Saturday, January 19, 2008

Preaching the Good News?

by Dan Phillips@

Tuesday I posted a snippet of a card left at my doorstep on Saturday, and invited guesses as to its church of origin. Right off the bat, Gareth guessed "Mormons," echoed by Kim, Pastor Brian Culver (twice!), dkyle, Jesucristo rescato a Ernesto, dac, and some bookstore owner.

Other guesses were very creative, including seeker-sensitive, Willow Creekers, purpose driven, "Therapeutic Moralistic Deists," "the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Stammering Christian Worm-Farmers," JW's, Conservative Baptists, and Pentecostals.

It was a fun thread. And now... the rest of the story.

I was in my office last Saturday morning, talking with my wife, when one of the boys came out to us. Breathlessly he told me someone had rung the doorbell. So I lumbered in, opened the door, and found the card wedged into the crack. A couple of young men were walking away towards the sidewalk. I took in their overall clean-cut effect, their white shirts, their ties, and cried —


They smiled, a bit surprised, and nodded affirmatively. I came out so that we could talk on my doorstep.

I've not exhaustively studied Mormonism, and have only talked with a few of them about spiritual matters. (This contrasts with many, many JW encounters.) For years, our next-door neighbors were Mormons. The father was an elder. Very fine people, wonderful neighbors. As long as they lived next to us, we got no visits from Mormons. We figured they acted as our shield to doorstep Mormovangelism.

They've since moved, evidently taking with them the Shield.

C. S. Lewis once said that you didn't really understand a heresy until you'd studied it well enough to find it somewhat tempting, or at least to understand the appeal. By that criterion, I don't know Mormonism. The people have been some of the nicest I've known, but the religious tenets have never seemed other than flat-out absurd to me.

So back to these young men. The first gent said they were going door to door telling people "about the wonderful news of the restoration of the Gospel."

"Oh?" I responded. "When was it lost?"

He was absolutely stumped. I mean speechless. The taller gent tried to interject, but I asked (nicely), "Well, is it okay if he answers, since he's the one who said it?" (I figured, perhaps wrongly, that it works like with JW's: one is the trainer, the person who speaks is the trainee.)

He said sure.

I was actually dismayed for the young fellow (—who had been LDS for ten years, I later learned), so I rephrased my question a few times. He said he wasn't great at English, though he seemed to me to speak jut fine. So when I saw I wasn't going to get an answer, I adopted another approach.

"So, what is the gospel?" I asked.

Again, stunned silence. So I rephrased it. "It's what we're telling people," he said. I told him I got that — but what was it they were telling people? What was it about? What made it good news? What news did it tell? I literally asked the question at least six different ways.

This occasioned yet more puzzling, which wasn't really my intent; so I tried another angle. "Is it in the book of Mormon?" I asked. "Is there somewhere in there where it is spelled out?" Neither could point to a passage. I tried again. "Do you have a favorite part of the book of Mormon, part that really says what you believe?" I pretty well felt the answer coming before the taller fellow gave it:

"Oh, I love all of it." (That's the second time I've heard a Mormon respond that way, making it two for two.)

So I said, "Is that a Bible you have there?" Yes. "Do you know where it says what the Gospel is?" No. "May I show you?" Sure.

So I showed them 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and tried to open it up a bit. Of course, they agreed with it. So I asked if they agreed that believing in Jesus, only, brings salvation. (All this time I'm praying for God's guidance and grace, not really sure which specific path to choose.)

"Well," the taller man told me, "yes, but we have to show that we mean it by what we do. We can't just say we believe, and then do nothing about it." He had been a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) all his life, and they just told him if he went to church once a week, that was all there was to it.

I agreed; no one wants to be a hypocrite. So I asked them to read Romans 4:4-5, and asked what it said, and what it meant. We talked about how Paul was saying grace and works were opposites, that if works had anything to do with our salvation, then it wasn't by grace. And if it was by grace, works could have nothing to do with it.

They said they believed that. Hm.

They said, however, that we needed to do works to show God that we had real faith. "Does He not know whether we have faith or not?" I asked. Well, yes, sure....

So I asked the EE question: "If, God forbid, you were to die, and find yourself before the holy Judge; and if He were to ask you why He should let you into His Heaven what would you say?"

The taller gent's answer was pure works: "I would say that I tried to be good, I treated people with love and respect, I kept your laws...." A whole lot of "I." Sola ego, if I could butcher me some Latin.

So I said it sounded like he was trusting himself, not Jesus. How good you have to be to go to Heaven? Then we talked about the holy Law of God, and how Jesus met the Law's demands in His person on the cross, how He was clothed with our sin, so that we who trust in Him alone might be clothed with His perfect righteousness, and be accepted on that basis. (If you've just dropped by, and that all is news to you, please check this out.)

Smiling assent, no arguments. Then, very nicely, "We were supposed to meet back up five minutes ago." So we parted, me urging them to read Romans all the way through, and that they'd find everything they need to know about Jesus in it, and the other 65 books.

Nice guys, truly. The taller fellow had been a Marine, both were married with kids.

No clue about the Gospel. Pray for them.

Here was their card:

Next time, let's chat some more about how hard it was to identify what kind of church produced that card.

But first, think about their parting-word to me:

"Thanks for talking with us. Most people won't."

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