I have written the following account because it will be helpful to have the reader witness a Mormon/Christian dialogue as if they were there first hand. Talking with Mormons can be intimidating for some people because they aren't exactly sure what to say when a Mormon appears to speak Biblically. I have attempted to be as accurate as I could, while at the same time condensing the entire conversation. Be blessed as you see how the truth of God prevails against the lies of the devil.
A REAL FIND
Bob walked into the bookstore with a determined look on his face.
"You won't believe what I've discovered!", he said with a grin. Brad and I looked up from our Bibles and awaited the interesting news.
"I just had breakfast with a friend at great little place over in Richmond... it's a real find, their breakfasts are to die for!... but that's besides the point... Well get this: as we were finishing up our meal and enjoying pleasant conversation, about half a dozen Mormon missionaries came walking through the door! Of course, I couldn't resist making a comment: 'What's this? General Conference?' They laughed and told me that there were even more of them coming. No sooner had they said that, three more missionaries followed through the door."
"Really...", I exclaimed, "What's was the occasion?"
Bob smiled, "Well that's what I had to find out. It turns out that every Thursday at this place the owners give the missionaries a free lunch, and they come, and I don't blame them!"
My eyes shot over to meet Brad's. We were both thinking the same thing.
"Do you suppose they will be back next week?" I asked.
"I don't see why not...", Bob's eyebrows gave an inquisitive look, "Why?"
"Bob, would you like to have lunch with me next Thursday...", I grinned, "with a group of Mormon missionaries?"
Both Bob and Brad perceived the opportunity. We proceeded to plan going back to the restaurant about the same time next week to see if we could engage the Mormon missionaries in discussion. It was decided, and Bob and I agreed to meet next week to take an expeditionary trip to Richmond.
IT'S ALL ABOUT SPONTANEITY
The restaurant was classic Americana. It was small enough to feel like a house visit, and old fashioned enough that I felt like I took a step back into the 1950's. Bob and I arrived early and ate our lunch, enjoying each others company. Some time went by and it looked like the missionaries were not going to show.
"Regardless, it was a nice time spent...", I started to say, but before I could finish saying it the door pushed open and in strolled four missionaries, dressed to kill. My heart jumped, and I saw a smile come across Bob's face. The the door opened again and two more walked in. As they saluted the owners, I thought to myself, 'So we will indeed get our chance to talk with them; now how are we going to get in conversation?' I was aggressively turning it over in my mind.
"Eli, you think to much", Bob said with a laugh, "Don't worry. It's all about spontaneity. Follow me!" Without warning, Bob stood up and made a move for their table. 'Oh no', I thought to myself, 'What is Bob going to do...'
Bob approached the missionaries who had just given the waitress their order. With a loud voice that only a retired L.A. deputy could have, for all the restaurant to hear, Bob boomed. "So what are you guys up to?" They looked up surprised. "We are missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints", the first missionary answered smoothly. Bob nodded, "So you're here to fill up the tank, huh?" They laughed, and Bob continued to break the ice with his light-hearted humor. At last he became serious and asked them, "Well guys, we have some questions that we'd like to ask you. Would it be too much trouble to meet with you after you're done eating, to talk?" The missionaries smiled pleasantly and unanimously replied, "Pull up some chairs and talk with us now, we don't mind!" We couldn't resist the invitation.
After the introductions I decided to pick it up from there.
"So how long have you guys been on your missions?" I asked. Most of the six had been on their mission for 20 months of the prescribed 24, which meant they were nearly finished, and that we had stumbled upon some 'veterans'. One of them was nine months in. They told me that they were representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ, and traveled about sharing the gospel and encouraging the faith of the faithful.
My first question came as a bit of a surprise to them: "Do you believe that Jesus Christ was perfect; that He never sinned?"
"Oh yes!", one elder quickly responded. "Jesus Christ was the only one who was perfect, because He fully obeyed the Father in all things."
"That's right", I replied, "and would you agree therefore that Christ was the very embodiment of the law, since He fulfilled it perfectly and never broke any of God's commands? That is, if we were to look at Jesus, we would see what it actually looks like for a man to obey God?"
They all nodded thoughtfully, "Yes, I suppose that is definitely true. He is our greatest example."
"So really," I said, "the moral standard of Christ is equivalent to the moral standard of the law. They are one and the same thing. If you are keeping God's commandments then you will look like Jesus, since He is the picture of obedience."
"Very true." One missionary mused. "I hadn't thought of it like that before."
By this time their food had arrived and they were all munching happily. My second question then followed.
"What would you guys say is the Biblical definition of sin?"
They paused for a moment, then one missionary who hadn't yet said anything answered. "I would say sin is anything that is contrary to God's commands." The rest of the group gave their approval. "We sin when we don't do what God wants us to do, or when we do something that God doesn't want us to do."
"Yes," I agreed, "the Bible says in 1 John 3:4 that sin is transgression of God's law, and since Jesus never sinned, He never transgressed God's law. Do you guys think that you have sinned? Do you think that you are like Jesus?"
"Of course not," one quickly remarked. "Everybody sins, and nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes, and God knows that. But He sees our hearts... He knows we try to do good but fail."
"Ah, but why do we sin?" I asked.
A missionary sitting to my left flipped open the Book of Mormon and turned to a passage. "The Book of Mormon says that 'the natural man is an enemy of God, and has been since the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.'"
