Saturday, September 25, 2010

How to Give a Simple Answer to a Casual Question About the Church.

The 2 most basic points you should cover, plus 7 points of introduction to the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, followed by tips on how to effectively share the gospel in an informal setting.

My friend D.T. sent me the following question which I feel is an important one for all church members who know that they need to share the gospel, but don't feel like they quite know how to go about it.

"How would you answer a question about your religion in an informal sense, for instance in an impromptu online chat?"

Naturally, my answer would depend on the contents of any specific question, but I would generally respond to a casual question about what we believe by touching briefly on two major points, with an emphasis on establishing common ground with those who are curious about our faith.
      1)  We believe in Jesus Christ.  The first of our thirteen principal articles of faith states that, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”  We believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind and that he was resurrected so that all mankind might live again.  We worship Him as the living Son of the living God, and we believe that it is through Him that all men may be saved if they will have faith in His name, repent of their sins, and follow the principles and ordinances of the Gospel that He taught.

2)  The gospel blesses families.  Most people care very little for a history lesson, or a complicated discussion regarding doctrine or scripture, but they do have a family, and the knowledge that they can be together with their family for eternity is a big deal to many people. More importantly, I found on my mission that a lot of people responded even more enthusiastically to the idea that by living the gospel as a family they would actually WANT to be together for eternity.
In most casual interactions regarding the church the curious person generally only wants and/or needs a small amount of information about the church. Therefore I find it is wise to stick to the most basic and fundamental elements of our faith.  If someone asked me to give them more than just the basics which I have mentioned above, I would focus on some or all of the following elements (I would probably stick to some variation of these simplified headers alone, depending on the situation, and most importantly, on the guidance of the spirit):

1) Jesus Christ organized a church: We believe in Jesus Christ, which is an important thing that we have in common. What you may not know is that while Jesus walked the Earth He organized a church that was built on a foundation of apostles and prophets, who were called and ordained by Jesus Christ himself. Jesus gave the twelve apostles power to work miracles, teach, and baptize in his name. These men were also authorized by God to direct the Church after Christ’s death. You can read about this in the Bible. We also use the Bible, and we consider it to be God’s word.

2) The Church of Jesus Christ was lost: Not long after Christ’s death, the Lord’s apostles and prophets were killed and not replaced. Without the guidance of the Lord’s chosen apostles and prophets many of the truths that were taught by Jesus and His apostles were lost or polluted over time through the mistakes of well-meaning but uninspired men, or through deliberate interference by enemies of the gospel. This meant that the church that Jesus Christ set up, and which was guided by those He had called and ordained, was lost.

3) The same Church of Jesus Christ was restored: Many different churches arose over the centuries since the death of the apostles, each one using the same basic Bible, and each claiming to represent the will of the Lord. In 1820, a young boy named Joseph Smith prayed and asked God which church he should join. God and Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and told him not to join any of them because the church that Jesus had set up was no longer on the Earth. Joseph was chosen by God to become the first prophet on Earth since the death of the prophets and apostles of New Testament times. As a prophet of God, he was called to restore and organize the same church that Jesus Christ set up, which had been lost with the death of the original apostles.

4) “By their fruits ye shall know them” The Savior Himself taught us how to recognize a true prophet of God in Matthew 7:15-20:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

The “fruit” of Moses was the Ten Commandments; the “fruit” of Noah was the Ark, and so on. The fruit of a prophet is the work that he does at God’s command. By it you can know whether or not he truly speaks for God.

5) The Book of Mormon is the evidence (the “fruit”): In New Testament times, The Lord’s apostles and prophets kept a record of their testimonies concerning the reality and divinity of the Savior Jesus Christ. They also bore witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament is the “fruit” by which you can know that the apostles and prophets who wrote it truly acted under God’s direction. On the other side of the world, at around the same time, other prophets kept a similar record of their testimonies of the reality and divinity of the Savior, and they bore witness of His resurrection when the resurrected Lord appeared to the people here in the Americas. This record is called the Book of Mormon. God gave the Prophet Joseph Smith this ancient record, and with it he was given the ability to translate this record for our day. The Book of Mormon is his “fruit”, and also the fruit of the Lord's church in our day.

*You may also wish to emphasize that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believe the Bible to be the word of God, and that we value it equally as scripture alongside the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is in no way intended to replace or supersede the Bible, and we live our lives according to the precepts taught in both books.

6) You can know that this is Christ’s church if you will read the Book of Mormon and ask God in prayer if it is true. You have to taste a fruit to know if it is good. If you will read from the Book of Mormon and sincerely pray and ask God to tell you if it is true, the Lord will tell you that it is true through the Holy Ghost. If it is the word of God, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. If Joseph Smith is truly a prophet, then the Lord truly has called him to restore and organize the Church of Jesus Christ today, just as it was organized by Jesus and His apostles and prophets in New Testament times. The only church that you need to join is the one that Christ set up, so shouldn’t you find out if this is the one?

