This post really doesn't have much to do with the main topic of this blog (worship), but I really wanted to share this, and this is my blog (despite its neglect), so here goes.
The Book of Mormon is changing my life. We had our Mormon friends, Elders Anderson and Davis, over for dinner again last night. We have enjoyed getting to know their stories. Melissa and I decided from the beginning that we would not try to press our beliefs upon them, but rather that we would simply get to know who these two young men are. This is very difficult for me, because my default is to try to convince people to think and believe the way I do. That’s changing, though. Lately, I have been seeking to understand what others believe, which requires an entirely different posture and approach to relationships. I am dying to myself, and I believe it is here that the Good News can be proclaimed, not with words of my own that seek to persuade, but the word of Christ that is able to transform.
It’s hard to explain, but I don’t even desire to get them to believe the way I do. Of course I don’t agree with what they believe, but that’s not the point. If it was the point, all I would need to do is argue my points with them, show them the answers, and convince them that they’re wrong and I’m right. And that’s what I’d typically do. But I’m learning how unhealthy that way is. It just pits me against them, exclaims that I am “in” and they are “out,” and ultimately defines myself based on what I believe instead of who I know. The Person Jesus Christ is big enough to bring his kingdom in anyone’s life, no matter what they believe. Heck, I’m sure my beliefs are whack as hell, and he still breaks into my life.
So, after dinner when the elders asked us if they could share a message with us, my heart started racing a little, but I was committed to the kind of posture that seeks unity instead of division. It was hard for me to sit there and listen to what they were saying so affirmatively. But from the onset they were clear that they would not try to force us to believe what they do, but rather that they would invite us to prayerfully consider what they believe. They asked what we knew about the Mormon Church. I said I’ve read some things and heard things here and there, but I told them (reminding myself) that all I’m here to do is seek to understand what they believe and to be their friend. I want to hear what they believe from them--actual Mormons.
They went first to Ephesians 2 and said that Joseph Smith believed that the ministry of the gospel, namely the priesthood, was given to the twelve apostles, but it ended after them. We see this in the epistles to all the churches who couldn’t get it right. Jesus’ message changed, and the priesthood was lost. Joseph Smith as a fourteen year old boy in upstate New York noticed how divided the church was and how everyone had a different interpretation of the Bible. He asked for wisdom from God, as the Bible instructs, and God in the person of Jesus Christ met him in a pillar of light, revealing to him that the priesthood had ended after the apostles, that all the churches have been preaching the wrong message for nearly 1800 years, and that there are hidden tablets that will reveal the truth to him. Joseph Smith was called as a prophet to restore the original message of Jesus, and the whole account is in the Book of Mormon, which has an equal level of authority as the Old and New Testaments.
Of course, with every Bible verse that they opened to, I had another Bible verse that contradicted what they were saying. But what was I to do, sit there and argue with them after breaking bread with them? Tell them that Peter, on whom the Church of Jesus Christ was built, is the one himself who says that we are a royal priesthood? Tell them that just two chapters later in Ephesians Paul talks about how people have been give to the church as gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? Was I to ask them why all of a sudden, in the1800’s God decided to restore his original message after nearly two millennia of everyone else in the world getting it wrong? Was I to get into a hermeneutical argument with them about why they are using the Scriptures as God’s answer book instead of a Story? Everything in me was pulling me towards that. Everything but the Spirit.
I sat there and listened. I even read a passage from the Book of Mormon aloud when they asked me if I would. They asked if I would read the entire book and pray about it. I said I would. Now, if I thought the Bible was a book with magical powers that gets into my bones by osmosis, then I might fear reading the Book of Mormon as a demonic source that would do the same. But I don’t think that way (anymore). And in order to further seek to understand my friends’ point of view, I will honor them by reading it. I will even prayerfully read it. Does that scare you? It would have scared me a few years ago. But things have changed. I’m committed to my friendship with them. I’m learning that there is no dividing wall between believers and unbelievers? We’re all unbelievers. So why do we insist on defining ourselves based on what we believe. “Well, the gospel is at stake,” you might say. Yep. So why do we keep denying the gospel with our angry lashings out at people who believe differently than we do. Christ is big enough to bring his kingdom into anyone’s life, not matter what we believe.
So, when they were finished with their somewhat nervous message, they asked what I thought. Again, I told them (reminding myself) that I have different beliefs but that I would not let that interfere with my relationship with them. (BTW, the kids were pretty needy and rowdy this whole time, so Melissa and I were taking turns keeping them occupied. She ended up missing most of the conversation, but she was happier that way. She’s much more easygoing about these kinds of things, able to provide unhindered hospitality and show love to anyone and everyone. Me? Not so much.) I told them that I believe the truth is a person and not an idea, and that when we make it into an idea, that’s when relationships are broken, because everyone believes different things, and we’re not defined by what we believe but who we know. And I told them again (because I kept needing to remind myself) that I’m committed to my relationship with them.
I actually learned a lot from them, not only about the Mormon faith, but also about how to invite people to consider things for themselves. They stuck mainly with invitational language (scripted at times) with a few moments of assertiveness. But what else would you expect from tie-wearing nineteen and twenty year olds. I could tell that it was uncomfortable for them to share what they did, but I could also tell that they believe in it with every fiber of their being. What else would you expect of two young men who have breathed Mormonism in and out their whole life, one of whom lives in a town that is ninety-six percent Mormon? It makes you think about our children and what kind of narrative we are giving them. I don’t think we’re nearly as committed to leading them in our faith narrative as the Mormons are in theirs. At least the ones on mission.
One more pretty significant thing happened when they were finished. I asked them how I could be praying for them. Again, God is at work in their lives (he’s at work in everyone’s life), so I asked them what they are struggling with. They didn’t know what I meant. So I said that we’re all human, we all have struggles, and asked if they would share. One of them didn’t admit anything and said he’s a pretty easygoing person and at peace pretty much all of the time. The other one sort of half opened up and said that he hurts for people who don’t know the truth, because it’s a matter of eternity. Even though his confession was a bit masked, I could see through to the root of his pain, and I have a pretty good idea how to pray for him…and it’s not, “God, please change his beliefs,” but “Lord, meet him right where he is at with your love.”
As they were leaving I asked them if I could share some of what I believe with them next time. They were welcoming of that. They were reminding themselves of their desire to seek to understand the beliefs of others. They modeled it pretty well for me, so I’ll try to do the same with them.
And that’s how the Book of Mormon is changing my life.
And that’s how the Book of Mormon is changing my life.