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and Their Temples
by Mark E. Sell
In the Fall of 1996 my
congregation graciously granted me a 3 month sabbatical to teach Greek and do
some graduate work at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Mormons and their
temples seemed to be a hot topic while I was there. Once people learned that I
was a Pastor in St. George, Utah, the most common response was: "Did you see
their new temple on I - 40?" As a result of the new Mormon temple, I had some
wonderful opportunities to talk about the beliefs of the LDS (The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City) and in particular the
theology associated with their temples. It seemed that those who live East of
the Rockies are not all that familiar with the LDS church and their temples.
However, those of us who live West of the Rockies tend to be a bit more
familiar with the LDS and their temples simply because we live in Utah or near
At the outset, I wish to make it very clear that the LDS people whom I know and with whom I work (I am also the chaplain for the Home Health\Hospice in St. George.) are wonderful people! They are nice. They are zealously mission-minded. They are family oriented. At times, I have even found that many of our own Lutheran members secretly and not so secretly envy the LDS missionary and family practices. "Why can't we be more like the Mormons?" (See sidebar topic #1) I have heard, especially when I travel to the Midwest. Well, hopefully this article will help us understand what the LDS truly believe, then we will no longer be so envious. I'll try to accomplish this through the temple theology of the LDS. But first we must start with the big picture - The Mormon Plan of Salvation.
The LDS have taken an oath not to discuss the ceremonies which take place in their temples. These issues are to remain secret. In order to discuss such sensitive issues as the LDS temple and its ceremonies, I must clarify from the start the importance of integrity. I purposely live and minister in Utah emphasizing to my LDS friends that I am here to maintain the integrity of the LDS faith. I'm not a Pastor who is in Utah for the purpose of converting Mormons, nor am I here to make fun of them and their beliefs. The Bible does not say to love your Lutheran neighbor as yourself. We are to love all of our neighbors. Rather, I am called by Trinity to serve the Lutherans who are called to Christ's altar at Trinity and preach and teach the Gospel in the community. By setting a context of integrity for what the LDS believe, I automatically provide a context wherein I get to maintain my integrity as a Lutheran. It tends to take the edge off of competition and paranoia. It also lets my LDS friends know that I expect them to be LDS and support what the LDS church really teaches. It stops the blurring of the lines between our two religions. This is an important point particularly since the 1980's when the LDS church began to make a concerted effort to market itself as "Christian." A final warning is in order. Before you start to think how ridiculous and bazaar the LDS religion is as you read this, you better wait until you have read the whole article I am not trying to give you an opportunity to make fun or bash the Mormons. I just want you to know from where they are coming and why their temples are so important.
The Mormon Plan of Salvation
Before we can get to the significance of the Mormon temples and their ceremonies, we must grasp the objective of the LDS believer - to become a god. To be a god is to be able to continue into eternity with one's eternal family. The LDS god or "heavenly father" was "as we are now and is an exalted man." In other words the LDS "Heavenly Father" was a man like any other man on earth. He had to go through all the tests of the different worlds and achieve godhood through his wise decision making process and follow the "gospel principles." The LDS believe that they are the product of pre-mortal procreation between their "heavenly father and mother." All of the angels, the spirits, the demons, even Jesus and Lucifer are all pre-mortal spirits borne of "our heavenly father and mother." Thus, Jesus and Lucifer are also our brothers - from the pre-mortal world. The goal of the Mormon is to do as well as "heavenly father" did and become gods and continue procreating the eternal family which began in the pre-mortal world. But, to become a god the LDS person must progress to "exaltation" in the celestial kingdom by means of their wise use of their agency.