7) We are the Church of Jesus Christ in this day. The name “Mormon” is just a nickname. The actual name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As you might have gathered from our name, we are The Church of Jesus Christ (the same church that Christ set up during New Testament times). The “Latter-day” part of our name refers in part to the fact that we are that same church but in this day and age instead of two thousand years ago. In New Testament times, the members of Christ’s church were called saints. Since we are members of the same church we are also called saints. We have a prophet and twelve apostles, who are called of God just like those prophets and apostles in New Testament times. You should come to church with me Sunday to see what the Church of Jesus Christ is like.

Sharing the gospel naturally

Any returned missionary can tell you that my seven points closely mirror certain portions of the introductory lesson that the full-time missionaries teach to their investigators. That is because these points are a good simple introduction to our church.

Many members worry that they do not know enough about the gospel themselves to feel secure about sharing it with others.  While I encourage everyone to learn more about the gospel and church of Jesus Christ, most people do not want to hear a long-winded discussion of doctrine, so you don’t have to worry about your scripture-knowledge (or your relative lack thereof). A simple testimony that this is Christ’s church is often sufficient, and you can leave the tough stuff to the missionaries.

Beyond that, I would suggest sharing what Jesus Christ and His gospel (and your membership in His church) have done for you personally to bless you in your life. Most people are missing something in their lives, and that something is usually true joy. If you can help them to see that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought you true joy in your life, they will want for themselves that which you have already obtained.

If the opportunity presents itself, I have often found that the best answer to almost any question about the church is an invitation along these lines: “Why don’t you come with me to my church this Sunday and find out?” If this is too direct for you, consider inviting them to a ward or stake party or service project, or to a mutual or FHE activity (if those apply).  At the very least this will help you to introduce the Church and its members to your friend in a relatively non-threatening way.  I prefer inviting people to church because I feel that the spirit is there more strongly, plus your guest is more likely to hear discussions about our beliefs at church than he is at a ward potluck dinner, but you have to start somewhere.

Who am I?  I’m a Mormon!

I think that the church's new campaign that showcases various regular folk who declare "I’m so-and-so, and I'm a Mormon" is inspired. It is a lot easier for people to understand us and feel friendly toward the church if they know that the coworker they respect, or the teacher who cares so much about their children, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Conversely, it is a lot easier to demonize a group with whom you have never knowingly had any meaningful contact.  The church will seem a lot less strange to others when people no longer see Mormons as strangers.

You as an individual can be a walking testimony of the gospel and for the church if you are worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Most people won't be able to put their finger on what makes you different, but they know that they want it, whatever it is. Your job then comes down to prayerfully seeking the direction of the Holy Ghost to know when, where, and with whom to share the gospel. On the whole, though, there aren't a lot of people who don't need to hear the gospel, so don't over-think it. You can turn almost any inquiry into the church into an invitation to join you at church on Sunday, where the spirit will be strong, and at the very least they will see that Mormons aren't crazy Satan worshipping cult members.

Don’t worry too much about losing your friends by bringing up religion.  As long as you are sensitive and appropriate in your approach to sharing the gospel, your friends will stay your friends, especially if they know that your invitation proceeds out of sincere feelings of friendship, and that you will not hold it against them if they decline. You should also take steps to help your friends to understand that you will not harass them about religion if that makes them uncomfortable. Most of your friends will be flattered that you thought enough of them to ask, even if they ultimately do not take you up on your offer. Most importantly, keep it casual-don't think that you have to fall down weeping with the power of your testimony-the person in question probably will be happiest if you give them an answer to their question in the most simple and direct way possible.

Here is an article called “Sharing the Gospel Naturally,” which features some good tips for ways to break the ice with your friends without making a big production out of it. It was published on the LDS church’s own official website, and it also includes links to ten church produced videos which you can share with your friends online.

Sharing the gospel online

As for a situation in which you may be chatting with a stranger online, short and sweet is the best, and if they become impolite (as anonymous people on the internet are often wont to do) you can bear your testimony and get out of there, which is essentially what our young missionaries are told to do when a person tries to draw them into an argument. The spirit will leave when you start arguing with someone, so you are just wasting everybody's time if you think that an argument will convince someone of the truth of the gospel message (only the spirit can truly do that). If you feel that a belligerent individual is simply misinformed, you can send them a link to for answers to their concerns.  Here is a list of helpful tips for sharing the gospel online:

For more tips on the sharing the gospel (especially online) you should read the full article "The Do’s and Don’ts of Defending Your Beliefs" from which the above graphic is taken.  This article contains excellent advice from the Church magazines about the right way and the wrong way to go about defending the faith, sharing our beliefs, and standing up for what is right.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has also recently provided a series of short online videos designed to give a simple introduction to the church which you might find convenient and useful when you are called upon to explain and introduce the church and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to others:

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