Christian Creeds and the Great Apostasy

Gundek and Kullervo are on me to clarify why I don’t think Mormons have creeds in the way traditional Christians do. I thought I would go further and try to explain why Mormon rejection of creedalism is also a critical part of their belief system. I think G.K. Chesteron’s essay “What is America?” is a good place to start. (This is a bit long-winded so be warned.)  Chesterton describes how he was required to answer numerous questions about his political beliefs before being allowed to enter the United States, something he found laughably intrusive leading him to compare the Spanish Inquisition to the American Constitution:

“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. And it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. 

“Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow about theology, it could not confess to being narrow about nationality or ethnology. The Spanish Inquisition might be admittedly Inquisitorial; but the Spanish Inquisition could not be merely Spanish. Such a Spaniard, even when he was narrower than his own creed, had to be broader than his own empire. He might burn a philosopher because he was heterodox; but he must accept a barbarian because he was orthodox. And we see, even in modern times, that the same Church which is blamed for making sages heretics is also blamed for making savages priests. Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal, precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist, precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk.” 

I don’t think Mormonism is creedal in the way Chesterton describes both Christianity and America as creedal. Mormons appear to be much more like England than the United States. I think there is a lot more ideology and philosophy entailed in believing in the American creed than believing in the Mormon church.  In Chesteron’s terms, Mormons are happier to accept the heterodox philosopher as long as he doesn’t behave like a savage, and reject the man who behaves savagely in a certain way even if he believes Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Another analogy is also helpful. The LDS church is not theological creedal like a military is generally not politically creedal. There are indeed ethos, ideology, and doctrines ingrained in every military institution, but a military organization is not principally worried about the ideologies of its soldiers, but whether they will follow, or lead within the authority the chain of command provides.  The personal ideology of the soldiers is not relevant to the fight—only their willing participation.  Professional soldiers behave the way they do because they are soldiers, their clothes and actions need to be uniform, their beliefs don’t. The Mormon rallying cry of “follow the prophet,” doesn’t actually involve believing much of what traditional Christians would call theology at all.  Both Chesteron’s and my analogy can only be pushed so far, but I also think there is something about creeds that is inimical to the Mormon view of religion.   I think the reason stems from how traditional creeds were described by Joseph Smith.

Mormons are not creedal because attack on traditional creeds is wrapped up in the LDS narrative of the Great Apostasy (i.e. the doctrine that the entire world fell away from the true teaching of Jesus and the true church of Jesus Christ[1].) Today, in Sunday school and missionary discussions the LDS church focuses mainly on the authority problem. i.e. that the churches lost the authority of the priesthood.  But Joseph’s Smith’s visions point to the traditional Christian practice of formulating creeds as both a mark of and continuing cause of the Great Apostasy. As “philosophies of men, mingled with scripture,” traditional creeds were seen as the chains that bound Christian thought to prevent the restoration— The blinders that kept it from accepting new things that God had to offer. When I was a Mormon studying philosophy at BYU, I agreed with this assessment. My reasoning was two simple arguments:

  1. God reveals himself to humanity through the minds of prophets.
  2. God’s revelations over the centuries came in very strange ways and God’s interactions took lot of strange twists and turns, often departing dramatically from older worldviews that were embraced by other scriptural authors

Therefore:  We cannot anticipate the way God will communicate with humanity, nor how these revelations will conflict with extant human philosophies.

  1. Traditional Christian creeds were designed to clarify theological positions in the context of the philosophical/theological discussions.
  2. Creeds became binding traditions.
  3. Creeds,as a matter of course, will lead to the condemnation of legitimatenew revelation from God because these revelations might be strange to the old philosophies.

   Therefore: The Christian Creeds were “abominable” in that they led to the condemnation of truth from God.

At root, I thought the problem with creeds was that they were developed as conclusions to philosophical arguments. The history of creeds is one of philosophical polemics, and thus entailed too much philosophy to allow for an expansive view of revelation.  They could only be understood—or assailed— within certain philosophical constraints.  Within the Christian philosophical tradition, the most basic creeds could not be effectively assailed at all.  They were also generally dependent on a closed canon, something I found, in typical Mormon fashion, as unsupportable.

