A long conversation with an evangelical

My neighbor is an evangelical Christian.  He belongs to one of those mega-churches and has Bible study at his house once a week.  A few days ago, we went skiing together so we had a long time to talk.  We talked about many neighborhood issues, and then I turned the subject to religion.  “You know, I’m a Mormon,” I said.

“Yes, I knew that,” he said (word had apparently gotten around the neighborhood).  Enough said.

About two hours later, he brought it up again.  “So, what is the main difference between Mormons and traditional Christians?” he asked.

The first point I made is that we consider ourselves Christians — the church is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He listened very respectfully as I talked for about a half-hour.  Here are the main points I made:

–Mormons believe in the Church of Jesus Christ from Jesus’ day.  We believe that the true Church of Jesus Christ was taken from the Earth after the death of the apostles.

–I discussed the issue of authority and mentioned that clearly if you study the New Testament there were issues of authority involved.  Ordinances had to be done the right way — otherwise Paul would not have re-baptized people.  So, authority existed during the 1st Century AD.  Catholics believe they have the authority because Peter was the first bishop — did he think the Catholics had the right authority given the many centuries of horrors by past Popes?  “No way,” he said.

–The Reformation started by Luther was a good first step, but it did not restore authority, and Luther never claimed he did.  So, if we want to go back to Christ’s church, we must have a reinstitution of the proper authority.

–I discussed the First Vision and said that personally I believe that authority was reinstituted at that time.  The Book of Mormon, in addition to being scripture, is a symbol that Joseph Smith had something new and important — how else could he have created that book without the help of God? We talked for about 10 minutes about Joseph Smith, and he asked a lot of questions about Joseph Smith’s background.  I made it very clear that we do not worship Joseph Smith but instead consider him a prophet like Moses or Elijah.

–I talked about the traditional Christian view of the trinity.  I said that we believe that God the Father is a separate person from Jesus and that the Holy Ghost is a spirit.  I said the Bible says they are “One” in the sense that they are one in purpose.  He said something very interesting:  “I always wondered why Jesus would pray to the Father, asking for this cup to be taken from him, if he was one person.  Was he praying to himself?  That never made sense to me.”  I said no, it doesn’t make sense. What Jesus is doing there is submitting himself to the will of the Father, which is his greatest act.

–He asked if we accepted Jesus as God and as our personal savior.  I said, “definitely, I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, and I also accept He created this world and died on the cross and was resurrected.”  That seemed to be very reassuring for my evangelical friend.

–He asked if we felt we could be saved by our works.  I said no, we definitely need both works and grace, but I pointed out that our definition of “saved” is probably different than his.  I said I did not believe that people who don’t accept Jesus Christ will go to hell.  Instead, I see it as a continuum of progression.  There is a key moment, perhaps comparable to when you get your bachelor’s degree, when you accept Jesus Christ as God.  But that is not the end.  That is just the beginning.  You need to get your master’s degree and your PhD in religion and on and on and continue learning for the rest of your life and eternity.  People who decide not to continue learning will end up someplace else than people who decide to continue to get closer to God.  I’m not sure that made sense to him, but I think it opened his eyes a bit to a different view than the black or white version of heaven and hell.  So, grace is what God gives you to help you along and to make up for your own imperfections, but works are necessary so you become more like the Savior.  That definitely made sense to him:  “that is just what I believe,” he said.

–At the end, as we were getting close to home, I said something like the following:  “I truly believe in my heart that there are many very good people who are of all kinds of different religions, and even people who are not religious, and that God loves them all.  I think evangelicals and Mormons are the same in the sense that we both have accepted Jesus Christ and have gotten our bachelor’s degrees, so to speak.  I think you can tell a lot about people based on how they live, and I like to think we Mormons live well, we try to love our neighbors, we are peaceful, friendly people, we don’t talk badly about other religions but try to become better people and spend time with our families.  That is what Jesus would want us to do.”  He heartily agreed.

