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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 14: How to Share the Gospel Effectively

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

In his tireless efforts to share the gospel with others, George Albert Smith followed this statement from his personal creed: “I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.” He felt that the most effective way to share the gospel was to look for the good virtues in people of other faiths and then, with boldness but kindness, offer to share the additional truths of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He related the following experience he had while presiding over the European Mission:

“I was riding on the train one day. My companion in the compartment was a Presbyterian minister, a very pleasant, fine gentleman, and when he gave me the opportunity to do so, I told him I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was amazed and he looked at me with astonishment. He said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself to belong to such a group?’

“I smiled at him and said, ‘My brother, I would be ashamed of myself not to belong to that group, knowing what I know.’ Then that gave me the opportunity I desired to talk to him and explain to him some of the things we believe. …

“There was a good man who had no conception of what we were trying to do. We were not there to give him sorrow nor distress; we were trying to help him. And as we talked the situation through I said to him: ‘You have a misconception of the purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this land. I am here as one of its representatives, and if you will just let me tell you a few things, I think you will feel better towards us.’ I said, ‘First of all, we are asking all you fine people over here to keep all the glorious truths that you have acquired in your churches, that you have absorbed from your scriptures, keep all that, keep all the fine training that you have received in your educational institutions, all the knowledge and truth that you have gained from every source, keep … everything that is good in your character that has come to you as a result of your lovely home; keep all the love and the beauty that is in your heart from having lived in so beautiful and wonderful a land. … That is all a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then let us sit down and share with you some of the things that have not yet come into your lives that have enriched our lives and made us happy. We offer it to you without money and without price. All we ask you to do is hear what we have to say, and if it appeals to you, accept it freely. …’

“That is the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Notice the strategy that Smith uses in his witness to a denominational pastor. First, he allowed the person to think that there is basic truth in his own religion. But notice the caveat: “All we ask you to do is hear what we have to say, and if it appeals to you, accept it freely…” According to this tactic, the message brought by the Mormon ought to be accepted if it “appeals” to the individual being proselyted. Typically, the Latter-day Saint encourages the recipient to follow the pattern of James 1:5 and Moroni 10:4 and “pray” about the Mormon message. If there is a positive “feeling,” then the assumed conclusion is that it must be true.

However, the Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one has a good feeling is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that is disproven. If Mormonism is not true, then it must be rejected, regardless of how much faith a person has.

Recently, I was talking to a Mormon who admitted that there is absolutely no historical or archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. He said that he was happy for this lack of evidence because it required him to have more faith. This is not the attitude that the Bible intends for us to have. After all, Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection was a historical fact, with many eyewitnesses. If it wasn’t true, then he said Christians ought to be the most pitied of all people. In the same way, I declare that if the Book of Mormon is just a fable, then those who trust in the LDS gospel should also be considered pitied, regardless of how much “faith” they might have.

Missionary work is most effective when we do it with love and kindness, not coercion or criticism.

Our Heavenly Father … has sent us, his representatives, into the world, not to drive or coerce, but to invite. “Come follow me,” is what the Savior said, “And I will give you peace.” That is what the Gospel teaches, and that is our ministry.

It is not the purpose of this Church to make statements that would hurt the feelings of those who do not understand things. This Church is not one that goes about criticising and finding fault with others, but in the spirit of loving kindness and the desire to be helpful, its representatives carry the Gospel message to the nations of the earth.

By saying that the “Church is not one that goes about criticizing and finding fault with others,” then perhaps we ought to consider the very idea how God warned the 14-year-old Joseph Smith about the Christian churches in chapter one of Joseph Smith—History:

“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) — and which I should join.

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’ He again forbade me to join with any of them.”

In fact, consider these quotes where Mormon leaders—all of them LDS general authorities— have gone out of their way to criticize and find fault with Christianity as they attempt to “carry the Gospel message to the nations of the earth.”

