Ross W. Graham
"One thing you have to understand about our ministry here in Utah is that we love Mormons." That was how OP pastor Jason Wallace explained to me the unique, ongoing outreach effort of Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. "Many of the fundamentalist churches in the valley hate the Mormons. They will often go to Temple Square and publicly rail against them, even sometimes trespassing on their property and defacing things Mormons hold dear. But we see ourselves as being here to reach Mormons with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Reformed commitment to sovereign grace means that God can and often does bring these misled people out of darkness and into his marvelous light."
There is a lot of darkness in that beautiful land of high desert and snow-capped mountains. And people are blatantly misled about the gospel. Listening to the radio on my travels back and forth between Salt Lake City and Provo, I couldn't miss the perversion. "Family is the most important thing, the only thing, the thing that saves. Family relationsthat's the gospel," said the radio announcer. The billboards along the interstate advertised missionary suits with two pairs of pants, and missionary e-mail to keep in touch while you are away from home.
So it was refreshing to meet one of the new arrivals at Christ OPC in Salt Lake City who reveled in the straight teaching from God's Word that she heard from Pastor Wallace. She told me, "Though I was 'married in the Temple to be sealed for eternity with my husband,' we've both come to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and are now walking by faith in him and loving the study of his Word."
Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City began six years ago. Jason Wallace had just graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a passion to reach Mormons with the gospel and a desire to plant an OP church in Utah. Serving as an assistant city manager in Savannah, Georgia, and commuting to seminary on the weekends, Jason nursed the dream of establishing a Reformed church among the Mormons for nearly a decade. And when he finally completed his theological training, he wasted no time getting to Utah to begin the task.
My first visit to Utah was in the summer of 1998, when I worked alongside Presbytery of the Dakotas representative G. I. Williamson to receive Jason's new group of believers as a brand-new OP mission work. From that small beginning, a strong congregation of God's people has emerged with a deep, threefold commitment to reverent worship, biblical preaching, and reaching Mormons.
That threefold commitment is what brought me back to Utah for a second time. It turned out that Jason and his congregation had a bigger vision than just to be ambassadors of Christ in Utah's leading city. They wanted to see Reformed churches dotting the I-15 corridor all the way from Logan in the north to Provo in the south. And through their prayers and efforts, a second OP church had begun worshiping in Provo.
Let Jason tell you why: "Provo is the seat of Utah County, and is approximately forty-five miles south of Salt Lake City. It is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, with its population of 400,000 expected to top 500,000 by 2010. It is also one of the darkest places in the country, spiritually speaking. The population is over 90 percent Mormon. Provo is the home of Brigham Young University and the Missionary Training Center, where tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries are trained before being sent around the world. There are fewer Protestants per capita in the county than in China, Japan, or Egypt."
Sunday evening services were started in Provo by the Salt Lake City congregation in January 2001. Most of the people who had expressed initial interest dropped out. But the work persevered and grew. In three years there were enough people to form a core group and call a church planter. And I was there to welcome them as a mission work of the OPC, along with their new organizing pastor, Scott Seder.
The Rev. Scott L. Seder (pronounced cedar), age thirty-seven, is an unlikely candidate to be the organizing pastor of an OP mission work. Although he grew up as the son of a Reformed Baptist pastor in the Denver, Colorado, area, graduated from a Bible college in Missouri, has taken advanced seminary and law courses, and has pastoral experience with two churches in Kansas and South Dakota, Scott has a problem: he is legally blind! Since his early twenties, he has suffered from macular degeneration. He cannot drive and is unable to read without the aid of powerful image enhancements. He reads his sermon notes from a handheld braille computer. And a red-tipped white cane is his constant companion.
But Scott has a disarming charm about him. Always cheerful and outgoing, he constantly turns his handicap into an advantage. People love to talk to him, and he has no fear of conversing with strangers on the street. His wife, Amy, also from the Denver area, is his driver, secretary, reader, and guide. Their experiences with Mormon culture and their commitment to a unique style of ministry (required by Scott's limited eyesight) make them a special ministry couple.
However, it is their love for Reformed doctrine and Presbyterian government that has endeared them to the pastors and elders of the Presbytery of the Dakotas. At a recent meeting of that presbytery that I attended, there was great enthusiasm for Scott's taking on the labors of an organizing pastor and no doubt that he was up to the task. Together with their new son, Brandon, the Seders now live in a home on the outskirts of Provo, and on May 7, 2004, Scott was installed as an evangelist for the new Provo mission work, also called Christ Presbyterian Church.
Now Jason Wallace and Scott Seder are teamed together to preach the gospel and the Reformed faith and to reach the people of the Wasatch Frontthe long valley running north-south between snow-capped peaks. If you ask them how they will go about reaching people, they bubble with enthusiasm. "It's important to show respect to our Mormon neighbors and friends. They are misguided in so many ways. Their beliefs are a form of hyper-Arminianism." So how is this outreach done? They use two primary methods.
"First, we set up book tablesabout thirty-five a year," says Jason. In places like county fairs, community festivals, gun shows, and on the campuses of the universities, they carefully arrange for space for a table and man it themselves, with help from folks from their churches. Jason explains: "We give away hundreds of books a year by Bonar, Edwards, Ryle, Spurgeon, and other Reformed authors to anyone who will promise to read them. Each book has a sticker in the flyleaf identifying our church and how to contact us. It gives us a great opportunity to dialogue with Mormons in a disarming way." Scott can't wait to take a book table to the campus of Brigham Young University.
"Second," says Jason, "we sponsor debates in public locations on theological subjects with noted speakers." Four to six of these are usually held each year somewhere in the valley. "Last April we had James White, the author of Letters to a Mormon Elder and a noted Reformed apologist with skills in countering both Roman Catholicism and Mormonism. He debated a Mormon theologian on the campus of the University of Utah, and four hundred people came to hear." The debates are always respectful and dignified, and are very attractive to thinking Mormons. They provide an opportunity for the truth of biblical Christianity to be laid out clearly in contrast to Mormon doctrine.
Orthodox Presbyterians in Utah live in the shadow of an alien Mormon culture of which they are constantly aware and for which they provide a clear alternative. Now two OP churches forty-five miles apart preach and minister the Reformed faith weekly with a vision and a determination to reach others. So it was not surprising that on my recent visit to Utah, arrangements were made for me to meet with two families who had traveled ninety minutes from Logan to worship at Christ OPC in Salt Lake City. It appears that Mission Utah has only just begun!
The author is the general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2004.