My parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for almost 50 years, like to go to church on their many travels. Usually it’s the local Mormon congregation but not always. Every year they visit the Isles of Scilly, a tiny archipelago off the south-western tip of England, and attend services at the local Anglican church. Their commitment to Mormonism is strong but I think they enjoy an annual injection of native religion. They also take Holy Communion.
No doubt the latter admission would raise eyebrows among some Mormons although it’s difficult to exactly say why. Perhaps it is the Communion wine, although even if it were non-alcoholic, it would still encounter suspicion, I suspect. Certainly Mormons see a particular legitimacy to their own administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but is that to deny the efficacy, even to a lesser degree, of this singularly Christian rite when performed by others? What are the intentions behind the rites and does one negate the other?
Modern Mormons see the sacrament as a renewal of covenants; other Christians tend to be less particular. The only theological agreement is that it somehow invokes the presence of Christ for those who partake. It seems to me that the Mormon who on occasion participates in a non-Mormon Eucharist is not betraying her own uniquely Mormon experience of similar things. I do accept, however, that a degree of discomfort might arise.
That is not really my point, though. Rather, it’s the Anglican view of the Mormon at the altar which interests me. The Scilly Isles’ vicar offers, as I understand it, a fully Open Communion, that is, no attempt is made to reserve the Eucharist for those of a particular creed. Officially the Church of England offers Communion to all baptised Christians and it is here I want to focus. According to Anglican canon law (B 15 A), valid baptism in this context is baptism in churches “which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.” This would seem to preclude Mormons.
I’m not so sure, though. Read this from the LDS Newsroom:
God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost constitute the Godhead or Trinity for Mormons.
There’s a debate to be had about the magisterial power of the Newsroom, but here is a simple, most certainly authorised declaration that Mormons believe in the Holy Trinity. It’s a rather remarkable statement given the antipathy one normally encounters towards that term in the Mormon church, but there it is, and, taken at face value, it would seem to validate Mormon baptism. Therefore, Mormons should be officially welcome to enjoy Open Communion in the Church of England with other Christians (and in other denominations with similar rules).
I fully realise that I am ignoring the twin elephants of the Christian view of the Mormon Tritheistic godhead (a heresy) and the Mormon view of the creeds which define the Trinity (an abomination). This is deliberate as I find these arguments remarkably uninteresting, characterised as they are by an unreasonable confidence that we don’t, in fact, see God through a glass, darkly. Here’s what I think, and it’s ground my friend JNS has trodden before:
- Mormons typically do not know what they condemn in the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, not knowing their Modalism from their Trinitarianism.
- I have taught hundreds of intelligent Christian children who almost always express a view of God that is very nearly Unitarian. That is, they believe that God is God and Jesus is the Son of God but not really God, at least not God God. Only theologically-minded Christians seem to know what their creeds require them to believe. I asked a close friend, a Methodist minister, to explain to me why the Christians I know don’t seem to understand the Trinity. He shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “God, incarnate in Jesus, is ‘love’. Anything more than that is angels on a pin.”
- Any attempt at dividing Christians based on the correct understanding of ὁμοούσιος is rather unfortunate, given that the only way to win the argument is to argue from authority. And Mormons ought not to be too dismissive about these theological minutiae of which they often claim to be above either: The entire Divine Investiture of Authority doctrine is equally technical and sounds, if you want it to, as close to Homoousian as anything in the creeds.
- If the creeds are an “abomination”, then I believe it is not so much in their content but in their insistence on a rigid orthodoxy. To claim that human language can somehow describe God is arrogant. If God should reveal himself to be something other than the God of our traditions, we should be ready to accept it. The final revelation is not yet here (cf. AoF 9). There is more to “God” than Athanasius’s teachings and Del Parson’s paintings.
I will admit to having an ecumenical impulse and I agree that if left unchecked then Mormonism would lose the distinctiveness that makes it such a rich tradition. However, I have always believed in an expansive view of the body of Christ and am happy to share communion/Communion with other Christians, for I am a Christian and so are they, all believers in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — the Trinity, whatever exactly that might mean. I would ask that other Christians afford me the same right. It makes me sad that we would exclude based on words and not deeds. I think Mormons have the edge here, denying neither “Christianity” nor the sacrament to anyone, although exclusion sometimes does occur in other ways.
Oh, and by the way, all this means that Mitt Romney is a Christian.