Nearly every religion on the earth seeks to add numbers to its flocks. Of the major religions that can be considered ‘global’, only Hinduism does not have proselytizing at its core. It is therefore no surprise that missionary activities are considered of great importance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as seen here in chapter 19 of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow. Every religion that has its roots in Christianity, such as Christadelphians and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism take inspiration from the Great Commission of Matthew 28-18:20 where Jesus command his followers to take his message to the ends of the earth. Christianity would be hard pressed to argue against the zeal and biblical principles that underpin the evangelism of these ‘sects’ given that these principles are the same for Christianity and that Christian evangelism should be undertaken with great zeal, even if it is done in a different manner. When investigating this chapter and Snow’s theology of mission, this use of the Great Commission as a fundamental principle presents some different challenges.
Over the review of this book, we have seen how Snow wraps the theology of Mormonism in the theology of Christianity, making it very difficult to distinguish between the two, with exceptions being seen in declarations such as ‘as man now is, God was once: as God now is, man may be’. This chapter is a prime example of this recurring problem. Snow’s theology seems so ‘orthodox’ that it is very difficult to examine the differences between the two. The self-sacrifice of mission is something that would not be denied by Mormonism or Christianity. Its importance wouldn’t be denied and whilst the Mormon mission system is rather formal, missionary networks are positive things. We shall be investigating the theme of mission in Mormonism with a focus on looking at the Mormon scriptures. We shall also investigate some of the missionary motivations within Snow’s thoughts on mission and what we can learn in terms of differences and what to avoid.
When discussing this topic, it is important to begin with one of the most important verses of Scripture:
Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)
These verses are very helpful in understanding the Christian scriptural foundations for evangelism and mission. These verses are also very helpful in understanding the Mormon approach to evangelism and mission. During our introduction, it was acknowledged that on the surface, there does seem to very little difference between the two positions. I believe that one of the main differences is rooted in what can be termed as heart attitude. We can find a telling paragraph on page 227 of Snow’s work. In this paragraph, Snow advocates that in terms of mission by Mormons, Mormons should ‘go and make friends among the individuals by whom you are surrounded’. This is not something that Christianity would disagree with. One should be missional in the community you live in.
The interesting section comes straight after when Snow argues that one could also select a friend and test him out for mission. There is nothing wrong with caring for a friend and wanting them to come to salvation, especially if one is incredibly close to that friend. This passage could be read though as something that the person being evangelized to could consider sinister. If somebody is only friend with you so that you can be evangelized to, does that mean that they like you or like that you can be evangelized to. Questions like that prove to be very damaging to evangelism and can leave the impression that Mormons may not have genuine intentions. Whilst Snow’s arguments that one should accept when evangelism isn’t going anywhere and stop pestering those who are not interesting are valid and something Christians would agree with, that does not necessarily mean that the friendship ends, something that does happen all too often with interactions with full time Mormon missionaries (this comment is one based on the experience of myself and friends in a particular part of the United Kingdom.
I accept that this isn’t always the case in with Mormons serving on missions). It is also important to recognize that this is something that occurs within every religion’s evangelism including within Christianity’s. The difference seems to be that Snow has institutionalized the practice that can be seen as sinister. If that is the heart attitude of Mormon evangelism, a heart attitude that can seem ‘fake’, then we must wonder if Mormon evangelism is about people or about numbers of converts. I wish to state again that this phenomenon is not unique to Mormonism. To argue such would be factually wrong. The point that is being made is that Snow seems to support the institutionalization of such a practice.
Another point of great interest is the following quote from Doctrines and Covenants:
Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited. First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble; And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come. Behold, I, the Lord, have spoken it. (D&C 58:9-12)
The reason why these verses are interesting is linked to the following verse from 1 Corinthians:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
There is a direct contrast between the 1 Corinthians verses and the Doctrine and Covenants verses. Paul’s emphasis is on the message of the Gospel being succor to the poor and for those who were not of ‘noble birth’. It is foolishness to the wise. Paul quotes the Old Testament in saying that God will ‘destroy the wisdom of the wise’. This is almost in direct contrast to Smith who states that the Lord will call ‘all nations’ to His table starting with ‘the rich and learned, the wise and the noble’. Both statements are unequivocal in their tone and meaning.
There seems to be no possibility that these two statements can be held together under one overall idea. There is no implication in what Smith’s statement that there is a hidden meaning where ‘rich’ actually means ‘poor’ and ‘learned’ means ‘foolishness’ to the world’s eyes. In fact, when we look at the very next verse from D&C 58, we can see that it is the ‘rich and learned’ who will lead the ‘poor, the lame and the blind and the deaf’ into the kingdom of God. This difference of thought between Smith and Paul is crucial in understanding the difference in the theology of evangelism between Mormonism and Christianity. The theology of evangelism from the New Testament, despite some of the interpretations that have been used in Christian theology in the past two millennia, is that Christ has come for the ‘poor and foolish’ and that Christ uses them to shame the rich, the learned and the powerful for their reliance on themselves. In essence, 1 Corinthians shows us a gospel that wants to be evangelized to the poor and has a distinctive focus towards them. The gospel that Smith in D&C 58 presents shows the opposite focus for evangelism.
So what can we conclude? We can conclude that this area is rather grey and murky when trying to consider the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. One cannot criticize the vigour and zeal of Mormon missionaries as Christians are called to serve evangelistically. Often, despite our deep theological differences with Mormonism and the occasional feeling of contempt for them that is felt in Christian circles, Christians should be much more committed to evangelism like the Mormons. Whilst it does feel odd to see some of the evangelism tactics being institutionalized by Snow in this chapter, we must recognize that Christians can do the same thing. The main difference seems to be in the theology of Smith and Paul. They both have very different ‘target demographics’ which are dependent on their interpretation of the Gospel. Paul and the New Testament seem completely at odds with Smith and Doctrine and Covenants. Smith seems to have moved away from the idea of 1 Corinthians of ‘rich and poor’ and ‘wise and foolish’ when it comes to the Gospel. This is another crucial difference between Mormonism and Christianity that we have been able to discern whilst investigating the work of Lorenzo Snow.