Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trinity Sunday?

In the broader Christian world (at least those brands of Christianity with the decency to have a liturgical year) tomorrow (well, starting this evening, really) is Trinity Sunday. This focus on the members of the Godhead makes sense liturgically: Easter––Ascension (Jesus), Pentecost (Holy Ghost), and now a feast about all three of Them (or all One of Them, depending on how you look at it.);-)

Saying, "all three of Them," probably set my own patron saint revolving in his grave; he hated a certain heresy so much, he took the opportunity at the Council of Nicea to smack Arius in the face. And that brings us very neatly back to the point, as the Arian heresy tends to form a part of many LDS folks' concept of deity. (It's the notion that the Son is somehow less divine than the Father––a part of the McConkie school of thought; note that this is different than saying the Son subjects Himself to the will of the Father, which is Biblical.)

We Mormons tend to over-emphasize the distinctions between the various members of the Godhead. In fact, we often use the term "separate," which is not helpful in clarifying our beliefs for those of other faiths. (This is part of a larger problem of defining various shared theological words differently than most Christians, and then––even among ourselves––not using those words with much precision or consistence. For example, consider the word "spirit," which we use to refer to the third member of the Godhead, the Light of Christ [itself a problematic term], the general atmosphere ["a special spirit," or "you've brought a wonderful spirit to this meeting," are common uses], or the individual non-[or, for Mormons, less-]material immortal part of every person. Sheesh.)

It's understandable that we should want to be clear about our uniquely-Mormon beliefs, but frequently we swing the pendulum too far, resulting in an equal (but opposite) doctrinal confusion. After all, the Book of Mormon takes pains to emphasize that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are "One God."

Similarly, most of our dismissals of the Trinity are really straw men. So we argue against a "doctrine" that orthodox Christians do not actually profess. (To be fair, I have spoken with many protestant Christians who, while trying to define the Trinity, actually teach modalism––also called the Sabellian heresy.)

Given the extremely broad spectrum of belief possible under the Mormon umbrella, you'd be surprised how closely we can approach the doctrines accepted by our brothers and sisters who dwell in different theological terrain. You may find this article by Blake Ostler pretty eye-opening!

Finally, when we consider our doctrinal differences, we may be straining at theoretical gnats, but swallowing our own behavioral camels. We should take counsel from (and comfort in) two relevant quotes:

What soul ever perished for believing that God the Father really has a beard?

––C.S. Lewis

I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much.

––Joseph Smith