Mormonism, a Trinitarian religion

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.

Comments

  1. I’m most interested in discussing the issue of Communion and also whether Mormon baptism is in the name of the Trinity.

    On the Mormon side, there is a great deal of ambiguity in this instruction from the Handbook:

    “Although the sacrament is for Church members, the bishopric should not announce that it will be passed to members only, and nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of it.”

    Are children members? Is the nonmember’s partaking of the sacrament harmless but without meaning?

  2. Left Field says:

    In both Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith, Talmage uses the term “Holy Trinity.” Chapter 2 of the latter work is entitled, “God and the Holy Trinity.”

  3. LF,
    Thanks for that observation. It would be interesting to track the term’s favour in Mormonism.

  4. I love this post.

    From my perspective, Mormons do believe in the Trinity, but we call it by its biblical name, the “godhead” and we view it without the gloss of Greek philosophy that formed the basis for enshrining the philosophical concept of the “One Substance” Trinity in the obligatory creeds. So as Mormons we can say that we believe in the biblical concept of the “godhead” — God the Father, his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit — rather than the extra-biblical “One Substance Trinity”.

    I think that creedal Christianity has definitively answered your question about whether Mormon baptism is done in the name of the Trinity. The more or less unified position seems to be that Mormon baptism can never be considered to be in the name of the Trinity precisely because of this difference in terminology. Although our words “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” are very close to the words of a Trinitarian baptism (identical in the case of some), our refers to the biblical godhead and their refers to the creedal One Substance Trinity.

    I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity. By this I mean that although we believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate physical beings, each in his own resurrected physical body, why should that necessarily mean there is no room for the One Substance Trinity to inform our understanding of how God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit relate to each other? We don’t need to share in the same abstractions that have perplexed creedal Christianity for millennia in order to draw value from the general concept. Without affirming the creeds, Mormon baptism will never be acceptably Trinitarian to creedal Christians but we can, perhaps, incorporate some elements of truth from trinitarian ideas into our understanding. I say this because, as you note in your post, we have the Ninth Article of Faith and so we should always be open to adding Truth, from whatever source it might be found (i.e. revealed).

  5. #1 “Although the sacrament is for Church members, the bishopric should not announce that it will be passed to members only, and nothing should be done to prevent nonmembers from partaking of it”

    Whoa I had no idea that this “nothing should be done” was in the handbook. Interesting. As a missionary I always told members to wait until baptism to partake. Wonder if that was right.

  6. >I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity.

    JF, I think our doctrines are fuzzy enough on this that we need not reject One Substance given that Divine Investiture almost goes there. You can drive a truck through “Substance.” The irony, of course, is that very few Christians seem to have any clue about the implications of the creedal formulation. I have argued elsewhere that, given the latitude of interpretation made possible by the parsing of Greek words, Mormons can accept the content of the creeds.

    I think some Christians would be open to accepting Mormon baptism as suitably Trinitarian. I know a few. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah has in the past and I think Anglican canon law, in friendly hands, could.

  7. Thanks Ronan.

    Also, the notion that we reject one substance isn’t clear. There was a very good paper on the Nicene Creed at the apostasy conference by Lincoln Blumell that went through all that. It can simply mean that the Godhead are like each other. Lincoln spelled it out very well.

  8. Yes, I saw that paper and really want to read it. Needs to be promulgated far and wide.

  9. I also don’t think the concept of the One Substance Trinity necessarily need imply a fundamental difference between our nature and God’s nature, though that is precisely the source of the concept itself for creedal Christians and, unsurprisingly, where they tend to go with it.

    Since our belief in the unity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit stems from the biblical notion of the godhead (unencumbered by abstract philosophical trinitarian gloss), our understanding of their oneness is and should remain primarily shaped by John 17. We can and should continue to take this literally — we can become one with Jesus (and the Father) just as (meaning, “in the same way that”) Jesus is one with the Father. And, in fact, that is precisely what Jesus wants for us, if you take his intercessory prayer at face value. In the Mormon view, not only Jesus Christ but also each of us is “One Substance” with the Father.

    I’d also love to read that paper from ApostaCon.

  10. I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity. By this I mean that although we believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate physical beings, each in his own resurrected physical body, why should that necessarily mean there is no room for the One Substance Trinity to inform our understanding of how God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit relate to each other? We don’t need to share in the same abstractions that have perplexed creedal Christianity for millennia in order to draw value from the general concept.

    Ronan has already highlighted this point of yours, John, but really it’s excellent, and cuts to the heart of the theological issue very well. Why are Mormons (theologically-inclined and/or itching-to-pick-fights-with-anti-Mormons ones, anyway) hung up on “One Substance”? Presumably because of our attachment to “embodiment.” But as Jim Faulconer and others have demonstrated, what we think we mean when we say “God has a body” almost certainly doesn’t comport with what we say we believe that God Himself. I admire the historical and theological work which David Paulsen and others have engaged in to make a very literal reading of “embodiment” central to how we understand Joseph Smith’s original revelations, but in the long run I can’t help but suspect that such work is a kind of distraction, and that the more ecumenical realizations that your comment, and Ronan’s post, gesture towards are a better way forward.

