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Mission to the Mormons
July 21, 2003
By Jeff Robinson
John Divito, right, and fellow Mormonism Research Ministry staffers Eric Johnson, Randy Sweet and Bill McKeever shared their faith in Christ during an annual Mormon pageant in Manti, Utah.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — John Divito has a passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Mormons and it is a passion driven by an insider’s perspective.
For the first 19 years of his life, Divito—a master of divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Late last month, Divito spent one week passing out Gospel tracts and discussing the Gospel with Mormons at the church’s annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah. Divito worked with Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), an apologetics group for which he serves as a staff member.
MRM is one of many Christian groups who attended the 37th annual pageant with a mission of converting Mormons from a false gospel to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The pageant is essentially a two-hour Mormon play during which 2,000 years of the church’s history is played out on stage. The drama runs nightly for two weeks each June and draws thousands to the small town of Manti, the site of the Manti Temple, a giant castle-like structure completed in 1888.
Though the message of MRM and other Christian groups was not warmly received, 11 persons made professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
“Quite frankly, many of the Mormons were not interested in taking the literature, and many refused to talk,” Divito said. “There were periodic announcements coming out of the sound system, one of which warned people about reading the information not published by the LDS church.
“The Mormons I did talk to believed they were Christians, so they wanted to understand why we were out there saying that they were not true believers. I would show them that our understandings of who God is is different and our gospels are incompatible.”
Divito learned the difference between the false message of Mormonism and the true Gospel of Jesus Christ after spending much of his life as a Mormon.
He completed many of the steps necessary to progress in the Mormon faith. He was baptized in the church at age eight, received the Aaronic priesthood at 12, had a temple recommend, and was baptized for the dead in the Mormon temple. Much of Divito’s family remains within the Mormon church.
When he turned 18, Divito faced a difficult choice: go on a mission expected of men his age or go to college. He opted for college, which turned out to have profound eternal implications.
While attending Southwest Missouri State University, Divito began to date an evangelical Christian. He sought to convert his new girlfriend to Mormonism, and to shore up his missionary efforts, Divito decided to read Christian materials designed to refute Mormonism.
Soon, Divito’s studies took a strange turn: he began to see the fallacies of Mormon doctrine alongside the veracity of Christian teaching. He began to attend a campus ministry and regularly heard the Gospel.
Before long, he was convinced of the truth of Scripture, convicted of his sin, and converted by the grace of Christ.
“The evidence they gave me was well documented and easily verifiable,” Divito said. “As a result, I began having a crisis of faith. Was everything I had ever been taught through the Mormon church wrong? After my studies, I found out what I believed was indeed wrong.
“Over time I came to realize that I was a sinner and that Mormonism did not have the answer. I could never be good enough to make things right with God, even by keeping the ordinances of the church and the law of the Gospel. Worst of all, I knew that I deserved punishment for my sins.”
He was converted in 1996. The next year, Divito married Jennifer, the girlfriend who had been pivotal in his pilgrimage into the marvelous light of Christianity. Divito is a second-year master of divinity student and is one of the first enrollees in a new apologetics track at Southern Seminary.
Divito hopes to continue dialoguing with and ministering to Mormons and other groups who are following false gospels.
There are several pivotal issues that Christians need to address when witnessing to Mormons, Divito said. Unlike orthodox Christianity’s Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, Mormonism stresses gaining eternal life through works.
Mormons believe that Christ’s atoning work purchased sinners’ resurrection and ability to be saved, but the sinner must appropriate eternal life through his own works. Divito said it is important to stress God’s standard as given in the law—that God demands perfection, but this is a perfection we ourselves cannot accomplish.
Because of this truth, Christians need to point out Christ’s imputed righteousness to Mormons, Divito said. That is, in biblical salvation, a transaction takes place in which Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to sinners.
Said Divito, “After all, the book of Mormon itself says that ‘no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of God?’ This is where the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is essential.
“All true believers in Christ are perfect because they are in Christ and He is perfect. This perfect righteousness is not our own, it is Christ’s. Christ took not only our sins upon Himself on the cross; He also accredited us with His righteousness. This is the glorious truth of His Gospel.”
Divito said Christians should avoid chasing “rabbit trails” on Mormon doctrines such as baptism for the dead, preexistence, and historical church issues. Instead, they should focus on the Gospel.
Most Mormons are not well-versed in their faith’s history or theology, Divito said. Many of them know little about the Scriptures and base their faith on practical and moral issues, he said.
A Mormon’s foundational beliefs rest primarily on subjective feelings, because members of the LDS church are taught that the Book of Mormon’s validity is established by the “burning of the bosom,” which is said to be the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
“As a result, when speaking with a Mormon, it often will not be long before they will start to bear their testimony,” Divito said. “They ‘know these things are true’ because they think they have had feelings given by God.
“We are dealing with two very different truth claims. This is one of the most difficult and important hurdles to overcome in witnessing to Mormons.”
Dealing with Mormons can be challenging, but believers must finally trust in the Gospel, he said. Divito points out that his own conversion is a testimony to the Gospel’s inherent saving power.
“I get the impression that some individuals believe Mormons are harder to win to Christ than others,” Divito said. “But all unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and sins, as Ephesians 2:1 says, and the salvation of Mormons is no more difficult for God than that of any other believer.
“We should trust in Christ and in the power of His Gospel, boldly proclaiming God’s truth to all people, including Mormons.”