The next missionary meetings

Further experiences with LDS missionaries

On February 1 and 4, 2006, I again had meetings with the same LDS sister missionaries as in my previous article. On Wednesday, Feb. 1, I met with the companion of the missionary I’d met the first time. The same non-missionary member came with her. The missionary had talked to her companion about me, and said she’d been told that I’ve done a lot of research. I confirmed that I had, and that I found the Catholic Church more believable. She asked me why that is, and so I named several of the larger issues, including theology and problems with the theory of a great apostasy.

The missionary mentioned a CD that she had, with a talk describing the apostasy and when it happened. She started to briefly describe it: she asked me if I knew where Catholics trace their authority. “Peter…” I ventured. “No,” she said. I didn’t correct her, but I figured she meant Peter’s successors, particularly Linus, whom her companion had brought up the week before. So I went on. “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Evaristus…” She said that Linus was the one. She said that Paul gave authority to this Linus in Rome (I later listened to the CD, and the talk actually says Peter, not Paul). A year after the ordination of Linus, Paul returned to Rome, and found that he and the entire church there had apostatized. She said that’s what the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans is about, where Paul has found all this apostasy. She said there was another Linus who was killed, and at that time the authority was gone. The church at Rome under the apostate Linus went on to become the Catholic Church.

I marked all this for future discussion, as she went on to begin describing the pattern of God’s people in history, according to the LDS paradigm. That is, there are always prophets, and the people fall away, and then there’s a restoration. She cited a few verses from LDS and Christian scripture, and then went on to ask me about praying about whether the LDS message is true. I explained to her why I can’t do that. She seemed to understand a little better than her companion (or I explained it better this time). Still, she said that we need divine help in order to know the truth, and the only way to get that help is through prayer. She said you have to be humble enough to ask, and compared it to when Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will but Thine be done.” She said that was Jesus’s ultimate act of humility (not so, I thought, but it was irrelevant to the discussion).

She told me that research could eventually lead me to the truth, but that I’m gradually getting pressed up against a wall, and that I need to pray about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. She was very insistent that I read the Book of Mormon every day, and that I specifically pray about it. She said that something like “lead me to the truth” is too vague. She bore her own testimony of this process.

However, something she said had piqued my interest. I asked her if prayer is a form of seeking, and she agree. I asked about when she said that research could eventually lead me to truth; is my inquiry and research also a form of seeking. She said that it is. I told her that, leaving aside the issue of praying about something to which I already know the answer, another problem I have with the LDS prayer-knowledge process is that it expects the answer in a specific way, that is, the inner testimony. I asked if answers found in research couldn’t be the answer to a prayer. In other words, rather than putting conditions on God’s answers to my prayer, could I remain open to other methods He can use to reveal truth? She answered that yes, that’s perfectly valid. No LDS apologist has ever told me that.

She went on to tell me that answers can come in many different ways: feelings, something you read after praying, something that another person says, etc. I can totally agree with this approach, rather than waiting for the “burning in the bosom.” I still won’t pray about something if God has already shown me the answer, but as I said, the impression I’ve gotten from all other LDS is that only the inner witness as an answer to our prayers can make us sure of the truth.

This led me to another question. I told her about one of the things I’ve learned in my research of Church history: the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch. She had never heard of him (or of the Early Church at all), and so I laid out who he was, what he wrote, and why I find him credible. I asked, “Suppose I lay my objections aside and make a perfectly sincere, honest, and open prayer to God for answers, and I somehow come to know that the LDS church is true. How is this other information, which I already know, going to fit in?” She said she didn’t know how it would fit in, but that she could promise that if I truly find out that the LDS church is true, that it would fit in somehow.

She again pressed the specific prayer issue, saying that my current thinking (that the Catholic Church is true) is Satan keeping me back. She said I’m kept diverted into all this research and such, instead of praying, and so I won’t be able to know the LDS church is true. She also warned me that I can’t get information about her church from outside sources. I assured her that I don’t do that, and asked if I could turn that back on her, so that she doesn’t get her information about the early Church from outside sources. She assented, and told me that in fact she was going to look up the Nicene Creed, and would read it that very week. It tickled me a bit, and I offered to recite it for her or write it down, but she declined.

Out of curiosity, I asked her what she knew about the First Council of Nicaea. She sort of knew the year, and she said that it was when the Emperor Constantine summoned all the different religious men in his kingdom and asked them to define God. I cringed inwardly. She went on to describe how Popes became powerful, and how they were not just Popes, but emperors and kings. This was known as the “Reign of Popes,” she said. I’ve never heard of this, and a bit of research has still turned up nothing, but that will develop later.

She wanted to end with a prayer, and asked if I would pray. I did. After that, I asked if I could tell her something. I pulled out my wallet and showed her my girlfriend’s senior picture. I said that she is more important to me than anything besides God, and that I would do anything but sin in order to be with her. I said that nobody could benefit more than I from the LDS church being true. She means everything to me, I said, and so there should be no doubt about my sincerity or commitment to the truth. The missionary acknowledged all this.

She promised to bring me the CD about the apostasy next time we met, and gave me some Book of Mormon passages to read, as well as a pamphlet entitled “The Restoration.”