The road to godhood for the spirits from the pre-mortal world onward is the wise use of their "agency" (free will to choose right and wrong) in order to achieve a perfect and holy life as exemplified by "Heavenly Father" and "Jesus Christ" as they moved through their many existences. The keyword to eternity is worthiness! Their worthiness is based upon their wise use of this agency. To move from the premortal (spirit world) to the mortal world (earth) the spirits must have used their agency wisely in the spirit world. Once they achieve an appropriate level of worthiness in the premortal existence Heavenly Father sends the spirits to earth to receive their physical bodies. Here, on earth, they must continue with the wise use of their agency and work towards holiness as they now experience existence and testing with a physical body. The role of people on earth, especially Mormon women is to provide physical bodies for the spirits who are sent here. This is also the driving motivation for large families in Mormonism. The wise use of their agency is determined by how they live the "Gospel Principles" as well as follow through with the "Ordinances of the Priesthood." As these principles and ordinances are followed on earth the Mormon believes that he is on the road to godhood. This helps us to understand why the LDS go even as far as to understand their children to be "gods in embryo form." It is on this earth (Mortal Existence) where the power and significance of the Temple and its ceremonies become the focal point of the LDS faith as we shall see.
From this earth the spirits will proceed either to paradise or prison. The LDS spirits go to paradise and the non-LDS spirits go to prison. The physical bodies do not progress, their purpose is fulfilled on earth. While in paradise, the LDS spirits will continue their mission activity to the spirits in prison. When a spirit in prison is converted to Mormonism he will enter paradise - if he is baptized. But, the problem for Mormonism is that there are no bodies to baptize in prison. Thus, entry into paradise must wait. In a moment, we will see how this problem is solved.
Once this spirit enters paradise, he is then able to begin to do his work in his progression to the exaltation within the celestial kingdom - that is, only if this spirit never had the opportunity in the physical world to become a Mormon. Those who did have the opportunity in the Mortal existence to become Mormon and are converted while in prison can enter paradise and eventually the celestial kingdom, but will not achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Their road to godhood is cut off. They will only become "ministering spirits" since they already had an opportunity to become Mormon on earth. This belief influences the Mormon life on earth. It means that the person who hears about Mormonism on earth must become Mormon here on earth or they will forfeit their opportunity to achieve the exaltation - godhood. This produces an enormous amount of pressure on Mormon families. They want to be sure that their children and extended families remain in the LDS church. If not, they will not be able to continue in the exalted state together forever. Finally, at the "resurrection" or judgment, that is after the prison\paradise world, all will be raised and will go to one of the three kingdoms: Celestial, Terrestrial or Telestial. The resurrection is an "ordinance" which will be given to the men who are resurrected and they will resurrect others. In this scheme it is also up to the husbands to resurrect their wives. In the Mormon perspective, these three kingdoms are all part of heaven. So, everyone goes to heaven.
This is also why Mormons love to celebrate Easter. The only significance that Jesus has with Easter is that he made it possible for all to rise. It has nothing to do with victory over sin, death, and the devil. Into which kingdom a person enters is determined by one's worthiness as Christ determines. Remember, worthiness is determined by the living of the gospel principles and ordinances of the Priesthood. The only ones who will not be assigned to one of the three kingdoms are the "sons of perdition" or Mormons who left the LDS church. Thus, further pressure is brought to the Mormon family structure. Resurrection is of utmost importance because each spirit will be given new bodies, however, the kind of bodies they receive depends upon which they earned. Those who will enter the exaltation in the celestial world will receive bodies which will permit them to procreate into eternity.
Faithful Mormons and children who die before the age of eight go to the Celestial Kingdom to live with Heavenly Father. However, there are three levels in the Celestial Kingdom. The lowest is reserved for those who inherit "eternal death" that is, those who were faithful, but never married in the Temple and thus they will remain single forever. They experience one of the many forms of damnation, meaning their eternal progression to godhood has been damned up or stopped. Think of it. To work your way to the celestial kingdom and still have to experience a kind of damnation (At this point, there have been no revelations about the middle level of which this author is aware.)
