Why I am not an Evangelical - Part 5
The problem facing the early Christian church was that it believed that there was only one God, but Jesus also appeared to have claimed to be God and was believed to be divine. To further complicate matters, the Holy Spirit was given to the believers, which again appeared to be a god. How could there be three gods when Judaism’s primary tenet is that there is only one God?
Under the Roman Emperor Constantine the matter was addressed in the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon, attended by around 300 Bishops – a fraction of the total. Various solutions were put forward, and eventually the matter was put to a vote. The “winning” doctrine was that God is a formless spiritual substance, able to divide himself into three parts at will. This doctrine was then formalised in the words of a creed. Having recited the Nicene creed weekly for a couple of decades, I can still recite it, in two languages, including that sticking-point clause which says that Jesus is "of one substance with the Father."
The purpose of the creeds was to denote orthodoxy. Those who agreed with the points of the creed were acceptable as part of the Christian communion; those who didn't were heretics and non-Christian. The same is true today. The fact that Mormons don't believe in the traditional Trinity doctrine is one of the most obvious and major doctrinal differences between "Mormonism" and mainstream Christianity. It's where we part company with the Nicene Creed, and thus where most Christian churches cease to include us in their ecumenical gatherings and projects, and start to include us in their outreach to non-Christians. There is no escaping the fact that the Mormon view of God is very different from the mainstream Christian view, and this area is where I most understand the non-acceptance by the rest of Christendom.
If your version of Christianity is fundamentally rooted on the trinity doctrine, then of course a non-trinitarian Christian is going to seem like an oxymoron. I'm not going to pretend that this isn't a big deal. It is a major fundamental difference, and I have chosen to come down on the side of the unorthodox. I shouldn't be surprised if mainstream Christians get a bit upset about it (see last week's post).
To be honest, even when I was a dyed-in-the-wool Anglican reciting that creed each week, I never really could get to grips with the doctrine of the Trinity. I'd like to claim that was because of my serious Bible study and failure to find scriptural support for it, but actually it was because, with my limited human understanding, I never could get my head round the idea of a God who was somehow three people while only one, for all the allegories of eggs, clover and mother/wife/daughter I found. I expect other, more intelligent, people can understand it, and yet more don't worry that they can't, because someday they will.
Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus is the firstborn (Psalm 89:27, Hebrews 1:6, Colossians 1:15) of God the Father. Under the direction of his Father he created the world (John 1:3, Ephesians 3:9, Hebrews 1:2) and was the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:14, John 8:58). He was born as a man, and was able to pray to his Father (John 17 - note especially verses 21 and 22), and to feel forsaken by him (Matthew 27:46). He now sits and reigns with his Father at his right hand (Romans 8:34, 1 Peter 3:22).
I admit I rejoiced when I fully embraced "Mormonism" and was able to abandon my struggle to believe in a God who was a formless substance which was somehow the same person as Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and yet not. I finally felt I could relate to a God who was like me, who really was my Father, and who was separate and distinct from Jesus Christ, his son (Acts 7:55-56). A major reason why I could never be an Evangelical, or a member of any mainstream Christian church whether or not it fully embraces Evangelical doctrine, is that I cannot believe in the traditional doctrine of the trinity. Nor do I see any need to, when it isn't in the Bible.