Sunday, July 27, 2008

A "Different Jesus"?

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers itself the authentic modern restoration of Jesus Christ’s New Testament church. Mormons are therefore dismayed when outsiders claim that they are not Christians and that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. As Mormons respond by asserting their faith in Christ, critics often reply by claiming that such Christianity does not count because the Jesus Christ of Mormonism is “a different Jesus.”

      There are religions, such as Islam or Judaism, that believe in Jesus Christ as a great teacher or even a great prophet, while denying his divinity and mission as savior of mankind. Mormonism is not in that category.

The Doctrine of Christ
      The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of Christ clearly and repeatedly: No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God (3 Nephi 27:19), but all of us sin and are unclean (1 Nephi 10:6). Because God loves us and wants us to be able to live with him in heaven, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price of our sins (Alma 34:8-16). Christ was qualified to do so because he was perfect and therefore the only person who was not himself in debt to sin. He was willing to do so because he loves us (2 Nephi 26:24). He suffered the price necessary to pay for the sins of the whole world, and then he allowed himself to be killed so that he could be resurrected (2 Nephi 9:21-22). Thus, Christ’s Atonement conquered both spiritual and physical death (Helaman 14:16). Because of Christ’s resurrection, all mankind will be resurrected (Alma 11:42). Those who have faith in Christ, repent, are baptized, and endure to the end will receive eternal life with God the Father and Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 31:17-21).

The Nature of Christ
      I have used the Book of Mormon to show what Mormons believe about the doctrine of Christ, but the “different Jesus” argument usually boils down to just one pivotal doctrine: that of the Mormon concept of the “Godhead” as opposed to the Trinity. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God the Father, who is a separate being. God the Father is one, God the Son (Jesus Christ) is another, and God the Holy Spirit is a third. They are “one” in the sense that they are united in purpose. For most Christians, all three are one being, simultaneously one and three. I will not argue the merits of the doctrine here, except to say that I personally feel that the New Testament very clearly supports the Mormon position. I recommend that anyone who wants a defense of our doctrine regarding the nature of Christ read the talk delivered by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland during the October 2007 General Conference.

      Of course, there is no “different Jesus.” There was only one Jesus of Nazareth, and both Mormons and other Christians believe in him. Mormons do not believe in a different Jesus; they believe something different about the nature of the same Jesus. Mormons believe that he and the Father are separate beings, while most Christians believe that they are the same being. For that reason, some critics have taken it upon themselves to tell us that we are not Christians.

In summary
Argument: Mormons are not real Christians because they believe in a different Jesus.
Response: There is only one Jesus of Nazareth, and he is the Savior of mankind. The only significant difference between what Mormons believe about him and what other Christians believe is that Mormons believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings, while most Christians believe that they are simultaneously one and three.


Samuel said...

Once again, Travis, your explanation of the Nature of and for the Nature of Christ logically delineates a difference in the Jesus that I confess to be Lord and the jesus that you say is a savior. Since there are two natures of Christ that are marked in Scripture, one of God, "I and the Father are One." "If you have seen me you have seen the Father." Also one of Humanity, not copulated by the father, but Begotten by the Father before all Worlds. Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and Born of a woman.
The Nature of Jesus and the historical confession of Who Jesus is as God/Man According Holy Scripture and to the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church which has been handed down through centuries does not point to Jesus as separate in any way from any of the other 2 beings/persons of the Godhead.
Therefore if you preach a jesus that is anything less than what is confessed in the Holy Infallible Scripture and the Confessions he is not jesus at all. So you would be right to say that you do not have a different jesus, you would have no jesus at all.
Once again you are answering from your standpoint to other LDS members and not to me your critic.

And, p.s., this does not clear up any word definitions. I would like to know what you mean by Savior, Redeem, Atonement, etc. so that I may know how to write more clearly to you. If you have any questions about what faith is or would like to be baptized let me know.

Travis Brinton said...

I hope that this blog helps explain the LDS point of view on criticisms leveled at us, but the purpose was never to reconcile Mormon doctrine with that of your faith. We must be careful that this doesn't become an argument. Arguing and debating tends to accomplish little besides engendering ill will. My testimony is based on the confirming witness of the Holy Spirit, not argument.
I freely admit that you and I believe different things about who Jesus Christ is. That's to be expected. That is why we do not belong to the same denomination. Obviously, we can't both be right about the points on which we disagree. But nor is it necessary to point out that we think the other party is mistaken. That is already obvious, and going around telling people they're wrong can quickly get obnoxious.
I think I have adequately explained what we believe about Jesus Christ, but here is my feeble attempt at some definitions, per your request:
Savior: One who saves. In a religious sense, the Savior (capital S) is the one who saves mankind from sin and death. Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind.
Redeem: 1) To buy back. 2) To atone for. 3) To free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby (Merriam Webster's definition).
Atonement: The act by which Jesus Christ conquered sin and death, or in other words, spiritual death and physical death. The Atonement consists of Christ's suffering in Gethsemane and on Golgotha, his death on the cross, and his resurrection three days later. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
As a final note, I wanted to correct a common misconception: Mormon doctrine affirms that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God, but does not purport to know how that was accomplished. We do not speculate about how he was conceived, but limit ourselves to what it says in Luke 1:35.

