If I could ask God one question…

Things are quiet on the blog lately, so I figure it’s a good chance to make an appearance. Perhaps few people will read this entry and then I can likely avoid being blacklisted.

I applied to teach at Messiah College in Pennsylvania recently and part of the application was affirming the Apostles’ Creed. I affirmed the Apostles’ Creed, and I did so because I agreed with all the statements that were made within the creed. However, after having done so, I couldn’t help but recall the words of Joseph Smith when discussing his First Vision: “the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” (JS-H 1:19).

This of course made me a little uncomfortable with my decision to affirm the Apostles’ Creed. I could affirm that I believed every statement within the creed (even the statement “I believe in the holy catholic church”) with good conscience, so why should I be uncomfortable?

This experience brought me back to another problem I have been struggling with recently: the idea of the Trinity. I probably know little about the idea of the Trinitarian God, but what I know about it, I kind of like. But I’ve been taught since youth that we (Mormons) don’t believe in that God. In fact, that’s why we aren’t Christian, according to other Christians. But I kind of believe in the Trinitarian notion, even though I also believe that God and Christ each have a body. In fact, I think Mormons have a lot to learn from the Trinitarian notion of God – knowledge we’ve sorely lacked because we have “affirmed” the opposite for many years.

Today I came across a Joseph Smith quote that helped assuage my conscience and helped me re-reconcile myself with my Mormon faith. He said:

The most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.

The way I read Joseph Smith in this quote and the above is that creeds are an abomination not because they are incorrect, but because they limit our view of the Truth, and that’s never a good thing. So it may be (may be) that I am right to believe everything contained in the creed because it could all be true. I just need to be willing to “affirm” that other things might also be true not contained within the creed. And that’s easy, because I do.

So I’m back to being comfortable with my decision to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, but in the future I ought to indicate that, in doing so, I reserve the right to also believe other things not contained in the creed. I don’t think I’ll be telling that to Messiah College, though – they didn’t want to hire me anyway.

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17 Responses

  1. I really like this idea and wish it were more prominent at church. It seems like most people stick to the assumed LDS creed and don’t venture out for more.

  2. I recently read Catholicism For Dummies and learned quite a bit. One of the most surprising parts for me was about the Trinity because in reality it’s quite different from what I had always been told it was. For instance, we Mormons usually sum up the Trinity by saying that those who believe in it believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one and how that makes no sense because Jesus wouldn’t have prayed to Himself when he was praying to the Father, etc, etc. But that’s not what the Trinity is. From what I understand, Catholics do believe that they are separate “beings,” but together they form 1 god, which is the Trinity. To me, it’s not all that different from our idea of the Godhead, except we believe that the Father and Son have a body of flesh and bones — which Catholics do not.

    The word “abomination” is a strong one. I was thinking about it recently as I skipped my own church meeting to go to the Lutherhan christening of our best friends’ baby. I thought it was a lovely ceremony and it was a happy and special occasion for the family that I was honoured to be a part of. But during the ceremony I couldn’t help but think of that Book of Mormon passage about the baptizing as infants being an “abomination.” It didn’t feel abominable to me. Even though I don’t personally believe in it, I have no problems with others practicing their faith in the way that seems right to them.

  3. TFD:

    Related to your point, I’ve been struck at what I have considered too strong of condemnation about infant baptism in the Book of Mormon.

    I do, think, though that these passages, if understood in the proper context, are not as condemning toward those who practice infant baptism. In the Book of Mormon, I see the major condemnations, and the strong language from Mormon, concerning a people who had turned from the truth and embraced infant baptism for what appears to be very abominable reasons (e.g., elitism, manipulation of God).

    Regarding statements of Joseph Smith and others (for the most part), I see the condemnations as being more focused on the creeds themselves and not sincere persons and practices.

  4. I’ve heard some Mormons opine that the “abomination” remark from the Lord refers not necessarily to the bare language of the Nicene Creed and others. But rather refers to the fact that such extrabiblical philosophical constructs are being used as a wedge to divide God’s people in the first place.