The highest level of the Celestial Kingdom - exaltation - is reserved only for those who have proven their worthiness to be there. This includes following through with both the gospel principles and the ordinances of the priesthood. This means ordination for the men into the Melchizedek Priesthood, certain washing, anointing, and clothing ordinances done in the temple; the temple endowment; marriage for time and eternity (celestial marriage); the sealing of children to their parents if the children were not born within a celestial marriage; and other sacred sealings i.e., the same ceremonies for the dead. These are they who will attain godhood. They are the ones who will procreate into eternity and have eternal families and create their own worlds. Their families on earth will live with them forever if they were sealed to the parents and did not leave the LDS church. The terrestrial kingdom is for those who are moral non-Mormons and less than "valiant" Mormons. It is not as glorious as the celestial kingdom and it will experience the presence of Jesus, not Heavenly Father. In this kingdom there is no marriage. The Telestial kingdom is the lowest kingdom with the least amount of glory, but it still is glorious. The vast majority of people will go here. It is where the immoral, even the "meanest sinner" will go and will experience the presence of the Holy Ghost. Here, too, there is no marriage. There is no more progression after these two kingdoms.
It probably seems to the reader like this was a long way to go to get to the significance of Mormon Temples and their ceremonies. But, now, you will see how the whole of eternal progression depends upon the Temple and its ceremonies.
The Mormon Temple and its Ceremonies
The Mormon Temple is accessible to the general public only prior to its dedication. Once it is dedicated only those Mormons who are worthy are permitted to enter. The Temple exists to perform the various temple ordinances and sealings which are required by the Mormon church. The temple and its work is the very road that leads to exaltation. The temple, as a symbol of the Mormon religion is as important as a cross is to historic Christianity. Mormons are encouraged to display prominently in their homes pictures of temples. A Mormon who does not perform the temple work will not achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Again, remember it is only through the exaltation that godhood and eternal procreation (family) will take place. Furthermore, it is in the temple where all of the work for the dead takes place. This is why it was so important to go through the Mormon "plan of salvation" above. These ceremonies for the dead will take effect on the "dead "person who is now in the spirit world of "prison."
Who are the worthy Mormons? Those who have been granted their Temple Recommend, also know as their temple card. The faithful Mormon must have been one for a minimum of one year before he can be interviewed by his Bishop and Stake president to determine his worthiness. If he is worthy, he is given his recommend. According to Mormonism, these men have been granted the gift of discernment so that they know when someone is lying. This card is shown each time upon entering the Temple. The recommend is good for one year and must be renewed through the same interviews. Approximately 20-25% of Mormons have a valid Temple Recommend and approximately 10% of adult Mormons regularly attend the Temple. This is often due to lack of having a temple nearby.
There are four Ordinances for the living which take place in the Temple: Washing, Anointing, Clothing in the Garment of the Holy Priesthood, and the Endowment. Often these four ordinances together are called the endowment. Endowment takes place most often in their late teens or just before the Celestial Marriage. The Sealings for the living that take place are: the sealing of married people who were not originally married in the Temple's "celestial marriage" and the sealing of the children to their parents forever if those parents were not originally married in the Temple's "celestial marriage." Finally, the celestial marriages themselves are performed "for time and eternity." The celestial marriage in the Temple is what seals the husband and wife together forever! This is required or the Mormon will not be permitted into the exaltation, i.e., godhood. It is also in these ceremonies where the spouses are given their secret "new names" by which they will be called at the resurrection into the celestial kingdom.
Only in very special circumstances do the marriages in time take place in the temple. One of the common reasons for marriages in time is when a non-Mormon or a non temple worthy Mormon is to be one of the spouses. However, these marriages almost always takes place in the local stake house or elsewhere. (The local building consists of local wards. The local ward is a geographical area. If there are enough Mormons in one area, they will create more wards. In Utah, a local stake house often has at least 5 wards.) The marriage for time is looked down upon by the Mormon community because the family of a marriage in time will not be blessed forever. Every Mormon must be baptized but they take place in one of the local stake houses and not the Temple.
