Greg shares some effective tips to employ when people from alternative religions knock on your door.
One of the hardest things to continence is when somebody knocks on your door, and they want to sell you their religion or pitch their religious point of view. You wonder, “How do I comport myself in this situation? What are the best tactics? What’s the best approach? What kind of questions can I be asking in dealing with this situation?” Let me give you some things to think about.
I don’t focus so much on alternate religions that sometimes sound like they’re Christian. These are folks that come door-to-door: Jehovah’s Witnesses or LDS (Mormons) which, just for clarity’s sake, is a completely different religion than Christianity. There’s not a single theological cross-over between LDS, or Mormon, theology and Christian theology. All the words are the same, all the definitions are different. Please don’t be confused on that particular point which, by the way, is why they’re knocking on your door. If you tell them you go to the Presbyterian or the Baptist or the Calvary Chapel Church down the street, they’re going to still pitch you their deal on the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith because you need him; what you have is inadequate. Sometimes that issue is obfuscated, or confused a little bit, as of late.
I’m going to offer you a framework to be thinking about when you engage people. Of course, you always want to be gracious and showing the character of Christ. If you are willing to have a conversation, invite them in. Sit them down. You might tell them, “I’m a follower of Christ, myself. Would you mind if we start with a prayer?” And then you pray a simple prayer, not long, not elaborate, but my suggestion is that you make the prayer personal not formal. Most people in cultic, aberrant religion circumstances are used to a more formalized religion. For them to continence somebody that really has a genuine, living, loving relationship with God is a little bit of an eye opener to them. So express yourself genuinely and graciously, and then be ready for the conversation.
Now, strategically, there are three things that are important when dealing with these aberrant groups—three ways that they go south: The person of Christ, who is Jesus, the unique deity of Christ in the classical, Christian sense, and the third issue is that of authority. Who gets to say what’s true? In many cases, these groups that you talk to are going to at least give lip service to the Bible, but they are going to bring in their other works: either other inspired texts or the authority of their organization, like the Watch Tower Society.
Since those are the three big issues, my recommendation is that your conversation focus on those three issues. Who is Jesus? What must I do to be saved? And who gets to say what the authoritative answers to those questions actually are? In the case of the LDS, and the other groups too, they all say the Bible is an inspired Word of God but then they only use the Bible when it supports their own point of view—and when it doesn’t, they dismiss it or retranslate it or something like that. These are the kinds of things you want to focus in on.
One question that I ask often times—because the issue of authority is so important—is this question: Why should I believe that your organization speaks authoritatively for God? A difficulty when you come to, let’s say, Mormons, is that they are going to say that you believe the organization “because you read the Book of Mormon, you prayed, and you got a feeling about the truth of the Book of Mormon,” which they translate into the truth of the entire Mormon church. You’re caught now in a subjective experience to affirm your doctrine. And why do they give you a subjective experience? Because they read something out of the book of James, chapter 1, that they think validates it. The irony is, when you try to go back to other passages to rebut other doctrinal concerns that they have—the person and the work of Christ for example—they’re going to be dismissive and say, “Well, we believe the Bible, in so far as it was properly translated.” Well, that’s my view too! I don’t believe the Bible when it’s been mistranslated. But this becomes a disingenuous tool on their part because they use that to disregard verses that work against their theology. So a question you can ask is, when this issue comes up, “What verses or passages have been incorrectly translated as far as you know? And if you don’t know that a passage has been incorrectly translated then maybe we should take it at face value.”
Stay focused on the basics. The basics are: the person of Christ, the work of Christ, and authority. Jesus is the God-man—that’s who He is. His work was to live the perfect life in our place and then to die in our place to take our crimes so we could be justified in virtue of what He did for us—not based on our own works. And the way we know that is because the Bible, the inspired Word of God, is the sole authority over all other so-called authorities to tell us what is true about God and the person and work of Christ. That’s where I suggest that you focus with any of these aberrant Christian groups.