Is Mormonism Christian?

Related Posts: Four Important Early Christian Creeds; Mormonism and Creeds of Christendom; The Trinity ; The Nature of Christ ; Godhead: God or Gods?

Whether or not one thinks of Mormonism as Christian can depend largely on where one stands in the debate. Mormons would like to be thought of as Christian by others, and I suspect that many non-Mormon Christians do, but many well educated Protestants and Catholics do not. So on what basis is Mormonism Christian or not Christian? In a debate with Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, Dr. Albert Mohler argues, “Are Mormons ‘Christians’ as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy? The answer to that question is easy and straightforward, and it is ‘no.’” (debate here) But why does he view Mormonism as affirmably non-Christian? He writes,

The orthodox consensus of the Christian church is defined in terms of its historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations. Two great doctrines stand as the central substance of that consensus. Throughout the centuries, the doctrines concerning the Trinity and the nature of Christ have constituted that foundation, and the church has used these definitional doctrines as the standard for identifying true Christianity...Normative Christianity is defined by the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the other formulas of the doctrinal consensus. These doctrines are understood by Christians to be rooted directly within the Bible and rightly affirmed by all true believers in all places and throughout all time…The major divisions within Christian history (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism) disagree over important issues of doctrine, but all affirm the early church’s consensus concerning the nature of Christ and the Trinitarian faith. These are precisely what Mormonism rejects. ("Mormonism is Not Christianity")

He also quotes Catholic scholar Father Richard Neuhaus who said that Christianity “is not honorific but descriptive” (Richard Neuhaus', "Is Mormonism Christian?"). Neuhaus writes,

[Christianity] is more than doctrines. Were it only a set of doctrines, Christianity would have become another school of philosophy, much like other philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity is the past and present reality of the society composed of the Christian people. As is said in the Nicene Creed, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That reality encompasses doctrine, ministry, liturgy, and a rule of life. Christians disagree about precisely where that Church is to be located historically and at present, but almost all agree that it is to be identified with the Great Tradition defined by the apostolic era through at least the first four ecumenical councils, and continuing in diverse forms to the present day. That is the Christianity that LDS teaching rejects and condemns as an abomination and fraud.

(He also mentions that there is no doctrine of creation ex nihilo within Mormonism.) Neuhaus uses the words “Great Tradition” and Mohler uses the words “normative Christianity.” In their views Christ’s church has endured throughout the centuries in the Greek or Roman traditions, or is found in the reformations of the Protestant churches. But that the church has endured is beyond doubt for believers like Father Neuhaus and Dr. Mohler. Historical Christianity is bound together by the Bible; common history, including schisms; and agreement in the early Christian creeds. And agreement on the early creeds bind Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity to the early church. Since Mormonism does not profess any of the Christian creeds we have definitely broke with that thread. And as to the point that Mormonism is very different from historical Christianity--it is beyond debate.

‘I damn you to hell’ or ‘I darn you to heck’?
A devout believer from any religion will likely believe his faith is the true one: A devout Catholic believes that salvation requires baptism in the Catholic Church; a devout Protestant believes that salvation comes by accepting Christ’s free gift of grace. So from a Protestant view those who believe and live according to Catholic doctrine (to the exclusion of the Protestant view) are eternally damned; and from a Catholic view those who die without baptism in the Catholic Church are likewise eternally damned. And yet this is Christianity? However, Christianity stands for something virtuous, as expressed by the phrase “living a Christian life.” And its essential corner stone is the founder and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ. “Is Christ divided?”, were the words of Paul. Is Christianity divided? That depends on how the word is defined.

