Sunday, October 08, 2006

Nicene Creed and Trinity

Ever since the martyrdom of Christ’s Apostles there has been confusion and endless debate over the nature of the Trinity. The scriptures describe the Godhead as containing three members, namely: God our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost. In 325 AD Constantine called Christian scholars to what is now known as the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicaea to debate and vote on the nature of God. The Nicene Creed as it came to be known has since been amended several times beginning with the Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds in 451 AD and, more recently, the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646 AD. This latter amendment states: “There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions.” Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christian churches generally accept these creeds as authoritative doctrine on the nature of God. (http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Creeds.html)

Despite the apparent agreement by many Christian denominations concerning the Trinity, the Bible clearly describes God in seemingly differing terms. There are several verses such as, “God is a spirit,” “God is love,” and “No man hath seen God at any time,” which seem supportive of these creeds (John 4:24, 1Jn 4:16, John 1:10, 1Jn 4:12). On the other hand, there are other scriptures, that read, “God created man in his own image,” “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend,” and “For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you, lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee,” which, seem contradictory to the doctrine that God is “invisible” and is without “body, parts, or passions” (Gen. 1: 27, Ex. 33: 11, Deut 6:15).

Some would look at the current evidence and ascribe the apparent doctrinal discrepancy to an imperfect and inferior understanding of the Nature of God by Old Testament prophets. I think this argument borders on arrogance. It also ignores many other teachings of New Testament Apostles and disciples that also speak of God having a glorified body, parts and passions.

At the martyrdom of Stephen the Bible reads, “[Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55). This verse, by itself, clearly teaches that not only do Jesus and God the Father have glorified tangible bodies, but also that they are two distinct and separate Celestial beings.

Latter in the New Testament, John teaches “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn 3:2). This verse speaking of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ states that the righteous will appear like Christ at his coming. If that be the case, then reason follows Christ will also appear like the righteous. Acts 1:11 verifies this logic as the Angles at Christ’s ascension to heaven declare, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

On a summer morning in 1820 in Upstate New York, fourteen year-old Joseph Smith left his home to pray in a neighboring grove of trees. He had read James 1:5 which reads “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all me liberally and upbraided not.” Joseph felt the Holy Spirit urge him to seek wisdom from God concerning which of all the Christian Churches was Christ’s church and which he should join. There in what is known as the Sacred Grove, Joseph Smith beheld the First Vision. Joseph recounted, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Joseph Smith saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son of God. They were two separate radiant, perfected, and glorified beings who spoke to Joseph face to face, just like Moses, the Son on the right hand of the Father, just like Stephen. Also, Joseph said of this supernal experience, "my heart was filled with love for days afterward." Now the debate concerning the nature of the Trinity, which had raged for nearly 2 millennia, was resolved in an instant.

Matthew 16:13 teaches the importance of direct revelation in understanding the nature of God. It reads, “Jesus. . . asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The church of Christ was to be built on the rock of direct revelation from God to Peter, who was given the keys and authority to interpret scripture, receive revelation, and speak and act in the name of God.

God reveled to Joseph Smith that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost constitute the Godhead or Holy Trinity; that they are three distinct, glorified, and perfect beings who are one in purpose; and that God the Father and Jesus Christ have perfect, glorified bodies, parts, and righteous passions, but that the Holy Ghost is a personage of Spirit as to be able to dwell in our hearts and in all things.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Having stumbled upon this blog and after reading your entry, I could not help but make some observations. I think you mis-characterize the controversy regarding the nature of the Trinity. The debate over the Trinity had not 'raged' over two millenia. Sure there was disagreement even after the Nicene Council had settled this issue, but for Christians the issue was settled. For the Arians, it was not settled. In human activity, there are really no controversies ended, but there are settled issues and the Trinity was certainly one of them. Christ had promised to be with His people always and it was in the Councils and in His Church that these issues became settled. The Trinity is simply three persons in one God. The new Arians--Mormons and other like folk--would have us believe the the question raged, but it did not. And, this is where the sadness is so profound, that people with such a desire to serve the Father in Heaven and Jesus, do not serve the Same Father and Jesus that other Christians believe in and have practiced. Mormons do not believe in the same Jesus Christ that Catholics and Protestants believe. Simple fact but true. Joseph Smith saw something that day, but it wasn't the Christ of the Bible. Further, he hardly settled any 'raging' issue regarding the Trinity. In the end, Christ was not some 'supersized' or man elevated to Godhead, but the one true Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This is the same Christ that promised to be with us always despite heresies and apostasies. His Church did not die at the time of some Great Apostasy, but it survived and challenged the known world to come to know Him in all of His perfection. The truth ahd been carried and lived down through the centuries a testimony unto itself. The new and everlasting covenant that Christ instituted did not die. Nothing needed to be restored.

