Mormons sometimes think that the word “Mormon” is the reason Christians don’t think we’re Christian. Well, no, that’s not the problem. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Evangelicals, Methodists, Baptists, Anabaptists, Presbyterians and Calvinists are Christian. No one is confused by a denomination’s nickname into thinking the denomination isn’t Christian.
The reason most Christians don’t think Mormons are Christian is because their pastor said so. But if you get into the doctrinal and historical reasons that Mormons aren’t acknowledged as Christian by most other Christians, you find out that Mormon teachings bring up ideas that the Christians stamped out more than a millennium ago when they formulated the Nicene Creed in about 400 A.D.
Now the dialogue goes like this:
Mormons: We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He saved me from my sins. Therefore, we are Christians.
Catholics and Protestants: There’s more to being a Christian than just believing Christ is the Savior. You young whippersnapper religion, not only are you bringing up ideas that we stamped out more than a thousand years ago, but you’ve somehow made them WORSE.
Communicating our thoughts to other people requires a language. Language requires words. To be mutually understandable, words have to have definitions that are understood and used by both parties. If you’re using a word, thinking it means one thing, and another person is using the same word, sure that it means something else, you’ll talk past each other. Christian is a word with a definition that was hammered out about 300 to 400 A.D. Christians aren’t going to change the definition of Christian at this point, no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from the word Mormon.
Mainstream Christians are Trinitarians. A basic understanding of the Trinity as taught in the Nicene Creed, and the debate that led to the Nicene Creed, is vital to understanding the fundamental disagreements that separate Mormon theology from Trinitarian theology. The LDS rejection of the Nicene Creed’s doctrine of the Trinity is the main reason that Trinitarians don’t consider Mormons to be real Christians. The fact that many Mormons don’t know much about the Nicene Creed and the Trinity complicates the discussion.
I’m going to simplify some deep concepts and complex history for the sake of fitting these huge ideas into a blog post. I’ll put references in the footnotes for anyone who wants to do a deeper dive.
Arian v. Alexandrian
In about 300 A.D., a debate that had gone on for many years came to a head. The debate was about HOW Jesus could save us from our sins. Everyone agreed that Jesus was the Savior and saved people from their sins, but how exactly did he do that? Where did he get the power, authority and status to do something as mystical as saving someone from sin? There were two main theories in answer to this question.
The Arian theory was named after Arius, a priest. These ideas had been around since Christ and Arius became the most visible face of this theory. The Arian theory was that Jesus Christ was born a man. Because of his exemplary life, God adopted Christ as his son and sacrificed him to redeem humanity, resurrected him, and made Christ divine. That means that Christ was not always God. He was born as an ordinary mortal three hundred years before Arius and was exalted to Godhood either during his lifetime or at his resurrection.
The teaching that Jesus Christ was born a man set off a theological puzzle. How could a man who came into existence less than 300 years ago be God? According to Arians, Christ earned his deification by growing in wisdom and virtue, setting a perfect example for all of us. Arians believed that ordinary mortals can follow in Christ’s footsteps and attain the same status. Christ was thus an intermediary between man and God and if ordinary mortals followed his example, they had the potential to become gods as well. (Sound familiar?)
Other Christans strongly disagreed. At this point in history, the main spokesman against the Arian doctrine was Bishop Alexander of Athanasius. Alexander argued that God was eternal, omnipotent and unchanging. Only a Being of such power could save mankind from moral and physical destruction. If Christ was any less than God at any point in his existence, he could not save us. Demoting Christ to a deified mortal destroyed the work of salvation and left humanity in its fallen state and doomed to hell.
To restate: Christ’s sacrifice redeemed all humanity — that point was not in dispute — the dispute was about when Christ became God. Arians believed Christ could save us from our sins even though he was born a mortal and became God at some point after his birth. Alexandrians believed that Christ was always God, who condescended to come to earth in mortal form in order to save us.
The debate raged for decades. Eventually, the Arians were destroyed, banished or converted to the doctrines recorded in the Nicene Creed. The solution to the puzzle of Christ’s divinity was to combine Christ’s substance with God the Father’s substance. Christ was begotten and not made. The Nicene Creed teaches that there is one God with three facets. This one Being is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. They are a three-in-one God, in which God manifests differently depending on which role he is fulfilling, but there is only ever one personage. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.
In this way, Trinitarians explain how Jesus Christ could be divine enough to save us from our sins. Separating God and Jesus Christ would demote Christ to an ordinary mortal whose existence began at birth, just like everyone else. Combining God and Jesus Christ allowed Jesus to draw on God’s eternal nature and divine status.
In addition, the Arian idea of separating God from Jesus Christ would mean there was more than one God. That sort of polytheism was too much like paganism, which Christians wanted to avoid.
The Mormon Doctrine of the Pre-Existence
The LDS Church does not combine God the Father with Jesus Christ, but teaches that God has a physical body and is separate from his Son Jesus Christ, who also has a physical body. “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.
This separation of God the Father from his son Jesus Christ echoes back to the Arian controversy. Trinitarians believe that if Christ was separate from God, then there was a point in time when Christ was not God (heresy), and therefore he was not powerful enough to save us from our sins. Mormons solve the conundrum of Christ being both separate from God and as divine as God in an entirely novel way: the premortal existence.
Jesus Christ’s spirit was not created by God, but has always existed. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith recorded Jesus Christ saying, “And now, verily I say unto you, I [Jesus Christ] was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn.” D&C 93:21. Jesus Christ, in spirit form, was a God before he was born on this earth, coeternal with God the Father and obedient to God in carrying out his plan for this world.
Because Jesus Christ’s spirit is eternal, he does not need to be combined with the personage of God the Father to draw on God’s eternal nature. Because Jesus Christ was God before he was born, his sacrifice could save us from our sins. Mormons thus reject the Arian doctrine that there was ever a time when Jesus Christ was not God, and also reject the Trinitarian doctrine that Christ must be combined with God in order to draw on God’s eternal nature and divine status. Mormons teach that Christ is God and he saved us from our sins, but the doctrinal backdrop for HOW Christ has the authority and ability to save us from sin is unique in Christendom.
Trinitarians do not have the doctrine of the pre-existence. They typically believe our existence began at birth. Our body and soul is created by God when we are gestated and born.
The Nature of Mortals
The eternal nature of the souls given to mortals is another roadblock in Trinitarians accepting Mormons as Christians. Even worse than separating God and Jesus into separate entities is the Mormon doctrine that all of fallen humanity is co-eternal with God and Jesus. Our spirits have always existed, says Mormonism. For mortals to claim eternal status exalts humanity to the same stuff as God, or drags God down to the same stuff as humanity, depending on how you want to look at it.