Perhaps because of views like mine, Mormons are very resistant to formulating creeds that entailed strong theological positions, even if many embrace statements of beliefs such as the Articles of Faith.  This is evident in the way they are very hesitant to proclaim nearly anything as “official doctrine” of the church. This comes up mainly because Mormons don’t want to have to believe in more than the simple declarations of belief required in baptismal and temple recommend interviews.

The creedal divide is a (the?) problem with interfaith dialogue between LDS and traditional Christians. The LDS view of creeds, and their failure to formulate them in the traditional Christian way, is a big part of what makes interfaith dialogue extremely difficult and confusing between the LDS and traditional Christians.  Most Mormons can confess the Apostle’s Creed and most of the Nicene creed without any theological complaint because they don’t believe (or understand) the technical definitions that now are part and parcel with the creeds.  Thus, they can’t see the how wide the philosophical and theological divide actually is (also they generally don’t care).  Mormons don’t understand why they are denounced for disbelief in the creeds because they find little value in the theological discussion that spawned the creeds.  And Mormon theology is naturally laughable to the traditional creedal Christian. They can barely understand why Mormons even want to be counted among their ranks (but also don’t really care).

For some reason I have found the problem of reconciling those who sincerely claim to believe in the same God and Christ interesting.—perhaps because I found traditional Christianity laughable in so many ways, even as they seemed to believe in the same God and Christ I did. I find Chesterton’s advice on how a foreigner should view Americans helpful on this point:

“A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himself.

“Superficially this is rather a queer business.It would be easy enough to suggest that in this America has introduced a quite abnormal spirit of inquisition; an interference with liberty unknown among all the ancient despotisms and aristocracies.. . .They held their power as limited to the limitation of practice; they did not forbid me to hold a theory. It would be easy to argue here that Western democracy persecutes where even Eastern despotism tolerates or emancipates. It would be easy to develop the fancy that, as compared with the sultans of Turkey or Egypt, the American Constitution is a thing like the Spanish Inquisition.

“Only the traveller who stops at that point is totally wrong; and the traveller only too often does stop at that point. He has found something to make him laugh, and he will not suffer it to make him think. And the remedy is not to unsay what he has said, not even, so to speak, to unlaugh what he has laughed, not to deny that there is something unique and curious about this American inquisition into our abstract opinions, but rather to continue the train of thought, and follow the admirable advice of Mr. H. G. Wells, who said, ‘It is not much good thinking of a thing unless you think it out.’ It is not to deny that American officialism is rather peculiar on this point, but to inquire what it really is which makes America peculiar, or which is peculiar to America. In short, it is to get some ultimate idea of what America is and the answer to that question will reveal something much deeper and grander and more worthy of our intelligent interest.”

As a Mormon, traditional Christian theology was as laughable as American idiosyncrasies were to  Chesterton. Based on my contacts with traditional Christians, they found my beliefs to be equally ludicrous. As a non-believer in Mormonism or other recognizable forms of Christianity, I can see how both Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity are laughable. But in a world populated by such radically different theologies among people that are essentially the same, it was difficult to for me to say I understand God or humanity at all without understanding the heart and guts of these sorts of differences.  I maintain the hope that as I understand this spiritual physiology the deeper and grander thing will continue to slowly reveal itself.

___________________________________________

[1] [Note that I do not think Mormons are at all exceptional in this view. Tolstoy was right beside them this point: given how Christianity historically worked in society, traditional churches had something very un-Christian about them. It seems that Jesus would not approve of a lot of their dogma or their political antics. This was my view as an LDS. (I still pretty much agree with Tolstoy.)]

Advertisements

50 thoughts on “Christian Creeds and the Great Apostasy

  1. You know there are lots of Christians who reject creeds as binding, right?

    Including, oh, the largest Protestant denomination in America.

  2. And that pretty much overturns your entire point. Because you are overgeneralizing the role of the ecumenical creeds in “traditional Christianity.” Chesterton was a Roman Catholic, so of course he has a high view of the creeds. But Southern Baptists, for example, reject the creeds as binding.

  3. My point was that Mormons are not a creedal religion, in part because they believe that the creeds led to and sustained the apostasy. How does the fact that many churches don’t accept the creeds as binding like scripture diminish the point at all?

  4. As always very interesting take Jared.

    In your previous post you said Mormonism radically relativized orthodoxy, not just that Mormons are not creedal. I don’t know anyone who would object to saying Mormonism isn’t creedal.