God bless.

BRoz said...

Let me be clear on this point. LDS are not Trinitarian. That is we do not accept the Nicean and later creeds with regard to the nature of God that He is without body, parts, or passions and that Jesus and the Father are the same being.

However, LDS are not Arians in the accient or modern sense. Arius not only opposed the Nicean creed but taught that God the Father and the Son did not exist together eternally, that Jesus Christ was not always God, that the pre-incarnate Jesus was a divine being created by and inferior to the Father.

LDS believe that Jesus Christ was always God, is God, and will be God forever as a member of the Godhead and he is co-eternal, co-equal, uncreated as God with the Father from the beginning.

Jesus condescended to veil his glory and majesty to be born as a man Immanuel, and as such was created the Only Begotten Son in the flesh. However, Christ's eternal Sprit always existed, was uncreated, and was always God.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. It becomes clear and is frankly stated that Mormons do not believe in the same Christ that other Christians believe in. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks further for the clarification. Like the original Jerusalem Council in the Book of Acts, the Nicene Council was called, and it clarified and settled the various disputes regarding the nature of Christ. In calling Mary, the Mother of God, it clarified the nature of her Son, Jesus Christ, when the Holy Spirit joined with her to form His Incarnation. Thanks be to God. The Trinity is Scriptural and so fundamental, that to deny it is heretical. It is not a Godhead of three separate gods, but it is three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God. In order to create a construct and give credibility to Joseph Smith, it is logical there had to have occurred a great apostasy.

In view of the LDS, the Nicene Creed must be zenith of this alleged apostasy, as well as the earlier Apostle's Creed, used by the Apostles themselves.

The Holy Scriptures say that God the Father is a spirit and that we must worship Him in Spirit and Truth. They also say that Christ will be with us always.

The LDS doctrine states that God the Father has a body, and that there was a great apostasy so complete that it tore the Church away for a certain time, which would deny that Christ was always with His Church, and that it took a restoration of the Gospel. In doing so, what is amazing is that the LDS doctrine changes even the original doctrines of the Faith that existed at the time of Christ and thereafter.

The LDS doctrine denies the True Christ.

While I honor LDS folk and have many as a friend, the doctrine is a construct. God bless you.

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Anonymous, who accepts the Nicene council as authoritative and the Trinity as Biblical. The Nicene council was a gathering of lawyers and philosophers; unlike the earlier apostolic councils, no one present could or would declare they were speaking with God's authority - all they could do was debate. They were no more servants of God than our own Congress.
Time and space don't permit a full discussion, but the Bible, taken in its fullness, simply does not support the Trinitarian philosophy. For instance, Jesus says "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:38, John 5:30) If the Father and the Son have separate wills, it is impossible to claim that they're the same essence.
Jesus says, "And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32) Clearly, if they were the same essence, the punishments would be equal.
The Bible presents the Godhead, and that's what Mormons accept. The simple fact that so many Christians accept tradition even when it opposes scriptural revelation shows the need for a restoration of the true Gospel.

Joe in Transition said...

