If all you knew about the Lutheran faith were some of the unkind criticisms of Martin Luther from his opponents (“he condoned polygamy!” or “he wanted to subtract whole books of the Bible!”) or mischaracterizations of the theology, you would fail to grasp the beauty and meaning that many Lutherans find in their religion. The same applies to Catholicism, where the apparent mistakes of various popes and some of the problems of the past are dead-end streets that do not take us into the hearts and minds of faithful Catholics. That’s not to say that the criticisms are without merit, but they are often worthless if one wishes to understand what Protestants and Catholics actually believe and especially what they experience in their faith.
This principle applies to the Latter-day Saints, of course. Based on the mischaracterizations of our opponents, some people think that being a Mormon requires complete abandonment of thought and mindless, unquestioning following of oppressive leaders. Some think that it has nothing to do with faith in Christ or worship or God, and is all about self-righteousness or perhaps just social programs.
Those who focus on the attacks on Joseph Smith or the caricatures of our faith created by critics miss the most basic aspects of the faith. They miss that “Mormonism” is about creating a living, joyous faith in Christ that can transform our lives into a daily walk with God. I want to emphasize the word joy. The most basic thing about the “restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it brings joy and meaning to the hearts and minds of its followers. There is spiritual peace and joy coupled with much more intellectual satisfaction and meaning than one would ever infer from hearing the rants of the anti-cult professionals.
Yesterday in the once-a-month “fast and testimony meeting” that I attended, two teenage sisters, two newcomers to town, stood at the pulpit and shared their experience to a crowd of new friends. They told of the daily joy and peace they have been finding since their family began praying regularly and returning to activity in the Church. They explained how much better life is for them through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what I have experienced, and what so many of those I know have experienced.
My two years of sharing the Gospel in Switzerland and southern Germany greatly strengthened my personal witness of the power of the Gospel because it was like a laboratory setting in which I could see what the Church did for people. I could see the before and after states over and over again. The Gospel brought people joy, peace, and yes, even intellectual satisfaction as they could now resolve theological and philosophical puzzles, makes sense of this mortal journey, and understand who we are, where we came from, and why we are here. Biblical prophecies and patterns of history make more sense and the knowledge we gain gives us direction and purpose. The importance of families became more clear and through the Gospel, marriages were strengthened, family bonds were strengthened, and people had better, more wholesome lives. The teachings of the Gospel help people avoid addictions and many other dangers to body and spirit, and help people have healthier, happier, and more intelligent lives. Some don’t – some have conflicts with fellow members or object to various teachings and practices, or find the demands on time in various callings to be too much and have negative experiences. But in my experience, the overwhelming majority of those who are willing to take the Gospel seriously and live it find rich blessings, joy, fulfillment, and purpose.
Sincere, thoughtful Christians who learn and embrace the “restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” tend to find meaning and great joy in this route to following Jesus Christ and worshiping God–yes, the Jesus Christ and God the Father of the Bible–and if you don’t understand this, you still don’t know the first thing about Mormonism. But it’s never too late to start learning.