This post was written by Bryan Stout; his biography appears at the end of the post.
There is an interesting exchange going on at Beliefnet.com about the age-old question “Are Mormons Christian?”, between Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Orson Scott Card, LDS writer. While I have some thoughts I’d like to share about the main issue, here I want to point out a perhaps surprising convergence between two things, one of which is rejected by each side, namely the Book of Mormon, and one of the ancient Christian creeds.
The LDS objection to ancient creeds is probably better stated as an objection to conciliar creeds, that is the creeds defined by the Ecumenical Councils, where bishops from throughout the ancient church met together to resolve doctrinal debates. We do reject the decisions made at those councils, and we reject the whole process as a fundamentally flawed substitute for prophetic revelation.
But there was another type of creed, the baptismal creed. These creeds were used as concise summaries of beliefs (similar to our Articles of Faith), as an outline of concepts to teach potential converts (similar to the missionary lessons), and as a quiz of important beliefs before baptism (similar to the baptismal interview questions). The most famous of these is the Apostles’ Creed, which reached a stable wording by the 8th century but has roots reaching back to the 2nd. Here is one of several translations of the creed; I have numbered its traditional 12 articles for reference:
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
10. the forgiveness of sins,
11. the resurrection of the body,
12. and the life everlasting. Amen.
If you showed this to the average Mormon-on-the-street, I reckon they would say they believe in all but a couple of these claims. If you go on to point out that “descended into hell” means “descended into the grave, ie. the world of dead spirits”, that “catholic Church” means “universal church”, and that “the communion of saints” means “the fellowship of believers”, they would say they believe the entire thing. We Latter-day Saints believe every claim in the Apostles’ Creed, because they are both taught in the Bible, and reaffirmed in latter-day scripture. Indeed, they are almost contained in our scriptures, since the doctrinal summary in D&C 20:17-36 echoes most of the themes of the Apostles’s Creed, and vv. 22-24 are a close paraphrase of AC 4-6.
Finding Book of Mormon passages that teach each of these basic Christian concepts is an easy exercise, so much so that the problem is choosing which ones to use. Here are the selections I made:
AC 1 –
“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things,
both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all
power, both in heaven and in earth” Mosiah 4:9
AC 2 –
“I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the
Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and
truth.” Alma 5:48
“There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby
salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the
name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” Mosiah 3:17
AC 3 –
“And behold, he shall be born of Mary … she being a virgin, a
precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the
power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”
AC 4 & 5 –
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death
which bind his people … the Son of God suffereth according to the
flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might
blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance”
“And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for
the sins of the world.” 1 Nephi 11:33
“Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for
the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in
his wings” 2 Nephi 25:13
AC 6 –
“Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand
of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon
the children of men” Moroni 7:7
AC 7 –
“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross …
that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men
even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be
judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil” 3
AC 8 –
“I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of
these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God
unto all those who diligently seek him” 1 Nephi 10:17
AC 9 –
“Notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church,
yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the
churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” Mosiah 25:22
“And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to
speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did
meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the
Lord Jesus.” Moroni 6:5-6
AC 10 –
“They all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply
the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins,
and our hearts may be purified … After they had spoken these words
the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy,
having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of
conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ” Mosiah
AC 11 –
“The death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, …
the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form …
this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and
free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; … now,
behold, I have spoken unto you … concerning the resurrection of the
mortal body.” Alma 11:42-45
AC 12 –
“Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of
his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of
your faith in him according to the promise.” Moroni 7:41
“Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always
abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal
you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have
everlasting salvation and eternal life … Amen.” Mosiah 5:15
To be sure, there are important doctrinal differences not covered in the Apostles’ Creed. Mormon doctrine about the nature of God and Man is radically different from that of most Christian groups. We believe that God exists in space and time, and that every person is literally God’s spirit child, having the potential of becoming like him — “gods, even the sons of God”. Therefore, Dr. Mohler is quite right in pointing out that we have different answers to the biggest questions debated in the Ecumenical Councils regarding the divinity of Christ: 1) How can God be both One and Three at the same time? 2) How can Christ be both divine and human at the same time?
