Witnessing to Mormons – A Starting Point
Eleven years ago, I saw Utah for the first time, from behind the windshield of a Hertz-Penske moving truck, pulling the family car on a trailer, with my wife at my side and the family cat on her lap. We saw the sillouette of the gorgeous Wasatch mountains against the night sky, and we wondered what life in Utah would bring us. Would we, could we have a ministry in Ogden? And of course, one of the big questions at the top of our list — how would we witness to the Mormons.
Life in Utah was different than we expected. We have yet to meet a polygamist (as far as we know). We don’t see wild-eyed, bearded prophets like we were expecting. We don’t get shunned, and jobs are as available to us as they are to anybody. We had heard that non-Mormons could not buy land in Utah. I now am buying my second home since moving here. Our church has owned its own property for over forty-five years. The LDS (Latter-Day Saints) people are friendly and kind and make good neighbors, and I have no complaint about them.
When we got here, we were most surprised by how much the LDS church dominates cultural life. The news media openly discusses church news. Even sports-talk radio stations regularly discuss the LDS church. Every spring and fall before the General Conference, stores have special sales and discounts that are directly connected to church doings. Even as I sit here at my keyboard hunting and pecking away, our entire state is celebrating a Mormon holiday. This morning there was a parade and businesses are closed for the day, as Utah celebrates “Pioneer Days” — a part of our Mormon heritage.
I am very grateful that God sent my family and me to Utah. It is a great privilege to serve the Lord and stand for him in such a place as this. And, God is doing some wonderful things here in this state. By God’s grace, we will see more in the years ahead. One thing is for sure — as is the Temple of Diana, so will be the LDS Temple.
Witnessing to Mormons is a demanding task. All of the “conventional” approaches to witnessing simply do not get any traction here. LDS doctrine has taken all of this into account, and has the advantage of being in flux, so that adjustments can be made and chinks in the armor can be patched up. I am glad to say that I cannot give you a “tried and proven” approach to witnessing to the LDS. I would not want you to follow a formula, nor will you ever hear anything like a “simple plan of salvation for the LDS” from me.
If we are to be effective in witnessing to the LDS, then we must follow a presuppositional approach to apologetics. The two-fold apologetic method as developed by Cornelius Van Til and perfected by Greg Bahnsen must be followed. We must take the Mormon position, for the sake of argument, and show it to be vain and foolish, lest they be wise in their own conceits. Then, we must invite the LDS to take our position, in order to show them that it is the only possible way to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Over the past year, I have been slaving away at understanding the basic Mormons presupposition, the one that they always refer back to and hold to be their ultimate authority for what they believe. It is vital that we understand this if we are to witness effectively to them, if we are to show their presupposition to be a vain deceit.
Before I go into their ultimate presupposition, I should take a moment to explain what I mean by “presupposition.” The easiest definition I have encountered for “presupposition” is a belief that takes precedence over other beliefs. There are, naturally, a variety of degrees of presuppositions. I believe that George Bush is George W. Bush’s father. If you tell me that actually, George W. Bush’s father is a Martian Alien, I won’t believe you. Not even if you show me “documentation” on MoveOn.org. I presuppose that the Bush’s aren’t lying about paternity. But, I will admit, with the right amount of proof and following the right rules of evidence, you might be able to persuade me that another man besides George Bush fathered George W. My presupposition in this case is not nearly as strongly held as another. For instance, I have a presupposition that takes precedence even over that one. I presuppose that George W. Bush HAS a father. No amount of proof or evidence could make me think otherwise. This is because I presuppose that everyone has a father. And I presuppose this because of another presupposition that takes precedence even over that one. I presuppose that God made the world, and that paternity is a design feature… in other words, that God made the world in such a way that everyone has a father. This we call an ultimate presupposition — a belief over which no other belief takes precedence.
If we would witness to Mormons effectively, we must know what is ultimate to them. What is their ultimate presupposition, their ultimate starting point for what they believe? For some time, I have struggled to understand and identify this “ultimate authority” for saying that Mormonism is true. For some time, I thought that the Bible and the Book of Mormon were ultimate to them. However, in witnessing to the LDS, I can say that this is not the case. Whenever they encounter a doctrine or teaching in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon that contradicts what they believe or what their church teaches, they will always revert back to what the church teaches. They will tell you that they believe the Bible to be true inasmuch as it is accurately translated. And, not surprisingly, they believe that only their church can render an accurate translation. Since there are passages in the Book of Mormon that directly copy the Bible, they rely on their church to give them the correct meaning of the passage.
Naturally then, when I realized that Scripture (loosely speaking) was not ultimate, I began to think that the LDS church itself was ultimate to them. This brings us a lot closer to their ultimate authority, but not quite. There are several organizations here in Utah that have done an outstanding job of disproving, beyond a doubt, several key teachings of the LDS church. For example, the LDS church teaches (as does the Book of Mormon) that the American Indians descended from Jews, and came to America from Palestine. This has been shown to be fictitious. Another example is of the Book of Abraham, which the church says was translated from “Reformed Egyptian.” Scholars have proven this to also be a work of fiction, in fact showing that the document that Joseph Smith translated from was actually something like an Egyptian funeral dirge, and says nothing even remotely close to what Smith translated.
