By Eric Johnson
This might be the most common question I get asked in public by curious Latter-day Saints. They explain to me how they do not understand why I, as a Bible-believing Christian, should have any interest in dedicating my time to studying Mormonism (and witnessing to Mormons as well) when I have never even belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or believed a single LDS teaching. Some Mormons are trying to use this question as their “Get Out of Jail Free” card, presented as the perfect opportunity to discount anything I might have to say in order to steer clear of what they suspect are “anti-Mormon” motives I might have (i.e., “Bible-bashing,” arrogance, screaming, or just a plain old desire to be argumentative) .
However, I believe this question gives me a wonderful opportunity to provide three important reasons why I have devoted myself to studying this religion and sharing my faith with Mormons.
The first reason is truth matters, regardless of whether or not I was ever a Mormon. More often than not, I am told that “Latter-day Saints have truth.” I then explain that the doctrines of Mormonism are just not compatible with the teachings of the Bible.
This is a hard point for many Latter-day Saints to accept. Furrowed eyebrows and obvious disapproving body language often follow. I’m fine with this. I explain that my research has shown there is no other conclusion I can draw except that Mormonism and biblical Christianity are two different religions. If one is true, the other can’t be. I won’t go into details on every possible doctrinal point, but a discussion that follows could include any of the following:
- A different God
- A different Jesus
- No Trinity
- A different view of Grace
- The need for a restoration of biblical Christianity (i.e. the Great Apostasy)
- The requirement of temple work
- The hope of becoming gods (in their own right) in the celestial kingdom
Let’s be honest, most Latter-day Saints are sincere and believe those beliefs that disagree with their faith are, bottom line, wrong. They might blame the Great Apostasy or point to the many different denominations of Christianity that, on the surface, disagree with each other. Since I have beliefs that clearly contradict the Mormon’s view, it is impossible to say that we can both be correct on any of the teachings listed above. Based on my Christian worldview, I believe I must make it clear that I believe Latter-day Saints—as nice as they might be and usually are—are in desperate need of truth. This is why I am willing to forsake a possible friendship, for truth really does matter.
The second reason is I don’t want to see Latter-day Saints separated from God for eternity. This state is called “hell.” For many Mormons, counting the things they “do”—from getting baptized to attending weekly meetings to avoiding hot drinks to getting married in the temple (and on and on)—are important requirements if they hope to qualify a person for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. The onus is on their back. I sometimes ask Mormons where they would go if they were to die this very day. I am no longer surprised when they say the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms, as they know quite well they are not doing everything necessary to enter a godhood state in the celestial kingdom.
So often, Latter-day Saints tell me they cannot believe in hell while claiming that their religion does not teach such a “barbaric” or “cruel” doctrine. No, I respond, it does! For example, one church manual states that “the word hell is used to refer to outer darkness, which is the dwelling place of the devil, his angels, and the sons of perdition (see D&C 29:36–38; 76:28–33)” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 81). Since Mormonism teaches that one-third of all spirit children in the preexistence chose Lucifer and his plan rather than Jesus and his plan, these spirits were destined for hell (outer darkness)…just because of committing one sin in the previous existence. (“Isn’t that interesting that one sin got them hell?” I like to ask. “How many sins have you committed?”) If the Christian version of hell for a Latter-day Saint is unfathomable, then so too should knowing that at least a third of all spirits—which would be at least several billion in number!—will live in this state for eternity.
In addition, some church leaders have described anything short of the celestial kingdom to be somewhat of a personal hell because there will be an eternity of regret, as anyone in the lower two kingdoms of glory will never be able to be with their families throughout eternity. Yet when I ask Latter-day Saints where they will go if they were to die tonight, the vast majority admit they are not prepared for the highest kingdom.
The Bible describes a just God and lays out the reality for an eternal hell, as Jesus even said in Matthew 7:13-14 that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Notice, it wasn’t broad the road to life but rather narrow.