    In short, it could be that the “abomination” of the creeds is that they exist at all, and not their plain content (which is actually surprisingly unobjectionable from a Mormon theological stance).

  5. Joe O, great post, sorry you didn’t get the job.

  6. Joe, have you really studied out what the terminology of that creed means? For example, the phrase “communion of saints” encompasses a belief in the reality of purgatory. I realize that Mormonism espouses a similiar concept, but not the same one. Also, when you affirm that you believe in the holy catholic Church, do you mean what those who have asked you to affirm the Apostle’s creed mean by that, or are you misleading them by embuing the terms with some expanded or idiosyncratic meaning? Likewise, where the Apostle’s Creed stipulates that Christ descended into Hell, doesn’t mormonism maintain that Christ didn’t descend into Hell (or Spirit Prison) but rather organized and directed others efforts to preach the gospel among the spirits in spirit prison? I’d like to hear how you affirm or re-understand such things without unduly compromising the truth claims of these two disparate worldviews/theologies.

  7. Coach Edmo (hmm, I wonder who this is…?),

    I think you raise some good points for Joe. I wonder, though, how incommensurable the descent into Hell is. Certainly, there are differences. But I suppose I see Christ’s Atonement as a descent into Hell, in any meaningful sense, and this is supported by the scriptural notion of descending “below all things.”

  8. Having been exposed to various other religious creeds, I was impressed with portions of Section 20 of the Doctrine and covenants, as representing the Creed of the Latter-Day Saints:

    By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;
    And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
    And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
    But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.
    Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.
    He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.
    He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day;
    And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father;
    That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—
    Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,
    As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;
    Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

    And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
    And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;
    And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.
    But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;
    Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;
    Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.
    And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.
    And the Lord God has spoken it; and honor, power and glory be rendered to his holy name, both now and ever. Amen.

  9. What is condemnation should be considered as different than hatred or malice.

    Condemnation, righteously, is the setting apart of wicked things that they might not corrupt what is holy. Were they not so wicked, condemnation would not be necessary.

    Having seen the effect of the philosophical foundation of infant baptism on the spirituality of a nation first hand (Romania), I know how terrible the practice is. I recall two women talking on a bus: “No one is made Christian, you are born Christian.”

    Most of the people I met lived that doctrine faithfully, with all the resplendent sin, decadence, and attendant misery.

    Of course, these people weren’t killing each other. But their allegiance to God (in their minds) had been settled from before they even remembered, so they owed nothing more to Him than to be faithful to tradition.

    A christening might be a happy family experience, even a spiritual one. But as soon as light sufficient for salvation is shed on the event, a great and horrible mockery of everything the savior suffered for is revealed.

    It is true that the participants do not know it, usually. Thus, it is not a condemnation of them or their happiness. However, precisely because they do not know it they must be told in no uncertain terms the true nature of the act.

    I wouldn’t suggest crashing baptisms, but on a forum such as this it is impossible for me to not emphasize that the practice is evil.

    The creeds are themselves also evil, what stronger language than abominable is necessary. This is not a criticism of the the true and virtuous aspirations beliefs of those who ascribe to said creeds. What makes the creeds so evil is that they distort who God is, and set up an alternate view of God that is counter to salvation.

    Whether the Orthodox trinity of three persons, or the trinity of three stages, it is the same believe in a divine essence that is not what God is.

    God exists, He is real, and physical. We can become like him. Christ is his Son, he physically exists and submitted his independent will to the independent will of the father that they might become one.

    The God of the trinity is a force, and an idea, and creates a gap between man and God so great that even divinity cannot bridge it. For man is considered so fundamentally wicked that only God can save him from himself.

    But our religion teaches that God’s sacrifice was to exalt man, save man, and provide the means for his independent will to converge with God’s. That he might become ‘free forever’.

    So, it seems sort of nuanced – what’s wrong with the creeds. However, the nuances betray a fundamental difference that is fundamentally important.

    I have no desire to offend, but the truth is more important to me than politeness.

  10. Dennis,

    I agree with you that Christ’s atonement “can be seen as” as descent into Hell. I have no problem with Mormons and Catholics having analogous concepts, but we need to keep clear that they are analogous not equivalent concepts.

