In Part 3 of this series we want to continue the examination of the early church teaching in what later became known as the Trinity. It is paramount that Christians trace their theology and doctrine coming from the Bible as was written by the apostles and prophets. Our foundation is built upon them (Eph 2:20); Christians stand on very large, strong shoulders when we look at historical theology.
Mormonism claims that Christianity went into apostasy after the death of the apostles, thus the church ceased to exist. This is an absurd charge that is hard to take seriously in light of the historical lineage of Christianity following the death of John the Apostle. Due to the conspiracy theory put forth by Mormons we need to examine the legacy of John the Apostle in the lives of several men, and the teachings that were passed down to them. Surprisingly, the LDS Church makes this declaration pertaining to this discussion:
…While we do not believe the Bible to be inerrant, complete or the final word of God, we accept the essential details of the Gospels and more particularly the divine witness of those men who walked and talked with Him or were mentored by His chosen apostles. (Emphasis mine. Mormon Newsroom, What Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ)
Does the LDS Church really accept the witness of those that “were mentored by His [Jesus] chosen apostles”? Their rejection of the triune God says otherwise. Let’s look at John the Apostle as our starting point. John lived to be a very old man and died in the city of Ephesus (A.D. 100-101). John was very active in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ along with teaching doctrine to several men – men who would end up becoming bishops of churches mainly because of their credentials of having been taught by John or one of John’s disciples. These men along with several others became the earliest of the Christian church fathers.
Ignatius (death: A.D. 98-117?) was the bishop of Antioch and a disciple of John. Did John teach Ignatius that Jesus Christ was fully God in deity/essence? And was there mention of Persons in a triadic pattern? Let’s find out:
There is the one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no other besides Him, the only true [God]…There are not then either three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Paracletes, but one Father, and one Son, and one Paraclete. Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” not unto one [person] having three names, nor into three [persons] who became incarnate, but into three possessed of equal honor. (Epistle to the Philippians, Chapter 2)
What did Ignatius do with the instruction he received from John? Eusebius tells us:
He [Ignatius] exhorted them [different churches] to adhere firmly to the tradition of the apostles, which, for the sake of greater security, he deemed it necessary to attest by committing it to writing. (Ecclesiastical History; Book 3, Chapter 36)
The most well-known of John’s disciples was Polycarp (A.D 69/70-155) who was the bishop of Smyrna. His link to John is clear according to Eusebius:
Polycarp flourished in Asia, an intimate disciple of the apostles who received the episcopate of the church at Smyrna, at the hands of the eyewitnesses and servants of the Lord. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Chapter 36).
Notice Polycarp’s prayer that is very triune:
O Lord God almighty…I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever (n. 14, ed. Funk; PG 5.1040).
Let’s now get acquainted with Polycarp’s disciple, Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202), who was the bishop of Lyons. Eusebius introduces us to Irenaeus:
Let us proceed to the order of history. Pothinus, having died with the other martyrs of Gaul [France] in the ninetieth year of his age, was succeeded by Irenaeus in the episcopate of the church at Lyons. We have understood that he was a hearer of Polycarp in his youth. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 5)
Eusebius quotes Irenaeus’ words to Florinus regarding the instruction he received from Polycarp:
For I saw thee when I was yet a boy in the lower Asia with Polycarp…I remember the events of those times much better than those of more recent occurrence. As the studies of our youth growing with our minds, unite with it so firmly that I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse; and also his entrances, his walks, the complexion of his life and the form of his body, and his conversations with the people, and his familiar intercourse with John, as he was accustomed to tell, as also his familiarity with those that had seen the Lord. How also he used to relate their discourses, and what things he had heard from them concerning the Lord. Also concerning his miracles, his doctrine, all these were told by Polycarp, in consistency with the Holy Scriptures, as he had received them from the eyewitnesses of the doctrine of salvation. These things, by the mercy of God, and the opportunity then afforded me, I attentively heard, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart; and these same facts I am always in the habit, by the grace of God, to recall faithfully to mind. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 20)
Irenaeus speaks more of Polycarp and the link to the apostles:
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also these men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time…He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles, – that, namely, which is handed down by the Church (Against Heresies 3:3:4).
What was Irenaeus taught by Polycarp about Jesus Christ?
…the Word of God…that He is all in all…the Man among men; Son in the Father; God in God; King to all eternity…and the bridegroom of the Church; the Chief also of the cherubim, the Prince of the angelic powers; God of God; Son of the Father; Jesus Christ; King forever and ever. Amen (Fragment 53).
Therefore, the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God, since he who is born of God is God, and in this way, according to His being and power and essence, one God is demonstrated: but according to the economy of our salvation, there is both Father and Son (On the Apostolic Preaching 2:1:47).
Did Irenaeus see the one God as triune?
I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father, and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation…There is therefore one God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things (Against Heresies 4:20:3-4).
The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord…and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father (Against Heresies 1:10:1).
In conclusion, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus weren’t creating new doctrines that were contrary to what they had received from John. Other church fathers at this same time received the same teachings and passed them on through their writings. The LDS Church has diverted from these teachings and accepted heretical teachings that were denounced very early on by some of these same church fathers. We will examine one of these heretical teachings in the next article.