Mohler mentions the Apostles Creed as one of the professions of normative Christianity. Though Mormonism does not profess any of the Christian creeds LDS doctrine does not prohibit me from believing anything that is true. For example, the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; the life everlasting. (For Important Early Christian Creeds)

It is true that Mormonism does not profess any formal creed, and that it must reject the Nicene Creed and similar creeds. But as a devout Mormon I can say that I believe in what the Apostle’s Creed professes. However one could argue that a Mormon could not believe in the phrase “I believe in…the holy Church” since it refers to the Christian church at the time the creed was formulated. That would be a correct observation. To me “holy Church” would refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; just as a Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Christian would apply it to how he believes.

Though it is assumed that the doctrines in the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed can be traced back to the Apostles, it is because of unclarity in the Bible that creeds were necessary. And, it is true that the Bible does not contain an explicit trinitarian description of God. (See The Trinity, Mormonism, and the Godhead.) Though one is free to believe in the Trinity as God--implicit in the New Testament, preserved by tradition, and affirmed by creeds--the link is no stronger than one’s own belief. My own feeling is that the word Christianity should center on the divinity of Jesus, his teachings, life, death, and resurrection; and not “there are not three uncreated: nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible.” But howsoever I may think, the Trinity is a central doctrine of received Christianity and many would argue that it is the central doctrine: Thus, the house (Christianity) is less important than the one who dwells in it (The triune Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). One counter argument is “how be it [Christ’s] church save it be called in [Christ’s] name?” (3 Nephi 27:8). If this is true for Christ’s church is should also be true for the meaning of the word Christianity: in its simplest form it refers to a profession in the divinity of Christ and that salvation comes by him.

The church of the Devil
One aspect of our doctrine that upsets many Catholics and Protestants is we believe there is only one true church. Consequently all other churches are the “Church of the Devil” (1 Nephi 14:10). There is no getting around this, for in God’s view there are only two churches: His True church and deviations from it. God cannot look upon apostasy with the least degree of allowance. While the term “Church of the Devil” is a strong stand to take, God’s stand is nothing less.

Though seemingly harsh, the phrase conveys the idea that God does not recognize any deviation from the true original Church. This idea is something Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons agree on and use in the context of their own religious convictions.[1]

However, apart from doctrinal error and lack of priesthood authority I don’t think of non-Mormon churches as the church of the devil. Though admittedly some Mormons do, and shouldn’t. But I strongly suspect that some Protestants are more keen about spreading the idea that Mormons believe they are the church of the devil than the Mormons are. Often Protestants will say that Mormons believe “normative Christianity” is the Church of the Devil, as if to convey the notion that we believe they are satanic. The Catholic Church and the Protestant churches are not satanic. In the Mormon view all things which inspire people to love and serve God are inspired by God (Moroni 7:13). I view Protestantism and Catholicism in this light: the truth they teach leads adherents to live a truer Christian life. When I use the words “Protestant Church” or “Catholic Church” I am referring to an organized body of believers who profess Christ’s divinity, resurrection, and who live Christian values; not to my view of their doctrinal errors. In this light it easy to separate “Church of the Devil” from the Protestant and Catholic churches--the church of the devil phrase has a narrow definition and some theological value. Some people, wanting to embarrass the Mormons, quote Bruce R. McConkie’s book Mormon Doctrine. “The Roman Catholic Church [is] specifically--singled out, set apart, described, and designated as being ‘most abominable above all other churches,’” reads his 1958 edition (p. 129; italics original; brackets mine). However, McConkie was not an Apostle when he wrote this; Mormon Doctrine is not published by the church or by Deseret Book (a publishing company owned by the church); the passage he bases his conclusion on is open to alternate interpretations; and, when the First Presidency learned of this book they had a committee go through it and Elder McConkie was asked to remove many things that were not established doctrine. McConkie did remove those things and consequently the above quote is found only in the first edition. (Many anti-Mormon writers conveniently set this information aside, which goes back to what I said: many Protestants are keen about spreading this “Church of the Devil” stuff--I say Protestants because we get the most flack about this from them. For example Dr. Mohler.)

