Mormons and the Trinity

“More than any other group in America, and despite very large theological differences with orthodox Protestants or Catholics (Mormons are not Trinitarians, to name just one basic belief), the LDS church is far more effectively passing on classic Christian cultural beliefs, attitudes, and practices about marriage.”
(http://www.nationalreview.com/article/394510/mormon-advantage-maggie-gallagher)

Do we agree with Maggie Gallagher that “Mormons are not Trinitarians”? (see, https://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/12/mormonism-a-trinitarian-religion/)

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד │ Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.

A common explanation of the Trinity (source: http://tinyurl.com/l2wf4az)

A common explanation of the Trinity (source: http://tinyurl.com/l2wf4az)

From my perspective, Mormons believe in Deuteronomy 6:4 as fervently as do other Christians. In fact, I would venture to say that Mormons believe in the Trinity as well, 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”. (Beginning with Wycliffe’s 1380s English translation of the New Testament, Colossians 2:9 and Romans 1:20 use the term “Godhead” to refer to the indwelling of the Father in the Son. Tyndale carried this over in his 1526 translation and it remains in the King James Version. If Wycliffe had used the word “Trinity” in his translation of these two verses, assuming that Tyndale would have adopted that and the King James translators would have retained it, then I can confidently say that we Mormons would also believe in the Trinity as such, though perhaps still without the extra-biblical “One Substance” philosophical gloss.)

Stained Glass Depiction of Joseph Smith's First Vision, Salt Lake Liberty Stake Second Ward Building (source: http://tinyurl.com/pqdsua2)

Stained Glass Depiction of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Salt Lake Liberty Stake Second Ward Building (source: http://tinyurl.com/pqdsua2)

Other Christians who refer to themselves as “Trinitarians” because of their adherence to the Nicene Creed certainly say that Mormons are not Trinitarians. Curiously, this conclusion is drawn despite our nearly identical — and very much “Trinitarian” — baptismal prayer recited at the ordinance of Baptism by immersion. Although our words “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” are very close to the words of a Trinitarian baptism (identical in the case of some), we refer to the biblical “godhead” in the prayer and they refer to the creedal One Substance Trinity (which they suppose is the same as the Godhead). But isn’t this just semantics? Not necessarily, because based on our choice not to adhere to the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds — in 1838, Joseph Smith recounted that he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in his “First Vision” and that when Christ spoke to him, he “said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (JSH 1:19), a position that stoked a significant amount of anger and even hatred among other Christians at the time (and still understandably provokes discontent and indignation today, though Joseph Smith later clarified that what he found objectionable in the practice of requiring creedal adherence was that he believed they were too restrictive to ongoing revelatory leadership) — creedal Christianity has concluded that even though we use the same words, our Mormon baptism is not done “in the name of the Trinity” and thus cannot be considered “Trinitarian”. Gallagher is potentially technically correct on this basis.

Latter-day Saint Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah (source: http://tinyurl.com/kaewqgg)

Latter-day Saint Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah (source: http://tinyurl.com/kaewqgg)

But as I’ve explained before, I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity after all, even if we continue to believe the words of Christ about the creeds in the First Vision. (Among other things, this could take Joseph Smith’s later words about not wishing to be trammeled by the creeds as an interpretive guide to what was wrong with the practice of requiring confession of creeds at that time, not to mention Christ’s own further clarification in the First Vision: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (JSH 1:19).) 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. The Ninth Article of Faith (from The Articles of Faith, which are our own answer to a creedal statement of beliefs, though these are admittedly more like a very basic catechism than a creed), at the very least, teaches that we should always be open to adding Truth, from whatever source it might be found.

As Ronan has suggested,

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.

Although I agree with Ronan here, I think it is unnecessary for us to hope for creedal Christians to accept the trinitarian nature of Mormon baptism in order to recognize the “trinitarian” nature of Mormon Christianity (losing the “T” for trinitarianism to recognize the continued Mormon abstention from the creeds). That is, I 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. Instead, perhaps it can be compatible with the Mormon preference of viewing humans, as God’s children, as the same species as God.

Based on our understanding that we are literally God’s children (thus bridging that uncrossable chasm that exists between God’s nature and our own in other Christian theologies), 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). As a result, 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, exactly as expressed in John 17 (“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).) And, in fact, that is precisely what Jesus wants for us, if we take his intercessory prayer at face value. In the Mormon view, not only is Jesus Christ “One” with the Father — that is “One Substance” with the Father — but also each of us is potentially “one” with each other as Christ is one with the Father, and Christ even prays “that they also may be one in us,” thus bringing us into this oneness with them.

In fact, going a step farther, if we as Mormons take The Book of Mormon seriously, as President Benson challenged us as a Church to do collectively, we can formulate a conclusion about the Godhead that is very close to the way creedal Christians speak about the Trinity, though again minus the extra-biblical “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, emphasis added)

Based on this, and as understood through John 17 — the idea that not only Jesus but all of us also are “One Substance” with the Father — then one could indeed identify Mormonism as trinitarian. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that most creedal Christians (and perhaps most Mormons) would interpret John 17 and Mosiah 15 together in this way.

This is unfortunate because, though we as Mormons would continue not to believe that creedal Christian ministers act with divinely sanctioned authority in performing necessary ordinances that are bound in heaven as on earth (and they would likely continue to hold the same as to Mormon ordinances), 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. 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.

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England (source: http://tinyurl.com/kcvx2jz)

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England (source: http://tinyurl.com/kcvx2jz)

But 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. This is a practice that has been discussed as controversial, though it need not be as Bishop Krister Stendahl has modeled by expressing “Holy Envy” precisely for the concept of Mormon baptisms for the dead and temple worship generally. 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 we firmly believe that it is still up to them to sign on the dotted line of their own free will and choice in their afterlife. 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.

Combining the principles expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 and John 17 with those revealed by Abinadi in Mosiah 15:1-5 results in a trinitarian doctrine that Mormons can believe in (and arguably do, even if they don’t realize it). It is the biblical Godhead in trinitarian terminology but minus the Greek philosophical abstraction of homoousios (“One Substance”) arising from the extra-biblical historical creeds. However, as discussed, even the concept of “One Substance” doesn’t necessarily need to be off the table for Mormons if we view ourselves as One Substance, or potentially so, with the Father.

Comments

  1. John, this is marvelous! Thank you. This post is informative and enriching. I also love the graphic at the beginning. The trinity is artistically a beautiful structure. However, whenever I think about the trinity or the Godhead, I find myself also thinking about the structural integrity of a 3-legged stool or a 3-sided pyramid. These 3-pronged structures are unstable compared to a 4-point base. Add God the Mother and we’re sitting on a firmer foundation. And while we’re at it, why not make the Holy Spirit the Sister of Christ and we’ll have some seriously good balance going on up there. Merry Christmas! God is good.

  2. Excellent. To add, let me suggest that there is an additional spiritual benefit that comes in our personal worship as we recognize the one-ness between members of the godhead. Our ability to commune with God increases as we better understand the nature and deepest unity of father, son and holy spirit.

  3. I love the idea of more fully exploring the scriptures we have about the Godhead, we know a lot yet so little. I am reminded what my world religions teacher taught about creedal Christianity: when other Christians tell us we aren’t Christians we shouldn’t get upset, we can just say, “according to your definition I’m not; according to my definition we both are.” I’ve found that response (no bristling, offense, or anger) has served me well.

  4. I haven’t finished the post yet, John, but what do you make of the claim of the Givens that the creeds in question are not the classical creeds?

  5. Great points John. Joseph Smith disliked the Methodist Discipline, which I think he saw as a kind of creed—fixing worship and practice to exclude the force of revelation perhaps–yet he and others clearly drew from it in terminology and administration. Joseph Smith’s teaching that seems to militate against the Christian establishment are criticisms of preachers and exegetes as he saw and experienced them rather than Christians per se or even establishment doctrines which he used as markers, in which to place Mormonism.

  6. Years ago and in a specific location (in other words, I can’t generalize) I got into a discussion about the Roman (Catholic) view of Mormon baptism with regard to a convert going from Mormonism to Catholic. The general rule, as I understand it, is to recognize the prior baptism of persons coming from a trinitarian tradition, and to (re)baptise persons coming from a unitarian or other non-trinitarian tradition. Mormon baptism was in an ambiguous category, neither trinitarian nor non-trinitarian. Digging a little deeper, it seemed that the Roman Catholic understanding was that an individual Mormon could understand his or her Mormon baptism in a suitably trinitarian way (and not be rebaptised) or in a non-trinitarian way (and be rebaptised).

