Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mormonism and the Trinity

I recently received  an email from a Mormon, he ask questions about a sermon I preached. I will post his email and my response for the benefit of others, by no means is my response exhaustive.

"I listened to your recent sermon, “The Forgotten Trinity”  on  I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the LDS or Mormon Church).  While some of our beliefs do indeed differ on this subject, I greatly respect you, your views, and your love for God and the scriptures, and I really enjoyed your sermon." At the beginning of your sermon, you invited your congregation to come to you afterwards with any questions since this is a difficult topic.  I would like to take you up on that offer , and throw out a few comments (4) and questions (12) regarding the sermon.  I have often wondered how those of other faiths answer certain gospel questions about God and the gospel - I’d love to get your thoughts.  That is quite a few questions, so please feel free to be brief and direct in your responses.  A little about me, I’m in Arizona, 31 years old, husband and father, and I am an accountant. I served a mission in Chile South America after High School, and love respectfully discussing God and Jesus Christ with others." 

I am delighted to hear you enjoyed my sermon. I’d be glad to answer your questions but I must be brief ; they deserve extensive treatment.

Great to be acquainted with you, I too work with accounts in a slightly different way, I am a Tax Technician for the State of California. I am 27 years old, married with an eight almost nine month son. I would imagine a mission in South America to be quite the experience. I’ve been on a short mission to Manti, Utah. Christians travel to Manti each year for the annual Mormon pageant, which brings the opportunity to evangelize (or as the Mormon missionary handbook would term it ‘proselytize’).    

"TRIUNE GOD: Firstly, I admit that the doctrine of the triune God is difficult/impossible to fully understand and explain from ANYONE’S view (even my own).  But, we all do the best that we can because we want to understand our Creator and worship in truth."  

"We can agree on the scripture facts, we just disagree on how to interpret them.  For example, we agree that we have “one God”, yet there are “three persons” that are all called “God” (God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit), and that those three persons are “one”.  We can agree on their roles (Jesus creates, Spirit sanctifies, Father sent the Son etc.) etc.  Just wanted to build that common ground. "

The doctrine of the Trinity can be understood but not exhaustively. God as God is incomprehensible yet knowable. [1]

If we agree on the scriptural data, then we both presuppose (1) necessity, (2) sufficiency, (3) authority, and (4) perspicuity of the Bible, but the LDS church (in which you are a member of) denies explicitly (2) and (4) in the Articles of Faith; at the very least, they downplay or subject (3) and (1) to the Mormon Standard Works (i.e. BOM, D&C, PGP). Therefore, in my judgment, we do not agree on the scriptural data. It is more precise to say, we do not merely disagree on interpretation of the Bible we disagree on the fundamental nature and status of the Bible. But of course these are interdependent. I do respect your attempt to build common ground, but I don’t think there are any neutral facts we can agree upon since we have different starting points. The LDS starting point for the doctrine of God is Joseph Smith (i.e. BOM, D&C, PGP), in contrast, the Christian starting point for the doctrine of God is the Bible. From these two different starting points, we get completely different conceptions of God. Joseph Smith, in his famous King Follett Discourse, explains the LDS conception of God is a plurality of Gods among potentially an infinite number of gods (However, I admit LDS focus their worship on Elohim, Jehovah and the Holy Ghost, as the gods of this planet). The Bible uniformly teaches monotheism (e.g. Hebrew communicates “The Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah, Det 6:4;).

WEBSITE:  FYI, I created a website to help me organize my Bible studies. It’s called EVERYVERSE.ORG.  The purpose of the site is the gather EVERY Bible verse on various important topics (ex. How to Be Saved, the Triune God etc.)  I did this to help me and others avoid building doctrines off of just a few verses when we should be looking at ALL of what the Bible says.  To avoid long some lists of scripture on this email, I will sometimes refer you to a page on that site.  Check it out, let me know what you think.  Thanks

I will visit your website when time permits. 

