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Why do Mormons Serve Missions?

Robert L. Millet
Elder Dallin H. Oaks

by Robert L. Millet

Before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was even organized, a spirit of enthusiasm and zeal was evident among those who encountered the message of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the idea that God had chosen to restore truths and authorities to earth. That spirit intensified after the formal organization of the Church. Many of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants instruct the Latter-day Saints to travel, to preach, and to proselyte. The Saints are told to proclaim the message of the Restoration before individuals and congregations, in churches and in synagogues. Because they believe what they have to share with others represents a fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the fullness is not found elsewhere, they feel a responsibility to make the message available to all who will hear. The commission given to the apostles when Jesus ascended into heaven, a commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18), has been repeated and renewed to the Latter-day Saints: "Go ye into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, acting in the authority which I have given you, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (D&C 68:8.)

One president of the Church expressed himself to those not of the LDS faith: "We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have come not to find fault with you nor criticize you. We have not come here to berate you because of things you have not done; but we have come here as your brethren . . . and to say to you: `Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good, in order that you may be happier and in order that you may be prepared to enter into the presence of our Heavenly Father.'"

Those who are content with what they have are perfectly free to express the same to LDS missionaries. Those who are curious, unsatisfied with their present faith or way of life, or those who may be seeking for answers to some of life's puzzling questions, may find an encounter with the Latter-day Saints worth their time and attention.

The Mormon Faith: A New Look at Christianity
Copyright by Deseret Book


Mormons believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains a fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that this fulness is not found elsewhere. Therefore, they feel a responsibility to make the message of the restoration of Christ’s Church available to all who will hear. They profess to have received the same commission from the Lord Jesus that he delivered to his followers anciently—to preach the gospel to people of all nations (see Matthew 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–18; see also D&C 68:8). This is the basis for the missionary system within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One president of the LDS Church expressed these thoughts to those not of the LDS faith:

The Need

Latter-day Saints affirm that the answer to the world’s problems—starvation, famine, disease, crime, inhumanity, and the dissolution of the family—is ultimately not found in social programs or legislation. Instead, the answer lies in the promise that God will change the hearts of those who have faith in Jesus Christ. There is much good being done by people of many Christian denominations to bring this message of Christ to a world that desperately needs it. Yet the Latter-day Saints declare that there is more truth to be known, more power to be exercised, and more profound fulfillment and joy to be found than is available in any other church. As one church leader pointed out, “We seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the people of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind.”43

The Message

The restoration of the gospel came about as a divine response to the famine in the land foretold by Old Testament prophets—not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but a yearning to hear the word of God (see Amos 8:11–12). The fundamental message of Mormonism is:

• There is a God. He is our Father in Heaven.

Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and the promised Messiah. Salvation comes only in and through the redemption of Christ.

• Thus there is purpose to life. Our Heavenly Father has a plan for his children, a plan intended to bring peace and joy to all the sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

• God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. This appearance began the restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

• Heavenly messengers have restored sacred truths and divine powers. Through those powers the church and kingdom of God have been reestablished on earth.

• God loves his children in this age and generation as much as he loved those to whom he sent his Son some two thousand years ago. The Father’s perfect love is manifested not only in the preservation of the Bible, but also through modern revelation, modern scripture, modern apostles and prophets ordained with divine priesthood powers, and an inspired church organization.

The Custodian

It is important to be a good person, a moral person, a person of integrity. Latter-day Saints believe, however, that the gospel is intended to do more than make us good persons. The gospel contains the power of God unto salvation (see Romans 1:16), the power to transform good people into Christlike people, noble souls into holy souls. The Church of Jesus Christ is the custodian of the gospel. Christ himself has given his restored church divine authority and the truths of salvation. So Latter-day Saints do not believe one can fully come unto Christ—and partake of all the blessings he offers—independent of (or in opposition to) the Church of Jesus Christ. They believe there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) and that the sacraments or ordinances of salvation, administered by the priesthood held in his restored church, are prerequisite to entrance into the kingdom of God.

At a time in which there is a waning of belonging and in accordance with the scriptural command to share the gospel so that all might “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32), the Latter-day Saints invite all people to come home, to return to the family of God. The First Presidency of the LDS Church in 1907 declared, “Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earth-bound; we contemplate the human race, past, present and yet to come, as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now, and forever.”44


43. Howard W. Hunter, That We Might Have Joy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 59.
44. Cited in ibid.

Copyright by FARMS

by Elder Dallin H. Oaks

I will conclude by discussing another important question members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked by others: "Why do you send missionaries to preach to other Christians?" Sometimes this is asked with curiosity and sometimes with resentment.

My most memorable experience with that question occurred some years ago in what we then called the Eastern Bloc. After many years of Communist hostility to religion, these countries were suddenly and miraculously given a measure of religious freedom. When that door opened, many Christian faiths sent missionaries. As part of our preparation to do so, the First Presidency sent members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to meet with government and church leaders in these countries. Our assignment was to introduce ourselves and to explain what our missionaries would be doing.

Elder Russell M. Nelson and I called on the leader of the Orthodox Church in one of these countries. Here was a man who had helped keep the light of Christianity burning through the dark decades of Communist repression. I noted in my journal that he was a warm and gracious man who impressed me as a servant of the Lord. I mention this so that you will not think there was any spirit of arrogance or contention in our conversation of nearly an hour. Our visit was pleasant and cordial, filled with the goodwill that should always characterize conversations between men and women who love the Lord and seek to serve Him, each according to his or her own understanding.

Our host told us about the activities of his church during the period of Communist repression. He described the various difficulties his church and its work were experiencing as they emerged from that period and sought to regain their former position in the life of the country and the hearts of the people. We introduced ourselves and our fundamental beliefs. We explained that we would soon be sending missionaries into his country and told him how they would perform their labors.

He asked, "Will your missionaries preach only to unbelievers, or will they also try to preach to believers?" We replied that our message was for everyone, believers as well as unbelievers. We gave two reasons for this answer--one a matter of principle and the other a matter of practicality. We told him that we preached to believers as well as unbelievers because our message, the restored gospel, makes an important addition to the knowledge, happiness, and peace of all mankind. As a matter of practicality, we preach to believers as well as unbelievers because we cannot tell the difference. I remember asking this distinguished leader, "When you stand before a congregation and look into the faces of the people, can you tell the difference between those who are real believers and those who are not?" He smiled wryly, and I sensed an admission that he had understood the point.

Through missionaries and members, the message of the restored gospel is going to all the world. To non-Christians, we witness of Christ and share the truths and ordinances of His restored gospel. To Christians we do the same. Even if a Christian has been "saved" in the familiar single sense discussed earlier, we teach that there remains more to be learned and more to be experienced. As President Hinckley recently said, "[We are] not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, 'Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it'" ("The BYU Experience," BYU devotional address, 4 Nov. 1997).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers all of the children of God the opportunity to learn the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored in these latter days. We offer everyone the privilege of receiving all of the ordinances of salvation and exaltation.

We invite all to hear this message, and we invite all who receive the confirming witness of the Spirit to heed it. These things are true, I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

For Elder Oaks full comments on this issue, please see Have You Been Saved?

(See Missionary Work home page; Daily Living home page;  Interfaith Relations home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)

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