  11. Great post. This hits home to me because for the last three years I have attended Catholic and Anglican services on Christmas eve but have never felt comfortable partaking communion.

    My reasons are not well thought out but primarily I have been concerned with respecting our theological differences. I sense that if my Mormonism were known to those present then there might be objections. Lacking any firm assurance either way I abstain. At the same time I still feel able to commune with my fellow-Christians through our combined worship.

    Paradoxically I do believe that communion is the ordinance of the body of Christ, one which we should be able to share with all whereas baptism is not. In contrast, baptism is as much about entrance into a particular religious community as it is about a saving ordinance. In fact I think this approach to these two ordinances manages the tensions you mention between the ecumenical impulse and the need for distinctiveness.

  12. It was very good. Lincoln kept threatening to turn in an 80-page draft saying that there was so much he wanted to cover. Either way, they are going to publish the conference proceedings.

    Good point about our relation to the Godhead, john. Douglas Davies talks about that in his Introduction to Mormonism. Very informative.

  13. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 11 The Episcopal church I occasionally attends always announces that communion is open to “any baptized Christian,” period. I’m sure they’d have no problem with a Mormon partaking, Aaron. Why not try it next time you visit an Anglican church and see how you feel afterward?

  14. A Trinitarian walking blindly into a Mormon baptism would feel right at home. It appears that our language around the Godhead isn’t terribly shocking either. Its when we start describing flesh and bone and the origins of the Father that the claws come out. And this is where I don’t understand you Ronan.

    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.

    It seems that we’re the guilty ones in this. After all, the common Mormon charge against the DOT Trinity is that no one really understands it – and that its not really designed to do so. We (or Joseph) on the other hand describe an exalted man (and woman) and we take great pride in his literal father-ness.

  15. MIkeinWeHo, I used to have faith in the theological tolerance of our mainline/liberal Protestant bros and sisters. Then I read this:

    “That’s just not Christian,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. “God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn’t matter except the divinity of Jesus.”

    Of course, this also shows a very common misunderstanding: non-Tinitarian = less-than-divine-Jesus

  16. MikeinWeHo, I am sure there are some places where that is true. I suspect however that in the UK, where Mormons are certainly seen as peculiar if not just plain heretical, that they might not be that tolerant. However, Ronan, among others, have far more experience than I worshiping in these settings and I open to be corrected. I should just ask the minister beforehand next year.

  17. I don’t take communion when visiting Anglican services — it doesn’t strike me as necessary to receive the benefit of the service and sermon. The Spirit will still uplift, if the service invites it through worshipful posture and content. The question of priesthood authority becomes relevant for me on this level of the analysis.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    I think the Mormon Godhead is essentially the same as the Social Trinitarianism of Alvin Plantinga. Orthodox Christians regard such a position with suspicion and tending towards polytheism, but it’s on the cusp of acceptability and I can imagine an Anglican vicar having the Mormon position explained in those terms agreeing that that is a sufficient belief in the Trinity for practical purpposes.

  19. but in their insistence on a rigid orthodoxy.

    Bingo.

    “Trinity” is a term that pops up more in the nineteenth century, I think. While I would call it particularly common, it wasn’t completely uncommon in Mormonism.

    I also think that what the Lord’s Supper means to the Saints has been a bit dynamic. E.g., children were allowed access to the bread and water during a period when the idea of baptismal covenant renewal hadn’t taken hold.

  20. I know the CDF (Roman Catholicism) has explicitly declared Mormonism as non-Trinitarian, but that really only means that an LDS baptism doesn’t qualify one for entry into the Roman Catholic Church. Nonetheless, even Mormon Trinitarian doctrine went through an evolution in the early days of the Church, from something very similar to protestant/creedal trinity to what we have now. One point of this is that I think we need to welcome members with heterodox views of the nature of God.

    I really liked this: “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.” Joseph Smith seemed to have fought — somewhat unsuccessfully — his whole life against enforcement of any sort of rigid orthodoxy in the Church. You know, “too much like the Methodists” and all that…

    If we’re willing to take this position — against insisting on “a rigid orthodoxy” and being open to heterodox views of the godhead among the membership — then there should be no problem with a Latter-day Saint participating in the Eucharist of any Christian Church that has open communion. If we’re open-minded enough about the nature of God, we’re probably not going to insist that rituals performed outside the LDS priesthood are anathema…

  21. “I also think that what the Lord’s Supper means to the Saints has been a bit dynamic.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head. Our reducing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to a renewal of baptismal covenants is the most likely source of the discomfort described in the OP. If that’s all communion is, then of course, you can see why participating in the eucharist with another church would seem in some way like submitting to a mini baptism performed without proper authority.