Lorenzo Snow’s couplet (as man is, God once was; as God is, man may become) is Christian heresy. The only reason God/Jesus can save us from our sins is because they are God, fundamentally different from fallen mortals. The Book of Mormon teaches that only an infinite and eternal God could save us from our sins:
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.
My interpretation of these verses is that no mortal or human could atone for our sins. Words like “infinite” and “eternal” are words that refer to deity, to God. Jesus could save us from our sins because he is a God, infinite and eternal. Mormonism accepts that doctrine, and in addition to it, teaches that humans are co-eternal with God and Jesus and that we could someday progress to become like them.
Every suggestion that Mormon theology makes that God was once a mortal man in need of a Savior horrifies Trinitarian Christians. God was never man; God never needed a Savior. God has to be fundamentally different from us, and far above us, in order to save us. Eternal progression is blasphemy and we’re not going to be allowed in the Christian Club with a teaching like that in our doctrine.
Christian doesn’t just mean “Jesus saved me from my sins.” Christian also includes specific beliefs about the relationship between God and mortals and the connection between God and Jesus.
Here’s the tl;dr of why Trinitarian Christians will never accept Mormons as Christians:
- The Trinitarians spent a hundred years stamping out the idea that God and Christ are separate beings; they’re not going to reconsider that decision.
- Believing that mortals can be exalted to divine status was a heresy that was also stamped out 1700 years ago. Again, Mormons aren’t going to persuade Trinitarians to revisit that decision.
- If God and Jesus are separate beings, then Mormons are polytheists. Trinitarians are monotheists.
- Trinitarians don’t believe in a pre-existence for human souls. If we say God and Jesus are separate beings, then we’ve demoted Jesus to an ordinary mortal created by God at birth just like the rest of us. No mortal can save other mortals from their sins. A Jesus who is separate from God can only ever be a teacher; he can’t be a Savior.
- The doctrine of the pre-existence makes Mormons even bigger heretics. Suggesting that mortals have eternal souls puts us too close to being like God. We’re dragging God down, which destroys his capacity to save us from our sins. God/Jesus has to be different from us if he’s going to save us from our sins.
- There aren’t enough Mormons to change the definition of Christian to include ideas that the Christians violently (seriously – people got murdered) rejected centuries ago.
- Can we please officially bring back the word “Mormon” now that we all understand that it’s our doctrine that separates us from mainstream Christians and not That Word?
- Do you care whether other Christians accept Mormons as Christian?
- Let’s talk about the first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet (As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become). Do you believe that God was once a mortal man in need of a Savior? Go ahead, drop some blasphemy into the comments.
“Are Mormons Christian?” Gospel Topics Essays. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, undated article. This essay states that one of the reasons mainstream Christians (Trinitarians) do not accept Mormons as Christians is because Mormons do not accept the creeds of post-New Testament Christianity. The creed is not described or named, but likely it is referring to the Nicene Creed. The essay does not describe what the Mormons accept instead, other than to state that Mormons believe in the ideas of Christianity from before the creeds were written.
My comment: The essay neglects to consider that the LDS teachings about the premortal existence are not taught in the New Testament. When reading the scholarly evaluations of the doctrinal disputes that led to the Nicene Creed, I didn’t see any thread of thought that taught the pre-existence of souls. Given the centrality of the premortal existence to the LDS concept of God, Christ, the afterlife and eternal progression, it sure would be interesting to find out if scholars of early Christianity have found any indication that the original Christians believed in a premortal existence. The LDS Church teaches that Joseph Smith restored truths that were lost, but there aren’t any hints that the pre-existence was ever taught and then lost. I’m not scholarly enough to draw official conclusions from that, but I would love to see an early Christian historian do a deep dive into any possibility that early Christians believed in the pre-existence. That might be an easy yes/no question that would prove whether Joseph Smith ‘restored’ early Christian teachings or just straight up created a new theology.)
Ehrman, Bart D. How Jesus Became God. HarperOne, 2014. The authors of the New Testament had differing views of Christ’s divinity, according to Ehrman, who traces the textual evidence for clues as to what the earliest Christians thought of Christ and whether he was born a God, or was exalted to Godhood when he was baptized or resurrected. This book explains the history of the ideas that eventually came to a head in the Arian controversy and resulted in the Nicene Creed.
Grudem, Wayne. Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know. Zondervan, 2005. The doctrine of the Trinity is explained in simple terms in chapter 3, p. 37-41. It doesn’t go into any history.
Rubenstein, Richard E. When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. This book contains the political history, biographical descriptions, and explanation of the theological debate between the priest, Arius, for whom the Arian Controversy was named, and Bishop Alexander of Athanasius, whose counter-arguments formed the foundation of the Nicene Creed. This quote from p.115 summed up the issue: “Athanasius’s answer, later expressed at length in his ‘Four Discourses Against the Arians,’ is that Arianism is fundamentally anti-Christian, since it leads logically either to the conclusion that Christ was a man, which is the Jewish position, or that he is a second God or demigod, which is pure paganism.”
“Wilford Woodruff’s couplet…”
It was actually written by Lorenzo Snow.
“Wilford Woodruff’s couplet…”
It was actually written by Lorenzo Snow.
Lorenzo Snow’s couplet?
I would argue that the real core of LDS – Trinitarian differences are rooted in creation ex nihilo. Trinitarians point to a God which is OUTSIDE of time and material creation, and there is nothing created (good or evil) which was not created by God. Hence Trinitarians struggle philosophically with the problem of evil and the Calvinist end of the spectrum limits humans influence on their eventual condition (predestination). God is radically supreme and philosophically quite culpable.
Latter-day Saints are obviously very different. God is INSIDE of time (although Neal A. Maxwell proposed he was not, but he was quoting a Trinitarian) and composed of matter (physical body). He relates to his children on a personal level in the moment. His power is not truly absolute, for spirits have agency, lessening the problem of evil. Matter and spirit cannot be created and God possesses a material body. Free will is much more pronounced with choices having real consequences. The idea of a heavenly mother also conflicts strongly with the Trinitarian worldview.
When I think about the LDS “Great Apostasy” narrative or of “plain and precious truths” being lost, I have definitely thought about the different movements now deemed to be “heretical” that would have existed in the first 3 centuries of Christianity…very interesting to think about that!
In responding to some of your other comments, I think that there are some differences between traditional Christianity and Mormonism that are commonly misunderstood by both sides.
For example, you have Trinitarianism as a major difference here. But I do not think that traditional Christians and Mormons would disagree *that* strongly on the Trinity itself. Rather, Mormons (and indeed, your post does it, actually!) are likely to misinterpret Christians as believing in modalism (which is actually a heresy) because of a misunderstanding of how “3 persons, 1 being” actually works. (This is because, for humanity, we use the term interchangeably. We say human beings (plural) when we probably want to say human persons (plural) who are all 100% human being (1 singular species).
