by Sharon Lindbloom
14 September 2020
LDS scholar Dan Peterson noted in his August 31st (2020) blog, “Attacking Other Faiths,” that his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, differs from evangelical Christian churches in the way it approaches non-LDS faiths.
While Dr. Peterson does not define what he believes constitutes the “attacking” of other faiths, he does point out that exposing their errors is not done by his church, its subsidiaries, or (to Dr. Peterson’s knowledge) its members. He writes,
“It’s a matter of calm satisfaction to me that BYU offers no courses of the type that I’ve often seen in the catalogues of certain Evangelical Protestant colleges and seminaries (e.g., ‘Cults and False Religions,’ ‘World Religions and Christian Counterfeits’ and other such titles).”
Dr. Peterson goes on to note that he’s never heard of or seen LDS members “on the lecture circuit” talking about “escaping” another faith to become LDS; he’s never seen an LDS bookstore with a section called something like “Sects, Cults, and World Religions” like evangelical bookstores might have; he’s unaware of the Mormon church publishing pamphlets against other faiths; and he’s not aware of any website by any member of his church “assaulting any other faith.” Dr. Peterson says, “I’m very happy about this,” and many of his readers feel the same way, based on the comments they left on the blog.
Why Talk About Other Faiths?
While I don’t think it’s fair (or accurate) to call them “assaults” or “attacks,” it is true that evangelical Christian churches, schools, and bookstores offer detailed theological and historical information about counterfeit Christian movements and world religions. This material is provided for several reasons. In the case of Mormonism, for example, these classes, lectures, and books may be offered:
- In order to equip Christians to evangelize Latter-day Saints
- To provide a Christian defense against Mormonism’s accusations against Christianity
- To give people who are considering Mormonism a greater understanding of how biblical teaching and Mormonism differ
For those who may be struggling with personal issues involving Mormonism, books and lectures are offered:
- As encouragement for those who have loved ones that have left biblical Christianity for Mormonism (as they seek to understand, from an evangelical Christian perspective, what their loved ones have embraced)
- To provide information for those who have left (or are leaving) Mormonism and want to explore what Christianity has to offer (specifically written for an LDS audience with consideration for how Mormonism has previously impacted their lives)
- To provide hope for former Latter-day Saints (revealing that people have left Mormonism and found joyous life filled with deep and abiding faith in Christ outside of the LDS church)
I don’t mean to imply that these offerings are all purely academic in nature. They are factual, but some are also clearly critical of the Mormon religion. This is because criticism is a natural by-product when comparing and contrasting any given subject.
By way of illustration, consider Dr. Peterson’s blog post. His focus is on how the LDS church approaches non-LDS faiths. In his effort to point out the superiority of the LDS approach, he necessarily contrasts it with what he obviously believes is an improper approach – and criticizes evangelical Christianity in the process.
The Most Compelling Motivation: The Example of the New Testament Church
The so-called “attacking” of other faiths by evangelical Christian organizations has many good reasons behind it, yet the most compelling motivation of all comes from the example of the ancient New Testament church.
Jesus Himself admonished His followers to beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15). Later, the leaders of the New Testament church continued to proclaim that warning, and instructed: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Acts 17:10-11).
Followers of Christ were also told to stay away from false teachers. As noted by Christian pastor John Piper,
“To avoid them, you have to know who they are. You can’t avoid somebody if you don’t know who they are. This idea of identifying and avoiding shows up in 1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 John 10. In other words, Christians, and shepherds in particular, should be discerning and alert to behavior and teaching that dishonors Christ and destroys people — and not treat it in a casual or harmless way.” (“Should We Call Out False Teachers or Ignore Them?”)
Furthermore, the New Testament church was told to publicly rebuke “those who persist in sin,” (including the sin of false teaching), and expose their errors (1 Timothy 5:20; Ephesians 5:11).
The New Testament model of evangelism presents the apostle Paul and his companions repeatedly entering synagogues, often times on the sabbath, to “reason,” “persuade,” “explain,” “prove,” and “refute” both Jews and Greeks (see Acts 16-19. See also 2 Timothy 4:2).
Evangelical Christianity maintains that important aspect of the New Testament church, being committed to follow both the Bible’s mandates and examples. In the 21st century this surely includes Christian classes, books, and lectures that expose and refute false doctrine. Surely it includes websites and social media groups that discuss doctrinal differences. It even includes what Dr. Peterson describes as people “out on the lecture circuit” speaking of their “escape” from what they now recognize as a false faith, and “revealing the sordid evils” of it. Again, in the book of Acts, Luke records that
“many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.” (Acts 19:18-19)
Clearly, the New Testament church, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, fully embraced God’s mandate to expose false teachings and false teachers. The leaders of the ancient church did not see this as an improper way of approaching other faiths, but rather saw it as God intended: As a reflection of His great mercy. Consider the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy on being a good soldier for Christ:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
All throughout the New Testament God’s people spoke the truth to those who did not know God. These were hard truths, and often unwelcome to their hearers. But our merciful God used these truths to call people to repentance and to see them set free in Christ Jesus. It is the same today.
It seems odd to me that members of a church that claims to be a restoration of the New Testament church would express “calm satisfaction” and deep happiness over the fact that their church does not mirror the New Testament church in this matter. But of greater concern is this: When Mormons criticize the way God has directed Christ-followers to approach other faiths, these Latter-day Saints are not merely rejecting what they misunderstand to be mean-spirited “attacks.” They are rejecting the very grace of God as He sends His own people to tell Mormons the truth that will set them free (see John 8:32). They are refusing God’s merciful invitation to “Come” to Him (Matthew 11:28).
Thankfully, God’s patience is unparalleled (2 Peter 3:9, 15). As long as Latter-day Saints have breath, God, in His mercy, will continue to send out His servants to teach and correct their spiritual errors. God will wait patiently for them to repent, and to “come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil.”
Friends, “do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
“Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
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