  5. My point was that Mormons are not a creedal religion, in part because they believe that the creeds led to and sustained the apostasy. How does the fact that many churches don’t accept the creeds as binding like scripture diminish the point at all?

    To the extent that your point about Mormons’ relationship to their creeds (because they do have them, just like Southern Baptists do) is intended to convey a distinction between Mormonism and “traditional Christianity” and/or express some kind of exceptionality about Mormonism, your point is diminished to nothing.

    Mormons have creeds just like Southern Baptists do.

    Mormons have doctrine, orthodoxy, theology, ecclesiology and orthopraxy as well.

    If you asked a thousand Mormons to explain their religion, they would almost unanimously do so in terms of their doctrinal beliefs and practices. And they would probably even all give you reasonably consistent answers within a certain set. (Which, I strongly suspect, is about the same as you would get from a random selection of adherents of any Christian denomination).

    None of the people you asked would explain threir faith in terms of the baptismal interview questions or the “creed of let everyone mind their own business,” and absolutely none of them would explain Mormonism in terms of a mystical unity of all people that live within ward and stake boundaries,whether or not they are baptized members.

  6. Thinking about your Chesterton example, can’t Mormons be called creedal in specifically the way Chesterton viewed America as creedal? He uses the idea of justice in the Declaration of Independence as analogous to a philosophical creed. Understanding the importance of the idea “all men are equal in their claim to justice” Chesterton claims it as the American creed. This isn’t a formal confession in Nicene Creed ideal, but In your example, for Chesterton the formal creedal document or declaration is less important than the centrality of the idea.

    We could simply substitute the King Follett discourse and its derivative philosophies for the Declaration of Independence to examine the application. Practically speaking the informal creed (in the Chesterton sense) “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” includes just as much doctrine, ideology, and philosophy s confessing that the Lord Jesus Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

    Looking at it this way it seems the LDS rejection of Creeds has less to do with an aversion to strong theological positions than it does with the rejection of a Conciliar system and replacing it with prophetic authority to settle theological disputes.

  7. To the extent that your point about Mormons’ relationship to their creeds (because they do have them, just like Southern Baptists do) is intended to convey a distinction between Mormonism and “traditional Christianity” and/or express some kind of exceptionality about Mormonism, your point is diminished to nothing.

    You honestly think that southern Baptists have the same relationship to the Nicene and Apostles creeds as Mormons do to their statements of belief?

    Is your point that all religions are basically the same?

    If you asked a thousand Mormons to explain their religion, they would almost unanimously do so in terms of their doctrinal beliefs and practices. And they would probably even all give you reasonably consistent answers within a certain set.

    Still not sure why this is relevant to the discussion.

    None of the people you asked would explain their faith in terms of the baptismal interview questions . . . and absolutely none of them would explain Mormonism in terms of a mystical unity of all people that live within ward and stake boundaries,whether or not they are baptized members.

    I guess we just disagree on this.

    The first two baptismal questions seem to me to be beliefs most consistently held by Mormons.

    Regarding mystical union, Mormons, unlike traditional Christians believe we are all children of God, i.e. mystically unified, Bishops have stewardship and authority for all those in their boundaries, this is Mormonism 101. So your view on this seems straightforwardly wrong.

  8. We could simply substitute the King Follett discourse and its derivative philosophies for the Declaration of Independence to examine the application. Practically speaking the informal creed (in the Chesterton sense) “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be” includes just as much doctrine, ideology, and philosophy s confessing that the Lord Jesus Christ is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

    I agree that it is not unreasonable to describe Mormon Church is somewhat creedal in sense that Chesteron decribes America, the military analogy may be stronger.

    But in the Mormon view the King Follet discourse and the Snow couplet were revelations opening up the way for all kinds of different philosophies or beliefs. They were not polemical, nor were they formed by reason. This is fundamentally different than the derivation of the doctrine of the Trinity from the Bible by reasoned argument.

    Looking at it this way it seems the LDS rejection of Creeds has less to do with an aversion to strong theological positions than it does with the rejection of a Conciliar system and replacing it with prophetic authority to settle theological disputes.