    “E.g., children were allowed access to the bread and water during a period when the idea of baptismal covenant renewal hadn’t taken hold.”

    I hope this isn’t too much of a threadjack, but I thought that it was entirely proper to allow children to partake. I’ve never gotten weird looks (at least not that I’ve noticed) when I allow my children to participate in the sacrament. I’m not aware of anything official, just a brief passage from Joseph F. Smith, if I recall correctly, opining that it was fine to allow children to partake, based on Mark 10:14. Is there something out there saying unbaptized children should not partake?

  22. Is there something out there saying unbaptized children should not partake?

    JKC, this is funny, we used to get weird looks for asking out kids NOT to partake of the sacrament.

  23. Great comments, all.

    I would really like to see a recognition of Mormonism as a properly Trinitarian faith, not because I yearn for acceptability but because once we can agree that Mormons are Christian and that “creedal” Christians are Christian we can stop fretting about impossible nuances of theology and get on with what really matters.

    JKC, I agree with your point that the shift to covenant renewal actually makes the Mormon sacrament different to the Eucharist. If I were to take Communion at the C of E it would be as a reenactment of the Lord’s Supper with fellow Christians and not as a reaffirmation of a particular commitment.

  24. Taking the Book of Mormon seriously, as President Benson challenged us as a Church to do collectively, gets us a result very close to the way creedal Christians speak about the Trinity, though again minus the “One Substance” overlay:

    I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

    2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—

    3 The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son—

    4 And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

    5 And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. (Mosiah 15:1-5)

    Based on this and if you are willing to consider not only Jesus but all of us as “One Substance” with the Father (or potentially as “One Substance” with the Father, if the idea that we are of the same kind or “species” — divine — as God is too radical for you) based on John 17, then I think the answer to Ronan’s question is unequivocally, yes, Mormonism is a Trinitarian religion and only ignorance on the part of creedal Christians (and perhaps on the part of most Mormons) prevents us from being viewed this way by the world in general.

    This is unfortunate because, though we do not believe that creedal Christian ministers act with divinely sanctioned authority in performing necessary ordinances that are bound in heaven as on earth, we as Mormons could perhaps benefit richly by having a sense of shared tradition/heritage with creedal Christians. After all, although it is true that we do not believe that the Church is a “sect” or rather splinter group of either Catholicism or Protestantism, given that the Church was restored in 1830, all of us whose ancestors were Christians before the restoration of the Church (or who were creedal Christians before joining the Church) have roots in creedal Christianity and could benefit from viewing the good things about it and its richness as something in our own heritage to own and learn from. But my sense is that too many Mormons feel completely dissassociated from such history, not viewing it as their own but rather the history of people who belong to other churches. How great it is to walk in one of the great cathedrals of Europe and have a sense that it is part of your own heritage and history! (I have experienced glimpses of this feeling.) Mormonism should not be seen as so divorced from the history of Western Civilization that the contributions of the Catholic and various Protestant churches over time and — especially the salvific balm they provided for millions of true believers over the ages — are not considered part of our own common heritage and history as well. As to saving ordinances, of course the authority issue crops up again and we have the doctrine of baptism for the dead as an answer (although this is currently a controversial concept it should be remembered that we Mormons, consumate record keepers that we are, are merely doing the paperwork for such people who have passed on and that it is still up to them to sign on the dotted line, i.e. virtually no Mormon that I am aware of believes that a Mormon baptism for the dead actually makes the deceased a Mormon — we see it as an offer only).

    That went long. To summarize: John 17 + Mosiah 15:1-5 = The doctrine of the Trinity as believed (or should be believed) by Mormons, i.e. biblical Godhead in trinitarian terminology minus Greek philosophical abstraction of homoousios (“One Substance”), though as discussed, “One Substance” doesn’t even have to be off the table for Mormons if we view ourselves as One Substance, or potentially so, with the Father.

  25. JKC, I agree with your point that the shift to covenant renewal actually makes the Mormon sacrament different to the Eucharist.

    The way it is currently practiced (i.e., letting those who have not been baptized) does indicate that it wasn’t always thus. Does anyone have any information on when/how that shift took place?

  26. Clark Goble says:

    Like others I tend to think that the issue of the Trinity isn’t as big a deal as many made out. (here among many places) To me our biggest issues are the tendency to reject the notion of creation ex nihilo and to see the Father and Son as essentially embodied in different bodies.

    While Mormons get upset at the Trinity honestly most Mormons don’t really understand it too well and I think it’s more about having rigid orthodoxy defined by committee and then never open to revision. I also think that a bigger practical issue is simply Mormons being skeptical about philosophy and subtle metaphysics as being worth focusing on let alone being a defining issue. In that sense we’ve always adopted Brigham Young over Orson Pratt. What counts isn’t metaphysics but the anthropology of God and man.

