Back in my evangelical Christian days, I took an interest in what my fellow believers and I called “the cults”—chiefly Mormonism, Christian Science, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Moonies, and so on. My favorite radio show was “The Bible Answer Man,” with Walter Martin, and I devoured his book, The Kingdom of the Cults. But even then I was a big fan of gathering my own information and not just taking someone else’s word for it. So I decided to contact the Mormons and find out for myself who they were, what they believed, and why they believed it.
My pastor was against the idea, not the least because of my youth. I assured him, however, that I was not at risk (and as it turns out, I wasn’t the one in danger). I started attending a local Mormon church, and was somewhat surprised to find how little difference there was between Sunday morning at the Mormons, and Sunday morning at my usual church. There was a bit more emphasis on doing good works, and a bit less emphasis on just trusting in God to save you, but other than that I felt right at home. Hmmm.
The Mormons were very nice people, and we all got along just fine. Since my goal was to learn Mormonism, I was not the least bit confrontational and did nothing to try and convert them to my own personal faith. I even participated in their Sunday school Bible discussions, and contributed one or two evangelical Bible-based perspectives that seemed to fit the general train of thought. But I found I wasn’t really learning much about Mormonism: they all knew it already, and the Sunday morning sermons and discussions were just about how to be good people in the context of everyday life.
My next step was to contact a pair of Mormon missionaries, which happened to take place while I was attending college some distance away from my hometown. Here at last was the intro to Mormonism I had been looking for, as presented and defended by the Mormons themselves. As before, I was there to learn and take notes, so I simply listened attentively and raised no objections to their teachings. Little did I realize what effect my attitude was having on the missionaries themselves.
This went on over a period of a few weeks, with the missionaries leading me through a series of filmstrips and tape recordings, and related discussions. I learned a lot, and though a lot of it was familiar and expected (due to my study of Walter Martin), it was interesting to see how they delivered their material, what they emphasized, and what they glossed over.
Then one evening, I came to the little chapel that the missionaries were using as their headquarters, and found that there was some unusual activity going on. In the larger room off the main hallway, several of the other missionaries were filling a makeshift pool constructed of pipes and something like a swimming pool liner. I asked my missionaries what was going on, and they rushed me past the door, mumbling something about expecting a baptism tonight.
That really caught my interest, and I was hoping we could skip the filmstrip so that I could watch a real Mormon baptism being performed. Instead, my missionaries started an intense and detailed discussion of Mormon doctrine and commitment and salvation and so on. I was starting to get a bit impatient with them—I didn’t want to miss the baptism, and here they were dragging things out worse than usual!
As you’ve probably figured out, there was no way I was going to miss that baptism. It was waiting for me. As in, it was waiting FOR ME! They saw me as ripe for the picking, and were just trying to “close the sale,” as they say. But I wasn’t committing. I was still trying to learn. I was blithely oblivious to the social cues, and was thinking of nothing but learning more about Mormonism. Finally one of them asked me point blank if I would be willing to become a Mormon.
That was when I tumbled to what was happening. End of the line, folks. Time to sign up, or get off the bus. So I explained to them that I was happier with the God I already had, and that the Mormon God actually seemed like a bit less powerful than Jesus (in my opinion at the time). I wasn’t joining.
In hindsight, I’m guessing that was probably the low point of their 2-year missionary sojourn. Without any malice, intent, or forethought, I had dealt them the most crushing blow their faith could have experienced. I had listened to their Gospel politely, without twisting it or distorting it or hassling with them about it in any way. And then I rejected it. They were crushed.
I felt bad about that later on. It was entirely unintentional on my part, but I suppose I could have predicted it. Still, it was an interesting experience, and it gave me an unexpected insight into the mind and heart of a Mormon missionary. Take from that what you will.