At the start of the 182nd Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others), President and Prophet, Thomas S. Monson, announced the reduction in age requirements for those worthy young men and young women who desire to labor in the Lord’s vineyard by serving a full –time mission. Eligible young men may now serve a mission beginning at age 18, and eligible young women may serve beginning at 19 years of age. Young men will still serve a two-year mission, and young women will still serve an 18-month mission.
As a result of that church wide announcement “the Church reported that missionary applications had increased dramatically (from 700 applications per week to 4,000), with women comprising more than half of the applicants. While the number of post-announcement applications is still double what it has been in the past, the total number of men and women who have applied since October is now about equal.”  It is of noteworthy interest that prior to President Monson’s announcement, the missionary force of The Church of Jesus Christ was comprised of about 15 percent of young women.
The Missionary Program of The Church of Jesus Christ
They can be seen on the streets of major cities of the world, as well as in many of the smaller, rural communities. Their purpose and their mission is to teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to bring believers into the fold by baptizing them in His name. With nearly 60,000 missionaries serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at any one time, most of whom are under the age of 25, serving in nearly 350 missions around the world, The LDS Church’s missionary program is one of its most recognized characteristics.
It should be noted that the decision of a young man or a young woman to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ is a personal choice. Serving a mission is strongly encouraged by Church leaders and parents, but it is not something that is commanded or demanded of young people. There are some young people who decide not to serve a mission for various reasons, and there are others who face the challenge of whether to attend college first, or to pursue a career prior to serving a mission. For some, the decision is easy, for they have been preparing to serve a mission from their youth, and so there is no question as to whether they will serve their mission first. For others, that decision is not necessarily an easy one.
President Monson, in the course of his remarks, regarding the new missionary service age requirements, stated, “I am not suggesting that all young men will — or should — serve at this earlier age. Rather, the option is now available based on individual circumstances, as well as upon a determination by local Church leaders.” 
It should also be pointed out that unlike some other Christian missionary programs, young men and young women of The Church of Jesus Christ who are called to serve a mission do not get to pick and choose where they wish to serve. But rather, “Missionaries receive their assignment from Church headquarters and are sent only to countries where governments allow the Church to operate. Missionaries do not request their area of assignment and do not know beforehand whether they will be required to learn a language.” 
The decision to serve a mission is based on faith and trust in the Lord, and those who serve, willingly go wherever the Lord needs them to go. Some may serve in missions not far from home, while some may serve in missions in lands far away. No matter where they are called to serve, they know that they are on the Lord’s errand.
Also, unlike some other Christian missionary programs, the Church of Jesus Christ does not fund the cost of an individual’s mission. Those wishing to serve a mission are expected to work and earn monies that will be used to help support them on their mission. Family members are also encouraged to lend monetary support in whatever way they can. The Church of Jesus Christ does, however, have a missionary fund which members can generously donate to, to help support those members who are called to serve a mission, but do not necessarily have the funds to support a mission.
How Mormon Youth Compare to Other Christian Youth
Needless to say the life of a Mormon teen though similar to other teens in some ways, is significantly different in other ways. For example, Mormon teens in many areas arise early each morning to attend a religion class prior to the start of the normal school day. This class, known as seminary, is where they are taught principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In an article in Christianity Today magazine, titled What Can Christians Learn from the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries? Greg Stier, founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, and author of Firing Jesus commented:
Mormonism pushes its kids harder and takes them farther than even the most ardent Protestant youth ministry. Can you imagine a youth group that challenged each of its teenagers to meet at 6 a.m. every day of the school year to learn about Christianity? That’s exactly what Mormons do with their high-school students. We get excited if our teens gather around a pole at 7:15 a.m. to pray once a year. 
Stier also makes mention of the fact that a Mormon young man is ordained to the work of the ministry at the young age of 12. In comparison to other Christian teens, he notes, “When typical Christians graduate from high school, they grab their books and go off to a college dorm. When typical Mormons graduate from high school, they grab a bike pump and go on mission.” . In a further observation he states:
Those high expectations pay off. Young Mormons know what they believe and why they believe it. They’ve hammered out their theology on evangelical doorsteps. Their hearts and minds have been steeled and sealed into Mormon orthodoxy through their intense commitment.