Many Latter-day Saints do not know that the Bible speaks of hell as a real place twice as often as it talks about heaven! Jesus explains how this is a horrible place marked by eternal separation from God. God takes no delight in having people spend eternity in hell. Even the Book of Mormon—called by Joseph Smith as the “most correct book on earth”—describes an “everlasting hell” where people will be bound forever (i.e., 1 Nephi 12:16, 14:3, 15:29,35; 2 Nephi 1:13-15, 2:29, 4:32, 9:10-36, 15:14, 24:9, 15; 26:10, 28:15-23, 33:6; Jacob 3:11, 7:18; Alma 5:6-10, 12:11, 54:7, 11, 22; Helaman 6:28; Mormon 8:17, 9:4; Moroni 8:13, 14, 21). Although they might try, I have never had a Latter-day Saint adequately explain how these many references are supposed to be taken as figurative rather than literal.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie used one of those verses and talked about hell when he stated,
If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned. If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls. This is why Nephi said: ‘And all those who preach false doctrines,…wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!’ (2 Ne. 28:15.) This clearly means that people who teach false doctrine in the fundamental and basic things will lose their souls. The nature and kind of being that God is, is one of these fundamentals (Letter to Eugene England, February 19, 1981, p. 7. Ellipsis in original).
He also said, “If we believe the truth, we can be saved; if we believe a lie, we shall surely be damned” (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 295).According to McConkie, it appears much is at stake.
Finally, Latter-day Saints deserve to be told about the possibility that their religion is leading them away from God. A person who disagrees with me is free to reject my message. I give the person that prerogative. However, even if I am wrong in my views, this does not automatically mean that Mormonism is true. It behooves each person to understand the pertinent issues and present as strong of a case as possible.
As a Christian, I am commanded to take the Gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28:19-20), even to Latter-day Saints. Romans 10 describes the person who is willing to leave their comfort zone and share truth with others:
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
A decade ago I chose to move my family to Utah where Latter-day Saints make up the majority population. Generally, Mormons are nice people who are very sincere in their faith. The way I see it, it is like a person’s apartment being on fire. If I believe this fire is real and have a good idea that it will destroy the apartment, would ignoring the situation be the most loving thing I could do? No, I think this would be the most unloving option, even if I have always lived in a house and never once lived in an apartment! Regardless, my first reaction would be to make sure that everyone is out before they perish, even if they want to ignore my warning. Once I was certain that nobody was left inside, I would try to find a hose and begin putting out the fire.
To do nothing when it is in your power to act is the opposite of love. In fact, not sharing with others what I believe to be true and keeping this to myself would be, in my opinion, more hateful in motive than a willingness to take a risk and face rejection or ridicule. I believe current and returned Mormon missionaries would resonate with this.
In Isaiah 1:18, God said, “Come now, let us reason together.” Referring to his Jewish brothers and sisters, Paul explained in Romans 9:2 that he had “great heaviness and continual sorrow” in his heart, even adding in verse three that he would have been willing to be damned himself if only they could be saved. Paul made it his priority to head straight to a Jewish synagogue in every city he visited, but when those doors were not open, he learned to shift his focus to the Gentile audience, as they became his adopted people (Acts 22:21).
What if my Gospel is wrong? I agree that this is a possibility, so I explain we should become familiar with as many truth possibilities as possible. In fact, I want the Latter-day Saint to share his or her truth with me. To compare both sides by sitting across the table and discussing our beliefs is the most reasonable thing two people can do. Ignoring the situation or resorting to name-calling are not healthy ways to determine truth. This is why heading to where the evidence leads is vital. As my friend Peter Barnes–a former Jehovah’s Witness for 3o years–used to always say, “Error will always run from truth, but truth will never run from air.” The more we lay out the possibilities, the easier it will be to choose the view with the best possibility of being true.
If you are a Latter-day Saint, you may believe that I waste my time in an evangelism efforts and should never attempt to present the Gospel to you. It is your prerogative to reject my message. And I promise never to force my view on you. But we should not disparage each other’s motives. I want to share the truth in love, as Ephesians 4:15 says, and present the Gospel to Latter-day Saints in order to “win as many as possible” (1 Cor 9:19).
It is my sincere desire to make available for all people a complete and full life (John 10:10b) that Jesus promises to believers. Even when we disagree on important issues, we should encourage cordial conversations and, at the end of the day, each walk away satisfied that we have done everything possible to lovingly share our convictions with others. I study the claims of Mormonism and share my faith with others because I love Latter-day Saints. That’s the bottom line.
For an article on why a person ought to consider becoming a Christian, check this out.