My story begins with the fact that I was raised in a Christian home. I am very thankful that I had parents who already knew the Lord when I was born. My mother became a Christian when she was about eight or nine, and my dad became a Christian about four years before I was born. Growing up, I have many memories of my dad getting his Bible out to settle disagreements, find answers to questions, or just show us what the Lord had to say on a topic we were discussing. We went to church every Sunday and often to other activities throughout the week. Truly, the Lord took care of me growing up, and He used it to prepare me for what came later in life.
My dad was an Air Force officer for many years, and when I was eight, my family moved to Osan AFB, South Korea. My parents decided before we even moved there that they wanted us to learn about the Korean people, their customs, and history, so almost as soon as we arrived and were settled, they decided they should take my brothers and me to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Unforunately, however, I wasn’t yet old enough to go–you had to be at least ten–so my parents went ahead and left me with a babysitter. I don’t remember all the details of that day, but I definitely remember some. I remember how big the Andersen (*1) family was: Janet (my babysitter) was the oldest of six kids! Two, Scott and Erin, were around my age, so we spent much of the day playing together. I remember that the family seemed to be pretty good people who went to church like my family, and they even went to a potluck with their congregation that evening while I stayed home with Janet. On their refridgerator were the assigned chores for each day for all the kids, and one of them was “Prayer.” Then, at the end of the day, we all sat around as Mr. Andersen read to us from what looked like a Bible. Later I found out it wasn’t, but I didn’t know any better at the time.
One day while I was still living in Korea not far from the Andersens, Scott came over to hang out. Not long after he got there, he asked me a question: “Hey Drew, what religion are you?”
“What’s a religion?” I asked.
“It’s what you believe, like Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Buddhist, that kind of thing.”
“Oh, well we go to the Protestant worship service here on base, so I guess I’m Protestant.”
“Yeah, but what kind of Protestant?”
“There’s more than one kind?”
“Yeah, there’s Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian…all sorts! Which one are you?”
“Oh…well we went to a Methodist church when we lived in Nebraska, so I guess we’re Methodists! Why, what religion are you?”
“Mormon? Never heard of it.”
Scott gave me a quick explanation of who the Mormons were, none of which I really remember now, but I do remember this as the first time I’d ever heard the word “Mormon.” Of course when I was eight, I had no idea what an impact this group would have on my life.
Soon after that the Andersens moved away, and when I was ten my dad got his next assignment to Tucson, Arizona. While attending a public school there in Tucson, I started having some problems with some other kids who decided to come after me. On top of that, I was getting into trouble myself. My parents finally decided it was time to take me out of that school and put me into a private one, so they started looking for a better place for me. After doing some looking, we picked a school that I had visited and liked.
Shortly after starting at that school, I came to find out that most of the students and staff were also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called Mormons. The doctrine was never part of the school’s curriculum, and the most we ever had to do theologically was memorize a passage out of the King James Version of the Bible each week for a grade, but Mormonism was still a strong presence there. In everyday conversation, I started hearing strange new words and phrases that made no sense to me, such as “ward,” “Relief Society,” and “Mutual.” Some of the LDS missionaries often came to our school and got a free lunch for watching after us on the playground.
It would be a total lie to say anything less than this: I loved my time at my new school. The teachers took me in at a very difficult time in my life, hugged me when I needed it, smacked me when necessary, and made sure I knew that there were people out there who loved me. The highest paid teacher in the school, I was told, received $500 a month, and that was considered a lot! I can remember my Literature teacher in middle school who actually came and taught us without taking an income; she just wanted to make sure we had a good education in Literature! I’ll never forget how nice those missionaries were. They could be seen out playing football with the students, whether they’d remembered a change of clothes or were stuck with their suits and name badges, but they also spent time just talking to whomever seemed to need a friend. I’ll never forget sitting around talking with them or playing games with them, and I was always upset whenever one of them would be reassigned or else released from his mission to go home. One day during P.E., I fell and hurt my ankle very badly. Almost instantly a missionary was there, carrying me over to a place to sit and checking to make sure I was okay. He then sat with me for the rest of recess to take care of me. I will never forget the love I experienced in that school.
I also experienced, however, some other things about Mormonism that I found shocking. I started learning of strange doctrines I’d never heard before. I remember the day one of my teachers explained the Mormon concept of three levels of heaven to me. I was stunned! One day soon after my mom had read a book about one woman’s experience in Mormonism, she mentioned how she’d heard Mormons believe they can become gods in the next life, a doctrine which I knew to be against those I’d heard in church. I can’t even begin to express how stunned I was when I first heard of the concept of “baptism for the dead.” All of these things were completely foreign to me, and I was astounded that people actually believed in them. Just the same, I learned to get along despite the differences.