Who gets to define Christianity?
One reason for believing that the word Christianity is “not honorific but descriptive” is Mormonism departs from many of the threads that bind Protestant, Greek, and Roman Christianity together. However, there is a simple and profound Christianity that traces itself to Jesus, and Mormonism is part of this. If Christianity is defined in view of traditional Christian orthodoxy then of course Mormonism is unique. But how someone defines Christianity can depend on his relationship to it. Does he believe that the Church has endured through the centuries? Is he an atheist? Or an agnostic? Or a true believer? Christianity may be defined in light of orthodoxy; tradition; normative Christianity; a body of those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins; or from a religio-historic view as a series of historical movements focusing on Christ’s divinity. The Encyclopaedia Judaica defines it as

A general term denoting the historic community deriving from the original followers of Jesus of Nazareth; the institutions, social and cultural patterns, and the beliefs and doctrines evolved by this community. …The vague character of the term provides this wide range of meaning…Christianity can be viewed as a religious institution (whether as a universal church or as distinct churches), as a body of beliefs and doctrines (Christian dogma and theology), or as a social, cultural, or even political reality shaped by certain religious traditions and mental attitudes. (parenthesis original)

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary under “Christianity” defines it as “The body of doctrine that consists of the teachings and way of life made possible by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and the giving of the Holy Spirit.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The religion based on the belief that Christ was the son of God, and on his teachings.” The Athanasian Creed defines it in this way: “The Catholic [i.e. true Christian] Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity” (Four Important Early Creeds). The Jewish Encyclopedia under “Trinity” opens with: “The fundamental dogma of Christianity; the concept of the union in one God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three infinite persons.”

But where does Mormonism fall among the world’s religious traditions? Some people would put it in a class by itself; a class that includes all branches of the Latter Day Saint movement traced back to Joseph Smith. Others put it with Christianity. But an interesting question is where do Mormons put Mormonism. [When I say Mormons I mean members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.]

Do Mormons view Mormonism as Christian? Yes. Mormons believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s restored church. Do Mormons view Mormonism as a religion distinct from normative Christianity? Often. As a devout Mormon I am comfortable referring to Mormonism as a distinct religion and at the same time Christian. This is in recognition that many LDS doctrines are very different from those of received Christianity, and yet that we share a belief in the Biblical account of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.

Final Comments
Do most Mormons believe that the rest of Christianity is Christian? Yes, because we share a belief in the Biblical account of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. But this view contains a proviso that other churches are deviations from the true church. Do Mormons view the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches as the Church of the Devil? From my experience most don’t, but regrettably some do.

There are valid historical and doctrinal reasons for putting Mormonism in a class by itself. At the same time, because Mormonism accepts the Biblical account of Jesus life and divinity, and that he will come again, there are valid reasons to view Mormonism as part of Christianity. For Mormon believers (like me) the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds the true gospel and is the Church of Jesus Christ. So naturally any suggestion that Mormonism is not Christian or is un-Christian is offensive to us. What further adds to the offense is that this is frequently done as criticism or condemnation of Mormonism. But for devout believers such as Father Neuhaus and Dr. Mohler, their view of Christianity and belief in the reality of Christ permits nothing less than a sincere and firm condemnation of heresy.

I must admit, before I started researching for this post I had no idea how central the Trinity was to historical Christianity. As a person who does not believe in it, and having been raised a Mormon believing that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always separate and distinct persons, it took a while for me to realize that the Trinity was a truly foundational doctrine in normative Christianity throughout its history. Most Mormons do not understand to what degree it is emphasized, which only serves to aggravate our incredulity when devout Protestants or Catholics say that Mormonism is not Christian. My original impression of those who used the doctrine of the Trinity as central to their definition of Christianity was that they were simply trying to keep the Mormons out. I have since learned that my perception, for the most part, was incorrect. The Trinity is truly central to received Christianity; so much so it could be said that historical Christianity is the religion of the Trinity.