Those were important questions. Nevertheless, I believe that much more important were the issues that the ancient bishops did not have to debate, because they were mostly in agreement about them. There is a God who created the world, and who will hold us accountable for how we live our lives. There is a savior, Jesus Christ, who literally atoned for our sins, who taught the principles for living the abundant life in mortality and achieving eternal life hereafter. There is a Spirit who can lead us to truth and sanctify our souls. If we follow that Spirit, trust our lives to Christ and keep the commandments of God, we will be led to stand at his right hand at the judgment day. Doing this is the most significant meaning of term “Christian”.
I received a BS in Math at Brigham Young University in 1981, and went to grad school in Computer Science at the University of Illinois. I did all the coursework for a PhD, but left without doing a dissertation, to do applied Artificial Intelligence research for Martin Marietta near Denver, followed by computer game development for MicroProse. I was part of a big down-sizing in 1993, but instead of moving on I continued courting, and married, my wife Meg. After a couple of years of figuring out that two jobs weren’t worth it, we decided I’d be the stay-at-home parent while Meg continued working as an engineer for the Navy (she’s now a program manager). I keep in touch with my interests in both AI and games, frequently participating at the annual Game Developer Conference on various game AI topics. Other secular interests include science fiction and fantasy, dance (I toured several times with the BYU Ballroom Dance Co.), and astronomy. Now that our oldest daughter (my stepdaughter) is in college, and the other two going on to 4th and 5th grades, I will be trying once again to figure what to be when I grow up.
“Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, Emphatically yes”
Really, Adam? You believe that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit? Brigham Young certainly didn’t believe that—in fact he ridiculed the idea, warning the elders that they’d better be careful in conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost to single women, lest they turn up pregnant and blame the missionaries.
Mormonism teaches that Jesus was the son of God the Father, not the Holy Ghost. I’m honestly a bit shocked that you think otherwise.
Nick, BY also taught that he was sired by Adam, which has been concluded to have been erroneous. What is your point? Modern Mormonism doesn’t really teach a mechanism of Christ’s conception.
I’m too lazy to summarize the following, let alone try to tie it in to this post (though I think at least an oblique tie-in should be obvious), but I noticed a paper that David Paulsen and Brett McDonald gave at the recent SMPT conference has been posted on the web: “Reassessing Joseph Smithâ€™s Theology in his Bicentennial: A Social Model of the Godhead.”
“Modern Mormonism doesnâ€™t really teach a mechanism of Christâ€™s conception.”
To the extent you’re correct, that would be *very* modern LDS-ism. As recently as Bruce R. McConkie (yes…we know he made mistakes), the idea has been taught in the LDS church that Jesus was literally the son of his Father, rather than some sort of mystical insemination.
Even if the “mechanism” is considered unclear, it’s a huge step backward to claim that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit.” Such an idea may work for a trinitarian church, but in Mormonism, it fights directly against the very basic teaching that Jesus was the Son of God.
In another forum, I responded to the claim that Mormons were not Christians because they could not affirm the Apostles’ Creed in this way:
No one actually argued with me on any of these points or was willing to explain what any of the unclear terms mean. I think traditional Christians don’t actually care whether Mormons can affirm the Apostles’ Creed or not. Its a red herring.
I don’t have much time right now, but I have this request:
Could we move the discussion about LDS ideas about Christ’s conception and Mary’s virginity to a different thread? (Someone care to write a blog to start it?) Otherwise I fear that that sub-topic will consume all the oxygen in this thread, and I was really hoping on thoughtful discussion about the general topic.
I was just about to post what Bryan did.
Make that “hoping *for*”.
Nick, not if you believe that the Holy Spirit must be present to abide the presence of the Father – which certainly fits numerous statements throughout Mormondom. It’s “of” the HS, not “by” the HS. I don’t think anyone is arguing that the Father of the Son is the Holy Ghost – except, ironically, those who preach the classic Trinity. Seriously, ever thought of that?
