The Mormon Church Invites Evangelical To Speak In SLC Tabernacle

 by Patrick Madrid 11/16/2004

Having spent a lot of time with Mormons and studying the Mormon Faith over nearly the past 20 years, I can tell you that this is a BIG deal.

It's very interesting that Ravi Zacharias was invited to speak. He recently edited a revised version of the late Walter "The Bible Answer Man" Martin's landmark book of Protestant apologetics, The Kingdom of the Cults -- a tome famous for it's relentless and harsh attacks on Mormon theology. Even so, Zacharias is perhaps my favorite of all the contemporary Evangelical Protestant thinkers. He's very interesting to listen to and I suspect his comments in Salt Lake City engendered a lot of serious reflection by Mormons in the audience. (I'd like to get a transcript or a tape of his presentation.)

I'm not sure yet, but it will no doubt provoke strong reactions, pro and con, among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants. Catholics will likely take little notice, and Mormons will be cautiously enthusiastic, as this type of pulpit sharing adds weight to the LDS Church's efforts to be seen as more of a mainstream Christian denomination by other Christians, especially Protestants.

With Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints sitting together in the Salt Lake Tabernacle for an "Evening of Friendship," internationally renowned Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias told them Sunday night that Jesus Christ's unique claim upon humanity is that he embodied truth and sacrificed himself for a world that often does not recognize him.

But what many Utahns may remember most distinctly is the sermon that came before it.

Taking the pulpit to speak of the event's historic nature, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw addressed a capacity crowd of several thousand, offering a stunningly candid apology to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and noting that "friendship has not come easily between our communities." He dubbed the evening "historic" and apologized that Evangelicals "have often misrepresented the faith and beliefs of the Latter-day Saints."

"Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you," he said, adding both camps have tended to marginalize and simplify the others' beliefs.

Historical animosity dating back to the founding of the LDS Church by Joseph Smith in 1830 has heightened in recent years between the two groups, particularly in the 1990s, when several high-profile evangelical leaders asserted that "Mormons are not Christians."

Mouw noted the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birthday next December and several scholarly events planned to celebrate during the coming year. "I hope many in the evangelical community will take part in those events," he said.

The Tabernacle was filled to capacity 10 minutes before the 6 p.m. service began. More than 7,000 tickets had been distributed shortly after plans for the event became known in September.

The fact that the LDS Church opened its signature pulpit to Zacharias — the first such invitation in more than a century — has had some in both faith camps talking about the motives of Standing Together Ministries and the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, who organized the event. . . .