by Craig Branch – An Introduction to Areopagus Journal Vol. 4 No. 5 September-October 2004
In 1977, I opened the door and engaged two Mormon missionaries in conversation. Only a year earlier, I had come to Christ through a combination of Christians reaching out to me in friendship and a pastor who patiently met with me for many weeks responding apologetically to my long list of objections. I was born again into a church which took discipleship and evangelism seriously, understanding those disciplines to be normal Christianity.
Continuing to study and apply apologetics, I read a book by Ken Boa titled Cults, World Religions and You. In it was a chapter on Mormonism which I confidently assumed prepared me to argue these missionaries into the kingdom of God. Regrettably, I did not do well. I botched it even worse two weeks later when two Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. It was embarrassing. But instead of avoiding them in the future, my competitive nature motivated me to get better prepared so that I might win the discussions in the future.
Yet, “He who began that work in me” changed my heart of competition into a heart of compassion for these people. Like everything in the Christian life (except justification), this was a process. But it is a necessary process that must involve engagement. Cults are the largest yet least evangelized mission field, and Mormonism is one of the largest and fastest growing cult s in the world. It is our hope that you will care enough to invest the time to read and study this issue of Areopagus Journal and enter that grand and satisfying process of sharing the real Jesus Christ with Mormons, as well as helping protect others from the deceptions and schemes of Satan (2 Cor . 2:11; Eph. 6:11; Rom 10:1-4).
MORMONISM ‘S TRUE FACE
Mormonism is neither the official nor the preferred name for their church. The official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members are called Latter-day Saint s (often shortened to LDS). Because of its long and common usage, I will still utilize the term “Mormon(ism)” in this article.
In over 27 years of studying cults and Mormonism, I have yet to find even one doctrine of theirs that is compatible with Christian doctrine. When one goes beyond the surface and clearly understands the official LDS meanings of terms borrowed from Christianity, one discovers the counterfeit or pseudo-Christian nature of Mormonism.
Of course, everyone has seen the inspiring, family-oriented, moral values-laden television commercials promoting Mormonism. Likewise, most everyone has seen or had contact with two well-groomed, clean-cut, upright looking Mormon missionaries at their door or on bicycles riding down the street. The LDS church places high value on a strong, moral, family image. You might say that they are the “cult next-door.” The positive image serves both as an attraction to the potential convert and a positive reinforcement and example for its own members. It is supposed to testify to the validity of the LDS church. After all, Jesus said, “So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:20). For Mormonism, image is a high priority.
Three of the “fruits” that Mormonism relies upon to demonstrate that it alone is the one true church are (1) the success and rapid growth rates of the church, (2) the superior morality of its members, and (3) that it reflects a true picture of the restored New Testament Church.
However, when one peels off the mask, the true face of Mormonism is revealed. What one finds are the results of a legalistic church with a counterfeit gospel and a counterfeit Jesus, void of true grace and true righteousness. Behind the image that the LDS hierarchy continues to craft is actually the “angel of light” described in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15.
There have been many reports which dramatically appear to document the extraordinarily rapid growth of the LDS church. For example, sociologist Rodney Stark projected in 1984 that by 2080 the LDS church would conservatively increase from 10 to 63 million, and if it actually kept up its aggressive p ace, that number would be 265 million!
In 1998, however, Stark realized that the membership increase was 10% higher than his original projections.1 Indeed, the LDS church grew from just under three million in 1970 to over 7 million in 1990, to over 10 million in 1999. Between 1990 and 1999 they were averaging 306,000 new convert baptisms per year. But from 2000-2003 the average rate dropped to 273,000 per year. Even so, the LDS church is continuing to add many to its ranks each year, and therefore the Christian church should make it a high priority to educate its members and the public regarding Mormonism’s many fraudulent claims, as well as to redemptively engage Mormons sharing the real Jesus Christ and the real gospel.
Nevertheless, the facts are that recently the LDS church growth rate is slowing down as are the number of full-time missionaries. In the 90s the LDS church grew over 200%. Yet with all these new members and a 70% increase in the number of fulltime missionaries, by 2001 the growth was 8% lower and by 2003 it was 11% lower.2 Mormon statistician David Stewart records the honest and rather devastating statistics on his website, www.cumorah.com. He bemoans the pervasive myth that the LDS church is the worlds fastest growing church. He notes that in the Glennary study of 149 of the fastest growing Christian Faiths in the U.S. that the LDS church ranked 23rd. Stewart records that conversion and retention rates outside the U.S. are dismal.3
Stewart also reported that LDS church attendance in the U.S. averages 40-50% on a Sunday while approximately 35% of it s 11.35 million members are active worldwide (on paper). Stewart records a study by Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss demonstrating that 75% of foreign [LDS] converts are not attending church within a year of conversion. In the United States, 50% of the convert s fail to attend after a year . Another not able statistic is that the number of full-time missionaries dropped below 60,000 last year. In 1989, the average missionary brought eight people into the LDS church, yet in 2000 they were averaging only 4.6 people per year.
I relay those statistics because they help to demonstrate the facade of a religion attractive on the outside, yet without regeneration by the life-giving triune God of true Christianity.
