Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Trinity or Godhead

Recently I told of an experience in which I went with one of my dear friends to one of her college Baptist organization evening events. The event started with music from a local band that is now trying to make it big in Nashville and then featured a guest pastor from the area. I really enjoyed the experience for a few reasons and you can read about it here.

Today I want to address the sermon given by the pastor that night on the Trinity. The goal of this post is to clarify the doctrine concerning the Godhead, or Trinity, for anyone and everyone who decides to read this blog.

As the guest pastor introduced his subject, he emphasized the importance of doctrine when understanding the Trinity. What was the very first thing he discussed? Mormons and their belief in the Godhead. At this point my friend put her hand on my arm, I’m sure worried about what I was thinking and a bit worried what the pastor was going to say next. He continued on, expounding on what Mormons believe, saying that we “will tell you that [we] believe in the Jesus taught in the Bible, the Jesus [the pastor and participants] believe in. But if you open up [our] Book of Mormon [we] do not believe in the same Jesus Christ preached in the Bible. [We] don’t even understand [our] own doctrine.” He went on and on about this that and the other, at one point expounding on his interpretation of the doctrine that we are all children of our Heavenly Father. My favorite quote: “They teach that the Father has a harem of heavenly wives and had celestial sex to create all of us. And guess who was number one? Jesus. And you,” he said, pointing to a random in the crowd, “are number 7,310,239,012,” at which point he got a laugh.

I’ll admit, I was a little tense during the whole ordeal and he got me a little riled up. I wasn’t angry or mad, just frustrated that he would stand up there and say a whole bunch of twisted or straight up wrong things about what I believe. For me personally, I didn’t care, I’m used to people telling me what I believe. But I found it unfortunate that the people there probably believed him, I mean, why wouldn’t they, he’s in a position of influence and trust. But one of the duties of a public speaker is to check your facts (unless you are intentionally trying to mislead your audience I suppose) and he was sorely confused. I really just wanted to stand up and let everyone know what Mormons actually believe but for obvious reasons that would have been inappropriate and hugely ineffective. I will admit that after the event was over I tried to find him to shake his hand and simply look him in the eye and tell him that I was a Mormon and that he should check his facts before he shared them with others. But I didn’t find him and it’s probably better, I’m not sure that would’ve done any good or gone over well anyways.

The very firm stance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost,” (Articles of Faith 1:1). God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit are three separate and distinct beings with separate and defined roles who are one in perfect harmony of purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass our immortality and eternal life.1 

Importance of Doctrine

Concerning belief in God and Jesus Christ, I agree with the Baptist minister in this one thing: understanding the doctrine of the Godhead is very important in developing your relationship with Deity. If any of us want to develop faith in God, or become more like Jesus Christ, or deepen our relationship with our Father in Heaven we must understand who They are and what They do. Did not Jesus Christ Himself, in addressing His Father, teach that, “this is life eternal that [we] might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3)?

Knowing who God is and also Jesus Christ whom He sent is important because how are we to sincerely address a being whom we do not know? What kind of relationship do we have with God if we do not know if He is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, if He sent His Son or come Himself, if He is a spirit, a presence, a cloud, an idea, or if He possesses a body of flesh and bone? This principle is illustrated in our day-to-day lives; our relationships improve and progress according to how well we know someone and according to the effort we put forth to interact with them and get to know them, for how can we truly love and serve someone we do not know?

Modern-day prophets have taught: “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” (Bible Dictionary--Prayer). When we understand the doctrine concerning the Godhead, our relationships with each of Them can improve and progress and we are on our way to eternal life.

The Trinity and the Godhead

The terminology used to describe the differences in beliefs in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit can be confusing. In trying to find the actual meaning of the word “trinity,” I could not find a concrete answer insofar as religion is concerned. Each definition I found talked about a group of three, and when applied to Christianity, talked about three persons united in one, etc. but further than I found about as many different definitions as I did references. Many definitions and explanations I found were completely vague and ambiguous in what three persons in one personality or God actually means. In this post I use Trinity and Godhead somewhat interchangeably, favoring the term “Godhead” because that’s the term I grew up using.

At this meeting, once the pastor finally stopped talking about and criticizing Mormon “doctrines” and got into teaching his own views on the Godhead, I learned that he was of the three-in-one belief, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all the same being and entity. He quoted a number of scriptures that appeared to support that belief, always emphasizing that the doctrine is important in understanding the Trinity. He also used the analogy, “I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a preacher. Three-in-one, easy to understand.”