    I think this is a good point. Mormons reject the Conciliar system entirely, which is to say that they do not form doctrine by scriptural debate or discussion. I think the difference is critical in that it makes the character of LDS statements of belief different than historical creeds. Scriptural summations based on reasoned argument are generally absent from “authoritative” church doctrine. Some apostles have endeavored to make such summations, but they are not seen as lastingly authoritative like the early creeds.

  9. You honestly think that southern Baptists have the same relationship to the Nicene and Apostles creeds as Mormons do to their statements of belief?

    Absolutely. Southern Baptists believe the doctrines expressed by the creeds are true, just like Mormons believe that the doctrines expressed in the Articles of Faith are true. But that’s all.

    Is your point that all religions are basically the same?

    Absolutely not. Just that there is not an essential difference between Mormons and Christians on this point.

    Still not sure why this is relevant to the discussion.

    Because you are constantly trying to define essential Mormonism in terms other than those which Mormons would use to describe themselves.

    The first two baptismal questions seem to me to be beliefs most consistently held by Mormons.

    Sure. But that’s not the same thing as explaining their faith in terms of the baptismal interview questions. That just means there’s overlap.

    Regarding mystical union, Mormons, unlike traditional Christians believe we are all children of God, i.e. mystically unified, Bishops have stewardship and authority for all those in their boundaries, this is Mormonism 101. So your view on this seems straightforwardly wrong.

    My view is that no Mormon, if asked to explain their faith, would answer you by explaining that their faith was a “mystical unity of all people that live within ward and stake boundaries,whether or not they are baptized members.”

  10. Because you are constantly trying to define essential Mormonism in terms other than those which Mormons would use to describe themselves.

    I have heard plenty of Mormons describe themselves in this manner. But you seem to just take issue with the words I am using rather than the concepts I am expressing. But that can’t be a strong criticism of my approach. To understand Mormonism or traditional Christianity from an outside perspective, different wording than what is used within those faiths is pretty much essential. e.g. Most of the theological concepts of the creeds would have to be “translated” to Mormons for them to understand them properly.

  11. A Military Analogy works, but only because the military as an anti-democratic hierarchy is vitally concerned about the ideology of their members.

  12. Jared, you said, “My point was that Mormons are not a creedal religion.”
    That doesn’t mean much at all to me. I recently heard a Mormon on BYU-TV refer to Joseph’s 1838 account of his First Vision as the canonized version. If canonization is even heavier than creedization, then the idea that Mormonism is not a creedal religion is practically meaningless, wouldn’t you say? In fact, one could say they have too many creeds.
    (I did not read most of your post.)

    God’s blessings to you.

  13. In fact, one could say they have too many creeds.

    I agree that they have lots of creeds, but none that unify or form the basis of a consistent worldview like classic creeds, most rationally-worked-out worldviews in Mormonism are not discussed in church.

  14. Every word, every line in the great Creeds of the Church are derived directly from Holy Scripture.

    Christians that have a problem with that tend to drift off into heresies.

  15. That’s true, Jared.

    theoldadam, I’m reading Richard Mouw’s good book, “Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals.” As you probably know, Mouw was president of Fuller Theological Seminary for years. In his book he responds to the question, “Are Mormons Christians after all?” by citing examples of Mormons telling him they believe there is one Godhead, that they want to become like God but not be a god, and that they are saved by grace through the atoning work of Christ on the Cross (pp. 33-44). Mouw doesn’t say the LDS IS Christian or that it IS NOT (I’m half way through the book), but he says he is “encouraged” by what he is learning through his dialogue with Mormons and his investigation of them.

  16. “In his book he responds to the question, “Are Mormons Christians after all?” by citing examples of Mormons telling him they believe there is one Godhead…”

    What does that even mean?

  17. Cal,

    That encourages me, as well.

    If somehow they (Mormons) could take sin more seriously (that it is our condition)…then maybe they will appreciate the Cross and it’s all encompassing work.
    And I hope the same for a great many Catholics and Protestants, as well.

  18. Gundek asked, “What does that even mean?”

    To elaborate, a Mormon who had heard about Richard Mouw’s dialogue with LDS scholars, called Mouw to tell him his story and ask Mouw if Mouw thinks he is a Christian. Mouw told him that he’d have to ask him some questions and that he’d need some honest answers.

