How to handle missionaries

Ding-dong. At our door were two sharp-looking young men. The Mormon missionaries were here.

What do you do when they visit you? Pretend you’re not home? Tell them “no thanks” and shut the door? I decided on a different approach in order to find out what Jesus might do. The results so far have been interesting.

I kept this visit with the elders short and friendly. (All Mormon missionaries insist on being called elders, though many are older teenagers). Come back next Sunday afternoon, I told them, and we can talk longer. I decided to explore Mormon teaching on the nature of God with them and compare it with the Bible. That sounded simple.

When the missionaries came the next Sunday, it didn’t seem that simple. Being in the shiny place on the buckle of the Bible belt, they apparently do not discuss certain teachings until later. To my surprise, my Mormon friends affirmed that there is one God. That was their story, and they were sticking to it. So I suggested that they give some further thought to the nature of God, and we could pick up the subject next time. They agreed. I invited them to talk for a while and give their major points. I listened and learned.

When they returned three days ago, one of the missionaries showed me his “homework.” True to his word, he had carefully written out notes with as many of God’s attributes as he could think of, along with appropriate Bible references, (none from the Book of Mormon). To my surprise, he included in his list that God is unchangeable, citing Malachi 3:6, the verse that I would have used.

The conversation moved to one of their booklets. I asked them to elaborate on the booklet’s use of the term “gospel.” They explained their teaching on “exaltation.” The LDS church teaches that in our pre-existence we were all created by God as spirit children, were sent to earth to receive bodies so that we could learn to make right choices by fulfilling various requirements, and thus earn our way to the highest degree of glory, “become like God” and live with him.

“Elder,” I said, “if what you just said is true, then God has changed. But you have showed, and I certainly agree, that the Bible teaches that God does not change. How do you reconcile your belief with the Bible?” The missionaries thought silently about my question.

I continued: “You also said that we may become like God. “Does that mean you believe that we can become gods also?” They acknowledged that belief and elaborated on it a bit. As the conversation drew to a close, they assured me that they usually don’t get into questions like these from an “investigator,” their term for someone who is listening but not yet convinced.

Here are a few ideas that made this conversation calm and truth-seeking. I recommend them to you.

Keep it friendly—Listen carefully and respectfully. See them as people, not as enemies.

Aim for the bull’s eye—Try to stick with a single key topic and keep aiming for it. That will help prevent arguments about side issues.

Ask questions—Find out how they think as well as what they think. If you hear a statement that seems to be a problem, don’t accuse. Instead, ask questions that seek to bring truth to the surface. Listen attentively to their answer.

Have a modest goal—I gave my missionary friends a question that they could take away and think about.  I prayed for truth to be clear. We can all do that much, can’t we? It is the Holy Spirit who will illuminate the truth.

The missionaries had to go, so I asked them to read Isaiah 44:6-8 and invited them to come back this coming Sunday afternoon. It will be interesting to see what Jesus might do.

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