  • “The people called Christians are shrouded in ignorance, and read the Scriptures with darkened understandings” (Brigham Young, October 8, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:333).
  • “What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing; yet these very men assume the right and power to tell others what they shall not believe in. Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest of fools; they know neither God nor the things of God” (John Taylor, May 6, 1870, Journal of Discourses 13:225).
  • “…for I contend that the Latter-day Saints are the only good and true Christians, that I know anything about in the world. There are a good many people who profess to be Christians, but they are not founded on the foundation that Jesus Christ himself has laid” (Joseph F. Smith, November 2, 1891, [Stake conference message], Collected Discourses, 2:305. Ellipses mine).
  • “And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pg.269).
  • “Modern Christians, as part of their various creeds and doctrines, have inherited many myths, legends, and traditions from their ancestors — all of which views they falsely assume are part of true religion… Indeed, it would be difficult to assemble a greater number of myths into one philosophical system than are now found in the philosophies of modern Christendom. Except for its ethical teachings, so-called Christianity does not come much nearer the truth in many respects than did the Lamanite legends uncovered by Cortez and his followers, or than the Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology. A myth is a myth whether it parades under Biblical names or openly acclaims itself to be the figment of someone’s imagination.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 525. Ellipses mine).

In all … churches there are good men and good women. It is the good that is in these various denominations that holds them together. It has been my privilege to be with people in many parts of the world and to be in the homes of many people of the various denominations of the world, both Christian and Jew. I have been with the [Muslims]; I have been with those who believe in Confucius; and I might mention a good many others. I have found wonderful people in all these organizations, and I have the tremendous responsibility wherever I go among them, that I shall not offend them, not hurt their feelings, not criticize them, because they do not understand the truth.

While Smith said that he did not want to “criticize” Christians “because they do not understand the truth,” see the few quotes above to see how critical Mormon leaders have been in the attempt to help them “understand the truth.”

As representatives of the Church we have the responsibility to go among them with love, as servants of the Lord, as representatives of the Master of heaven and earth. They may not altogether appreciate that; they may resent that as being egotistical and unfair, but that would not change my attitude. I am not going to make them unhappy if I can help it. I would like to make them happy, especially when I think of the marvelous opportunities that have come to me because of membership in this blessed Church. Our ministry is one of love and forbearance, and we desire to do good to all, and to assist all to understand the plan of life and salvation that the Lord revealed in this latter day.

Perhaps this section ought to be circled and brought out whenever the disgruntled Latter-day Saint complains about Evangelical Christians who wish to share their faith. In fact, many Latter-day Saints don’t like it when Evangelical Christians knock on their door or attempt to hand tracts to them on the street. How often has it been asked of us, “Why do you care about sharing your faith with Mormons?” Here Smith provides the answer: Because we want others to find happiness, there is the desire to take advantage of “marvelous opportunities.” To our Mormon friends, please understand that the Christian’s desire (including those of us at MRM) is to lovingly share their faith with you. May this attitude be the impetus for future fruitful discussions.

We cannot drive these young people, and our neighbors and friends into the kingdom of heaven by scolding them and finding fault with them, but I want to tell you that we can love them into the direction of our Father in heaven, and by and by, perhaps, lead them there too.

Of course, tactics matter. For the Christian to merely criticize the Latter-day Saint will drive any productive conversation into the ground. The Bible says in Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love.” We need to make sure our points do not cross a line or unfairly point to the individual Latter-day Saint, possibly creating the logical fallacy called the “ad hominem.” At the same time, the Mormon needs to understand that when the Christian presents information that might be taken as criticism, it is meant to be constructive. Just as we shouldn’t be offended when someone rightly but discreetly points out that we have spinach between our teeth, don’t be so shallow that you become offended when your ideas are criticized. In other words, critique the idea, not the person. If each side would allow for their ideas to be laid on the table of discussion and to not take umbrage with criticism, it will be easier to get down to the nitty-gritty and determine which best correlates to truth.

That is our privilege. Love is the great power to influence this world.

We agree with Joseph Smith when he said, ““One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (History of the Church 5:499).  Brigham Young agreed, saying, “Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life—to receive truth no matter where it comes from” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 11). John Taylor appropriately said, “I think a full, free talk is frequently of great use; we want nothing secret nor underhanded, and for one I want no association with things that cannot be talked about and will not bear investigation” (March 2, 1879, Journal of Discourses 20:264). And Joseph F. Smith declared, “No man’s faith, no man’s religion, no religious organization in all the world, can ever rise above the truth. The truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 53). We agree with these presidents, by dealing with issues of truth in a spirit of love. May the truth prevail!