  27. It’s interesting. We take the position that the sacrament is too renew baptismal covenants, which by itself is, I suggest, not objectionable, but represents an incomplete view of what the sacrament is. Then we implicitly ignore everything else that the sacrament is about (remembrance of his sacrifice, etc.). Then we impose our unique view of the sacrament (a vehicle to renew baptism) on communion as it is practised by other Christians. The result is that what we find objectionable about a Mormon partaking in the eucharist is something that only makes sense if the eucharist is supposed to be what Mormons think the sacrament is supposed to be.

    In some ways, it’s an interesting inversion of the baptism for the dead issue: With the baptism thing we are essentially saying “What’s the big deal? We’re not stealing anyone’s identity because the ordinance on it’s own terms leaves it in the hands of the deceased person.” But with the eucharist we import our view of the sacrament as primarily a renewal of baptism, and base our discomfort on that notion, even though the ordinance on its own terms has nothing to do with renewal of baptism.

  28. Love that comment, JF.

    I had a real epiphany a few years ago when I read a small pamphlet in a C of E church where my children were singing in a Christmas service. It was about the history of the Church of England. We have a Pavlovian programming to think of Henry VIII’s libido when we think of Anglicanism but ecclesiastical changes in the Reformation do not change the essential episcopal nature of the Church nor disturb the continuity of belief that goes back to the Romano-British Christians and St. Augustine of Canterbury later. That’s a heritage we all share and without which Mormonism would not exist.

  29. In a sense we LDS DO believe that God the Father and his Son are of one substance. i.e. they are both glorified bodies, both fully divine, and both made out of whatever substance divine beings are made out of (flesh and bone quickened by the spirit I suppose). If you throw the Holy Spirit in there it gets a little messy.

  30. Christian J says:

    John F. – Your example reminds me of a Muslim friend of mine, who objected to my Mormon belief in the Trinity – based on a reading of the BoM. I responded with a smile.

  31. Thanks Christian. What do you mean?

  32. RJH #1 and JKC #21, let’s define a few terms before tackling the question of who should partake of the sacrament.

    Member: in the Church this is defined as someone who has taken on the covenant of baptism by immersion by one who holds the priesthood authority (Aaronic Priest or higher) to do so and then is confirmed a member of the Church by the laying on of hands of one who holds the Melchizedek priesthood authority to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Records of the Church: Every child who is given a name and a blessing is recorded on the records of the Church and receives a membership number in the MLS databases. But they do not become a covenant “member” of the Church until they are baptized and confirmed a member.

    Why we partake of the sacrament. This has seen fluid definition over time but the concrete understanding has always contained two elements: Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh and blood in the Atonement and renewing our covenants.

    So technically, young children who are not yet baptized are not yet “members” of the Church. But, at younger than age 8 they also aren’t capable of sin or accountability either so there could not possibly be any harm in them partaking of the sacrament if there was a concern of ensuring people do not partake unworthily. But more importantly, we encourage young children to partake of the sacrament at the earliest of ages to help them develop the attitude and habit through a maturing understanding of what the sacrament can and should represent to them once they are baptized and take on the covenants of membership. See this response from a 1978 Ensign “I Have a Question” to further elaborate on why it is important for young children to partake of the sacrament:

    http://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/01/i-have-a-question/i-have-a-question?lang=eng&query=children+sacrament

    However, there really is no ambiguity, the instructions are to not turn anyone away from partaking of the sacrament as stated in Handbook 2. And that book was updated just this last year after extensive review by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the 12 so what’s written there was chosen deliberately as policy. There are some exceptions and I’ll address those below.

    And this is could be considered a shift away from the statements in Mormon 9:29 “See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament unworthily.” As well as a more explicit warning in 3 Nephi 18:28-29:

    “And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it; For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.”

    This echoes the message that is given to Bishops in counseling with members, that if they determine one is found to be in transgression then forbidding them from partaking of the sacrament – depending on the nature of the transgression and the promptings of the Spirit – through a time limited restriction, via disfellowshipment, or even excommunication is appropriate. It’s interesting to note that where sacrament meeting is held in prison populations, the sacrament is explicitly not supposed to be served as part of the meeting to the inmates in attendance.

    As members we are individually given the same encouragement to consider our worthiness to partake of the sacrament and determine if we should and abstain if there is a reason why we feel we are not worthy. That said, these types of situations should be for a limited time (a few weeks at most) as we resolve the problems that leave us feeling unworthy. Any longer and it’s probably worth discussing with your Bishop. The Lord does not expect us to be perfect in order to partake of the sacrament as it is a fundamental part of our growth in the gospel and helps facilitate the repentance process.

    But in each of these scenarios you are dealing with someone who has taken on the covenants of membership in the Church. So where does that leave nonmembers who are not of our LDS faith? the answer is simple. We should teach them of the sacred nature of the sacrament, what it represents, and allow them to determine whether they should partake.