The "Temple Mormon" who follows through with the Endowment ceremonies are given and expected to wear their temple garments for the rest of their lives under their outer clothes. They are allowed not to wear them for bathing and sports activities. They appear to be long underwear which covers the shoulders and stops just above the knee. There are four marks on them which parallel marks from the Masonic Lodge. It is these marks which seem to give them their special power of protection for their entire lives. The Mormon is to cut out these marks if they ever discard their temple garments. There is also special clothing which Mormons must wear when they are in the temple and going through the various ceremonies and these are also called temple garments but are only for inside the Temple. The ordinances for dead ancestors or for the names that are provided by temple workers as taken from their genealogical records are; Baptism, Confirmation of membership into the Mormon Church; and Ordination to the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood for males. The sealing into the Celestial Marriage of one's deceased ancestors is also performed in the Temple.
Once the Mormon has participated in the temple ceremonies for his own benefit, he is then required to do them for those have died outside the Mormon faith in order to benefit those in the next spirit world (prison). The temple ceremonies for the deceased are another form of missionary activity towards those who currently exist in the next spirit world. Joseph Fielding Smith, a modern prophet of the Mormon church said: "But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead."
Hopefully, it has now become clear how important the Temple and its ceremonies are to the Mormon. Baptism for the dead takes place in the temple and it is done because there are no bodies for the spirits in prison to be baptized. So, the spirit in prison might be converted, but he cannot enter into paradise if someone in the mortal world does not baptize him by proxy. Conversion, confirmation, and the other ceremonies also take place for the dead because they are all necessary for progression to godhood. Celestial marriage takes place in the temple for themselves as well as for the dead. This way the couple and their children will be sealed together forever in the exaltation. Celestial marriage for the deceased will assist the converted spirits who move into paradise and after the resurrection will be able to advance to exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This is a way to get your extended family into exaltation with you. If one of the spirits in prison doesn't have a relative who is on earth - or their name doesn't exist in the genealogical record of the Mormon Church, then that spirit has no hope of conversion and entrance into the celestial kingdom. The family's existence together forever is halted! In practice, this means that the Mormons on earth are responsible for the "salvation" of those in the spirit prison.
For the Mormon, there is so much to be done before they can ever hope of being worthy enough for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. The core of this work for entrance into the celestial kingdom is the temple ceremonies for themselves and for the dead which must be performed in order to achieve exaltation. No temple ceremonies, no exaltation. However, if the Mormon does finally achieve all of this, the cycle then goes on forever and spirits become gods. When the Mormon becomes a god then he will set in motion the process all over again for another world.
Well, what do you think? It seems somewhat wild doesn't it. Most often, people who live within a Judeo-Christian culture react emotionally and somewhat rudely to the LDS teachings. This is very understandable. However, I find that one of the most important aspects to the ministry in Southern Utah is to help people understand that they have entered an entirely different culture than to what they might have been accustomed. Some might be quick to call the LDS faith a cult and ridicule their religious practices, especially those for the dead. I simply remind people that the LDS people accept these things by faith. They have faith in their scriptures, their prophets (including the president of the LDS church), and their church. Ridicule will accomplish nothing. Finally, I remind my parishioners about what a Lutheran believes according to our scripture. We, too, believe in some pretty bazaar things. We believe that God died on the cross. We believe that God has a mother (Mary). We believe that we die with Jesus when we are baptized and in the same ceremony rise from the dead which takes place while we stand at the baptismal font. We believe that we must be worthy in order to move into the presence of God in the Lord's Supper. What's even more bazaar is that we believe we eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus. Now that's weird stuff.
Why do I address these matters in such a fashion? So that it assists my parishioners in understanding the true gospel of Christ and how the world could easily (and does) make fun of us. Rather than ridicule the Mormons for what they believe most of my parishioners, after letting over the emotional culture shock of living in a Mormon culture, begin to experience compassion and sorrow for their Mormon neighbors. The compassion and sorrow flows from the realization of the enormous pressure and pounding hammer of such a severe law under which the Mormon believer lives. They are not free. They are imprisoned by the constant and burdensome gospel principles and temple ordinances for themselves and the dead so as to climb the ladder to exaltation in the celestial kingdom - and it does not end in this world!