Sorry; was typing simultaneously. No more on that issue from me.
Otherwise, I agree completely that we are Christian as defined by the Apostles’ Creed.
I don’t know exactly what “conceived of the Holy Spirit” means, but to the extent it means the Holy Ghost played some role in Jesus Christ’s conception, this is clearly a doctrine that Mormons accept. As the original post notes, Alma 7:10 (“And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”) teaches this doctrine as does Luke 1:35 (“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”).
even traditional Christians who believe in the classic Trinity don’t believe that the Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus. They just believe that the conception occurred by means of the Holy Ghost, which I happen to believe also. I think even a believer in conjugal conception could accept this, since as far as we know the Holy Ghost has to descend upon someone before they can be in God’s presence and live. (Editors–I’m not actually arguing what the LDS view of conception is here, but just on how different views of the conception relate to the Apostles’ Creed. Is that acceptable?).
Adam, I understand the semantics of assigning roles within the classic Trinity doctrine to each “manifestation” of God (Father, Son or HG). However, I think we differ from many who interpret the terms within the Apostles’ Creed differently than we do – and, IMO, that is a vitally important distinction. (obvious, yet important) For example, to someone who interprets the Father, Son and HS as lacking body, parts and passions (and who interprets “three-in-one/one-in-three” as a repudiation of separate corporeal beings), “conceived of the Holy Spirit” means something completely different than it does to me – and that person would read the comments on this thread thus far with more than just a little head scratching. At least, that’s my experience with that type of discussion.
As I said, I think we are Apostles’ Creed Christians, and I like the distinction in the original post that identifies this, but I think we need to recognize that others whose interpretations differ from us STILL will call us un-Christian – even if we believe we are Apostles’ Creed Christians. Ironic and sophomoric as that is, it still is, IMO.
I think that the point that Julie makes is incredibly powerful, and, FWIW, I personally use it as the starting point in my teaching of the apostasy. I lay out the Apostles’ Creed, discuss it in relation to our interpretation of it, then juxtapose it with the Nicene Creed and point out the “falling away” from the earlier understanding of “the Apostles”.
(Note to Julie: I should have told you how impressed I was by your post before I jumped into the other discussion. Thank you.)
Adam, I caught your comment before it was redacted, and it hurt me, as a person, to read the last portion of it, even though it was not aimed at me. I’m glad that you asked for the offending statement to be removed, and I would request that, in the future, you do so yourself before clicking the Submit button. Thank you, to everyone, for keeping the comments, even toward those we disagree with, on a more humane level. We are all on the same team here.
As for the discussion at hand, you’re both right, although I find the topic of the Lord’s conception to be bordering disrespectful toward those involved in it, and completely unnecessary, regardless of what some modern apostle may or may not have surmised.
On a more positive note, I’m pleasantly surprised that our Articles of Faith line up so well with one of those dastardly, rotten “creeds.” :)
“I find the topic of the Lordâ€™s conception to be bordering disrespectful toward those involved in it, and completely unnecessary, regardless of what some modern apostle may or may not have surmised”
Yep. And while I can’t monitor this thread every second, I’m going to delete any more comments on the topic.
As recently as Bruce R. McConkie (yes,we know he made mistakes), the idea has been taught in the LDS church that Jesus was literally the son of his Father, rather than some sort of mystical insemination.
If you read further in my comment, you would have seen that I acknowledge this.
Yes, I’m well aware that Mormonism teaches that the Holy Ghost must “protect” a person (for lack of a better term) in order for them to be in the presence of deity. To say someone is “conceived of X” doesn’t mean that X was just present. It means X caused the conception.
Sorry, Julie. I’ll drop that aspect of the discussion now. :-)
Hi, Bryan, it’s great to e-see you again. (Bryan and I went to the same student ward when we were at the University of Illinois. It was a terrific ward.)
I agree with your point that Mormons can accept virtually all of the Apostles’ Creed, with some semantic nuance, as you and others have pointed out.
