WHY I LEFT MORMONISM
By: Weldon Langfield
There seems to be a tendency on the part of some of the "testimonial mentality" to exaggerate the circumstances surrounding their "conversions." A glaring and recent example is that of Mike Warnke, a denominational preacher who has built a career speaking and writing books about his "conversion" from Satanism. It has recently come to light that he was never a Satanist at all!
While this is not a testimonial, I have tried to avoid looking back twenty-three years and reading motives into my conversion that were not there. This article springs from a sincere effort to reconstruct as accurately as possible the thoughts and events that shaped that decision. It is not written with animosity or bitterness, but rather with love for those who have been taught, and have chosen to believe, a blasphemously false religion.
While there are numerous divisions in Mormonism, the two largest religious bodies that look to Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its headquarters in Independence, Missouri. 1 I was raised in and baptized in the second group. There are other differences between the two groups besides the name. The RLDS church has always rejected the practice of polygamy, claiming that it was an innovation of Brigham Young. That, of course, is not true. Smith had about fifty wives. The sons of Joseph Smith established the RLDS church and probably could not face the fact that their father was a philanderer, so they insisted that Smith never practiced plural marriage. Unlike the church in Utah, only a direct descendent of Joseph Smith, Jr. may serve as president of the RLDS church. The authority of Brigham Young is rejected. Interestingly some court decisions have declared the RLDS church to be the true spiritual heir to Joseph Smith, Jr.
When I was a child, my parents were active members of RLDS Congregations first in Monterey and then in Bakersfield, California. I quit attending for a few years, but after marrying, I began attending the RLDS congregation in Fresno, California. Since my wife was a member of the Lord's church, I attended services of the College church of Christ on Sunday nights. Underlying the change was the need to develop a more solid spiritual foundation for my life. The sharp contrast I saw between the RLDS church and the "only church you read about in the Bible," however, is what lead me to leave.
WHY I LEFT
I left because of the unjustifiable emphasis on Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder. For example, the Sunday school class I attended traced the journeys of Smith much like a Bible class might trace the missionary journeys of Paul. Smith was mentioned in sermons far more often than Jesus Christ When I asked why there was not more emphasis on the Word of God, a member cited denominational division and explained, "Every time you get the Bible involved you have nothing but trouble." By that time I had learned one Bible passage well: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof; for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17). My fellow Latter-day Saints' attitude toward the Bible was very disturbing.
I left because it seemed to me that the "saints" were merely "going through the motions." Prayers before communion were memorized; their wording was dictated from Independence, Missouri and was always the same.Sermons did not seem deeply sincere. There did not seem to be a genuine interest in lost souls. Looking back, 2 Timothy 3:5 comes to mind: "Having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away1" There seemed to be none of the attitude expressed in Psalm 95:6-7: "Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand." That may sound subjective and even judgmental, but it is nevertheless the strong impression I had at the time.
I left because of the charismatic tendencies of the Latter-day Saints. Throughout the years, there were occasional healing services in which the sick of the congregation were anointed with oil. Members would sometimes relate visions and instances of divine guidance they thought they had. The presiding bishop in Bakersfield, for example, told on several occasions how God had supposedly directed him to purchase the church building in which we worshipped. My paternal grandfather, a life-long member of the RLDS church, believed he received divine messages from time to time as did many members.
Before becoming a Christian, I was sitting in The Huddle, a lunch room at Fresno State University. It was crowded and a fellow student asked if he could share my table. Seeing my Book of Mormon, he identified himself as a Presbyterian and opened his Bible to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. He taught from that passage that there cannot be latter day revelations and miracles. I later asked the preacher at the church of Christ about that and he used the same reasoning, confirming what the student said. (After obeying the gospel, I went back to The Huddle several times to try to find the student in order to teach him about baptism, but never saw him again). Learning that there were no more revelations after the completion of the New Testament was a telling blow to my faith in the teachings of Joseph Smith "the prophet."
I left because of the lack of confidence on the part of members of the church to which I belonged. While they claimed they were the true church, they did not act fully convinced. Even leaders thought it was alright to visit other churches. If Joseph Smith had been a true prophet and the Book of Mormon the Word of God, it would be very dangerous for churches to not only disregard Smith and his Book of Mormon, but to also attack them, as many denominations do. Yet Mormons consider churches safe from condemnation which view Mormonism as a godless cult.