The real difference is the Law and the Gospel. (See sidebar topic #2) The purpose of the Christian church is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins and the giving of the wonderful gifts of God as he gives them to us in His Word, namely the Sacraments. In our faith, God is the one who does the work.
In baptism, our God drowns the Old Adam and He raises us in Christ. Our God makes us worthy in Baptism as he forgives us and gives us the Holy Ghost. All the spiritual gifts that matter were given to us in Baptism.
The one and only kingdom of God comes to us in Baptism. Our God became flesh and lived the holy and perfect life that we are not able to live. It is this God, Jesus, who then continues to call us into his presence on earth in the Lord's Supper. Jesus continues to commune with us in this sacrament and strengthens us with a foretaste of our eternal "celestial" kingdom. It is not something we earn. It is something he gives. The true Gospel of Jesus and our Heavenly Father and the gifts of the Holy Ghost is not about men like you and me who achieved godhood and then decided to give us some "gospel principles" to live. Rather, God, the Holy Trinity, in His love and mercy gives us the forgiveness which Christ earned. Now that's the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
"I wish we were as family oriented as the Mormons!"
Do you really? First of
all, one must always remember that the words that Mormons use may sound like
the ones which Christians use, but the meanings behind the words have nothing
in common. Family is one of those words. When one thinks of the Mormon Church
often what comes to mind is the great commercials we see on the television. It
is tempting for the Christian to say: "I wish we were as family oriented as
they are." Or "We could learn something from the Mormons about family." Well,
after living in Utah for almost nine years, my response is usually: "You don't
want to learn about how to be family oriented from the Mormons!"
The family in Mormonism is sort of like the significance of the sacraments to us Lutherans. God comes to us in His word and Sacraments. The kingdom of God and the Holy Ghost is given in baptism. The flesh and blood of Christ comes to us in the Lord's Supper. These are the holy things that allow us to experience the comfort, mercy, forgiveness and the presence of God. They are the Kingdom of God on earth. In Mormonism, the goal is to achieve godhood, the exaltation, in order to live eternally with your family who has been sealed to you in the temple. That will be the eternal kingdom of godhood. The family on earth is the eternal family kingdom in its infancy stages. Thus, family is divine. It is holy. The gathering of the family on earth is the Mormon foretaste of the gathering of the celestial existence in the exaltation. However, in Lutheranism, God is doing the work in the word and sacraments. In Mormonism you, the family member, are doing the work of being a god in embryo form.
The role of the father in Mormonism to achieve the role of the Melchizadek priesthood for himself and then give its blessings to his family. But, for the Mormon family, achieving a good family status is being sure that everything is in good order according to the gospel principles and the ordinances of the priesthood. The role of the mother is to nurture the physical bodies that the earthly couple provides so as to receive the spirits from the premortal world which Heavenly Father sends them. She is to be the good mother and wife so as to assure her resurrection which takes place when her husband - with whom she was sealed in the temple forever - calls her. Since the children are born in an LDS family it is imperative that these children remain in the LDS religion or else the family will not be able to live together in eternity. Not only must these children remain in the LDS religion, but they are raised to understand that they will not be able to see their parents into eternity if they do not follow through with the gospel principles and temple ordinances.
Immediately, the children are instilled with the understanding that they will some day go on a two-year mission that is paid for by the family. Furthermore, they also must search out a spouse and be married in the temple as soon as possible so as to fulfill the role of providing bodies for the spirit children. These things must be done or you can not be considered a faithful Mormon family.
One of my former members in Utah who was a convert from Mormonism commented to me on how her goal in life was to find an LDS guy who wanted to get married in the temple. Her entire worth was based upon this. Even the relationship between her and the guy she wanted to marry was a secondary concern. Everything would be fine just as long as they got married in the temple.
