Most Latter-day Saints find Mormonism to be a highly structured, demanding religious environment. Their ideas, roles, and expectations are largely defined for them by their church and the culture it creates. As people transition out of Mormonism into a new kind of faith experience, they must learn how to develop convictions and make life decisions for themselves, using biblical principles instead of institutional religious norms.
Loss of Certainty.
With its priesthood hierarchy and rigid organization, the LDS Church is more highly structured than most traditional Christian churches. For many former Mormons, the structure and consistency provided by Mormonism feels safe. But Mormons also accept a ready-made system of standards and expectations that dictate how they should live. The church provides ready answers for most situations in life. Most Mormons experience few mysteries or ambiguities.
As a result, many people leaving the LDS Church experience a sudden loss of certainty. Without the church’s standards, they aren’t sure how to determine what is true or right, or who to listen to for help. They may not know how to develop lifestyle convictions in areas where the church once defined right and wrong.
A New World of Choices.
People leaving Mormonism are confronted with a confusing array of choices they never faced before. Instead of belonging to the one true church, former Latter-day Saints now face 31 denominational flavors (at least!) from which to choose – not to mention dozens of parachurch organizations and missions. Instead of one authoritative voice, they are now exposed to dozens of radio and TV preachers, plus various popular authors, magazines, and websites. In the place of one official Bible translation, there may be half a dozen different translations represented in a single Christian congregation. Where previously, one’s ministry role or “calling” was assigned to by the local bishop, the transitioning Mormon is now expected to choose for him or herself where to serve, from any number of options. This new kind of freedom can be overwhelming at times for people leaving a controlling institution.
Essentials Versus Non-Essentials.
Our final authority for deciding what to believe and how to live is the Bible. But many life decisions are not spelled out explicitly in the Bible. There are many practical issues which the Bible does not define in detail, and about which faithful Christians have disagreed over the centuries. This is where transitioning Mormons may be especially challenged. Mormonism teaches people to think in black-and-white terms, and former Mormons may bring that way of thinking with them. But not all issues can be resolved into clear-cut right and wrong. In areas like this, a follower of Jesus must learn to develop his or her own convictions based on biblical principles, while respecting the convictions of others.
For example, the LDS Word of Wisdom prohibits any use of alcohol. By contrast, the Bible prohibits drunkenness, but does not require complete abstinence from alcohol. Mormonism requires active members to pay a tithe of their income. By contrast, the New Testament does not require a tithe to any church, but teaches generous, proportional, and sacrificial giving to God. In both these issues, the essentials are similar (don’t get drunk; give financially), but in each area, a person has to figure out and apply their own personal convictions (whether or not to drink at all; how much to give).
Related Resource: The Word of Wisdom After Mormonism
Legalism or License?
Without the familiar constraints of Mormonism, former Latter-day Saints may fall into the extremes of legalism or license. License refers to complete freedom to behave however one wishes, often in excessive or unacceptable ways, without any kind of boundaries or restricting principles. Some former Mormons eagerly embrace all the things that were once forbidden, like a young adult going off to college, free for the first time from parental rules. In some cases, without the restraints of their former church and culture, former Mormons will go overboard. In other cases, they may experiment for a time.
The other extreme is legalism. Legalism is the practice of defining one’s relationship with God in terms of outward rules and regulations. Legalism has several problems. It ignores a person’s inner life of motives and attitudes. It breeds arrogance by promoting comparison with others. It encourages hypocrisy and posturing. Latter-day Saints are used to measuring their standing with God and with others by external activity. Mormonism also promotes a transactional relationship with God, where you do something for him, and he is expected to do something for you. This breeds legalism because a transactional approach requires a visible way to keep score. Former Mormons may reject the standards of the LDS church, only to become legalistic about the expectations of their newly adopted religious culture.
Related Resource: Navigating New Freedom after Mormonism
The Goal of Responsible Liberty.
The Biblical approach is liberty. Christians have great freedom in lifestyle. This is not freedom to sin, but freedom from the dos and don’ts of religious regulations.
Galatians 5:1 So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
We are no longer bound by the principle of religious law (Acts 15:10-11). Yet this freedom doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. We are bound by a higher law of love and service.
Galatians 5:13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Jesus made this even more clear by defining the Christian life in terms of two simple principles: love God and love others (Matt 22:37-40).
The challenge arises because the details of how to love God and love others are not always defined for us in every situation. Yet the Bible does give overarching principles on how to make decisions when the details are not spelled out.
Related Resource: Obedience to God After Mormonism
It can be hard to transition from a structured, controlling environment into the responsible freedom people have in relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s important for transitioning Latter-day Saints to process this issue lest their new-found faith be derailed by harmful license or enslaving legalism.
Related Resource: How to Live as a Christian
Related Resource: Helping Former Mormons Navigate Freedom and Responsibility