Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent

I thought I would write a post about this subject, but this talk by Jeffery Holland was wonderful, so I decided to post it in it's entirety.


Jeffrey R. Holland Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 40–42






As Elder Ballard noted earlier in this session, various cross-currents of our times have brought increasing public attention to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord told the ancients this latter-day work would be “a marvellous work and a wonder,”1 and it is. But even as we invite one and all to examine closely the marvel of it, there is one thing we would not like anyone to wonder about—that is whether or not we are “Christians.”

By and large any controversy in this matter has swirled around two doctrinal issues—our view of the Godhead and our belief in the principle of continuing revelation leading to an open scriptural canon. In addressing this we do not need to be apologists for our faith, but we would like not to be misunderstood. So with a desire to increase understanding and unequivocally declare our Christianity, I speak today on the first of those two doctrinal issues just mentioned.

Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”2 We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.

Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”3

So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post–New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself. Now, a word about that post–New Testament history might be helpful.

In the year a.d. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils)4 as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, imminent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.

We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, “Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, … and I know not whom to adore or to address.”5 How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus’s prayer to His Father in Heaven that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”?6

It is not our purpose to demean any person’s belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?7

We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer just mentioned, His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four.

With these New Testament sources and more8 ringing in our ears, it may be redundant to ask what Jesus meant when He said, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”9 On another occasion He said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”10 Of His antagonists He said, “[They have] … seen and hated both me and my Father.”11 And there is, of course, that always deferential subordination to His Father that had Jesus say, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”12 “My father is greater than I.”13

To whom was Jesus pleading so fervently all those years, including in such anguished cries as “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”14 and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”?15 To acknowledge the scriptural evidence that otherwise perfectly united members of the Godhead are nevertheless separate and distinct beings is not to be guilty of polytheism; it is, rather, part of the great revelation Jesus came to deliver concerning the nature of divine beings. Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best: “Christ Jesus … being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”16

A related reason The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is excluded from the Christian category by some is because we believe, as did the ancient prophets and apostles, in an embodied—but certainly glorified—God.17 To those who criticize this scripturally based belief, I ask at least rhetorically: If the idea of an embodied God is repugnant, why are the central doctrines and singularly most distinguishing characteristics of all Christianity the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the physical Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? If having a body is not only not needed but not desirable by Deity, why did the Redeemer of mankind redeem His body, redeeming it from the grasp of death and the grave, guaranteeing it would never again be separated from His spirit in time or eternity?18Any who dismiss the concept of an embodied God dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ. No one claiming to be a true Christian will want to do that.

Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace19 can we gain eternal life.

My additional testimony regarding this resplendent doctrine is that in preparation for His millennial latter-day reign, Jesus has already come, more than once, in embodied majestic glory. In the spring of 1820, a 14-year-old boy, confused by many of these very doctrines that still confuse much of Christendom, went into a grove of trees to pray. In answer to that earnest prayer offered at such a tender age, the Father and the Son appeared as embodied, glorified beings to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. That day marked the beginning of the return of the true, New Testament gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restoration of other prophetic truths offered from Adam down to the present day.

I testify that my witness of these things is true and that the heavens are open to all who seek the same confirmation. Through the Holy Spirit of Truth, may we all know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent.”20 Then may we live Their teachings and be true Christians in deed, as well as in word, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes
1. Isaiah 29:14.

2. Articles of Faith 1:1.

3. Paul F. Achtemeier, ed. (1985), 1099; emphasis added.

4. Constantinople, a.d. 381; Ephesus, a.d. 431; Chalcedon, a.d. 451.

5. Quoted in Owen Chadwick, Western Asceticism (1958), 235.

6. John 17:3; emphasis added.

7. For a thorough discussion of this issue, see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian? 71–89; see also Robert Millet, Getting at the Truth (2004), 106–22.

8. See, for example, John 12:27–30; John 14:26; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:1–3.

9. John 5:19; see also John 14:10.

10. John 6:38.

11. John 15:24.

12. Matthew 19:17.

13. John 14:28.

14. Matthew 26:39.

15. Matthew 27:46.

16. Philippians 2:5–6.

17. See David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 83, no. 2 (1990): 105–16; David L. Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies, vol. 35, no. 4 (1996): 7–94; James L. Kugel, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible (2003), xi–xii, 5–6, 104–6, 134–35; Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (2001), 33–34.

18. See Romans 6:9; Alma 11:45.

19. See 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; Moroni 6:4; Joseph Smith Translation, Romans 3:24.

20. John 17:3.

10 comments:

Dr.Psycho said...