The pressure in the LDS family is relentless. Once you get married, the parents then live with the pressure that the children which they bear were once good spirits who are now given the opportunity to be raised with a body. If something goes wrong with the life of this child, the parents tend to believe that somehow they perverted a good spirit by how they were raised it. There was something in their decision making that was unwise that lead the child to make wrong decisions.
Following the gospel principles and ordinances is so burdensome that its practice ends up hurting the family. Forgiveness does not carry the day in the Mormon family, rather achieving perfection, using your agency and being able to pursue the temple ordinances is what drives the actions of every family member. In other words, the Mormon religion has this threatening effect on the family: "Do you want to see your kids again?" If you do, you better follow through with everything "the Church" prescribes. This is a Mormon hymn which exemplifies the legalist pressure brought to bear on the family:
I Am A Child Of God
by Naomi Randall
I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here;
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
I am a child of God
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will
I'll live with him once more.
I am a child of God
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him some day.
(Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985, n. 301)
The role of the family also is connected to
the Mormon zeal for genealogy. The Mormon is pressured into researching their
genealogy so as to provide the names of their relatives so that they can be
baptized in the Mormon Temple. In this way, the Mormon can become the savior of
one of his dead relatives. He is responsible for the possibility of bringing
the family back together in the celestial kingdom. If you baptize one of your
relatives who is in spirit prison, they will be permitted to continue with the
other ordinances of the Temple and move into paradise in order to begin their
own work to the celestial kingdom. Now, the "salvation" of your relatives is
dependent upon you.
The Mormon family must keep up an appearance of perfection. The heavy weight of the law forces them into submission and despair, which is usually kept well hidden behind the scenes. After all, if they are a good Mormon family, it means that ma and dad have a temple card. If they have a temple card, then they achieved the status of worthiness to be in the presence of god and are becoming gods themselves. The family is understood as the infancy stages of divinity and now you must live it or you will not see your family in eternity.
Is this the family that we know as Christians?
Witnessing to Mormons: LAW and GOSPEL
Most people who come into contact with
Mormons will usually do so from casual contact at work or in a visit from the
LDS missionaries. Often we want to hurry up and proclaim the gospel of Christ
to them. Be careful! You really need to understand the language games that are
taking place when speaking with a Mormon. First, realize that the words which
the LDS use might sound very Christian. As a matter of fact they are the same
words which we use. BUT
, the meanings behind the words have nothing in
common. "The" Heavenly Father of the Bible is not Heavenly Father of the Book
of Mormon. (LDS often do not use the article "the" in front of Heavenly Father
because there are many "Heavenly Fathers.") The Jesus of the Bible is not the
Jesus of the Book of Mormon. The Spirit is not the Spirit, salvation is not
salvation, heaven is not heaven, sin is not sin, etc..
Many people are fooled by the Mormon use of the Bible. However, one must understand that they use the Bible only as it is correctly interpreted according the scriptures of the LDS church. This is how they make the subtle change of meaning to the very same words which we derive solely from a biblical context. (The Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants are the main scriptures of Mormonism. They also believe the two Church Conferences in the Spring and the Fall are as important as scripture as well as other documents such as the constitution of the United States. The president of the LDS church is the living Prophet, Revelator, and Seer who also can reveal new teachings. Thus, Mormons are dispensationalists, i.e. a different message for a different era.)
Many well meaning Christians try to attack the Mormon by pointing out how inconsistent the Mormon Church has been in its history or by showing that Joseph Smith (the founder of the LDS church) was not such a great guy. Worse yet, the person will throw the word "cult" at the Mormon to try to show how "off the mark" the Mormon religion really is. Sometimes one will pursue a vigorous argument to prove the Trinity or to show that Jesus is God. Believe it or not, these are not the approaches that I'd suggest. These rely on human reason and a moral perspective of man. To show that Jesus is God or to prove the Trinity is worthless because Mormons have no real need to have Jesus be God.
