Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another LDS Encounter

Last evening a little after 5:00, there was an unexpected knock on the front door. I answered, and there stood two clean-cut young men with white shirts and name tags, who said they wanted to talk to me about Jesus. Fine, I thought. When they finally got around to asking me if I had any particular religious beliefs and whether I'm familiar with the teachings of the LDS (Mormon) church, I said I do, and I am familiar with what LDS teaches and told them that I reject it as falsehood.

I mentioned in an earlier post… the Eternal Security "Pit Stop" that the trouble with Mormon "missionaries" generally is that it can be very difficult to get them to disagree with anything. They'll nod their heads in agreement on just about everything, but they're being very deceptive when they do because they know, even though they're unwilling to tell you this, that while they may be agreeing with some set of terms you have used, they defined those terms differently in the LDS church. You can say "Trinity" for example and they'll nod in agreement, claiming to believe in "The Trinity" but if you drill them long enough you'll eventually find out that they mean something very different when they use the word "trinity." Dishonest. Now that's just an example (though it is a real example) but the point is that tactically speaking, when the LDS boys come knockin', it's important right out of the gate to draw some very clear distinctions for them--even if it's only ONE--between Biblical Christianity and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

How do you make that distinction? Well of course there are several avenues to go down, but one of the most stark contrasts is the doctrine of Eternal Security. Now Mormons are tricky because in one sense they are universalists… everyone is "saved". Everyone ends up in the "First Heaven" unless they manage to make it into the Second Heaven or the Third Heaven, the latter being the pinnacle. This is what the missionaries have told me. So to the extent that you need to be "saved" from anything (that's what salvation means, after all) you need only be saved from, well, the First Heaven. The First Heaven, apparently, is still a good place to be… but the Second and Third Heavens are much, much better.

So here's their game: They'll agree that salvation is by grace and not by works. But… what they mean by salvation here is not what the Bible means by salvation. What they mean is that the First Heaven, since it is given to everyone, is by grace. We don't earn or deserve that. Now I was about to say that they don't believe in anything like Hell… but I just remembered that their doctrine does include something akin to Hell, but it's reserved only for those who were once Mormons, but then LEAVE the LDS church. They have a special name for this, but I don't recall it right now. At any rate, this is another illustration of their agreement-to-hide-disagreement tactic. Very disingenuous.

So since their idea of salvation is getting to, say, the Third Heaven and not getting stuck merely in the First Heaven, I try to frame my questions with that in mind. For example, I might ask them if they KNOW they are going to be in the Third Heaven, and if so, how? Well so far it's clear that Mormons lack any assurance of what they call "salvation." They don't know, they can't be sure. Why not? Because getting to the Third Heaven requires works and obedience and they are just honest enough to admit that they can't know that they will work enough or obey enough to make it to the Third Heaven.

You find something very similar when you talk with Jehovah's Witnesses. If you ask them whether or not they can be certain that they'll be resurrected, (their view of salvation) they'll tell you they don't. That'll require some pressing on your part, but that's where they come down. I asked this of a nice JW woman that came to my door one day and she said something very much like this: "Yes, if I work hard enough and if I obey, etc." Paraphrasing, of course. So her answer was "Yes, IF I do this." Do you see the circularity there? See, she doesn't know IF she will do those things, and since she doesn't know that, she cannot know that she will be resurrected. And it's the same with the LDS church. They cannot know that they will work enough or obey enough to make it to the Third Heaven, therefore, they have no assurance.

There's an important lesson here: Lack of assurance seems to be an indicator of a works-based view of salvation… even for someone who might claim that salvation is by grace. Why? If salvation is truly by grace, then it's nothing that I've earned or deserved. And if it's nothing that I've earned or deserved, then it's nothing that can be taken away. And if it's nothing that can be taken away, then I have no reason to doubt my salvation. I have absolute assurance. Once a person inserts their own works into the salvation equation, their assurance evaporates because now their salvation depends on them and not on Christ. When our salvation depends not on us but only on Christ, then we can have complete and total assurance of our salvation.

So back to the boys with the white shirts. I explained these things to them and predictably, they weren't able to go along with the idea of Eternal Security. And predictably, they demonstrated that they have no assurance. They claimed to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and yet they disregard what it says so clearly. I asked them this question "In theory, is it possible to get to the Third Heaven without doing ANY works?" They answered with a deflection "Our works is evidence of our faith" but I pressed them further… they wouldn't answer me honestly. They stuck to this "works evidence of faith" line and so I said "Well, I'm taking that as a 'No.'" And then I offered up Romans 4:5 and clarified that the Biblical view of salvation, which they ought to believe since they claim to believe the Bible, is that works are not necessary for salvation. Even a man that does NOT work (read Romans 4:5 again) is justified before God if he has placed his trust in Christ.

Their response was, well, odd. The young man who was doing most of the talking said "Well that's just a difference in belief." Well of course it is!! I agreed and said that, yes, it was a difference in belief. I told them that the LDS church teaches salvation by works, and the Bible teaches salvation by grace. The LDS church tells you to trust in your works and obedience, and the Bible tells you to trust in Christ." A difference in belief? You bet.

Then the one missionary mentioned something about having freedom of religion, and I said "Yes, we certainly do have freedom of religion on a national level… and that's as it should be. But God doesn't give us freedom of religion individually. God has provided one way to salvation and that's Jesus Christ." And I was a little surprised (though I'm not sure why) to find that these boys wouldn't even go along with that. Acts 4:12. John 14:6. Matthew 7:13-14. There's one way. Again, they claim to believe the Bible, but when it comes right down to it, they don't believe the Bible.

By this time, dinner was on the table and I was freezing cold, standing on the front porch for twenty minutes. So, I shook the missionaries' hands and they went on their way.

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