From Treadmill to Truth:
The Transformation of a Mormon Missionary
by Bruce F. Levi, returned Mormon Missionary (Germany, 1974-1976) and BYU Graduate (1979)
When I was 26 years old, I prayed to Jesus Christ and asked Him to forgive me of my sin and be my Savior. He did, and I felt an immediate sense of forgiveness and relief from guilt that I had never before known.
I will never forget that day.
This act of faith in calling on Jesus Christ for salvation was a huge departure from everything I had been taught. For I had been taught that calling upon Jesus for salvation was a false doctrine, because each person must earn salvation through participation in religious rituals such as water baptism and other special ceremonies, and by keeping all the commandments of the Church.
You see, I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church. In my family, our whole lives centered on the Church. We attended the various weekly meetings. At age twelve I was ordained a Mormon Deacon. I was active in the youth program and was president of my seminary class. In the Mormon Boy Scout program, I attained the rank of Eagle Scout and earned the Duty to God Award, of which I was very proud.
My quest for self-perfection continued after graduation from high school when I was accepted at Mormonism’s Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah. At BYU I was very active in Church programs and was ordained an Elder in the higher-level “Melchizedek” Priesthood. I was asked by the President of the Mormon Church, whom I considered to be a true prophet of God, to go on a two-year mission to Germany. In preparation, I attended the secretive Mormon temple ceremony and began to seriously study Mormon teachings. This study led to some interesting discoveries.
I learned that in its early days, the Mormon Church’s doctrine of God was similar to Christianity’s Trinitarian doctrine, not the current Mormon teaching that God was once a man, that man can become God, and that there are many Gods. I discovered that Brigham Young, who led the Mormons to Utah in 1847, taught openly and plainly that Adam was actually God the Father who brought one of his wives, Eve, with him to the Garden of Eden to start the human race.
Since I had been taught that Mormonism was a restoration of the one true church that Jesus Christ organized some 2000 years ago, it seemed strange to me that God would give such contradictory teachings about Himself. After all, the whole reason for the Mormon Church was to clear up such doctrinal discrepancies that had come to characterize Christianity. When I asked fellow Mormons to explain these changing doctrines of God, I was told to just ignore them since recent Church leaders had finally cleared this up. This made me search even more.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing I learned was about the Mormon doctrine of salvation. Like Christianity, Mormonism teaches that Jesus Christ paid for the sins of the world with an atoning sacrifice. However, the similarity ends there. Mormonism taught me that I must earn Christ’s atonement for salvation through religious ceremonies and keeping all the commandments of Mormonism. It was years later when I learned that the Bible, in sharp contrast, teaches that man cannot keep the commandments and that Christ grants eternal salvation as a gift to those who place their trust in Him.
But even in Mormonism it is obvious that no one can keep all the commandments. So, one is to overcome this inability through repentance. However, in Mormonism, repentance (like almost every theological term) does not mean what it does in Christianity. In Mormonism the word repentance loses its meaning as “a change of mind.” It is a process in which the sixth, and final, step is: “Keep All The Commandments.” So, here I was, right back where I had started: I had to keep all the commandments in order to earn eternal life. I was trapped in an impossible system. I was on a religious treadmill leading to nowhere.
Doubts and questions about such things are not welcome in Mormonism. Mormon leaders taught that when they had spoken, “the thinking had been done.” Questioning is regarded as a sign of weakness. Besides, I had been taught that all the Churches of Christianity had fallen into total apostasy and had no priesthood authority to act in God’s name. So it did not matter that I wondered how I, or any Mormon for that matter, could ever do enough to please Christ and earn salvation, I was simply to obey.
There is much pressure in Mormonism to conform and do what you are told. And, since I thought I needed to do many good works, obey Church leaders, and keep all the commandments to earn eternal life, I dutifully became a Mormon Missionary to Germany. It was in Germany, the land of Martin Luther – who asked questions, searched the Bible, and stood firm – that God planted the seed of the Gospel in me. In Germany I read the Bible from cover to cover and noticed many things that Mormonism could not explain.
One sunny afternoon while waiting for a bus in Darmstadt, I was approached by a soldier who was stationed at a nearby U.S. Army post. He asked me if I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When I replied that I had been baptized, he explained that he meant a personal relationship like two friends have, and like he had with Jesus. Right then and there I knew in my heart that I did not have such a relationship with Jesus. It bothered me greatly that I, a missionary from the “only true church,” did not have a personal relationship with the One who was named as the very head of my Church. This realization troubled me for the remainder of my mission and for years after.
I returned to BYU after my mission to major in Business and minor in German language. While continuing to also study Mormonism, I saw that Mormonism had no reasonable explanation to substantiate its claims that many truths were removed from the Bible. More importantly, I saw that the happiest Mormons where those who lived their lives as they saw fit and had their own opinions, despite what the Church leaders taught. Maybe they had noticed some of the same things I had. Twice at BYU I encountered Christians who were handing out information on the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. After much contemplation and study, I came to the inescapable conclusion that Mormonism’s way to eternal life by keeping all the many commandments was just impossible. I knew that there must be another way.
After graduation, I moved back to Boise, Idaho, where I was employed in the sales force of a large international company. The next spring I simply walked away from the Mormon religion. It had become clear to me that Mormonism was powerless and lifeless. Its emphasis on human effort and its lack of focus on the love of Christ were emptiness to me. Like many Mormons who come to this same realization, I concluded that organized religion was not the answer, so I did not attend church anywhere.
But God had other plans. That summer I met a Christian who invited me to attend a Sunday morning church service at a local protestant church. Out of curiosity I went. There I saw for the first time a large group of people who were in church because they wanted to be, not because they had to be in order to get on God’s good side. I was amazed at their gratefulness to Christ for what He had done for them in purchasing and then giving them eternal life. The hymns they sang were all about Christ. They were just like the soldier I had spoken with in Germany six years previous. They had a relationship with Jesus.
I liked what I saw and kept attending. A few weeks later, a former Mormon came to present his story of conversion to Christ and tell how Mormonism differed from Christianity. I attended his daylong seminar and learned of the many changes and cover-ups in Mormon doctrine and history. Some of these I had heard of before, but now I saw evidence carefully laid out with a respectful and caring attitude. I studied this information in detail along with the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace alone.
It became clear to me that the Bible plainly teaches that all people are sinners by nature. This confirmed my own observation about myself. I knew that I did unrighteous things without even trying. They seemed to just happen naturally, no matter how hard I tried to be perfect. It became clear that I, too, was really just a sinner by nature who lacked the capability to save myself in any way and in any part. Now, I was ready to receive the Bible’s teaching that Christ purchased my salvation and wanted me to acknowledge Him as my personal Savior. So, in October of 1981 I prayed to Christ and He became my Savior.
I got off that religious treadmill and received the gift of eternal life!
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DOCTRINES of the FAITH
Bruce F. Levi was raised in Mormonism in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, was a Mormon Missionary in Germany and graduated from Brigham Young University.
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Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. – Titus 3:5