"Interesting," I said, "The Bible also speaks of the natural man, and that he is an enemy of God, but it says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that 'the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he' by the very fact that he is an enemy of God. Have you ever thought of yourselves as enemies of God?"
I pressed further. "The Bible doesn't say that we are mistakers... it says that we are sinners; enemies of God who have chosen to sin and disobey God because we only love ourselves and actually hate God."
The missionaries looked a little stunned.
"Doesn't even the Book of Mormon say that God does not give us any commandments unless we are able to fulfill them?" They nodded. "Then according to the Book of Mormon, the only deciding factor as to whether you sin or not is your own willful choice. A sin is a sin, not a mistake."
They had to agree. "Yes, but this is why Jesus came and gave us the atonement," said a missionary who was looking a bit uncomfortable. "Through the atonement we can be made right with God again."
I concurred, but my next question was pointed: "Tell me, how does a person receive the atonement?"
JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE
The missionary sitting right next to me smiled and gladly began to expound the Mormon 'plan of salvation'. "Well first, "he said, "you have to have faith. Then, through faith you must repent of all your sins, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, and endure to the end. If you do all these you will receive forgiveness of sins."
I noticed there wasn't anything about Jesus in his plan of salvation, but I proceeded to ask him, "Could you define repentance?"
He went on to explain how repentance was a multi-step process. First, you must feel sorry for your sin. Second, you must make full restitution for that sin. Third, you must promise never to sin that sin again. And lastly, you must forsake that sin and never do it again.
"So," I inferred, "unless all steps are completed, repentance has not been accomplished."
"Correct," he replied, "If you only do steps 1-3 but you don't do step 4, you have not repented at all."
The next question was obvious. I turned to the whole group of six missionaries sitting there and asked them all plainly, "Guys, have you repented of all your sins, as your plan of salvation requires?" The silence at the table was painful.
"Well... no." One said, looking downward. "But I'm trying... and it's a process."
At this I remarked, "Elder F., did you know that the idea of 'trying' is nowhere to be found in the Bible? Trying has to do with what you do; salvation is all about what Christ did. Neither does the Bible speak of salvation as a process, but as an event. 2 Corinthians 6:2 says this: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Salvation is something you receive as a gift, not something you work for."
"In Ephesians 2:8, 9 and 10, it tells us that "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." If we could earn our salvation, then we would have something to boast about, but God has ordained that salvation is by grace, which means it is something that none of us can merit."
"If I were to give a birthday gift to Elder B. here, what would happen if I told him he had to help me pay for it? Why, it would cease to be a gift! A gift is free... but not because it didn't cost anything. A gift costs the receiver nothing, but it costs the giver something. Salvation cost the sinner nothing, but it cost God everything: the death of His only begotten Son. All we have to do is receive God's gift of forgiveness and new life by faith: simply believing it to be so."
Suddenly one of the missionaries objected: "But faith without works is dead!"
"Okay," I replied, "then have you repented?"
He had nothing to say in response. Clearly he had not repented, and therefore, by his own admission, his 'faith' was dead.
"Elder F., according to your own doctrine, you are still a natural man and have not repented of your sins. The desires of your heart are not pure, but are corrupt and sinful. According to your own words, you don't even have faith, because had you had faith, you would have repented long ago."
"The LDS 'plan of salvation' has no power in it because the very solution it offers is the whole reason for the problem! You say that no one is perfect, no one is like Jesus, and that all have sinned because they are natural men who are enemies of God. You say that this is why Jesus gave us the atonement. Then you say that in order to receive the atonement, we must repent of all our sins and become perfect like Jesus. So to be forgiven, you must do that which you can not nor could not do, which is the very cause of our fall in the first place! It's an impossible circle that cannot be broken."
The missionaries looked anxiously at one another for something to say.
"Guys, let me tell you this. You will never repent of your sins, because the Bible says you cannot. You are telling others to do something that you yourselves haven't even done."
"God's way is free undeserved grace. God is saying to you that right now He is willing to give you total forgiveness from all your sins, absolutely free. You don't have to work for it, perform for it, or pay Him back. He bought it and it's yours. He did this for you because you can't repent of your sins that enslave you. To be saved can only mean that you can't save yourself."
At this point the missionaries were becoming uneasy and told us that they had to leave in order to make an engagement. Then one missionary who was sitting near the back wall chimed in for the grande finale.
"Eli, have you ever prayed about this?" I knew immediately where he was going.
"Elder B., are you referring to James 1:5, which says, 'If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally'?" I said, looking at him.
"Yes, actually!" he answered, a bit surprised.
Then as kindly and as graciously as I could, I answered his question like this, "Elder B., in this matter I don't need to ask God about it, because I don't lack wisdom about it." And at that his face crumpled like a wrinkled bulldog, having lost his finest missionary aphorism. They were stunned.
We stood up, shook hands, and departed ways very cordially. The entire conversation from beginning to end lasted about an hour and half, and remained polite and gracious throughout its whole duration. As Bob and I left, we rejoiced in God's faithfulness in providing this opportunity, and left them in God's hands to finish the work in the lives of those six men. God alone can open blind eyes, and may He do so very soon for these missionaries who have been trapped in Mormonism from the day they were born.