    Mouw asked, “How many gods are there?”
    He answered, “Well, there is one Godhead, made up of three divine Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The conversation continued as I indicated above.
    Mouw told him he answered the questions in a Christian way. Then the Mormon asked him, “Do you think I should leave Mormonism?” Mouw answered, Stay, “but keep saying those things, and if the Mormons leaders ever tell you that you can’t give those answers to those basic questions, then I’d recommend that you leave.”

    About three days later Mouw was scheduled to speak in Nauvoo to the Mormon-evangelical group, after they carried on one of their dialogues. He told them about the phone conversation and the caller’s answers. He said he hoped that day would come when they could say together: “God is God, and we are not. The Godhead alone—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is worthy of worship. Salvation comes by grace alone, through the substitutionary atoning work of Christ on Calvary. Our good works cannot contribute to our salvation—they are done in response to a grace that has accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves.”

    Then Mouw wrote in his book that “several of the Mormons in the group told me that they could already give those answers. I believed them and was encouraged.”

    So as not to misrepresent Mouw, he also says he still struggles with some big questions he has about Mormon thought. . . . For details, his 100-page book is available at Amazon for about 5 buckeroos including postage.

    (I didn’t intend to go so long.)

  19. I think Mouw is willingly underestimating the extent to which that Mormons use the language of Christianity to mean completely different things.

  20. That doesn’t really go very far in answering the question. What does godhead even mean to a Mormon?

    In asking the question “how many Gods are there?”, and getting the response “there is one Godhead”, my natural inclination would be to get a clear definition of Godhead.

    The change in terminology from one God to one Godhead should be fleshed out, don’t you think?

  21. Yes, Gundek.
    To Gundek & Kullervo: Mouw is well aware of differences in terminology. One of the purposes of these dialogues is to dig through all that. Mouw said that one of the Mormon scholars said, “We’re not always sure we’re using the right language in telling you what we believe. Help us clarify what we want to say so that at least we’re not confusing things by talking past each other.”

    Have a nice day, guys.

  22. “Mouw said that one of the Mormon scholars said, “We’re not always sure we’re using the right language in telling you what we believe. Help us clarify what we want to say so that at least we’re not confusing things by talking past each other.””

    If I were a Mormon I would find that pretty insulting. It’s one thing to say there is a fundamental disagreement about the nature of God, it’s another thing to say Mormons need help expressing their beliefs coherently.

  23. Gundek, the reason these Mormons need help expressing their beliefs to us is that they recognize that they may not understand our language. They need to understand our language before they can effectively communicate to us.

  24. If I were a Mormon I would find that pretty insulting. It’s one thing to say there is a fundamental disagreement about the nature of God, it’s another thing to say Mormons need help expressing their beliefs coherently.

    I don’t think I would take offense, it is always difficult to express supernatural beliefs coherently to those who are skeptical. Especially when there is little tradition of literate theology engaging with non-believers. Mormons don’t have an Aquinas or Augustine.

  25. Jared,

    I know that Mormons don’t have Aquinas or Augustine, but Christians do. Are we to honestly to accept that Mormon Scholars are incapable of reading them?

    I am not talking about an average LDS in Utah with no exposure or frame of reference to orthodox beliefs. I simply don’t believe a Scholar is incapable of expressing and clarifying their beliefs. Besides it seems pretty clear from the answer to “how many Gods are there?” that Mormons are quite able to use language to distinguish their beliefs if people will have the respect to listen to them.

    Diarmaid MacCulloch is an atheist and he seems to be able to use the right language in his books about christian history and beliefs.

  26. “it is always difficult to express supernatural beliefs coherently to those who are skeptical.”

    Yes.

    “Are we to honestly to accept that Mormon Scholars are incapable of reading them [Aquinas or Augustine]?”

    Why would they want to read them when those who push them often come across as mean-spirited and condemning? (I’m not talking about you personally, Gundek, but in general.) As Martin Lloyd Jones once said, “If you’ve got something more, let’s see it.”

  27. I have no Idea what the Lloyd Jones quote is intended to mean, but why wouldn’t any scholar engaged in a religious dialog want to read Aquinas or Augustine? Honestly?

    Of course we can all acknowledge that there are mean-spirited and condemning people on any side of a debate but is it really respectful to claim your dialog partner isn’t up to the task of representing themselves coherently?