    Also, we have to be careful that we don’t stetch analogies too far or torture the meaning of words in order to make them seem to disappear. Doing so is the path of a really fruitless sort of ecumenicalism. For example, you could say that the Mormon practice of blessing babies is in some way analogous to infant baptism. Sure there are differences, but in some meaningful ways they are sorta the same kinda thing. Of course, to do that without acknowledging the significant differences in the two practices, their theological context, and their meanings is to disappear central differences and make a relativistic hodgepodge of things. I just think that while religious terms and concepts are clearly expansive and capable of sustaining rich nuances in meaning, they are not infinitely elastic.

    I just wanted to figure out if Joe really did accept the Apostle’s Creed (in the same sense that his potential employers do and in the way that they would be assuming he did if he told them he accepted it) or if he was endorsing a particular, somewhat “stretched” and “idiosyncratic” reading of the creed. If the latter, then he probably should be willing to make that known as well — in the interests of full disclosure to the potential employer.

    For example, as a sort of thought experiment, lets imagine that some Evangelical scholar were to apply to BYU and BYU required some assurance that this person was not going to undercut the mission of the church or university in any way (something which BYU, in fact, does). Further, lets imagine that as part of that vetting process, they asked the applicant whether or not he believe that Thomas S. Monson was a prophet of God (something which BYU does not, in fact, do). Now, this scholar might well reply in the affirmative when asked, assuring himself that all true believers in Christ are prophets of God. Now, this fellow’s mormon employers would hear one thing when he tells them “yes” in answer to their question and he would be saying another thing entirely. But since important differences hinge on the meaning of the concept “prophet of God,” I would think it vital — were I the Evangelical in question — to admit EITHER that what I meant by “yes” was not likely to be what my prospective employers would be thinking I meant when they heard me say “yes” OR that I in fact didn’t believe what they were asking me if I believed.

    Let me put it another way — at the risk of beating a now long-dead horse. Say I have been dating a young lady for some time, have told her repeatedly that I love her deeply, and that I would like her to marry me. Lets suppose that she assumes that all these dates and all my professions of love and now my asking her to marry me mean that I see her true worth as a person, want to commit myself solely to her and her happiness forever, and care about her more than anyone else in the world, etc. etc. She might well, presuming she feels similarly, say “yes” to my question. But what if what I mean by “I love you” is really “I want to add you to a harem I am building in secret because you are a gullible and easily manipulated little minx who will likely provide me with lots of little babies and very few headaches as I go about building up my own version of the kingdom of God on Earth.” I daresay that the young lady in question would have some hesitation before saying yes to my marriage proposal. For, though we were both using the terminology of “love” in our discussions, and mutually affirming that we “love” each other, we each meant something very, very different by that term.

  11. Coach Edmo,

    Yes, I think I agree with you entirely. I’m curious to hear how Joe responds.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tension of living in the world and not of the world and how this relates to a tension of peace-loving ecumenical living vs. unapologetic “peculiar” living. This is something I’ve thought even more about lately considering I am leaving the Utah “bubble” soon.

    Where the issue is really difficult, in my opinion, is not in writing essays but in short, extemporaneous exchanges with others. Questions like “Are you Christian?” or “What do you think about homosexuality?” can be especially tricky. I was actually preparing for this second question for my interviews to clinical psychology programs. I wanted to communicate that I’m “OK” with it (I’m not “homophobic” and I have no problem working with gay and lesbian clients or colleagues) and yet I’m “not OK” with it (I don’t condone gay/lesbian lifestyles, behavior, etc.). At the same time I’m trying to straddle the fence with “I’m Mormon” but I’m not “that kind of Mormon” (ultra-conservative Mormon who sees everything according to in-group/out-group stereotypes), but I still AM Mormon and that really does mean something.

    So, anyway, the one time I was asked this question, I affirmed that I didn’t anticipate having “a problem” with working with gays and lesbians. But then I said something along the lines of, “I do have fairly conservative religious beliefs about this, as you could imagine with my being from BYU. Let’s just say that I’m probably more liberal on this issue than most students at BYU and yet I’m probably much more conservative than most students at this campus.”