Let us who know, those of us who have a testimony, go forth day by day and with love and kindness unfeigned go among these men and women, whether they be in the Church or out of the Church, and find a way to touch their hearts and lead them into that pathway that will insure them a knowledge of the truth. How I pray that we as the servants of the Lord may have charity for mankind, may have patience with those who err, and in kindness and love go forward teaching the simple principles of the gospel of our Lord to the blessing of every soul with whom we come in contact.

To the Latter-day Saint reader, when was the last time you went “forth day by day” hoping to lead others to a place where they would be given a “knowledge of the truth”? I want to be honest, but I’ve lived in Utah for two years. Except for one visit to my home by a pair of missionaries, no Latter-day Saint—whether someone I know or a stranger—has ever approached me to try to share his or her faith in a verbal way or attempted to create a dialogue on the subject of religion. We do have neighbors who are very kind and have talked generally about the topic, but nothing that I would consider “teaching the simple principles of the gospel.” Since I am not a member of the LDS Church, I am curious if having the Latter-day Saints who read through chapters 13 through 15 changes the way they approach individual evangelism instead of just relying on the missionaries.

We need not be ashamed in sharing what we know to be true.

I feel sometimes that we do not sufficiently sense the importance of [the gospel], that we do not teach it with the earnestness it demands.

I agree completely. If our gospel is really the truth, won’t we do everything we possibly can to let others know more about it? To the Christians, let us be reminded that we ought to do everything in our power to tactfully but earnestly share the truth that leads to eternal life.

This gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, as the Apostle Paul declared [see Romans 1:16]. It is the Redeemer’s work. It is the only way whereby we may attain the highest exaltation that the Savior of mankind intended that those who followed him should enjoy. I do not say that egotistically, I say it with charity for our Father’s children who belong to other churches. I say it with love for his sons and daughters who do not understand, but he has commanded that we should say this thing. It is his will that people should know.

When Smith refers to the “highest exaltation,” he is referring to the idea that exalted Mormons can become gods. Consider some of the following quotes:

  • “Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-347).
  • “Intelligent beings are organized to become Gods, even the Sons of God, to dwell in the presence of the Gods, and become associated with the highest intelligences that dwell in eternity. We are now in the school, and must practice upon what we receive” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 245).
  • “Joseph Smith taught a plurality of gods, and that man by obeying the commandments of God and keeping the whole law will eventually reach the power and exaltation by which he also will become a god” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:98).
  • “Brethren, 225,000 of you are here tonight. I suppose 225,000 of you may become gods. There seems to be plenty of space out there in the universe. And the Lord has proved that he knows how to do it. I think he could make, or probably have us help make, worlds for all of us, for every one of us 225,000” (Spencer W. Kimball, “The Privilege of Holding the Priesthood,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1975, p. 80).
  • “Man is to become a God. The difference between the human and the divine is a matter of education and development. Gods and men are of the same species, and it is just as reasonable that God’s children should attain to the fulness of His spiritual stature, as that man’s children should grow to the fulness of his physical stature. The Son of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Neither need we, His sons and daughters, think it robbery to aspire to that glorious plane where stand God our Father and Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother. He has made it possible for us all to come unto Him and be like Him. He laid down His life to bridge the chasm and enable us to cross it over” (Orson F. Whitney, Collected Discourses 4:132).
  • “The Gospel is a plan for successful living—for progress toward Godhood.” (Mark E. Petersen, Faith Works! p. 139).
  • “The purpose of mortal life and the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to prepare the sons and daughters of God for their destiny—to become like our heavenly parents” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 1995, p. 7).
  • “We are charged with the responsibility of getting people out of their ruts and routines, out of their problems and their pain, out of their little arguments and ignorance and sins, and take them to the Gods – to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost – ultimately we are to take them toward their own Godhood.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Divine Companion: Teaching by the Spirit,” Church News, July 4, 2009, p. 15).
  • “The Lorenzo Snow couplet expresses a true statement: ‘As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become’” (Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, 1989, p. 134).