I would like to point out that the Spirit was very strong with me that night as I prayed and thanked my Heavenly Father for the opportunity to share my testimony with my neighbor.  I got a strong impression that the Father was very pleased with me that day.  I wish I felt that way all the time.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

19 thoughts on “A long conversation with an evangelical

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Geoff.

    I think most members would be very surprised at how many people of other faiths believe many things we believe, but we often use such different words to say the same things that the words get in the way.

    For example, when someone asks me about how we view “works”, I generally talk about the difference between “isolated works” (what we can do on our own, kind of like walking in lock step with the Mosaic Law restrictions) and “fruits of the vine” (what we can do by being connected to God). We should believe in producing righteous fruits through our connection to the Father, through the promptings of the Holy Ghost, enabled by the grace of Christ (meaning each of our paths is going to be slightly different and individualized) – not check-listing our way to Heaven by robotically doing the same things as everyone else around us. Most Christians would talk of their actions being “Spirit-breathed” or a result of an “in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit” – which describes perfectly how we see the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    (I don’t share the following with non-members, but the view of “doing works” is not really any different than Lucifer’s plan, when you boil it down to its root.)

  2. What a wonderful post, Geoff. I enjoy having these conversations with my friends of other faiths. It helps when we can build on common beliefs and realize how close we are on many subjects.

  3. It sounds as if you had a great discussion with your neighbor and friend. Simply responding when asked questions is what we have been asked to do as far as missionary work daily. You seem to be a great missionary because you answered in a way that was neither offensive or defensive. You simply bore pure testimony. That always works the best!

  4. Interesting discussion. Thanks for posting it. Was there an “evangelical side” to this conversation where you asked about his church? That’d be interesting too.

  5. BrianJ, good question. Actually, during the conversation I heard a lot about his church and his pastor and his faith. He was less active in his church when he was younger and now goes every Sunday and has Bible study once a week. He is an usher at his church. I kind of premised the discussion on the fact that I had attended several churches before getting baptized in my thirties, so I think he assumed I knew a fair amount about mainstream Christianity. I also told him I knew many evangelicals and knew a lot about their beliefs. There are, of course, many questions I could have asked him — how does he see the End Times? Does he believe in a traditional heaven and hell? But I didn’t. Probably will come up on a future ski trip.

  6. Walking in the Spirit and personal revelation are the two main things that Evangelicals and LDS have in common. Personal revelation is the main key for them to find out if/that what we say is true. That is why the adversary has antis work so hard on Evangelicals, because he doesn’t want them to turn that key in our direction.

    Once a faithful Evangelical prays to know if the LDS church is true (or the BoM or whether JS was a prophet), and pays with real intent, willing to follow through, they are bound to get an answer.

    Geoff: I see you leading this man to conversion, along with most of his Bible study group. See if you can invite yourself to his weekly Bible study meeting. Maybe seek an opportunity to pray privately with him. Evangelicals are not afraid of praying with people.

  7. As an Evangelical and Mormon, I must condemn this works nonsense. We’re saved by faith alone in Christ alone. And salvation = exaltation, nothing less. Yes, believers are engaged in good works, and good works are helpful to all, but they pale in comparison to the saving power of JC. It is only by the saving grace of JC the judgment will pass over us. And anyone facing judgment is a dead duck, for their works cannot compensate for their sins. Our works have nothing to do with it. In short, our works don’t save us, Jesus does.

  8. Ray,

    If an individual Mormon doesn’t believe works are part of the inputs to salvation, why do I see over and over again Mormons speaking as if works are an input rather than an output thanks only to the grace of JC? To quote the post: “we definitely need both works and grace”. I certainly don’t believe that. I’m saved by Christ alone, not even in part trough my own effort. Hence why a say I’m EM, to distinguish myself from this nonsense I see over and over again.

    OK BKP, have at me.

  9. Steve, you deeply misunderstand Mormon doctrine and are looking for a controversy where none exists. I would also like to remind you this blog is for believing members of the Church. Please either keep your comments in line or go someplace else. Last warning. Thanks.

