When I walk home after jogging I like to stop and chat with the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness missionaries out doing their thing. I try to monopolize the conversation so it doesn’t turn out to be a waste of everyone’s time, if you know what I mean. I like to start with this: “Out sharing the Gospel?” Their eyes usually light up and immediately it’s like we are spiritual comrades. “Yes, we are!” they usually say, and while they are taken aback at such a friendly fellow it gives me an opportunity to continue the fun by asking: “What is the Gospel? Can you give it to me in one sentence?”
Today I did this with a couple of them and one said, very thoughtfully,
“One sentence? Hmmm…wow! Let’s see, uh…”
What would you have said? If you are a Christian, what would be your one sentence version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
After looking at each other for a moment trying to come up with a one sentence version of the Gospel one of them said,
“Jesus is our savior. And God loves us.”
“That’s two sentences. But you did connect them with an “and” so close enough, I’ll call it one,”
and we had a good laugh.
Of course, them being Mormons, you know there’s more to it than that. Or so we’ve been told.
I told them my one sentence version, and they really liked the sound of it:
“If you are wicked, stop doing wicked stuff, and Jesus died for you to help you, if you repent, and if you’re not wicked, Jesus died for you to help you become more like Christ. OK, that’s 3 sentences but if I let you combine your two with a conjunction to make one sentence I’m going to let me combine 3 sentences.”
We had another good laugh.
After several conversations with Mormon missionaries I know that what they are telling us isn’t all that they believe. To “get saved” is more than just, “God loves you, Jesus died for you; believe that, and you’re in.” I know this because I’ve learned that Mormons are trained sequentially and a missionary straight out of high school isn’t privy to all that they believe. Well, OK, that also is what I was told by the same apologists for the Christian faith trying to explain why they are a cult. Apologists rarely present an accurate picture of anything they are trying to disprove. I do like to get it from the horse’s mouth, whenever possible.
After spending some time with a Mormon attorney who no doubt knew more about his faith than your average missionary straight out of high school I’m even less convinced that what I’ve been told about what they really believe (that the missionaries don’t even know), was at all accurate. I’m guessing that lawyer understood it better than all of us, and he told me,
“God loves us, Jesus died for us, believe that and you’re in. That’s it. Nothing else needs to be added.”
Be that as it may, how we as Christians present the Gospel is my concern for this post. I wouldn’t be surprised if your one sentence version is exactly the same as theirs: “God loves us and Jesus is our Savior.”
But here’s the thing. Just as what they said might not be the whole story, like you might also need to get baptized in their church to be acceptable to God ( the same thing the Roman Catholic church teaches, BTW), your one sentence version is incomplete. It doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve been an Evangelical long enough to know there’s a lot more to this than just that. You’re one sentence doesn’t tell us all we need to know to get saved.
How so? If you are a Protestant (i.e., not a Catholic), and you’re into evangelism – and why wouldn’t you be if you believe non-Christians are going to suffer in Hell forever? – it’s your job to convince people that they need a savior. That’s easy to do if you’re talking to someone who’s life is a mess and you offer them a loving, divine being who’s going to help them get their act together. But what if you’re talking to your beloved mother who does have her act together and who you respect more than anyone but you fear for her eternal soul because so far she has rejected the Gospel that got you saved?
You see, your one-sentence Gospel implies a lot of things that need to be said if your audience doesn’t already know it, right? If you’re sharing your one sentence Gospel with your church friends, one sentence is enough because they already know and understand what’s implied by what you say. As they say, “It goes without saying,” because it’s already common knowledge.
For most of the people you want to share the Lord with, “Jesus loves you” will just get you a smile and a “That’s nice. Thanks for telling me,” but no salvation, according to Protestant thinking. Your simple message isn’t doing the job so you search for the clincher, and for many it’s pulling out scriptures – pulled out of context I might add – which tell them they aren’t good enough for God so they need a savior. That little bit of information makes all the difference in the world. With that understood, “Jesus saves” all of a sudden actually becomes relevant, because your audience now realizes they need to get saved.
My one sentence version above is simple. Nothing more needs to be added, for most people. Not only that, it’s what Jesus and his apostles preached. See my blog post Salvation by Being Good for more on that. I don’t need to say, “You are a sinner going to Hell,” because that’s not the case for every person I talk to.
One of the reasons the Mormon Church is growing faster than the Protestant churches, other than the fact they have a lot of kids – they are actually genuinely Pro-Life in that they don’t believe more kids are a burden – is that their Gospel doesn’t depend on getting people to think they are not accepted in God’s eyes just because they are sinners. In fact, their Gospel resonates with more people because it is a message that actually says, “God loves you.” There is no add on that denies “Jesus loves you” like, “But if you don’t believe XYZ he’s going to send you to Hell.”
How is Evangelical Christianity going to compete with that? It can’t, and it shouldn’t even try, because it’s not Biblical Christianity. It’s Augustinian Christianity. Before Augustine in the 4th Century the church was not preaching the Doctrine of Original Sin or any other form of Universal Condemnation. Jesus being Savior had a different meaning in the original church.
According to Wikipedia:
He [Joseph Smith] wrote as one of his church’s Articles of Faith, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Later Mormons took this creed as a rejection of the doctrine of original sin and any notion of inherited sinfulness. Thus, while modern Mormons will agree that the fall of Adam brought consequences to the world, including the possibility of sin, they generally reject the idea that any culpability is automatically transmitted to Adam and Eve’s offspring.
THAT, I think is a more accurate interpretation of the Bible than what Martin Luther and the other Reformers came up with, and THAT is why I think Mormonism will eclipse the Evangelical churches in membership given enough time. Mormon churches will continue to gain members while Evangelical churches will continue to lose them, because of how each views Original Sin. The number of blue men in the chart below will shrink to 2 while the number of black men will grow to 48.
I have in the past been awful hard on the Mormon Church, but any more I’m beginning to think Joseph Smith was a prophet raised up to keep believers from the errors of the Christian church, post Augustine and Luther, just as I’ve been thinking God did raise up Mohammad in the 7th Century for the same purpose, post the Augustinian heresy and that other great heresy of the 4th Century, the Doctrine of the Trinity. They may not have been very successful in reforming the church, but they sure have been effective in leading millions of believers – trillions in the case of Mohammad – into a faith that stays away from two of the greatest errors of the Christian church: 1) God is a trinity and 2) men stand before God condemned for merely being what God made them to be.
Of course Evangelicals will never accept Joseph Smith or Mohammad as prophets of God but it doesn’t matter. They don’t need to. Their salvation is not determined by whether they do or they don’t believe they are prophets.
God in his grace has done two things, as I see it: 1) Allowed Evangelicals to be blessed even though they have messed up the Gospel – and we should allow them to be blessed as well, and 2) God in his grace has done what God has always done when His shepherds lead His sheep astray: send prophets to either straighten them out, or in this case, raised up others from the heathen, to be led in different ways. “Brothers of a different mother,” as we jokingly say.
I find God’s grace in this to be a marvelous thing, and I long for my Evangelical brethren to come into a better understanding of that grace. It’s a great place to be and something the world needs more of.