Third meeting

We were supposed to meet on Friday of the same week, but something came up, and so I had to reschedule it to Saturday. My girlfriend was coming to town to visit me on Saturday, so she would be able to be present for the meeting. This time, both of the missionaries came.

It was a shorter meeting. They said they’d read the Nicene Creed, although they’d found it confusing. Specifically, they didn’t understand what it said about Jesus. They couldn’t remember the exact words, and so I recited them: “Eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God; begotten, not made; one in being with the Father…” They said they didn’t quite understand that part, and said it was like saying they’re one, but not really one… I didn’t try to explain; the discussion moved on before I could tell whether they really wanted an explanation.

They moved on to encouraging me again to read the Book of Mormon a lot and pray asking questions. They told me that of all the people they had talked to, I was the only one with these reservations about praying for an answer. I find that interesting, although I’m guessing that most of the people who simply send missionaries away would probably have the same feeling about praying when God has already given them the answer.

After that, one of them asked if I had seen the Plan of Salvation laid out. I said I had, but she had made laminated cutouts to depict the whole thing, and it would be a shame not to use them, so she went ahead and presented it. She had a sun, a moon, and a star to represent the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdom. I laughed out loud when I saw them, because on the sun she had drawn a Ridiculously Huge Smiley Face, the moon had a Mostly Content Face, and the star had something like a Mildly Uncomfortable Face. They were great.

Anyway, they asked if I had any questions about the Plan of Salvation. I hesitated, but decided to start working toward the Big Question – that is, the purpose of our existence. So I asked what comes before the premortal existence. They explained that it’s like a circle, being done over and over. We discussed the matter a bit further, and they said that there are things we don’t know exactly, but we’ve been given what we need to know for our salvation. The mysteries would be revealed, they said, in the celestial kingdom.

They asked if I had any other questions. So I went the other way and asked why it is that living with our families in the celestial kingdom is the thing that we strive for. They answered that having children is one of our greatest opportunities for joy, and so on. I was having trouble finding a way to bring the Big Question into it, but eventually I was able to help them understand it. I asked again why it is that those things give us joy and such, why we’re made that way, so to speak. They asked if I had the answer to that question. Do I ever, I thought.

So I explained what I believe about the origin, vocation, and destiny of mankind, and how it’s different between our faiths. Basically, I believe that God had no kind of beginning whatsoever, and that He made from nothing everything that exists. He didn’t have to; it’s not that He needed it, but He knew that if other beings existed, they could share and enjoy His own existence. In other words, the reason that we ever existed is God’s love. Therefore that also defines what things are good or bad, i.e. our vocation or calling – we are to live in accord with and in union with God’s love. Finally, our purpose, the reason we exist, is to share in God’s love eternally. I said that if you don’t know the purpose of something, the reason it was made, you can’t bring it to perfection. I explained that in the LDS system, if you step up above this life, you can see that it isn’t God who defines truth or love. They were in place long before He was born of His own parents, and before they were, and so on. Without some kind of source, it’s impossible to see why we are the way we are. Everything that makes us tick: our existence, our morals, what makes us happy or unhappy, right, wrong, the definition of love – all of it just comes out of nowhere.

The missionaries were able to understand my question, and said they needed time to think about it. I was more than happy to give them whatever time they need. They had to go, so we closed with a prayer, given by my girlfriend. They also gave me the CD containing the apostasy talk so I could listen to it and return it to them at sacrament meeting the next day.

The next day

I listened to the apostasy talk. I was struck by two things. First, it’s full of errors. I mean big mistakes. I’ll write a complete article about it in the next few days. Second, I recalled many things that the missionaries had said to me about the apostasy, because they matched – sometimes almost verbatim – what the man said in the talk. He recommended to all those present that they go read the Nicene Creed, which is exactly what these missionaries had done. He talked about the two Linuses, the first chapter of Romans, the Reign of Popes, and so on. I found this a little distressing, if this was their source of information on the matter, and if they were potentially giving it to other people. But, again, I’ll address that talk in a different article.

Finally, I talked with them again, briefly, after the sacrament meeting. One of them asked me what I thought of the CD. “Well… there were some errors,” I said. She shook her head, and said no. “No?” I said. She was firm; there were no mistakes in that talk. This is what I found the most unsettling about the whole thing. This is the same person who warned me about accepting outside information about the church, and who had never heard of the Early Church Fathers. She’s telling me that everything in that talk is true. I was just a little distressed by that.

She broke away to talk to someone else, and her companion also asked me about the CD. I said the same thing. She didn’t react as her companion had. I went on to say that I don’t know where the speaker had gotten his information, but from what I knew, a lot of it was mistaken. She wondered where I get my information. I told her it’s all over the place, really. I didn’t sit down one day with the Book of History and learn all about the Church; one just has to start looking, and it doesn’t take long to find quite a few sources. She said she wanted to learn all she could, because she loves history. I will be more than happy to help her with that…

That’s all there is to the story, for now. The one who said there were no mistakes in the CD is getting transferred, so I won’t be visiting with her again. It will be interesting to talk to a new missionary and bring her into our discussion. And, of course, I’ll try to keep updates posted as soon as possible.

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