  10. Bookslinger :
    Once a faithful Evangelical prays to know if the LDS church is true (or the BoM or whether JS was a prophet), and pays with real intent….

    Funny, if not unfortunate, typo.

  11. Wow Geoff, that sound like a textbook discussion. I guess your friend’s pastor sticks to Christ-centered sermons instead of the usual cult warnings.

    Steve, as usual, you have a good point – but you’re being coy. What is “progressive sanctification” if not doing works out of the grace and love given to us through Christ? There are more than a few Evangelicals that would agree that “A once-professing Christian who does not persevere in faith to the end demonstrates that he was never a true believer in the first place.”

    Sure, Mormons and Evangelicals use different words – but are essentially talking about the same thing.

  12. As I said in my first comment, if you substitute “fruits” for “works” the issue largely disappears for the vast majority of Mormons and Evangelicals.

    Frankly, I get SO tired of the faith v. works arguing; when you drill down past what people are saying (the words they are using) to what people mean, we agree much more than we disagree. Sure, there are overzealous “works emphasizers” in the Church, but there are also overzealous “easy grace emphasizers” among evangelicals. Big deal.

  13. I think it safe to say that grace does not apply to the willfully disobedient, hence we strive to obey the commendments.

    Our efforts at obedience to the commandments, are what some members of other churches are calling works. I don’t think the two are synonymous.

    Grace is freely given to the repentant believer, not the willfully disobedient believer. (And one could make a good point that the willfully disobedient person is not a true believer in the first place.)

    And one of the differences between a repentant person and a willfully disobeient one is: striving to keep the commandments.

    The essence of the misunderstanding on grace-vs-works (which I think is a false dichotomy anyway) is that evangelicals say they “do good works” _because_ they are saved, and they accuse of of “doing good works” _in order to_ get saved.

    One problem in misunderstanding is that we’ve allowed our striving for obedience to the Lord’s commandments to be mischaracterized as “works.”

    As I understand things, striving to keep the commandments is NOT the same as “good works” in the evangelical lexicon.

    Another problem is that Paul spoke of 3 types of works, and he condemned only two of them: a) dead works (sin), b) works of the Mosaic law, c) good works. Paul never decried good works, only the first two.

    BrianJ: good catch. Anyway, there is the saying “Pray, pay, and obey”.

  14. One Evangelical Christian author wrote of his sudden discovery that his previous beliefs about salvation were very different from those held by the early Christians:

    “If there’s any single doctrine that we would expect to find the faithful associates of the apostles teaching, it’s the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. After all, that is the cornerstone doctrine of the Reformation. In fact, we frequently say that persons who don’t hold to this doctrine aren’t really Christians…
    Our problem is that Augustine, Luther, and other Western theologians have convinced us that there’s an irreconcilable conflict between salvation based on grace and salvation conditioned on works or obedience. They have used a fallacious form of argumentation known as the “false dilemma,” by asserting that there are only two possibilities regarding salvation: it’s either (1) a gift from God or (2) it’s something we earn by our works.
    The early Christians [and Latter-day Saints!] would have replied that a gift is no less a gift simply because it’s conditioned on obedience….
    The early Christians believed that salvation is a gift from God but that God gives His gift to whomever He chooses. And He chooses to give it to those who love and obey him.”
    —David W. Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today’s Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, 3rd edition, (Tyler, Texas: Scroll Publishing Company, 1999[1989]), 57, 61–62.

  15. Whoa, while certainly not orthodox, to throw me in the non-believer camp is ridiculous. And I’m far from the only EM in the church. Like many, I was first exposed to EM at BYU, and was somewhat attracted to it vs. the Pace groupies alternative before BRM shut that cult down. But I ended up leaving the church because of certain common weaknesses until I married back into it after leaving BYU. So EM didn’t really take hold in me until decades later after seeing so many orthodox friends lose their faith and get angry towards the church. Yeah, I’m a buffet Mormon, but still active and still believing, just not believing in the parts that don’t make sense.

    On a different subject, I’m back to NC for a short vacation soon and will be at the Bulls opener on April 9. You going RB? Anybody else?

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