A Witness of the Restoration

By Keith J. Wilson

Keith J. Wilson (keith_wilson@byu.edu) is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

​On a cold, wintry Friday this past January, Religious Education faculty gathered to hear a guest lecturer, Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, address them. It was an unusual meeting for a number of reasons. For starters, Dr. Ridenhour was perhaps the first ordained Baptist minister to address BYU Religious Education faculty on our campus. Also unusual was the weather that morning. The day before, Provo had experienced the worst ice storm in decades, resulting in the cancellation of most incoming flights at the SLC airport (Dr. Ridenhour’s flight among those). So with improvised tickets, Lynn and his wife, Linda, headed for the Kansas City airport at 3 a.m. on Friday morning, hoping to find a place on a red-eye special bound for Salt Lake City. Not only did they catch one, but they arrived in SLC at 8:20, and by 9:15 they were addressing our faculty. But what was most unusual about this meeting was the disposition of Ridenhour toward Mormonism and more specifically toward the Book of Mormon. For about an hour that morning, this Baptist preacher recounted his conversion to the Book of Mormon and explained why he preaches in his Baptist congregations from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Needless to say, he was warmly received that cold morning by a faculty who wholeheartedly listened to his love for the Restoration.

So how did a Baptist minister find himself in the midst of Mormon professors at BYU? This saga began about a year ago when two of our faculty were invited to speak at a Book of Mormon Restorationist Conference in Independence, Missouri. (“Restorationist” is the term used by those some 30,000 to 50,000 former RLDS members who have formed independent churches in their efforts to preserve their original RLDS beliefs.) Richard Moore (an instructor from Seminaries and Institutes) and I presented at that conference, and after our presentations Lynn introduced himself and explained his peculiar blend of Protestantism. He then invited us two to a presentation that he was scheduled to give in St. George later that summer and asked whether or not he might be able to come and present at BYU. This began the process that resulted in his trip to BYU this past winter. But his journey with Mormonism began decades earlier.

As a sixteen-year-old, Lynn was involved in a nearly fatal work accident in which 95 percent of his body was burned by gasoline. Lying in a hospital bed near death, he experienced an epiphany. He knew his life had purpose, and he decided to commend himself to God. Shortly thereafter he became a youth minister in a local Baptist congregation where he noticed a faithful Baptist young lady, and the Spirit whispered to him that he would marry her. Always one to follow the Spirit, he courted Linda and they were married in 1969. During the next decade, he received his BA and his MA from the University of Iowa and was ordained as a Baptist minister. After multiple impressions, he and Linda relocated back to Independence and unknowingly moved into an RLDS subdivision. Shortly thereafter, his new neighbor handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Lynn retorted, “Sir, that’s a Book of Mormon—I thought this was a Christian community.” Undeterred, the neighbor left the book, and Lynn decided to read it as a courtesy and with the intent of lifting his neighbor out of darkness. Lynn described what happened next: “I opened that precious book of the stick of Joseph, and I did not get out of the first page. When I read, ‘I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,’ I knew! From then on, I knew I was reading the divine word of God, I really did. That was in May of 1985, and I haven’t stopped. I tell my Baptist friends I have been born again—again!”

As Lynn began to preach from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon word spread quickly of this unusual Baptist phenomenon. He was never quite sure thereafter if others thought him a saint or sinner. One day his phone rang, and on the other end was Dr. Paul Richardson, a Pentecostal minister from Virginia. After ascertaining Lynn’s belief in the Book of Mormon, Dr. Richardson shared that he had believed in the book for years, but he hadn’t wanted to “come out of the closet” for fear of repercussions. The two became instant friends and began what they named the “Building Bridges Ministry.” In this capacity Lynn has spoken up and down the Wasatch Front and even had lunch with President Gordon B. Hinckley. Recently, he and Robert L. Millet shared the pulpit for a two-day conference in the historic Stone Church directly across from the Community of Christ headquarters. He has always centered his message in these terms, saying, “I believe Bible-believing Christians and Book of Mormon Christians have far more in common than all our differences. Are there differences? Of course. But it’s time that we begin celebrating our commonalities. That is the drum I beat.”

During his remarks at our faculty forum, Lynn stayed true to his mantra. After mentioning his conversion story, he outlined four reasons why he was attracted to the Restoration. His first was very intriguing. He opined that Mormonism finished the work of the Reformation by completing the last third of the process. Yes, Protestantism restored both the scriptures and the doctrine of grace to the lay people, but it only theoretically restored authority. He went on to say that Mormonism understands the reality of a living priesthood.

His second attraction to the Restoration centered in our understanding of community. “Joseph, the Prophet,” he stated, just “didn’t build churches, he built cities, he built communities. He understood that authentic Christianity is an expression of doctrine and community.” Then Lynn concluded his thought with, “Yes, I am attracted to community. I am attracted to Zion.”

His third attraction to this latter-day work was that the Restoration established three pillars of authority. The first was the common element with Protestants, the authority of the scriptures. But Lynn acknowledged that Mormonism had added two additional levels—namely, the authority of new scripture and the words of the living prophets. He referred to this as a much more complete system of spiritual “checks and balances.”

And finally Lynn conceded he was drawn to Mormonism because of the concept of covenant Israel. Under the umbrella of the Restoration, Judah’s scepter not only was preeminent, but Joseph’s birthright was also honored. While most Christians anticipate a rapture when the Lord returns, this Baptist believes it will be more of a “rupture,” with more than just a slice of the chosen receiving the Lord on this earth.

With these beliefs it is easy to see why Dr. Ridenhour was warmly received by Religious Education. In the question and answer period following his remarks, the inevitable question was raised, “So if you don’t mind the question, with your heartfelt belief in the Restoration, why haven’t you chosen to join the Church?” At this moment a large smile crossed his face, and he responded that the Prophet Joseph taught the early Brethren that there was a difference between the kingdom of God and the Church of God. This truth, he stated, has been reiterated in these latter days by both Ezra Taft Benson and Orson F. Whitney. Their words were, “Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They . . . can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else.[1] A quick-witted faculty member then immediately followed with his second question, “So, Brother Lynn, after you die, do you mind if I have your temple work done for you? The spontaneous laughter was indicative of the warmth that flowed that Friday between Religious Education and a maverick Baptist preacher with a sincere witness of the Restoration.

[1] Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, April 1928, 59, quoted in Ezra Taft Benson, “Civic Standards for the Faithful Saints,” Ensign, July 1972, 59.