MORMONS:  You mentioned “Mormons” in your sermon, so I assume that you know something about my faith.  However, I wanted to give a VERY brief summary on our view of the triune God to give you reference for our conversation.  Here it is:  We believe that God the Father is ultimately, as Jesus calls Him, the one and only true God, Father and God of all (even of Jesus).  God, however, chose two other beings, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to work with Him in the Creation, Salvation and Sanctification of mankind, and gave them of His divine power and authority to fulfill their divine roles, therefore they share in the Father’s title of power and authority (“God”), working with Him in perfect unity.  They are three separate beings, but they are “one” in all they do and say (similar to how we Christians are separate beings, yet we are “one” in Christ).  Jesus and the Spirit speak for and perfectly represent the Father, and we are commanded to accept all of their words and deeds as if they were directly from the Father Himself.  Those three beings, individually and collectively, are our “one God”, that is, they are the one divine Power and Authority of the universe, the head of which Godhead is the Father.  Also, all three persons are perfect, glorified men/humans, in whose image we are created.  The Father and Jesus are beings of both spirit and physical bodies, while the spirit is a being of spirit only (for now) which allows him to fulfill some of his divine roles.  
Do you think that it is odd (or might it be a red flag) that none of the NT authors ever try to explain the trinity in detail as Evangelical Christians do today (as you did in your this sermon), especially if, as Evangelical Christians suggest, it is an essential belief in order to be a Christian?  Since there is no such sermon in the NT, Evangelical Christians have to piece together various separate passages and ideas to form this doctrine.  Might this all be a red flag that you are misunderstanding the doctrine?  Any thoughts on why there is a lack of explanation on this confusing/complicated doctrine, and why it was left up to us to put the puzzle pieces together ourselves? 

 I am familiar with Mormonism since I’ve personally studied it. In fact, I have family members that are active members. 

I do not find it odd the NT authors’ do not attempt to explicate the doctrine of the Trinity since it would’ve been a common assumption that monotheism was the case yet all three persons’ are distinguished as the one God. Moreover, we do see the subject taught from the Apostles disciples like Clement, and Tertullian etc.. Furthermore, the early church was under persecution, which could play a role in why we don’t see massive theological treatises.   

MEANING OF GOD?  Do you agree that the word “god/God” is not a type of race/species (ex. human, dog, God), but that it is a TITLE of power and authority?  Please that in addition to the Father, Son and Spirit having that title, it is also (as you mentioned) given in scripture to other beings with great power and authority, sometimes by God Himself:  Rulers, angels, the mighty, judges, prophets, even Satan (see some references below.)  Viewing it as a title of power and authority aligns with Jesus’ teaching that the Father is his God (His authority and the source of his power), and which phrases like “My God” (my Authority).  Unlike “essence/substance”, a title can easily be shared amongst separate persons/beings (especially perfectly united, sinless beings) without any issue.  Such an idea seems much more Biblical and logical.  What are your thoughts? •    MOSES: “I have made thee (Moses) a god to Pharaoh“, Exo. 7:1•    SATAN: Satan is called “the god of this world“, 2 Cor. 4:4 •    JUDGES/GOD’S CHILDREN: “Ye are gods, children of the Most High“, Ps. 82:6•    RULERS: “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people“, Exo. 22:28•    MIGHTY: God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods, Ps. 82:1•    THE FATHER IS JESUS’ GOD: John 20:17 I ascend unto… my God and your God

I believe the term ‘God’ is a noun, but I agree it can be used in predication as a title. The scriptural context determines how ‘God’ is used.

DISTINCT BEINGS:  I agree that the three members of the Godhead are distinct “persons”, but would you also agree that that scripture shows that the three members have their own separate “SPIRITS”, “SOULS”, “WILLS” and LOCATION, all of which support them being separate beings as we on earth are (see passages below for some references)?  •    Luke 23:26 Father, into thy hands I commend MY SPIRIT•    Luke  22:42 Nevertheless NOT MY WILL, BUT THINE, be done•    Matt. 12:18 Behold my servant, whom I (God) have chosen… in whom MY SOUL is well pleased  •    Gen 1:2 And the SPIRIT of God (Holy Spirit) MOVED upon the face of the waters•    John 20:17 “I have NOT YET ASCENDED TO my Father... I GO TO MY FATHER  

I do not think the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate God’s. First, monotheism is taught through out scripture, therefore, we must interpret all scripture from this teaching. Second, terms can be used without ontological weight. For example in Mark 12:30 we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. These terms are not teaching man is comprised of four separate ontological substances; quite the contrary, it teaches us with emphasis we are to love God holistically. Third, scripture often speaks anthropomorphically. Fourth, plausibly when the scriptures speak of soul/spirit/will it can refer to either a title or person.       