  28. I don’t think it is necessarily mean-spirited to acknowledge a different level of sophistication in explanation. It is a mistake to judge sophistication to be strength. When you try to explain Mormonism, you have the added complexity of explaining a belief system that is against the grain of many of some of the most enduring ideas in Western Civilization, and uses some of the same terms to describe itself— the adherents call themselves the same name.

    For Mormons, the practical and spiritual differences between believing that God is one of us vs. to believe that God is the ground of all being, are difficult to explain. They don’t believe it because they can explain it.

  29. Jared

    You and Cal keep commenting about the the difficulty of interfaith dialog. That may have been the point of Mouw’s comment, but that is not what he said. He said Mormon scholars need help expressing themselves. That’s the theological equivalent of paternalism and condescending at best. “Don’t worry poor Mormons we are here to help.”

    I understand the difficulty in explaining personal practical implications of spiritual beliefs and I have repeatedly pointed out that LDS use the same theological vocabulary with unique definitions as Christianity. So, I am not trying to make light of difficulty of an interfaith dialog, but Mouw specifically addressed Mormon scholars not your average member.

    I am sure that Mouw didn’t intend his remarks as insulting but the reality of his anecdote is to dump the confusion and difficulty of interfaith dialog at the feet of Mormon scholars inability use the right words. Saying a scholar can’t use the word is like saying a carpenter needs help picking the right hammer. When I read Mormons scholars like Richard Bushman or Daniel O. McClellan I don’t see people who need help expressing themselves to a wider audience.

  30. “If you have something more let’s see it” means, “If your version of the gospel is more complete than mine, let’s see the result of it in more fruit of the Spirit, such as love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

  31. Cal,

    I cannot believe that Lloyd Jones would find encouragement by the Mormon belief in one Godhead without finding out what Godhead even means.

    Isn’t it a mark of love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control to understand what someone means rather that imposing your beliefs on them?

  32. This works both ways. When I meet with a couple Mormon elders, I feel like saying, “You’re experiencing the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and I’m not? OK, tell me the benefits of that companionship and I’ll tell you I already am experiencing those benefits.” Actually, I have attempted a conversation like that. It puts the rubber where the road is, and sometimes it seems to knock them back on their heals. Sometimes they’ve mentioned their access to the temples—something I don’t have. That makes them feel more spiritual. But no, that doesn’t prove that they’re more spiritual. The real barometer is love:

    1 John 2:5
    But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.

    I feel like saying to them, “You have the love of Christ constantly living in you, and I don’t? Show it by allowing Christians like myself into your temples. Quit being divisive. You are obedient to God and I’m not? First John 2:9 says, ‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.’ Quit manifesting hate toward me by barring me from your temples. I’m your brother in Christ. I am in Christ just as much as you are. I have the Holy Spirit just as you have. If you have more of the Spirit (love) than I do, show it by accepting me into your fold.

    They say, “We will accept you. Do you believe Joseph Smith is a prophet?” But the Bible doesn’t require knowledge of Joseph Smith. Here’s what it requires: repentance and faith in Christ. That’s it. Just walk in love. No add-ons invented by humans. No divisive extras. Nothing so you can brag or feel like you’re better than other Christians. Just faith—the blood of Jesus takes care of the rest.

    You guys have a great day.

  33. They say, “We will accept you. Do you believe Joseph Smith is a prophet?” But the Bible doesn’t require knowledge of Joseph Smith. Here’s what it requires: repentance and faith in Christ. That’s it. Just walk in love. No add-ons invented by humans. No divisive extras. Nothing so you can brag or feel like you’re better than other Christians. Just faith—the blood of Jesus takes care of the rest.

    This is very close to a common Mormon view.

  34. I am sure that Mouw didn’t intend his remarks as insulting but the reality of his anecdote is to dump the confusion and difficulty of interfaith dialog at the feet of Mormon scholars inability use the right words. Saying a scholar can’t use the word is like saying a carpenter needs help picking the right hammer. When I read Mormons scholars like Richard Bushman or Daniel O. McClellan I don’t see people who need help expressing themselves to a wider audience.

    I personally think that is a good place to dump the confusion and difficulty. And according to their claims, they should shoulder the burden in an intellectual playing field. Mormon scholars don’t have a lot of purchase within Mormonism yet. I would hesitate to say that they represent what Mormons believe. There is not enough consensus among Mormons about what the Church should be—other than bigger—to have a good dialogue about most points.