On the issue of the conception of Jesus, you asked that someone blog separately on that topic so it wouldn’t dominate this thread. I just wanted to point out that I already blogged on this subject during my guest posting stint at T&S, here:
We are all on the same team here.
Adam, is this one of those “you’re either for us, or you’re against us” moments? I thought Mormonism taught we were all one family.
Even goofy little sons and daughters can be told to go outside to play when their noise and bad manners disturb the conversation of adults.
I hope nobody is offended if I casually mention my similar post, from a Catholic perspective and with the Nicene Creed, here. It’s my very most popular post ever.
Question for Bryan: did you work on the original Civilization games? If so, I love you.
Brad, I think the comparison of our beliefs to the Nicene Creed is a bit of a strawman from our perspective, since we don’t claim to be Nicene Creed Christians. Can you accept that Mormons are Apostles’ Creed Christians – if you parse just the words themselves and don’t try to interject any particular denominational slant into them?
I choose to think of Mary as a \”surrogate\” of sorts. Heavenly Father was the literal father of Christ, and Heavenly Mother, who does not get talked about very much, was the literal mother. At least that is my version of events.
“Even goofy little sons and daughters can be told to go outside to play when their noise and bad manners disturb the conversation of adults.”
Some people’s kids…sheesh.
Excellent post Bryan. Thank you very much.
Sorry Brad Haas, I much prefer Bryan’s take on this to yours, but then again, Bryan doesn’t conclude that Latter-day Saints aren’t Christian as you do based on the Nicene Creed. Frankly, Latter-day Saints reject the Nicene Creed as the determining factor as to whether someone is Christian or not. Bryan’s post points out why at the beginning. But Bryan’s post is correct in noting that virtually every Latter-day Saint will agree with the points in the Apostles’ Creed.
By the way, Brad, Ronan Head has written about the Nicene Creed and Latter-day Saints, hinting at a different conclusion than you make in your post, that is, Ronan seems to allude to the fact that Latter-day Saints shouldn’t find anything objectionable in that creed. The comments on Ronan’s thread are particularly interesting.
I think that even if it is true that Latter-day Saints don’t or shouldn’t find anything objectionable in the Nicene Creed itself, the Savior still admonished against it, likely for reasons that Bryan discusses in the post, as follows:
This might be oversimplified because it was not the main point of the post, but I think it is an important point. It is fair to say that Joseph Smith understood Jesus’ injunction against the creeds as being a statement against their exclusionary use, seeking to limit believers to those who would recite creeds created starting in the fourth century.
Please forgive my off-topic post, but I can’t seem to find the proper forum here. I understand that T&S is run by committee. I can’t seem to find a link to contact that committee regarding unwarranted personal attacks which I am repeatedly receiving from an individual blogger. Is there an e-mail address to contact the blog operators? Thanks!
Nick, instructions on how to contact individual bloggers are available on the link up top. If you are receiving unwanted e-mail, most spam filters can block mails from the offending sender. But if you mean that your comments are not being treated with the full respect and dignity they deserve, and you want the T&S committee to take stern measures against their colleague…uh, you may want to check our fine link list for a more sympathetic venue.
Our account of the Beloved Son’s words to Joseph Smith contains a printing error. It was supposed to read “their breeds were an abomination in his sight.” This, of course, was referring to the Apsos holy dogs of Tibet.
Thanks, Jonathan. It’s not about whether someone “respects” my comments. I’m just tired of the personal attacks and name-calling which one blogger repeatedly slings at me (evidently with approval, or at least tolerance).
One option you may want to consider is avoiding inflammatory comments.
I do try, Julie. I’ll admit, sometimes I can get careless about that.
Another option is to avoid blogs that approve or at least tolerate personal attacks and name-calling. Vote with your feet.
Nick, if it helps, I didn’t find any of your comments here inflammatory, but I have seen some words flying around these parts that do not adhere to the T&S comments policy respecting rule #1 (“critiques should be of the argument, not the person. No insults.”) and rule #8 (“Please respect the bloggers and readers”).