    And that is why I agree with earlier comments that the Church has the edge by not denying the sacrament to any nonmembers.

  33. Christian J says:

    john f, my friend wanted to find out about the Mormon view of deity – went to our most prominent book – and concluded that we’re Trinitarians. I found that funny – you know – b/c of our reciting of the heretical FV narrative ad nauseum. No?

  34. Now I can see why you smiled. From your other comment I thought you smiled with condescending patience at your friend’s novice views — and that you were saying you thought I was about as informed about Mormonism as your average Muslim who’s read a few verses out of the Book of Mormon based on researching the index on a research question.

  35. Ah, but how much do you put in the collection box?

  36. I distinctly recall the monthly pamphlet at a Catholic mass inviting Orthodox Christians to partake in communion but disinviting all other Christians (and, obviously, non-Christians) from doing so.

  37. While I think that it is appropriate to call the Mormon view a species of Social Trinitarianism, saying that it is almost the homoousian formula or that it is “almost” the same as the traditional view of social trinitarianism (and it is Cornlius, Alvin’s brother that is the social trinitarian) is missing something both glaring and essential. First, if the persons who are in the Godhead grew at some point to become “God” or divine, then they are a very different kind of being than anything that could be contemplated in the homoousios doctrine. They are contingently gods. In fact, they are a different kind of being than any being that could count as God in the Trianitarian formulas. I of course reject that view — but is it the common LDS view of the divine persons?

    Second, the divine persons cannot not become joined as one according to the homoousios doctrine; rather, they are necessarily one when it comes to count terms. Third, the divine persons in LDS thought can freely choose whether to be one out of freely chosen love, and thus their relationship is not a relationship of personal essence, as the Tradition would require, but of kind. Thus, the Godhead is contingently joined as one — and not joined as but one thing but as three different and distinct personages joined into one Godhead. However, in this difference the logical space for the LDS doctrine of human deification is found so it is quite essential.

    I’d like to join you on your ecumenical binge, but that really does fuzz over very essential differences that are not merely semantic (I love that verb, “to fuzz,” especially since I just created it). The difference between a relationship of the divine persons that is freely chosen out of love and a relationship that exists of metaphysical and ontological necessity is about as big a difference as one can get. Thus, calling the LDS view a “Trinity” without further explanation is irresponsible in my view. As you can see, I don’t think that the LDS newsroom has any magisterial authority. But I don’t remember raising my hand to sustain them either.

  38. It is interesting that the LDS Sacramental prayers contain no reference to being done by the power or authority of the priesthood. It is worded as a prayer, like a blessing on the food at a meal. (Section 20 of the Doctrine & Covenants does say that priests should administer the Sacrament (and I believe the BofM does too)). Also, the prayer requests that the bread and wine be blessed for “the souls of all those who partake/drink”. Nothing in the prayer about the blessing being restricted it to baptized members who partake. Nor is the prayer worded as if it were a renewal of previous covenants. I don’t have a problem viewing it like a renewal–and that certainly is the current correlated teaching of the Church. I have trouble finding in the standard works any explicit reference to the Lord’s Supper reflecting a renewal of baptismal covenants (I am ready to be corrected).

  39. DavidH, the prayers are given in a context of established relationships with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. In Moroni 6 this context is quite firmly established by outlining a lineal relationship between those accepted into the Church through the baptismal covenants and cleansing power of the Holy Ghost and then their participation as members who gathered “oft to fast, pray, converse with one another concerning the welfare of their souls,…and to partake of the bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.”

    Further, this relationship is solidified in the teachings of the Savior when he visited the Nephites and established the sacrament in 3 Nephi 18:5-7 where the following discussion occurs:

    “And when the multitude had eaten and were filled, he said unto the disciples: Behold there shall one be aordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.

    And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you.

    And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”

    Now these promises in the sacrament prayer are directly related to the covenants of Baptism where we promise to take His name upon us (i.e. always remember Him) and where He has promised that we would always have the Spirit through the receipt of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    And it can be recognized that the sacrament is intended for those of His church, meaning all of those who believe and are baptized in His name. But it could also be construed that this means it is intended for all who are willing to accept Jesus as their redeemer and accept His sacrifice. Hence the Church’s stand that we not turn any away from the Sacrament if they are willing to accept it as the sacred symbol that it represents.

  40. Blake, comment #2 suggests that Mormon belief in the “Trinity” is not some new wine.

  41. Alain, your comment seeking to establish the link between the sacrament and renewal of baptismal covenants strikes me as a bit overly defensive. There are certainly parallels between baptism and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as you have noted (and others as well), but I don’t think its accurate to say that we promise to do anything by taking the sacrament. Instead it is merely a witness that we are willing to do something. You might call that merely a semantic difference, but I think there’s a significant difference between promising to do something and merely witnessing that you are willing to do it.

