You’ve seen them before: Two young men, dressed in black slacks and a white button down, faces shaven (or likely still bare with youth) and shining with excitement. They introduce themselves as Elders, despite the fact that they are at least 3 years your junior, and ask how they can help you today. They talk about Jesus, and our Heavenly Father, and the Plan of Salvation.
Mormon missionaries are a mission field to themselves. They show up on your doorstep, often without warning, offering another gospel to you, ostensibly shared by an angel from heaven. Of course you’ve read Galatians 1 and remember Paul’s prophetic warning against the followers of Joseph Smith. The question of how to engage Mormon missionaries is a tough one.
One of our primary goals when talking with Latter Day Saints should be to establish a shared epistemology. Epistemology is a fancy word for “how we know what we know.” So in plain English, we must both agree to a way to find out if a claim is true. Unfortunately, Mormons insist that their subjective experience is the way to know truth. They will ask you to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. I encourage you to ask them what the spirit feels like some time — they will describe (much like Pentecostals and Charismatics) a feeling of peace, warmth, love, happiness, or joy. Of course these are all good things, but they are not proof of the truth or falsity of a particular proposition. Many things which are untruthful may, in fact, make you happy. For instance, we have all shared the elation of a well executed movie, as the rising action climaxes and the story resolves. The story was a good one; it was not necessarily a factual one, and in many cases may be counterfactual. Many more examples could follow, but for the purposes of our discussion here, this will suffice.
So we must not be fooled into thinking that a good feeling is a truth-telling feeling; after all, our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), and from them all manner of evil flows forth (Matt.15:19). But the truth is found in God’s Word, for His Word is truth (John 17:17). How then do we communicate this to our Mormon friends and neighbors in a way that is winsome, charitable, and convincing? I have found that the best way to do this is by having them do it for you.
When I sit down with some missionaries, I try to get to know them. I learn about their lives before their mission, where they’re from, and what they do for fun. As we talk things inevitably turn to spiritual subjects — after all, you’re both there evangelizing. The killer question to ask: “What is the best way to learn spiritual truths?” Missionaries invariably respond something like “pray about it.” This is a good place to ask them what the spirit feels like, as I mentioned earlier. Allow them to share, and genuinely listen. Get them to clarify that they think prayer is the best way to understand what God wants from us.
The next question is something along the lines of “Should I pray about whether or not to commit murder?” You can substitute “break the law,” “cheat on my wife,” “lie to my husband,” or any other sin that you know they will not affirm. If they don’t outright say it’s wrong to do whatever you ask about, make them clarify why it’s wrong. Often their response will be something along the lines of “Because God revealed it to us; we don’t need further guidance about that.” If they say this, of course, they are overthrowing their own emotionally-driven epistemology for a Scripturally-driven one — they’re moving from feeling alone toward the truth of God’s Word. At this point it’s a simple matter to clarify: “If God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray for further guidance about it, right?”
Turn with them then to Isaiah 43:10; this is probably the most important verse in Scripture to share with missionaries. A great way to introduce it is to say “God revealed His testimony about Himself through the Prophet Isaiah.” Have one of them read what God says about Himself there. Then remind them that they just said if God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray about it. We already know that anyone or anything that contradicts God’s testimony of Himself is wrong. From this point on in the conversation, any time they try to contradict the Scriptures, they have contradicted themselves.
This is not a cheap shot to win an argument. This is a powerful tool to overturn a worldview and to set people on the path away from error. You have planted a seed of truth: God’s Word trumps all else. When you part ways invite them over for a free meal. Ask them to bring answers to your questions. Build a relationship with them. And above all pray for them fervently.
I hope that this example helps you communicate the truth in love to the next pair of missionaries you run into. For more information about the LDS church, check out http://www.mrm.org. If you have questions, please comment with them! I’d love to talk more about the subject. Also, please leave your favorite question to ask missionaries below!
May God strengthen and keep you in the true faith, once delivered for all the saints! Amen.