[The following is the first in a 4-part series on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, offered by Mormon Coffee guest contributor Andy Watson. All parts of the series will be posted in succession, following our regular schedule of new posts appearing each Monday and Thursday.]
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) proclaims that they are a church that embraces ongoing or continual revelation. This primarily means that they view the canon of Scripture as not being closed. Christianity affirms that the canon of Scripture is closed in that God has given His Word that encompasses all that is needed to be known for the salvation of humankind and reconciliation with a holy, triune God. God being triune/tri-unity is God’s highest revelation of Himself to fallen humanity. Mormonism rejects this highest revelation of God. God revealed in Scripture as triune/tri-unity is known in Christianity as the Trinity. How’s the Trinity defined?
Within the one Being that is God,
there are three distinct Persons who are
coequal, coeternal, coexistent, and co-substance:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What are the particular highlights and considerations of this doctrine?
- There is only one God.
- God is three Persons.
- Each Person is fully God in substance/nature/essence.
- All the Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equal in all of their attributes. However, there are distinctions and differences in roles that are particular to each Person. A difference in role does not mean inferiority in nature or essence. The Father decrees all that will take place; the Son brings to pass all that the Father decrees; the Spirit brings all into conformity or compliance.
- The Trinity must be divinely revealed and not humanely constructed.
Who is this doctrine for and why is it important? I concur with Dr. James White’s points that were made in his book The Forgotten Trinity:
- This doctrine is one of the main pillars of Christianity
- The Trinity is for Bible-believing people. The eternality of God and His triune nature are doctrines for Christians.
- The miracle of salvation must take place for the Christian to love and accept the doctrine.
- Christians are compelled to accept this doctrine for the same reasons the early church fathers did: the Scriptures compel us and leave us no choice!
- After looking at the Trinitarians language of the New Testament, it’s easy to see why the early church formulated the doctrine. This truth couldn’t be denied.
- Mature Christians desire to know, understand, and love the Trinity.
- One must understand and accept the Trinity to know Christ.
- We have to worship God as He exists and not merely as we wish Him to be.
Is this doctrine understandable? Here are some thoughts on this matter:
- One would be in error to state that the Trinity is understandable and without mystery. However, mankind can understand the doctrine of the Trinity as to what the Bible teaches about the nature of God and three Persons that reveal the one Being/God.
- It is correct and wise in saying that to fully comprehend the Being of God is beyond comprehension. There are some things about God that He has reserved only to be known within His own counsel. These are the secret things; other things He has chosen to reveal to humankind (Deut 29:29).
- Christians affirm this doctrine because God has revealed that this is what He is like. Our finite minds cannot grasp the infinite. The fullness of the Trinity is incomprehensible. This is what makes God who is He is: infinite; this makes human beings who they are: finite.
Mormonism joins the ranks with many non-Christian sects in its denial of the Trinity:
While respecting the divergent views of other people of faith, Church leaders want to be clear about the beliefs that help define Latter-day Saints…Among the most important differences with other Christian churches are those concerning the nature of God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. (Mormon Newsroom, Core Beliefs)
The Trinity of traditional Christianity is referred to as the Godhead by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the same terms are used by Latter-day Saints and other Christians for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost), the Latter-day Saints understanding of the three members of the Godhead is significantly different from that of traditional Christianity. (Mormon Newsroom, The Godhead)
It’s admirable that the LDS Church made that clarification, because this is what separates Mormonism from Christianity. Mormons are constantly stating to the Christian community, “We are Christians just like you.” Why and how so? They have excluded themselves by their own admission in their rejection of the Trinity doctrine. Mormons blur the horizon by applying to themselves the “Christian” label. However, this doesn’t nullify the fact that Mormonism has diverted sharply and greatly from “…the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). What are the talking points and statements by the LDS Church regarding the Trinity that are put forth by LDS General Authorities and repeated verbatim by LDS Church members?
- The word Trinity isn’t in the Bible along with the doctrine.
- The Trinity doctrine came out of the Council of Nicea.
- The Trinity doctrine is the product of the councils of men and was not believed by the early Christians including the apostles, church fathers, and those that followed them prior to the Council of Nicea.
First, the Council of Nicea didn’t formulate the doctrine known today as the Trinity. The Council of Nicea was called to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ – not to affirm or formulate the Trinity doctrine – in light of the Arian heresy instigated by Arius, a church presbyter, who was quickly condemned as a heretic.
Second, it’s true that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible. Nevertheless, the word Trinity (tri-unity) was coined because it accurately describes and names what is revealed in Scripture when the doctrine is defined. There are numerous words and doctrines that are exclusive to Mormonism that cannot be found in the Bible. These would include words such as quorum, endowment, Kolob, and many others. Doctrinal terms would be celestial marriage, exaltation, eternal progression, the preexistence of human spirits and their passing through the veil of forgetfulness, etc. The difference between these LDS words and doctrines and the Christian word Trinity and the doctrine as it is defined, is that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity can be found in the Bible while the LDS words and doctrines (as Mormons define them) cannot. Of course, our Mormon friends will point to further or ongoing revelation outside of the Bible in defense. However, if these LDS doctrines were true, then God would have revealed them to His people in the Bible. God did not withhold from His people issues regarding their salvation until 1830 when the Mormon Church came into existence.
Third, the LDS Church looks unfavorably at the ecumenical councils of the Christian church that took place so long ago as merely “the councils of men.” I have always found this puzzling. What do they call General Conference held twice a year in which they gather to get counsel and direction from their General Authorities? I see these as the councils of men especially when their prophet never puts forth any new revelation coming from the god Mormons pray to who resides near Kolob.
In conclusion, there is a sharp distinction between Christianity and Mormonism just on the doctrine of the Trinity alone not to mention many others. It is for this reason and others that Mormonism will continue to remain outside the Christian community of faith. The next installment in this series will examine the origins of the word Trinity and the teachings that were passed down to Christians, coming from the apostles to the early church fathers.