The Mormon faith is unique in its teachings of the nature of God. We teach that God is literally the Father of our spirits, which means we are the same species and destined to the same potential (Romans 8:13). We also believe that God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct individuals (Acts 7:55,D&C 130:22). In contrast, most Christian faiths teach the concept of the trinity as found in the Athanasian and Nicene creeds:
“We worship one God in trinity, and trunint 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 spirit; but the godhead of the father, the son, and the holy spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the father is, such is the son and such is the holy spirit. The father uncreate, the son uncreate, the holy spirit uncreate. The father incomprehensible, the son incomprehensible and the holy spirit incomprehensible.” Athanasian Creed.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; 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.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Nicene Creed
According to ‘Catholic News Herald:
“The Nicene Creed explains the Church’s teachings about the Trinity and affirms historical realities of Jesus’ life. The creed does not directly quote Scripture, but it is based on biblical truths.”
“The theological dispute threatened the peace of the Roman empire, so Emperor Constantine – at the request of several concerned bishops – called for a meeting of all the Church’s bishops in the easily accessible town of Nicaea (present-day Iznik, Turkey), organized like the Roman Senate with himself as a non-voting observer. The council met in Senatus Palace (which now lies under Lake Iznik).”
What Does It All Mean?
I will not attempt to explain the creeds, but in short they were an effort to explain passages in the Bible which were sufficiently unclear to lead to theological dispute. The LDS faith teaches that this dispute of doctrine was a result of a general apostasy (2 thes 2:3; 2 Pet 2:1; Jude 1:4) and over generations, the teachings of the early church were lost or abandoned. Rather than returning to revelation, the government of the time gathered church officers and determined doctrine through debate and discussion.
It is unclear what is meant in the creeds by “the majesty co-eternal” or where the bible teaches ‘the father uncreate, the son uncreate, the holy spirit uncreate’. Nor is there any clarity on what it means to be ‘one substance with the Father”. As the Catholic reference suggests ‘it is based on biblical truths”. That is, the doctrines of the creeds are based on references in the bible, but are not found in the bible. Jews and Muslims criticize the trinity doctrine as a word play to hide the fact that Christians believe in more than one God, but people love to criticize what others belief in order to gain followers so I would not put too much credence in this criticism.
The LDS church takes a different approach. Rather than creating doctrine through consensus and creeds, all doctrines are found in the scriptures. Furthermore, any disputes of doctrine can only be resolved through added revelation. Canon, in the LDS faith, is not closed.
I used to engage in theological debates with critics from other faiths concerning how to properly interpret the bible but have learned that such debates are fruitless. If doctrine could be settled with an appeal to the bible there would be, as the early church enjoyed “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). This luxury, of course, is no longer enjoyed because, for lack of a better explanation, teachings were lost. If the trinity could be proven, then the entire world would embrace it the way they embrace the concept of gravity.
I had the creeds explained as follows: ‘If I were to summarize it, God is one person with three separate natures and he can manifest himself in each of these natures”
Mormons, on the other hand, make no effort to use word plays per se. We declare that there are more gods than one and that God the father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three very different and distinct individuals. We interpret ‘one’ to mean one in purpose rather than one in entity. We find support for this teaching in the bible, but the bible is sufficiently vague that no given dogma can find safety in its pages. What does the bible say about this matter concerning the nature and number of God(s)?
Genesis 1:26 Let us make man in our image.
Genesis 3:22 man is become as one of us
Matt 3:13-17 Here we have Jesus in the water being baptised, God the Father speaking from heaven above, and the Holy Ghost descending like a dove – three people in three distinct locations
John 10:35 is it not written in our law, ye are gods
1 Cor 8:5-6 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,). But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
Jesus here is teaching that, although God the father is one God, and Christ is one savior, there are others he considers to be gods, as explained in John 10:35.
The passage made famous by Handel, “God of Gods”, is most telling. This creates a bit of a conundrum if there is only one God, and all other gods are false. Such a passage would then be teaching that Jehovah is God of false gods. This is like me going before the court as an expert witness and I establish my credibility by claiming I know more about the subject than my child’s imaginary friend. If he is God of Gods, there must be other Gods. Who are these gods?
The scriptures are clear that there is only one God, only one creator and Supreme Being who we worship, but since we are his children, we are destined to become like him. My children have only one father. Although there are fathers and mothers many, I am their only father.
Yes, there are many verses in the bible that refer to one God, but nothing turns on this. Just as my children have one Father, so do we have one God. For us, as we find in Deuteronomy, there is one Saviour and one God. We worship God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. He is God, but more than that. He is our Creator, our Saviour, our Advocate, our Master Teacher. The title of God, and the title of God the Father are not synonymous, and this is where the problem arises, and this is why there was a need for the councils so many centuries ago. Being a god is not the same as being The God.
Gods Creative Work
Is it sacrilegious to suppose that we can become like God? I counter with this: is it sacrilegious to suppose that my children can grow up to be an adult like me? The reality is, a successful parents aim is to raise children to be better than they were. Parents who have adult children who continue to be dependent upon them are regarded often as failures. Yet, for some reason, many embrace the belief that God created children that will never equal him in glory, and who will forever be dependent upon him for all eternity. To me, it seems to be a bit sacrilegious to suppose that God is so bad at creating children that they can never be as competent as He is. But does this mean Mormons get to create their own planets? If you read Genesis you will see that there is a council of Gods and the creative process of the universe is guided by this council. We have the potential to join this council, to be part of God’s creative work.
The author of Hebrews says that God “hath appointed” Christ heir “of all things” (1:1-2; cf. 1 Peter 3:22). Further, we learn in Romans 8:15-17 that the faithful are “joint-heirs with Christ.” Therefore, if we are faithful we will inherit all that Jesus received from the Father. Godhood.
In Revelation 3:21 we are given this straightforward promise: “To him that overcometh will I (Christ) grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
The writings of the ealy church fathers also teach this same concept:
But if thou art desirous of also becoming a god, obey him that has created thee, and resist not now, in order that, being found faithful in that which is small you may be enabled to have entrusted to you also that which is great. Hippolytus
What does this battle over dogma mean? Will a kind and charitable person who believes God is a stick go to hell while his murderous selfish neighbour who believes in the ‘proper’ notion of God go to heaven? What this means to me is that we should be a bit open minded to how people interpret the bible and not assume that just because a certain doctrine has been taught for thousands of years it is right.