The LDS Godhead is like an “office” that has 3 members, whereas the traditional Christian Trinity is a “species” that has 3 persons. (Alternatively, I have heard some people propose a “social trinity”…this would be something both LDS and traditional Christians agree on…In this sense, the Trinity is the “relationship” that has 3 participants. The persons of the Trinity are individual and distinct, but the Trinity is the relationship between them. This should hopefully serve as a good analogy of the “3 in 1” type concept. There must be more than 1 individual *person* to have a *relationship*, but the *relationship* is not many, but 1. [Even this analogy is a bit flawed, so don’t get things too twisted. For example, in human relationships, we might refer to each participant as 1 part of the relationship. E.g., “my spouse is my better *half*”. But in the Trinity, each person is NOT “1/3” of God. This is why I like the species concept. As a human, I am not 1/(however many billions) part of humanity. I am 100% a human being, but also my own person. The confusion is that we say human beingS (plural), but this is why theologians would say all analogies fail…)
Most theological heresies came about either from failing to acknowledge the unity of “species” OR from failing to acknowledge the individuality of persons. Modalism (e.g., “God is 3 facets, manifestations or roles of the same person”) fails to acknowledge the individuality of persons. But Arianism (“Jesus does not have the same uncreated substance (“species”) as the Father”) fails to acknowledge the unity of “species”.
Athanasius’ solution isn’t to eliminate the individuality of persons within the Trinity, but to propose a “hypostatic union” — it’s actually a much weirder solution. Athanasius is not saying, “Jesus is the Father.” or “Jesus is the result of the Father incarnating as human” or “Jesus is the Father taking a separate role as son.” Rather, Athanasius is saying that the uncreated, eternal Trinity are 3 persons (father, son, holy spirit) who each share the “divine nature” (uncreated, eternal, immaterial, etc.,) However, within that Trinity is the person Jesus who is a union of 2 “species” or natures…an eternal, uncreated divine nature or “species” and a created, material human nature or species that is not eternal.
While we can definitely talk about the differences between “office” and “species”, I don’t think this gets at the KEY difference between traditional Christianity and Mormonism with respect to the nature of God. I think the key difference is what you put later on as the “nature of mortals”…in traditional Christianity, God is radically and indivisibly different from humanity because God is a different *species* than humanity is. Whereas…in Mormonism, God and humans are the same species — that’s the “heresy”!
I think most of the other differences flows from the heresy of species. E.g., establishing the Father has a body of flesh because he’s the same “species” as humanity, just more evolved or advanced, is really just a downstream effect of the original “heresy”. Eternal progression, etc., flows from that.
“They are a three-in-one God, in which God manifests differently depending on which role he is fulfilling, but there is only ever one personage.”
That is not an accurate statement. I think that when defining the Trinity, we have to be careful to not step into modalism or Sabellianism, which I think this article (and many Latter-day Saints) tend to do. Trinitarians argue that there are three persons of God in unity at the same as demonstrated at Jesus’ baptism. Three persons in divine unity… that is the God of the Trinity. Trinitarians have no issue with either 1 John 5:7 or Acts 7:55.
Also, there are variations in modern Christian thought, some of which border LDS interpretations. These include Social Trinitarianism and Open Theism.
Being from the south, other “Christians” (mostly evangelicals) have told me that LDS doctrine is from the pit of hell for all my life, so at this point I really don’t give a damn what they think about what I believe. I’ve come to learn that if they’re mad at me, then I must be doing something right. 😆
Though the main three branches of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant) may agree on a few core doctrines, they still can’t come to a consensus on countless other doctrines (sola scriptura, Christology, ordinances, etc…). It’s like an ink blot test. You give a group of Christians a random scripture and they’ll see 15 different things. It’s just a cacophony of endless noise. I would much rather stick with the quirkiness of “Mormonism” than jump down the rabbit hole of numerous branches/denominations.
Two quotes that sum up my previous comment:
“And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” – Joseph Smith
“I would rather be a Mormon damned to hell than not be a Mormon and not know where the hell I’m going.” – J. Golden Kimball
I know I’m an imperfect man, but I can’t fathom being cast off to hell for simply not “believing” correctly. I’ve strived to love God and my fellow man while being a Latter-day Saint, and I can’t imagine anything more Christian than that.
Andrew S is right about the “same species” problem. This is another reason why Christians react in horror at the prospect of Jesus and Lucifer being brothers in LDS theology.
I don’t mean to be dismissive, as this is a very thoughtful and well-reasoned post. It’s just that as I get older, the harder it is for me to care about these kinds of issues. Does anyone truly believe that we’re going to be grilled about theological Trinitarian distinctions before being allowed into heaven?
As the Church drifts into irrelevance because it refuses to confront its misogyny, homophobia, and racism, we comfort ourselves by pretending that this kind of dogma is in any way useful. It just isn’t.
I care if people emulate Jesus and live lives of kindness and love. I don’t give a rip if Jesus is begotten or made or whose substance is who’s.
In a faith that focuses on the nature and importance of the eternal family, God and Christ are taught as a father and son team who hang out together.
In theology, the Father & Son use the Holy Ghost as their Wingman to help them get and maintain relationships.
And that gets called the Holy Trinity.
For me, I am not so sure Christianity, nor Mormonism, has figured out the true nature of the Godhead.
The rest of the Christian world doesn’t accept us in their club for the reasons you have mentioned. But what’s more concerning to me is how Joseph Smith changed his views on the nature of God and the Trinity AFTER the First Vision. That was a major shelf braker for me. You would think an in-person visitation would clear a few things up but the evolution of JS’s theology took place many years AFTER 1820. Oh well.
“Christians as believing in modalism” — except I’ve known a lot of Christians, in some cases doing a weekly Bible study with them for years, and many, many, many of them are modalists. That was actually a surprise for me.
The fun thing about the debate between the Arians and the rest was that they competed with top twenty songs (well, the songs used by dock workers (thing the scene in Les Miserables where the convicts are singing as they work) that would spread out into the community). Our modern dockworkers don’t work to a cadence kept by singing songs with theology embedded in them.
Imagine Madona, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift as the faces of theological debates.
clarification: what I meant to say above is that JS changed his views on the Trinity and God not as a result of seeing them in the First Vision but many years later as he developed his theology. The First Vision did NOT clarify these issues for him. It’s as if the visit never really happened.
The council unfortunately does not have the authority to define christianity. There were many versions before the council and many versions today. If you believe in repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost while following Christ your christian imo.
this is the everlasting covenant imo
The Book of Mormon as a whole is much more aligned with modalism than what is taught today as the Godhead.