The lack of confidence was obvious in a second way. When I was beginning to investigate the Bible and to question my convictions, the leadership of the RIDS church felt threatened by my questions. After becoming a Christian, I met with the presiding bishop to request that my name be removed from the membership roll both locally and at headquarters in Independence, Missouri. When I gave him some reasons, he attributed my changed convictions to an "all the answers" attitude I had presumably picked up in college. Those people were threatened by the questions because they had no answers.
WHY I CAME
The first thing that impressed me about the church of Christ was the reverence of the worship services. The men waiting on the table and leading in prayer reflected a soberness and reverence I had never witnessed before. A deacon who was filling in for the preacher one Sunday spoke on the parable of the sheep and goats. He presented it very carefully as though he deeply believed every word of it. Because the lesson was preached with such godly fear, I still remember details from it.
I was attracted to the Lord's church because of the confidence of the members. After I had begin to entertain doubts about my religious upbringing, I met with an elder of the church of Christ, Keith Ream, and asked questions about Joseph Smith, Jr. In a kind though plain way, he said that Smith was a charlatan. I found brother Ream's confidence refreshing since I, too, wanted to be sure about spiritual matters.
I obeyed the gospel because of the emphasis on the Bible and Bible only in the church of Christ. I remember thinking before being baptized that walking in the footsteps of men like Paul and Peter, worshipping and living the Christian life as they did, seemed too good to be true. It was appealing, instead of having various ôinspiredo volumes with their confusing and sometimes boring teachings (Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon "chloroform in print"), to have just one spiritual guide.
WHAT I GAINED FROM THE EXPERIENCE
There are some principles which, because of that experience, are now very important to me. First, I am convinced that all five steps of the plan of salvation must be followed. Mormons claim to baptize for the remission of sins, but preceding baptism they create belief in a "christ" who is not the Christ of the Bible. Mormonism has a warped view of Jesus. Since a convert cannot acquire from Mormonism a scriptural faith, his baptism is ineffective. All who would be saved must hear and believe (Rom. 10:17), confess Christ (Rom. 10: 10), and repent of their sins (Acts 2:38). Only then can they be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The axiom, "You can't be taught wrong and baptized right," is absolutely true.
Second,! try to remember that a person does not have to know everything to become a Christian. At baptism, I understood that the Bible was man's only spiritual guide and that baptism for the remission of sins was necessary to salvation. I did not, however, understand every practice of the Lord's church including the reasons for not using instrumental music. Shortly after obeying the gospel, I was given a tract on instruments in worship. I then understood what the Bible taught on the subject.
When studying with people today, I teach them as much as possible before baptizing them, including what the Bible says about the five items of worship. I also keep in mind that they don't have to understand everything which I've learned over twenty-three years of being a Christian If they have good and honest hearts, they will grow in the faith.
Third, I believe that a lot of people who may appear to be poor prospects for baptism would obey the gospel if only taught. I must have seemed an unlikely candidate for baptism; conversions from Mormonism are very rare. I'm the only convert I know of from the RLDS church. As we evaluate possible students for our personal evangelism efforts, it is important to keep an open mind. Jesus admonished, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
Fourth, I have learned that all honest questions are worthy of an answer. I once heard a gospel preacher say that many of the questions asked of him in Bible classes were insincere. I cringed at his statement. If a position will not stand the scrutiny of questioning, maybe, just maybe, it is wrong. We ought to recognize a question as an opportunity to shore up a weak spot in the questioner's faith. Remember, our hearers have the obligation to question what we teach Paul wrote, "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
Finally, I am convinced that the Bible is man's only guide. A passage I learned while deciding to obey the gospel is Jude 3 which commands us to "...earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." It was clear to me years ago that if the faith was once delivered as Jude indicated, then there could not have been two deliveries, one in Palestine and the other in the Americas. Simply put, either Mormonism is fraudulent or Jude 3 is wrong. Other passages teach the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures. Peter writes, "According as his divine power bath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness ..."(2 Pet. 1:3). Paul wrote that the man of God is "...thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3: 17). The words that Jesus spoke were "Spirit" and "life" (John 6:63). During twenty-five years of preaching, I have observed many Christians, including some preachers, move to the left of the truth. A few have moved too far to the right. My doctrinal beliefs have changed very little because of the deep conviction held for over two decades ago that the Bible is God's only means of guiding men today.
Both the seed of the word (Luke 8:11) and the church it produces are precious treasures. Some Christians who have been "raised in the church" do not realize how privileged they are. Many in the sectarian world would obey the gospel if it were presented to them. Let's not only uphold the truth, let's obey God's numerous commands to teach it to those around us.
1. The difference in "Latter Day" verses "Latter-day" is a point of doctrine between the two groups.