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In Mormon-heavy Utah, church slates witness training

ST. GEORGE, Utah (BP) — Church leaders and members are invited to Utah’s Desert Ridge Baptist Church for training in evangelizing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, slated for Sept. 7-8.

“We love our neighbors in Utah, and to love our neighbors it is important to understand what religious beliefs they hold,” Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press.

“This conference sponsored by Desert Ridge Baptist Church is an opportunity to get a better handle in how to share the love of Jesus in terms that will help you communicate biblical truths that conflict with their belief system,” Lee said. “What better place to learn than in Utah, where Mormonism is central to the culture and embraced by the majority of residents.”

The event is to be live-streamed on the church’s YouTube channel: DRBC Videos from Desert Ridge, located in the city of St. George in southwestern Utah, with a metro population of more than 150,000 people.

“People wanting to reach Mormons is the target audience for this event,” said Michael Waldrop, founding pastor of Desert Ridge and a recent first vice president of the Utah-Idaho convention. “We hope to increase the awareness of the need to evangelize as well as to increase the effectiveness of our witness to Mormons.”

Bill McKeever, founder of Mormonism Research Ministry, will be one of the keynote speakers of the conference titled “Sharing the Good News with Mormons: Practical Strategies for Getting the Conversation Started.” MRM According to its mrm.org website, MRM has been “challenging the claims of Mormonism since 1979.”

McKeever will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, “on the type of references we can use when talking with Mormons about what they believe,” he told Baptist Press. “There are a lot of sources Christians can use that Mormons should respect, and thus have a more convincing witness.”

From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, McKeever continued, conference participants will be learning “at least three different strategies they can use when talking with Mormon friends” — “how to use questions, how to get Mormons to think through what they’ve been told and how to respond to Mormon missionaries when they come to the door.”

Forgiveness is a key issue, McKeever said.

Mormons are taught if they repent and confess all their sins and keep all the commandments, they will get forgiveness, but “I don’t know one Mormon who has done this,” McKeever said. Thus, a cloud of doom hangs over Mormons.

“We are going to talk about this in depth, that this is one of the real pitfalls of Mormonism,” he said, adding, “They’re not a truly New Testament church. They deny or distort all the basic truths of the Christian faith and are outside the realm of Christianity.”

McKeever had a caution for Christians interacting with Mormons.

“While we may be fully understanding of what Mormons are supposed to believe, not all Mormons believe what their church teaches,” he said. “The reason they stay in, they feel the church is true regardless of what they believe.”

Gentle probing rather than accusation about their beliefs is the way to witness to Mormons, McKeever said.

“The probability is that people who stay Mormon are not going to learn New Testament truth about how a person receives forgiveness,” he said. “The Mormon Church robs its people of assurance, an assurance that only comes when a person is justified by faith.”

Eric Johnson, coauthor with Sean McDowell of the book from which the conference title is drawn, will be another keynote speaker. Sharing the Good News with Mormons was released June 5 by Harvest House Publishers, with bonus chapters available on the Mormonism Research Ministries website: mrm.com and on the book’s website: sharingwithmormons.com.

The websites note, “Every relationship and situation is unique, and that’s why these essays from respected scholars, apologists, and pastors — including Sandra Tanner, Robert Bowman, David Geisler, Bill McKeever, Mark Mittelberg, J. Warner Wallace, Lynn Wilder and others — lays out a variety of creative methods for sharing the gospel effectively so you can initiate authentic conversations, respond with compassion and clarity to Mormon teaching, [and] understand your Mormon friends and find ways to keep the dialogue going.”

Waldrop said the conference is the first time Desert Ridge Baptist Church has undertaken a Mormon-specific evangelism training event, “though we regularly schedule evangelism training and strive to provide instruction and encouragement for gospel witnessing. St. George is on I-15 in southwest Utah, so it’s an easy drive whether you’re from California, Nevada, Arizona, and of course all the Rocky Mountain states, where Mormonism spread out from the Salt Lake area.”

David Bernstein, associate pastor of Desert Ridge and a current member of the UISBC Executive Board, was instrumental in setting up the Mormonism evangelism training event, Waldrop said.

“When I first arrived in this area almost five years ago, I knew very little about the LDS [Mormon] system, much less how to witness to them,” Bernstein told Baptist Press. “I continue to need training, information and encouragement and so does the church in general.

“When I got some information from MRM, it was clear that these were the go-to guys for this,” Bernstein added.

Christians who know at least one Mormon often grapple with the need to share the truth of Jesus with them, of showing what God’s Word teaches, Waldrop said. “This two-day conference will answer questions like, ‘But where do you start? How can you convey the biblical Gospel boldly and clearly, speaking the truth in love?'”

No cost or pre-registration is required for the conference, though a love offering will be taken to help recover the church’s expenses. No meals will be provided but several restaurants are within a two-minute drive of the church. Lodging is available throughout the St. George area.