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord. I have never been anywhere that I have been ashamed to testify to these truths. I do not know why a man should be ashamed of knowing the truth because somebody else does not know it, especially when it pertains to the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.

Herein lies the problem. The God of George Albert Smith is different from the Christian God. See here.  The Jesus of George Albert Smith is different from the Jesus of the Bible (2 Cor. 11:4). See here.  And consider the differences of the Joseph Smith of Mormonism when contrasted with the historical Joseph Smith. See here.

It should not be considered boastful if we know the truth for us so to express ourselves. It should not be considered egotistical so far as we are concerned if we can say to our Father’s other children: “This I know, and you too may know it if you desire.”

I know that our Heavenly Father has spoken in this day and age of the world, that his Gospel is upon the earth, and while I would not compel any soul to accept it, I pray that we may have power and wisdom and strength to reach out after these neighbors of ours who do not understand the truth. Let us do our duty, and draw them into the fold of the Master, that they, with us, may know that he lives.

We seek to add to the happiness and goodness that God’s children already possess.

Here is Smith’s admission that he considers the gospel of Mormonism superior to the gospel of Christianity. When a Mormon says that he is a “Christian just like [the Bible-believing Christian],” ask, “Isn’t your church considered to be superior [e.g., contain more authority] than mine?” While the Mormons may hedge and try to make their faith equal, understand that Mormonism claims to be the restored church that returned the true gospel to the earth.

When [people] have asked me, “What is there about this organization that you belong to? What is it that you are so concerned about, that you send your missionaries all over the world?” I have replied sometimes, “We want you all to be happy. We want you all to rejoice as we rejoice.”

Thousands upon thousands of missionaries … have gone out into the world, and in love and kindness they have gone from door to door saying to our Father’s other children:

“Let us reason with you; let us explain to you something that we are sure will make you happy as it has made us happy!”

Mormons believe that their religion makes it possible so people can be happy. And Christians believe that their faith has the same effect. After all, John 10:10b says that Jesus came to give us a full and abundant life. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Bible-believing Christians must understand as much as they can about the Mormon religion if they hope to have intelligent conversations with the Latter-day Saints. Otherwise, we will end up talking past each other or even consider Mormon teaching to be no different than ours. Christian, be ready to give your testimony about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ made it possible so you can be free from your sins and realize you’re a forgiven individual, which is not based on your good works but rather the good work performed on your behalf by Christ. With this gospel, we may “know” that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

I remember, upon one occasion, a man said to me, after we had talked some time, “Well, from all I can learn, your church is just as good as any other church.” I presume he thought he was paying us a great compliment; but I said to him: “If the Church I represent here is not of more importance to the children of men than any other church, then I am mistaken in my duty here. We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have not come to find fault with you or to criticize you. … Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good, in order that you may be happier and in order that you may be prepared to enter into the presence of our Heavenly Father.”

Notice once more how, according to Smith, the Bible-believing Christian does not have complete truth. The Mormon is instructed to add to this truth, via the Book of Mormon, modern-day apostles and prophets, and priesthood authority.

… When we proclaim to the human family, as we do, that man has apostatized from the gospel, we are not proclaiming something that has not occurred in the world before. When we say good men and women have been led to do and believe things that are not correct, we do not say that in condemnation, we do not speak with a desire to wound, but we speak with a desire that men may pause sufficiently long to examine themselves, to see where they are going and what will be their final destiny.

According to Smith, the Christians before the time of Joseph Smith belonged to an apostate church. And as Smith says that Mormons do not intend to “wound,” so do Christians want to share their faith in love.

Oh! that we might be able to give mankind an understanding of our feelings, that they might realize that we do not desire to curtail their opportunities, but that they might feel that our hearts reach out to them in love and kindness, not with any desire to hurt. Our mission in the world is to save souls, to bless them, and to place them in a condition that they may go back into the presence of our Father, crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal life.

Ah, and that is the same attitude many Evangelical Christians have when sharing their gospel with the Mormon people. Understanding that we both have right attitudes—with the desire to share our gospel with others—is an important step to being able to have profitable conversations.

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