In our Sunday School discussion this week the lesson manual asks the following: "Throughout his address to the people in Zarahemla, Alma spoke of experiencing a “mighty change” of heart and being “born of God” (see Alma 5). We often use the word conversion when we speak of this experience. What does it mean to be converted? Is conversion a single event or a process?" Our class was unable to come to a consensus on this question. What do you think? Have you experienced conversion? For you, was it a single event, or a process?
When I read Alma 5, it seems to describe a born again experience much like that extolled by the evangelical Christians. I myself had a "born again" experience at age 18. Though I was raised in a Christian home with a father who was a Protestant minister, this was an experience during which I came alive to the things of the Spirit. For me it was a single event, though there has been a process of sanctification including my decision to join the LDS church and the development of testimony of several aspects of the Gospel.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
“Except in … unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever” (Lesson 22: “Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999),98)
When this quotation was read during our class, I felt that it referred more to the process of sanctification than what Alma is describing in Alma 5. Somehow I doubt that my spiritual rebirth is "unusual." I've heard many Mormons, converts and lifelong members, describe a mighty change as a single experience which they can pinpoint.
But I wonder if McConkie deserves more credence than I have heretofore supposed. In a recent FHE, we were speaking to our teenaged daughters about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. They felt uncomfortable with the admonition of Moroni to pray about the book. They insist that as long as they have been aware, they have known the Book of Mormon was a true scriptural record, and that to pray about it would be a lack of faith. They relate better to a process-oriented approach, where they continue to learn more about the scriptures and develop more skill in applying them to their lives. In their case, and in that of many life-long members, is "conversion" unnecessary?
I continue to worry about this, for the Lord told Alma:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.