Indeed name-calling and other unwarranted personal attacks have no place in intelligent discourse. Again, to all, let’s keep things above the belt.
i like being considered a member of a cult, both in the technical sociology of religion sense (per, e.g. rodney stark) and the more vulgar. the sooner we embrace our cult heritage and stop trying to be ‘normal,’ the sooner we can get back to seeing angels, looking for non-canonical/lost scripture, speaking in tongues, and using peep/seer stones and divining rods. then church won’t be so dull.
if being a ‘christian’ means subscription to the creeds and canons that were concretized after the jesus movement stopped being a cult, then i don’t want to be one.
Thank you for your post! I read it quickly, and want to go back over it more in depth, but here are some initial impressions:
– I very much like your attitude of fostering mutual respect in your own writings and others’ responses.
– Your overall post supported a suspicion I have had. A few years ago I was rather shocked to read Father Richard John Neuhaus state that “If Christian doctrine is summarized in, for instance, the Apostlesâ€™ Creed as understood by historic Christianity, official LDS teaching adds to the creed, deviates from it, or starkly opposes it almost article by article.” Since his article showed some familiarity with LDS teaching, I could only conclude that he was talking about doctrine that is assumed to go along with the creed, even though it is not actually stated in it — for example, the nature of God. Your blog shows how he may have been thinking about it.
Let me add that I was quite disappointed in Father Neuhaus’s article on Mormons. The times I have run across his writing I usually find him thoughtful and insightful, but his thoughts on Mormonism were surprisingly dismissive. It felt like he learned enough to think he knew where our flaws were, and stopped there — he did much better than most outside commentators, but he could have done much better still. In this topic at least, you have done better than Father Neuhaus: you understand LDS doctrine better, and express differences more fairly (“We both believe X, though it means different things”, vs. the quote above).
– I appreciate your concluding comments about not trying to convince Mormons (or anyone else) that they are non-Christian, a cult, etc. I wish a lot more people had the same pragmatic approach.
PS. I was hired while MicroProse was finishing their playtesting of the first Civilization game. I worked on Darklands and Dr. Floyd’s Desktop Toys.
comparing your discussion of the Apostles’ Creed with mine in #1, I find that I see difficulties you don’t. Care to discuss them?
Certainly! That’s a major reason I posted, for interesting discussion.
OK. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth
Whether or not the council that adopted the Apostles’ creed believed in creation ex nihilo is an open question. I think that by their very nature creedal statements like this don’t compel us to accept a particular definition of their language as long as our definition is reasonable; so if the creedal statement doesn’t explicitly say ‘the ex nihilo Creator of heaven and earth,’ we’re OK. But for Mormons, its not obvious that the Father is the creator. I think we could say this, but it wouldn’t be that natural Mormon description for the Father. Jesus is really the creator and the Father is, dunno, the creation coach. That said, John 1 also makes Jesus the agent by which creation occurred.
born of the Virgin Mary
We’ve already discussed possibly unique Mormon beliefs on conception. I think many Mormons would have a problem referring to Mary as the Virgin Mary, either because they believe she wasn’t technically virginal at the time of Christ’s birth or because they believe she ceased to be a virgin sometime thereafter. There’s always the argument that virgin just means chaste, but I don’t know if that would be either the conciliar or the modern understanding.
If you go on to point out that “descended into hell” means “descended into the grave, ie. the world of dead spirits”, that “catholic Church” means “universal church”, and that “the communion of saints” means “the fellowship of believers”, they would say they believe the entire thing.
I’m sceptical that ‘descended into hell ‘ is really the same thing as ‘descended into the grave.’
In #37, I mistakenly put in the wrong link. I meant to link Father Neuhaus’s article in its original setting (the First Things website):
I was too hasty in my web search for the article to notice that the link I had found was to a copy of the article on an anti-Mormon website. My apologies.
Adam, here are my thoughts about your concerns.
The meaning of the terms: I have no problem saying I believe all of the Apostles Creed even though I
know I have different beliefs about the nature of God etc. than most of the general Christian world
does. After all, it’s the same situation with the Bible. It’s probably impossible to know what the
people who wrote the early versions of the creed (such as the Old Roman Creed) precisely meant. But
since they were trying to summarize scriptural teachings, I don’t hesitate in interpreting them just as
I do the scriptures.