I am glad the blog's owner notes that the doctrines here are unofficial as pertaining to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a longtime LDS member and scholar, and I have an entirely different take on the Nicene Creed. I believe that the LDS's actual doctrine accepts all the doctrine of the Nicene Creed with the exception of the survival of the Church.

Only the apostasy stands out. Unbeknownst to most members of the LDS faith, we subscribe to virtually the entire Nicene Creed. We subscribe to the entire Apostles' Creed and much of the Athanasian Creed. Semantic differences have led Latter-day Saints and other Christians to believe that LDS do not believe the creeds. A careful reading of all three creeds reveals that our understanding of the Godhead is the virtually the same as that of the rest of the Christian world.

When we explain our understanding of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we tell people that we believe them to be separate and distinct individuals who are one in will and purpose. This is the same as the definition in all the creeds I mentioned. We believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one in essence but three in substance. This is key, and most Mormons who have read the creeds have failed to understand that the traditional Christian doctrine on this point is identical to the Latter-Day Saint doctrine. The separateness of the substance of the Godhead is amplified in the Doctrine and Covenants, but it is still the same doctrine.

If you are LDS and doubt what I'm saying, go to the Wikipedia article on the Athanasian Creed and look at the diagram of the "Shield of the Trinity." It is so perfectly consistent with our doctrine that the common understanding between our faith and the rest of Christianity ought to be perfectly clear.

The key difference in our belief and that of other Christians is in the belief in the Holy Catholic, Apostolic Church. We believe in a Great Apostasy, during which the authority to act in the name of God was lost, but we also believe that much of Christianity survived, incomplete. We also believe in the Communion of Saints, but in a modified form which includes baptism for the dead and other temple ordinances.

I just think it would be unfortunate to have people believe there is so little common ground between Mormons and other Christians when, in reality, there is a great deal.

David B said...

This is an older post and I have written more on this subject. God calls all the creeds which would include "The Nicene Creed" and abomination. Really, there is only one word problem with the nicene creed other than how it was formulated and that is the word "homoousios" which means that the Father and the Son are "one substance".

If you read Justin Martyr's Letter to Trypho, Justin is very clear on the correct understanding of the "oneness" of God. The Father and the Son are one in purpose and power and unified will. They are two distinct and separate individuals, beings, and persons.

I agree that most average Christians view of the Godhead matches the 1st Century, Early Christian, and LDS understanting. However, when it comes to official Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical doctrine, we difer. This is precisely why they do not accept us as Christian, claim we worship another God, and why the Catholic church does not recognize the LDS baptism.

David B said...

Justin Martyr was very clear to Trypho that Jesus Christ was not just a "chip off the ol block". If the Father and the Son were indeed "homoousios", then that would mean that Jesus Christ was only a part of the whole. Justin was very explicit in explaining that this understanding was incorrect.

The Bible teaches that God the Father is perfect and complete alone, and that the Son Jesus Christ was sent to complete and perfect man. Christ does not complete and perfect the Father.

Anonymous said...

These comments remind me of what I would expect the Nicene council to have been like. Men trying to describe the nature of God, without the authority or knowledge to do so. The truth is Joseph Smith Jr saw and spoke with God the Father and Jesus Christ so he was uniquely qualified to to explain their nature. As he once said "Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject."

Gerri said...

Interestingly I just read a source explaining the Catholic change from the previous " one in being" Latin rendered translation of more ancient Mass statement of belief to consubstantial, being made of the same substance. To an observer this would seem more consistent with Biblical description's of the Father and son. But I must admit I see with Mormon eyes. To my Mormon friend I think what I hear from our Christian brothers is that our belief that we can become like our Heavenly Father is what they feel separates us from them. I'll admit thatthe promise that we might some day be joint heirs with Christ to all the Father has is almost beyond comprehension, but I trust Him who made the promise. And believing He has the power to bless, save,and sanctify does not make Him less the Christ, so I hope that belief would not make me less a Christain.