In this last article we will examine one of the heretical distortions of the doctrine of the Trinity as embraced by Mormonism. As was noted earlier, Mormonism doesn’t look favorably on the ecumenical councils that took place long ago in Christianity. Why were these councils called in the first place? The primary reason was because of heresy creeping into the church, unfortunately, by those in the church that were going astray theologically, thus causing others to join them. These instigators of heretical teachings could not be ignored and had to be addressed. Their heretical teachings were a diversion from the faith and a pollution of the gospel that emphatically began with the understanding that there is one God (monotheism) and Jesus Christ was God in human flesh (His deity: fully God and fully man).
Early Christians didn’t have their theology formulated and worked out in fine details like Christians do today. It took several hundred years putting this together as the Christians studied the Scriptures in light of incoming heresies. Heresies that impacted Christianity did have positive outcomes. For example, the heresy of Marcionism forced Christians to carefully examine those books written by the apostles or other inspired writers that were authoritative, which brought about the canon of inspired Scripture. Regarding creeds, the Christians were forced to examine their beliefs in light of Scripture, forming creedal statements of belief that conversely resulted in a rejection of heretical teachings. The ancient creeds of the Christian Church are merely statements of belief that are based on Scripture. The Church is defined by what it believes. In modern times we call these “doctrinal statements.” In Christianity these doctrinal statements come from the ancient creeds that summarize what the Church believes and, indirectly, doesn’t believe. Every church, sect, or religion has these statements of belief that are essentially the same things as creeds. The LDS Church is no exception. Instead of the word creed the LDS Church calls their statement of beliefs Articles of Faith. These are synonymous terms no matter how vigorously the LDS Church tries to redefine or spin it (as they do many other words) in a desperate attempt to appear different from other religions — or to demonstrate their vitriol against the early church ecumenical councils.
Why did these heresies come up in the first place? Did these occur outside of God’s will and control? Christians believe and worship a God that is sovereign over all things and that includes all that takes place in the world and the times that they occur (providence). All things come to pass exactly at the moment in history that God wants it to occur. The writings of the early church fathers (ante-Nicene), the ecumenical councils, the close of the canon of Scripture, the formulation of theology, and creedal statements of belief all came to pass exactly according to God’s sovereign plan. Yes, this includes heresies. Defining, sharpening, and filtering correct theology according to the Scriptures brings glory and honor to God. God does all things for that purpose.
One of the distortions of the doctrine of the Trinity that the Mormons are guilty is tritheism. What is tritheism? It’s simply this:
- The concept of the Triune God (3 in 1) cannot be rationalized so it should be rejected.
- There are three separate Gods who are equal and who are united in purpose.
- Each God is distinct and separate.
Mormonism rejects the unity of substance between the Persons in the Trinity and especially emphasizes each Person as being distinct and separate (according to Joseph Smith). Christianity affirms that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, but the Persons are not distinct and separate (as two words together) because the Persons cannot be separated due to their having the same nature. Mormonism states the doctrine can’t be understood rationally by human beings; therefore, the doctrine should be rejected. The belief in a plurality of gods is polytheism and is at the core of the tritheism heresy. Joseph Smith was very clearly a proponent of tritheism:
I will preach on the plurality of plurality of Gods…I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit; and these three constitute three distinct personage and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! We have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural (History of the Church 6:474).
Smith further stated:
Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow – three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization…All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God – he would be a giant or a monster (History of the Church 6:476).
Smith’s ridicule based on his human rationale doesn’t make the doctrine false. This rationalization of the nature of God has led the Mormons astray in other ways as well based on Smith’s sermon. Smith’s teaching of a plurality of separate Gods is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Mormons attempt to rationalize from the Bible what they cannot understand. However, Mormons don’t apply this same process to some of their own doctrines that they believe are beyond the human mind to comprehend. However, they readily acknowledge their own doctrinal headaches that result from attempting to rationalize a god hatched in the mind of Joseph Smith and given to the Mormon people. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt gives us a good example:
We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previously heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father; and so on, from generation to generation, from one heavenly world to another still more ancient, until our minds are wearied and lost in the multiplicity of generations and successive worlds, and as a last resort, we wonder in our minds, how far back the genealogy extends, and how the first world was formed, and the first father was begotten. (The Seer, p. 132)
The Bible is very clear throughout the Old and New Testaments that there is only one God (Deut 4:35; 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 21-22; 46:9; Mark 12:29, 32; 1 Cor 8:4-6; Eph 4:4-6; 1 Tim 2:5, etc.). Yes, there are gods and lords, which are idols, but they are not God by nature (Gal 4:8). Mark 12:29 is especially important because Jesus is quoting The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. If anyone would have known whether there were other gods out there it would have been Jesus Christ, and He affirms that there is only one God. God, the Eternal Sovereign, had rightly chosen not to reveal all things pertaining to His Being and purposes to mere human beings. What should have humankind stumped and giving God praise continually is that He chose to reveal anything about Himself to us; He certainly didn’t have to! He could have left the entire human race in its sin without any Savior to redeem it from its rebellion. God is not under any obligation to human beings. Joseph Smith would not accept what God said in Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
It appears that Smith wanted all things revealed by God in order to accept it on faith based on the revealed Scriptures. Mormonism has very clear verses in their scriptures that attest to there only being one God, and yet states that this is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That sounds very Trinitarian:
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end (D&C 20:28).
And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen (The Testimony of the Three Witnesses [to the Book of Mormon]).
Mormons will say that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three Gods that are united only in purpose but not nature or substance. However, our Mormon friends cannot demonstrate from the Bible or the Book of Mormon three separate Gods that are united only in purpose. The Bible clearly reveals one God revealed in three Persons united in nature, eternality, and purpose. Mormonism’s rejection of the Trinity while embracing tritheism will continue to segregate this 19th century religious movement from historical, orthodox Christianity.