. He spoke in His parables of individuals. This Church is concerned with individuals, notwithstanding our numbers. Whether they be 6 or 10 or 12 or 50 million, we must never lose sight of the fact that the individual is the important thing.

We are becoming a great global society. But our interest and concern must always be with the individual. Every member of this church is an individual man or woman, boy or girl. Our great responsibility is to see that each is “remembered and nourished by the good word of God” (Moro. 6:4), that each has opportunity for growth and expression and training in the work and ways of the Lord, that none lacks the necessities of life, that the needs of the poor are met, that each member shall have encouragement, training, and opportunity to move forward on the road of immortality and eternal life.

This work is concerned with people, each a son or daughter of God. In describing its achievements we speak in terms of numbers, but all of our efforts must be dedicated to the development of the individual.

I don’t mean to quibble, but when Hinckley says that “each” is a son or daughter of God, he is referring to the preexistence, a teaching that is not biblical. For more information on this topic, click here.

Every convert is precious and is a great and serious responsibility.

I have come to feel that the greatest tragedy in the Church is the loss of those who join the Church and then fall away. With very few exceptions it need not happen. I am convinced that almost universally those who are baptized by the missionaries have been taught sufficiently to have received knowledge and testimony enough to warrant their baptism.

Hinckley can say this, but in recent years, it seems that more Mormon missionaries are baptizing prospective converts on the second or third visit. This is a much different approach from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who typically don’t baptize converts until it is certain that they will “stick.” In Mormonism, it seems that getting the converts baptized and registered into the church is a bigger priority than equipping them with the basic teachings of the Mormon religion. This seems to be especially true with those who have some kind of biblical background.

I received the other day a very interesting letter. It was written by a woman who joined the Church a year ago. She writes:

“My journey into the Church was unique and quite challenging. This past year has been the hardest year that I have ever lived in my life. It has also been the most rewarding. As a new member, I continue to be challenged every day.” …

She states that “Church members don’t know what it is like to be a new member of the Church. Therefore, it’s almost impossible for them to know how to support us.”

I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, that if you do not know what it is like, you try to imagine what it is like. It can be terribly lonely. It can be disappointing. It can be frightening. We of this Church are far more different from the world than we are prone to think we are. This woman goes on:

In the same way, many Christians have no idea how to support a person who has left the Mormon Church. In effect, the former Mormon may have given up almost everything that is important, including family relationships (even a spouse and children), social contacts, and even employment. There can be ostracization as a person may feel like he or she is in no man’s land. Atheism may be the next easiest step since, as the common saying goes, “if Mormonism isn’t true, then nothing else is.” We Christians should be on the lookout for these folks and do everything we possibly can to help them in their time of transition.

“When we as investigators become members of the Church, we are surprised to discover that we have entered into a completely foreign world, a world that has its own traditions, culture, and language. We discover that there is no one person or no one place of reference that we can turn to for guidance in our trip into this new world. At first the trip is exciting, our mistakes even amusing, then it becomes frustrating and eventually, the frustration turns into anger. And it’s at these stages of frustration and anger that we leave. We go back to the world from which we came, where we knew who we were, where we contributed, and where we could speak the language.”

Some individuals have been baptized only, they have not been fellowshipped, and in two or three months they say goodbye. It is so important, my brethren and sisters, to see that [newly baptized members] are converted, that they have in their hearts a conviction concerning this great work. It is not a matter of the head only. It is a matter of the heart and its being touched by the Holy Spirit until they know that this work is true, that Joseph Smith was verily a prophet of God, that God lives and that Jesus Christ lives and that they appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, that the Book of Mormon is true, that the priesthood is here with all of its gifts and blessings. I just cannot emphasize this too strongly.

Notice the emphasis in the last few sentences:

  • “This work is true”—of course, talking about the “restored Gospel” of Mormonism
  • “Joseph Smith was verily a prophet of God”
  • God the Father and Jesus appeared to Smith
  • “The Book of Mormon is true”
  • “The priesthood is here with all of its gifts and blessings”—of course, this is referring to Mormonism’s Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods

If I were to write this same paragraph as a Christian, here are the five or six things that I would emphasize:

  • That God created us to have a relationship with Him
  • That Jesus came to this earth, the God-man, and died on the cross before raising from the dead
  • That the Bible contains the doctrines and teachings that ought to be believed and followed
  • That salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works (Justification by faith alone)
  • That every Christian has the Holy Spirit and is empowered from on High (baptized by the Holy Spirit)
  • That good works are not done to make a person a Christian but are the result of being a Christian (Eph. 2:10 says Christians are created to do good works)

Hinckley’s gospel contains things that are not part of the biblical gospel, and that is a major problem.