The debate about how Mormonism should be categorized will rage on. But the most powerful argument for us Mormons is a simple one: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” (2 Nephi 25:26). Then, as Jesus said, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). If we do this then the argument will be made for us.

End Notes--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] A statement released from the Vatican on July 10 titled “RESPONSES TO SOME QUESTIONS REGARDING CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH” reads, “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one Church and instituted it as a ‘visible and spiritual community’, that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. ‘This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic…This Church, constituted and organised [sic] in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him’”.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. responded to the Vatican statement in an article titled “No, I’m not offended” published in the Baptist Press. He writes, “The Roman Catholic Church is willing to go so far as to assert that any church that denies the papacy is no true church. Evangelicals should be equally candid in asserting that any church defined by the claims of the papacy is no true church. This is not a theological game for children; it is the honest recognition of the importance of the question…Gospel. The Reformers indicted the Roman Catholic Church for failing to exhibit this mark, and thus failing to be a true church. The Catholic church returned the favor, defining the church in terms of the papacy and magisterial authority. Those claims have not changed.” (emphasis added)

Michael Otterson, former as director of media relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responded with “No Need to Pick a Fight” in the Washington post: “Of course, I profoundly disagree with this papal argument of Roman Catholic primacy, because on the basis of reason, secular history and revelation I reject the priesthood succession claim altogether. My own church stands firmly on the belief that priesthood authority had to be restored by divine intervention, not reformed, and that the apostles, lay ministry, missionaries and most especially the doctrines of the New Testament seen today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are evidence of that Restoration…It matters not one whit to me that the Catholic and some other churches don’t accept ‘Mormon’ baptisms. We don’t accept theirs either” (emphasis added).

The Trinity

The Trinity, Mormonism, and the Godhead
[In this post I use the word Trinity to refer to a triune understanding of God--i.e. the conventional Christian sense, not the LDS sense.]

Related Posts:
Four Important Early Christian Creeds ; Mormonism and Creeds of Christendom ; Is Mormonism Christian? ; Whom do we Worship? ; The Nature of Christ ; The First Vision ; Godhead: God or Gods?

The first Article of Faith in the (LDS) church is, “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” In Joseph Smith’s first revelatory experience he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ: “I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air” (JS-History 1:17). Thus it was established early on in the church that the Father and Son were not of one essence or of the same substance. The clearest expression of this belief is this: “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” (D&C 130:22). Our belief in the physicality of God’s person cannot admit a rational three-Persons-concurring-in-one-Being view of God.

Does the Book of Mormon teach a Trinitarian view of the Godhead?

One passage often quoted by anti-Mormon writers is 2 Nephi 31:21. There Nephi says, “[Christ is the only] name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.” However, the doctrine of the church clearly states that there are three distinct persons (and not one Being) in the Godhead. One approach to resolving this is to interpret “one God” as referring to the unity that exists between them, and to their purpose. A oneness of purpose as expressed by Jesus: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). In Genesis it reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26); thus God refers to himself as “us.” In the Mormon view this supports the belief that the word “God” can refer to more than one member of the Godhead, or to the Godhead as a whole.

Nephi’s expression could also be attributed to human error. The possibility of error is admitted by Mornoi who compiled the record. “If there are faults they are the mistakes of men,” are his words from the Title Page (see also
Morm. 8:17). He also agonized over the awkwardness of their written language (Ether 12:25). Hence the Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book” (Introduction 1:6), but not “a perfect book.” So it is possible that the true meaning of “one God” was lost in translation and “one God” is the most accurate English equivalent to the original meaning.

Even without these explanations Nephi’s expression falls short of the doctrine of the Trinity which says that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there is one God. What Nephi says, “the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…is one God, without end,” cannot be taken as a Trinitarian exposition of the Godhead. If this passage is an accurate representation of the writer’s intention it invites the question of how the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God and yet distinct persons. (See The Godhead: God or Gods?) But such an explanation does not naturally lead to the Trinity; the Book of Mormon does not say that each is God. Since the LDS view is clear--that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct persons--such explanations are rarely pursued. In practice few Mormons are bothered by Nephi’s statement.

