Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dialogue with Mormon Missionaries

I found this excellent apologetic piece over at CARM. Read it and be blessed!

One of the problems with speaking to Mormons about the gospel is that the words they use don’t mean the same thing to the average Christian. When Mormons use words like Trinity, God, Jesus, salvation, etc., they are not thinking the same thing as the typical Christian. This is a problem. The Mormons think they are speaking with true Christian understanding as does the average Christian. Only, they may use the same words, they don’t mean the same thing.

Let me illustrate this with a hypothetical dialogue that represents actual conversations I've had in the company of Mormon missionaries who were speaking to potential converts. I've been involved with many such conversations over 20 years and I offer this as a typical example.

I am aware that I can construct the argument to my advantage and that many Mormons will protest this as unfair. I do not intend this to be unfair, but an illustration of the difference between Mormon and Christian definitions of words.

There will be three characters, Mark a Mormon missionary, Peter the potential convert, and Matt -- that's me. The conversation is taking place on a street corner where I have stopped to talk to two missionaries speaking to someone (I've really done this many times.)

One last note: I’ve actually included real statements from Mormons I’ve dialogued with on my discussion boards, in emails, and in chat rooms.

The scene is a street corner in a local city. I see the missionaries speaking to someone and I join in.

Matt: Hi. How's it going? Are you talking to this guy about Mormonism?
Mark: Yes, we are. We've given him some literature to read and were about to explain what we believe to him. Are you a Mormon?
Matt: No. But do you mind if I listen to the conversation?
Mark: Not at all.
Mark: As I was saying Peter, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that there is only one God, that there is a Trinity, and that we are saved by grace.
Peter: That's great. I was wondering if you guys were Christian or not. I've heard different things about you and my preacher last year said that your church wasn't Christian.
Mark: Oh yes, we are definitely Christian. We believe in the same Jesus and God as you do. We believe the Bible is God's word just like you. Usually the people who don't think we're Christian don't know what we believe and have only listened to anti-Mormon stuff. But, we are Christian. We believe in the Jesus of the Bible, in His Father, and in salvation by grace.
Peter: That’s great. You guys sure sound Christian to me.
Matt: Excuse me, can I interject something here?
Mark: Of course, go ahead.
Matt: Peter, so you think they are Christian because they say they believe in one God, in the Trinity, and salvation by grace?
Peter: Yep. They are Christians.
Matt: Could I run something by you real quick?
Peter: Sure.
Matt: I'd like you to tell me if you think this is Christian. What if I said that I believed that god used to be a man on another world and he became a god by following the laws and ordinances of that god on that world. And, that when he became a god, he raised his wife to goddess hood. So, god then has a goddess wife. They both have physical form. And what if I added that they both came to this world and produce spirit children in heaven. These spirit children then inhabit babies during birth and that each of them has the potential to be like god and become gods of their own worlds? What would you think of that if I said it that way?
Peter: Well, I don’t know. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard in the Bible. I guess I’d have to disagree with you.
Matt: Okay, and what if I said that I believed that god and his wife produced Jesus and the Holy Ghost in heaven and that the three of them are three gods and that together they form the one Godhead known as the Trinity? What would you think of that?
Peter: Well, I know that isn't what the Bible teaches so I would disagree with you again.
Matt: Well, Peter, that is what Mormonism teaches.
Peter: No way… come on. It does not.
Matt: Okay Mark, is what I said true?
Mark: Well, not exactly. You've worded it in such a way to make it sound bad.
Matt: Okay then, why don't you tell him what you believe in your own words?
Mark: We believe in God the Father, and in his Son Jesus Christ who is our savior. We believe we have the potential to be like Heavenly Father and return to him one day.
Matt: Peter, did what he just said jive what I said Mormonism teaches?
Peter: No. They are different.
Matt: Which is true, Mark?
Mark: Well, there are some things that are difficult to understand and you don't just go telling them to people until they've learned all the basics. You’re taking things out of context.
Matt: I don't see why you just don't tell them the whole thing up front? Tell them you believe you can become a god and that there is a goddess mother in heaven?
Mark: Matt, I think you’re being very rude and contentious. I don’t feel the spirit of God here.
Matt: I don’t mean to be contentious. But I do intend to simply tell Peter what Mormonism teaches. Is that okay?
Mark: You don’t understand Mormonism. You are taking everything out of context.
Peter: Matt, you aren't serious are you? Where'd you get this information?
Matt: I got it from Mormon writers. Mark, you said you believed in one God, right?
Mark: Yes, we believe in only one God.
Matt: Let me ask you. Is Jesus a member of the Trinity?
Mark: Yes.
Matt: Is Jesus a god?
Mark: Yes.
Matt: Then that means there are two gods, right?
Mark: There is only one God. We believe in only one of them.
Matt: You just said that Jesus is a god. He with the father makes two gods. And also, isn't the Holy Ghost a god, too?
Mark: Yes.
Matt: Then that is three gods. And, there is the wife of Heavenly Father, right? That makes four. So, isn’t it true that what you are saying is that you believe that many gods exist but you serve and worship only one of them.
Mark: I do not appreciate the manner in which you are discussing this. I feel the spirit of contention here. I think we should leave.
Matt: My apologies Mark. I mean no offense, but I believe you are trained to respond in such a way that is misleading. I'd appreciate it if you would correct me and show me where I am wrong when I say something.
Peter: I'm interest in knowing what the truth is here. Can we continue?