Responsibility

This Church expects something of people. It has high standards. It has strong doctrine. It expects great service from people. They don’t just idly go along. We expect them to do things. People respond to that. They welcome the opportunity to be of service, and as they do so, they grow in their capacity, in their understanding, and in their qualifications to do things and do them well.

Give [new members] something to do. They will not grow strong in the faith without exercise. Faith and testimony are like the muscles of my arm. If I use those muscles and nourish them, they grow stronger. If I put my arm in a sling and leave it there, it becomes weak and ineffective, and so it is with testimonies.

Every convert who comes into this Church should have an immediate responsibility. It may be ever so small, but it will spell the difference in his life.

Of course the new convert will not know everything. He likely will make some mistakes. So what? We all make mistakes. The important thing is the growth that will come of activity.

I must say that the LDS Church does this well. Converts are often put to work soon after conversion, as they get church callings that keep them busy. While I think the Mormon may typically fulfill a calling as part of what is required to earn salvation, I think getting people involved in their church is a smart idea. In fact, I think that the Christian churches need to do a better job in getting new believers active in ministry opportunities. After all, the church cannot survive on the work of the pastor and a few members alone. Rather, the whole body is needed. It’s something to consider.

There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by coming back to Church activity.

There are thousands across the world … who are members of the Church in name, but who have left, and who now in their hearts long to return, but do not know how and are too timid to try. …

To you, my brethren and sisters, who have taken your spiritual inheritance and left, and now find an emptiness in your lives, the way is open for your return. … If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.

I think I know why some of you left. You were offended by a thoughtless individual who injured you, and you mistook his actions as representative of the Church. Or you may have moved from an area where you were known to an area where you were largely alone, and there grew up with only little knowledge of the Church.

Or you may have been drawn to other company or habits which you felt were incompatible with association in the Church. Or you may have felt yourself wiser in the wisdom of the world than those of your Church associates, and with some air of disdain, withdrawn yourself from their company.

I am not here to dwell on the reasons. I hope you will not. Put the past behind you. … There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Come back, my friends. There is more of peace to be found in the Church than you have known in a long while. There are many whose friendship you will come to enjoy.

My beloved brethren and sisters who may … have drifted, the Church needs you, and you need the Church. You will find many ears that will listen with understanding. There will be many hands to help you find your way back. There will be hearts to warm your own. There will be tears, not of bitterness but of rejoicing.

Hinckley commits the “either or fallacy,” also known as “false dilemma,” which says “when only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes.  False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices.”

In other words, if someone leaves the “one true church,” the idea many Mormons have is that either the person has been hurt by another Latter-day Saint or the standards of the church were too high for this particular individual. However, there is a third possibility completely omitted by Hinckley. What if the person discovered that Mormonism is not compatible with biblical Christianity? With the information so readily available on the Internet, the church is unable to hide its history, so from 2013 to 2015 it published “Gospel Topics Essays” as a way to explain away some of the difficult history, including Joseph Smith’s marriages to 30-40 different girls (as young as 14) and other women, such as a third who were married to living husbands; the admission that the Book of Abraham was not literally translated by Joseph Smith but rather it was done “spiritually”; and the fact that Joseph Smith used a seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. These were issues not understood by many Mormons until very recent years. The news can be disturbing for many when they discover that their church gave the appearance that these things were invented by the “anti-Mormons.”

These Gospel Topics essays have caused a number of once-faithful Latter-day Saints to abandon their Mormon faith. Unfortunately, many have headed straight to atheism. Our goal at Mormonism Research Ministry is to do everything in our power to get dissatisfied Mormons to consider the claims of biblical Christianity, as we want to present a Gospel of hope. The baby (Jesus) does not have to be thrown out with the bathwater (Mormonism). We like to ask, “I understand that men (i.e the LDS leadership) failed you, but what did Jesus ever do to you?” At the very least, we ask the Latter-day Saint to consider the biblical Christian faith. Consider the evidence and determine if Christians have a good reason to believe the way they do.

If you are a Latter-day Saint who has “drifted” or is thinking about leaving, would you please contact us? We would love to help. Our email address is contact at mrm dot org.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.