On Thursday evening, Leah, Micah, and I headed out to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market to pick up some fresh vegetables and to enjoy a gorgeous evening walking around. Apparently, quite a few people had the same plan, as there were no parking spots to be found. After parking about a mile away, we began walking back to the market and Leah forgot something in the car. Micah and I waited on the corner for her, and I noticed there were a couple of Mormon missionaries across the street, and they were coming my way. I tried to make myself as approachable as possible, as I love having these conversations. Sure enough, they said hi and decided to talk to me. It was interesting how they started. Very seeker friendly. They asked if I knew what it meant to be happy. Hmmm… I guess the implication is that they would provide happiness for me, which is never a claim the Bible makes. I said, yeah, but I also knew what it meant to have joy, which was more important. After this, they launched into an explanation that joy can be found in God, although they probably would have said happiness had I not brought joy into the conversation. They began talking about how God restored the church and brought truth back, etc. I tried playing a little dumb, just to see how they would approach the normal Joe on the street. Before long, they began to tell me the story of how Joseph Smith asked God what church was the right church for him to join. Before they continued, he asked me if I had heard the story, and I said I was familiar with it. So they said, why don’t you tell us what you know so we can fill in the gaps. So, I gave them my impression of the Mormon faith.
“When Joseph Smith asked this question of God, God said, ‘Don’t join any of them. They are all corrupt!’ So Joseph Smith went on his way and formed his own church. One evening he was visited by the angel Moroni, who told him go to upstate New York and you’ll two gold plates buried there. From that he dictates what we know as the Book of Mormon. “Moroni was the only survivor of the war between the Lamanites and Nephites, who are two tribes that came from two brothers, Laman and Nephi, respectively. Lehi, a Jew around 600 B.C. came over and his two sons get into a fight and have to opposing tribes. Fast forward about a thousand years and they have a massive battle in upstate New York (for which there is zero archaeological evidence). Moroni is the sole surviving Nephite, and he buries the plates for Smith to find 1400 years later.
It is here that the missionaries knew I had studied a bit. They said that the battle didn’t happen in upstate New York, but in central or South America. But that’s what they say because there is no evidence pointing to New York and plenty of Inca and Mayan ruins in Central and South America. So I said, “So Moroni flees the battle in South America, runs all the way up to a random hill in upstate New York, and buries the tablets?!” “Yes” was their simple reply. So I continued:
Well, Smith dictates the results, of which he loses some (but that doesn’t seem to be a big problem to them, though if he were given a message that was to correct a wandering church, who knows how important the Scriptures that got destroyed were). Smith gathers a following, built on a new revelation and begins to travel westward to flee persecution and local governments who didn’t look fondly on their practice of polygamy. Along the way, Smith purchases “The Lost Book of Abraham” from a traveling relic salesman. He says its a lost canonical book, and translates it. As it turns out, Smith has zero training to translate heiroglyphics, but does it anyways. He writes a story of a priest in Egypt, but they actually say NOTHING about Abraham, and were a prayer and about a deceased priest named Horace. Many thought that the original document was destroyed in the Chicago fire caused by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. But, lo and behold, it turns up in 1912, with only a couple missing pieces and it says nothing of what Smith says it said. In fact, much of it was plagiarised from the King James version of Genesis. Conveniently, the LDS church scooped up the writings and don’t allow anyone to look at them. Eventually, they end up in Independence, Missouri, make a home there, and Smith decides to run for president. Someone prints slanderous things about him (though they were probably true) and he goes and destroys the printing press. Smith gets thrown in the clinker for this, and it is there that an angry mob comes and finds him and shoots him. I’ve heard some Mormons say that Smith wasn’t the target, but jumped in front of the bullets intended for a cell mate. So now their leader is dead, and Brigham Young takes over. He has 27 wives and 56 children. They move to Salt Lake City to avoid persecution.
They said that that was it, but with a few things that weren’t quite right. I expected that, as I included quite a few editorial comments. It seemed like from here on out, they were just positioning themselves for an opportunity to leave. We spoke of a few different things, namely the reliability of the Bible. They say it is corrupted over the years, but actually have no proof that what they have now is not corrupted. I asked if anyone had the gold plates, to be able to verify if the message was accurate. Of course they don’t. They didn’t apply the same rules to their own book, which actually has more changes the the Guinness Book of World Records. I asked them how they could know that their message was corrupted, and one guy curiously asked “Can you prove God exists?” I presume that he was trying to make the point that you have to have faith, but that is the wrong argument here. I said, “Yes, I can! Turn around. Look at that house. Who made that house?” They said an architect and contractor. “Exactly. No one presumes it came from nowhere. There was a designer and creator. Our very existence demands God exists. I am living evidence of a greater Designer who preceded our creation.” Then they changed the subject, and tried to get away. I said, “Hold on. Lets say that I want to deal with my sin. How would you say I can deal with my sin?” They stammered a bit, but said, “Well, it is sort of a five step thing 1. Have faith in Jesus Christ- I was willing to accept this, knowing that we have two different ideas of Christ. 2. Believe that he died for your sin- sure, ok. 3. And (it may have been third, not sure here) you have to be baptised. “So if I repented, claimed to believe your message in my heart, turned around and got hit by a car, I wouldn’t be saved?” “Yes” was their reply. I was shocked. So no matter if I believe, I must be baptized. But they had good news. It turns out someone can get baptized in my stead after I die. Now I had them. “So my salvation is no longer completely dependent on Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross, but now also on some guy to get baptized in my place after I die, so that I can have another shot after death. It is no longer solely about grace, but now its grace plus works?” They then quoted James saying “Faith without works is dead.” But what about Paul “By grace you are saved, through faith. it is not your own doing, but the gift of God, so that no one can boast.” Then came a bigger shock. One of them simply said that Paul and James contradicted each other. So I explained how they didn’t, and that you can trust the Bible. That Paul and James are defending the same Gospel against two separate parties. One says that you can be saved and do whatever you want, and the other says that you can do works to be saved. Faith produces works, not the other way around. After some further conversation, I let them go, but gave them my business card. I told them to go home and pray, ask God if what they believe is truth, and to search the Scriptures for the truth. I told them if they wanted to talk any more, that they can contact me and I’d love to talk to them more. Then the biggest shock of them all. The less trained one admitted that he had lied when he said that Paul and James contradicted each other. He just didn’t have a better answer, so he relied on the old “the Bible is just corrupted” line. I said, “Great! The Holy Spirit is already convicting you of your error! I’ll pray that it keeps convicting you and that you find the truth of the Word of God.” So that was it. I had a great time. I tried to be gracious but firm, and to encourage them to search the Bible for the answers, and show them the holes in their way of thinking and history. I’ll be shocked to see if they contact me.
UPDATE: just wanted to let people know that the links below are NOT mine. I don’t know where they came from and I can’t find where to delete them. so until I do, click around at your own risk.