  7. No, the Roman Catholic Church is pretty clear, all LDS sacraments are invalid, baptism, marriage, communion etc.

  8. gundek, the Catholic ruling against the validity of Mormon baptism (it says nothing of other sacraments, of course — Mormon converts to Catholicism are not required to be remarried by a priest, for instance) was issued on 5 June 2001. christiankimball’s “years ago” could easily predate that.

  9. The ruling is a single word, but the “pastoral and canonical consequences” lays out the non-sacramental nature of LDS mirage.

  10. FWIW, my Roman Catholic experience predates 2001, and I understood it to be a “local option” kind of thing. I mention it in the first place NOT to establish current or past Roman Catholic practice, but to support (what I take to be) the point of the OP–that there is in Mormon thought, doctrine, scripture, room to come to an essentially trinitarian understanding of the godhead.

  11. I’m not questioning your experience or the idea that orthodox trinitarianism is within the bounds of Mormonism.

  12. 1. Thanks melody! I would venture to say that the graphic explaining the Trinity, taken on its own, contains nothing whatsoever that could be objectionable even to old-school anti-Trinitarian “Mormon Doctrine”. With a broadened perspective on gathering Truth, I think it actually would benefit many Mormons to understand the fundamental unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as Steve points out is so important.

    2. Ben, I completely agree that when Joseph Smith paraphrased Christ with reference to “all their creeds”, it very well might not have been referring to the Nicene Creed. “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight. . . ” (JSH 1:19). This is a paraphrase of Christ’s message to Joseph Smith. By contrast, the next portion of the verse contains a direct quote from Christ: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” This quoted portion further refines or explains the meaning/intent of the paraphrased portion, and I definitely see space here for the interpretation that this is not referring to the Nicene Creed itself but rather much more locally to the contemporary “creeds” being preached by the various sects in the religious fervor of the neighborhood. This is, essentially, what WVS is expressing in his comment (10:35 am) by reference specifically to the Methodist approach, which Joseph Smith viewed as a creed but was more of a catechism, and which very much was used to exclude believers who did not agree in all particulars.

    3. CK and gundek, Cardinal Ratzinger gave the specific guidance about Mormon baptism within the last 10 to 15 years, as Ardis notes. Before that, I agree that it was a more local decision, though my impression is that especially among Roman Catholics the percentage of priests would have been vanishingly small that would have accepted Mormon baptism as Trinitarian such that rebaptism would not be necessary before confirmation into the faith. But, as Ronan notes, it is possible to conceive this happening among ecumenically minded Episcopalians or Anglicans who really understand Mormon beliefs about the unity of the Godhead (i.e. Mosiah 15). I also happen to think that the actual number who would fit that description is vanishingly small. And, frankly, that is only fair since we Mormons would not accept any of their baptism before performing the ordinance of Confirmation on them should they wish to join us; we would make them get rebaptized. (Anecdotally, if any are reading this who had difficulties on their missions with other Christians wishing to join us but refusing to be rebaptized, this is a large part of the reason — they understood this principle of Trinitarian baptism and logically thought that since their first baptism as an Anglican or Baptist or Pentecostal was done with the formulaic Trinitarian prayer that we also share, a rebaptism was unnecessary.)

  13. Excellent post, John. Much of what you say reminds me of Pres. Uchtdorf’s “Faith of Our Fathers” – a wonderful nod to our heritage as descendants of dedicated Christians, including Protestant reformers. I think it is important to dig deeply into these things if we are to understand the richness of our religious tradition – and even scriptures we quote all the time in the modern LDS Church.

    Joseph Smith History 1:19 is a perfect example of this, since I have heard it misquoted repeatedly in my lifetime to say things it simply doesn’t say. I wrote the following post on Mormon Matters back in August 2008 as part of a series reviewing commonly quoted scriptures (http://mormonmatters.org/2008/08/27/common-scriptures-in-review-jsh-119/) in which I analyzed that verse, phrase-by-phrase – and I want to excerpt one small part that deals with the creeds mentioned by Joseph Smith from the Fist Vision.

    “The most common creeds referenced by those discussing this verse are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, but these creeds essentially were the Catholic Creeds of the early centuries. The Athanasian Creed had a strong impact on much of the Protestant theology that existed in Joseph Smith’s time, but there were other “Protestant creeds” (like the Westminster Confession of Faith) that rarely are considered in the context of this verse – and those Protestant creeds are every bit as relevant as the early Catholic Creeds. (I believe, more so.)”

    I believe the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, especially, are entirely consistent with Mormon theology and that it is the later Protestant creeds that are referenced in JSH 1:19. I believe Joseph’s mind wasn’t engaged whatsoever with the earliest Catholic creeds at the time of the First Vision and that he had no intention whatsoever of becoming Catholic. Thus, his question was directed explicitly and exclusively to the Protestant sects between which he was torn and that his concern was with Protestant theology – and, in the context of this post, the specific version of Protestant trinitarianism that, in practical terms, had eliminated God, the Father, and focused all worship on Jesus, the Son (including praying to Jesus and not the Father).

    We absolutely are trinitarian in the purest sense of the word – meaning we believe the Godhead is comprised of three Gods, those mentioned clearly in the Bible. Thank you for saying it so well.

  14. Thanks Ray! Great thoughts!

  15. I like it, obviously. An irony worth considering is that the personal faith of most creedal Christians is usually heretical when it comes to the Trinity anyway.

    The former bishop of Utah was baptised a Mormon and confirmed an Anglican. In some places, Mormon baptism is accepted as tolerably Trinitarian.

  16. With Ronan, my love for this post should be obvious (see my Trinity Sunday post for the Mormon Lectionary Project. I want to add to the discussion the lovely trinitarian chiasmus in Alma 34:37-38 (which I’ve broken up into lines to make its structure clear):

    And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God,
    and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ;
    That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost,
    but that ye receive it,
    and take upon you the name of Christ;
    that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.

    I consider this a beautiful exposition of how the three persons of the Godhead work together to effect our salvation. This kind of social trinitarianism can (and should) serve as a powerful model for Christian community, in which we all contribute our different gifts to a common cause.

  17. Our own Doctrine and Covenants tells us there us ONE GOD — D&C 20:28 — Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen. Accordingly, I never speak of three Gods, just one God — and I never speak of Jesus as a God, but simply as God, for He is God, as is repeatedly mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon.

  18. excellent comment ji — I completely agree that it is appropriate to refer to Jesus directly as God.

  19. In the Church we focus on a monotheistic conception of God, while acknowledging the existence of other Gods (henotheism). But we also have, for lack of a more accurate word, a pantheistic conception of God as well. That is found in D&C 88:6-13. To paraphrase, it says Christ is in the sun, and in the moon, and the earth, and the stars; not his physical body, no, but the light emanating from the bosom of God, which is a part of God, spreading out into all His creations. So I do think we have a strong mystical aspect to our religion, which can be compared with mysticism in the trinity, or nirvana in eastern religions, or the One in Neoplatonism, or whatever One is found in all other mystical systems. In fact we have our own name for it: the infinite atonement. (An early Hermetic manuscript, the Chrysopoeia Cleopatra, called it hen kai pan, translated as the One, the All, or All is One.) However, for Mormons, I don’t think we could say all is God, because intelligences were in the beginning with God, being separate and distinct from God; however I think we could say that God is in everything (a substrate). Anyways, this is my explanation why some of the trinitarian doctrine is, for me, the truth.

  20. “Anecdotally, if any are reading this who had difficulties on their missions with other Christians wishing to join us but refusing to be rebaptized, this is a large part of the reason — they understood this principle of Trinitarian baptism and logically thought that since their first baptism as an Anglican or Baptist or Pentecostal was done with the formulaic Trinitarian prayer that we also share, a rebaptism was unnecessary.”

    Moreover, Catholics consider it an offense against the Holy Spirit (a very grave offense) to re-baptize a validly baptized individual.

  21. WestBerkeleyFlats says:

    I don’t understand why Mormons would want to be perceived as Trinitarian. The concept of the trinity developed as an attempt to reconcile notions of Jesus’s divinity within a monotheistic framework. As has been noted, the prevailing notion in Mormon thought has been to allow some form of polytheism, perhaps specifically henotheism. It’s one of the few unique aspects of Mormonism, although the church has to some extent come to downplay it. Mormons are not Trinitarians in the same way that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Trinitarians, That is to say, they believe that the Bible and, in the case of Mormonism, modern revelation do not support the theological concept of trinity that developed in the first few centuries of the common era and was presented in statements such as the Nicean creed. Mormons used to be quite proud of these differences.

