We live just down the road from a large Mormon congregation—or a large church building, at any rate. Not surprisingly, we receive regular visits from the missionaries dispatched to woo and win our neighborhood. Though the individuals vary each time, the pattern is consistent: Two clean-cut Caucasian young men with American accents, friendly and engaging, are eager to persuade us to accept a Book of Mormon and to ask God to give us the inner testimony that it is his true revelation.
These missionaries have a way of showing up at bad times, but I still try to spend a few minutes talking with them. I like to ask where they are from and how long they have been going door-to-door. I like to ask if they miss their families since I know they are assigned to cities far from their own. I like to ask how they know that they are in God’s good graces. There has never been a time when they were impolite or short with me.
These Mormon missionaries always look happy and confident. They are sure they have compelling answers to life’s deepest and most urgent questions—the source of ultimate truth, the identity of God, the purpose of life, the answer to what lies beyond the grave. They look happy and confident, but I know better. I know they are miserable. They are miserable because they are being sent on a spiritually-bankrupt one-year mission to fulfill a man-made law. This cannot generate true joy. They are miserable because they need to adhere to an unbiblical standard of righteousness. This diminishes joy or destroys it altogether. Ultimately, they are miserable because they believe and teach a counterfeit gospel, have not put their faith in Jesus Christ, have not been restored to relationship with the Father, and have not been indwelled by the Holy Spirit. I know they are miserable. How could they be otherwise?
So this is my strategy when the Mormons visit: Preach the gospel. The gospel, after all, is the source of true joy. This is the same strategy I employ when the far-less-polite and far-more-aggressive Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking. I may try to use the Bible to show where their beliefs are wrong. I may try to explain how the Bible cannot be just another form of God’s revelation, but that it must either be all or nothing, supreme or utterly futile. I may try to convince a Jehovah’s Witness that Jesus is not the first and greatest creation of God, but the second person of the divine Trinity with all the attributes of God. Those are all good things to do. But I wouldn’t want to say any of these things if I didn’t also preach the gospel of grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone.
There are many strategies for engaging with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and members of other cults. Many of these strategies are wise and helpful. But you have to be careful with them—you can win the argument even while you lose the opportunity. You can win the argument about the authority of the Bible but still lose the opportunity to share the gospel. Ultimately, we don’t want to persuade them of their faulty theology, but to have the Spirit persuade them of their faulty gospel. This will happen only when we tell them the true gospel, the saving gospel, the gospel of grace. We can have utter confidence in this strategy because the gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel—the true gospel—is infinitely better and stronger than what they offer. They offer salvation by works, but God offers salvation by grace. This is the difference between heaven and hell.
So when Mormons came to my door the other day I said, “I will gladly listen to you for a while as long as you promise to listen to me.” They said they would return on Saturday. I will listen to them. Then I will tell them the gospel and explain why this gospel is such good news—far better news than what they are offering. And already I’m praying that it would take root.