Samuel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Travis Brinton said...

I deleted your last comment for several reasons. First, your discussion of the means of creating spirit children was explicit and inappropriate. Second, you again mischaracterized what we believe. (Please cite reputable sources when making statements about our doctrine.) Third, this is a place to clarify what Mormons believe, but not to attack it. This blog is a forum for answering criticisms, not for sponsoring them.
    You are welcome to comment on this blog, but comments must be in the spirit of genuinely seeking to understand others' beliefs.

Samuel said...

"The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood - was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8: p. 115)
"Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers" (Mormon Doctrine," by Bruce McConkie, p. 547)

I believe these are the teachings of the Prophets of your faith. Therefore they are the doctrine of your faith. What I write is no lie but the truth of what you believe. I am sorry if you have not read this before but you must know what you believe before you write about what you believe.

According to your prophets the act of begetting the son was just like the way you and I were begotten on earth. This means that there is a Heavenly Mother and that your Heavenly Father copulated with her, the way your father copulated with your mother, and they got jesus.
Thusly we also get this,

Jesus is the literal spirit-brother of Lucifer, a creation. (Gospel Through the Ages, p. 15)

which would also seem to shed a bit more light on the relationship between these two children.

Since Jesus is the eternal Son. He is second person of the Trinity. He has two natures. He is God in flesh and man (John 1:1, 14; Col. 2;9) and the creator of all things (Col. 1:15-17)not begotten by heavenly copulation between a Heavenly Father and Mother like we on Earth come to existence it would seem that we are, in fact, following completely different gods and historical people.

With Love,


Samuel said...

Gordon B. Hinckley, Mormonism’s 15th President, once noted in a conference message, “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me” (“Daughters of God,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1991, p.100. This is also cited in The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p.257).

Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote,

“Implicit in the Christian verity that all men are the spirit children of an Eternal Father is the usually unspoken truth that they are also the offspring of an Eternal Mother. An exalted and glorified Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) could not be a Father unless a Woman of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as a Mother. The begetting of children makes a man a father and a woman a mother whether we are dealing with man in his mortal or immortal state” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 516).

Just a little more for the plate.


Samuel said...

In a pamphlet published by the LDS Church First Presidency, it says:

“Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior” ("The Father and The Son; A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve," June 30, 1916. Reprinted in Articles of Faith, p. 421).

Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie taught that God stepped down from His throne to “join with one who is finite and mortal in bringing forth, ‘after the manner of the flesh,’ the Mortal Messiah” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 1:315).

And a little more.


Travis Brinton said...

Here is your error:
"I believe these are the teachings of the Prophets of your faith. Therefore they are the doctrine of your faith."
    Not quite. We do not claim infallibility for any mortal man, prophet or not. Joseph Smith said that a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such (History of the Church 5:265). When he speaks not as the mouthpiece of God, but simply voicing his own opinions, they are just that--his own opinions. Bruce R. McConkie assumed "sole and full responsibility" for "Mormon Doctrine," meaning that it is to be treated as the opinion of Bruce R. McConkie, not as an official pronouncement of the Church.
    That there is a Mother in Heaven is doctrinal, and we also affirm the literal Sonship of Jesus Christ. But we do not speak of the means by which that was accomplished. You can make assumptions from what has been said, but frankly we do not know, and I consider it blasphemy to speak so flippantly of such things. Obviously, the Bible is scant on details because the matter is sacred and there is no reason why we should need to know.
    I do not find the idea that Jesus was conceived in the same way as anyone else objectionable. What I find objectionable is the irreverent discussion of it. Some things should be treated with sacred silence.

Samuel said...

So what do you believe then? Since there seems to be no infallible authority for you, what do you believe?

Travis Brinton said...

Let's hope these links work.
This one is the opinion of one member, but may be valuable. I would note, however, that even canonized scripture is not completely infallible! You and I would both agree (I hope) that a literal reading of the Old Testament scriptures saying that God "repented" would be inaccurate. Nor do we adhere to what were almost certainly Paul's personal opinions about women (1 Tim. 2:9-12). I guess there is no escaping the personal responsibility to use some common sense and listen to the Spirit, which will "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).
    This link is a little more technical about which publications are official publications of the Church and so forth, and is from the Ensign. This last one is again not published by the Church, but has lots of quotes from General Authorities on the matter and is probably the most thorough of the three. It's also really long.
    Samuel, I'd like to invite you to continue this conversation with me by email. I think I could answer some things better that way than by trying to have a conversation through comments on the blog. If you'd like, post a comment containing your email address, and I won't allow it to appear on the page, but we'll then be able to email directly.

Ryan said...

Travis, I liked your thoughts here. Just FYI, I wrote a piece on this same topic that makes a few different points than yours.

Travis Brinton said...

Here I chose not to publish another comment by an anonymous person. It was a link to an anti-Mormonism blog. (I say "anti-Mormonism" instead of "anti-Mormon" out of deference to the claim that these attacks on our faith are out of love for us.) Sincere or not, such blogs are misguided.

Anyone who feels so inclined can readily find thousands of such websites, and can just as readily find rebuttals on sites such as FAIR. I, however, am not going to attempt to engage in a back-and-forth debate.