What Evangelicals Can Learn From Mormons: Weakness

City Creek Center is the newest mall and retail area in downtown Salt Lake City.  My wife and I often stroll this open-air mall and marvel at all the things we would buy if we had the money.  We like to take the kids by and see the live trout in the stream that flows through the center of this mall.  The kids like to play on the large boulders and stand transfixed by the multiple fountains that separate the different stores at City Creek.  Raining?  Snowing?  No problem, City Creek will close its retractable roof and you can enjoy the stream and shopping just the same.  We often remark that this is truly the most magnificent mall we have ever been too; and the LDS church owns this mall.  This mall is roughly a $1.5 billion part of a $5 billion downtown revitalization project by the LDS church in Salt Lake City [1].  In fact, City Creek covers two city blocks adjacent to Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  City Creek coupled with Temple Square and the LDS Conference center make for a quite striking show of the strength and brilliance of the LDS Church.  For those that are theologically inclined one can see Mormon temple theology and ideas of Zion shine at every turn.  Salt Lake City is the epicenter of Mormonism and its shows.  The LDS Church pulls out all the stops to make their church appear to be the true reconstituted church of Christ, and that blessed of God.  It is well known that the LDS church has vast financial holdings of which City Creek is just a small sliver.  Time estimated in 1997 that the LDS church’s assets are probably in the neighborhood of at least $30 billion [2], and the church has grown significantly since then.

Not only is the financial strength of the LDS church impressive, its organization is impressive as well.  The church has a strong top down leadership starting with the living prophet that trickles down to each neighborhood ward.  Each ward is organized the same and is expected to operate in exactly the same way.  Services follow strict procedures and ordinances are carried out with exacting detail.  I once witnessed an LDS baptism in which the presiding bishop missed one word and the entire baptism service was repeated to ensure the validity of the baptism. 

The LDS church is physically impressive in all the ways of the world, and its members strive for the same persona.  Church members strive to have the best jobs, the most put together families, high moralistic ideals, religious achievements, and possessions that speak of the blessing of God.  This unfortunately is often a cover for sin, broken families, and hearts that desperately want to stop striving and find peace in this life.

Contrast this with the Christian churches in Salt Lake City.  Most of them meet in a warehouse or a dilapidated church building.  Some meet in homes and the services held in each church, while similar in message, will surely differ in style and application.  As far as finances, well the Christian churches in Salt Lake City are making it, but we aren’t opening a new mall anytime soon.  In fact, many of the church plant/business ventures I have seen by Christians in Utah have failed miserably.  Members? Well we are broken their too.

So what are we to make of this?  The LDS church likes to point to their organization and strength to show God’s favor towards them.  In fact it is seen as verification that they have reconstituted the true church of Christ, by Joseph Smith, after the Great Apostasy.  While we know that not to be true as Christians, it does cause us to pause and think about the weakness of our churches.  If we are honest with ourselves, what we see in the Mormon church is exactly what we hope for in our own Christian denominations.  We want strength of organization, public respect, and financial stability.

But physical strength and power is not the way of the Gospel.  In fact, the way of the true Gospel is weakness.  Let me repeat that, the way of the Gospel is weakness.  1 Corinthians 1:27-29 tells us that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  This has never been more apparent to me than experiencing the disparity between the weakness of the Christian churches in Utah and the strength of the Mormon Church.  Paul continues this theme in 1 Corinthians 4:10 saying, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.  We are weak, but you are strong.  You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.”  This is true of each and every Christian church in Utah.  At best Mormons consider Christians to have received part of true revelation about Christ and at worst we are considered to be devils that preach a false Gospel.  Paul is combating believers in Corinth that think they have surpassed the basic things of the Gospel and have become more spiritual than their fellow believers; we are combating a non-Christian denomination that thinks it has a superior revelation.  But the true Gospel resides in weakness, and this by the will of God to confound the wise.

Let us also remember the apparent weakness of the Savior we serve as Christians.  Isaiah 53:2-3 says of Christ’s appearance that he was “like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”  Jesus was not attractive, if you think so, compliment your girlfriend or spouse the next time you see them by calling them a root out of dry ground.  That is ugly.  There was no form or majesty in Christ that we should desire Him.  But God, rich in mercy, has revealed Him to be the Savior of the world to those that he would make His own, Christians, by faith.

The application of this ideal of weakness becomes easy for Evangelicals.  If your church is seeking to be the most brilliant, most put together show around, you might be seeking something other than the Gospel.  You might be seeking something you can boast about instead of becoming weak so you can boast in the Gospel.  This is not to say Christian churches should all be dilapidated and run down, we should be good stewards of the gifts of God, but it is to say let’s glory in Christ instead of what we have built.  God has a long history of blessing His saints both physically and spiritually but in both cases our job is to point back to Him and give thanks.  As individuals we also need to learn to become weak.  We need to confess our sin and embrace our everyday need of the Gospel.  We need to realize we have nothing to add to the kingdom of God that God Himself hasn’t given to us.  And we need to stop striving for the approval of men and seek the approval of Christ.  Let us learn to depend totally on the grace of the Gospel and its power to do good works in and through us.  Then we will find peace, freedom, and joy.  As Christ works in and through us we are free to sit back and enjoy the show boasting in its star, Christ.

Let us take the attitude of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 and boast in our weakness so that the power of Christ may rest on us.  The churches in Salt Lake City are learning to be weak in the face of strength so that the power of Christ may be seen in them; will you become weak with us?

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*The image above was used in accordance with the licensing agreements of WikiCommons and in no way reflects the views of the artist that produced the image.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Creek_Center, accessed 4/4/2013
[2] http://www.pbs.org/mormons/faqs/structure.html, accessed 4/4/2013

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