  22. Over the last months I have had the chance to recite the Nicene Creed several times a week. I still have not found the part that I could not say with absolute sincerity. I think that the lack of exposure to other faith’s traditions is something that has become more of a deficit for my generation and that of my children, during this time of relatively few converts who had strong attachments to other faith traditions.

  23. You remark about the word choice in the KJV, and indeed, in other languages the Mormon scriptural guides often use cognates of “Trinity” instead of the Germanic compound “godhead,” much as they use words like cognates of “expiation” instead of the etymological neologism “atonement.”

  24. Thomas Parkin says:

    Nay, nay. Or, neigh, neigh, if you’d prefer.

    The old seminary answers that They are One in understanding and purpose remain sufficient. I don’t share a nostalgia, or a need to own, Christian tradition. Mostly the reverse, for me. Mormonism, because theoretically embraces all
    truth, frees itself from particular traditions. This is the (potential) liberation in it. I don’t suppose that when I see a wonderful cathedral I need own it as my own any more than I need to become a Pueblo Indian when I feel awe at an Anasazi cliff dwelling. (Obviously, similar examples are limitless.)

    Shared language is one thing, shared meanings another.

    We used to talk about keys of knowledge. When these are lost, when we know longer know how to penetrate the veil, the veil itself comes to be worshiped as God, mystery is vaporized and mysticism supplants the actual gospel process. Pretty soon one is shocked and saddened to see people you’ve admired say that God is unknowable. This is where we are.

    But, to compliment Ray’s point, the creed that used to be openly mocked in the Endowment was the Westminster Confession of the 17th Century. I remember quite clearly when this was removed. I thought at the time, well, here is comes, and so it has. We will soon be a religion.

  25. Thomas Parkin says:

    mystery is valorized rather than vaporized. Silly spell checker.

  26. This seems to completely ignore that God the Father and Jesus the Son have bodies of flesh and bone. And that spirit and body, inseparably connected bring a fullness of joy. Why on earth we fall all over ourselves to make us seem more protestant is beyond me.

  27. Can you explain what it is exactly in John’s post that is “un-Mormon”?

  28. I might be overly literal, and I might simply be thinking that the OP is, while writing in all sincerity, attempting to split some already finely split hairs to equate things which I don’t see as equal. However, I think that it’s almost impossible to approach this question without admitting that the LDS concept of progression and the fact that we are of the same species as God, and that we have the potential to become like Him, are what truly make the gap unbridgeable.

    John (the OP, not the apostle, although I guess he could be the apostle) writes: I think a better question is whether our doctrines really require rejection of the One Substance Trinity after all. I would posit that they do indeed. At best, we can admit to similar substance, perhaps homoiousios rather than homoousios. It’s that insistence on “same substance” that makes the Council of Nicaea a key juncture in the disintegration of original Christian belief, and the key phrase of the Nicene Creed (“one in being with the Father”) a false statement. The Apostle’s Creed, lacking that statement, is acceptable.

    After all, the critical fact which had already been lost by then was our ability to become like God, the notion that we and He are the same sorts of being. Forced by their philosophical self-constraints to make God not only unique but singular, Arius denied the divinity of Jesus and Athanasius denied his separateness.

    [I agree that Christ’s words to Joseph on “creeds” weren’t meant to describe formal creeds per se, but in the case of the Nicene, if the shoe fits, etc.]

    Trying to define the LDS position in the classical terms is an interesting adventure but ultimately futile, because those terms all emerge from the quest of the first few centuries of Christianity to reconcile multiple members of the Godhead with the idea of one God, once the idea of progress had been lost and it was assumed that God always had been, was, and always would be the way He was. Some way to explain Jesus as God, other than “he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness” (D&C 93:12-13) was necessary. The Savior’s own words in John 17 had to be discounted, and much sophistry and semantic tap-dancing had to occur to reconcile the Son of God becoming one with his Father, and there only being one eternal, unchanging, unknowable God.

    Being LDS, on the other hand, as Brother Parkin points out, should free us from all of this. It takes us out of the philosophical discussion and makes our view of God plain and simple. Jeffrey Holland stated, in a conference address in October 2007:

    “We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance.”

    That seems to sum it up pretty well. I can take what I like of the dignity and reverence of my Catholic upbringing, and add a calming High Church note to my personal observance of Mormonism; I can be uplifted when others do so as well – one of our young men sang “Panis Angelicus” in sacrament meeting yesterday, beautifully, in Latin! – but we threw the Athanasian bathwater out many years ago. Let us not attempt to refill that tub. I suggest that it does matter, very much, what we think of the nature of God. The Savior himself told us that it did: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

  29. > the fact that we are of the same species as God

    Not a fact, not in Mormonism nor anywhere else.

  30. As Stapley puts it:

    “If you go back to Joseph’s discussions of theogony in the Sermon in the Grove and in his King Follet Discourse, one finds that even though we are co-eternal and uncreated with God and Christ we are different from them as well. Christ and the Father had the capacity to atone, we do not. What’s more, they have always been perfect. Something to which we will never have claim. They have power over death and creation. We worship them because of what they are – God. They are the same.”

    Indeed. They are the Same (being of one Substance) in ways that we will never be (not being of one Substance). Elder Brotherism is a heresy.

  31. On a wider point, I admit to being baffled by all of this.

    Unless you have a precise theological definition of substance that you can cite without recourse to a book, then, if you are a Mormon you must not pass judgement on the One Substance Trinity doctrine, while if you are a Christian, you must not reject Mormonism’s Christianity based on the same.

    Most people have no idea what they are talking about.

    That said, I continually struggle to see why Mormons claim to not believe in the One Substance Trinity (to the extent that they know what that is). Jesus has two natures, one fully human, one fully divine. The human nature is of *one nature* with us — we are of the same substance with Jesus’ humanity. His divine nature is of *one nature* with the Father — he is of the same substance as God. This is straight out of the Enchiridion and is wholly orthodox. To say that the Father and the Son have different physical bodies and are therefore not of one substance is only to say that Jesus and I have different bodies (but we are of the same human substance!) and is wholly irrelevant to the discussion.

    This is not about being Mormon or Protestant or whatever, it is about not unnecessarily dividing ourselves from our Christian brothers and sisters. Find some other locus of Mormon exceptionalism, because this ain’t it.

  32. For example:

    Ecumenical IV (against the Monophysites): Definition of the Two Natures of Christ:

    “[The Son] is consubstantial with the Father according to divinity, and consubstantial with us according to human nature.”

    Thus, the Son is a human and we are human but we are not the Son and the Son is not us. Similarly, the Father is God and the Son is God but the Father is not the Son.

    Do any Mormons out there not believe this? If you do believe it, you believe in the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, which by analogue is the same as the consubstantiality of the mortal Jesus and you. This means you are a Trinitarian both in the sense of believing in the godhead and in the classic sense of believing that there is one God in three persons who are consubstantial but *not the same*.

    That’s really all there is to this.

  33. Preach it.

  34. Ronan, 9:22 a.m. and 9:54 a.m. — such good and true comments! Thank you so much for restating the ideas I was trying to work through in the original post so much more succinctly and powerfully.

    New Iconoclast, what do you make of Christ’s desire in John 17 that we each become one with each other as He is One with the Father, and that we should even then become One with them? Do you really think that the concept of “substance” has nothing potentially to do with this?

    (Nothing about my discussion of how “substance” can perhaps be relevant after all in any way contradicts the quote from Elder Holland that you provided, in my view.)

  35. Thomas Parkin and New Iconoclast, I am surprised that you don’t see the original post retaining Mormon distinctiveness, particularly on the insight of the Father and the Son having separate physical bodies of flesh and bone (and, by the way, I think Ronan does an excellent job of explaining why this does not need to completely undermine the concept of “substance” — as humans we are already one “substance” with Jesus based on his incarnation, his birth of Mary which made him fully human, and yet we don’t think that means that we need to claim that we have “the same” physical human body as Jesus, but it is of the same substance as his physical body).

    Please note my explicit reference to their separate, resurrected physical bodies in the original post (I know it was buried in there so if you were just skimming it then it might have been easy to overlook):

    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.