The Father as creator: It’s interesting to find different perceptions like this. I have always thought
that most Mormons thought of both the Father and the Son as creators — the Father as commander, the Son
as executor. I think that factors that led to this are: the old rainbow missionary discussions used Eph
3:9 or Col 1:16 to explicitly teach that the Father created all things through the Son (also reinforced
in modern scripture e.g. Moses 1:33); the Topical Guide (which came out after my mission) has entries
for “God, Creator” as well as “Jesus Christ, Creator”; the endowment; and little things here and there
such as a talk by Bruce R. McConkie where he described the members of the Godhead as “God the Creator,
God the Redeemer, and God the Revelator”, IIRC.
The Virgin Mary: It is true that phrase “Virgin Mary” does carry possible doctrinal implications I
wouldn’t agree with. I don’t know what it might have meant in the 2nd century, when this creed was in
development. I do believe Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, but not afterward (Matt 1:25); I am
fine with the credal phrase as an expression of my belief.
Descended into Hell: In the KJV, the word “hell” is frequently a translation of the Hebrew “sheol” or
the Greek “hades”, which mean the world of dead spirits. (“Gehenna”, also translated “hell”, does infer
a place of torment.) The Greek word in the AC is “katotata” (echoing “katoteros” in Eph 1:9), meaning
“the down-place, the depths, the underworld”. Most commentators by far interpret the AC phrase as
referring to hades, not gehenna; while doing so, it is nice to see them discuss Christ’s ministering to
the dead spirits, a doctrine we LDS emphasize a lot more often. See here, here, here, as well as the LDS Bible Dictionary entry for Hell. This phrase has bothered lots of people over the
years; note in the translations link above that the more recent versions say “descended to the dead”, or
omit the phrase entirely — it is not found in the early versions of the creed.
As John F and Ronan mention, the Nicene creed can also be nuanced to be pretty much in line with LDS beliefs.
But it’s the Athanasian Creed that is pretty much gobbledygook, and not reconcilable with LDS beliefs.
I’d like your perspective on my concluding paragraph, namely that the doctrines in the Apostles Creed are more important than those decided on in the Ecumenical Councils. I can understand why the decisions of the councils are so important to Catholics and many other Christian groups. But when people debate the “Are Mormons Christian?” question, even if one can get others to accept that we believe those fundamental doctrines, the response is often more or less “so what? you still aren’t Christian”. I can see why others would still want to make a strong stand against doctrines they think are wrong. But from my point of view (and I think it is similar to that of many Mormons), one’s doctrine about the nature of God and Christ pales in comparison to whether one is keeping their commandments. But we can get the feeling that the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is considered more important than repentance and commitment to Christ.
What are your thoughts?
Rereading #44, it sounded a bit confrontational to me, which is not my intention. I am sincerely interested in Brad’s perspective, both on the relative importance of different doctrines, and on the ways in which LDS and non-LDS may be communicating and mis-communicating.
Virgin Birth: The words Virgin Mary are not particularly difficult to understand. Probably this is a point of agreement between all Christians. But the term Virgin Birth is something else again. In our LDS discourse we sometimes get these two terms mixed up and that may be where the confusion comes in. In Catholic thought Mary is worthy to be the mother of the Savior (God) because of the virgin birth. This is referring to Mary’s birth (Dec. 5 or 6 is celebrated as the day Mary herself was conceived by immaculate conception). In this scenario Mary could only be worthy to give birth to the Savior (God) if she were not tainted by original sin. Hence she herself had to be born of a virgin. Thus Mary’s status is different from that of any woman born on the earth unless of course one assumes that her mother might also of necessity been born of a virgin. I’m not sure if the teaching actually looks back at it that way.
Perhaps, the fact that this teaching is not widely known or understood might be where some of the misunderstanding in this area comes from.