Whenever one of these key claims of the LDS church is debunked, one might expect a significant exodus from the church. But we do not see any such thing. In fact, just the opposite. The LDS people simply believe the church, despite all the evidence against it. You might think then (as I did) that this means that the LDS church is their ultimate reason. But, in fact, it shows otherwise. If they will believe the LDS church despite the vast amount of evidence against it, then there must be another reason for believing that is even more ultimate than the church.
From time to time, in conversations with the LDS, when they are confronted with the errors of their church, we will hear them say something along the lines of “that’s why it is good that we have a living prophet.” Based on this, I came to think that perhaps this was the key. Their ultimate reason for believing was because they believed whatever the living prophet said. I do think that this brings us even closer to understanding what the LDS ultimate presupposition is. They really do assume that whatever he says is right. But then we run into some difficulty. For instance, it is very rare to find any Mormon who believes whatever Joseph Smith or Brigham Young taught. Many Christian apologists who teach on Mormonism will quote past prophets. And yet, the modern day member of the LDS church will not be affected by these quotes at all. They believe their prophets, and yet they do not hold their prophets to be their ultimate reason for believing.
There is a reason why the LDS believe the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. There is a reason why the LDS believe their church. There is a reason why the LDS believe their prophets. There is an underlying reason for their faith in all of these things. We can anticipate what that reason is if we consider what the LDS will say if you challenge their faith.
Over the years, we have noted many times that if you question a member of the LDS church on some point of LDS teaching, you are likely to get ten different answers from ten different people. There really is not a consistent doctrine on most issues. But there is one thing that you will consistently hear from every member of the LDS church. It is…
I bear you my testimony that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth today.
How do they know this? They will tell you that they have prayed about the Book of Mormon, they have prayed about the church, they have prayed about Joseph Smith, and they have experienced a “burning in the bosom” which tells them that these things are true. They know it, as they will tell you “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
In other words, their ultimate reason for believing in the truth of the Book of Mormon, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of Joseph Smith and the Prophets, is a feeling that they have experienced, and that is very real to them. Their ultimate presupposition is that their feelings about these things are true and a reliable way of coming to the truth. Whenever they are challenged, the LDS will universally appeal to their testimony.
Following the apologetic method developed by Van Til and Bahnsen, the believer should point out the folly of finding the truth this way. There are several ways to show the LDS that this is not a way of knowing. First, I have a testimony as well — one that completely contradicts the LDS testimony.
I bear you my testimony that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is very God of very God, is equally God with the Father, and that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. Furthermore, I bear you my testimony that I am saved by the grace of God alone, through Faith in Christ alone.
Since my testimony contradicts their testimony, how do we know which one is true? If the answer to that question is based on certain feelings that we have had, or certain experiences that have been ours, then we would have to say that we are both right. But this is logically impossible, because the LDS church teaches that I am wrong, and I say that they are wrong. One thing is certain in this case… WE CANNOT BOTH BE RIGHT.
If feelings and experiences are the way of knowing, then the man who feels that there must be a colony of green men growing beef cows on Mars must be correct in thinking so. We really can’t challenge him… he feels that it is true.
But of course, this is not a way of knowing. Your feelings are true in one sense only… you really do feel that way. But your feelings are not a way of knowing. The Bible says,
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 14:12)
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: (Proverbs 28:26)
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The heart is no judge of the truth. The heart can neither confirm or deny the truth. The truth is the truth whether you believe it to be or not, in fact, whether you ever existed or not.
But the LDS will give James 1:5 as their warrant for finding the truth this way.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Does James 1:5 in fact teach us that we come to knowledge by asking God to reveal to us what we should know? James says “wisdom.” If any of you lack “wisdom,” not “knowledge.” Wisdom is the practical use of knowledge. One must have knowledge before one can have wisdom. One must know the truth before one can use the truth in any sort of practical way. And what is truth? The Bible is only too clear, first as to what the truth is, and secondly, as to how to find it.
I’ll deal with the second first. The Bible gives us a wonderful example of how to find the truth.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Notice that they did not pray over what Paul says. They did not ponder it. They did not look for a burning in the bosom to confirm what Paul taught them. They searched the Scriptures. This is how we find the truth. This is how we find knowledge, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. God, Who created all things that can be known, reveals all things to be known. We find the truth then by searching the Scriptures.
And what is truth? The Bible tells us.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)
Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth. (Psalm 119:142)
Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth. (Psalm 119:151)
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:8)
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
It is worth noting that this is true regardless of your feelings about it, regardless of what experiences have been yours, or what burnings you have experienced in your bosom. Just as the earth is round, whatever you might feel about its roundness. It would be round whether you ever existed or not. It certainly is not flat because you think it is.
When we witness to Mormons, we must understand that they base their belief on the feelings that they have had, especially on the fact that they have a testimony. We need to show them that this is not a way of knowing, that this feeling did not come from the Holy Spirit, even though they prayed, because the Holy Spirit will never give a testimony that is in conflict with what He has already inspired in the Word of God. We must then show them that God’s Word is truth, and that it is true whether we ever existed to experience it or not. Having shown them the folly and vain deceit of believing anything on the basis of a feeling, and having given them the truth, we must call on them to repent and believe the Gospel.