The Trinity is the central doctrine to Christianity. It encompasses and presents all of God’s attributes and persons, which are crucial for one’s faith to exist. Wayne Grudem states the doctrine of the Trinity as, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” He goes on to point out that a biblical understanding of the Trinity includes three key points: 1) God is three persons; 2) Each person is fully God; 3) There is one God. A corrupt or non-biblical view of the Trinity undermines a person’s faith. Whether calling into question the existence of the Almighty Father, the deity of the Son, the person of the Holy Spirit, or the eternal and simultaneous existence of any of the Persons of the Godhead, an unorthodox view of the Trinity is the result.
Heretical views of the Godhead have been around almost since the resurrection. Montanism, which began in 172 AD, taught that a man, Montanus, was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Montanists also believed that they were the only true church and that all others would eventually be judged by God. Arianism taught that the Son and Spirit are not eternally pre-existent, and that they are of “similar nature” rather than the “same nature” as God the Father. It will be shown that elements of these heresies exist in today’s Mormon doctrine.
The Mormon Church, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, has more than 11 million members and a net worth of $25 billion. Sharing with Christianity similar moral standards for its members, at first glance the church appears to be Christian. Their evangelistic efforts, both through media and individual people, present the church as though they are another denomination of the Christian Church. Orson Scott Card, when asked how Mormons view traditional versions of Christianity, stated in part, “…when it comes to the actual teachings of Jesus and belief about the divinity of Christ, we have no quarrel.” The Mormon Articles of Faith disagree with this statement, and with much of what is widely considered to be an Orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity. With so many parts of their doctrine that are clearly not Christian, this discussion seeks to expose the heresy that exists in Mormon Doctrine as it pertains to the Godhead.
In documents such as The Articles of Faith and Doctrines of the Restored Church, the Mormon Church leaders freely admit that they do not adhere to Orthodox Christianity in many regards, and specifically pertaining to the Godhead. While their existence is relatively new, their unorthodox views of the Godhead are not. Drawing on elements of Arianism, Montanism, and even polytheistic pagan religions, they have devalued the Godhead to a point of suggesting that God existed as we do today, and that one day we can potentially exist as God currently does. The Mormon doctrine of the Godhead is more of a triad or tritheistic view of God compared to the view of God as Trinity. The list of differences between Orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is long. This discussion will not be exhaustive even in uncovering the many differences between the Mormon Godhead and the Christian Trinity. It will, however, focus on areas where differences can be clearly compared in a concise manner; the unity of the Godhead and the persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Unity in the Trinity
The Mormon Church claims to believe in the Trinity. In fact, their first “Article of Faith” reads, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” In the book, The Articles of Faith, they place a high importance on a good understanding of the existence of God (as Trinity), “Since faith in God constitutes the foundation of religious belief and practice, and as a knowledge of the attributes and character of Deity is essential to an intelligent exercise of faith in Him, this subject claims first place in our study of the doctrines of the Church.” The chapter of the book that defines this “Article of Faith” is entitled God and the Holy Trinity. This title carries with it the connotations of an orthodox view of the Trinity. However, Trinity as defined above does not exist in the Mormon system of belief.
A key distinguishing point between doctrines is the unity of the Godhead. Grudem’s definition of the Trinity states that God is three persons and at the same time God is one God. This represents a type of unity that cannot be described adequately in human terms. Certainly there are analogies that can point us in the direction of understanding, but the bottom line is that human minds are limited in their understanding of an infinite God. This is, however, the God that is revealed in scripture.
The Mormon view of God’s unity is limited. The Articles of Faith states, “The Godhead is a type of unity in the attributes, powers, and purposes of its members.” So unity exists only in the common attributes that are shared, not in the sense of one being.
In another section of his book, Mr. Talmage, referring to the unity of the Godhead, asks that common sense be the guide to understanding,
“This (the Trinity) cannot rationally be construed to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one substance and in person, nor that the names represent the same individual under different aspects. A single reference to prove the error of any such view may suffice: Immediately before His betrayal, Christ prayed for His disciples, the Twelve, and other converts, that they should be preserved in unity, ‘that they all may be one” as the Father and the Son are one. We cannot assume that Christ prayed that His followers lose their individuality and become one person, even if a change so directly opposed to nature were possible.”