Thought-provoking post, Janey. You posit that the pre-mortal existence is how LDS theology (such as it is) elevates Jesus to Godhood status. However, I believe that more than that, it’s the teaching that he is the “literal” only begotten son of God in the flesh that makes him half mortal, half divine (note that gods consorting with mortals who then bear offspring who are mortal/immortal is a common myth in all cultures). This has been taught over the pulpit by GAs for generations. So it’s really these two things that make him divine: first born in the Spirit and foreordained to be the Savior, and literal son of God in the flesh.
All that being said, I just can’t take scripture, dogma, doctrine, so literally anymore and think it’s about as important as debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I’m with Mike Spendlove that following the teachings of Jesus is far more important than coming up with some imagined myth/story of who he was and how he came to be.
I’ve been involved for over 30 years in interfaith dialogue. Suffice to say in the early days we (our stake in the NE) were invited to join a local interfaith organization. I was assigned by our SP to be the LDS rep in the organization. Then the Lutherans objected. That objection led to months of long dialogue on the topic and whether we could remain in the group. After many months the Lutherans backed off just as the Catholic rose in opposition. In a meeting the Catholic representative read a letter signed by the Catholic Bishop that was pretty harsh. The messenger turned to me and the rest of the group, she started to cry, and said I am sorry I have to read this. At the conclusion of the meeting the Presbyterian representative, a highly regarded member of the clergy, and pioneer in the civil rights movement said to me, “Don’t worry about that letter. It was not written by the Bishop, it was written by one of his theologians. Those guys don’t have a clue when it comes to practical religion.”
The reality is that the subject of the post is a theology exercise that has and will continue to take a back seat to practical religion. Fast forward 30 years from that dialogue. My wife was the LDS representative on the board. of the same organization. She had to resign when we received a call to serve a mission in South America. They asked me to attend with her, her last meeting. The group, including the Catholic rep, presented us with two olive wood crosses from the Holy Land. Then they stood, joined hands, and prayed for the success of our mission. Now, we’ve been home 6 years and I am serving on the board. The point is that the question posed by the post is so unimportant today, and indeed irrelevant to all except the most hardcore evangelical Christian.
Frankly, if one really studies the history of the development of the creeds it’s hard to place much weight in them. They were heavily influence by politics and territorialism where the winning side in the debates often had little to do with theology and more to do with the consolidation of power. Read the history of the Medici popes and the masacre of lowly priests and monks at the order of politically appointed bishops. I think every religious tradition, including ours, should tread lightly when trying to define God, or the Trinity.
Mormons spend a lot of time trying to be “Christian” and it’s a wasted effort. Mormonism was founded on being a restored version of Christianity but have slowly over the past two hundred years and more quickly in the past 40 years tried to become more like other Christians. Mormons will have to reject their origins to be accepted and until then, they are missing out on the chance to truly be something unique, different, and maybe even Christlike.
I really enjoyed the OP. It did a good job of summarizing the debates leading up to the Council of Nicaea, which from Emperor Constantine’s perspective also had a political dimension as well. NT scholar Bart D. Ehrman referred to the Nicene Creed as a paradoxical affirmation for all of the reasons cited. That was not to be the last word on the subject. There would be later councils called to further try to further resolve the theological issues involved, which would contribute to the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
“Let’s talk about the first half of the Wilford Woodruff couplet (As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become). Go ahead, drop some blasphemy into the comments.” Don’t mind if I do… 🙂 I’ll add the quote by Ezra Taft Benson (among others), that “We are gods in embryo.”
As I juxtapose an embryo to a full grown human adult, it’s striking how different they are, and makes me think how different a full grown human adult must be to whatever they will become if they become a God/Goddess. It makes me re-think my expectations for the next life. An embryo can’t imagine or comprehend being the CEO of a large corporation, or a firefighter, or a mother or father. An embryo can’t really understand anything about what it’s like to be a human. Likewise, I figure I probably am incapable of understanding what a God/Goddess is actually like, or what a God/Goddess actually does.
I think the Trinitarians might be right when they say that we are dragging God down to the same stuff as humanity. Not that the couplet is wrong, just that we think we know more about God (and how much He and We are the same) than we actually do.
I am with the people who say this theological nit picking doesn’t matter. What we believe about Jesus’s godhood doesn’t help us behave more like Jesus.
But I do enjoy a great discussion of intellectual topics that are essentially irrelevant to real life. Just for fun.
But in furthering the whole irrelevant discussion for the sake of intellectual games about angels on the head of a pin, yes, early Christians did believe in a pre-earth existence. It was not the kind of pre-existence Mormons currently believe in, but the kind some early Mormons believed called Multiple Probations. It was the belief that we came for multiple mortal human incarnations, reincarnation. But Emperor Constantine didn’t like the idea that he might come back as a poor commoner, so he ordered that conference at Nicene to declare reincarnation false. And I don’t know much of the history of this belief within Mormonism but we obviously no longer believe we are given more than one shot at this all important test of our righteousness. I do not know how those who believed in reincarnation among early Christians viewed Jesus. Did they believe he had progressed through several reincarnation until he reached near perfection and was ready to become a god himself, or that as the same “species” as God, that he only had the one incarnation as God.
And, I have never heard the term “species” used before to explain the trinity and that most certainly was not what the Catholics I worked with at Catholic Family Services believed. They believed Jesus was in some mysterious way, one personage with God, different manifestations of one being.
I really like this post. I think it is important for Mormons to understand how other Christians believe in order to engage with them better. With 2 hours of church (well, most of my years consisted of 3 hours of church) every Sunday for decades, early morning seminary 5 days a week for 4 years, 4 years of BYU religion classes, and 3 hours of day of gospel study while on my mission, you’d think that I might have had a lesson or two on what other Christians believe, but I never have. Sure, I’ve had plenty of lessons on what Mormons believe in these areas with insults thrown in directed at the rest of Christianity, but I don’t believe I’ve ever had a honest lesson on what other Christians believe. That information has come only through my own personal reading. There are so many useful and interesting things we could be learning in all of these classes that we have as Mormons, yet we just continually rehash the same material over and over again regurgitating the same answers to the same old questions like robots. I once had a friend in my ward give a sacrament meeting talk in which he joked that there were really only 10 Sunday School lessons that Mormons ever teach. Afterwards, I approached him and asked him what the other 3 lessons were, and we had a good laugh.
