“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”Proverbs 25:11 NKJV
By: Fred Anson and Michael Flournoy
In part one of this series we considered some of the harsh “scorched earth” tactics that Christian Mormon Critics often engage that either drive Mormons deeper into the LDS Church or ensures that when they leave it they go Atheist or Pagan rather than considering Christianity.
In response, we outlined and considered a better way. The way we see evangelism modeled in the New Testament. It is summarized as follows:
- Love them
- Promote the good they do
- Curb your ego
- Keep it positive
In part one we mentioned that in Mormon culture, orthopraxy (correct practice of one’s beliefs) trumps orthodoxy (correct belief). In other words, Mormons won’t care what you believe and why it’s better until they see that you care about them as people. Treat them badly, and no matter how right you are, they won’t listen.
So that’s the concept and theory. Now let’s talk about real world application shall we? Let’s do orthopraxy!
Keeping it Real: Paul’s Orthopraxy
Here’s how Paul described his approach in scripture:
“And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23 NKJV)
Paul didn’t shun outsiders. He embraced them to the point of joining their tribes, in a sense. His methods are bound to make our Evangelical counterparts uncomfortable, but it’s brilliant. It destroys the “us vs them” mentality.
This puts the Christian on the same playing field as the Latter-day Saint. It makes them a friend instead of a foe. It’s this type of behavior that has the greatest impact on one’s journey from Mormonism to grace.
In contrast, some Christians have said they refuse to respect a false religion. We’re not saying they should. However, there’s a difference between respecting falsehood and being respectful in dialogue.
Do the Mormons in your life know you love them? When was the last time you offered them an encouraging word? When was the last time you prayed for them by name and asked God’s mercy upon them? When was the last time you challenged a fellow Evangelical for Mormon bashing? Are you preaching in a spirit of rivalry, or out of love?
Keeping it Real: The Orthopraxy of Jesus
Whenever we hear Christians speculate how Jesus would preach to Mormons, we tell them we already know because He showed it in scripture. Let us ask, who does this sound like?
- They’re heretics yet they claim they are the only true and living church.
- They claim all other churches are apostate.
- The founding of their religion was strongly opposed and denounced by the current church at the time.
- Many members claim to be from the House of Joseph- descendants from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
- They have a view of God that differs from the mainstream orthodox view.
- They believe in pre-existence.
- They claim the current church’s scripture is corrupt- deliberately infused with an apostate agenda. That is, it’s truth mingled with philosophies of men.
- They claim to be the sole possessors of the original, uncorrupted Bible.
- They have additional sacred texts which, while not formally canonized, maintain a quasi-canonical status.
- Critics claim that portions of their theology is syncretistic, incorporating outside cultures and religions.
- They have their own priesthood system.
- They have a temple system that deviates strongly from the Levitical system given in the Bible.
- They claim that their temple, rather than the one in Jerusalem, is the correct place set apart by God for special ceremonies and worship.
- Scholars throughout history have disputed the veracity and historicity claims of their scripture as well as their origin story.
They, of course, are the Samaritans of Christ’s day. Who did you think we were talking about?
Joking aside, it’s not hard to see how closely the Samaritanism of Christ’s day parallels Mormonism today. In the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus models how we should preach to Mormons, using the Mormons of his day. Let’s compare how Christ ministered with the model given in part one, shall we?
1. Love them
If there’s anything we’ve learned in Mormon Studies, it’s that Evangelicals love to Mormon bash. It doesn’t matter if what they’re saying is bigoted, prejudiced, or downright wrong, bash they will. Yet in the face of this extreme – one might even say, excessive- bigotry and prejudice we see Jesus showing this Samaritan woman love, respect, and acceptance. Put yourself in her place as you hear these words:
‘Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”’(John 4:9-15 NKJV)
In the face of a sarcastic verbal “shove” from the Samaritan woman, how did Jesus respond? He offered her a gift, He showed her love and compassion.
One of the most stunning aspects of Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan is His restraint. His self-control and compassionate patience in listening to this woman laying out her self-righteous religiosity convicts and challenges us.