The fact that the Book of Mormon is not widely accepted as Canonical Scripture aside, there are certainly examples in the Bible that exhort believers to be like Christ in one way or another. These exhortations do not demand or expect human response to be on the level of our Lord and Savior.
A Mormon definition of God is limited to mankind’s ability to understand and relate to it. The Articles of Faith continue,
“This unity (that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is a type of completeness; the mind of any one member of the Trinity is the mind of the others; seeing as each of them does with the eye of perfection, they see and understand alike. Under any given conditions each would act in the same way…The one-ness of the Godhead, to which the scriptures so abundantly testify, implies no mystical union of substance, nor any unnatural and therefore impossible blending of personality. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are as distinct in their persons and individualities as are any three personages in mortality.”
The reference point continues to be nature and mankind. This presupposition is obviously a limiting factor in defining who God is. Unity in the Godhead can only exist in “purpose” and in “operation” because any other form of unity would be “unnatural and therefore impossible.”
In the book God and Man, a textbook for Mormon seminaries, the point of God’s tritheism is made more blatantly, “There are three Gods – the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – who, though separate in personality, are united as one in purpose, in plan and in all the attributes of perfection.” In comparison, the Athanasian Creed states that, “…we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the divine Being.” The Bible supports the statements in the Athanasian Creed. The most obvious support for the creed are the many verses in Scripture which state that there is one God coupled with the verses that declare the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.
God the Father
The disunity that exists in the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead devalues the Trinity, and thereby devalues the persons of the Trinity. The discussion of God the Father will focus on differences pertaining to God’s eternal existence in bodily form, past existence as a man, and the polytheistic belief that God exists as one of many gods. While these are not the only disputable Mormon doctrines of God from a Christian perspective, they do cover the fundamental differences.
A key point to the Mormon doctrine of God, and to their plan of salvation is that God once existed exactly as we do. Quoting Joseph Smith’s, History of the Church, Oscar McConkie supports this postion,
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will rebuke that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see… It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another…”
Probably the only point that Christian doctrine could begin to agree with from this quote is the importance of knowing for a certainty the character of God. Compared to Christian doctrine of God, this statement by Joseph Smith strips God of His eternality and the nature of His very being as supported in Scripture. Colossians says that Christ, “… is the image of the invisible God.” The phrase “in His own image” in Genesis 1:26-27, a verse often used as a proof text for the Mormon position on God’s bodily form, undoubtedly means that man was made with a resemblance to God. However, any resemblance to God the Father is in spiritual, mental and moral attributes only. It is interesting to note that the Mormon belief system began with a bodily encounter that Joseph Smith claims to have had with God the Father.
According to the Mormon doctrine of God the Father, not only does God the Father eternally exist with a bodily form, but God the Father once existed as we exist. He walked on another earth before he created ours. God is an exalted man. Continuing apostle McConkie’s quote of Joseph Smith from above, “…He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did…” Here it is important to pause and make a clear connection between the Mormon understanding of the Godhead and the plan of salvation. Again quoting Joseph Smith, McConkie makes this connection, “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourself…” This logically proceeds from the evolving position of God the Father that has been presented.
Biblically, God is seen as existing in His current position for all of eternity. God did not evolve to His current role as the Almighty. If God once was not God then He could not be the creator of all things as He is claimed to be in Scripture.
To believe that God is one of many gods, each with their own universe to manage, is a logical step in the Mormon’s doctrine of God the Father. The term Elohim is foundational to their belief that God the Father as we know Him is one of many Gods. In Mormon Doctrine, Bruce McConkie reinterprets Genesis 1:1,
“Elohim is the plural of the Hebrew Eloah; consequently, its literal meaning is Gods. Accordingly, as the Prophet pointed out, such Old Testament passages as … Genesis 1:1, should be more properly translated as, ‘In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods,’ and they created the heavens and the earth.”
So the Mormon understanding of God the Father is that He is one of many gods that are just like him. This “head of the Gods” is an elusive figure in Mormon writings. It raises the question of when the Old Testament, or all of Scripture for that matter, is making reference to our God and when it is making reference to the head of the gods.