Mike Spendlove’s comment resonated with me. While I do find it interesting and useful to understand what other Christians believe, I am honestly confused about why people were killed over these kinds of beliefs centuries ago and why people care so deeply about them today. Obviously, there are plenty of people out there who care very, very deeply about having the right way of thinking about the Trinity, the pre-existence, and the nature of man, but I guess I’m just not one of them. I really think that if Mormonism matched traditional Christianity’s version of the Trinity and the nature of God and man, that it really wouldn’t change much at all for me. The traditional Christian beliefs in these areas seem OK to me. I’m fine with the Trinity, no pre-existence, and not having the potential to become God in the future. Traditional Christianity, like Mormonism, offers the possibility of happiness after I die which I think is the main thing that I care about when it comes to discussions about the pre-existence and post-mortal life.
What I do care deeply about are the things that I can actually see and do now. I feel strongly that our mortal lives have a purpose and that there is an afterlife. I believe that learning to follow Christ’s teachings of love, peace, charity, and inclusion is the main purpose of our lives, so that is what I’m striving to do now. If I did have a pre-existence, I can’t remember it now, so it doesn’t have a lot of importance to me. I’m here now in a beautiful, yet imperfect world, and I’m just trying to do my best to make it a better place. I do believe in an afterlife, and I have hope that I will be happy there whether it’s the traditional Christian heaven or the Mormon heaven (I have a feeling that neither have it even close to correct, though). That said, the afterlife is currently a mystery to me. Do I really need to know anything more about it than I can be happy there? My plan is to just try to be the best person I can be by following Christ’s teachings, and I’ll find out what the afterlife really is once I die. I can embrace that mystery. What other choice do I really have?
“Do you care whether other Christians accept Mormons as Christian?” To me, the most important aspect of Christianity are the beautiful teachings of Christ. Mormons believe in the words of Christ that are found in the 4 Gospels. For that reason, I feel it is unfair to for other Christians to not want to allow Mormons to refer to themselves as Christians. It seems like a desire to follow Christ’s teachings should be the only necessary qualification to call oneself a Christian. The centuries-long struggle to develop the “correct” beliefs by traditional Christianity was about just that–having the correct beliefs–not about the word Christian. If traditional Christians would like to say that Mormons aren’t “traditional Christians”, then that’s totally fine with me because it’s absolutely true. However, for traditional Christians to say that they own the English word “Christian” seems unfair.
“Trinitarians are monotheists.” Well, they might think they are, but real monotheists (Muslims and Jews) don’t agree. The deeper I dig into Christian theology, the less respect I have for Christian theology. It’s all just handwaving. I mean it is interesting, and helps one understand Christian history and conflict, and helps one understand what Christians think. Well, maybe what Christians are supposed to think. The average Christian embraces half a dozen heresies without even knowing it.
To your list of books, add Philip Jenkins’ Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (HarperOne, 2010).
Just a note — definitely not suggesting that the term species would be used. The technical theological terms are “being”, which is a modern English term for what in the past would have been “substantia” (“substance”) or “ousia” (“essence”)… Those three terms are contrasted with “person” (“hypostasis”). I’m just trying to come up with an analogy to try to explain the difference since the English terms “being” and “person” aren’t super helpful.
Certainly, the Trinity is a “mystery of faith”, needing revelation rather than being something possible for humans to grasp through reason alone, and I would agree with some other commenters like Stephen that in practice, a lot of Christians end up restating modalist heresy.
But there *is* a difference between person and being in the theological sense, even if from a lay person or colloquial sense, we have lost this. The summary of the Trinity is: “three hypostases in one ousia” — where in English, hypostasis is like “person” and “ousia” is substance, essence, or being. But many of us equate person and being. (e.g., 1 person is 1 human being…2 people are 2 human beings). When the “being” of “ousia” is like…essence, substance, nature, etc., etc., It’s more like saying, “2 persons share 1 human nature.”)
I know my comments on this thread are probably the most “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” impractical theological ones, but I do think there *are* some practical impacts of how we view God and humanity.
Mormonism’s thoroughgoing emphasis on free will, rejection of original sin, tendency toward works righteousness, etc., all stem from a view that humanity and divinity are differences of development, not an unbridgeable difference in kind or species. (E.g., no matter how good a dog is, a dog will never be human. No matter how good a human is, a human simply cannot be divine in a traditional Christian concept.)
I actually think that Mormons will therefore be more at risk of scrupulosity or other maladaptive obsessions or compulsions of religious observation than, say, a “sola fida” Protestant (who may be more at risk of not doing enough, because he believes it’s all about professing a certain belief.)
There is a kind of depression or anxiety or guilt or disappointment with feeling that one hasn’t “done all they could do” to “earn” grace that I think is probably more prevalent in Mormonism. Certainly, there are people trying to recontextualize grace in an LDS concept, but I just don’t see us as having the same feel as Protestants.
In contrast, I hear Protestants talk more about how “freeing” their view of God is. Because it’s not up to us and we don’t have to try to be God. There’s more of a “surrender” mindset. (That being said, I think this creates other issues. If God created everything out of nothing, then the seeming imperfections or cruelties of this universe also seem in some way attributable to him. Whereas in Mormonism, the whole “everything is co-eternal” means God has limitations, but also avoids certain responsibility.
If being “more like Jesus” means brute forcing my way through programs and work (which LDS views can tend to create), I’m not interested in.
Instead, I much more like the Protestant (especially Calvinist) view, which is that God must regenerate my heart and then naturally I will be transformed over time into more Godly behavior. But what do I know — I’m just a faithless reprobate and vessel fitted for destruction who is not part of the elect, so the ways of God are all greek to me.
Instereo: “Mormons will have to reject their origins to be accepted…”
I think this is true. It won’t matter how closely we resemble other Christians on these doctrinal issues (or how well we explain it when we don’t) if we hold to everything in Joseph Smith’s story.
All this thoughtful discussion is great! Thank you all for your contributions. Sorry I am late to the post.
@kmarkp and Old Man – I changed Wilford Woodruff to Lorenzo Snow. Thanks for pointing that error.
@Old Man – the way you describe God being either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ of time sounds to me like different words for the same concept that I was trying to communicate. I like your description too and I hope it helps others to see the same concept in different words, i.e., that the LDS God is closer to mortal humans (we’re all inside time).
@Andrew S – whew! I had to read your post twice to puzzle out modalism and how it’s different from what I said, and I’m still not sure I understand it. Those books I referenced did talk about a hypostatic union, but really comprehending it was beyond me. I was going with the simplified question, “If you invite God to dinner, how many plates do you set?” In the hypostatic union, would there be 3 plates or one?
That said, I agree with (and understand) the way you restated the idea that the real heresy is that Mormons make God the same “species” as mortals, whereas mainstream Christianity believes they are separate “species” (and indeed, if they were the same species, God would not have the power to save us from our sins).
@Old Man – same response as to Andrew’s comments about modalism. I need to study it more, because I don’t understand the difference between that and what I said.