‘Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”’(John 4:16-20 NKJV)
In my opinion, Jesus would have been well within His rights to blast away both at the woman’s compromised morality and her horrible theology. And really what could she do but sit there and take it? After all, she was dead wrong and He was absolutely right, correct? Instead, He listened. Yes, He also spoke truth but He did so in a spirit of love and compassion, not condemnation. He did as He has taught us: He turned the other cheek (see Matthew 5:38-40).
3. Promote the good they do
Notice Christ’s response to the blather of religious dogma the Samaritan woman spews at him in the following exchange:
‘The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”’(John 4:19-24 NKJV)
Did you see that? Wouldn’t Christ have been justified in launching into an apologetic about how the temple of Samaritanism on Mount Gerizim was biblically in error and the seat of, and idol for, their false religion at this point? Wouldn’t He have been right in pressing in on her ignorance regarding what scripture says about true and proper Temple worship? But what does He do instead? He commends her. He implicitly commends her for her devotion to God in the midst of her ignorance. He commends her for being a true worshiper who is being sought by God. He commends her for her love of the truth. He found the good in the midst of the bad and promoted it.
This is a common theme throughout the Bible when it comes to the Samaritans. Yes, they were heretics. Yes, they were in a cult. Yes, they were following compromised scripture, false prophets, and worshiping in a false temple that was in the wrong place according to God’s Word. But even in the midst of this sick, dysfunctional mess, how does Jesus so often speak of them? Answer: He portrays them as the good guys.
Still, doubt us? Then let us give you these three words: The Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Who was the good guy in that story: The two biblically orthodox, mainstream religious guys (the Priest and the Levite) or the fringe Samaritan heretic? We rest our case.
4. Curb your ego
What comes next in this exchange is the real stunner:
‘The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”’(John 4:25-26 NKJV)
And there it is, Christ’s first explicit declaration that He is the Messiah in the chronology of the gospels. To a woman. A sinful woman. A sinful woman who was born into a religious cult that she’s still ensnared in.
Now wouldn’t the egotist have led with that “little” fact? When she went into her tirade about the temple and how wrong apostate Jews were versus true God worshiping Samaritans, wouldn’t you have been tempted to say, “That’s all well and good, but hey lady, I’m the Messiah! How do you like them apples?”
But not Jesus, he checked His ego at the door. Yes, that’s right, God Almighty, Lord of the Universe, checked His ego at the door for the sake of the Samaritan woman who was right in front of him. One word, and it falls far short: Wow!
5. Keep it positive
Rewind the tape again and consider how Christ first presented His message to the Samaritan woman: He offered her a gift, living water. He knew her need and met her exactly where she was right then and there – physically (thirsty), spiritually (ensnared in a false religion), and emotionally (looking for love in all the wrong places). And what did He offer? He offered her hope and life. Through the Messiah (Himself) He offered a way out.
Friend, is this the way Christ first approached you? It’s sure the way He approached us – Michael, the militant Mormon Apologist, and Fred the militant Atheist. And we are hardly unique, are we? After all, doesn’t Paul tell us that’s it’s the forbearance and goodness of God that leads to repentance (see Romans 2:4)
One thing that we like about “The Chosen” TV series – in fact, maybe the thing we like most about it – is how Christ is portrayed as a genuinely warm, approachable, and attractive person. One can’t help but feel drawn to Him and His message as He is presented in this series. Do you think the real historic Jesus was any different? We don’t. As the saying goes, which draws more flies: honey or vinegar? Based on your own reading of the gospels do you think Jesus was vinegar or honey to those who heard His voice? Let’s consider what the text actually says in light of that hovering question, shall we?
‘Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word.
Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”’(John 4:34-42 NKJV)
Again for emphasis, “we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world”. Friend do you think that Christ’s words were honey or vinegar to these Samaritans? Were they honey or vinegar to you when He called you? For us, those words were honey in the midst of vinegar. We were drawn to Christ because He was infinitely more attractive than what we had. Case in point: Fred is fond of saying that Atheism, for him, was like ordering a pizza and eating the box instead of the pizza. And Michael has said similar things about Mormonism, which was crushing him under the weight of ordinances, commandments, and unrelenting unworthiness.
So my Mormon Bashing Evangelical friend, we will end this with this: Are you Christlike to your Mormon family and friends? Are you honey or are you vinegar? We encourage and exhort you: Be Jesus. Be honey. Be the Good Samaritan to the Samaritans.