First, from my perspective, the phrase "I've been saved" always seems so premature because I believe that salvation includes being resurrected and brought back into the presence of the Father, and those who are still mortal just don't look completely "saved" yet, especially with all those wrinkles around the eyes. Plus I believe there there is the possibility that Christians can fall from grace (see I Cor. 10:12, Rom. 11:22, Heb. 3:12-14, etc.), so we need to endure to the end to make the hope of our salvation sure (Matt. 24:13, 2 Pet. 1:10). But when I hear someone say that, I just mentally translate it to mean "I've accepted the Savior, have been forgiven for my sins, have tasted of His love and goodness, and now seek to follow Him." And that's wonderful.
So back to my inquiry. Let's consider the life of "John" - based on real people I've known. I'll go through several stages of John's life. For those of you saved Christians who think Mormons are headed to hell, please help me understand when John became doomed and gave up his salvation. I'll number the stages to make things easier.
- John grows up in a Christian home and is taught to believe in the Bible and to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation.
- John goes to college and hears many challenging doctrines. He has a crisis of faith.
- While pondering, praying, and reading the scriptures, John has a powerful spiritual experience and realizes that Jesus Christ truly is Lord, no matter what scholars and mockers may say.
- John commits himself to serving the Lord, and fully accepts Jesus Christ as His Savior.
- John continues in college as a science major. In pondering the discrepancies between what he learned in Sunday School and what science teaches, John concludes that there must be ways to reconcile science and true religion. Recognizing that the Hebrew word for "day" can refer to lengthy periods of time, John suspects that the Genesis account of the Creation may describe the stages of Creation in general terms, but need not require a young earth made in six 24-hour days. Perhaps God even took advantage of evolutionary mechanisms to prepare the earth for its present state.
- John attends evangelical services, but grows uncomfortable with some of the positions and attitudes. He loves the Lord, but feels he is missing something in his understanding. He wishes to strengthen his personal relationship with the Lord and better understand his mission on earth.
- John takes a dance class. He finds he has a flare for dancing. He even enjoys doing the cha-cha.
- John meets a Mormon girl, Elaine. He is surprised at how non-evil she seems.
- John is disappointed to find that Elaine is waiting for a missionary, but they are still friends. John asks a few polite questions about Elaine's faith, and becomes intensely curious. How can he learn more?
- He accepts Elaine's challenge to read the Book of Mormon. John has many questions, but the teachings about the Savior resonate with his beliefs. The insights about the power of the Atonement and the love of the Savior stir him. Is it possible that a fraudulent book could be such a moving witness for the divinity of the Savior?
- John meets with the missionaries and learns details about the Restoration that help him make sense of many puzzling issues in Christian history. The idea that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored sounds so exciting - too good to be true?
- John earnestly wishes to follow the Savior, and wonders if this Church and the Book of Mormon truly come from Him. As he learns more and experiences more, he senses that he is finding those things that he felt were missing in his understanding and faith before.
- John spends a weekend fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and pouring out his soul to the Lord to understand if he should join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is not sure, but as he explores the Book of Mormon in more depth, he has a powerful spiritual experience that gives him knowledge and faith that the Book of Mormon is scripture, like the Bible, and that it stands as a second witness for Christ.
- John concludes that his commitment to love and serve the Lord can more fully be realized by joining what he believes to be the Church of Jesus Christ, entering into a formal covenant through baptism to follow Jesus Christ, a covenant that he has already had in his heart for years.
- John horrifies his parents when he announces that he has decided to be baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He explains his decision as best he can, and they try to be understanding, but there is a painful divide as the parents fear their son is lost. They try to point him to some helpful Websites to help him reconsider his faith. One of them, a site providing powerful evidence for Book of Mormon plagiarism, backfires on them - a tragic mistake, they feel. John's intellectual appreciation of the Book of Mormon is only strengthened. He sees it as a Christ-centric scriptural account that profoundly strengthens his understanding and appreciation for His Savior, Jesus Christ.
- John is baptized and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
- John is ordained as a priest in the Church, and takes delight in helping to bless the sacrament - the communion - in Church services, and marvels at the opportunity he has to break and bless the bread in remembrance of the Savior.
- Three weeks later, in a testimony meeting, John gladly bears witness of the Savior, of the love and mercy of the Savior, and his gratitude for having learned about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Elaine can't get over John, and they begin dating. Elaine writes something of a "dear John" letter to her missionary.
- John spends significant amounts of his free time seeking to serve the Lord through service to others. He gladly pays tithing on his small income, and attends meetings each Sunday at Church. John is puzzled about the indifference some Mormons seem to have about their faith, not taking it as seriously as they should, and prefers to associate with the Latter-day Saints that sincerely seek to live their religion. There are some disappointments in Zion, but John feels closer to the Savior than ever, and feels that he is following Him, though there are plenty of things he doesn't understand about the Church and life in general. He will always seeks to learn and understand more.
- Some friends share anti-Mormon literature with John. He is shaken but does online research and finds plausible answers. He is not prepared to deny his faith and the powerful experiences he has had on the basis of some bitter critics ranting, anymore than he was prepared to abandon his faith in Christ and the Bible on the basis of evolutionary theory and other attacks he experienced in his early college days. He recognizes that his understanding may need to be adjusted on some issues, but he has no doubt that the Savior lives, that God is real, and that the scriptures - including the Book of Mormon - are inspired of God.
- John is asked if he would be willing to serve on a mission. He has already given that serious thought, and accepts the challenge.
- John spends two years in France bearing witness of the Savior and the Restoration to people who mostly don't want to hear what he has to say. It is the most difficult and painful experience of his life, but he later learns that two of the people he taught later joined the Church, and that one of them stayed active. Not a huge harvest of souls, but he knows he made a difference - not to mention the companions he helped strengthen. Regardless of the size of the harvest, the experience of sacrificing for the Lord for two years brought him closer than ever to the Savior, and he feels that the experience was worth the pain.
- John returns from France and soon marries Elaine in the temple.
- John starts a pro-LDS blog to share his faith promoting experiences and insights, and becomes an amateur LDS apologist. And believe it or not, he sincerely thinks he's serving the Savior in doing this, and in his heart, firmly believes that He has accepted Jesus Christ as His personal Savior, and seeks to be a witness of Jesus Christ throughout his life. He feels he has never departed from his early faith in Christ, have only accepted more of the gifts and blessings that Jesus Christ offers as he has progressed on his journey through life.
It's hard for me to see at what point our saved Christian friends could say that John truly denied Jesus Christ and became a child of hell. Could it be step 7 - something to do with the cha-cha?