    I have no problem with viewing the sacrament as an opportunity to mentally renew one’s commitment to live the covenants we’ve made already. But I don’t think this is strictly scriptural, and I view the renewal of covenants more like an inspired gloss on the ordinance than the operative act of participating in the ordinance. And I think we really miss out when we reduce the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to primarily a vehicle to renew covenants.

  42. Clark Goble says:

    Blake (37) First, if the persons who are in the Godhead grew at some point to become “God” or divine, then they are a very different kind of being than anything that could be contemplated in the homoousios doctrine. They are contingently gods.

    I think the way out of this is with Christology. The problem with the dual nature of Christ even in creedal Christianity is how to explain the contingent body. I think it quite possible to adopt some of Pratt’s musings without his naive materialism and say we are all composite beings and that the community of Gods is more than their parts. That is that there is an ouisa in all divine beings beyond their body that makes them divine. Pratt tried to rescue the ousia with his spiritual fluid or aether which was kind of ridiculous but I think the idea of there being something shared between the beings is fine.

    In effect it’s similar to your idea of something emergent greater than the parts except that it’s not necessarily emergent from Father, Son, and Holy Ghost if one adopts the traditional reading of the King Follet Discourse.

    I’d also add that there are more ways to take the ousia even within creedal Christianity than is typically assumed. I’ve long been interested in Duns Scotus’ conception of the ousia as a kind of nothing. (Which of course was picked up by some in the Continental tradition and read in more Heideggarian ways)

  43. I love attending Anglican services, and still reflect on my hours in Westminister Abbey in which I listened to Desmond Tutu speak. I chose not to partake of communion, but to simply get a blessing from him. I know I would have only a second with him, and I stared into his eyes as intently as I could before bowing my head so he could put his hand there. It remains one of the sweet memories of my life.
    I have been moved as I’ve watched the Pope speak. I adore Pastor Cecil Murray (AME) and purchased several tapes of his sermons so I could listen to him at will.
    There is so much good and so much of beauty in all religions.
    Thanks for this lovely post, RJH.

  44. Just a note: at least in Spanish, where there is no word for “godhead,” the Church official publications use “Trinidad” in its place.

  45. I believe we would go a long way if we would first stop and recognize that the semantics of Greek term (ousia) translated as substantia in the Latin, doesn’t really match the modern semantics of ‘substance’ at all, but rather something more like ‘nature’ or ‘essence’, something that can be imposed on raw matter and give it characteristics. More recipe, less stuff.

    So allowing for confusion and different interpretations of the folks who agreed to all this stuff, it seems to me that the idea of homoousius, in its fundamentals is nothing more radical than the assertion that there is only one divine nature. 2 Pet 1:4 doesn’t say “develop a divine nature”, it says “partake of the divine nature”. That verse and many others pertaining to the indwelling of the the Father and the Son, seem to give ample support for the basic idea of one divine nature, not three, or seventeen.

    I am convinced that on this idea hangs one of the most important issues in LDS theology – namely whether the members of the Godhead can be divine in and of themselves, or whether they must work as one and share the same indwelling glory to even be divine at all. If the former, Mormonism is Polytheist with a capital P, if not than Mormonism is properly speaking, coherent with the monotheism so emphatically asserted in numerous scriptural passages, in essentially the same way that traditional Christianity is, except perhaps with a dynamic divine nature that is the product of indwelling spiritual union of divine persons rather than a strictly static, timeless Platonic prototype. Mormonism, perhaps, can answer the question of why there needs to be a Trinity at all. The extra persons seem to be moderately superfluous in the static, timeless variation, more an embarrassment to philosophers than something necessary for divinity to exist at all.

  46. “I’d like to join you on your ecumenical binge”

    I wouldn’t even like to do that.

  47. >I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity.

    That is actually a very good point, given some of the statements in the Doctrine and Covenants. They can be read to actually support “One Substance.” Which gives a very good nuance to the Bible when it says that it does not yet appear what we will be, other than we will be like Christ when he appears. http://www.biblestudytools.com/1-john/3-2-compare.html

    DavidH — the sacrament prayers contain covenants.

  48. To avoid more than one link per quote (so I don’t get stuck in the spam filter) http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sperry-symposium-classics-doctrine-and-covenants/18-light-truth-and-grace-three-themes-salv

    Radiance in the normative sense is related to light. But what is light? A careful look at the way the term is used in the scriptures suggests that it is more than mere luminosity. We get a glimpse of the breadth of meaning ascribed to the word when the Lord states, “The light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 88:11). This phrase defines light not only as something that makes vision possible but also as that force which activates and stimulates the intellect. Further, light “is in all things,” gives “life to all things,” and “is the law by which all things are governed “ (D&C 88:13). Thus, a more full definition would make light an ever-present, life—and law-giving power that manifests itself, among other ways, as natural light, intellectual activity, and the living energy in all things. The scriptures declare that this “light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space” and that it is “the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” (D&C 88:12–13).

