News Articles

Seminarians study Mormonism, give witness to LDS members

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–Seminary students constituted the first wave of Southern Baptists to arrive in Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City for a June 1-4 workshop on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The workshop was held the week preceding the June 9-11 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Sponsored by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness team, The Mormon Puzzle workshop introduced participants to a wide range of issues including Mormon history, theology and practice. Sessions also included how to witness to LDS members and a panel discussion by former Mormons explaining their decisions to leave the cult. The workshop ended June 4 with an evening banquet featuring addresses by NAMB President Bob Reccord and Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.
About 160 students from Southern Baptists’ six seminaries, the Canadian Baptist seminary, Criswell College and Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School attended the four-day workshop.
Phil Roberts, director of NAMB’s interfaith witness team, said the workshop was offered with three objectives: “To help students understand the thought and theology of Mormonism, build a burden and confidence about sharing their faith and I hope some students will feel the call to come to Utah-Idaho.”
Students expressed appreciation for the information they received on Mormonism.

“It’s actually kind of shocking to learn the true Mormon doctrines,” said William McMullen, a master of divinity student from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. With 41 students, the New Orleans school enjoyed the distinction of having the largest contingent of participants. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary followed close behind with 34 students. Toks Idowu, a master of divinity student at Samford’s Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Ala., said he believes knowledge is a powerful tool in ministry, but admitted, “I’ve always been ignorant” about what Mormons believed and taught.
A native of Nigeria who has a close friend in Birmingham who is an LDS member, Idowu added his heart was “crushed” by learning his friend’s theology. “If the only thing I’ve received here is the burden, it’s worth it.”
Leanne Barker, who took the workshop course through the Lay Theological Studies program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said, “I really feel like I’ve been well informed in the different areas of how to understand what the Mormons believe and how to witness to them — not just to debate the differences, but to reach out to them in love.”
In a session on how to witness to Mormons, Herb Stoneman, director of evangelism, Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said Christians must understand Mormon theology and what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus and the gospel. “Plow, plant and let God give the increase,” Stoneman urged, stressing the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting persons of their need for salvation.
Stoneman said he likes to begin witnessing opportunities by saying, “I’m on assignment sharing good news with people who have heard bad news.” He warned believers not to get into “testimony swapping” with Mormons.
“Heartfelt experiences cannot replace the biblical standards of the gospel,” he said.
One of the highlights of the workshop was the opportunity to tour the LDS Temple Square where they witnessed to Mormon missionaries who led the tours.
“We have been extremely pleased,” Roberts said of the students’ witnessing efforts. “From my experience in being down at Temple Square with students, I could see that they had a very real awareness of what was going on around them. They were asking the right questions. They had a good attitude about the way they were going about sharing the gospel.”
Scott Davis, a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., helped to lead a Texan to make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ on the street bordering Temple Square. Davis said the temporary resident of Salt Lake City who currently works in a bookstore across the street from Temple Square visited the Mormon site six times trying to understand LDS theology.
A student in Southern’s Billy Graham school of missions, evangelism and church growth, Davis said he used the NAMB pamphlet, The Mormon Puzzle, which offers a side-by-side comparison of major doctrinal positions of Mormonism and historic Christianity in his witness. After the man, who was raised in a Baptist church, learned the LDS church teaches God was once a man, he replied, “That ain’t right!” Davis recounted. The man later professed faith in Christ.
“I praise God for that, because all we have to do is be faithful, no matter where we are,” Davis said.
Gerald Wright, professor of missions at NOBTS, said students “have come away with a much richer understanding of Mormonism than they would have been able to get in a classroom. They are here with a real passion to share Christ and I think that excites me as much as anything.”
Following an afternoon of visits to Temple Square, NAMB officials led students to share testimonies of their witnessing experiences with Mormons. Students named missionaries with whom they had presented the gospel. A time of prayer was held in which students prayed by name for the Mormons they had met.
Exposure to Mormon sources of theology and to former Mormons was an especially helpful feature of the workshop, Wright said.
A former Mormon who left the LDS church in April, in part after viewing the NAMB video, “The Mormon Puzzle,” Sandy Herter told workshop participants, “I praise God that he loved us enough to get us out of there,” the San Diego, Calif., woman said of herself and her husband.
Citing the impact of Southern Baptists coming to Utah, Roberts praised SBC leaders who chose to schedule the annual meeting in Salt Lake City.
“This has been extremely important and critical,” he said. “This will be the most intensive evangelistic effort in the Salt Lake Valley history.”
Jim Harding, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, said, “Only eternity will fully reveal the impact of Southern Baptists coming here.”

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith
  • James A. Smith, Sr.
  • Sr.