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.