    I’m pretty satisfied with my response, but it doesn’t fully explain everything, and I think that’s OK (otherwise it turns into a religious litmus test pretty quickly).

    I’m just happy this was the only time this question was asked (which surprised me).

  12. Dennis,

    You do highlight a very real tension that is no doubt tough to negotiate.

    Sorry to hear that you got the “mormon question” especially given that such a question is illegal. It’s tough to know how to navigate the waters when asked that sort of thing in an interview, but I counsel my students to consider being willing to say something like: “I’m not sure that your university’s legal counsel would be comfortable with you asking that sort of question, given that it deals with confidential and private religious beliefs, but I’m willing to answer it anyway . . . if you are quite sure you still want to ask it.” Now, in a particular interview, you may feel like you can’t say something like that without endangering your chances of getting into the program, but I think that if done in the right way you don’t come off offensive or evasive, but informed and careful. Personally, I don’t mind making the smug, self-satisfied prof in the other chair squirm a bit anyway. It is sometimes worth it to remind folks that such a question is exactly the same sort of question that they would never think to ask someone regarding sexual preferences, ethnic background, etc.

    This is a good resource for information regarding what sorts of questions the EEOC has deemed inappropriate:
    http://www.smallbusinessnotes.com/operating/hr/hiring/interviewing.html

    (The website is aimed at job interivews specifically, but the guidelines are the same for grad school interviews, etc.)

  13. Coach Edmo (and Dennis):

    Things were a lot more fun, Coach, before you decided to show up. Anyway, sorry for not really keeping up. I have thought about how I ought to affirm such creeds and, while I didn’t say so the Messiah, I did tell Northwest Nazarene that in affirming their faith statement, they should understand that I likely view my affirmation differently that they themselves do. However, I added (I think, rightfully so) that differing was likely something most people did, even those of the evangelical faith. I hope that doesn’t hide the fact that my differences might seem more significant, but it does point out that differing is something that is impossible to avoid, particularly with creeds of faith: no one understands the Holy Trinity (for example) in the same way – that’s part of the mystery, right?

    Anyway, having added all that qualification, I can still answer the Messiah question with a clear conscience: I do think Christ descended into Hell (though I suppose I grant my understanding of Hell might be different, though I can’t imagine we’re talking about two entirely different things), and I do believe in the holy catholic Church. I’d be willing to elaborate, upon request, and perhaps in that elaboration we might find that my understanding conflicts with the traditional understanding – or we might find that my understanding deviates somewhat from the Mormon understanding, in which case I may (or may not) need to reevaluate my “position.”

    What I’m curious to know is whether there is any doctrine or belief in Mormonism that contradicts either of those ideas (Christ descending to Hell; the holy catholic Church)…

  14. Sorry to make things tough on you Joe. Just be glad I haven’t just resolved this whole issue by calling for you to give me 50 pushups. :-)

    As for your questions about Christ’s descent into Hell and the Holy Catholic Church. . . .

    First, while both those who profess the Apostle’s Creed and Latter-day Saints believe that following his death Christ visited the spirits of the dead, there are significant differences in what specifically is claimed. Although I am usually not a fan of wikipedia, in this instance there entry on the “Harrowing of Hell” is an excellent one and includes a very informative look at Roman Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Latter-day Saint understandings of this doctrine. Here is the link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ%27s_descent_into_hell

    Now as for believing in the Holy Catholic Church, I guess we need to be clear on what you mean by it. Do you mean that you believe there is such an organization? If so, then you are on pretty safe (though sociological rather than theological) ground. Likewise, if you mean that you believe the Catholic Church to be a trustworthy and decent organization that promotes good things, then you are again on fairly firm and defensible ground. If, however, you mean that you accept that there is one universal church (“catholic” means universal), then things get a bit dicier.

    For Roman Catholics, the term “Catholic Church” refers to the Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, including both the Western particular Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Protestants sometimes use the term “catholic church” to refer to the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ across the world, and across the ages. Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Methodist Christians hold that their churches are catholic in the sense that they are in continuity with the original catholic (universal) church founded by the apostles. In “Catholic Christendom” (including the Anglican Communion), bishops are considered the highest order of ministers within the Christian Church, as shepherds of unity in communion with the whole church and one another. I haven’t the slightest idea what believing in the Holy Catholic Church might mean for Latter-day Saints.