What is the Trinity?

[Speaking for myself, I don’t believe in the Trinity. But I shall do my best to give it fair explanation. Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy has emphasized the need for greater understanding. “You must first present the strongest case for the position you are opposing, one that the philosopher himself could accept,” was advice he received when he was a college student
("Instruments of the Lord’s Peace"). I intend to take this approach with the Trinity.]

The Trinity can be explained as this: there is only one God; and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is each God; and at the same time they are distinct persons. Its most complete early Christian expression is (probably) the Athanasian Creed:

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate: the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible: the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal… (Four Important Early Creeds)

One thing that needs to be emphasized (because this is something not understood by most Mormons) is that the doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely central to historical Christianity: Christian theologian Matthew Henry wrote “the unity of the Godhead is a fundamental principle in Christianity, and in all right religion”[1]; the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “Precisely what the New Testament is, is…the religion of the Trinity”[2]; the Catholic Encyclopedia under “The Blessed Trinity” opens with this paragraph, “The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion--the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.” The Athanasian Creed says, “And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity”[3]. Even the Jewish Encyclopedia under “Trinity” reads, “The fundamental dogma of Christianity; the concept of the union in one God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three infinite persons.” And, when a Protestant or Catholic says “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” he is not referring to the persons of the Godhead as much as he is referring to the Trinity that is the Godhead.

The Trinity (it is believed) is a purely revealed doctrine; it is something human reason alone can never discover; consequently it is mysterious and can never be completely understood. The best approach one can take is to understand what it is, and understand what it isn’t. And within those confines one may pursue understanding. Finally, one must surrender one’s intellect to the incomprehensible mystery of God’s nature.

Arguments relating to the Trinity have two veins: one is to help believers more correctly understand it, and the other is to convince nonbelievers that it is correct.

The word Trinity
The words “trinity” and “triune” are used to represent the oneness of the persons who is God. But these words are not found in the Bible. The first known occurrence is from Theophilus of Antioch (circa AD 180). He writes “In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries [the three days before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars], are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.” (“Theophilus to Autolycus” 2:15). His word for “Trinity,” according to The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, is the Greek word trias. Theophilus does not seem to be using the word in its fully developed sense. It is also used by Origin who expresses God as being three and yet one Person: “one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person.” He goes on to say “which distributes the Unity into a Trinity.” As with Theophilus, his use of the word does not exactly match the current definition. Eventually the word Trinity came into its current meaning.

The Trinity in the Old Testament
The doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the Old Testament. Though it is believed that the Old Testament is preparatory to the revelation of the Trinity of God revealed in Christ. Even so, intimations of the Trinity are present. In Genesis God says, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26), hence there is a plurality in God. Psalm 45:7 reads, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows” (NASB); and “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). In the Old Testament there are four ways of referring to God: there is Elohim (usually translated as God); Jehovah (translated in all capitals as LORD); Adoni (translated as Lord); and el (translated as Lord or God). The word Elohim is in fact plural.[4] Also, expressions like LORD God (Jehovah Elohim) and Lord God (Adoni Elohim) imply plurality in the word “God.”

It can be argued that the reason the Old Testament does not contain an explicit explanation of the Trinity is because the correct understanding of it would come later with Jesus Christ. Thus, it would not make sense to speak of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost before the birth of Jesus and before the power of the Holy Ghost was fully revealed.