  36. Once while waiting for mission president interviews, a few of us elders were chatting with the mission president’s wife on the subject of creeds. She asked me, a former Catholic, and another elder, who was raised LDS but attended Catholic high school, to recite the Apostle’s Creed (which we had no trouble doing).

    When we finished, she said, “There’s a lot of truth in that!”

  37. When we finished, she said, “There’s a lot of truth in that!”

    And a further question is whether there is really anything doctrinally objectionable in it. One need not require confession of such a creed (in accordance, perhaps, with Christ’s words in the 1838 First Vision) in order to admit that it might contain useful insight or even knowledge that can enrich our religious understanding and even relationship with God.

  38. Thomas Parkin says:

    john f,

    It isn’t that you’ve jettisoned Mormonism, it is that you’ve moved in a direction away from aspects of the old orthodoxy that I cherish as essential to my faith. Should the church itself move in such a direction – it would be interesting to discuss if it has or is – my continued interest in the institution could be measured in days and weeks.

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    “as essential to my faith”

    and my experience.

  40. I haven’t moved from orthodoxy though. This post shows the possibility that some unexamined assumptions of ours about “their” beliefs in the One Substance Trinity might well be off. But it doesn’t move away from anything foundational to Mormonism. To the contrary, it cites to Deut., John, and Mosiah 15, and reads them coherently and consistently with each other.

  41. Thomas Parkin says:

    What I would say is that the church, including, most significantly, in the Endowment, has become quiet about the nature of God where once it was precise and adamant. I think that this leaving off talking about the nature and personality of God is possibly due to … you know, the myriad little Mormonisms, the manifold minutia, that people think are the thing itself … has opened a space in which people can basically believe in the Protestant God.

    Perhaps I should read you closer to see what it is you mean by “substance.” The important thing is that they don’t share substance, by any naturalistic definition of the word. They are utterly distinct and individual, their unity based on perfect understanding of one another. Period. This was absolutely the doctrine I was taught growing up, and I see nothing compelling in the pseudo-Protestant infatuation so constantly on exhibit here to change my feeling. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the nature of love, imho.

  42. Ronan (9:54 a.m.) said this more succinctly than anything I wrote in a very poorly written (and quickly dashed off) post:

    For example:

    Ecumenical IV (against the Monophysites): Definition of the Two Natures of Christ:

    “[The Son] is consubstantial with the Father according to divinity, and consubstantial with us according to human nature.”

    Thus, the Son is a human and we are human but we are not the Son and the Son is not us. Similarly, the Father is God and the Son is God but the Father is not the Son.

    Do any Mormons out there not believe this? If you do believe it, you believe in the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, which by analogue is the same as the consubstantiality of the mortal Jesus and you. This means you are a Trinitarian both in the sense of believing in the godhead and in the classic sense of believing that there is one God in three persons who are consubstantial but *not the same*.

    That’s really all there is to this.

    Christ is fully human by nature of his birth to Mary; we are thus of the same “substance” as him — human physical bodies, and yet we do not share the exact same human physical body as he had! (We each have our own, separate, distinct physical body, even though it is biologically of the same substance — human flesh and blood.) This would then hold true for our divine nature as well, that we are promised that we can become joint heirs with Christ of all that the Father has, and thus become One with them as they are One with each other — and yet we will not share the same exact resurrected physical body at that point either.

  43. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ah, I see, they have the same matter of substance rather than any kind of material co-mingling. Sort of like if I had a Ferrari and you also had one we would share that aspect of our existence. But, of course, this is to just say that I can accept the language of the creed as long as I don’t also share the interpretation. I don’t see that this makes us Trinitarians except in very loose sense.

    But I have a feeling this goes deeper. I have a feeling that there has been a rejection of notion that God became God, and that we share not only a potential destiny but a common origin. As Ronan rejected above, the notion that we are essentially the same kind of being as God. That one becomes Eternal, and that God became Eternal. That we share a substance with Him all through – both before, now and forever.

    As I said, the movement is away from essential aspects of my faith.

  44. “They are utterly distinct and individual, their unity based on perfect understanding of one another.”

    I agree, Thomas – and I am quite certain that John isn’t arguing otherwise, to any degree or in any way.

    I absolutely abhor the Westminster Confession of Faith, generally, and I also do not want Mormon theology to morph into the mainline view of God, godhood, salvation, the unbridgeable chasm, etc. However, I don’t see any of that in this post. Our trinitarianism is very different than that of the Protestant creeds in some vital ways – but we abuse the term “substance” in clear ways, by using it differently than how many other Christians mean it, when we make some of those distinctions.

    We do have important similarities, and I think we do our overall heritage as Christians a disservice when we don’t recognize, we ignore or we reject our actual points of commonality – even if those points aren’t universally common. English is full of examples where the same words are used to mean different things – and where different words are used to mean the same thing. I am more concerned about understanding intended meaning than about exact terminology – and I think the example of “substance” is a good example of that. We teach the same thing as some Christians do; we teach something different than many Christians do. Understanding that tension is the first step, sometimes, in understanding people – and understanding people is just as important, if not more so, than understanding the words they use.

  45. I do think it’s safe to say that the LDS Church doesn’t teach now as explicitly as was taught in my childhood that, “As man is, God once was” – at least relative to Heavenly Father. That opens a whole new discussion of who is referenced when using the term “God” – as well as multiple interpretations of the statement itself.

    I am agnostic about a couple of interpretations, while I have no problem whatsoever accepting a couple of others.

  46. Thomas Parkin says:

    Always the peace maker, Ray. So blessed are you, for that. *wink*

  47. Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man as Christ was a man. Many or even most Mormons have interpreted this to mean that God was once a man like we are. Is this really what Joseph Smith taught? Or is this a Brigham Young innovation connected with his Adam-God theory?

    Thomas, Ray, are we like Christ, both fully human and fully divine? We are divine, it is true, but not in the sense that Christ was. We need the Atonement to make Christ’s grace available to us in order to realize our full divine potential. If you believe that God was once a man like we are (rather than a man like Christ was), then does that mean that you believe that Christ is actually greater than God the Father, because when Christ was a man, he was already perfect, whereas we, as men, are not already perfect and require Christ’s grace — i.e. something outside ourselves, indeed, the atoning power of God — to become perfected in Christ.

    Our creedal Christian extended family does not believe that God the Father became man twice, once in his own life as a man like us (or like Christ) and then once as Christ (“veiled in flesh the Godhead see”). They believe he only became man once, in the latter sense.

    We do not believe that he became man twice either because of our ability to relate to God without the overlay of the concept of homoousios, or One Substance, if understood as a literally consubstantial indwelling. But this is incomprehensible to them since such consubstantiation is the only solution that they’ve found to be plausible to the “one God” problem caused by Deut. 6:4 and other affirmations of that principle in both the Old and New Testaments (and the Book of Mormon, for that matter, e.g. Mosiah 15). Such consubstantial homoousios is indeed extra-biblical — an argument I have made many times in discussion with creedal Christians. But with only a very slight shift in how we understand “substance” (as helpfully explained by Ronan, though it should be obvious), we can also agree to a notion of “One Substance” in thinking about the Godhead, thus greatly reducing the distance between us in our views on the Trinity.

  48. Thomas Parkin says:

    I disagree with so much of this comment john, that I have to just bow out.

    Best to you, brother.

  49. We’ll need Stapley to chime in, but if the starting point of our rejection of the One Substance Trinity is that we are of the same race as God, then the starting point is in error, because Joseph Smith does not seem to have taught that.

  50. I’d like you to share with me what you disagree with, Thomas. Sincerely.

  51. Thomas Parkin says:

    It is silly to ask whether Christ was “greater” than God the Father, because an achieved perfection is just as perfect as an essential perfection. There is no such thing as an essential perfection among beings, it is only real as an abstraction until it is realized by beings. Christ was less than the Father because to that point because He was not yet fully participating in the physical universe (obtaining a body in the Mormon sense) and therefore cannot be thought of as perfected, although he certainly was a God. If someone is more advanced at some stage than another, it means nothing more than that.

  52. John, you’ve nailed the problem: if God was once like us (as opposed to once like Christ), then the Son (eternally perfect) is greater than the Father (not eternally perfect), which is a nonsense. The KFD has the Father and the Son as fundamentally different to humans and Mormons are reading it completely wrong if they understand it otherwise.

    How are they different? Because their divinity is ETERNALLY CONSUBSTANTIAL. This is basic John 1 stuff.

