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The Five Pillars Of Bridge Building

Our tagline, “Build Bridges Not Barriers” sums up our witnessing approach. We strive to build relationships with Mormons by being careful not to create any unnecessary barriers. There is one obstacle which should never be removed, namely, the message of the crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23).

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Barriers to Witnessing

In our efforts to witness, we can sometimes create unnecessary barriers. Some examples we have encountered: unwillingness to call Mormon missionaries elders; insisting on using another translation besides the KJV; speaking disparaging of things Mormons hold sacred (i.e. their sacred undergarments). Barriers can be created unwittingly when Christians fail to recognize the unique definitions Mormonism has given many biblical words. Failing to recognize this quickly leads to frustration, and even suspicion, as both parties end up talking past each other.

 

Building Bridges

While staying alert to these pitfalls, we want to focus on things which will establish and strengthen our relationships with Mormons. In other words, we work on building bridges. Our approach is relational; not confrontational. Because we have taken the time to build the relationship, when we do get into serious discussions about the most important topic of all – that Jesus has already done everything for us, they listen. Even when the vast difference between Mormonism and Christianity becomes apparent to them, the relationship often continues. After many years of sharing Christ with Mormons, and training many others to do the same, we have identified five key components to our approach. They are the five pillars on which we build bridges to Mormons.

Pillar # 1: See Mormons as victims, not enemies

Our attitude towards people greatly affects our actions towards them. Most Christians – at least, those who correctly see Mormonism as a non-Christian religion – view Mormons as the enemy. They do it with good reason. Mormons espouse many non-biblical beliefs and zealously work at converting others to their beliefs. Most Christians know of a family who has been torn apart by a family member becoming Mormon.

What we need to remember is that every unbeliever is an enemy of Jesus. Jesus reminded us of this when he said: “Whoever is not with me is against me’” (Matthew 12:30). But this shouldn’t stop us from loving them or trying to reach them. It doesn’t give us an excuse not to adopt Paul’s strategy of becoming all things to all people in order to win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Seeing Mormons as Victims

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The more one studies Mormonism and talks with Mormons the more sympathetic we become, because we see how much Mormonism victimizes its members. Imagine being told repeatedly that you can’t be saved in your sins but from your sins (True to the Faith, p. 151f). In other words, repeating the sin you have repented of reveals you were not truly repentant because repentance includes abandoning the sin!  “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins – behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).

Or how would you like to hear this: “It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when.  It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you.  That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.” This was written by Spencer W. Kimball, a man they considered a living prophet.

Speaking the Truth

Such examples could be multiplied many times over. (Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons has many other examples.) Hopefully, these begin to reveal for you the burden many Mormons are under. Many struggle to be worthy before God. Many have no confidence they are forgiven or will live with God for all eternity. Many have just given up.

This doesn’t mean they will readily talk about their struggles. One of the main characteristics of Mormonism is that most Mormons appear happy and content even when they aren’t. Mormonism encourages success and strength. It discourages people from showing or sharing their struggles. When we have taken the time, however, to establish a relationship with them and show we care for them, many have opened up.

 It all begins here with your attitude. Until you view Mormons as victims, you won’t be able to sincerely build a bridge to them.

Pillar 2: Treat Mormons with genuine love and respect

Because so many Christians view Mormons as the enemy, they either ignore them or rudely confront them. They rarely interact in a way which reflects Christ’s love for them. Sometimes Christians even wonder if it is God-pleasing to show Mormons love. This really shouldn’t be an issue. God commands us to love everyone including our enemies. Jesus, the apostles, and countless Christians over the centuries have shown us how we can do it.

Christians often struggle with how to show Mormons love while, at the same time, being clear so they don’t condone their teachings. We readily admit that sometimes Christians have sent confusing messages to Mormons. Treating them with love and respect while clearly stating biblical truth takes some thought. Following is what we have learned from thousands of conversations and relationships.

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Basic Civility

The first step is to show them basic civility. For example, greeting LDS missionaries at the door with a smile is a great first step in building a relationship with them. Offering them a glass of water on a hot day; taking five minutes at the door to get to know them. Such simple civilities go a long way. Even if you don’t set up an appointment to visit with them (a step we highly encourage – Please Open The Door), but instead give them a simple witness at the door, your graciousness almost guarantees they will more readily listen to you.

