Old habits die hard.
This fact of life is true for everyone, but especially true for former Latter-day Saints. In my experience, the most challenging mental hurdle for former Latter-day Saints, even for those who’ve been born again, is a biblical view of the local church.
Many drift from church to church inadvertently short-circuiting their personal growth and limiting their evangelistic power.
Illustrating the Struggle
Perhaps an illustration will best explain both the problem and the solution. Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for its crudeness. After many years of thought, it’s still the best I can conjure.
Imagine a young lady, a sophomore in college, completely infatuated with her first boyfriend. After six months of dreamy romance, he begins to pressure her to sleep with him. At first, she resists. But he’s persistent and increasingly manipulative.
Before long, she relents only to regret her decision almost immediately. He cares nothing for her well-being but fixates only on the fulfillment of his lust. Ashamed and disgusted, she ends this ugly drama months later vowing never to subject herself to such treatment again.
Fast-forward a year. She’s been attending an on-campus Bible study. By and by, she asks God to save her from her sins and begins a vibrant relationship with Christ.
A Christian young man takes notice of her. He’s altogether different from her previous boyfriend – he’s mature and full of integrity, almost annoyingly so. He asks for her hand in marriage, and she readily agrees.
During pre-marital counseling, their pastor addresses the topic of marital intimacy. Much to her fiancé’s surprise, she coldly proclaims, “Look, I love him. But I vowed never again to subject myself to that. He can have my love, but he won’t have my body.”
We can certainly empathize with her misgivings. But we would want her pastor to counsel her beyond this self-imposed prohibition. Her pastor would explain that the God who redeemed her life from the pit (Psalm 103:4) intends to redeem every one of His good gifts (Romans 8:20–23).
The Father of Lights wants to grace her with tangible blessings (James 1:17) even if those same blessings were formerly twisted for sinful gain (Ephesians 4:28). We would root for this young lady to move past her former hurts and embrace a full and blessed marriage.
The LDS Conundrum
Many Latter-day Saints have experienced a similar hurt. All their lives they were promised a pinnacle spiritual experience in the Temple. With great excitement, they prepared themselves thoroughly to enter.
Much to their disappointment, however, they experience … emptiness. The disappointment is tangible – it was all rote ceremony and obvious religious manipulation. Furthermore, it’s protected –sacred Temple ordinances are not up for discussion.
Disillusioned and dismayed, many leave the LDS Church at exactly this point vowing never to subject themselves to human authority again.
By God’s grace, many of these disheartened Latter-day Saints find the true gospel. They’re gloriously liberated from the vain superstition of these empty ceremonies.
Eventually, a Christian friend comes along and invites them to be part of an excellent, Bible-teaching local church. But they panic and run.
That vow still stands – they will never subject themselves to human authority again. Jesus can have their love, but He will not have their physical presence in a local body. Onward they go, dipping in here and there, totally unaware of their increasing vulnerability.
The Lord of Redemption
The Lord Jesus Christ cares deeply about His Church – He died for her and cares for her every need (Ephesians 5:25-27). Through the Apostle Paul, He warns us that people will twist the Church to sinful and manipulative ends (Acts 20:28-30).
Furthermore, Jesus promises to deal harshly with those who abuse His church. Tempting His little ones to sin (Mathew 18:6), twisting His doctrine (2 Peter 2:1), or adding words to His book (Revelation 22:19) incurs swift and terrible destruction (2 Peter 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). “Repent,” says Jesus, “for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).
Let us never forget that Jesus, killed by practitioners of false religion, truly understands the perils of human authority gone awry (Hebrews 2:17-18). This Jesus wants to redeem every good gift in the life of the believer, Church included.
How Can the Local Church Help?
If you’re a former Latter-day Saint who’s been born again, my advice to you is to find a Bible-teaching church with a humble pastor. Settle there. Don’t worry about phrases like “voting member” or “church covenant.” These are concepts that pre-date Joseph Smith by centuries and will become clearer to you the longer you stay.
Keep open lines of communication with your pastor. Pastors are imperfect for sure, but true men of God have your best interest at heart. When you get afraid, entrust yourself not to man, but to God and ask Him for the courage to stick with it. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
If you’re a born-again Christian trying to help a former Latter-day Saint, be patient. Feelings and instinct are powerful forces. Put no pressure on your friend to attend your particular church. Help your friend find a church that disciples its people through clear Bible teaching.
Jesus loves His Church. Like any good husband, His wrath is quickly kindled by those who threaten His bride’s well-being. May God grant repentance to any practitioner of false religion so that they may be saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).