    Thomas, the Ferrari example is silly, and you must know it.

  53. Thanks Thomas. That is really helpful and, of course, very understandable and familiar reasoning! (Your comment of 4:49 p.m.)

    I find this very persuasive. My question in my comment that you disagreed with was more focused on whether this reasoning is necessary — did Joseph Smith teach that God was once a man as we are (in need of atonement) or that God was once a man as Christ was, i.e. a fully divine, fully human being capable of resurrecting himself and atoning for the world? (If JS actually taught the latter, then the reasoning you outlined might be superfluous — not dangerous or particularly wrong, but simply outside the scope of the inquiry.)

  54. Fine, Thomas, but you are assuming that the KFD means that the Father was once a man like Adam rather than a man like Jesus. Are you sure that that is what Joseph meant?

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    Nonsense, Ronan.

    I’m not bowing due to lack of desire to share, john. I really don’t have time for it. :/

  56. (I see I should just let John Fowles act as your interlocutor! He certainly has more hours in the day left than I do.)

  57. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m more concerned with what is than with what Jospeh taught. Although, of course, it would be nice to have him on my side. ;>

  58. Thomas, I’m grateful that you responded to my further query — as I said, I find that reasoning very persuasive and, in fact, necessary and illuminating assuming that Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man like we are rather than a man with the already fully divine attributes of Christ.

  59. Well, please share, TP, because if Joseph didn’t teach it, and the scriptures don’t either, where are you getting this from such that you seem able to dismiss it as unMormon?! That’s an honest question.

  60. If you have other things to do today, shoot us an email and we’ll put it up as a guest post.

  61. I think a lot of the subsequent explanation is back-peddling. To suggest the the Godhead are one in ways beyond an external relationship is to misunderstand what I view as concrete Mormonism. If what you are saying is similar to the two Ferrari’s then it is not really saying much worth the effort. This seems like syncretism to me, and I do not much care for it.

  62. >what I view as concrete Mormonism.

    Again, explain yourself!

  63. Eric, I agree that the Ferrari example does not get at the heart of this. Instead, I’d like you to read Ronan’s comment presenting Ecumenical IV and, after really considering what it is saying (without getting derailed by the word “consubstantial”), tell me if you think this is not consistent with how Mormons view ourselves in relation to Christ as the Son:

    For example:

    Ecumenical IV (against the Monophysites): Definition of the Two Natures of Christ:

    “[The Son] is consubstantial with the Father according to divinity, and consubstantial with us according to human nature.”

    Thus, the Son is a human and we are human but we are not the Son and the Son is not us. Similarly, the Father is God and the Son is God but the Father is not the Son.

    Do any Mormons out there not believe this? If you do believe it, you believe in the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, which by analogue is the same as the consubstantiality of the mortal Jesus and you. This means you are a Trinitarian both in the sense of believing in the godhead and in the classic sense of believing that there is one God in three persons who are consubstantial but *not the same*.

    That’s really all there is to this.

  64. My brain hurts.

  65. Again, I think there is a syncretist effort here. You are short-selling what typical protestants think when they say the term trinity. And you are muddying the waters of what typical Mormons think when they say godhead. What you end up with is something that is neither ours nor theirs.

    The Father and the Son are resurrected beings with bodies of flesh and bone and are unambiguously separate beings. Their oneness is an external relationship. There is no need to confuse things in the least and make anybodies brain hurt.

    Many protestants have a much more ‘mysterious’ oneness going on, where three beings merge into a common substance. Or dissolve entirely into non-substance.

    I do not care much whether you twist common protestant belief into a Mormon shaped pretzel. But anything less than unambiguous resurrected beings as The Father and The Son violates an article of faith for me.

  66. Eric, do you see that as violated by anything I’ve written here, either in the OP or the comments? What is your thought about my comment at 10:23 am, explicitly stressing the concept of the Father and Son having separate resurrected physical bodies of flesh and bone?

  67. “Fine, Thomas, but you are assuming that the KFD means that the Father was once a man like Adam rather than a man like Jesus. Are you sure that that is what Joseph meant?”

    I am.

  68. Based on what, DQ?

  69. MikeInWeHo says:

    Oh Ronan, sometimes you seem so uncomfortable in your Mormon skin. While I would never be so foolish as to argue with you, here you describe the trees and ignore the forest. The whole point of Mormonism from the beginning was to utterly reject orthodox Christianity as corrupt to its apostate, creedal core. It proclaimed a radically heterodox theology, recent public vagueness notwithstanding. We all know this.

    Are you sure you’re not trying to resolve your own ambivalence about the church in which you were raised? You certainly aren’t the only member in that situation these days. If the theological trajectory of the LDS church is to merge back into the rest of Christianity, what on earth was the point? Why not just say “Oh, never mind!” and become Evangelicals? It wouldn’t be the first time……

    https://www.gci.org/aboutus/history

  70. Many of the responses on this thread demonstrate why this is probably a pointless exercise. Mormons tend to have an idea of what they think “typical Protestants” believe and then balk at dogmatic texts that don’t fit that conception, while at the same time aligning themselves with a Mormon doctrine that they cannot actually defend.

    I think John (and I) are trying to find a “mere consubstantiality.” No doubt it wouldn’t satisfy all Christians, whose ideas of what that means tend to be heterodox in their own tradition anyway (e.g. modalism). Instead, it’s an attempt to remove what may be an unnecessary barrier between Mormonism and the Christian world. I understand why some Mormons don’t like that — it seems like it might undermine Mormon exceptionalism — but I think exceptionalism is an idol if it’s built on a fundamental misunderstanding of terms. Difference just for the sake of it runs counter to Christ’s call for unity.

    John has repeatedly claimed a belief in the corporeality of God. That’s a better divergence from traditional Christianity than an unwarranted rejection of homoousion, although as Stephen Webb argues, not one itself without Christian precedent. This metaphysics of matter is interesting stuff, but one can only get to thinking about it — and discussing it with other Christians — if we ditch all the unnecessary stumbling blocks between us. Webb shows how Mormonism offers something back to Christianity, but the gift will never be accepted if we don’t make an attempt to find commonality, especially when that commonality is entirely reasonable, as John has demonstrated.

  71. Mike,
    I love you, mate, but I really take umbrage at that comment. No doubt some will nod their heads in agreement with you as it enables the argument to be dismissed as a sop to a desperate desire to be mainstream.

    I have zero desire to be an Evangelical, I can assure you of that. Will you believe me if I say that the impulse here comes from deep within my Mormon heart? As I say in the comment above, Mormonism has much to offer back to Christianity, but that can never happen while we remain behind cloistered walls that need not exist. That is all.

    Anyway, please join the queue of people who need to demonstrate why consubstantiality — as described by dogma and not as imagined as it rattles around in a Protestant’s head — and a belief that the Father and the Son are *not* of the same species as man are fundamentally at odds with Mormonism! I am honestly not seeing it.

  72. One final thought. The view John offers is closer to Catholicism than to Protestantism, I think. American Christianity is really beholden to a Calvinist view of God, one which needs challenging. A Calvinist might well hold to an utterly un-knowable co-mingling of immaterial divine substance and utterly reject Mormonism’s fleshy God, but they are not the only Christians out there. There is a less patina-laden notion of consubstantiality in the early dogma which can allow Mormons and Christians to begin a dialogue from a similar place.

    Webb is a pioneer here. This isn’t about making Mormons Catholic or Catholics Mormon, but about circumscribing all truth, which is a wholly Mormon idea. I find this inspiring and do not understand those who eschew it.

    “Perhaps it is time to recognize that Mormonism’s cosmic metaphysics and Catholicism’s elaborate history have room to accommodate, inspire, and teach each other, all to the goal of deepening the truth of Jesus Christ” (Mormon Christianity, p.182).

    John Fowles is an important voice on the Mormon side on this, and I appreciate his work.

  73. It seems to me that the post and comments rely on just that – rejecting what typical Mormons and Protestants (or Catholics) actually believe. Just ignore certain words and Greek gloss, make very generous interpretations, and tada, you pull Christianity to a negotiated middle ground. Wow. Then, take Stapley’s exaggerated and forced interpretations of the KFD, and do some creative stretching to terms like substance and you drag Mormonism, (in my case kicking and screaming) to this negotiated middle ground and presto. A new tradition.