Cool blog...one of the quorum of the 12 recently gave a talk to the graduating class at BYU Hawaii and discussed using blogs to spread the gospel...I think it is great...

Delirious said...

In general conference today, Elder Holland spoke about the second of the two points he touched on in this talk. I'm excited to post his second talk on this blog as well.

Dalmayas said...

A religious blog girl? You do remember that's like dangling raw meat (or a Christian) in front of a lion around me? You started this, so no huddling in the corner and crying allowed.

It all boils down to the same thing seen in most religions. Hypocrisy. Many Christians will condemn those of other, or no, faith for not following their version of the bible, and yet consistently ignore the book they so often love to quote. They will ignore or denounce their own scripture in order to be 'right' or 'popular'. They gleefully refer to this as re-interpretation. A new way of looking at the same book in order to make it convenient for themselves, or to achieve some goal. The words haven't changed, just the views of the people in charge have.

'Those who know God’s name put their trust in Him' (Psalm 9:10)

"declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, imminent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time."

With the “mystery of the trinity” God's got himself a couple of fake I.D.s, an unlisted phone number (or multiple personalities), and can't be pinned down or 'known' by the 'common' mortal. Only the church and it's leaders can tell you what God is like, and wants, so you must rely entirely upon them. You can't talk to God yourself, or understand him on your own. Just not possible. Convenient for the leaders isn't it?

This is a minor hypocrisy, there's some really big ones that Christians dislike having pointed out to them.

'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.'(Exodus 20:4)

It was so important, they thought it needed to be repeated sometimes.

'Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God.' (Leviticus 19:4)

'You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.' (Leviticus 26:1)

'So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire' (Deuteronomy 4:15)

'Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.' And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen.'' (Deuteronomy 27:15)

Idol: An idol is a representation of something in the heavens or on the earth. It is used in worship and is often worshiped. It is an abomination to God (Exodus 20:4). Idolatry is bowing down before such an idol in adoration, prayer, or worship. (Definition from Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry)

What's with the two big pieces of wood stuck together, and why do you bow down in front of it?

And Christianity shoots itself in the foot again.

The crucifix was originally only meant to be a symbol so one Christian could recognize another in passing, or marking worship sites. Much like the Magen David (Star or Shield of David). It was not meant to be a symbol of God, only a symbol of their faith. Yet, they bend knee before it, ignoring their own often repeated rules.

Least the Muslims got that part right.

'There is nothing that equals (like) Him.' (42:11)

'No visions can encompass Him, but He encompasses all visions. He is the Compassionate, the Cognizant.' [6:103]

'My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and protect me and my children from worshiping idols.' (14:35)

Though I don't remember anyone in the Qu'ran saying 'Thou shalt throat slash cartoonists who do.' In fact, I think there were rule against that sort of thing.

'anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people.' (5:32)

'You shall not kill any person - for God has made life sacred - except in the course of justice. If one is killed unjustly, then we give his heir authority to enforce justice. Thus, he shall not exceed the limits in avenging the murder, he will be helped.'(17:33)

This "mystery of the trinity" is a sneaky way of dodging Psalm 9:10. Instead you get;

'You cannot really know God, only the authorized Christian church can, so put your faith in us.' (Hypocrisy 101)

Like the blog lay-out. The parchment style background for the text area is a nice touch. Very appropriate.

Delirious said...

Wow Dalamayas, you should be a Mormon....I couldn't have said it better myself! Everything you said I totally agree with. And the cross thing? Our religion doesn't put crosses in our churches....we prefer to worship the living Christ..not focus on His death. And yes, as mentioned in this article I posted, we vear away from the Nicene definition of God....how can you worship something so incomprehensible.

No crying in the corner for me! You just supported every issue that I have been trying to make! (I never knew you had it in you ;)

Looney said...

Hello Delirious,

I too view the creeds as being a bit artificial on the one hand, but perhaps a valuable response to the heresies that developed at a particular age. The problem being that as soon as one creed is set, someone else starts creating a new heresy which more or less complies with the last creed, but sabotages something critical in the Bible.

I don't have too much problem with the speech, except that I really believe that God the father doesn't have an anthropomorphic form, which is the reason that we have such strict commands regarding idols and images. The early Christians taught that it was actually Jesus who Jacob wrestled with and Abraham saw before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, not God the father. Certainly this is a significant point of disagreement, but it doesn't seem to be a deal breaker regarding what is or isn't Christian.

Delirious said...