@Southern Saint – I agree with you about all the different beliefs of the many different brands of Christianity! That’s why I tried to take the 10,000 foot view and speak only in the broadest terms. And apparently, I still got it wrong. 🙂
@Mike Spendlove – sure, yeah, lots of the W&T community believes the way we treat people is more important than the fine points of the theology we believe. I’m one of them. But it’s still interesting to discuss. The Church is pretty convinced that understanding the true nature of God is important, and apparently doesn’t know that it’s our doctrine and not our nickname that is the reason mainstream Christians don’t accept us as Christian.
@Damascene – agreed that the true nature of the Godhead is probably something no mortal really understands.
@josh h – the timing of JS’s development of thought about the nature of the Godhead would be really interesting to dive into. I wonder if it coincided with the revelation about the three degrees of heaven? He needs separate members of a Godhead to reign over three different levels of heaven … Honestly, I’ve never looked into this much but it would be interesting.
@Stephen R Marsh – ha! I am vindicated! There are Christian modalists! Still not sure what that means. 😉
Remember the sea shanty phase of the pandemic lockdown? We totally need to have theological debates couched in modern pop songs. That would liven things up.
@Bryce Cook – you are correct. I didn’t include the teaching that Christ is the literal son of God’s body. Good point.
Yes, this is all talking about angels dancing on the head of a pin and the way we treat people is much more important.
@Dave – There is a wide gap between theologians and practical religion. That said, I do think it’s more than just hardcore evangelical Protestants who think Mormons are going to hell for the doctrine we teach about God’s nature. I’d add anyone who thinks religious doctrine matters, and there are Protestants and Catholics who believe that, even if it isn’t their top priority.
@Instereo – yes, it’s a wasted effort to try and fit in with the biggest Christian groups.
@Raymond Dunn – thanks. And yes, there were more meetings as they worked out the theology. The two books I cited had some good information about them.
@aporetic1 – I also think the Trinitarians have a point about us dragging God down to our level. Personally, I don’t agree with the couplet.
@Anna – interesting info about beliefs in reincarnation!
@mountainclimber – I had to dig to find this info! I’ve gotten most of my knowledge of other faiths from outside reading. I’m not sure I’d trust Church to teach me what others believe, but I hear you! Although, I do remember an Ensign article about Islam, years ago.
@Dave B – thanks for the book recommendation.
To all the commenters who suggested the topic of this post is irrelevant: RMN went and banned the word ‘Mormon’ in an attempt to make the world acknowledge we’re Christian. This post is an attempt to explain why that just won’t work. It’s more than our nickname that separates us from other Christians. I want the word Mormon back. If anyone from the COB ever reads this, put this post into a memo and submit it to the Q15. Tell them RMN’s rebranding effort is futile and he needs to bring back “Mormon.”
And I also want to address this idea, stated by several commenters but I’m snagging the sentence from mountainclimber: ” I am honestly confused about why people were killed over these kinds of beliefs centuries ago and why people care so deeply about them today.”
Many people do care deeply about the nature of God and our relationship to him, which at its heart is what this discussion is about – how are we like God? How are we not like God? Are you sure we can be forgiven for our sins? What is our potential?
To update the discussion for current events, think of the debate about sex and gender in the eternities. That debate is a result of beliefs about God, our relationship to God, and what goes on in the eternities. Does God condemn gay relationships? Did God intend sex to be only/primarily about procreation and anything else will damn you ot hell? Is gay sex such a horrible sin that the Republicans are carrying out God’s will by introducing legislation to burden and/or ban gay discussion, education or lifestyle? Are trans people so evil in wanting to change the body that God gave them that children shouldn’t even know that trans people exist? Women are created to be mothers – risking their lives by banning abortion is God’s will because women would be damned for eternity if they get an abortion, so she’s better off dead than to have an abortion. I mean, take the hatred, vitriol and strong emotions that surround questions of sex and reproduction nowadays. It’s all centered in religious beliefs. People have died because of those religious beliefs.
And yet today’s debate is also so … irrelevant. Why should the nature of God and the doctrine of eternal progression in families be something mortals are willing to believe in so strongly that they shrug and ignore the deaths of those who disagree? (I’m referring to the higher suicide rates among LGBT, the health risks for pregnant women, medical discrimination against LGBT that results in treatable conditions going untreated, violence against trans individuals, hate crimes against LGBT.) People are being killed, or being allowed to die, because they don’t share the Christian and Mormon beliefs about God’s will for our bodies.
Well, this gets complicated because 2 of the persons of the Trinity do not have bodies and do not eat 😉 So you shouldn’t confuse a potential answer of “1” for there only being 1 person in the Trinity.
But if the question is: how many persons/people are you inviting?: it’s 3. Both LDS and non-LDS Christians should agree with this (which is why I don’t think the Trinity is the major difference). Other than the fact that the Father and Holy Spirit are immaterial and do not eat, anyone saying “1” is doing some kind of heresy. Both LDS and non-LDS Christians should agree (for example) that Jesus was not “praying to himself” — because the Father is a separate person than the Son, not just “modes of the same person.”
The hypostatic union describes *only* Jesus. (this can be possible because…Jesus is a separate person than the Father and Holy Spirit.) The hypostatic union describes that of the three persons of the Trinity, one of the persons (Jesus) has two natures or essences. The nature of being divine is to be uncreated and eternal. There are certain traits that come with this: the philosophical argument would be that matter cannot be eternal, so an uncreated/eternal thing must be non-material. (obviously, Mormons disagree with this…) The Father and the Holy Spirit are not a union of divine and human…they are just divine, and therefore immaterial. (All depictions of the Father are only metaphorical. The father is immaterial, so he is not a physical man with white beard, etc., Even saying “Father” is metaphorical. The father does not have a body, so he does not have sex organs and is not limited to human notions of gender.)
In contrast, the nature of a human is to have a body, mind, and spirit.
So, the hypostatic union is saying that Jesus is a person with 2 natures: an uncreated, immaterial divine nature…and a created, physically embodied human nature. How is that possible? Here comes the refrain: it is a divine mystery of faith.
In contrast, other heresies deny one of the two natures. Arianism is a way of saying, “Hey, Jesus isn’t eternal and uncreated, so he cannot have a divine nature. He is just a human.” There’s a different heresy called Docetism that argued kinda the opposite. “Since Jesus is a divine being, he could not be constrained to a human body, so his body must have been fake. He is just God/divine”. The hypostatic union rejects “either or” and says “both and”. “Jesus is both human and God.”
From a classical theist perspective, one reason humans cannot become God is because you cannot take a thing that is created and make it uncreated and eternal. It’s just not logically possible to do that. To a classical theist, it’s like suggesting that a dog could become human if only they worked really hard over a long period of time. That’s just not possible. A dog can mature into a mature, fully realized embodiment of “dog-ness”, and a human can mature into a mature, fully realized embodiment of “humanity”, but a dog cannot become human, and a human cannot become the uncreated, eternal God.