  74. Really encouraging to read these comments.

    You really can’t read a single paragraph from the Council of Chalcedon in isolation. Anyway Schaff’s footnote 73 may help explain the catholic understanding of Christ’s homoousia with the Father and Humanity

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds2.iv.i.iii.html

  75. To refute some of what Ronan is saying regarding same species and elder brotherism, from the current Priesthood/Relief Society manual based on the teachings of the prophet Joseph (Fielding) Smith:

    “God is our Father; he is the being in whose image man is created. He has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s (D&C 130:22), and he is the literal and personal father of the spirits of all men.” (p. 39)

    and,

    “He [Jesus Christ] is our Elder Brother and was honored by the Father with the fulness of authority and power as a member of the grand Presidency, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” (p. 52)

    This is why saying that the Father and the Son are a different species from mankind is not Mormonism – because it is precisely what is taught by the church. These ideas are only heresies from the eyes of Protestants/Catholics and those who which to create a middle ground.

  76. it's a series of tubes says:

    Eric, please stop introducing clear and unambiguous statements from modern prophets in the current course of study. You’re muddying the waters :)

    And MikeInWeHo, the first sentence of your comment seems spot-on to me.

  77. It is supreme arrogance to state that Jesus is the same as us. He is not. He alone could atone. This was not a simple matter of Him being a little better than the rest of us. He is different, because He is the Only Begotten.

    God may have adopted us, but Jesus alone is in the Godhead, one with the Father. I get that Fielding believed in viviparous spirit birth and was a fan of elder brotherism, but those notions are not canonical doctrine. JSJ taught neither. If you really conceive if Jesus as a brother, you are missing out. He transcends that familial comparison in every way.

  78. Let’s think this through for a minute. What exactly did Joseph teach in KFD and what is it we’re actually debating here?

    John and Ronan claim that Elohim and Jehovah are like we humans in that they have physical bodies with bones and flesh and that they once came to an Earth and experienced the pains and sufferings of a mortal existence in the flesh (Elohim to another Earth before He was given stewardship for all of us as intelligences, and Jehovah as Jesus to our own). But John and Ronan also state that these two individuals are different from human kind because each of them lived a perfect life and were endowed with greater power as a result of who they were. One way of interpreting Jesus’ statements is to accept that He is claiming that by performing the Atonement He is doing exactly as His Father did before Him. That once in time Elohim like Jesus came to an Earth and was that Savior for the universe of spiritual children for which He had responsibility.

    It’s not clear whether they are going down the path of stating that Elohim and Jehovah would have been different from the rest of us because they were of a God and human parentage (Elohim and Mary in the case of Jesus) but it is clear that they are stating that these two individuals were characteristically different from us in their mortal existence. And we teach within our Mormon perspective that Jesus gave up His life – or released His spirit from his physical body – only after the Atonement was fulfilled and that was only possible because He had that power as a literal Son of God. A power that none of us have. Was there or was there not something substantially different about Jesus that made it possible for Him to take on the full weight of the world’s sins and live through that crushing burden that literally squeezed blood from every pore?

    Now the question is, does this mean there is something different about God the Father – Elohim – and God the Son – Jehovah – from the rest of us? Or is there something about their roles to which they were called that is simply a responsibility that they took on as a result of their righteousness and progression over time in the spirit world? Is there something particular about their acts as Saviors that differentiates them from us in substance? This idea of a different species has been raised to examine that possibility. Or is the differentiation more in a calling or role in that the vast majority of us will never be a Prophet of the Kingdom of God just as we will never be a Savior of this world?

    I do not know the answer to this question and I’m not sure anyone can offer clear evidence that states an explicit answer to that question. But it seems clear to me that this is the crux of the difference between John and Ronan and their critics in this thread.

  79. To clarify one thought on this. I accept that Jesus was different from us in that He is the Only Begotten. My question is whether that role is only relevant to our mortal existence or if it implies a difference between us in the eternities as we progress. Because Joseph teaches,

    Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.

    So can we truly become as God? Can we progress to His state by going from one small degree to another? Or will there always be something different about us because we have not been Saviors as it appears He once was? Will we then be eternal parents with responsibilities for our own worlds as He is or will we be lesser because we have not gone through the experience of a perfect being who provided the atonement for His adopted children?

    Or, and I hesitate to use this phrase because it will excite all kinds of Catholic attitudes, is there a hierarchy of Gods and we will always be in a separate class or species? How exactly does that work and what does it mean?

  80. Very good questions! We have no answers. That is the point.

  81. John, thanks for your excellent post. Can I ask you (or Ronan or J Stapley) how your reading of the KFD re. the Father and Son as a different race to us impacts your beliefs re. a universal Mother in heaven?

  82. it's a series of tubes says:

    Gomez, it means we are mules, obviously.

    I kid. I think you ask a great question and I look forward to the response.

  83. I have heard Mormon friends deride and reject the idea of an “in-dwelling” of God when that term is used by Protestants and then, without any understanding of the irony, talk passionately about the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

    If I was to write a post about how those two ideas represent a commonality between Mormonism and our general Christian heritage (that the LDS Church teaches of an in-dwelling of God), would people think I was trying to make Mormonism more mainline Christian – or Protestant – or Evangelical? When I wrote the post linked in my first comment in this thread, I had people tell me I was trying to do just that – for nothing more than pointing out that we, as a collective people, had extrapolated things into JSH 1:19 that simply aren’t there. Seriously, most members I know think JSH 1:19 says things it flat-out doesn’t say – and I was chided for weakening our unique claims for outlining, very carefully, why they are wrong.

    As has been mentioned in previous comments, the rest of Christianity is not one monolithic, homogenous mass – and we ought not talk as if it is, especially since we scream foul play when others say that about us. Not everyone throughout Christianity uses the same terms to mean the same things. Pointing out ways to recognize commonality despite differing terminology (in this case, how we teach one version of consubstantiality that makes us trinitarian in a very real, important way – albeit not like many Christians) is not necessarily an attempt to change doctrine or weaken uniqueness; sometimes it is an attempt to point out where our need to be totally exceptional gets in the way of accuracy and, as a result, causes divisions and misunderstandings that need not be.

  84. One of the many great things about Mormonism is that it elevates mankind above total depravity. Christ constantly invites us to embrace this relationship. It is those who wallow in the depraved creature-hood of man that are missing out.

  85. gomez, I don’t like using the word “race” in this context and I think that it would go too far to say that we are not of the same species as God. To the extent that Ronan takes that position, I part with him conceptually (because I don’t think it’s necessary to say that in order to perceive the type of qualitative difference that he is noting by using that language).

    Despite what Eric Nielson says above, it appears that Joseph Smith actually taught in the King Follett Discourses that God was once a man as Christ was, not as Adam was (that is, as we are). The latter is a gloss added by Brigham Young in connection with his Adam-God theory, which is not considered canon and was abandoned even in the nineteenth century. Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God from the very beginning, was perfect from the very beginning. This is not true with Adam or with any of us, none of whom was already perfect — already God — in the preexistence or here in mortality (of course).

    Mormon teachings about this give ample room for space to discern a qualitative difference between the kind of being that God the Father and Jesus Christ, his Only Begotten Son, are and the kind that we, as God’s children, are. That we are of the same species as them, and therefore have the potential to become like them as joint heirs with Christ through the saving grace of Christ and the Atonement, does not mean that any of us have the potential to atone for anyone else’s sins or resurrect ourselves. That alone was Christ’s ability, acting in perfect harmony with the will of the Father. We simply do not need to reject many scriptural passages from the New Testament expressing the fundamental unity and even indwelling of the Father in the Son.

    But we are of the same substance as them. How could we not be? In our human form, our physical bodies are of the same substance as Christ’s human physical body was, though each of us have a physical body that is separate from his physical body (of course). And, of course, God the Father is the father of our spirits which inhabit our physical bodies. When we are resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, these physical bodies of flesh and blood will be transformed into resurrected, perfected physical bodies of flesh and bone. We will then be of the same substance as both God the Father and Jesus Christ (as they are already of the same substance with each other).

    As to how Heavenly Mother fits into any of this, that would be pure speculation given the complete absence of scriptural guidance about even the existence of Heavenly Mother and the similar almost complete lack of knowledge about even the existence of such a being from Church leaders during the ongoing period of the Restoration.

    Suffice it to say that I find the commonly held folk belief among Mormons in the idea of a Heavenly Mother to be comforting and seemingly consistent with our conceptions of eternal family life.