God the Father of Scripture is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Throughout scripture He is presented as the same God. In an orthodox Christian understanding the term Elohim can be viewed through the lens of the New Testament to validate the Trinity. Elohim is never used to infer a multitude of gods. Further, Van Gordon states that, “The way in which Joseph Smith attempted to translate Elohim disregards the most elementary principles of Hebrew grammar.” It is well accepted by Christian theologians that the plural nature of the word Elohim is used of God to describe the plurality of His majesty and fullness, but does not refer to God as gods. Van Gordon also points out that the Septuagint validates the singular because the Hebrew, Elohim, was translated as the singular noun, God.
God the Son
The theme of a devalued definition of God continues. Christ’s position in the Godhead is not an eternal one according to Mormon Doctrine. In the Doctrines of the Restored Church, by William Berrett states, “The Book of Abraham, now published in the Pearl of Great Price, adds remarkable information concerning Jesus Christ. It reveals the part which He played in the council of the heavens before the world was, His selection and appointment as the Redeemer, and the acceptance of Him as such by those who were to come into earth-life.”
Without diving into the debate regarding the authority of Scripture, it simply needs to be shown that the Bible holds a different view of Christ than that which is presented in The Pearl of Great Price. This view is presented in the book jof Colossians, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Christ claims His position in the Godhead in the book of John, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Contrary to the “appointment” and “selection” that occur in the Mormon account, Christ from a Christian view point is completely uncreated and the eternal God; not a separate god being, but God himself.
God the Holy Spirit
According Mormon Doctrine, the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are separate beings. Van Gordon points out that the Holy Ghost, much like God the Father and God the Son, is “… a spirit-child, born of Heavenly Parents, and has the shape of a man.” Omnipresence, as understood in Mormonism, is not possible for the any of the persons of the Godhead, including the Holy Ghost. They cannot be in more than one place at a time because they are limited by a human body, and logically one body cannot be in more than one place at once.
This is where the Holy Spirit assumes his role. The Holy Spirit is a divine influence that proceeds from the Father and the Son. Talmage puts it this way in The Articles of Faith, “Through the ministrations of the Spirit the Father and the Son may operate in their dealings with mankind;” The divine attribute of omniscience is described in The Articles of Faith as, “There is no part of creation, however remote, into which God cannot penetrate; through the medium of the Spirit the Godhead is in direct communication with all things at all times.” According to the Christian Doctrine, God’s omniscience is a divine attribute that is held by all members of the Godhead, and the Holy Spirit is obviously a part. Because Scripture shows the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and from the Son, while also showing the Holy Spirit to be God, it is easy to see how rationalism gets in the way of sound doctrine, Mormonism ends up with both the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost.
A theme throughout this discussion has been the seemingly rational approach of Mormon doctrine. A final point regarding the Holy Spirit continues this theme; it appears that the Mormon view of the Holy Spirit is derived out of necessity. Because God is confined to the limitations of a perfected human body he needs his Spirit to go forth and carry out the works of an omnipotent God. Berrett even likens the work of the Holy Spirit to modern conventions such as the radio and television:
“Since the mind of man has been opened by experiences with radio and television and the universality of electricity as a medium for the transmission of vibrations that produce sound, sight, color, etc., it is not difficult to believe in the power of God, as a personage, to keep in constant touch with all of His universe and the inhabitants therein. The medium through which God controls the universe and by which He may inspire and direct His children is called by the Scriptures the Spirit of God.”
So a direct correlation is made between the evolving mind of man and the methods through which God works.
Throughout history many movements have sought to diminish God and define him in rational, human terms. So it is in the Mormon Doctrine of the Godhead. Holding the God that is revealed in Scripture to “natural” standards creates a god that is not worthy of our praise. While He may be easier to explain and understand from man’s perspective, what is understood falls apart as a hopeless cycle; God was what man is, and one day man will be what God is. This should strengthen a Christians resolve to worship God for who he is and as He has revealed Himself to man. As already stated, “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” The Holy Trinity holds together the God that Christians worship. All of His glorious attributes mysteriously exist eternally in the God of Scripture, the God of the early Church Fathers, and the God of the Christian Church today.
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