Andrew S, all right, I think I understand what you are saying. So, according to your definitions, the Catholic Father I worked with believed in one of the heresies. But then he was perfectly willing to admit that he didn’t really understand the concept, because the whole concept was confusing and is not something humans are *capable* of understanding. I remember him saying that human language doesn’t have words to really describe the mysteries of God. I just thought that was dodging the fact the it really doesn’t make any sense to say we worship one God who is three persons.
Jane, maybe “irrelevant” isn’t the word that I want. Because, yes what we believe makes a big difference. But we only want it to be true one way or the other. We don’t know. But we pretend we know. Then we use the difference as an excuse to hate those who don’t agree. So, for me, by saying the discussion is irrelevant, for me that means more that we make it way too important. If we had a mustard seed of humility that would tell us that we really *can’t know.* All our speculating isn’t knowledge, and doesn’t increase knowledge. It is all opinion. It is all opinion, yet people kill each other over it. So, here are our ancestors fighting wars over something that they want to be a certain way, but really can’t prove. And here we humans are today rejecting each other over something that we just will not ever really know. But we want to be right, so we have this big culture war, with some of us trying to kill each other over the whole problem that we can’t stand to not know. Maybe I am saying, “dammit, it should be irrelevant.” And maybe that stand is too close to being agnostic, because it is saying that we really can’t know about God. I choose to believe in God, but I honestly don’t know what “God” is.
But the discussion is fun, even if we are just tossing opinions around.
I definitely will say that “mystery of faith” is also a technical term. So just saying that something is a mystery of faith isn’t necessarily heretical and my understanding is that it is actually doctrinal to say that there are some matters that must be accepted through faith and not solely through reasoning from nature.
At the same time, I totally get that it’s very easy for anyone to try to explain things in a heretical way, and I probably also have gotten things wrong in one place or another lol.
Nothing to add other than to say that Andrew is the best source if one needs a full explanation of Trinitarian doctrine. It warms my former-Mormon-turned-Anglican heart to hear these profound ideas expressed in all their spiritual beauty and intellectual sophistication.
Andrew, thanks for the additional explanations. I think I grasp the essence of what you’re saying – Jesus was able to combine divine and mortal substance/essence, but God and the Holy Ghost are ‘just’ of the divine substance/essence. I don’t understand that well enough to explain it to someone else, but I can see the difference between what I said in my post and what you said, so that’s progress at least. Thanks!
Anna – I love the way you said that: “dammit, it should be irrelevant.” Yes, absolutely, why can’t we all just admit that our ideas about God are opinions and the only thing that really, truly matters is the way we treat each other. I wish it was irrelevant too.
Christian is that Christian does, all else is irrelevant.
Intensive in-depth research, aka a google search, has lead me to the conclusion that the “how many angels” meme is an anti-Scholastic, anti-Catholic canard perpetrated by a 176h c. English Protestant.
And just to top off a wonderful discussion, it is now time to listen to St. Patrick himself explain the Trinity (Note: this video was produced by a Lutheran org.)
I head read somewhere that it was understood that some early Christian erroneously believed in a pre-existence, as expressed by Jesus’s disciples asking who sinned, the blind boy or his parents? But this misunderstanding was eventually “cleared up” by leadership.
I think the reason why some other denominations do not consider Mormons to be Christian is only tangentially related to theology. Because 99% of people who call themselves Christian don’t actually care about theology. Theology seems like a big deal because there’s a lot written about it, but all of that writing comes from a tiny fraction of Christians.
I think the opposition to ‘mormons as christians’ is almost entirely a social and a paraphernalia thing, which Mormons themselves largely perpetuate. Sure, in the early days of the church, many of Mormonism tenets would be considered rank heresy, additional scriptures, reinterpretation/rejection of the trinity, man becoming like God, etc. But again that stuff only really offended theologians, which there weren’t many of. Mobs did not go after JS because he claimed to have seen God (lot’s of people were running around and doing that at the time), or because he was saying that god the father and Jesus Christ were sperate dudes, no, the mobs were after him because he was upsetting the social order of the day. The Church would also like us to think that people hated/hate the Mormons just because of ‘different beliefs’, but really it was all of the ploygamy and attempts to create a new theocratic sociopolitical order subject to no other authority but its own. Stealing peoples’ women and having enough local power to (at least temporarily) get away with it and make it a local ‘normal’ thing and getting enough converts to move in and sway local politics in their favor is what makes for angry mobs, not theological differences.
Fast-forwarding to more modern times, our separation from Christianity is something that we unconsciously perpetuate. No crosses, lay clergy in business formal garb, a very ‘in your face’ proselytizing model, building giant temples that stand out from their architectural surroundings, creative our own little insular local communities, frequent insistence that we are unique and special, etc. We don’t even really call ourselves ‘Christians’ that much or even use that word all that much in general. We only use it when we insist that we actually are Christians.
So bit a long comment, but I think the issue is much more of a material/social thing than a theological one. Most people largely do not care about theology, people DO care about how you talk about yourself and about how well you play with others.
I agree that the current jihad against using the ‘mormon’ and ‘LDS’ is pointless and wasn’t even that big of a deal in the first place. What is interesting though, is despite the eschewing of these terms at official level, I don’t think it’s done very much to make us seem more ‘Christian’ to others, and it won’t as long we keep deliberately acting like we’re more special and walling ourselves off from others.
I think if we participated more with other Christians in our local communities and dropped or at least deemphasize the posture and rhetoric of being uniquely integral to the salvation of the planet then I think other denominations would be more accepting of us despite the theological differences.
We are all the products of our various beliefs and values. The Old Testament Prophets spoke in their times of God, as did also Jesus in his time. But now we have scholarly critiques of Judaism/and JESUS fit or non-fit within the same, as also of Jesus as a divine being in the New Testament. Mainstream Christianity which has existed since New Testament times, is the safest bet, despite having some atrocious history. The LDS Faith is a ‘Newby’ within the Christian Community, and to a large extent its extra-curricular scriptures have been discredited, particularly so with the BOM and POGP as authentic historical documents. It has added to the controvesey by the construction of temples in which doctrinal teachings and practices are taught which were never part of ancient Jewish theology, nor of New Testament times with Jesus. Safer to remain with mainstream Christianity, in my opinion, but each to their own. My current attitude towards Christianity is that if one is satisfied with one’s religious beliefs, mode of worship and practice, which add value to one’s life, why would one want to change, such modes of belief and values. God and Jesus will ever be controversial subjects of belief, worship, and values but just so long as all demonstrate both love of God and Man through moral conduct both the world and the individual will be better for it. Just saying. God and JESUS are the shepherds of the all the various breeds of sheep within the greater flock..