JESUS’ GOD?   The New Testament teaches at least 11 times that the Father is Jesus’ God (as well as our God, that we and Jesus have the same God).  What does that mean to you, and how does that fit into your view that Jesus and the Father are both co-equally and fully the same one God/being? •    John 20:17 I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God

I believe Jesus was the divine Logos that took upon flesh (John 1:1-4). Jesus is the infinite God-man, truly God and truly man, one person with two distinct natures, thus it makes sense for Jesus to regard the Father as God subsequent to the incarnation.[2] 

ONE: This questions is longer because it is very important.  The Bible teaches that there is “only one God”, and also that “There are three in heaven… and these three are one”.  Evangelical Christians conclude a LITERAL interpretation that the three persons must somehow actually be the same one being (“essence”, “substance” etc.)  However, I suggest that there is a much more logical AND Biblical interpretation.  The Bible uses “one” often to describe metaphorical unity between multiple separate beings.  For example, “Ye are all ONE in Christ” (see the passages below).  None of these are to be taken literally, but they show unity in purpose, deed, mind etc.  If we apply this Biblical use of “one” to the Godhead (interpreting the Bible with the Bible), then we should conclude that our deity consists of 3 separate beings (which is clearly suggested in the NT) that are perfectly “one” (united) in all that they do and say and which perfectly represent each other, speak for each other etc.  They are three beings, yet they are “one” (united), “one God”, similar to how Christians are “one spirit” or “one body” even though they are indeed separate spirits/people.  That is how the Bible uses “one”, which likely explains why the Godhead’s oneness is never specifically explained in scripture, because the audience (who know scripture and who know their language) would have already known what “one” means from previous scripture.  To me, this view is not only more Biblical, but is more logical.  What are your thoughts? •    Gen. 2:24 [Husband]… cleave unto wife… they shall be ONE flesh   •    1 Cor. 6:16 Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is ONE body?  •    1 Cor. 6:17 He that is joined unto the Lord is ONE spirit•    Acts 4:32 And the multitude of them that believed were of ONE heart and of ONE soul•    Ezek. 37:22 And I will make them ONE nation… they shall be no more two nations•    Gal. 3:28 Ye are all ONE in Christ   •    John 17:11 Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be ONE, as we are ONE •    Philip. 1:27 Stand fast with ONE spirit, with ONE mind striving together  •    Rom. 12:5 We, being many, are ONE body in Christ  •    1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are ONE  •    John 10:30 I and my Father are one    
SON:  The Father said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”.  From your view, in what way is Jesus God the Father’s son?  Is he literally/actually God’s son, or is “son” really only a term used metaphorically in some way?SON:  The Father said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”.  From your view, in what way is Jesus God the Father’s son?  Is he literally/actually God’s son, or is “son” really only a term used metaphorically in some way?

It’s quite simple, be literal and/or figurative based on the scriptural context. Perhaps, a better way to express this is we must use sound hermeneutical principles (the grammatico-historic method).   

Your suggestion seems to merely eisegete the text. And I fail to see how it is logical. I believe God is the greatest conceivable being, which no greater can be thought. In Acts 17:16-34 Paul tells us we are creatures under the control of God, the most perfect being. By Paul's very explanation, only God has the essential properties to be God. And these essential properties cannot be possessed by a mere man. There is no possible world, which a mere man can be a god. Since it is logically impossible for a mere man to be given properties only God can possess. In other words, if God would share his nature with other creatures, he would have to cease to be God. Let me explain. Think for a moment, can there exist more than one perfect being--God? The moment you say--yes, you are left with absurdity. Since it is logically impossible for two most perfect beings to exist, since one cancels the other out. If there were two beings in the world both could not have the essential properties of a perfect being, like all-power, self-sufficiency, independence, all-control, thus both could not be God.  

GENDER:  I’m curious… In your views, does God the Father have gender (“He”, “Father”, “His” etc.), or is “He” a genderless being? 

God has disclosed himself as masculine but this anthropomorphic language does not mean God is a male (in the literal sense of  a physical body with XY chromosomes etc).   

SPIRIT?  “God is a spirit”.  In the LDS view, “spirit” is matter, though “more fine” than our physical bodies.  While beings that are spirit only (like angels, men between death and resurrection, Jesus before physical birth etc.) do not have physical bodies of flesh and bone, they still have form, shape, gender, appearance, specific location, smiles, faces etc.  I’m curious about your view – in your view, how would you describe an unembodied spirit (either of God or of men)?  For example, does a spirit have form, gender, location etc.?  And is God’s spirit the same kind of thing as the spirit that is in men or angels?  

I think the distinction between soul/spirit and body is clear.  God is not physical or material. God is spiritual/immaterial. God is an incorporeal being. A definition by analogy would be to think of things that are immaterial. For example, the laws of logic, thoughts, beliefs, numbers, propositions, sets, possible worlds, are all immaterial. God as a spirit has essential properties, (e.g. spaceless, timeless, immutable, etc.)

