*note: names in this article have been changed for the privacy of some individuals
The Men in Black
It was a cold and rainy October afternoon in Central Pennsylvania. My wife was getting ready upstairs and our two boys who were only four and three were playing in our small sunroom. I looked outside to see if the rain had let up at all. It hadn’t. Rain water was rushing down both sides of our street and formed a large pool around the sewer drain. What I missed as I was looking out the window was the person walking up to our front door. Almost as soon as I turned away from the window, I heard three loud knocks on our screen door. Almost everyone who came to our house entered through our backdoor. Immediately our boys looked through the sunroom window and shouted, “Someone’s at the door!”. I looked back out through the same window I had just looked out and saw an individual wearing black shoes, black pants, and a large black coat with their hood up over their head standing at our screen door. They knocked again. This time it was a little louder. Now, a second individual in the same black shoes, pants, and coat was quickly walking up towards the door as well. I looked back and the Nissan Rogue they were driving was still running. Who could this be?
I told the boys to stay in the sunroom and I opened our front door that lead out to a small mudroom where the two individuals were standing at our screen door with their heads facing down. As I unlocked the screen door, their heads popped up and greeted me with a smile. I opened the door and the first person said to me, “Hi, I’m Elder Manard and this is Elder Pierce. We are missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints.” Before they could continue any further I said, “Hi guys, come on in and get out of the rain.” They politely entered our mudroom and as they took down the hoods from their coats, water just trickled down off of them. The first elder continued, “So we are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints and we would love the opportunity to share with you the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Could we set up a time to meet?”
Now, to give a little context, the previous Sunday morning, I was talking with my good friends Jake and Laura (those are actually their real names) before Sunday School. They were telling me how Mormon (LDS: Latter Day Saints) missionaries had knocked on their door and wanted to share this restored gospel of Jesus Christ with them too. So the topic of Mormons was somewhat fresh on my mind.
Jumping back to my mudroom with Elders Manard and Pierce, I said, “I would love to guys, but we are getting ready to head out for the night.” “No problem!” they replied, “Can we get your phone number and we can text you to work out a time?” We quickly exchanged numbers and they went on their way.
As they left, a few thoughts quickly went through my head. Mainly, “Good, I’ve not really had the chance to witness to people of a different faith and since I know a little about Mormonism, I’ll be able to quickly point out the flaws in their beliefs and they will see how ridiculous it is and convert to the real gospel!
Later that evening, I got a text from Elder Manard asking when we would be able to meet. We set up a time and I quickly got to work researching LDS beliefs and what was wrong with their religion.
Our First Meeting with the Mormon Missionaries
By the time we met, I felt I was armed with every battle weapon needed to dismantle the LDS faith and win these young men over for Christ. The conversation started out as a simple, “Where are you from originally?” to “How long have you been on your mission?” and the whole time I was rehearsing the lie they believed and the truth I had to prove it was wrong. After about 10 minutes we finally got down to business. “Have you heard about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?” asked Elder Manard. My goal was to lead them on that I didn’t know as much as I did so I responded, “I know a little bit, but let’s start from the beginning.
As they began to teach on their beliefs of the Great Apostasy and why the gospel needed to be restored in the latter days and how Joseph Smith came to translate the Golden Plates of Moroni, I was hearing so many things that went against what I believed it was hard to keep track. There was The Book of Mormon, the priesthood, the Spirit World, the Pre-Existence, our ultimate goal was happiness among other things, but none of them went with the couple of ‘got -ya’ facts that I had researched. My wife and I began to ask a few questions, pointing out differences from what we believed. The elders were very responsive, and agreed that they believed most of what we believed even thought I felt most of what they said wasn’t what I believed. Maybe I didn’t really understand them. Maybe we weren’t as different as we thought?
Elder Pierce then said they had to get going because they had another meeting and asked if we would be willing to read some of the Book of Mormon. We said sure, and they provided each of us with a Book of Mormon and gave us the assignment of reading 1 Nephi and we scheduled a second meeting.
After they left, my wife and I looked at each other with the thought of, “That was not what we were expecting.” I vowed that the next time they came over I was going to lay out what I had researched.
Let’s Try This Again
A few days later Elder Manard and Pierce came back to our house. It was a nice, crisp fall evening.. They were still dressed in the same black shoes and pants with a white shirt and a tie. Oh and I can’t forget the name tag which read “Elder Manard” under smaller font that read, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”. They sat down at our kitchen table and quickly asked us about our reading. If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon then you might be surprised to know that it doesn’t contain a whole lot that directly contradicts the Bible on the surface. We talked through how Lehi and his sons left Jerusalem and received prophetic revelation from God. The revelations they received were very similar to those that prophets in the Bible received. Repent of your sin and turn to God. Don’t live according to the flesh. Don’t worship false idols. Nothing that seemed like we would disagree on. As they did the last time we met, they asked us if we had any questions about our reading. Since I didn’t, I felt it was a good opportunity to get right into proving the LDS faith wrong.
A Conviction That Wasn’t Expected
What happened next caught me totally off guard. As our conversation went on and got into a little more detail, I felt myself not being able to communicate the differences between our beliefs and how those differences made major theological and doctrinal differences. We were using the same words and they kept saying, ‘Yep, that’s what we believe too’. I kept thinking to myself, “But that’s not what that website I found told me they believed.” I could feel tension forming in my heart. I was now feeling myself trying to win the argument and couldn’t care less about his heart. My comments and questions began to become more personal because I couldn’t articulate my beliefs. How was this happening? I’m one of my church’s Sunday School teachers. I looked up all the arguments. I knew that their gospel was false, so why couldn’t I communicate it to them? I was convicted by the Spirit that I needed to work on evangelizing.
Fortunately Elder Pierce looked at his watch and said they needed to get going. They again asked if we would continue reading and we agreed.
Putting Our Consumption Into Practice
So what aren’t most Christians ready for? To have a loving and drawn out conversation about what it is we believe, why we believe it, and how it differs from other religions. We hear the gospel (hopefully) every week. We attend classes and Bible studies. We sing worship songs that contain truths about God. We read our daily devotions. With all that, why would I suggest most Christians aren’t ready to defend their faith? Well, because we have turned into consumers who have turned on auto-pilot. We struggle to see how our doctrines connect, where they come from and how to lovingly examine what someone else believes and compare it to what we believe. We tend to believe what we know because our pastor preaches about it and sometimes we take good notes.
Over the last 3 years as my wife and I have been able to witness to almost 20 different Mormon missionaries I have to admit, I’ve had to really study and get to know not just what I believe, but how I got to those beliefs. I’m not saying being gathered around Christians is a bad thing, but we also need to be gathering with non-believers and sharing the gospel with them too. Have we gotten too comfortable? When was the last time we have a gospel conversation with non-believers? Or one that didn’t end in a shouting match? Consuming more information isn’t a bad thing as long as we are putting it to practice. How much are we actually putting to use on a daily basis? If our answer is ‘not much’, maybe our focus should shift.