Working with new converts can be a challenge to someone born and raised in the church. The following story illustrates some things we should be aware of with new converts. This story comes from Day 1 of the Come, Follow Me lessons for Week 29 of 2023 (Acts 6-9).
Here is the short version of the story of the man called Simon the sorcerer. I have left out the parts that don’t further the story (Acts 8:9-12, 12-13, 18-24). Read this first then we’ll talk about it.
9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used , and the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some one:
10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
12 But when they believed Philip the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the of Jesus Christ, they were , both men and women.
13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and , beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
18 And when Simon saw that through on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
19 Saying, Give me also this , that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the of God may be with money.
21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not in the sight of God.
22 Repent therefore of this thy , and pray God, if perhaps the of thine may be forgiven thee.
23 For I perceive that thou art in the , and in the of iniquity.
24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
We often hear Simon spoken ill of, because of his – I don’t actually know what. All I know is that he has a bad rap, he just does. I guess he wasn’t perfect enough as a new convert, so we look down on him. Simon knew nothing of God and Christ. He was a textbook heathen – a man of no understanding of spiritual things. So he used sorcery as a way to establish himself in the community and make money. In modern terms, I can think of many people who have gone into the ministry, not because of their great love or understanding of God, or because of their substantial faith, but because the ministry offers a way to make a living that is respected. I don’t personally see much difference between many of our modern ministers who are in the business for the living it provides, and Simon, who did what he could to support himself and elevate himself in society.
Remember that we are talking about someone with no knowledge of Jesus and the commandments. His morals were the morals of the world. That is all he had to work with. But along comes Phillip and Peter and preaches Jesus to him, and he believes and is baptized. Once he experienced the Holy Ghost, his first natural thought was that he could use this to help him support himself. After all, that was his livelihood, using the supernatural to make people happy.
Peter, may have been a little stern with him in his reprimand. But the version we have of their conversation is two thousand years old, so we can’t really say what all the circumstances were. What we do know is that Peter admonished Simon to look within himself and re-evaluate his motives so that he could become right with God. Peter’s rebuke to Simon let Simon know that God does not profit from His gifts to His children, and to try to personally profit from those gifts is offensive to God. This was a new concept for Simon, one he had not apparently considered before. It appears to have distressed him that God would be so upset about his request.
Often the story of Simon and Peter ends with verse 23 where Peter tells Simon that he is in the “gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” But if you read the next verse you see that Simon was repentant, and asked that Peter pray for him that he could save himself from such a fate as Peter described.
One of the things we forget with new converts is that they were not raised with the gospel and the culture of the church. They were raised with other teachings and other ways of living. Conversion that leads to baptism doesn’t end their journey. Their baptism is but the beginning. Baptism is the gateway into the kingdom, not the destination.
When we raise a child we are patient with their mistakes in the social graces and with the language our home speaks. We laugh at their faux pas and blunders, make the needed corrections and then go on with life. In short, we are tolerant of their mistakes, because we know and understand that they are learning their way around in society and in life. This is the same with the convert. They have no knowledge of church culture, vocabulary, customs, expectations, etc. They really are like newborn babes, but in adult bodies. New converts need someone there who understands how frustrating it can be to adopt a completely new lifestyle and set of beliefs. They are bound to make mistakes. They need people around them who are willing to overlook their mistakes and help them understand why things are they way they are in the church. It could be a doctrinal misunderstanding, a cultural, or even a social misstep. It takes time for new converts to become comfortable as members of the Lord’s kingdom.
Remember that on the day of Pentecost the church went from about 120 members to several thousand. And over the course of the next year or so many thousands more joined as well. And congregations made up of almost entirely new members were springing up all over the Mediterranean world. If it wasn’t bad enough that the Jewish converts were bringing all their preconceived notions of Jewish law into the new religion, they also had to deal with the preconceived notions of the Greeks, Romans, and every other culture that heard and believed in Christ.
There was no such thing yet as a church culture, just as in the early decades of the Restoration most of the members of the church were from either Protestant or Catholic backgrounds, and they brought with them their preconceived notions, as well as their customs and practices. There were no “customs” in the Lord’s church yet. That took many decades to develop, and generations to lock in place. Even today, when the Prophet asks us to make a change, there are many who fight against it because that isn’t the way it has always been done. We, as a church, are still changing. How can we expect the newly baptized to walk into the church with anything but a perplexed look on their face?
Working with new converts is a delight! You never know what they might say or do next. My wife has a story that happened in her mission in Los Angeles, California. A woman was baptized, and shortly afterwards was asked to sing in sacrament meeting. She had been singing all her life and was thrilled to be asked. Sunday came and she showed up to sacrament meeting in her sequined dress – and her band. Wisely, the Bishop let her perform so as to not embarrass her. We probably all have stories of what happens with new converts around. That is part of the learning process of coming to know what it means to live in the Latter-day Saint culture.
The story of Simon is a great example of the kinds of situations and questions that would have arisen in the early years of the Lord’s church. Simon appears to have had great intentions, but he didn’t yet have the needed experience with the Holy Ghost to teach him the way the Lord does things. This comes with time and exposure. And it helps to have patient and knowledgeable people within the church who are willing to be accepting and kind with the new member as they find their way through the mazes of new church membership.
Click the link below to
print a PDF copy of the article.