Another fact that our Mormon neighbors need to be aware of is that the healthy family image the LDS portrays in the media is a public relations myth. The reality is a sad testimony to the attempt to live a life of law-based performance. Utah (70% LDS) ranks tenth in the nation in suicides, which is the leading cause of deaths in males between the ages of 15 and 44.4 Utah leads the nation in prescriptions for anti-depressants at twice the national average.5 The divorce rate among LDS church members is no lower than the national average.6 Utah also ranks number one in bankruptcies in the U.S.7 Moriel Ministries, a Jewish-Christian ministry, has documented a long history of lifestyle problems in the LDS church, including drug abuse, births out of wedlock, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.8
The articles in this journal certainly disprove doctrinally the Mormon claim that their church is a restoration of the original New Testament church. But one more issue needs to be noted. The New Testament church was not a multi-national conglomerate. In fact, Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The LDS kingdom is very much of this world. It is a multi-national corporate empire. Richard and Jan Ostling painstakingly document this fact in their book, Mormon America. They conservatively estimate LDS asset s at $25-30 billion dollars) with at least $5-6 billion coming in annually through tithes and church investment s.9
RESPONDING TO MORMONISM
This issue of Areopagus Journal includes articles that cover the areas of doctrine essential to Mormon salvation. We begin with a brief historical sketch and a general overview of important LDS doctrines by ARC’s cult specialist, Clete Hux. This is followed by an article examining the key scripture of Mormonism, “The Book of Mormon: History or Fiction?” by ARC’s Keith Gibson. Another crucial area covered is the Mormon view of salvation, which most Mormons do not even understand, addressed in the article “Ye are Gods: The Mormon Doctrine of Salvation” by Mormonism Research Ministry head, Bill McKeever. This is followed by Areopagus Journal’s editor Steve Cowan’s article demonstrating the logical absurdity of Mormonism’s man-made god, “The Impossible God.” And lastly, I have written an article exposing the fallacy by which Mormons are taught to test the truth of Mormonism, “The Burning Bosom: A Look at the Mormon Testimony.”
When Christians attempt to witness either to Mormon missionaries or regular LDS members, they often encounter a barrier that has been programmed into the Mormon by church leaders. They are taught to regard any criticism either written or verbal as “bashing” or “anti-Mormon.” They are taught to avoid such people or literature. This type of information-control is one of the key factors in cultic mind control.
Cult-targeted Christian ministries and Church leaders must strongly warn Christians and the public at large about cults and cultic aberrations in order to protect the flock and as a preventative. But this is not a helpful approach when interacting with individual cult members. Such personal interaction should be governed by the approach found in 2 Timothy 2:23-26. We are not to be quarrelsome, but led and controlled by the Holy Spirit (gentle, kind, patient, and loving). We are to teach the truth and correct their errors -which require a knowledge base.
For example, it might be helpful to allow their own authorities to straighten their perspective. Gently ask the Mormon why it is permissible for the LDS church to strongly criticize and critique Protest ant churches, but they take offense if we want to share why we believe their church to be wrong. Joseph Smith records that other churches (specifically named are Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists) are “all wrong”, and their followers and creeds are “an abomination in God s sight”.10 The Book of Mormon claims that the LDS church alone is the “Lamb of God” and all other churches are “of the devil” and the “whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10).
Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote, “The false gods of Christendom bear the same names as the true Gods of the Bible. Beyond this they have little resemblance. They are described in the creeds that the Lord told Joseph Smith as ‘an abomination in His sight (Joseph Smith History 1:19)’”11 In the official teaching periodical of the LDS church, The Ensign, we find that there was a complete apostasy and Sat an sits in place of God as the head of the Christian churches.12
To learn how to counter this barrier to taking an honest look at Mormonism, study my article “The Burning Bosom”. Above all, we must follow the instruction from Scripture (1 Cor. 9:16-24) and come alongside Mormons, walking with them arm-in-arm, speaking the truth in love, trusting God to open their hearts and minds to see and embrace the true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This requires intentionality and a knowledge base in Scripture and Mormon doctrine. May God use this journal and you to see Mormons truly receive the gift of eternal life.
Craig Branch is the Director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.
1See Richard and Jan Ostling, Mormon America (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999), 374-75.
2Roger Loomis, “Church Growth,” The Association for the Sociology of Religion (August 15-17, 2001): 2.
3 See www.cumorah.com/report.html. The following references to Stewart’s research are also found at this site.
4 See newsnet.byu.edu/story/cfm/418981.
5 See www.dailyutahchronicle.com/news/2002/08/22/Opinion/Utahns.Are. High.On.Prozac.And.Low.On. Life-261895.shtml.
6 See www.barna.org.
7 See deseretnews.com, 06/22/04.
8 See www.moriel.org.
9 Richard and Jan Ostling, Mormon America, 400, 115.
10 Pearl of Great Price 1:19)
11 Bruce McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1985), 55.
12 Kent Jackson, “Early Signs of the Apostasy,” The Ensign (December 1984): 8-9. Many such statements are detailed at www.mrm.org (under articles “A Response to Latter-day Saints Who Say, ‘We Never Criticize Christian Churches’”).