The question I have Looney is whether or not you believe Jesus Christ to be the literal son of God. If He is the actual physical son of God, the God the Father must have a physical body in order to father Jesus. It only makes sense that a son grows to be like His Father. We believe that God the Father does have a physical body, but it is perfect and glofified.
I have to say, it is so refreshing to find someone who really does strive to look at what the Bible teaches and not interpret it to be "politically correct". :)

Looney said...

Delirious, this is a good question. Matthew and Luke give us only about 1 or 2 verses each, so any answer will necessarily be a bit speculative. Some of the thoughts:

If God the Father had come to Mary in a human form, then why did he send angels separately to Mary to explain what had happened? This would also raise a lot of questions about sexual morality that I don't like to even ponder.

To me, God is the creator of DNA and the creator of the physical laws that permit atoms to form into marvelous DNA chains in the first place. It is no trouble for me to imagine the creator of the universe doing something (i.e. re-arranging molecules) inside of Mary to accomplish His eternal plan. The only intermediary referred to in the scriptures is the Holy Spirit, which apparently acted without her knowledge.

There is also something more to fatherhood than just DNA and I wonder if our eternal souls are truly just a function of our DNA only. The Holy Spirit is involved here too, so something more is happening that makes Jesus the Son of God, but I don't feel there is any hope to grasp it.

What else should be considered?

Delirious said...

What we know about the conception is that the Holy Ghost came upon Mary, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. (Luke 1: 35). We aren't given specifics about how she conceived, although in this day of technology, our minds are open to all kinds of possibilities. I dont' know the answer, but I do believe that it was important for Jesus to have some of the actual genetic godlike attributes in order for him to be able to withstand the suffering in the garden of Eden, (which caused him, even God, to suffer and bleed at every pore...imagine a mere mortal trying to accomplish that task!), and to raise his body after death. The mortal in him allowed him to experience pain and illness, and the other things in life that we are here to learn. It also allowed him to experience death. But the God in him allowed him to overcome those obstacles of death and sin.

Jesus said to Phillip: " ...Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:9) Jesus was in the image of his father. Now that Jesus is resurrected, he has a glorified resurrected body. This is the same type of body that the father has. Obtaining this physical body is one of the key purposes of this earth. We all needed a physical body, because as spirits we couldn't progress. How can you understand pain and illness if you do not have a physical body? We can only know joy if we experience sadness. We can only know pain if we experience health. If God the Father does not have a physical body, how can He know those same things?

Of course, in our religion, we believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, and saw that they both have glorified physical bodies. You can read his full account at: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/1

In speaking of this experience, Joseph said, "However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation."

This brings up the concept of continuing revelation. The speaker of this article that I posted gave a talk in continuation of the talk presented here, and in it he went on to talk about the second aspect of our church that he mentioned, even continuing revelation. It was a wonderful talk, and I am chomping at the bit to post it, but it won't be availabe until Thursday because he just gave the talk on Saturday. :) I will post it as soon as it is available

Looney said...

There is also Colossians 2:9 which we take as our understanding of why seeing Jesus means seeing the Father:

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, ..."

The father-son transmitted characteristics primarily being the character and spiritual nature, rather than the physical form.

Regarding Joseph Smith's vision, we know what happened to Paul when he was on the road to Damascus how he was blinded and several days later his scales were removed, but in the presence of another believer. All of these things must be done in front of many witnesses.

Delirious said...

There are other instances where we do not have eyewitnesses to the account. The first one that comes to mind for me is the experience of Moses. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two ctables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.
2 And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
3 And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mountnd he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
5 And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord." Exodus 34:4,5

The next incident is still fresh in my mind from my last comment, and that is the experience of Mary and the conception. We have no eye witnesses of that account either.

We do believe that we must have two or three witnesses to establish every thing. "This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." 2 Corinthians 13:1
But I think in these cases, God himself is one of those witnesses.

I would like to go back to the issue of whether or not God the Father has a tangible, physical body. My question is whether or not you believe that we existed before this world. In our religion we believe that we existed as spirit children of God the Father. "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1:5

If we existed as spirits before we were born, and if God is a spirit, then why even come to this earth? Why be born and receive a physical body? And if a physical body isn't needed by God the Father, then why was it so important for Jesus Christ to resurrect His body?

I do agree that God the Father and Jesus Christ are alike in attributes, and they are one in purpose, but I believe they are also alike physically. A son grows up to be like his father. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;" Hebrews 1:1-3 Jesus Christ is the "express image" of his Father. We are all spirit children of God the Father, but Jesus Christ is the "only begotten" physical child.