  86. Gilliam, our promise as endowed disciples of Jesus Christ is to one day, through the Atonement of Christ, become kings and queens, priests and priestesses to God the Father and His Son. (W. W. Phelps, Times and Seasons 6.10, page 916, at http://en.fairmormon.org/Times_and_Seasons/6/10)

    Joseph Smith discussed this as “you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves”. President Hinckley recently clarified that this means we believe that we can “become like God,” thus reaffirming our foundational belief in this principle, while also stating as to the first part of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (i.e. “man is as God once was”) that this is not something that is well understood, perhaps partially because it is ambiguous as to precisely this question about whether, when God was once a man, he was in human form in the same way that Jesus Christ was, or whether he was simply a man who lived a normal life at some point somewhere.

  87. One of the many great things about Mormonism is that it elevates mankind above total depravity.

    Eric, not all of our creedal Christian brothers and sisters are Calvinists wallowing in our creature-hood’s depravity. In any event, as Ronan noted, a lot of the thoughts I’ve expressed here are closer to Catholic views than Protestant, if you have to find them in any way un-Mormon (which I would disagree with).

  88. great comment and perspective, Ray (9:57 a.m.) — I find your perspective thoroughly Mormon in its grounding in basic Mormon principles and yet eagerly expansive to embrace fellow Christians and reduce the distance or alienation between the disparate members of the greater Body of Christ (which I absolutely believe us as Mormons to be a part of). Thank you for your insightful comments and participation in this thread.

  89. John, the kings and queens, priests and priestesses is obviously a familiar refrain and it is similar in language to what Joseph explored in the KFD. I recall President Hinckley’s statement in his Larry King interview and have to admit I was a little surprised by the statement. Not because I think he is wrong but instead because it gave sense to the ambiguity of how are we or are we not different from God and what does it mean to become like Him?

    That said, you lose me with your assertion about whether Elohim and Jesus were similar in human form. And it feels like you are being inconsistent between your two comments where you state that God is different from us but yet he could have been a man who lived a similar life. For me, I’m not sure how else to interpret what Joseph meant by this explanation:

    Jesus said, “As the Father hath power in himself, even so hath the Son power.” To do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious–in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again.

    Jesus is doing what his Father did. So unless we believe in some form of reincarnation, then God as we know Him only had a single mortal life and He had the same power as Jesus did. It is a bit of an extrapolation to say He acted as a Savior but I cannot see how it is possible that He was perfect as Jesus was and able to lay down His life unless He was similar in character to the Savior in His mortal existence.

  90. Did I say that God the Father “could have been a man who lived a similar life” as us? I think you are misreading me. I am suggesting that it appears from the documentary sources that Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man as Jesus was (eternally perfect), not a man like we are (i.e. not able to resurrect ourselves, not perfect from the beginning).

  91. Is that not what you’re saying here?

    …it is ambiguous as to precisely this question about whether, when God was once a man, he was in human form in the same way that Jesus Christ was, or whether he was simply a man who lived a normal life at some point somewhere.

  92. I was speculating as to why President Hinckley would say of the first part of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (as man is, God once was) that “I don’t know that we teach that; it is not something that we understand very well” (paraphrased), not making a claim for myself.

  93. I’m glad Ronan clarified those views that because when I saw this in the OP:

    “perhaps it can be compatible with the Mormon preference of viewing humans, as God’s children, as the same species as God,”

    I was surprised as that to me is one of the largest divides between BCC and mainstream chapel Mormonism and this seemed to be a capitulation towards orthodoxy.

    Despite the arguments in the post, the Restoration truly has freed us from creeds, so we’re all welcome to espouse a diversity of views on doctrine, trinity, etc and still be considered full-fledged believing Mormons.

    I do find it funny when 98%+ of Mormon apostles and prophets are called out as heretics (e.g. December 15, 2014 at 8:55 am).

    One thing that really bothers me is when those try to claim that Joseph Smith Jr. never taught these orthodox doctrines such as exaltation, humankind and Divinity as the same species, Mother in Heaven, etc.

    Steve has repeated the refrain and invited a guest post response. There’s no need as Brian Hales did a masterful job in the Journal of Mormon History Fall 2012 at blowing away claims that spirit birth teachings didn’t originate with Joseph.

    Most disappointing was that there was just fuzzy push-back about ‘folk beliefs’ vs ‘doctrines’ and calling it ‘flawed’, absolutely no engagement with his reasoning and primary sources.

    The point wasn’t what one should hold personally as doctrine, but that these teachings clearly came from Joseph.

    One does have to admire the revisionist and doctrinal gymnastics that are gone go to respond to to Petrey’s call.

  94. I know that Blake Ostler has argued that LDS theology is very similar to the theologies of “Social Trinitarians.”
    See http://www.smpt.org/docs/ostler_element1-1.html

  95. “Jesus is doing what his Father did. So unless we believe in some form of reincarnation, then God as we know Him only had a single mortal life and He had the same power as Jesus did.”

    I have sometimes wondered if our doctrine points to the question, “Must we all (eventually) become Saviors?” Do we eternally progress toward that (maybe by experiencing multiple mortalities)? I’m not sure.

  96. Thank you to all those who have commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the discussion. When I was younger and didn’t know much about the creeds, I used to think that they were nonsense. When I learned more about what they really say and do not say, I realized that the strawmen that I thought were the creeds were actually considered heretical by many Christians. We usually seem to be talking past each other, but really saying many of the same things, just in different language. More identity politics than real differences between us on many points.

    I think studying the creeds can be very enlightening because it helps to see how others have wrestled with the same question that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, among others, wrestled with: who is god, and what is his relation to us? We can learn a lot from how others have attempted to answer the question, and can find truth in many of their answers, without accepting wholesale all their conclusions.

    I think the later creeds got some things wrong, but I tend to believe that the bigger problem with the creeds was not so much that they were wrong, but that they prevented further light and knowledge by (1)locking our vision of god into a particular box, and (2) by primarily using reason and philosophy rather than the holy ghost to answer a spiritual question, and, perhaps most importantly, (3) that they were invoked for centuries as an excuse for large-scale violence. The history of persecution against heretics along is shameful enough to taint the whole idea of the creeds, regardless of the truth of what is asserted in the creeds. That is enough, for me, to explain the statement that the creeds were an abomination, without needing to also conclude that they were on in their content. Lots of prophets have been wrong on doctrine without being considered abominable and corrupt. Being wrong is usually not enough to qualify as a abomination.

    Personally, I see very little if any real difference between the content of earliest creeds and the beliefs of the LDS church. Heck, portions of the apostles’ creed are right there in section 20, for crying out loud. Given that, it’s hard to say that they are all bad.

  97. Jen, as you know, we are all admonished to be “saviors on Mount Zion” to our fellow human beings in the sense of bringing them the Gospel and even performing vicarious ordinances for them, thus following Christ’s example of doing something for someone else that they cannot do for themselves.

    But I doubt that each of us, in the eternities, will need to (or could even) become Saviors in our own right like Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God the Father, is our Savior, having performed the Atonement for us, something which none of us could do for ourselves. Christ was different from us because he was perfect from the beginning and had the divine power within himself to perform the infinite Atonement and resurrect himself, having laid down his own life at his own choosing, by willing it to be so. That is not the mortal existence that we experience, obviously.

    I do not see how one can contend that we are not on a firm doctrinal foundation to recognize the qualitative difference between Christ’s nature as the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior of the World and our nature as God’s children. It does not require a belief that we are of a different species, or that we are not of the same substance as God the Father and Jesus Christ, but it does require the humility to recognize that there is something special about Jesus Christ that makes him intrinsically One with the Father, co-eternal with Him in perfection, in a way that we are not, as our ultimate perfection depends entirely on the grace of Christ, applicable to us through Christ’s Atonement to the extent that we choose to allow it to affect and perfect us.

  98. Sorry about the typos. Typing with a cast on my hand is not very accurate.

  99. Thanks for that, JKC — “The history of persecution against heretics alone is shameful enough to taint the whole idea of the creeds, regardless of the truth of what is asserted in the creeds. That is enough, for me, to explain the statement that the creeds were an abomination, without needing to also conclude that they were on in their content.” That is very persuasive and I tend to agree.

  100. Thomas Parkin says:

    “I have heard Mormon friends deride and reject the idea of an “in-dwelling” of God when that term is used by Protestants and then, without any understanding of the irony, talk passionately about the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. ”

    The scripture makes very clear that it is only the Holy Ghost that can dwell in our heart, and this is only possible because the Holy Ghost does not have a physical body. From D&C 130: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” And also, “John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.”