    I think there is a lot of thinking and writing to do for Mormons to be intellectually aware of the many contours of their faith. The intellectuals can’t yet represent the anti-intellectualism that is interwoven in the church and participate in a dialogue based on reason alone. Frankly, there is not enough interfaith dialogue within Mormonism to work out what to say to others about the guts of the Mormon conception of God. This is, in part, because Mormonism rejected a philosophical foundation like that of traditional Christianity. Mormons don’t feel the need to develop theology or correct other people’s theology as long as they show up for church, play nice, and participate.

    When I was a Mormon I didn’t feel much need to explain the religion much past faith in Christ, baptism, and confirmation. I didn’t think I could possibly explain it to those who had not felt spiritual confirmation of the truth of the Church.

  35. “There is not enough consensus among Mormons about what the Church should be—other than bigger—to have a good dialogue about most points.”

    The Mormon missionaries (elders) I’ve talked to rarely disagree with other Mormon missionaries—I mean even the ones I talked to 10 years ago would agree almost 100% with the ones I talked to this year. Also, to know LDS doctrine, I go to their official website or to publications of the LDS. I find them all very consistent with each other. I don’t use the Book of Mormon as a final guide for determining LDS doctrine because I think they misinterpret the Book of Mormon sometimes, just as we misinterpret the Bible sometimes. (The Book of Mormon has a purer version of the truth than does LDS doctrine in general.)

    God bless. . . .

  36. This is very close to a common Mormon view.

    That only repentance and faith in Christ is required, and nothing else? Pull the other one.

  37. “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation.”

    “And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

    And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.”

    Putting in the references makes me feel too much like Rick Hurd.

  38. “Mormons don’t feel the need to develop theology or correct other people’s theology as long as they show up for church, play nice, and participate.”

    Mormons may not be free to develop their theology but clearly the Church has the need to correct peoples theology. And this may be the real heart of the difficulty, its less about the capacity to express themselves than the liberty.

  39. Mormons don’t feel the need to develop theology or correct other people’s theology as long as they show up for church, play nice, and participate.

    Please. That’s not true at all. Try espousing unorthodox doctrines in Sunday school or, better yet, when you give a talk, and see what happens.

    The fact that you won’t be disciplined for secretly believeing heresies in Mormonism is not even remarkable. You won’t be disciplined for secretly believing heresies in any church.

  40. I don’t know what LDS church you attended but I have heard the darndest theories from the pulpit and in classes, from leaders and general authorities, and I can’t think of one instance of discipline. And the strangest theories I heard generally came from leaders. There is little secrecy about these theologically diverse beliefs, there are tons of wacky Mormon books interpreting prophecy and scripture in obviously erroneous ways, many directly opposed to what apostles or former prophets have written. I have given talks that, if thought about, were directly opposed to many views found in church manuals and radically different than what many apostles have professed. Nobody seemed to care at all.

    Mormons may generally believe and teach almost anything, as long as they don’t use their theory to undermine authority i.e. defy authority or falsely assume authority. In my experience, discipline for heresy or disbelief is generally always political rather than theological. Orthodox generally only means “not rebellious” in the Mormon context.

  41. The fact that discipline for heterodox doctrine is unevenly applied doesn’t mean it isn’t applied. I have relatives who have had to retract things, etc.

  42. Of course discipline for heresy or disbelief is generally always political. What makes you think it is any different in a Protestant setting?

  43. I don’t know if it is different or not. My point was simply that Mormons generally don’t care about theological stances, and Mormons that have divergent theories are generally not dissuaded from talking about them. The image of an intellectually dominating church is generally false. Most Bishops allow a wide range of views.

  44. I can accept that Mormons don’t care about theological stances as long as they fall within a non confrontational set of boundaries. Or that a person can live within the culture of Mormonism without believing any of the truth claims of the Church by not creating a confrontation.

    I find it hard to believe a person can publicly and repeatedly deny the existence of an embodied god or that the LDS are led by modern prophets and that priesthood authority has been removed from the Church. I think a bishop who taught that the Sacrament prayers should be changed, infants baptized, and 12 year old girls ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood would not be long in his calling.

    I could be wrong, but I think there is enough evidence that any divergent theory that strikes at the vitals of the LDS religion is rooted out with the efficiency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s