Around this same time, I was finally starting to pick up on the things I was hearing in church and began asking my parents questions. I was confused about what I was learning, and I would ask, “How does Jesus get into your heart? I don’t get it.” “How does His blood wash our sins away?” “How do we know this is true?” My parents would do their best to answer my questions, but for some reason I just didn’t catch on. Finally I started praying each night after going to bed, sometimes for 2-3 hours: “Lord Jesus, I don’t understand how You get into my heart and I don’t know how all of this works, but I do know that I love You and want to have You in my life, so could You please take care of the rest? I just really want to serve and honor You!” I prayed that prayer over and over again in many different words, confused as could be, but knowing that I loved the Lord and wanted Him in my life.
Finally, after praying that prayer many times, I started to understand and realize that if I desired to have the Lord in my life that much, I did have Him! He would take care of the rest. He is the One who takes care of coming into our hearts after we’ve accepted Him, and I just suddenly knew that I was His.
Soon after all of this, my family moved to Southern Illinois. I went to a Lutheran school for 8th grade, since my parents weren’t ready to put me back in public school yet. I still find it interesting to this day that the girl I started hanging out with the most turned out to be Mormon…the only one in the school! I didn’t even know at the time I started hanging out with her, but sure enough she was (although her family was inactive in the Church). The next year I went to the local public high school and found some friends. Among them turned out to be another girl who was LDS…one of only four or five in a school of 1200 students. Many might call it coincidence, but I believe God was leading me to those people.
The whole time this was going on, I was still fascinated by Mormonism. At the time I moved to Illinois, the Internet was really growing in popularity, and the LDS Church started publishing some excellent resources on their website. I started reading about it a lot, and it became a huge hobby. I didn’t know why I was so fascinated by it, but I suspect it had a lot to do with how many Mormons I’d come into contact with.
While I was in high school, I also started reading from the Bible daily. I did this in order to learn more about God’s will for my life, but it would also be less than honest to say that I always paid attention to what I was reading. I did it more to fulfill what I considered to be an obligation, just letting my eyes pass over the words of the page, instead of doing so to learn more about God and His will. Little did I realize I was following Mormon teachings better than I was Christianity. Just recently I found another blog entry about a talk given by Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer via satellite to a stake conference in Bolivia. In the talk he said that if one is having trouble understanding the words of the biblical prophet Isaiah found copied in the Book of Mormon, to simply let one’s eyes pass over the words until you get through them. I was learning almost nothing during my Bible study time. It was virtually pointless.
During the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year in college, there was an event held at my church called Frontliners. This was basically an evangelism conference in which the youth in the church went door-to-door throughout the community sharing the gospel. In the evenings at the church we would have a worship service for anyone who wished to come. The Sunday evening before we went out door-to-door, the evangelist at the worship service started telling us that we should not start sharing the gospel the next day without knowing for ourselves that we had eternal salvation and that we would go to Heaven when we died. I’d heard this teaching touched on before in church, but I’d never really caught on to it. Either way, I felt the Spirit pushing me very strongly to go forward during the altar call. I found myself thinking, Why? I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, so I know I’m going to Heaven when I die. Why should I go forward? The Spirit just wouldn’t leave me alone, however, so I went forward.
I now know the reason that I was being pushed to go forward was because of the fact that, while I had certainly accepted Jesus as my Savior before, I had not accepted the fact that this meant I had eternal life! I had spent the time since I had come to know Jesus working to make sure I didn’t lose my salvation. I thought that each time I sinned, I instantly had to get down on my knees and pray for God’s forgiveness. If I forgot to mention even one, I would still be stained with that sin. That night, however, I accepted that God had totally washed my sins away and that even if I still messed up, He still loved me and had given me salvation. If I spent the rest of my life working my way to Heaven, I would never make it. Only by His grace and mercy was it possible.
Soon after Frontliners, I started my freshman year in college. I quickly realized that my college library had a more extensive section on Mormonism than the local library at home, so I started going there and looking at the Mormon books quite a bit in my spare time. On top of that, I made friends with a Mormon quickly once again. Rebecca was one of less than 20 Mormons on a campus of about 10,000 students, but somehow we just met and started hanging out.