Trinity in the New Testament

It can be said that, in the New Testament, the doctrine of the Trinity is everywhere assumed but nowhere explicit. The International Bible Encyclopedia says, “it has been remarked that ‘the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much heard as overheard in the statements of Scripture.’ It would be more exact to say that it is not so much inculcated as presupposed” (“Trinity,” ISBE [1915]). The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of the Bible says, “Even in the New Testament the doctrine of the Trinity is not enunciated, though it is deduced from a collocation of passages and from the logic of their premises.” (“Trinity, Doctrine of the”). The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary says, “The NT teaching upon this subject is not given in the way of formal statement. The formal statement, however, is legitimately and necessarily deducted from the Scriptures of the NT.”

The strongest defense of the doctrine of the Trinity is the Baptismal formula: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). This, coupled with the Old Testament monotheism, creates an impression of a Triune God. Further, it does not say to baptize in the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Nor does it say “baptize in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Ghost”--as if to imply three separate persons. Neither does it say to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--as if to designate three names for the same God. Thus God’s unity and Trinity are expressed.

The sense of the diversity and yet oneness in God is also found in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all”--thus there is a unity in Spirit, Lord, and God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30); “the Father is in me, and I in him” (John 10:38); and according to the Jews Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was “making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). In 2 Corinthians 3:14 Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” Thus the greatest blessings of God--grace, love, and communion--are brought together with God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. When Thomas realized that the resurrected being standing before him was Jesus he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). And Titus 3:4 reads, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,” thus making the Saviour God. And Mark 12:32: “for there is one God; and there is none other but he.” All of these passages coupled with a belief in one God are supporting evidence for the Trinity.

Other arguments

It has been argued that though there is no formal explanation of the Trinity in the New Testament that such a belief was taken for granted among those who wrote the New Testament; and that the examples thus posed are natural expressions from true believers in the Trinity.

It is admitted that there is something incomprehensible about the Trinity, that any attempt to explain it in a layman’s sense (or any other sense) falls short of completeness. Here are two such attempts. The first is that God’s thought must have a perfect object eternally before it; and the perfect object of God’s thought can be only God Himself; if God’s image of Himself is perfect then it cannot be empty or a mere shadow; thus God has a plurality in Him. However, there is nothing in this argument to prevent infinite god-folding. Another argument is that God is love; but love cannot exist unless there is an object to love; thus if God perfectly loves then he must love Himself; if so he must have an object of love in Himself; thus there is the one who loves, the one who is loved, and the love itself--an analogue of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. However, God’s love doesn’t reproduce himself. If it did we would have another god-folding problem.

What the Trinity isn’t
There are a few things that the Trinity is not. For example the statement “John is Catholic” and “John, Paul, and Mark are Catholic.” This only means that Catholic can refer to a single person or several persons; it does not imply tri-unity. So the statements “Jesus is God,” and “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is God” are not equivalent to the statements about John, Paul, and Mark. Along a similar vein Paul can be a husband, a student, and a mechanic all at the same time. However this is not the same as saying his three roles are the same and yet different. The doctrine of the Trinity does not make same the three persons nor does it divide their oneness. These two examples cannot aid our understanding of the Trinity--it merely serves to prevent error. Another thing the Trinity is not, is a modal view of God: the idea that there is only one God and that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three ways that God can manifest himself.

Mormons and the Trinity
Because no human expression can completely capture the doctrine of the Trinity there is no flawless expression of it--in the New Testament or anywhere else. And given that the doctrine of the Trinity is not scrutable to human reason, one can be persuaded to believe in a doctrine that is. On some level the Trinity cannot make sense. Further, there is no scripture in the Bible that says the Holy Ghost is God. Such a belief is inferred from Biblical passages and affirmed by creeds.

All of the scriptural arguments posed to favor the Trinity can also be used to favor an LDS view of the Godhead: that there is God the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Ghost; and they are always distinct; and the words “one God” can refer to all three beings who make up the Godhead. Thus there are three beings that are gods in the Godhead. These three constitute the First Presidency or “Grand Presidency” of Heaven, with God the Father presiding. The objects of our worship are God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ; and also, in some sense, the Godhead as a whole (see
Whom do we worship?). The existence of several Old Testament names for God is seen as supporting evidence for the three-persons Godhead; and the expression “I and my Father are one” expresses the same idea as when Christ said “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). Because we believe that God the Father is an exalted man there is no difficulty in God the Father making his Son (Jesus Christ) equal to Himself.

