What Must You Believe to Be Saved?

What is the “minimum” content that a person must believe in order to receive eternal life? I’m asked that question fairly often, and it’s a tough one to answer.

For example, if a person believes that Jesus died for his sin and rose from the dead, yet does not understand or affirm Christ’s deity, does that person possess saving faith? At what point does a failure to accept certain widely held tenets of Christianity disqualify a person from being considered a Christian?

Just a few thoughts:

First, it’s nearly impossible to know another person’s spiritual condition with certainty. We can listen carefully to somebody’s expressed beliefs and attempt to make a judgment, but it’s rarely (if ever) an easy judgment to make. Only God knows for sure if a person’s name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 21:27).

Second, there is a distinction between ignorance regarding a particular doctrine and rejection of that doctrine. I think it’s possible for a person to be a Christian without understanding the Trinity. It’s a complex and difficult subject. It’s a doctrine that many, if not most, Christians misunderstand. On the other hand, if a person rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and believes that one member of the Godhead is not God, or that Jesus is something less than God in the flesh, then that person is placing himself outside the stream of Christian orthodoxy. That’s why I don’t consider Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses to be members of “Christian” denominations. Again, I don’t know any individual’s spiritual condition, but if a person actively rejects key tenets of Christianity, I’m going to operate under the assumption that he is not a Christian. However, it’s quite possible for a genuine believer to be confused or uninformed.

Third, the Scripture gives us some key aspects of the Gospel that leads to eternal life. When I present the Gospel, I always make sure to include three main points: First, we are sinners in need of saving (Romans 3:9-20; 23). Apart from God’s intervention and grace, we are destined for an eternity in hell. Second, Jesus provided a way for us to be reconciled to God and to receive eternal life. He died in our place and rose from the dead, proving that God had accepted His sacrifice (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 1 Peter 2:24; Acts 2:24). Third, God offers eternal life to those who will trust in what Jesus has done on their behalf (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26; Eph 2:8-9). Although there are many other valuable points to be made about Jesus, these key points seem to be at the heart of the Gospel presented in the New Testament.

Fourth, our ultimate goal is not simply to present the “minimum” possible content, but to make lifelong disciples of Jesus. For that reason, our task does not end after we present the basics of the Gospel message. With our children, for example, we begin with simple concepts and words, but our ultimate goal is for them to have a rich and deep understanding of God’s Word. One danger of focusing too intently on the question of who is “in” and who is “out” is that we fail to consider the years of discipleship that ought to follow one’s initial profession of faith. That’s not to imply that the question of one’s eternal destiny is unimportant — it’s hard to think of a more important topic. However, we are called to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to “press on to maturity” in our Christian faith (Hebrews 6:1-3). Only God really knows when a person moves from spiritual death into life, but we do know that that moment is only the beginning of a person’s relationship to Jesus. For that reason, we ought consistently present the Gospel to everybody and consistently encourage people to move forward in their spiritual life.

(On a tangential but related topic, this is why I present the basic message of the Gospel in every sermon. First, I don’t know the spiritual condition of everybody present. Second, for those who are believers, the reminder of Christ’s death and resurrection is always necessary. However, each sermon ought to also present the implications of Christ’s work for the maturing believer, and should do so from the biblical text at hand).

What are your thoughts and questions on this critical but difficult subject? 

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Update on Youcef Nadharkani

A few months ago I wrote a post about Youcef Nadharkani, the Iranian pastor who was being threatened with the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.

The latest news says that his execution order has now been issued. That apparently means that he could be executed at any time without warning. Please continue praying for his release, and if you haven’t yet signed the petition for his release, do so today.

(One note: When I wrote about Nadharkani previously, some readers expressed concern that he is part of a heretical cult. I researched those claims and was unable to find any reliable information to that effect. Even if the rumors are true, the issue of religious freedom in Iran is a critical one, and Nadharkani doesn’t deserve execution for converting from Islam.)


I Am Youcef Nadarkhani (and So Are You)

He and I are roughly the same age. Both of us are married and have children in elementary school. Both of us are pastors.

We were baptized into the same name and we’re part of the same body. We both believe and proclaim the resurrected Jesus. His suffering is my suffering, and his victory is my victory. I am Youcef Nadarkhani and so are you.

There are some differences between us, though:

Youcef is from Iran; I’m from America.

While I was driving to church on Sunday, Youcef was sitting in a prison cell. While I was worshipping my Savior freely, he is facing potential execution for telling people about Jesus.

While we’re debating which presidential candidate will best serve our personal interests, Youcef is imprisoned by a government that plans to hang him for his testimony of faith.

Sadly, Youcef’s case is not isolated or rare. Iran is not the only country where men and women are persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, or executed for believing in Jesus.

These men and women should matter to us because they are a part of Christ’s body. If they suffer, we suffer. If they weep, we weep.

Caring about those who are in prison for their faith in Christ isn’t simply a nice thing to do with our free time. It’s an obligation commanded in the Scriptures.

Many of my readers are college students, young professionals, and other influential men and women. You’re in a position to have a voice and to make an impact. Let’s not allow Youcef’s story and those like it to be forgotten with the next news cycle. Let’s make it known that Christians don’t abandon or forget the suffering among us.

