Building Bridges Ministries
Southern Baptist Minister
I frequently am asked two questions. One by Baptists. The other by Mormons.
Baptists: “As a Baptist, how can you minister among the Mormons?”
Mormons: “If you believe Joseph Smith restored the keys to the priesthood, why are you not a member?”
The first question…
“As a Baptist, how can you minister among the Mormons?” The short answer first. Not many of us Protestants are aware that Joseph Smith was extremely tolerant of Christians of all sects. And that’s my heart. My approach to ministry is similar, if not the same: free tolerance to Christians of all sects.
“Do you believe Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation, which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship. I am just as ready to die defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination.” Joseph Smith, (LDS History of the Church, Vol.5: p.498).
More specifically, on May 8, 1838, Joseph Smith preached a sermon. People—especially Protestant ministers—were always asking him, “What makes Mormonism so different from our religion (Protestantism)?” His answer is crucial. He responded:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven, and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (Joseph Smith, LDS History of the Church, Vol.3: p.30). [bold mine]
In other words, I believe Joseph Smith is saying—in the essentials of the gospel, let there be unity. In the non-essentials of the gospel, let there be liberty. Which begs the question: what are the essentials of the gospel? What are the non-essentials?? And what are the differences between the essentials of the gospel and the non-essentials? How important are the non-essentials?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said an interesting thing: “It’s not that we Christians disagree. It’s that we disagree on the importance of our disagreements” (Introduction). A very wise statement, indeed. In other words, what’s important to you may not be to me. And vice versa. For example, the Mass ceremony is very important to a Catholic. Not to me (and I don’t mean to sound cavalier). Likewise, the doctrines of the rapture and closed canon are extremely important to a Baptist. Not to an LDS. I could go on. Temple sealings and sacred ordinances are enormously important to a Latter-day Saint. Not to a Methodist. What’s going on? We’re disagreeing over the importance of the non-essentials of the gospel.
Which brings us, as far as I’m concerned, to the crux of the matter. Paul, I believe, enumerates the essentials of the gospel in I Corinthians chapter fifteen for us.
Brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (verses 1-3).
Paul states that the essentials of the gospel are: Christ’s death, his burial, and his resurrection on the third day.
I submit—all who believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that he rose again on the third day—I believe are my brothers and sisters in the faith. To say it another way—I believe all who embrace Him as their Lord and Savior are my brothers and sisters. To say it even another way—fellowship in the gospel is determined by His Lordship, not by creedal agreement. For unity is based upon His Lordship whereas conformity of doctrine is based upon creedal agreement. But the Bible (and Book of Mormon) teaches unity of the Spirit (Eph.4:3), not conformity of doctrine. Differences is not necessarily division and neither is conformity, unity. I have sat through too many Baptist church splits to know that! Our congregation was in doctrinal conformity but definitely not in the unity of the Spirit.
Which brings us back full circle to Lewis’s point: it’s not that we Christians disagree; it’s that we disagree on the importance of our disagreements. Again, we’re debating the importance of the non-essentials of the gospel.
So, to my fellow Baptist’s question, “Brother Lynn, as a Baptist, how can you minister among the Mormons?”
There is liberty among us Baptists and Mormons to disagree on the non-essentials of the gospel and still fellowship. (Again, what are the essentials? His death, his burial, his resurrection, and his ascension.) All other doctrines are considered non-essentials and do not require Christians to be in total agreement. I’m not saying—negotiables are not important. Depends on who you ask. I’m saying—non-essentials do not demand universal agreement. Non-essentials do, however, ask from all of us liberty. The liberty to disagree and remain brothers and sisters. When we say, non-essentials are not important, we’re saying what’s important to you may not be to me, and what’s important to me may not be to you. But we’re still family! And that’s okay. In essentials of the gospel, however, it is not okay for you and me to disagree…to disagree on the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ. In all other matters we may disagree and still fellowship. It bears repeating…what determines our fellowship is His Lordship. If Jesus is the Lord of your life and He’s the Lord of my life—we’re brothers. We’re sisters. We’re to fellowship.
And that’s why I freely fellowship among Mormons as a Southern Baptist minister. That’s why I also freely fellowship just as easily among Methodists, Catholics, or Pentecostals and Lutherans. No, I do not believe in infant baptismal regeneration or transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Or that speaking in tongues is the initial sign, or evidence, of the new birth. Nor do I believe in secret temple sealings and eternal progression or the deification of man. But I do believe this…and I know by firsthand experience—I personally know Catholics who are born again, who know Jesus. I personally know Methodists who are born again. I know Pentecostals who are born again. I know Lutherans who are born again. And I also know Mormons who are born again and who know Jesus, even though they believe in an anthropomorphic godhead—just as Catholics believe in transubstantiation and Methodists believe in infant baptismal regeneration and Lutherans believe in conformation. I may not agree with their doctrine, but all Mormons I personally know believe with all their heart that Jesus Christ died, he was buried, he rose the third day, and he ascended in to heaven.
They are my brothers and sisters.
To the second question…“If you believe Joseph Smith restored the keys to the priesthood, why are you not a member?”
My response to my Mormon friends…
In LDS Church History, Vol.7:382, Joseph, the Prophet, was presiding over a meeting with some of his Elders:
“...We are asked, ‘Is the Church of God and the Kingdom of God the same organization? And we are informed that some of the brethren hold that they are separate.’ This is the correct view to take. The Kingdom of God is a separate organization from the Church of God. On this point, the prophet Joseph gave an example, which he asked the younger elders who were present to always remember. It was to the effect that men might be chosen to officiate as members of the Kingdom of God who had NO standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” [bold mine].
I feel strongly I am one of those chosen men. I believe I can get more done, accomplish more good, outside the church. Other prominent church leaders have felt likewise. For instance, Ezra Taft Benson quoted in conference Orson F. Whitney,
“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along,” says Orson F. Whitney. “They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them than anywhere else.” Elder Whitney then pointed out that we have no warfare with other churches. “They are our partners in a certain sense” [bold mine].
(Ezra Taft Benson quoting Orson F. Whitney in his conference report, April 1972—citing conference report, April 1928.)
These are my sentiments exactly.
His Blessings as we labor together in His vineyard,
Southern Baptist Minister
Independence, MO (on the outskirts)
Building Bridges Ministries