“They are a three-in-one God, in which God manifests differently depending on which role he is fulfilling, but there is only ever one personage. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.”
No that’s not, this is the heresy of modalism.
Well written post.
There’s a whole book on your question:
Terryl L. Givens. When Souls Had Wings: Pre-mortal Existence in Western Thought.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
I believe Mormons are Christians. The reason some people don’t has to do with several issues. https://catalyticministries.com/press/
“The Real Reason Mormons Aren’t in the Christian Club”
I am TEMPTED to read yet another “The Real Reason” post but probably not. Swallowing camels while straining at gnats. There is no “Christian club”.
So, uh, do you consider yourselves to be monotheistic and not, say, tritheistic? How does your rhetoric go?
Trinitarianism arises from an obvious set of problems: Is Jesus God? Is the Holy Spirit God? If so, then how many Gods are there? If just one, then how could God be born,or die? How can Jesus be both God, and God’s son? Did he impregnate his own mother? etc. Every possible answer results in either tautology or heresy!
Nothing to do with the Trinity, but I do note some Mormon motifs in gnostic writings like the Gospel of Philip (celestial marriage).
Oh, and who would you have to please to get into the Christian Club? (There is the WCC, but admission is very politicized, like the UN.) UUs , JWs , and Oneness Pentecostals aren’t Trinitarian. Neither are many Quakers or some Disciples of Christ members. CofC churches are, but I’m sure they’d put in a good word for you!
I’m not saying there aren’t things that aren’t adequately explained by the Trinity. After all, even the official theological response is to say, “It’s a divine mystery.” But conflating persons and being leads to questions like this. Again, I accept that there are definitely elements of the understanding of the Trinity that are rightly acknowledged as mysteries of faith (so one isn’t supposed to reason one’s way into it), and I also accept that is a huge copout to anyone who isn’t already convinced, but….
1. When we say “Jesus is God”, we are saying something like “Jesus has the divine nature.” When we say “The Holy Spirit is God,” we are saying something like “The Holy Spirit has the divine nature.” And then there is a 3rd statement, “The Father is God” which is saying something like “The Father has the divine nature.”
But it’s important to note the following as well:
1a. Jesus is not the Father. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are separate *persons*. (I think the issue comes because we often use the shorthand “God” as equivalent to the person of the Father. Which is fine but we should acknowlege when we and when the scriptures are doing this.
We should also acknowlege where this shouldn’t take us, because if we aren’t careful, we might get into some super fun heresies if we go too far of assuming that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are lesser than, or subordinate to the Father, or that *only* the Father is worthy of the name God.
1b. Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are not to be understood as 1/3 of God, or even as 3 separate *beings*.
2. So, what is “nature” or “being”? Well, there are certain kinds of traits of things according to their natures. E.g., the nature of humanity is to be comprised of members with a body and spirit, to be separated and distinguished from one another by having separate bodies and separate spirits, and to reason (not just be driven on instinct.) There are other things we can think of, but this is an illustration of the concept.
The nature of God is to be (insert divine attributes, such as necessary, simple, without parts, etc., etc.,) A lot of people will get caught up and say, “Well, how can you just attribute those things to God? And the answer would be: OK, just for argument sake, acknowledge that if there is any being that is the “ultimate end” then these are the traits that must be present. If you are talking about something that doesn’t have those traits, then it’s not the ultimate end and is not God in a classical sense. Think of classical theism as someone saying, “Where does the buck stop?” and wherever the buck stops is defined as God.
So, for example, saying, “God is immaterial” is derived from the logic of something like: material things are contingent (they don’t HAVE to exist.) For a being to be necessary, it must be immaterial, so we can “derive” this as a trait for God. (This is used to derive all the other aspects necessary of divinity. “Divinity” or “God” is just what we call those combination of traits.
So, then, you get into the questions like, “If just one, then how could God be born or die?”
Well, *God* wasn’t born and didn’t die. God is immaterial, eternal, etc., However, the person Jesus born and died.
So, this gets into the question: well, then if Jesus was born and died, is he really divinity? And this is where different people had different ideas. Some said, “Jesus is human, so he isn’t divine. He was born, so he couldn’t be eternal.” Some said, “Jesus is God, so he couldn’t really have been human. His body, birth, death, were only illusory.”
The orthodox position is to assert a union of two natures — the “hypostatic union.” That is, rather than saying, “Jesus is just human” or “Jesus is just God”, to say “Jesus is fully human” and “Jesus is fully God.” Jesus the human was born, lived, suffered, died. When John 1 is talking about “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” this is getting at Jesus as fully divine, eternal etc., yet a separate person from the Father.
I’m not going to say I know how someone can be 100% human and 100% God. That’s the divine mystery. I’m just saying: that’s the teaching.
Because in the first use of God, we are using it in the divine nature, and in the second use, we are using God as shorthand for the person of the Father. Same thing as “The Word was with God [the Father and the Spirit], and the Word was God [the person of Jesus.]”
Basically, if we go up to my earlier part of, “is Jesus really divine or human, or both,” we can say that in those early centuries, those camps *already* were established, and the historical record is that Orthodoxy won out with a certain set of propositions (the creeds as they were). Oneness Pentecostals are just rehashing a form of modalism along with a form of monarchianism. Again, it’s very possible to say, “well, the creeds got it wrong” — I mean, the LDS church insist this with the Great Apostasy narrative. But even this is claiming that *someone is wrong about being Christian*.
What doesn’t make sense is to try to insist you’re the *same thing* as everyone else, when you aren’t.
One distinction fundamental to the Mormon doctrine that is missed here is a third component of the soul besides flesh and spirit: intelligences. The intelligences are like how you described spirits. My reading of the doctrine implies that they always existed because the spirit of prophesy always existed and hence we saw them when they were created as spirits and with physical bodies.
But I digress. The important distinction is that God the Father is literally the father of all of our spirits, so we did not exist as spirits until we were born with spirit bodies into his family. This is the only Mormon belief that antagonists use to say we believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. This is also the belief behind salvation from sin and death implies that we are brought back to our original family to dwell with god forever. This also implies the ability for us to be like god, and affords the argument against Alexandria that any salvation that doesn’t allow the saved to reach their godly potential is really no salvation at all.
And a little more digression: Another argument against the Alexandrine position is that there were saints and apostles that were cleansed from sin, That means that they also were born in earthly bodies but emerged without sin.
And I almost forgot: wars cannot eliminate belief s, and it is unfair to martyr s to suppose otherwise. Even pernicious ideologies like Naziism survive after our finest wars to destroy them. It is a grave logical mistake to assume that once all believers are eliminated, the belief can no longer be true.