Maybe that’s why Mormons give more and work harder than their Christian peers. Maybe that’s why the religion is expanding while a majority of former Christian youth-group attendees are fleeing the church. 
Steir believes that Protestants should have higher spiritual expectations for their teens. He further believes that the Great Commission should be presented to them as the ultimate cause; that they should be encouraged to spread the message of the gospel at their schools on a daily basis; and that grace and love should be the motivating factors, not religious duty or pressure. He also believes that the Mormon perspective should be adopted, and that Protestant teens should be challenged with greater opportunities of service, outreach, and training to enable them to catch Christ’s vision and mission of building up His Kingdom here on earth. He urges fellow Protestants to “learn from Mormons and instill in our young people a passion for Christ and his cause—making disciples who make disciples.” 
Putting Christ First is the Key
Also in the Christianity Today article titled What Can Christians Learn from the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries?, John Divito a former Mormon, a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and administrator for the Midwest Center for Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky contends that Mormon culture is founded on a worldview requiring works in order to gain eternal life. He quotes from a verse of scripture found in the Book of Mormon, which Latter-day Saints testify is ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ and is comparable to the Holy Bible, 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.” His defense is that this verse contradicts what is taught in the Holy Bible in Ephesians 2:8-10, “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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
His supposition, therefore, is:
“Mormon missionary work is critical to one’s eternal future. In light of this, we should not be surprised at the flood of applications that followed the LDS First Presidency’s announcement that it was lowering the minimum age requirement for missionaries. These young people are eager to serve so they can earn God’s favor through their faithfulness.” 
He does assert, however, that there is at a least a “cautionary” lesson that can be learned from the recent increase in the number of Mormon young men and young women answering the call to serve a mission. He states:
We call our children to be obedient, but don’t point them to Christ, who was obedient for us. We call them to godly living, but don’t direct them to Christ as the substitute for our ungodliness. So when we urge our young men and women to serve sacrificially at home and abroad, the call is too often separated from the gospel. We’ve functionally taught them that the Christian life depends on what they do rather than who they are in Christ. This leads either to pride (“I can do it!”) or to despair (“I can’t do it!”).
In Christ, we have the security and the strength to faithfully serve Him in love. May our youth go into the world and make disciples of all nations, having been reconciled to God and entrusted with the message of reconciliation. 
Be Motivated by His Grace
Kara Powell who is executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute, and teaches youth and family ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, also commented in the Christianity Today article titled What Can Christians Learn from the Surge in Mormon Youth Missionaries? Her comments put the capstone on this topic of discussion. She stated:
Adolescence opens the curtain on a new season of questions for teenagers and emerging adults. Often standing at center stage among the questions that captivate young people is, “What can I do to make a difference?”
The Mormon Church’s missions program gives young people a vibrant stage on which to wrestle with that question and pin down answers. There is a God-given spark embedded in humankind that burns especially bright in adolescents’ developmental hunger to impact others. By lowering the age of eligibility for service, Mormon leaders have fanned the flame for teenagers eager to change the world around them.
The Mormon Church has found a powerful outlet for a young person’s desire to experience purpose and connection. If we as Christians can combine that desire with a sense of God’s extravagant grace, we may experience a similar surge of missions involvement among Christ followers of all ages. 
Additional Resources:Read More
Scott Gordon of FAIR, an apologetic corpus of scholars and melange of high-powered LDS lay contributors to accessible online content on “Mormon” beliefs, announced yesterday at the inception of its annual Conference, the creation of the Mormon Defense League. This League is intended to rally to the defense of false media claims and to civilly correct rampant misinformation about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while opening further doors to honest dialog with interested media and journalists worldwide.
The time has come, increasingly in recent years, when the silent LDS majority will more directly defend longstanding mis-attributions to a Christian people of faith and re-shape and reclaim the conversation about “Mormons.” Mormons itself is a name coined by others and carried in the media. Members of the church prefer to be known as “Latter-day Saints.”
FAIR and other online constituents and lay members are engaging in the global conversation so that accurate and positive glimpses into the tapestry of lives of Latter-day Saints can replace the fodder and fallout of insidious films and ministries shooting senseless slander and age-old mis-takes on those who respect and love those of all faiths, and who strive to apply to the doctrines and teachings of the Savior as they understand them to have been revealed and restored in our day.