Bryan: Thank you for your comments about my post. I too found Fr. Neuhaus’s article to be too dismissive. I hope it was a case of writing too strongly for one audience (non-Mormon), and not sufficiently reflecting on the reaction of the other audience (Mormon). I have been guilty of this many times, but it’s more a matter of negligence than malice or arrogance. As you say, it was uncharacteristic of him.
The Civilization series is among the best games ever, IMO.
Re #44: It didn’t strike me as confrontational, so don’t worry. :) I do agree that the Apostles’ Creed contains the basic, foundational elements of the Christian faith. But I wouldn’t paint with too broad a brush when it comes to the relative importance of doctrines or whether they were in debate during any given period.
Regarding relative importance, and taking an analogy from Mark Shea, the faith is like an ecosystem – you can’t tear one thing out without affecting others, and eventually the entire faith.
As far as things taking longer to be discussed or defined, the Church is a big ship with a small rudder. She reacts to the needs of the times, albeit sometimes very slowly. In the early Church, all kinds of things about Christ were disputed. His reality, His divinity, His humanity, and so on. That’s where the focus was. There were things that took hundreds or thousands of years to even be disputed – the perpetual virginity and immaculate conception of Mary and the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist come to mind – but I don’t think we can decide from that whether they’re more or less important to the Christian life. It just took longer for someone to challenge them (as Helvidius against Mary’s perpetual virginity or Berengarius against the Real Presence), or for the state of the world to necessitate further reflection or definition by the Church. For example, the definition of the Assumption of Mary was prompted in part by the attack on human dignity and destiny by the philosophers of the day, World War II, etc. As another example, we can see the Church currently considering the salvation of unbaptized infants, explicitly prompted by the killing of so many millions through abortion.
Now, as for the importance of whatever doctrine relative to whether one is considered Christian: people, Catholics or not, have a strong sense of what Catholics call “Tradition.” Some Protestants want to approach the Creeds with a “sola scriptura” kind of mindset – taking the Creeds by themselves, as they reject any idea that one Church formulated them or can authoritatively interpret them. In short, trying to go by the words alone. This works decently for the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, since the words were chosen pretty carefully. For most people, the only pointer is that “catholic” doesn’t refer to “the Roman Catholic Church,” and everything else is peachy.
But when it comes to the Apostles’ Creed, which is not formulated as precisely, it gets harder. I think we can all agree that Mormons and Catholics (and those with roots in the Catholic Church) often define theological terms differently. We both say we believe the points of the Apostles’ Creed, if we plumb the depths too far, our beliefs start to diverge. We can see a bit of it in the comments here – someone is careful to point out a possible difference in the “Creator of heaven and earth” clause. On the Catholic (or Protestant) side, someone might be compelled to clarify on “only Son.”
Rightly so, I think. The differences are real, and while we can find unity in very basic doctrines and practices, it doesn’t take much exploring on either side to find radically different and irreconcilable teachings. I know we all wish it weren’t so, but it is.
My point is, when someone says, “So what? You’re still not Christian,” I think if he’s a Catholic, then maybe he’s knowingly falling back on Tradition – the entire body of teaching passed on (Latin tradere, whence we get “tradition”) from Jesus through the Apostles through the bishops, whether it is explicitly present in Scripture, whether it has yet been solemnly and explicitly defined, or not. If the person is non-Catholic, I’d say he’s still falling back on Tradition, and he just doesn’t know it. In either case, “You’re not Christian” seems to mean “You don’t believe all that we do, even if it can’t be shown with enough precision by the Apostles’ Creed.”
Finally, sometimes people focus more on Christian doctrine than Christian living. Sometimes this comes from pride, especially intellectual pride. We’re sinners. I’ve done it, and I’m certain I’ll do it again. This may be the reason they emphasize right belief and right reason so much. On the other hand, it could come from an ardent desire that you should experience the beauty of this or that belief (or its effects in one’s life). I’m sure you’re familiar with this desire. I am, too – for example, what I wouldn’t give to help you believe what I do, that God is indeed physical, but moreover He is here for you to touch and receive! So whether one’s heart is pure or proud, sometimes it takes one too strongly in one direction.
