Some Mormons Coming to Visit

A friend of mine sent me this email.  What would you say?

Guys,
I was working out in my front yard when some Mormon missionaries came walking up.  I said, “So you’re on your mission, huh?”  They said yes and asked if i had spoken with anyone like them before.  I said that in fact I had taken a class on Mormonism in college and one of our assignments was to sit down with two missionaries and talk about the differences between Christianity and Mormonism.  I let them know that I am a Baptist minister as well.  Not backing off, they asked, “Would you be willing to listen to what we have to say?”  I said, “Sure, if you’re willing to listen to what I have to say.”  They said that they would enjoy hearing some of the differences between Baptist and Mormon beliefs.  So we set up a time to meet this Wednesday.  Any good suggestions as to where I should start or what approach I should take?
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13 thoughts on “Some Mormons Coming to Visit

  1. Take an open mind and ask open-ended questions. Directing the conversation with blunt yes/no type questions will only cause mis-understanding. There is a large amount about what Baptists beleive about “Mormons” that is misrepresentitive and vice-versa. meaning I am sure there are some misrepresented ideas about Baptists.

    Good luck and I hope you all learn something new.
    -D

  2. I think this is completely dependent on what your minister friend’s goals for the conversation are.

    Conversion?

    Nice conversation?

    Witnessing against those in error?

    Educating them on a few facts Mormons aren’t aware of?

    What?

  3. Well that question is equally flipped on the missionaries. What’s their goal for the conversation?

    To be honest I don’t know what his goal is, but in general he’d like everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as he understands it.

  4. The missionaries’ goals are fairly predictable since they are mandated by policy.

    To bear witness of the Restored Gospel and bring people closer to accepting it at whatever speed is possible or appropriate. How zealous and pushy they are about it depends on the missionary, but that is the assumption.

    Some missionaries are willing to engage in mere friendly conversation on the principle that it is “planting seeds” with people that may help advance the Restored Gospel later. Others are willing to talk just because they naturally like people, or other human impulses.

    But the assumption of conversion is always present.

  5. One thing that he needs to be aware of is that the missionaries may have very little theological training beyond what they learned while sleeping through seminary (which in Mormonism means classes for high school students). And they probably are even less familiar with what other varieties of Christians believe and may not be very aware of some of the vocabulary differences between evangelicals and Mormons. (For example, words such as “create” and “eternal” don’t necessarily mean the same thing in the two faiths.) In other words, the pastor shouldn’t expect a lot of theological sophistication.

    I’m not saying this to disparage the missionaries (and they are indeed exceptions). It’s just that their role isn’t defending the faith but introducing it.

    In terms of approach to take, I would suggest that he let the missionaries explain their beliefs in their own words, and that he assume that they are sincere in explaining their beliefs (as they probably are). More than once I have run across evangelicals who think they know what Mormons believe when in actuality they don’t. For example, when I have said that I believe Jesus is divine, the response may be, “No, you don’t.” That kind of response isn’t helpful for conversation. (Asking what one means by “divine” is fair game, however.)

    I also think the pastor should encourage the missionaries to ask questions of him. There are plenty of misconceptions that Mormons who haven’t been exposed to non-LDS Christianity have about what others believe. If he can’t solicit much in terms of questions, he might try something like “What do you think I believe about ____?” and see how well they understand where he’s coming from.

    Finally, I would say that the pastor should be honest with the missionaries about what his goals in the conversation are. (So should the missionaries.) If, for example, his goal is to get them to leave the Church because he believes they’re going to hell otherwise, he should be upfront about it.

  6. On the other hand, a lot of missionaries are eating, drinking and sleeping the Gospel materials during their ministry. So you can often expect missionaries to be a bit more engaged in the material than your ordinary lay member.

    While I was on my mission, I read heavily from the scriptures and ploughed through any faithful literature I could get my hands on. Talmadge’s “Jesus the Christ” was one, then “Marvelous Work and a Wonder,” and “Articles of Faith.” Read those several times and I’d recommend that any traditional Christian who is serious about dealing with Mormonism read them as well. The books are a bit in-your-face, but used to be part of the standard “missionary library” when I was serving back in the early 90s. I think the books are still available to missionaries, but they are no longer included in the standard “missionary library” package that almost all missionaries pick up while in the MTC. Perhaps this is part of the softening of position the Church underwent with Gordon B. Hinckley at the helm…

    Still worth reading though.

  7. I haven’t heard of a mission president that restrictive (although I’m not saying it couldn’t happen). When my son was on his mission (fairly recently), he could read anything that was published by the Church (and a few other things as well, although not many) and did in fact pore through some materials of the kind that Seth R. mentioned. And a few times he asked me some theological questions via e-mail.

  8. What I’ve learned is that the perceptions that many Latter-day Saints have of Evangelicals are in fact created while serving a full-time mission. What’s more, these perceptions are retained throughout the life of the Latter-day Saint, well after they return from full-time missionary service, and may influence the way a Latter-day Saint describe the beliefs of other Christians to members of the LDS Church, in meetings, in Sunday School, and to their family members.

    So, my advice is to think beyond simply this one time encounter. I suggest seriously considering developing the goal that the missionaries will leave the encounter with a positive impression that “We may have different theological beliefs, but I really believe this man is sincere and loves the Lord, and he honestly wanted to share his message with us with gentleness and respect.” I know some Evangelicals might think, “Well, that’s nice but sincerity is irrelevant. Mormons can be sincere, and they are wrong, so therefore sincerity is meaningless.” This is the wrong way to look at it.

    I know others might say, “No way, that isn’t the approach to take. This is your one chance to really open these missionaries’ eyes to the truth of Mormonism” (usually by trying to get them to jettison their unique Mormon beliefs, rather than devoting time to affirmatively sharing the Gospel). Well, such a person is entitled to that perspective, but I think the more effective, longer-lasting effect is to impress upon the minds of the missionaries (who may very well be future Bishops, Stake Presidents, Seminary and Institute Instructors, local leaders, etc. who in turn can influence scores of others) that Baptists love the Lord and worship the Savior in spirit and truth, and that this love extended towards the missionaries personally.

  9. I agree with aquinas. My attitude toward Evangelicals was first developed during the first few weeks of my mission when a Baptist minister told us “what we believed.” This consisted mostly of really poor anti-Mormon stuff. From that day on I considered Evangelical ministers to be my enemies, and that conversation only encouraged me to seek further affirmation of my Mormon faith and beliefs.

    Thankfully since then my attitude has shifted toward Evangelicals in a big way, and this blog has had a large part in that shifting. The ten rules of this blog are a strength to the type of dialogue that happens here. I wonder if your friend might be able to set similar rules for discussion with the missionaries. Agreeing to a set of standards for discussion could be very healthy for them.

  10. I think I agree with both of you. Glad this blog is shifting opinions.

    Sadly LDS missionaries also form a large part of Evangelicals opinion about LDS. Door to door tracting is not a very popular way to contact strangers. As for my friend, the young men did not show up and did not call to him know they weren’t coming.

  11. I never liked door-to-door either. Avoided it whenever possible. It was doubly damaging in Japan where people are unusually private and reserved.

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