This announcement trails a recent article in The Washington Post’s On Faith blog by Michael Otterson, director of public affairs for the Church, where he denounced journalists’ use of the word “cult” to label the Church, calling it “rhetorical warfare.” He remarked, “Few journalists use the term themselves, of course, as an adjective of choice. The semantics are critical. A “cult” in denotation and connotation implies a charismatic leader with a totalitarian-type of emotional and spiritual control over its followers, the antithesis of the foundation and principles upon which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is built, with over 13 million members globally, and converts rapidly joining out of their own volition and based on an individual witness and faith, in all parts of the world.
Two days ago I received this remark from a British Methodist whose name I’ll withhold. It illustrates that when individuals hear the truth from the presenters and have a chance to process it with their own intellect and sensibilities, it opens doors to understanding:
Message: To Whom It May Concern,
I am a British Methodist, and I have spent some time reading about Mormonism on this website. It has been really interesting to cut through a lot of the attacks that are made about your Church and really understand what you believe.
I once visited a Mormon Church in London and was moved by the kindness and welcoming behaviour of the congregation.
The reason for my message is to tell you that I always challenge thosewho question whether or not Mormons are Christians, and defend your right to believe and worship as you please. I am confident that the Mormon Church represents a faithful and positive influence in the world, and encourage you to continue to be a credit to yourselves and your church through living out the teachings of our common faith.
For any journalist who wishes a free copy of the Book of Mormon, please follow the link to the official Church site. This is not an official site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
More U.S. self-identified Christians mix in New Age and mystical sorts of beliefs in their worship. Check it out. One in a five believe in the “evil-eye” (casting a cursing glance), and one in six claim that there is spiritual energy to be had from mountains and trees. According to one study, elements of Eastern faiths and New Age thinking have been widely adopted by 65% of US adults, including many who call themselves Protestants and Catholics, or spiritually religious.
I’ve somehow been often made keenly aware of these trends. Deconstructing children’s and some mainstream movies and watching the progression of syncretism–mixing up mysticism or any ‘ism’ with truth–has come almost naturally to me, for better or worse. Hard to sit still in a theatre sometimes watching nuanced and blatant assumptions running through characters’ dialog, imagery, associative techniques, and overall plots of even the seemingly innocuous or most humurous of films. I’m all for working through conflict, having intensity and depth, but sub-themes that tend to pop up that are counter-family; pro-androgenous, counter-gender identities, and that endow entitlements to children and put halos around those who defy authority made wicked catch my full attention.
Media is powerful; someone said, second to the power of the priesthood. That’s because, I believe, it can move us toward God’s truth and power, be a conduit for it, or violate truth and be a ‘craft’ of another sort. What I do get is that there is a hunger to know how to control evil, and to have power over it. The answer the world is giving, though, is the wrong one. This hunger reflects, in my mind, a starvation for the power of the priesthood of God, of Jesus Christ. My question to each of us is, how will we course correct? How are we teaching our children and the next gen, the Milennials, to discern the difference between the gospel and other ‘isms?” How will we post and write and testify of the real power available through the gospel and authority of Jesus Christ?
I have had thoughts analogous to those expressed by Robert Matthews:
In recent years, there has been increased interested throughout the Western world in the occult and mystical-type religions. This is not a revival of the spirituality characteristic of the ancient patriarchs and prophets of Israel, but is a type of magic and spiritualistic wizardry that the true prophets vigorously opposed. For example, the Lord spake through Moses: “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your god’ (Leviticus 19:31). And also: “‘When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God goeth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divinaton, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord; and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God. For these nations which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times,…but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee to do so’ (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). It is clearly seen from the foregoing passages that belief in astrology, spirit mediums, etc. did not constitute the true religion taught by prophets and patriarchs, but was characteristic of the false religions practiced by the surrounding nations that had departed from the Lord” (Searching the Scriptures: “What the Scriptures Say about Astrology, Divination, Spirit Mediums, Magic, Wizardry, and Necromancy, Ensign, March 1974, p. 26).
