Ravi Zacharias Addresses Latter Day Saints
First Major Evangelical Speaker in Mormon Tabernacle Since 1899
On November 14th 2004, Ravi Zacharias became the first major evangelical speaker to address the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City for over a century. With the 7000-capacity auditorium packed with lay-persons and scholars, both evangelical Protestant and LDS, Zacharias presented his message.
Zacharias, an Indian-born apologist whose books include Can Man Live Without God?, The Real Face of Atheism, and Jesus Among Other Gods, was the general editor of The Kingdom of the Cults. He acknowledged that there are deep doctrinal divides between the two sides on some issues, but the evening was a landmark show of unity.
Zacharias’s sermon on the sinfulness of man and our dependence on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, though hardly a traditional exposition of historical Mormon theology, was met with a rapturous standing ovation by all.
The “Evening of Friendship” event, sponsored by Standing Together Ministries, was all about building relationships, laying the groundwork for further dialogue between the two groups.
As well as Ravi Zacharias, the evening’s speakers included the organiser of the event and former Mormon Greg Johnson, Senior Professor of Brigham Young University Robert Millet, and Biola University’s Craig Hazen. Most striking of all to some was the worship, led by Michael Card, that interspersed the speeches, which saw evangelical worship taking place at the heart of Salt Lake City.
Hazen Hails Watershed Event
Craig Hazen, director of the MA in Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, hailed the event as one “that will be featured prominently in history books 100 years from now.”
Hazen holds out hope that this might mark the beginning of a process of integration of Mormonism into the mainstream of Protestant thought, though he conceded, “it’s not going to happen overnight.”
The idea of the Latter Day Saints joining the wider church may sound far-fetched, but such a move would not be entirely unprecedented.
The evening opened with a prayer by Joseph Tkach Jr. of the World Wide Church of God, a former cult now considered orthodox following changes in its doctrinal commitments. The example of the World Wide Church of God, though it was never an organisation on the scale of the LDS Church, provides hope to evangelicals reaching out to Mormons.
Richard Mouw Apology Sparks Controversy
The event did not pass without controversy, however, and it was evangelicals rather than Mormons who took offence at what was said.
Among the speakers was Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw, who dismayed some members of groups engaged in missionary activity to Mormons by offering the following apology:
“I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folk here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbours, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in the things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe... Indeed, we have even on occasion demonised you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is really trying to accomplish in the world, and even at our best, we have, and this is true of both our communities, talked past each other, setting forth over-simplified and distorted accounts of what the other group believes.”
Mouw was quick to stress that he did not mean to imply deliberate deception, or universal error, but rather wished to stress the importance of dialogue.
There is hope that this will become an annual event, marking a new begining for Protestant-LDS relations.