El Santo Gringo from La Jolla, California:
I was very happy to hear from you again! Wonderful to know that you're still interested in the church. I also enjoy "Mormon Messages
" and the "Mormon Times
." As something of a technophile, it's been thrilling for me to see the church embrace the new media. I think it's having a very positive impact.
|Mormon missionaries in Alagoas, Brazil.|
Though I like to think of myself as a convert, as I have come to know for myself the truthfulness of the Gospel message, I was born into the church. I've been asking around trying to find a good convert to exchange e-mails with you. I learned today that there is an African-American, single-mother convert from a mainline Christian denomination in one of the Mormon congregations neighboring mine! She may very well be your San Diegan twin! I'm not sure I'll be able to get a hold of her, but, if not, I'll find another convert for you to chat with. You should know, though, that most Mormons today were not born into the church, and many of our missionaries are also converts. When I was a missionary in Brazil, for example, I had a number of convert companions.
The Mormon acceptance/rejection of the Trinity is very confusing. Mormons themselves are to blame for most of this confusion. As you know, Trinitarians believe that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost are simultaneously three and one. On some level the Bible supports this view of Divinity, and Mormons generally accept it as well. However, subsequent Christian creeds, like the Nicene Creed, added additional, post-biblical concepts to the notion of Trinity, including the idea that God is without body, parts, or passions, the idea that Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are uncreated, etc. Mormons tend to reject these post-biblical ideas. As Harper's Bible Dictionary, a non-Mormon publication, describes it: The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.
Mormons reject some of the specifics of the Nicene Creed, but we accept the idea that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost are in some sense both three and one. They are three separate beings that are perfectly unified in purpose and so function as one single monotheistic God. Interestingly, in recent years some creedal Christian theologians have come to accept a non-Nicene version of the Trinity that is remarkably similar to the Mormon concept. This view of the Trinity, called Social Trinitarianism
, has been advanced by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and the Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann. It teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate entities in that they have three separate centers of conscious. However, they function as one because they are one in purpose. They have one unified divine will. This view of the Trinity is clearly taught in the Bible. John 17:11,21-23, for example, makes it very clear that the oneness of God is derived from a unity of purpose, not a unity of identity.
When Mormons say they reject the Trinity, then, they really mean they reject the Trinity as described in the post-biblical creeds. Unfortunately, this apparent rejection of the Trinity paints an entirely inaccurate picture of actual Mormon doctrine and causes quite a bit of confusion for those who are not familiar with the specifics of our beliefs. I feel entirely comfortable saying that I am a Trinitarian Christian, but different. Other Mormons may be less comfortable with the word "Trinitarian" because of our unique Mormon parlance, but they would accept the basic notion of the Trinity if you asked them about the specifics of their beliefs. You may be interested in reading a recent sermon given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the modern-day apostles, in which he describes the Mormon view of the Trinity
. (Be forewarned, though, that he uses the word Trinity to refer specifically to the Nicene Trinity and so inadvertently perpetuates the confusion I described above...)
It's true, as you said, that Mormons believe in a corporeal God. This is perhaps a more significant difference between Mormon Christianity and creedal Christianity. It would be a mistake, however, to think that God is in any way limited because He chooses to inhabit a physical body. As an all-powerful and all-knowing God, He may choose to physically dwell in the universe He has created, but He is not limited by that universe.
Clearly, you're concern over the concept of exaltation stems from your sincere love of God and your desire to honor and respect Him properly. That's excellent. The doctrine of exaltation, or, as theologians call it, theosis, is often misunderstood. Mormons are not the only Christians who believe in theosis
; in fact, a number of mainline Christian denominations also accept the notion in one form or another because the idea is expressed explicitly in the Bible (see, for example, Psalms 82:6, John 10:34-35, Matthew 5:48, Revelation 3:19-21, Romans 8:16-17, Galatians 4:1-7, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:1-2). However, it is true that the Mormon view of theosis is the most detailed and developed of any Christian denomination I know.
|A statue of Jesus Christ at temple square in Salt Lake City.|
Part of the confusion surrounding this doctrine stems from the terminology Mormons use to describe it. In describing exaltation, the Old Testament uses the word "gods" (Psalms 82:6). In Hebrew, gods is "elohim," a word that can refer to both God, as in God the Father, but also to other divine beings subordinate to the Father, like the angels. In John 10:34-35, Jesus quotes this same verse, explaining that "gods" refers to those who accept and apply the word of God. For reasons I don't understand, for many years Mormons used this Old-Testament language, declaring that they believed they could "become gods." In a modern context, however, the word "gods" is entirely misleading. It implies that Mormons believe they can somehow be equal to or even greater than God the Father or God the Son, or that Mormons believe that the day will arrive when God the Father and the Son no longer need be worshiped. Because this Old-Testament terminology is so misleading, Mormons are beginning to abandon it. Most Mormons nowadays use New-Testament terminology to describe exaltation, like that found in Romans 8:16-17, or terminology that is Mormon specific.
As I've suggested, exaltation does not mean that men and women can one day become equal to or greater than God the Father or God the Son. We will always worship Them; we will always be subordinate to Them. Exaltation means that, under God's tutelage, He will allow us to share in His creative powers.
In general, Mormons take the child-of-God relationship more literally than many other Christian denominations. How do you feel when your daughter grows through knowledge or experience? Does her personal progress in any way diminish your status as her mother? On the contrary, when your daughter excels, I'm sure you feel the righteous pride that any mother would feel. Our relationship with God is like that. As we grow spiritually, God is not diminished. As our divine Father, He is glorified when we progress. Regardless of our progress under His divine influence, however, we will always worship Him as our Father and our God. Anything we might become will only be thanks to His tutelage and His grace.
Part of participating with God in His creative process may include the creation of intelligent beings, just as God the Father created us, His children. However, this possibility has been grossly misrepresented by many anti-Mormons. The film "The God Makers," which was condemned even by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, a non-Mormon group, boldly suggests that Mormons believe their women will be "eternally pregnant" producing millions of "spirit babies"! This idea is entirely foreign to Mormon thought. We have very little revealed information about how God created our intelligent spirits, but the vague information we do have (Abraham 3:21-22
) in no way suggests "eternal pregnancy."
Thanks again for your questions! Please do let me know if you have any more. I'll try to be less long-winded next time. (Who am I kidding...I can't help myself...)