    These scriptures suggest that the term light is used to describe that aspect of the nature of God which radiates out from Him, expanding with His work and will, enlightening, organizing, capacitating, and quickening as it does.

    e.g. that “light” is the “One Substance” …

    Obviously I’m quoting this because it agrees with me somewhat (only found it this morning in researching this comment), not for its full import (though I do personally think that the light of God gives fullness to the world much like a soap bubble is expanded and given form by the air inside of it).

  49. Great post and food for deep thought. I am loving all the comments.

  50. @41 JKC, an insightful comment and I agree that we’re discussing semantics here. My intent was not to understate the importance of remembering the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His infinite atonement which to me is the overarching beauty in the symbolism of the Lord’s supper. What a joy it is to have the opportunity to reflect each week as I contemplate how an unworthy servant like me is afforded the gift that He so freely provided. The covenants I have made (baptism, priesthood, and temple) bind me to the Savior and create a relationship that is unique to any other I might experience in life because He has literally saved my life eternally. It is through those covenants that I have literally taken His yoke upon me and discovered the lightness of His burden.

    That some members diminish the nature of the sacrament as an ordinance is disappointing I agree, but that is certainly not the case for me.

    In response to your comments, you will note that my only mention of covenant renewal was to state that there is a connection between the sacrament and baptismal covenants. I was not seeking to defend that the sacrament is a renewal of our covenants since it has been recognized as such by the living prophets going back to the beginning of the Church. Now I can accept that for some that might be a controversial statement but since it’s been stated time and time again in sermons offered by prophets and Apostles from Joseph Smith forward and because their statements conform with what I find in the scriptures and find in my relationship with the Lord, that rests the case for me. If it doesn’t for you then I am not here to argue the point.

    When I read your comment I first puzzled how anyone could not see that statement as one of establishing the framework of a covenant and it occurred to me that you might interpret the word “witness” differently.
    I believe that the sacrament is more than a purely symbolic experience of remembrance. In the sacrament prayer we witness that we are willing to take Jesus’ name upon us, that we are willing to always remember Him and keep His commandments.

    I’ve tried multiple times to wrap my head around how the usage of the word witness in this context does not establish a renewal of our promises and cannot find the rationale. To witness is to testify, as in a court of law or to attest by signature on a legal document. We are participating in a solemn oath when we partake of the bread and the water and thereby demonstrate that we are willing to act as requested.

    If that is stretching then I cannot help but stretch because that is how I understand the nature of the Lord’s supper and its place in our maturation as followers of Christ.

  51. “I’ve tried multiple times to wrap my head around how the usage of the word witness in this context does not establish a renewal of our promises and cannot find the rationale. To witness is to testify, as in a court of law or to attest by signature on a legal document. We are participating in a solemn oath when we partake of the bread and the water and thereby demonstrate that we are willing to act as requested.”

    If I were renewing a promise, I would say “I promise” or perhaps “I reaffirm that I will do X.” But in the sacramental prayers, the emblems are sanctified for us to eat as a witness not that we will do X, but that we are willing to do X. I think this is significant because it is a recognition that none of us will keep those covenants to perfection, so rather than being blessed because we obeyed, we are offered a free gift (that we will always have his spirit) not as a reward for obedience to the covenant, but in recognition of our willingness to obey.

    I think we’ll have to agree to disagree that prophets have taught that the sacrament is a renewal of covenants since the beginning of the restoration. My understanding is that it is a more recent development that emerged and was emphasized more as the church phased out rebaptism for renewal of covenants. I’m not saying it’s incorrect, all I’m saying is that he purpose of the sacrament is not primarily to renew baptismal covenants, it is primarily to eat (and drink) in remembrance of Jesus’s sacrifice. By doing so, we also witness (secondarily) that we are willing to three specific things (take his name upon us, always remember him, and keep his commandments) that are closely related to, and probably subsumed in the baptismal covenant, but which are not identical to that covenant.

  52. Rebaptism as a phenomenon for renewing covenants among individual members and even congregations within the early Church up to the 1920s is familiar to me and I wasn’t discounting this as a historical practice. However, that practice did coexist with the teachings by the prophets that the sacrament was a renewal of covenants. There are a number of quotes by Brigham Young as early back as the 1850s and I know of a few by Joseph Smith but cannot locate those at the moment. This one from the Journal of Discourses in 1862 is exemplary of Brigham’s statements on the sacrament as both a remembrance of the atonement and a renewal of covenants:

    Journal of Discourses 9-10 pp 244-5

    Brigham discusses the importance of the Lord’s supper in the paragraphs that precede and then here he quotes the Doctrine & Covenants in discussing why we partake of water instead of wine and then explains, “This is what we are doing this afternoon, and brothers and sisters, let us be faithful and remember in partaking of this ordinance, we renew our covenants, and we have a promise that we shall receive a renewal of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to be humble, and to perform the duties that are enjoined upon us as Saints.”

