Since Mormonism hinges on the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, they will be eager to discuss the topic of prophets. They especially like to ask how a 14-year-old boy could make up the Book of Mormon.
Many Mormons have encountered Christians who have tried to show them all the flaws in Joseph Smith’s character and story. Many do this in a sincere attempt to show them the problems of Mormonism. Our experience, however, is that for most Mormons, it is not effective for these two reasons:
- Christians have no credibility with Mormons when it comes to Joseph Smith. (Just like Mormons wouldn’t have creditability with us if they tried to tell us a completely different story about Martin Luther or John Calvin.)
- Mormons have been warned about such arguments and are prepared for them.
This doesn’t mean the topic of prophets isn’t a fertile field for discussion. Instead of focusing on Joseph Smith’s character or history, it is better to focus on his teachings. By comparing his teachings with those of the Bible, especially regarding salvation, you will have many opportunities to witness. What follows is a process for moving the discussion from Joseph Smith’s character to his teachings.
Begin by saying something like this: “Your talk about Joseph Smith raises a question for me. Do you believe that everybody who claims to be a prophet is a true prophet from God?” You could cite Mohammed’s example, whose story has many similarities with Smith’s. Whether or not you cite any examples, most Mormons will quickly agree that not everybody who claims to be a prophet is truly a prophet. They know the Bible talks about false prophets.
Focus on the critical point, namely, how to distinguish true prophets from false prophets. Say something like this, “Ever since our last discussion, I have been thinking about how to tell a true prophet from a false one. A helpful passage is Deuteronomy 13:1-3.” Take the time to have everybody find the passage in their Bibles and read it. The point it makes, and the one you want to emphasize, is that the test of a prophet is not who they are (their character) or what they do (their actions), but what they teach. What needs to be examined are Joseph Smith’s teachings. Does he teach differently from the Bible? The LDS Church says he taught differently because “Jesus told Joseph not to join any of the churches for they were all wrong” (Restoration pamphlet, p. 11).
At this point, it is important to remember that we want to build a bridge to our LDS friends or missionaries by showing them we are concerned about them and listening to them. It will be very tempting to dive in and start talking about all the differences in the teachings. It is wiser, however, to say that, since teachings are the critical elements in determining the truthfulness of a prophet, you would like them to talk about their teachings – especially those which deal with salvation. Listen intently and ask questions of clarification. Hold off giving a serious witness until the next meeting. By then, you will have amply demonstrated you are nice and courteous people. Having built the bridge, it will be much easier to cross it at the next meeting with a serious witness.
This does not exclude your giving a brief witness. Since Deuteronomy 13 talks about the teaching of other gods, you could tell them about your God. In this connection, it will be tempting to start talking about how Mormonism doesn’t teach the Trinity, etc. However, the Trinity isn’t the most important topic in this context. We bring the power of the gospel to bear by talking about God’s loving nature, not his triune nature. Give them a brief and powerful witness about how God loved you so much that he has given you eternal life as his free gift.
Instead of using Deuteronomy 13:1-3, many Christians use Galatians 1:1:8-9, which also focuses on what is taught. Since many Christians use it, many Mormons are familiar with it and don’t listen intently to it. Conversely, most have never heard Deuteronomy 13:1-3.