    A further implication of the notion of believing in the “Holy Catholic Church” is the notion that salvation comes only in and through the sacraments of the Catholic Church as administered by its priests to its baptised members. Again, I’m not sure how a Latter-day Saint can genuinely believe this since Latter-day Saints make pretty much the same claim for their own church.

  15. So according to the Wikipedia authors, Hell (for Roman Catholics) is the abode of the dead, where the just dwelt before Christ’s descent: in one sense, then, I suppose I disagree. I do believe that Christ went among the dead (obviously) and I do believe that, for those who had died before Christ’s coming, it was a sort of Hell (D&C 138:50). But I also believe that the righteous, in that realm, also experienced some sort of peace, so it’s likely that I would disagree with the Catholics of Messiah on that point.

    As for the “holy catholic Church,” I do take the word catholic to mean “universal” and thus interpret the phrase to refer to the body of believers, or those who confess Christ in action. Likely, Roman Catholics would disagree with that interpretation. However, as I am not Catholic, my interpretation shouldn’t surprise any Catholics.

    I suppose I am guilty of deception on one account (a place where I probably ought to have qualified): when it comes to the role the “holy catholic Church” has in saving people, my beliefs become a little complex and therefore in contradiction with other Christians. But i feel like the fact remains that Christians as a whole disagree on what that statement implies, so what should that mean about my interpretation?

    So I’m not wholly innocent and perhaps now, my conscious isn’t as clear as it was before. Even though I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that Christ descended into Hell, I probably would have to qualify any statement that reads “I believe in the holy catholic Church,” which qualification might not sit well with many Catholics. (Not that my application sat well with anyone anyway…)

    But perhaps my sin could be covered by the fact that I did so in ignorance???

  16. I’m just curious which position you applied for. Mormons at Messiah aren’t exactly the most acceptable thing. I was baptized into the LDS church while I was a student at Messiah College. It caused quite the controversy.

  17. Joe, I fear that your response regarding the Apostles Creed and the fact that they knew you are LDS made the folks at Messiah look at your application with a very jaundiced eye. To them, it might very well have appeared that you were an opportunist who was willing to prevaricate in order to secure a position wthin an institution established to nurture their flock in their ‘orthodoxy’. They might have even thought you were a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ sent to sow apostasy (from their point of view) and gain converts to your “cult”. It is no wonder they declined your services.
    It seems to increasingly common among the younger LDS folks to play down the doctrines, beliefs, and Scriptures of the Church. As a convert myself, I feel quite the opposite. I respect all Christians to practice their faith and rites and when present at such I act with proper respect and decorum. Nonetheless, if the Saviour said that the creeds were an abomination in His sight and that infant baptism was the same, I would feel very uncomfortable conflating the Saviour’s choice of words in order to make them more palatable to some mortals. He said what He said, and I believe He fully understood the strength and import of the word(s) He used. As a former Roman Catholic, I found the concept of Trinity to be both irrational and convoluted, but then I felt that way about many other of the ‘mysteries’ as well. I had suspected that the real truth was that there were three separate and distinct beings who were in total accord and harmony in truth and purpose. When I heard the LDS doctrine on the Godhead explained, I had an spiritual confirmation that that is the real truth.
    I suppose that I am old fashioned, but I affirm to any and all who ask me, the doctrines and teachings of the Church pure and undiluted. There are several Christian denominations represented in my family and even a set of “New Agers” who proudly assert their non-belief in the Divinity of the Saviour. We all manage to get along by respecting each others differences. However, one zealous Episcopalian continues to invite me to attend their services and each time I respectfully decline. (Been there, done that before.) However, this last time I finally had to tell her, “Thank you for the invitation, but I prefer to worship with my fellow Latter-day Saints. Because you see, a bad day with the Latter-day Saints is still better than a good day with the Episcopalians.” I hope she got my point.

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