 

Witnessing to Family and Friends

The same applies with your Mormon neighbor, friend, co-worker, and family member. In such on-going relationships, you will have many opportunities to show them love and respect without compromising any biblical belief. But you must be alert to those opportunities and then take advantage of them. (For much more help in witnessing with friends and family, see our family & friends information.

 

Show Respect through Listening

No matter what the relationship, the most important way of showing them respect is to listen to them -carefully and attentively. Listening is often hard work. Most of us are not good listeners by nature. Too often, we assume we already know what they believe because we have studied Mormonism. Many Mormons, however, don’t know official LDS doctrine or convey it accurately. The only way you will be able to know what a specific person believes is by having them tell you. And understanding a person’s belief is key to bridge building.

Start with Questions

One of the best aids to listening is asking questions. This seems obvious but it is something people often overlook. When first building the relationship, ask simple questions about their history and activity in the church. This can seamlessly transition into questions about specific beliefs. They will often mention their belief themselves. If they don’t, ask them about what they believe about sin, salvation, and Jesus. Be sure to have them define and explain what they believe. Ask them to expand and explain. If you don’t ask a few probing questions, there’s a good chance you won’t fully understand their beliefs. At this stage, your main goal is to be able to accurately reflect back to them what they believe.

If the situation is conducive to it, even take written notes. When we suggest this, however, people often question if it will bother their Mormon friends. We have experienced the direct opposite. Most were surprised and honored. There are fewer things which show a person respect than to take notes of what they say. At the very least, you're show that you take them seriously.

Pillar 3: focus on Mormon stress points 

This is absolutely critical, but it’s done so rarely. Christians commonly want to talk about everything in Mormonism which bothers them. Things like its' additional scriptures, its' rejection of the Trinity, and its' teaching that people can become gods. The problem with these and similar topics is that the vast majority of Mormons aren’t bothered by them. And if they aren’t bothered by them, they won’t bother discussing them with you. In fact, they will want to get away from you as quickly as possible.

Stress Points to Mormons

Most react quite differently when you talk about the things in Mormonism which cause them stress. Instead of trying to end the conversation, they are eager to continue it.  We typically focus on three areas:

     

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  1. A person’s worthiness before God. The themes of worthiness and perfection are common in Mormonism. They must be worthy to receive any and all blessings. Thus, worthiness is on the minds of most Mormons. And many, even many active members, frequently have doubts about their worthiness. Perfectionism causes great stress for many. It is engrained in Mormons that they have “divine potential” and thus can be worthy before God on the basis of their own merits. To show the impossibility of this, we need to talk about how even one sin makes us guilty of everything (i.e. James 2:10). Only after they have come to grips with the severity of even one sin can we share how Jesus has earned our worthiness for us and gives it freely to us. In this way, we strive to make this stress point a rest point in Christ.
  2. Forgiveness from God. Most of the time when forgiveness is talked about in Mormonism, it focuses on a person’s duty to forgive another. Rarely does it talk about God’s forgiveness of people. And when it does, it must be earned (see quote from Spencer Kimball in #1 above). It is obtained only after a person has gone through the “painful process” of repentance. Many Mormons have a hard time believing God forgives us freely and completely in Christ. Even though they struggle to believe it, most don’t mind talking about it – especially those who are troubled by their sinfulness. And the more we can talk to them about it, the more chance the Holy Spirit has to work through the powerful gospel to change this stress point into a rest point in Christ.
  3. Living eternally with Heavenly Father. We word it this way very intentionally. Mormonism teaches that almost everybody goes to heaven, but only those who go to the celestial kingdom will live with Heavenly Father. So, talking about going to heaven with a Mormon is a pointless exercise. On the other hand, focusing on living eternally with Heavenly Father is often quite productive. It’s productive because it too is a stress point for many Mormons. A Mormon leader recently related how he asked a gathering of a couple of hundred Mormons, “who wants to live eternally with Heavenly Father”. All raised their hands. He then asked how many thought they were going to achieve it. Only one raised his hand. The best most Mormons can say about living with Heavenly Father is that they hope they will. Very few are confident they will because, again, it all depends on their worthiness. Here too we can strive to make this stress point a rest point in Christ.

Pillar 4: Speak The Mormon Language

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One of the greatest frustrations Christians experience when they talk with Mormons is discovering they have talked past each other. Mormons not only have a unique way of saying many things, they also give unique definitions to important biblical words. This is why we have provided you with an extensive dictionary of “Mormonese”. (To see examples, go there and check out the definition of common words like sin, grace, and repentance.)

