Friday, October 22, 2004

Your gospel doesn't smell bad enough

There is a Mormon who attends one of my Bible studies, and has been attending faithfully for the past several years. At one point before he joined with us, he was given the impression by a pastor that he was saved. Why? For several reasons, actually. First, he mouthed the words, prayed the prayer, and responded to the altar call. The pastor of the church he was attending placed the gospel in cute little cliché formulas--the "2-6-2; care-dare-share, 1-2-3; a-b- c; say the magic words, and you're in" gospel. That church, incidentally, placed more emphasis, expended more effort, and spent more time on drama ministries, skits, and "relevant messages" than on proclaiming the gospel. When in the rare instance the gospel was proclaimed, the necessity of acknowledging one's rebellion was never part of it. As long as you uttered the magical words, you were a "Christian." No need for a life change or a commitment to follow Christ.

Once this Mormon man (who is nearing 70) and his wife (who is indeed a Christian) began meeting with us, one of my first tasks was to tell him the truth. So we asked them to dinner. When I asked him why he thought he could be a Christian and a Mormon at the same time, he responded by saying he had sat down with the pastor of the aforementioned church, and discussed his Mormonism with him; but at the end of the discussion, he could see no clear difference between Mormons and Christians--he went away thinking that Mormonism was just another Christian denomination.

I spent the rest of the evening explaining the differences, asking about his current beliefs about the Trinity, progressive deification, the differences between the levitical priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood, the role of good works in salvation, etc.; just as I had suspected, he was a thoroughgoing Mormon. And so I showed him from Scripture why his beliefs were in error and why is is not a Christian after all. I also told him that unless he abandons those beliefs and turns to Christ alon, he will die in his sins and spend eternity in the lake of fire.

As expected, he was angry. He was angry because he had been offended--something his previous pastor had never accomplished with his "gospel formula." At the end of it, I fully expected him to leave and never come back. Strangely, that didn't happen. Instead, he kept coming back, week after week, to hear me teach through Hebrews, Ephesians, Philippians, Christian theology (we took apart our statement of faith, point by point), and some other miscellaneous teachings. Each week he would come back, sit through the study, ask challenging questions, sigh heavily and groan when I said something he didn't particularly like, and come back the following week to do it all over again. I didn't (and won't) revise my teachings so as not to offend him. I stayed with the plain reading of the text, calling attention to things that should be obvious were it not for spiritual blindness.

This man still has one foot in Mormonism and one foot in our Bible study. I don't know whether he will ever be converted--but that does not stop me from putting the truth before his eyes at every chance. I have grown to love him and his wife, and I certainly do not want to see him perish without Christ. However, I also fully understand that I have nothing to do with his conversion. Only Christ can remove his spiritual blindness.

I also realize that with his every rejection of truth--with each new heavy sigh he expresses in disdainful reaction to some new point I make regarding his false belief--his condemnation increases. Even if I somehow knew he will never repent, I am no less obligated to proclaim the truth to him. The gospel is not only about salvation; it is equally about condemnation. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul says something extremely enlightening:
15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
My job as a minister of the gospel is twofold. On the one hand, it is to be the aroma of life to those who respond to the truth. On the other hand, it is to be the stench of death to those who reject--and continue to reject--the gospel. My job is to be faithful to both aspects of the gospel. The pastor (mentioned above) carried out the first part of his commission, but not the second. And because he refused to engage in the second part, he misled someone who is not a Christian into thinking he was--and the Mormon was not the first person he had misled into that thinking.

Thankfully, the Mormon man now understands there is a vast difference between Mormonism and Christianity. Hopefully, one day he will act on that knowledge. Spiritual blindness is an already impossible obstacle for an unbeliever to overcome. We certainly don't need to complicate things by misleading them into believing they are ok when they are not.