The word Trinity is occasionally used by LDS Church leaders. In those cases it refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as trinity in purpose--not triune in substance: The Apostle Charles W. Penrose said, “There is the oneness of Deity, the three in one; not as some preachers try to expound it, in the doctrines of the outside world…making them one immaterial spirit-no body, no real personage, no substance. On the contrary, they are three individuals, one in spirit, one in mind, one in intelligence, united in all things that they do, and it takes the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to make the perfect Trinity in one, three persons and one God or Deity, one Godhead.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 13-14; taken from Hoyt W. Brewster, Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, p. 396)

End Notes--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.

[2] “Trinity,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915).

[3] Originally the word “Catholic” referred to the Christian Church generally, not specifically to Roman Catholicism. This is how it should be understood in the Athanasian Creed.

Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Concordance says of the word Elohim: “gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God” (H430; parenthesis original).

Four Important Early Christian Creeds

Four Important Early Christian Creeds

The Nicene Creed; The Apostles’ Creed; The Creed of Chalcedon; The Athanasian Creed

President Hinckley said “Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient tradition, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes of the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved Son, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Look to Christ,” Liahona, July 2002). So I thought it might be of interest to include four important creeds.

The text for each of these creeds is taken from the Creeds of Christendom, by Philip Schaff. The words in brackets are from Schaff; they present clarification and/or latter additions to the text.

Related Posts: Mormonism and the Creeds of Christendom.

The Nicene Creed
(of AD 325)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost.

[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.] (Schaff, 1.2.08)

The Apostles’ Creed
(The Old Roman Form)
(Origin unknown, dates to at least AD 200)

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Ghost; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; (the life everlasting) (Schaff, 1.2.07)

The Creed of Chalcedon
(22 October AD 451)

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us. (Schaff, 2.3.26)

The Athanasian Creed
(Origin unknown, circa 361)

Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith: Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance [Essence]. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate [uncreated]: the Son uncreate [uncreated]: and the Holy Ghost uncreate [uncreated]. The Father incomprehensible [unlimited]: the Son incomprehensible [unlimited]: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible [unlimited, or infinite]. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated: nor three incomprehensibles [infinites], but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible [infinite]. So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord: So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion: to say, There be [are] three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created: but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten: but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another [there is nothing before, or after: nothing greater or less]. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshiped.

He therefore that will be saved, must [let him] thus think of the Trinity. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly [faithfully] the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God: and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he be [is] God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking [assumption] of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance [Essence] : but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell [Hades, spirit-world]: rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father God [God the Father] Almighty. From whence [thence] he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith: which except a man believe faithfully [truly and firmly], he can not be saved. (Schaff, 2.3.27)

Mormonism and the Creeds of Christendom

The Christian Creeds

Related articles: The Trinity; Is Mormonism Christian?; Four Important Early Christian Creeds; The Nature of Christ

All Christendom agrees that the Bible is a fundamental source for church doctrine and practice. In many of the Protestant churches it is the sole authority; as such all creeds are subordinate to the Word of God. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches hold that both tradition and scripture is the repository of authority and practice for the Christian faith; in these matters tradition and scripture are coordinate. However, despite these differences historical Christianity has two sources of common agreement: the Bible and the early Christian creeds. (See Four Important Early Christian Creeds.)

Creeds can take the form of a confession (using the words “I believe”) which can bind together those who are willing to adhere to them. They may contain statements of doctrine and/or condemnation of heresy, thus creating a distinction between orthodox and heterodox; and by this a distinction between Christian traditions: Protestant from Protestant, Roman Catholic from Protestant, or Greek from Roman, etc. Though creeds create doctrinal divisions, the early Christian creeds tend to unite denominations which otherwise might focus on their differences and provides a sense of unity and solidarity among Christians who would otherwise be hopelessly divided. As such the Christian creeds are of great importance to the larger Christian community.