    I don’t think Brigham saw one practice as mutually exclusive to the other but that where greater demonstration of loyalty or rededication of purpose was called for – such as with the Mormon Reformation in the late 1850s – then rebaptism was a way of demonstrating that commitment.

    I like your thoughts on the imperfect manner in which we approach the altar. The prayer certainly points beyond just our previous covenant and extends a merciful understanding that we will be back again in imperfection as we progress. Elder Oaks with his legal mind takes the “willingness” to point toward future covenants:

    “It is significant that when we partake of the sacrament we do not witness that we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We witness that we are willing to do so. (See D&C 20:77.) The fact that we only witness to our willingness suggests that something else must happen before we actually take that sacred name upon us in the most important sense.

    What future event or events could this covenant contemplate? The scriptures suggest two sacred possibilities, one concerning the authority of God, especially as exercised in the temples, and the other—closely related—concerning exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

    …But there is something beyond these familiar meanings, because what we witness is not that we take upon us his name but that we are willing to do so. In this sense, our witness relates to some future event or status whose attainment is not self-assumed, but depends on the authority or initiative of the Savior himself.

    Scriptural references to the name of Jesus Christ often signify the authority of Jesus Christ. In that sense, our willingness to take upon us his name signifies our willingness to take upon us the authority of Jesus Christ in the sacred ordinances of the temple, and to receive the highest blessings available through his authority when he chooses to confer them upon us.

    Finally, our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ affirms our commitment to do all that we can to be counted among those whom he will choose to stand at his right hand and be called by his name at the last day. In this sacred sense, our witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ constitutes our declaration of candidacy for exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Exaltation is eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 1985 General Conference address

  53. Sorry, that is Heber C. Kimball (who was First Counselor in the First Presidency at the time), speaking, but the notes from this talk indicate that Brigham Young was present and provided encouragement and commentary to President Kimball in the middle of his talk so Kimball is not speaking out of turn and what he said was clearly endorsed by Young.

  54. Thank you, all of you, so much, for your “ecumenical” points of view. I was baptised in the United Church and have been confirmed into the Anglican Church. I love my Faith and hold dearly to the Apostle’s and the Nicene Creed. The part of the Creed that always just blows me away is the reciting of ” I believe in the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting “. Wow- Awesome Catholic is in the sense of being Universal- the binding together of ALL believers of all denominations who love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ. (i.e. including Mormons :-) ). Apostolic in the sense that we are united in our Faiths by the passage of the Teaching of the Apostles through the ages, and the Communion of Saints: all Christians, living and dead, are united, together by the power of the Holy Spirit, into GOD’s wonderful and powerful Church.
    We have entered an age where the barriers of ethnocentric ideals and behavior MUST be overcome. In Christ there can be No “I am better than you” or “my church is better than yours” or “my baptism or my priests are more “true” than yours”. In my particular church, if you are baptised in the name of the Holy Spirit, whether Trinitarian or whatever, you are welcome to the Lord’s Supper. ( we will even look the other way if you’re not baptised, because who but the non-baptised actually NEED the presence of Christ). If a Mormon wished to join my church, all that would be required would be faithful attendance, learning the catechism, laying on of hands by the Bishop and you’re in. No re-baptism is required.
    It is unfortunate however, that I don’t see a reciprocal attitude in the Mormon Church. For me, (or one of my family as it happens to be the case), to join the Mormon Church, my Baptism is not good enough, my Priest was not good enough. Instead, I would have to be re-baptised by a “preferred” priest using a preferred ritual and this poses a really big problem. You see we really do believe in “One Baptism for the remission of sins”. To have to be re-baptised means I
    I would have to re-cant my baptism, saying, as it were, it wasn’t good enough, my priest wasn’t the right kind…as you must be able to see, this poses a HUGE problem.
    Ethnocentricity: the view that “my” particular ethnic group, culture or religion is somehow better than all others is abhorred by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All of we who love the Lord must work to reduce the barriers that separate us and reduce the suspicion that divides us. Like Margaret Blair Young, above,(March 12) I too would have forgone communion just to have had Desmond Tutu lay his hands on my head, I love listening to the Pope, Pope John Paul and Billy Graham are two of my heroes and I love to listen to Fr. Robert Barron at http://www.wordonfire.org/. In Christ, we have more in common than we do differences.
    May the Lord richly bless you all. Thanks for the posts.
    DWW

  55. Don,
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  56. Don,

    Yet, in a sense, requiring Latter-day Saints to receive laying on of hands by the Bishop is saying “my priest is better than yours”. We, as Latter-day Saints, receive the laying of hands after baptism. Why would I need to do it again? I am curious why that would be a requirement.

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