The following summer, the LDS Church had just finished rebuilding the Nauvoo, Illinois Temple, so my parents and I went and toured it before its dedication. I was somewhat surprised when I first entered the temple because prior to that, I’d always heard and read Mormons saying how wonderful the spirit inside the temple is. Whenever you feel a good feeling in your heart in Mormonism, this is called your “testimony,” and it’s the spirit’s way of telling you it’s true. Generally prior to joining the LDS Church, you will be expected to meet with the missionaries, who will give you a copy of the Book of Mormon if you don’t already have one. They will then show you Moroni 10.3-5, which says:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
After reading this passage, the missionaries then instruct you to pray and ask Heavenly Father to show you that the Book of Mormon is true. It’s at this point in time that many receive their testimony, and from then on, Mormons will tell you they know the Church is true, the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, etc. The feeling I felt upon entering the temple, however, was so overwhelmingly awful that it was as if a veil of darkness instantly came before my eyes. The feeling continued throughout the tour, and when we were driving home I mentioned it to my parents. Both of them told me they had felt it too. I found that to be very interesting. What spirit is this that so many people consider to be so wonderful, but as soon as I experience it, it’s awful? I wondered.
That fall I went back to school and continued studying Mormonism and reading the Bible every day. During that semester, I discovered that there were actually a couple videos in the university library produced by the LDS Church, so I decided to go ahead and go watch them.
The first video was titled The Mountain of the Lord and was about the building of the Salt Lake Temple, which many now identify as the main symbol of the LDS Church. In the video, a reporter from New York is interviewing then President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, who tells the reporter about the Church and its beliefs, the purpose of the temple, and why Mormons believe these things. The reporter isn’t a Latter-day Saint, but he expresses that he had been raised in a traditionally Christian home. I will never forget what happens at the end of the video, however, when the reporter seems to start thinking Mormonism might be true. President Woodruff enters the temple to dedicate it, and as the reporter is standing outside looking up at it, he remembers some Bible verses he’d heard as a child which this temple seems to fulfill:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains….and all nations shall flow unto it. (Isaiah 2:2)
Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer…. (Isaiah 56:7) (*3)
And that’s when I received my testimony.
I was suddenly overcome with a feeling so powerful and so wonderful that there is no doubt in my mind to this day that it was supernatural. I still believe that there is a spirit that convicts people that Mormonism is true. Never in all my life have I felt anything that powerful. It was nothing like a warm fuzzy after a movie with a happy ending. It was overwhelming, and I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing.
That night I went back to my dorm room, knowing that the LDS Church was true. I went to sleep and got up to go to my classes the next morning, but all of a sudden something had changed. I still felt the burning in my bosom, but now it wasn’t such a great feeling anymore. Somehow it had changed over night and become more like the awful feeling I’d had inside the Nauvoo Temple multiplied several times. What should I believe? How was I to know whether or not this feeling was dependable? I knew what other Evangelicals always said about feelings, but I also knew I’d never felt anything so strong or so wonderful in my heart before! If it was so wonderful, however, why was it now so awful?
I went to my classes that day and worked my way through them, but it wasn’t pleasant. There were a couple times I actually had to hold back tears because I was so upset over what was going on. That night I went back to the library and watched the other video. This one was called How Rare a Possession: The Book of Mormon, and I felt wonderful at the end of this one too, but I was now wise to the fact that this feeling didn’t seem all that dependable. I went back to my dorm room and called my parents and told them everything that had happened. We talked for quite a while, and the next few weeks turned into a confusing blur. I continued going back and forth on whether or not I believed in Mormonism and dealing with all the things I was confused about. I could see many benefits to becoming a Mormon:
1) I have never seen a more organized religion anywhere! I love organization and would love to be a part of it.
2) I’ve always believed that God looks on our hearts, so how we choose to express our worship is no matter of what type of music; but I also loved the more traditional feel of how I’d heard Mormon meetings were conducted on Sundays and throughout the week. Plus, what ever happened to those old Baptist testimony meetings? Mormons still have them every first Sunday of the month (except on General Conference weekends).
3) They’re so industrious! Mormons take care of themselves and others wonderfully!
4) Everyone has something to do in the Church! All members are ministers and missionaries. I love how Mormons make sure everyone has a job in sharing the “Gospel.”
5) Even though they certainly have their “Jack Mormons” (a term used for a black sheep in Mormonism), the ones who are faithful are such great people! They stand for traditional morals and values.
6) There’s a living prophet to guide you when you just can’t seem to figure out what God’s answer would be.
There are more things, but those are the ones that come to mind. At the same time, I struggled with some of the issues I had with the LDS Church. I had several problems with Mormonism such as:
1) Eternal marriage and grace “after all we can do” (see 2 Nephi 25.23; Articles of Faith 1.3) seemed to be totally contradictory to the Bible’s teachings in my opinion (see Matthew 22.23-30; Luke 20.27-36; Ephesians 2.8-9; Titus 3.4-7).