Well, there’s my thought-dump. Did it answer any questions?
Re: #46 – Catholics, at least, do not believe (and never have) that Mary was born of a virgin. We honor as saints her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. The Virgin Birth refers to the birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s state of grace starting with her conception; God preserved her from the beginning from the effect of Original Sin which is the privation of sanctifying grace.
Brad, I wish I didn’t have to wade through all of the ignorant and spiteful critiques on most sites out there to get to a gem like this. For example, I have opined on more than one occasion that I wish those of us who are trying to emulate our Lord, Savior and Redeemer to the best of our abilities (to allow the gift of His grace to manifest itself in our lives) could stop arguing with each other over the details of our efforts and simply praise the central effort we all share. Our efforts to convince and convert each other can be real and passionate, since our theological differences will not disappear until the Second Coming removes our veils, but they simultaneously can be respectful and Spirit-directed.
In that spirit, thank you very much for your contributions to this discussion.
Why, you’re welcome.
” I do agree that the Apostles’ Creed contains the basic, foundational elements of the Christian faith. But I wouldn’t paint with too broad a brush when it comes to the relative importance of doctrines or whether they were in debate during any given period.
Regarding relative importance, and taking an analogy from Mark Shea, the faith is like an ecosystem – you can’t tear one thing out without affecting others, and eventually the entire faith.”
With respect, this sounds like a very un-Catholic idea. A Catholic friend and I were in a long, long argument with a very intelligent, very well-read, very well-meaning Baptist friend and the discussion just went in circles and circles. Finally, we discovered why. At the root of our disagreement was that I and my Catholic friend believed some sins were graver than others while the Baptist friend thought that minor disobedience to parents was the same as murder was the same as spitting on the sidewalk and was stunned to find that another view existed (he thought our viewpoint made a lot of sense and almost instantly switched to it). In the same way, while I agree that most truths cannot be wholly compartmentalized from others, in fact some truths are more important than others and disbelieving them is graver while believing them is more important. Ecosystems are robust: they don’t die, they change.
Hmm. Well, Shea lives in Seattle, where even the thought of changing – let alone harming – an ecosystem is a mortal sin. The point is supposed to be that even the doctrines that seem minor are connected to in some way or another to the major ones; changing a minor one leads to changing a major one, and nobody wants to change the Faith.
“changing a minor one leads to changing a major one”
Again, with respect, I disagree. The gestalt–the sum total of what is believed–obviously changes if minor doctrines are changed, but I deny that disagreement on a minor point inevitably leads to disagreement on a major point. If we were to follow that logic to its conclusion, we would have to think that anything short of perfect agreement was the same as complete disagreement, but reason and experience show that isn’t so. I think the very fact that we can talk of minor and major doctrines suggests that some beliefs are, in fact, more important than others.
I admit I don’t know nearly enough to assert whether anything besides perfect agreement ought to lead to complete disagreement. I suspect that it may be true logically, but people aren’t logical. The way I see it, sometimes people deny item A, which denial should logically lead to the denial of item B, yet they don’t deny B. Thankfully.
I should also clarify that in the grand scheme of things, rejecting belief in the Assumption of Mary is less bad than rejecting the belief that grave sin X is a grave sin. If I had to choose, I’d certainly prefer that someone not believe in the Assumption. But I’m always tilting at windmills and striving after ideals, so I’d really prefer everyone to believe the whole package. I guess I was subconsciously associating the “more important” question with “what can people get away with not believing?”
I mean, maybe I was making that association, but I acknowledge that the question isn’t like that, and is certainly a legitimate one when it comes to considering our sad lack of unity.
I think I’m going to concede. While its clear that Mormons have different shades of meaning in their understanding of the terms in the Apostles’ Creed, its also clear that the various Protestant and Orthodox and Catholic sects have different shades of meaning in their understanding. Baptists will probably have an understanding of “universal church” and “communion of the saints” that is further away from the Catholic understanding than the Mormon understanding is.