GIVEN POWER AND AUTHORITY:  In the LDS view, God (the Father) “chose” Jesus, “made [him]… both Lord and Christ” and “gave” him godly “power and authority” to work with God in perfect unity in the Creation and Salvation of mankind and to fulfill his chosen roles (as Creator, Redeemer, Judge, Lord etc.) which is why Jesus shares in God’s title of power and authority, “God” (“I come in my Father’s name”, he said).  Do you agree that Jesus received his power and authority from God the Father (ex.  power “to have life in himself”, “to give eternal life”, “all power in heaven and earth”, “power over all flesh”, “to judge”, that “God made Jesus… both Lord and Christ” etc. – see the link below for those references, about half way down the page)?  If yes, how does that fit with your view that Jesus is and always has been/will be the one all-powerful God being?

Jesus as the infinite God-man received power and authority from God the Father, he didn’t have logically prior to the incarnation as a man.  

CO-EQUAL/FULLY GOD?  You said, “We see that the three persons are fully God”.  Did you know that in the NT (which is where, as you agreed, the trinity is fully revealed) Jesus is directly called God about 6 times (though never by himself), the Holy Spirit just once or twice, while the Father is directly called God over 130 times!  If the three members are equally and fully God, each having just as much right to the title “God”, then why is that title applied so unequally among the Godhead members?  Thoughts?  See for all of those references. 

The amount of times the term ‘God’ is used to describe the three person’s is insignificant; if, however, monotheism is assumed, what is significant is three person’s are all distinguished as God.

OMNIPRESENT:  “God is omnipresent, He is everywhere at once… He is essentially omnipresent, that means that God is omniscient of everything, causally present everywhere, therefore he is everywhere.” Interesting comment, I am a little unclear.  Do you believe that God’s presence/being/spirit is literally everywhere, or is he just “causally present” and knows all things?  Also, I believe that God has an actual locational presence, that He is and dwells in heaven which is an actual place away from the earth (that His actual presence is not everywhere at once).  Here below are just a couple passages to support this idea, but I have gathered all the related passages (and there are quite a few) at the following page on my site:  Take a look.  Do you agree that God the Father has an actual presence/location in a place called heaven away from the earth? •    Eccl. 5:2 God is in heaven and thou upon the earth •    Deut. 26:15 LORD…. look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people•    John 20:17 I have not yet ascended to my Father \

Omnipresence is understood either as God cognizant of all things since God is causally in control of all things, hence causally present, or one defines it in terms of God’s immensity. For example, the soul is present through out the body. I take the former over the latter definition. 

I take it the immediate state, often called heaven/paradise, is a temporary spiritual realm, but at the end times, God will establish a new heavens and earth, heaven will be a physical place in which Christians will dwell with glorified resurrected bodies.     

NO BODY?  “God is an unembodied spirit”.  Being called “spirit” does not necessarily mean an unembodied being.  The word is sometimes used to mean “heavenly”, “perfect”, “life” etc., and is even given to beings that clearly have physical bodies.  See the passages below.  Do you agree with this observation?  •    John 3: 6  That which is born of the Spirit IS SPIRIT•    2 Cor. 3:17 The Lord (Christ, who has a resurrected physical body) IS THAT SPIRIT•    1 Cor. 15:44 Paul calls our future resurrected physical bodies "SPIRITUAL BODIES"  •    1 Cor. 6:17 He that is joined to the Lord IS one SPIRIT •    John 6:63 The words that I speak unto you, THEY ARE SPIRIT, and they are LIFE 

Jesus tells us what a spirit is in Luke 24:39. A spirit is an immaterial being. 

QUESTIONS FOR ME?  Do you have any questions for me, whether on this or another topic?  I will answer any question honestly, directly and to the point.  Whether now or at any time in the future, please feel free to send those my way.  
Thank you for your sermon, and for your willingness to read this.  Take care.

Yes I do have some thoughts/questions.

Who raised Jesus from the dead? (Gal 1:1; John 2:19-21; 1 Peter 3:18) So did one God or several Gods raise Jesus from the dead? (Acts 2:23)

Who created our world? (Gen 1:2; Gen 1:26; John 1:1-3,14) So, did one God or several Gods create our world? (Isaiah 44:24)

What spirit dwells in all believers?(Romans 8:9a; Rom 8:9b-10: Rom 8:11; 1 Corin 6:19) How many spirits dwell in believers? (1 Corin 12:13)

Who is the Father of Jesus Christ? (John 3:16; Matt 1:18,20; Psalm 2:7)

How many true Gods exist? (Isaiah 44:6,8)

If you believe in the law of eternal progression, does this not entail an infinite regress? How can you have objective moral values if there are an infinite number of Gods? How can you have moral laws from a physical God? Would that not commit one to the naturalistic fallacy? If everything is material from all eternity then evil is eternal? If one is to reach mortal perfection to receive exaltation/eternal perfection, then in fact, no one will reach exaltation?


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