If we focused on our similarities, we’d see how alike our faiths really are.
In the end, these differences really don’t matter – Heavenly Father will work it all out.
I just don’t see how our differences in theology have any practical effects – we’re so similar.
These are actual statements from real Mormons. I’ve heard these (and others like them) so many times that I now consider them normal. What do you say to somebody who desperately wants to believe that Mormonism is just like Biblical Christianity?
Through the years, my responses have varied. Lately, however, I’ve settled on something like the following: “In your Scripture reading, do you recall John 4:24: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth’?” Although John 4:24 is by no means a magic bullet guaranteed to lead straight to the gospel, it is helpful for at least two reasons.
1. John 4:24 Shows the Necessity of Truth.
John 4 records an extended conversation between Jesus and a fornicating woman of five failed marriages. As they talk, she gets cynical and responds, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
Paraphrased more generally, “Look, our leaders say one thing, your leaders say another. Who can really know?” And that’s when Jesus plows through all that theological baggage with a statement of divine necessity: “those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.”
Where is truth to be found? Jesus tells her – in Himself (4:26), which fits the overall pattern of John’s gospel. Jesus, the embodiment of truth (1:14; 14:6), offers liberating words of truth (8:32). “Truly, truly,” Jesus says 25 times in John’s gospel, His words only ever flow from God (8:28; 12:49) as categorical truth (17:17). If anything is clear from John’s gospel, it’s that the truth matters as much as God matters.
2. John 4:24 Shows the Practicality of Truth
When my LDS friends point out similarities between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity, they’re almost always superficial examples: praising the Savior, similar vocabulary, worship on Sunday, family values, or humanitarian deeds. If true religion is about these external outcomes, then they might have a point that theological differences yield few practical differences.
But consider the storyline of John 4:1-42. An ostracized home wrecker from a Samaritan village is lugging water at high noon and chatting with a Jewish prophet who says (and I’m summarizing), “I can quench your deepest longings because I’m the long-awaited Messiah” (John 4:13-14; 26). Amazingly, the woman believes and is suddenly, almost inexplicably, transformed into a person no longer ostracized, but praised (4:42).
The profound change that Jesus wrought in her life started with truth and ended with the most practical transformation imaginable – she changed. She isn’t dressing differently or worshiping here instead of there. No, she’s changed by a truth. Jesus satisfies.
The next time you hear your LDS friend say something akin to the comments listed at the start, you need only remember that Jesus had a very similar conversation. I hope you’ll consider saying, “You know, Jesus had a conversation about these very topics with a woman at a well. Would you like to read that passage with me and talk about it after?” Instead of a dead end, you’re on the road to worshiping God in spirit and in truth.