    That said, if I know and love and friend well enough, and he me, you certainly might poetically say that we dwell in one another’s heart, in an important or even binding way. But I think it is very important to understanding love that we understand that there is not a material in-dwelling.

    “It is supreme arrogance to state that Jesus is the same as us. He is not. He alone could atone. This was not a simple matter of Him being a little better than the rest of us. He is different, because He is the Only Begotten. ”

    I believe you are profoundly wrong here, Steve, in a way that will hamper our ability to reach out to God for understanding. Hebrews says that Christ himself ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God’, and that the redeemer and the redeemed don’t stand in a hierarchical relation to one another. I’ve always loved the way Mormonism frees us from this tension. The gap between God and ourselves wasn’t present at the start, and will not exist at the end. Even now, He is so much more like us than unlike us. As Joseph said, if a man doesn’t understand God, he doesn’t understand himself.

    “appears that Joseph Smith actually taught in the King Follett Discourses that God was once a man as Christ was, not as Adam was”

    This depends on an interpretation of a couple words, and includes the assumption mentioned above that Christ was eternally perfect (note that the assumption that the word eternal means forever unchanging is rarely or possibly never not used that way in the scriptures. Instead we have eternal things that became eternal: eternal life, the earth in its eternal state, etc. Other words, like endless, changeless, and including phrases like ‘without beginning or end’, are also used to denote things that became. See the first part of sec 132. This is a key that we are initiated into by Sec 19. God maybe eternally unchanging, but He did not being that way). Christ did not begin perfect but became perfect, see Sec 90. All this demonstrates, I believe, that there is not a qualitative difference between Christ and Adam, except in their capacity at a given moment in time, and in the important fact that Christ was selected. This is greatly augmented by what has been subsequently taught throughout the church. We leads me here:

    “if Joseph didn’t teach it, and the scriptures don’t either, where are you getting this from such that you seem able to dismiss it as unMormon?!”

    Many things are Mormon that were not taught by Joseph, nor do they appear in the scriptures. The idea that “families are forever” was not taught by Joseph in anything like the form we have it, and it it is not mentioned in the scriptures. And yet it is central to modern Mormonism. I think it is fair to say that these teachings follow a period of revelatory accretion, by a build up of many inspirations, none of which individually can rise to the level of canon. I see just such an accretion in church teachings concerning the nature of God through the BRM years, anyway. At some point it leaves off, and the concentration becomes even more intense on individual sins, societal problems, and endless minutia. There has been very little discussion of these things in the last thirty years. And the Endowment was scaled back in its ability to clarify. This adds up to a big lacuna.

    I know this touches on the ‘what is doctrine’ question – I’m not all that interested in this question because I think that very very very few things should be cemented as doctrine. To me, the thing to believe in, _and to be experiencing on an individual basis_, is the process of learning line up on line, here a little and there a little, through personal revelation. (Again, see Sec 90) What we collectively know (there is actually no such thing as collective knowledge – _we_ do not know anything) or what is taught by the church at any given time is transcended by the knowledge of many of its members, at this point or that. They are under command to keep their mouths shut. (Alma 12:9) What is taught or not taught is of minor importance as long as this process is occurring, as long as the tools necessary to it remain in place.

  101. TP, the beauty of Mormonism is that you can think I’m wrong and still be wrong yourself and that’s OK. I believe you are profoundly off. Somehow we’ll manage.

  102. Thomas Parkin says:

    I appreciate the invitation to guest post. I don’t think I’d do it on this, but I’ve been thinking for several months on the concept of the “unthinkable” and what it means to revelation. Maybe … with me it’s always a big maybe … I actually write it down I’ll send it to you and see if you’d like to run it …

  103. Thomas Parkin says:

    Yeah, Steve. Sometimes we are emphasizing two important sides of the same coin.

  104. Christ, as a man born of Mary, was able to perform the infinite Atonement and resurrect himself based on the divine power naturally within him as the Only Begotten Son of the Father, both fully human and fully divine at the same time. Neither Adam nor you or I possess these characteristics.

    I find your assertion that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, was not perfect from the beginning to be doctrinally unfounded, whether in terms used by JSJ or even later Church leaders in the mid- to late twentieth century, including JFSII and BRM. At the very least, he, as God, created heaven and earth before he even condescended to become incarnate through Mary’s womb.

  105. Thomas Parkin says:

    He clearly did not have to be perfect in order to create the world. (Something done under the direction of the Father, and assisted by Adam (and possibly us) … see the Endowment.) I don’t question that He was a God, and in many ways beyond us, so that we looked on Him with not only love but admiration and wonder, and yearned to be like Him. As for Him not being perfect from the beginning, there are too many examples … but the first one that comes to mind is Neal Maxwell’s saying that it wasn’t until the crucifixion that ‘He became a fully comprehending Christ …’

  106. That was the moment when he perfectly empathized with his physical creation through the infinite Atonement so that we could have absolute faith in his ability to succor us in the pains and afflictions of our own mortal journey.

  107. I guess the question is whether one believes that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are, together as the Godhead, the Most High God to whom endowed disciples of Jesus Christ will become kings and queens, priests and priestesses once they’ve been exalted through the Atonement of Christ and as a result have become like God, or whether God the Father is just another among many gods, each of whom has a first born son who is the “elder brother” of countless spirit children of that respective god.

    From my perspective, there is definitely ample room in Mormon doctrines and teachings to believe in the Godhead as the Most High God to whom we, as his children, will always be subject — and to believe that recognizing that is what constitutes giving all glory, laud, and honor to God the Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

    But from my observation, many Mormons believe one or the other and it leads them in virtually identical paths of righteousness and discipleship.

  108. Thomas Parkin says:

    “whether God the Father is just”

    I would never use the word “just.”

    I certainly don’t believe you’re going to hell! ;)

  109. “I think it is very important to understanding love that we understand that there is not a material in-dwelling.”

    How many Christians teach that, Thomas?

  110. Or, more importantly for this conversation, how many Christians do not teach that?

    That is more my point.

  111. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ray – I don’t have any idea how many Christians teach this or that. People can believe whatever they want. I think that John is wrong when he says that this shift in belief does not also mean a shift in discipleship, however. A change in belief always signals a change in being, as well as the direction of our becoming. I believe that re-inflating the ontological gap that Mormonism so joyously collapsed will mean more religiosity but less actual finding God. More mystery. More mysticism, as I said above.

    But here is really why I even try. Finally, it just all makes me so sad. I’ve been sad since the moment I read this post. It has colored my last couple days completely gray. It makes me feel lonely. The one spot on the internet that I really once felt at home, and I don’t feel it. I can’t sign on to this God that I don’t believe in. I don’t recognize my religion in it. I don’t recognize my Mormon experience in it. I strongly mistrust theological impulse and I don’t have much appreciation for holy holy holy language. Spiritually, I feel homeless, and have for quite some time.

  112. I am very sorry to make you sad, Thomas, but I think yours is the majority view in Mormonism (to the extent that people think about it). Certainly most of my BCC colleagues do not agree with me. It’s my Mormonism but it isn’t yours, which is fine.

  113. Thomas Parkin says:

    No, it’s not you Ronan. Or BCC. It’s an old drama with me. Always on the fringes of every community. Especially the church, as a whole. I think it has to do with how much we moved around when I was a kid. Though my sisters don’t seem to have it. Anyway … No, I appreciate that what you argue you argue in good faith. I sure wouldn’t want bad feelings to exist between us.

  114. None at all. I still want a guest post from you!

  115. Fwiw, Thomas, you are and have always been one of my favorite commenters throughout the Bloggernacle. Whether humor or profound insight, I look forward to reading every comment you post. I think we actually agree more than we disagree in many ways about this topic, overall – but whether that is true or not doesn’t change one bit my view of feelings for you.

  116. Reblogged this on hispanicmormon and commented:
    I received a testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being separate personages when I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is present, and the Holy Ghost appears in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father is heard when he says, “This is my beloved Son.” So all 3 members of the Godhead appear as separate personages in the baptismal accounts.

    Knowing God’s true nature has given me great spiritual power. I feel like I am closer to God as I worship him as the 3 separate personages that he is. For they are all equally God. There is only one God, as the Book of Mormon clearly states time and time again.

  117. Thank you for including Mosiah 15:1-5 here. I had not read it before. It is definitely something to share with Trinitarians who claim that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity.