There is a small cottage industry among evangelicals focused on selling books and giving seminars about how to minister to “non-Christians” like Mormons. The approach taken in virtually every example I have seen is the same: Explain specific Mormon beliefs and then show how those beliefs don’t square with the Bible.
Oh, and make sure not to tell the truth about those Mormon beliefs.
A recent example is an article on Baptist Press’s website by a Baptist teacher shilling a book on the subject. You can find it here if you have an interest: http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/BPnews.asp?ID=39001. The author’s purpose is to show that Mormons reject the Nicene view of the Trinity. He will get no argument from me on that point. I’ve said the same thing over on my other blog. But instead of describing actual differences, he offers up some characterizations of Mormon doctrine that aren’t close to being accurate. Not even in the ballpark.
Let’s give this expert a little fact check.
Starting with the nature of God: He says, “Mormons believe that God is the ruler of our planet. He is the ruler of only this particular planet. He acquired that status over the earth over a progression of time. He has a physical body and flesh.” He contrasts that with more genuine Christianity, which he says believes in only one God, manifested in three forms (an idea that isn’t mentioned in the Bible and never really caught on until four centuries after the crucifixion of Christ…there’s orthodoxy for you). His recitation of supposed Mormon doctrine about God the Father includes two significant mistakes.
First, Mormons do not believe that our Father in Heaven (or Jesus Christ for that matter) rule “only this planet.” Instead, we believe exactly the opposite. In the Book of Moses, which we believe is an inspired restoration of certain books of the Old Testament, there is a dialogue between Moses and God, in which God declares, “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:33, emphasis added). Instead of believing that God is limited to this earth, we believe that His creations are innumerable.
Second, Mormons do not believe that God acquired his status over earth over time. The rest of that same chapter of Moses describes God’s creation of the earth through his Son. Thus, he was God, right from the start. Now, granted, if you want to get into “deep” theology, we do believe that all beings progress eternally, and we suppose that our Father in Heaven likely went through some process of progression, but it is not something that we spend any time teaching in the Church, because not enough has been revealed for us to talk intelligently about it.
With respect to Mormons’ belief about Christ, our intrepid expert tells us, “Mormons teach that Jesus is God’s firstborn spirit son. Jesus, like God, was a human being but attained his godhead status by living an upright life.” Right as to Christ being the Firstborn, but a swing and a miss on the rest. I just addressed this on my other blog, if you’re curious: http://reallywanttoknow.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/do-mormons-believe-that-jesus-was-just-a-man-who-became-god/. But suffice it to say that we believe that Jesus was God before coming to earth. He created the earth and was Jehovah of the Old Testament. He wasn’t just some guy in sandals who became God as a result of making good choices. He was God, condescending to come to earth to be a sacrifice for his creations.
What’s more interesting is when the author lists things that “Christians” believe, implying that Mormons don’t: “We Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches that Jesus has always existed (John 1:1) and is one with the Father (John 10:30). He was born of a virgin in a non-sexual union. He is far above the angels (Hebrews 1), including Satan.” Why does he only make the implication? Probably because Mormons believe that Jesus has always existed, that he is one with the Father (in the same sense that he wanted his disciples to be “one”–John 17:21), that he was born of a virgin, and is far above the angels, including Satan.
Finally, with respect to the Holy Ghost, the author claims, “Mormons believe the Holy Spirit does not have, as God and Jesus have, personhood in the Trinity. Instead, he is nothing more than a spirit manifestation that is from the Father.” I’ve been a member of the LDS Church for 39 years, and I don’t even know what that means. I’ve been taught all of my life in the Church that the Holy Ghost is a separate member of the Godhead and is a “personage of Spirit.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). He is not a “manifestation,” but rather is the third member of the Godhead.
In fact, our Baptist friend has his theology upside down when he says that Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit has “personhood” and the Mormons don’t. The Nicene view of the Trinity (which he previously points to as orthodox Christianity) is that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all three representations or manifestations of the same God, each sharing the same substance. The notion of the Holy Ghost having its own distinct “personhood” is Mormon Theology 101.
It really doesn’t bother me that Baptists feel a need to “minister” to Mormons. We’re a missionary Church, too, and are far more likely to come knocking on your door than are the local Southern Baptists. What is irritating is when someone attempts to justify such a ministry by making demonstrably false statements about what we believe. Show me that you are a friend of the truth first, and then I will listen to you describe your friendship with Christ.