The more time you take to ask questions (pillar #2), the more evident this will become. Here we wish to emphasize only two points:

  1. Many Mormons are not aware of the differences in definitions and often are just as surprised at our definition of a particular word as we are of their definition.
  2. Becoming all things to all people means that, at least in the beginning, you must be the one who defers to their way of speaking whenever you can (i.e. calling God “Heavenly Father”).

Pillar 5: Witness Christ rather than Debate Mormonism

There are many problems with Mormonism: embarrassing episodes especially from its early days which it then inaccurately reports, changes in the Book of Mormon, and exotic teachings contradicting the Bible. Mormonism gives us a ton of material which should be extremely troubling to many Mormons.

The key phrase in the previous sentence is “should be”. It’s true such things do bother some Mormons. But they don’t trouble the vast majority of Mormons because they are not their stress points! Countless are the Christians who have laid out all these facts to their Mormon friends only to have their friends quickly dismiss them. The Christian leaves the conversation totally frustrated. “How can this not bother them!”

Understanding Your Mormon Friends & Family

Frustration for the Christian is not the only negative result. This threatens, usually damages, and sometimes even destroys the relationship. Rarely does it improve it. The Mormon immediately becomes defensive and remains wary of future “attacks”. To better understand this, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Imagine how you would feel if your Mormon friend “attacked” Christianity. How much credibility would you assign them? How open would you be to give serious consideration to their position? How eager would you be for future discussions?

Using the Bible

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Most importantly, when you evaluate this approach from the viewpoint of the Bible it becomes clear it is not the best strategy. It doesn’t bring to bear our greatest weapon, the two-edged sword of God’s Word (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). Rather it utilizes the butter knife of human reason. Nor does it tap into the greatest power on earth, namely, the gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (Romans1:16).

Instead of Debating Mormonism with Mormons, Witness Christ to Them.

Clearly sharing what Jesus has done for us and the effect it has on us often serves as a magnet drawing Mormons to us.  Here are some key thoughts to keep in mind when talking about Jesus.

  1. Stress Jesus as our substitute (i.e. Isaiah 53:4-6). Mormons primarily see him as their example. Point out the huge difference between the two. A substitute does it for us. An example shows us how but we must still do it.
  2. Stress Jesus as our righteousness, as our law-keeper (i.e. Romans 5:19, 1 Corinthians 1:30, Isaiah 61:10). Mormons are bombarded with the thought that they must obey the laws. The biblical truth that Jesus kept the law for us is totally foreign to them.
  3. Stress the assurance you have that you know you are completely forgiven (i.e. Hebrews 10:14-17) and are accepted by God (i.e. 1 Peter 2:9).
  4. Stress the joy you experience knowing God is with you, providing and protecting you (i.e. Romans 8:31-39, Psalm 23). Mormonism says we are on earth to be tested. As a result, many Mormons think of God as constantly evaluating and grading them. It is like having your boss constantly look over your shoulder as you work.
  5. Stress the confidence you have that you will live eternally with Heavenly Father (i.e. Philippians 1:23). As stated above, only a few Mormons have this confidence. Emphasize that you have no doubts because your acceptance by God depends entirely on Jesus’ work for you and he has already accomplished it (John 19:30).

Using The Five Pillars

These five pillars have been tested and refined over the years. Thousands of Christians have utilized them and have been amazed how well they build a bridge to Mormons – a bridge which they repeatedly go over to share the wonderful news of Jesus. They are explained in more depth in our course, Build Bridges Not Barriers. We encourage you to take the time to learn more about them.

We feel it is important not only to learn these pillars, but to quickly implement them. Many Christians hesitate to do so because they are afraid of doing anything that might damage their relationship with their family member or friend. We understand completely. This is why we encourage you to begin to implement them in a lower risk relationship. We especially urge you to consider participating in our outreach program to Mormon missionaries (Please Open The Door). Learning how to witness to Mormon missionaries have helped many be more confident in witnessing to their Mormon friends and family members.

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The Build Bridges Not Barriers Course

This video-based course is presently in production and is based on a seminar that Mark Cares has taught for a number of years. We anticipate its release in late Spring, 2018.

Click here to download a copy of the Five Pillars.