2) It seemed that there were often contradictions in the teachings of the LDS prophets. Chief among these contradictions (for me) was the so-called “Adam-God Doctrine.” Brigham Young once taught that Adam, the first man on Earth, is the God that we now worship and created the heavens and the earth. He came down to live on the earth with one of his wives from the heavens, Eve (see Journal of Discourses 1.50). If this was true, however, why does it directly contradict the teachings of other supposed prophets of God? LDS President and Prophet Spencer W. Kimball stated in a Priesthood General Session in October 1976 that the Church rejects this doctrine (see Ensign, November 1976, pp. 77-79, end of 5th paragraph). I certainly can’t trust a prophet who could be teaching false doctrine!
There were other issues as well, I’m sure, but I can’t think of all of them at the moment, and these two were the biggest for me. I didn’t even know yet about DNA and archaealogical evidence contradicting the Book of Mormon, the problems found with the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith’s questionable past, etc. I just knew that none of this seemed right to me.
I finally ended up going and talking about this with my pastor. He sat and talked with me for a while and did his best to address the issues I was having. He also suggested another pastor in the area who had grown up in the LDS Church but had since become a Christian, so I went and met with that pastor too.
I got into the meeting with this pastor and started talking with him about some of the issues I’d been having. He looked at me and said to me, “There’s one thing I need to ask you which will be the most important thing about this meeting. Drew, do you know that you will go to Heaven if you die tonight?”
There was that question! That was one thing that had been lurking in the back of my mind but I hadn’t really bothered to bring it out the whole time I was going through this struggle. Even in the midst of all the confusion in my life, I knew the answer I had to give: “Yes.”
“How do you know that?” he asked.
“I have accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and asked Him to forgive me of all my sins.”
“Well that’s about all I can do for you. Let me tell you, I grew up in the LDS Church and did everything one can do as a Mormon except serve a mission, as I left the Church when I was 19. I would stand in testimony meeting on the first Sunday of the month and say, ‘I want to bear witness that I know that this is the only true church on the earth today, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Spencer W. Kimball is God’s prophet.’ I would often not say one thing about the atoning blood of Jesus or what He has done for me. Drew, you can join the LDS Church and be a faithful Mormon, but you will not be taught the Bible when you’re there.”
He also proceeded to look at the passages from the end of the Mountain of the Lord. It was then that I realized I had not even bothered to look up the passages mentioned in the video. I had taken them at face value for how they were presented in the video. Here’s what they say in context:
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)
This passage was hardly talking about the Salt Lake Temple. It was talking about the temple in Jerusalem! The use of this passage in this video was incredibly misleading and dishonest. It was twisting the word of God to make it say what the LDS Church wanted it to say, and I had failed to study the passage in context. By failing to study and know what the Bible said, I had allowed myself to be duped into believing and accepting the lies they were telling. Not only that, but the other verse quoted at the end of the video said:
Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. (Isaiah 56:7)
For one thing, I am not aware of any burnt offering that has ever taken place inside a Mormon temple. Even if it has happened at some point in time, however, this is absolutely not part of the regular practice that goes on inside the temples of the LDS Church. Both of these passages had been misapplied in this video.
I left that day still a little bit confused about some things, but I knew this: I could not deny that Jesus had saved me of my sins and that I knew I had eternal life. I believed in Jesus, and that’s what God requires of me to spend eternity with Him!
So that’s my testimony, which stands to this day. I know that I will go to Heaven when I die. This is not because of anything that I have ever done. There is nothing any person could ever do to attain salvation! If I had joined the LDS Church, I would have spent the rest of my life working to gain my salvation by keeping all the commandments, obeying the Word of Wisdom, going to the temple as often as possible, etc. The Book of Mormon says in 2 Nephi 25.23: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (italics mine) Likewise, the 3rd Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (italics mine)
This is a direct contradiction to the words of the Bible. Ephesians 2.8-9 says (italics mine): “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” On the same note, the Lord tells us in Titus 3.4-7 (italics mine):
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
So how do I know that I will go to Heaven? It’s because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. It’s because I have faith in Him. The Bible also says in 1 John 5.11-13 (italics and underlining mine):
11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Because I have believed on the name of the Son of God, I have gained eternal life and will spend eternity with my Heavenly Father. I bear testimony of these things, even in the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
*1 – All names have been changed, except mine.
*2 – All uses of the term “Mormon,” “LDS Church,” “LDS,” etc. are referring to the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah.
*3 – All Bible references are taken from the King James Version.