Mark: I'd like to, but I don't like the manner that he is presenting this. It is degrading and insulting. Why don't you leave?
Peter: I'd like him to stay.
Matt: I apologies for being blunt, but I don't know any other way to get the point accross. We are talking about the fundamental nature of God. He can't be described in generic, vague terms. We need to know what you mean by the term "God" as compared to what we mean as Christians. I propose to you that they are not the same. You use the same words, but not the same definitions.
Mark: I disagree. We believe in the same God you do.
Matt: Well, I don't think so. The Bible says that God has always been God (Psalm 90:2) and that God doesn't even know of any other gods (Isaiah 44:6,8). In Mormonism, god is an exalted man from another world, right?
Mark: Well, technically that is correct, but there is more to it than that.
Matt: Like what?
Mark: For one, we believe in eternal progression and the right of God’s children to become like him. After all, the Bible says we are children of God and that we are to become perfect as heavenly father is perfect.
Matt: See, you are making my case for me. We don’t mean the same thing by the words used here. In Christianity, being God’s children doesn’t mean there is a mother goddess who’s married to God the Father and they produce spirit children. Instead, it is speaking of adoption (Romans 8). Also, being perfect (Matt. 5:48) does not mean becoming a god, but loving all people as God does. It is clear when you read the context of Matt. 5:43-48. Also, when Christians speak of God, they mean a single being called God, not one of three gods in the godhead. They don’t mean a god who used to be a man on another world and has a goddess wife. The beliefs are radically different.
Mark: Look. I think you’re rude and wording things to make us look bad.
Matt: How? Were you going to tell Peter here these things? Or were you going to tell him about loving God, believing in salvation by grace, and let him think you mean something different than you do? That isn’t right.
Peter: Is this true Mark? Do you guys really believe there is a goddess mother in heaven?
Mark: Well, it isn’t taught as official doctrine by the church.
Matt: But do you believe it?
Mark: .....Yes.
Matt: If it isn’t taught as official church doctrine, then why do you believe it?
Mark: It isn’t officially taught, but it only makes sense that if we have a Father, that we’d also have a mother.
Matt: Perhaps it makes sense on the human level. But spiritual truth is determined by the Bible, not by human feelings or logic. The Bible states that there are no other gods beside God. In fact, God says that he doesn’t even know of any other gods (Isaiah 44:6,8). Now, if he has a goddess wife, wouldn’t he know about her?
Mark: There you go twisting things again?
Matt: How am I twisting this? I am applying biblical statements to our conversation.
Mark: I think you’re rude and I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
Peter: No, please don’t go. This is very interesting. Matt, perhaps you could be gentler in your approach.
Matt: Mark, I apologize for any rudeness. I am not trying to be mean. Can we continue?
Mark: Since Peter asked, sure.
Matt: Well then, why don’t you state what you believe to Peter.
Mark: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints The LDS Church states that Jesus is the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, and the savior and redeemer of the world. How much more Christian can you get than that? I know, and I will know for the rest of my life, that the LDS Church is a Christian Church.
Peter: That sounds pretty good. But is it true that you believe God came from another planet?
Mark: He didn’t originate on another world. He’s eternal. We believe in eternal intelligences. God simply resided on another world before coming here.
Matt: But doesn’t Mormonism teach that God used to dwell on another world, as a man, and that he became a God through exaltation and is now the God of this earth?
Mark: Yes.
Peter: What?
Mark: We believe in eternal progression. We believe we are capable of being like Heavenly Father. We teach that as man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.
Peter: So you’re saying you believe you can become a god?
Mark: Yes, we believe we all have that potential?
Peter: But it doesn’t teach that in the Bible.
Mark: Actually, it does. The Bible says that we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Peter: Really? I didn’t know that.
Matt: Hold on a second. I already mentioned that that verse, which is Matt. 5:48, is not about becoming a god. It is about love. Mark, may I use your Bible and can we read the context?
Mark: Sure [reluctantly].
Matt: Here it is in the King James version. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
So you see? It is dealing with loving all people equally. Not becoming a god.
Mark: But Jesus said, "Ye are gods."
Matt: That was John 10:34 which is a quote from Psalm 82:6. In John 10:30, Jesus had claimed to be one with God and the Pharisees got upset with Him and wanted to kill Him. He defended His position by quoting Psalm 82:6. In that Psalm, God is mocking the religious leaders of the day who had the power of life and death over their subjects. God says in the very next verse, "Nevertheless, you will die like men." In addition to that, Mark, your own apostle, James Talmage says in his book, Jesus the Christ, on the bottom of page 501, that that verse is not about becoming gods, but about the improper use of power by the religious leaders... just like I said. Check it out for yourselves.
Mark: I suppose you’ve got an answer for everything.
Matt: Hardly, there is much I don’t know. But I do know that the Bible teaches that God said there is only one God, not more than one. Would you like to see the verses...
Mark: No, that’s okay. I think it’s time for us to leave. The contention here is too strong.
Matt: Well, before you go, I’d like to say one last thing. You stated that you believe in God, the same God that I believe in. Yet, you believe he came from another world and has a goddess wife. I don’t believe that and from what I see, the Bible doesn’t teach it. So, they aren’t the same then are they.
Mark: I suppose not.
Matt: Then, why would you use the same words we use to speak to some like Peter here? Isn’t that misleading him.
Mark: Time to go.
Matt: Okay, I’ll see you later I hope.