Many Christian movements have at their beginning a statement of faith that outlines their uniqueness. Their creed might further include a condemnation of teachings it considers heretical. More established denominations might write a reactionary “creed” or statement condemning teachings divergent from its own. As such, creeds tend to be born from the doctrinal disputations of the times in which they originate: which reinforces the importance of creeds in historical Christianity. For example, in 1610 a group called the Arminians wrote a five-point statement of faith called Remonstrance in which they rejected several Calvinistic beliefs. The Calvinists responded by issuing their own five-point Counter-Remonstrance. In 1618 the Synod of Dort was convened to address the Arminian question; their ruling was a condemnation of Arminian beliefs.

In its simplest form a creed is a simple confession of faith. The word “creed” is derived from the Latin credo which means “I believe.” Reasons for writing creeds include the reasons already posed and a belief that, for a believer, “of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45). A personal creed can take the form of a testimony, such as the one Martha professed: “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). A formal creed can be seen as an ecclesiastical testimony of belief; something a person who wishes to unite with a denomination must verbalize or agree to.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not profess any of the Christian creeds. When Joseph Smith had his First Vision he asked which of all the Christian sects he should join. He was instructed they were all wrong, that “all their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight” (JS-History 1:19). In another instance Joseph Smith said, “I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’” (Teachings, p. 327).

Because creeds often affirm one set of doctrines and reject others they can have the effect of causing an adherent to reject entirely a different system of belief that does not hold to them. For example the Athanasian Creed was historically an important profession of belief. Its final statement is, “This is the Catholic Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he can not be saved.” Such a profession would tend to prevent an adherent from finding truth in other denominations or religious traditions that reject his professed creed--truths not found in his own religion.

The history of the creeds is steeped in disputes over doctrine, disputes that have at times become exceedingly violent. Such contentions over doctrine are condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ: “neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:28-29).

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil” (Moroni 7:12). While this might sound like a blanket statement favoring only one system, it isn’t. Since truth and error can be found in nearly every religious and philosophical tradition the effect of such a statement is to encourage a thoughtful consideration of the arguments, coupled with the possibility of acceptance. A Latter-day Saint is free to adopt a “cafeteria” style approach to teachings found in other religious and philosophical systems, only with the proviso that such teachings do not contradict or discredit established LDS doctrine.

The nearest thing to a formal “LDS Creed” would be the Articles of Faith which contains thirteen statements of belief, twelve of which begin with the words “We believe” and one begins with “We claim.” These thirteen articles contain statements all Latter-day Saints can believe in, and may also serve as a short statement of belief for those who are unfamiliar with LDS teachings. (Becoming a Latter-day Saint does not require any liturgical recitation of these articles, but members of the church are encouraged to know them verbatim.) Though one might be tempted to label the Articles of Faith as a creed they do not serve the purpose that Christian creeds have traditionally served: they were written twelve years after the church was organized and were not crafted by an ecumenical council as a reaction to heretical teachings. But rather, these thirteen points are from a letter written by Joseph Smith to John Wentworth (the editor of the Chicago Democrat) which summarized Joseph’s religious experiences and the history of the church. In 1880 the Articles of Faith were included in the LDS cannon of scripture (“Articles of Faith,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

Because Mormonism holds that the primitive Christian church fell into apostasy very early in its history--1st or 2nd century--none of the creeds of Christendom are accepted as authoritative. And, many contain doctrine that the LDS faith rejects--such as the Trinitarian view of God. (See Godhead: God or Gods?) Further, a belief that God has restored the office of prophet means that doctrinal issues are settled by revelation or otherwise are left alone. As such the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be labeled a “creedal” faith.