This teaching, although widely believed among some if not many religions, is not correct. The teaching and belief that the Godhead is not three but one and that God is incomprehensible came from the Council of Nicaea. In 325 AD (and numerous times thereafter), many prominent religious and political leaders sought to consolidate the doctrine of God and Christianity that had become perverted as the plain and precious things taught by Jesus Christ and the prophets were lost or changed following the death of the apostles. But the doctrine of God is not for man to decide. There is one truth, uncompromisable and unchanging. Either God is or He is not, either He has a Son and operates through the Holy Ghost or He does not, either we are His heavenly creations or we are not. That is not for us to decide or dictate; ours is the responsibility to find out for ourselves what that truth is. And our Father in Heaven gives wisdom and knowledge to those who ask (see James 1:5-6; 2 Nephi 4:35).

What the Bible Teaches

Admittedly, some verses exist in the Bible that seemingly support the doctrine of the three-in-one trinity. The pastor that night used the words from John 14:9-10:

“Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

“Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”

Using these verses and a few others the pastor built his argument that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one being.

Yet for every Bible verse that may appear to teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one being, more teach that They are separate and distinct beings.

Can we not read in Acts that Stephen, “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)?

Or that Jesus, “when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:16-17)? Each member of the Godhead is spoken about in these verses, each playing a separate and distinct role.

Or when, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John, while standing next to Jesus Christ, heard, “a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt 17:5)?

Or Jesus, when in Gethsemane, about to suffer for the pains, afflictions, temptations, and afflictions of every kind, “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:39)?

Or a host of other verses in which Jesus Christ references and talks about His Father?

The verses in John 14 alone can be cleared up by simply reading the chapter in its entirety. Yes, Jesus tells Phillip that “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and . . . I am in the Father and the Father in me,” which is perhaps confusing if you stop there. But if you continue to read, Christ states in verse 12 that He shall, “go unto my Father,” in verse 16 that He will, “pray unto the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,” in verses 23 and 24 that, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and that my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him . . . and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (italics added), in verse 26 that, “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name,” and in verse 28 that, “I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I.” When Christ tells Phillip that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father, He is teaching Phillip, His apostles, and us that He is exactly like His Father. They are the same in purpose and thought. If you know Jesus Christ, you know the Father.2

To me the doctrine of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings with one united purpose is clear. Unfortunately to some the Bible may seem somewhat unclear and seemingly contradictory on this subject. I believe that a lot of confusion can be cleared up by reading verses together and not in isolation but even then some doubt may still exist concerning truth.

The Day of Miracles

Fortunately we do not have to rely on man’s interpretation of the Bible in order to know truth. Indeed, the philosophies of man mingled with scripture will only lead us astray. The apostle Peter clearly taught, “No prophesy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

“For the prophesy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The day of miracles has not ceased among the children of men, the heavens are open and God speaks to us as He spoke to His children in ancient times. In ancient times He “gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” (Ephesians 4:11-14.)

In our day He once again calls prophets and apostles that we may know His truth, understand clearly His doctrines, and better know how we can come unto Him. He does not leave us to wander in darkness, to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. All confusion that may exist in reading and arguing over the Bible can be and is made clear through modern revelation.

Because God continues to speak through His holy prophets, we have this modern-day verse that so beautifully clears up any misconception of the nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.)

The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

For me, however, the clearest and strongest testimony that God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate and distinct beings yet with one purpose is the experience of the prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844) in the spring of 1820.

In his efforts to discern truth and discover God’s will for him, Joseph Smith found a verse in the first chapter of James which reads: “If and of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all me liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (verse 5). Joseph did just that and did indeed gain wisdom. Of the miraculous answer to his sincere and humble prayer he recounted:

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

“When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith--History 1:16-17.)

God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and spoke to him. They called him to be a prophet and through him restored the fulness of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

God is our Father in Heaven. He loves us. We are His spirit children and He desires not simply our temporal well-being but our eternal happiness. Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son who came to earth to show us the way back to our Father. He is our Elder Brother who atoned for our sins, trials, afflictions, and pains. And He blesses us with the Holy Spirit, whom He promised in the 14th chapter of John: “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:26-27).

Of the risen Lord, the prophet Joseph Smith also said:

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24).

Doctrine is important in understanding God and our relationship with Him. And true doctrine is found in the words of the prophets, both ancient and modern, as dictated by the Holy Spirit.

I know that God is our Heavenly Father. I am forever grateful for the infinite virtue of the great atoning sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the continual opportunity to communicate with my Father in Heaven through prayer and that He answers my prayers through the scriptures, the Holy Ghost, and other people. I know that He loves me because I feel His Spirit with which He blesses me when I strive to follow the example of the Savior. God speaks to us in our day through the Holy Ghost and through living prophets.

This is doctrine and it is true.

Jeremy

Notes

1. See John 17:21–23; 2 Ne. 31:21; 3 Ne. 11:27, 36.
2. Later the Apostle Paul described the Son as being “the express image of [God the Father’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4).

For further reading:

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” Ensign, March 1998
God, Godhead,” Guide to the Scriptures
Godhead,” LDS.org study topic