Rather than arguing who Jesus is, I first encourage people to be relentless with the Law of God. Do not use a moral view of the law wherein we want to be as "good" or as "nice" as the Mormons. Rather use the true churchly use of the Law, which condemns the sinner to hell. The law that reveals one's sins must be made explicitly clear to the Mormon. The law which declares one to be UNHOLY! This is because the Mormon has a completely different view of sin, punishment and hell. Remember, they believe they live a "worthy" life which earns them the right to be Mormon and enter the celestial kingdom. It is important to focus upon their own legalism and use the hammering nature of their own law to show them how hopeless their struggle really is. Afterwards, point out that this is what the Bible calls sin and that God condemns sin! Only he who is holy can stand in the presence of God. How holy are you? Not only in the deed which your neighbor can see, but what about the sin and questioning and lying and lusting that takes place in your heart. Are you as holy as you think you are? Do you really deserve your temple recommend? Did you lie to your bishop or stake president about anything during your temple recommend interview. Find out if their relatives are holy enough to make it all the way to the celestial kingdom. Law, law, law.- sin, sin, sin. Will your deceased father live a holy enough life to reach the same level of exaltation as you? Will you be good enough to achieve that level of exaltation where your parents might exist? You better not make a mistake or you will never see your family forever! It exposes the real need for a real Savior who really is the one eternal God. Then, and only then can the conversation switch to the Gospel.
The God of the Bible is not the god of Mormonism. The love of the God of the Bible is lethal. His love for us caused him to give Jesus as the one, whole and complete sacrifice for each and every sin ever committed outwardly and inwardly. Jesus is God. God is the only pure sacrifice of holiness. Jesus who gives comforts, forgives, gives heaven, hope, and peace, to us simply because of the faith which He gives to us in the first place. In our religion Jesus is the one who is worthy because we know that we are not worthy! Only one who knows the grace and forgiveness of Christ can say without fear that he is a poor miserable sinner. The Mormon dare not utter such a condemning statement. If he does, he can not get his Temple Recommend and the whole road to Mormon salvation is shut down.
Many Mormons are always questioning their religion and themselves inside. They are not allowed to question anything the "church" teaches. Blind obedience is the order of the day and this too becomes an opportunity to reveal their sins and pile on with the enormous pressure of the law. Again, that is, the law that lets them know that this is sin and not something they can make up to God through a moral life, or trying better next time. Then the freedom of the Gospel will slowly begin to do its work. They are a people imprisoned with their ceremonies and ordinances and responsibilities to save their relatives. Our Gospel is about the work that Jesus did because we can not do it to the extent of holiness and perfection.
Another important opportunity is the missionaries at your door. Unknown to most people, the missionaries are most vulnerable to the Law and Gospel. They have been given a short and simple education in how they are to "present" their six lessons on the gospel principles. (They of will not discuss the orders of the priesthood, this would be too radical for most people.) They are often far from home and the only contact allowed with their families and girlfriends or boyfriends is through mail. They are often lonely, homesick and are not up to a good challenge to what they believe. Understand, the missionary will never let on that he might be doubting. This is why they are sent out in pairs and are not permitted to be apart from each other. They can't admit what they might be thinking. The pressure of the message of the law that reveals their sin will eat at them. To hear of a different Jesus and a different gracious and compassionate God will be the opposite of what they believe. Most likely you will not see the fruits of your witness, but often, when they get back to Utah others reap the fruits of the seed sewn earlier, even if it is years later.
Permission is granted for reproduction by the publisher of The Lutheran Witness (an edited version of the above article with the same title was published in the April, 1999 edition - Vol.. 118, No. 4), the official periodical Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Rev. Mark E. Sell is senior pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Mount Clemens, Michigan. He served Our Savior Lutheran Church in St. George, Utah for nine years.
Pastor M. E. Sell
St. Luke Lutheran Church
Clinton Twp., MI 48035
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