SPRINGFIELD – Jim Schurke has always been interested in people who hold different beliefs than his own.
His interest started when a young Catholic friend complained to him in high school that he always had to eat fish on Fridays. He didn’t know why. Schurke knew why and was surprised that a practicing Catholic did not. Catholics used to be forbidden to eat meat on Fridays.
Another time Schurke suggested to a friend that they get a cola at a nearby drugstore. She replied she couldn’t because it was against her Latter-day Saints beliefs. The LDS church forbids drinking caffeinated soft drinks and coffee.
In the Air Force, Schurke had a buddy come back from a shower wearing a distinctive looking t-shirt. He asked him about it and the buddy said, “Can’t tell you. It’s secret.” It was a special undergarment that Latter-day Saints are required to wear beneath their clothing.
During Schurke’s career as an electronic technician working in medical facilities, he studied and read books on various cults and sects. He gained certification as an interfaith witness consultant with the North American Mission Board and is currently an active member of the Missouri Baptist Apologetics Network.
Over the years, Schurke has been able to successfully engage with Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW or Watchtower) groups. He began engaging with people from other faith groups before he had received formal training in their belief systems. He said he probably knew enough about their beliefs to be dangerous.
During one early encounter, after he had studied LDS beliefs, he was asked by his family to join in a discussion with some Mormon missionaries. Schurke asked the missionaries, “So you believe God has a body just like us?” Affirmative answer. “And you believe God had sexual relations with a woman named Mary and she gave birth to Jesus?” Yes. “And you also believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?” The missionary answered, “Yes.” Schurke asked him how that could be possible? The missionary stared at the wall for the longest time and finally said he did not know. Schurke challenged him to go back to his leaders and ask them how that could happen.
Schurke also related how he engaged two Jehovah’s Witnesses on his front porch one day. Schurke listened politely to the two ladies for a few moments and then asked permission to ask them a question. They agreed but weren’t very happy with the question.
Schurke asked if they believed Jesus was Michael the archangel who then went back to heaven to become Michael again. They said yes, they did believe that. Schurke told them he had been trying to find that in Scripture but couldn’t, and he wondered if they could help him.
One of the ladies reluctantly looked through her Bible but said she couldn’t remember where that was. She asked if she could research it and come back. Schurke agreed.
A couple weeks later, one of the ladies returned with her husband, an elder in a local Kingdom Hall. He explained that some of their teachings are not necessarily in the Bible but come down from Watchtower headquarters.
Schurke finds that asking a Jehovah’s Witness if he or she could answer a question seems to be a good technique for engaging in discussions that the Christian controls, and he highly recommends it.
Schurke determined that to effectively witness to people in these non-Christian faith groups he would need a strategy. He developed it and it shakes out as:
1) Know what you believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) Know the basic beliefs of non-Christian groups (read, study, ask questions).
3) Try to ask questions about their contradictions in order to “put a pebble in their shoe” (that will keep reminding them of the contradictions and cause them to question their beliefs).
Schurke was asked how not to respond to these groups at your doorstep. He warned, “Do not slam the door in their faces or tell them to get off of your property.” That reaction only reinforces to the door-to-door witnesses that they are being persecuted for doing God’s work. Instead, he said, “They respond to the kindness you show them.”
He added, “These are lost people. You may be the only lifeline to Jesus these people have.” He encouraged Christians to build friendly relationships with them “like you would your next-door neighbors.”
“Chance encounters with JW or LDS members on your doorstep need not be a fearful thing for you,” he said.
Schurke encouraged people to study a little on these two groups and their beliefs and develop some simple challenges, which will show the contradictions in their belief systems. He added, “They tend to redefine theological and Christian terms. When they say, ‘We believe in Jesus Christ or salvation or heaven,’ know that they define these terms differently than Christians do.”
He pointed out that the Jehovah’s Witness leaders were always predicting the end of the world up until 1975 and they have not set a date for the end of time since then. He likes to point that false prophetic prediction out to those who have been long-term JW adherents.
Another contradiction he shows to LDS adherents is that Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow once taught the belief, “As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.” This doctrine is commonly shared through LDS circles to support the idea that Mormons are on their trek to become gods in the next life. This is the LDS doctrine of eternal progression.
However, Schurke points out that in a Time magazine article called “Mormon, Inc.,” then-LDS President Gordon Hinkley specifically denied that statement saying, “I don’t know that we teach that” (Time magazine, Aug. 4, 1997.)
Schurke encouraged Missouri Baptists to get in touch with the Missouri Baptist Apologetics Network through the MBC’s Rob Phillips and make contact with apologetics trainers in their region. Information about all network apologists may be found at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
He concluded by quoting I Peter 3:15-16 (HCSB): “…Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.”