So, if 26% of those who attend religious services say they do so at more than one place occasionally, and an additional 9% meander around regularly seeking another, how can we get the word out that there is a home, a true Church, to these people? More Good Foundation enables members to engage in this conversation and reach out to those around us, as invited and challenged and called to do so by living prophets and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ. This is a particular subject to write about, if you’re writing, and to get out to those who are all over the map spiritually, searching and not finding. Let’s put our arms around those we can and help them sort this out. Mohler, leading voice in Baptist orthodoxy, commented on this spiritual confusion that exists and indicated that he felt it was largely due to a “failure of the pulpit to be clear about what is and is not compatible with Christianity and belief in salvation only through Christ.” That is true in watered-down mega-sermons often and in some denominations, but we’re pretty dauntless at the pulpit within The Church of Jesus Christ, and our doctrine itself is not diluted; so perhaps for us, it’s a “failure to have enough cyber-messages accessible that are also clear about what is and is not compatible with Christianity and belief in salvation only through Christ.”
John Taylor’s words also ring out here:
As a servant of God I tell you mankind cannot be redeemed, worlds without end can not evolve or crystalize, or get into the condition entitling them to become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and to partake of the fulness of His glory; cannot go on to perfection, and sit down in the councils of heaven with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and those bright intelligences who created this world and others, only through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. All the evolution in the world will not save a single soul; neither will…spiritualism, nor hypnotism, nor any other ism that is not of God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is so plain that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein” (Conference Report, Oct. 1903, p. 97)
Challenge: Action Item
Can each of us post this week on Salvation through Jesus Christ and respond in positive outreach to those who are confused by these spiritual trends, mixing and making of religions that have no power to save or direct or produce individual happiness, and we share those and help them circulate in social media? Responses welcome.
Thanks for all you do. For more information on More Good Foundation, please email us at email at moregoodfoundation dot org or respond to this post.
Last week we attended the FAIR Conference. Among my favorite talks were the conference opener by Mike Ash and the conference closer by Dan Peterson.
Mike Ash presented concepts from his new book, Shaken Faith Syndrome. He explained the idea of “inoculation” — introducing members to doctrinal or historical points that might be unsettling if received from unfaithful sources which intend to shock or confuse. For example, we might better inoculate Church members by linking to the relevant FAIR Wiki article on Joseph Smith and polygamy when discussing Joseph Smith or polygamy.
Dan Peterson spoke of softening and broadening the field of apologetics. Apologetics is meant to provide plausibility for faith, not prove anything. We need not debate. If our faith is rational, or based in things we consider plausible, the Spirit can testify of truths. Apologetics can help provide this plausibility, for those who want it, by clearing the thorns so the seeds of faith can grow.
Dan’s vision for broadened apologetics is making the Gospel more “attractive” (or more remarkable) by sharing our experiences, telling our stories, and encouraging others to experiment for themselves. This kind of sharing of beliefs is central to the mission of the More Good Foundation and seems to be what Elder Ballard has asked for.
Earlier this year, Dave Keller suggested that Church members who participate on the Internet should engage in a “vigorous self study program” so they’re prepared to discuss any issue that might arise online. Here I see an interesting convergence: Dan and Dave seem to be implying, respectively, that the apologist and the online member missionary ought to be more like each other.
See also: Dan Peterson on Humble Apologetics at MormonTimes.com.Read More
Last Thursday and Friday I attended the FAIR Conference in Sandy, UT, for the second time. The purpose of FAIR is explained well in their flyer:
When people first encounter the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, or FAIR, the first question they often ask is: “Why are you apologizing for being a member of the Church?” To aid in answering this question a formal definition is in order:
Apologetics is the “branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of the Christian doctrines.” …
Far from apologizing for the Church, LDS apologists are seeking to defend the Church. (source)
Among the speakers and attendees were several Church employees, BYU professors, and other friends of the Church. I found the talks, most of which are scholarly in nature, to be both interesting and faith-promoting.
Apologists don’t attempt to prove the truthfulness of Mormonism but, rather, prevent so-called scientific or scholarly attacks on the religion to go uncontested, thus preserving faith. Apologetics makes faith in unseen things plausible.
One of my favorite presentations was by Darius Gray and Margaret Young. They are creating a documentary on the experiences and stories of Black Mormons, a project similar to our own Mormon Testimonies. The trailer for their film was excellent.
Mike Ash’s article Hard Questions and Keeping the Faith is one of the best I’ve seen on the role of apologetics in preserving and defending faith.Read More