What can we do?

  • Pray. Pray that Youcef’s testimony will strengthen his fellow believers in Iran. Pray that he’ll be courageous and hold firmly to the faith. Pray the government of Iran will release Youcef and allow him to practice his faith freely.
  • Remember and help others remember. Keep spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media. When you pray with your friends, pray for Youcef and his family. As Hebrews 13:3 commands, let’s remember him because he is part of the body and so are we. We’re in prison with him, and with everybody who is there for the name of Christ.
  • Take action. This link includes a way you can email Iran’s representative to the United Nations and ask him to seek Youcef’s release.

For those who know Jesus, solidarity with the persecuted church is a reflection of our love for Christ. So in His name, let’s express our identification with Youcef and with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

I am Youcef Nadarkhani, and so are you. Because we are the Church, the body of Christ, united in victory and in suffering.

What other ideas do you have for encouraging and supporting the persecuted church around the world?

(Image via www.aclj.org)

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Pastors and Politics: Robert Jeffress and Rick Perry

The biggest political story last week was a religious story. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was talking to reporters after he introduced Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit, a yearly gathering of social conservatives. During his remarks, he stated that evangelical voters should always prefer a competent Christian over a Mormon. He called Mormonism a cult, and argued that Christians shouldn’t vote for Mitt Romney, since he is a moral man but isn’t truly a Christian.

A few thoughts:

Pastors need to be extremely slow to publicly endorse political candidates. This has nothing to do with the IRS — if my church faced the loss of non-profit status for preaching the Bible, so be it. But the reasons to avoid endorsing political candidates go deeper than tax status.

First, the Church’s allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ. When we look at church history, we see that the church’s mission gets obscured when it aligns too closely with particular political parties or leaders. For that reason, a respectful distance between the Church and government is appropriate. We’re called to submit to our leadership (Romans 13) and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-12). We’re even called to pay taxes (Luke 20:22-25). Notice, however, that Jesus says our money can go to the government, but our allegiance and our lives belong to God.

Second, politicians are just people. They do what politicians do — try to win elections, and hopefully try to govern well. There is no doubt that one’s religious beliefs affect how he or she governs. But politicians are capable of professing Christianity (or any belief system) for the purpose of winning elections. I’m not doubting Perry’s faith — I don’t know the man. I do know, though, that virtually every President of the past 100 years, Republican or Democrat, has claimed Christianity. It didn’t always make them good Presidents or even good men. So we ought to be very cautious in assuming that one’s public religious affiliation will determine how he or she acts in office.

That being said, pastors are responsible to evaluate political issues in light of the Scripture. I prefer to help people think through the critical issues from a biblical perspective and let them follow the Holy Spirit in deciding how to vote. So pastors should address what the Bible says about government, abortion, economics, war, and other issues but avoid endorsing candidates. I do vote, and I have opinions about which candidates are best, but it’s simply not my job to align my ministry with a particular politician. It’s my job to examine what the Bible says about the issues. Then, people can vote for a leader based on his policy positions as they relate to God’s values.

Finally, I think Jeffress has been treated too harshly for his assessment of Mormonism. Whether we use the word “cult” or not, Mormonism is clearly a group that deviates from traditional orthodoxy. Mormons do not believe in the unique deity of Christ or in the deity of the Holy Spirit. They believe that people can become gods, and that God was once a man. They profess that salvation is achieved through works, not by grace through faith alone. They deny the unique authority of the Bible and add additional Scriptures. The thing for which Jeffress is being most harshly criticized is actually the one area in which he was correct, regardless of whether you agree with his terminology. (As a side note, he isn’t the first to call Mormonism a cult. It is a widely held view among evangelicals that they are a cult, based upon their doctrinal deviation from orthodox Christianity.)

I’m sure I’ve opened a can of worms here — your thoughts and opinions?

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Identifying Campus Cults

College campuses are prime recruiting territory for cults and heretical sects. Christian students are excited about their faith and eager to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, some groups take advantage of that fact. They prey upon students’ idealism and zeal and suck them into unbiblical belief systems.

I was reminded of this sad reality last night when a group of young men tried to take over our college ministry’s evening service, shouting that they alone had the true Gospel and that the rest of the churches in America are condemned. My understanding is that these men have been making the rounds on campus this week, so I felt compelled to write a post warning my readers and also providing some information to help you spot aberrant groups like this.

Galatians 2:4-5 warns us against false brothers, who sneak around to spy out the liberty and grace we have in Jesus Christ. Paul says he didn’t give in to people like that for even a minute, and neither should we.

So what are some of the defining features of cults? It’s very difficult to come up with a standard list — every group differs a bit. However, below are some things that many of them have in common. Not all of them will have all of these characteristics, but they will all have at least one. I hope this will help you as you interact with different groups on campus:

First, they are extremely exclusive in their understanding of salvation. Many of these groups believe that they are among the only “true Christians,” and everybody else is preaching a false gospel. It’s not simply that they have theological differences with other groups. They believe that adherence to their particular system or code is the only way to eternal life. And they usually believe that almost nobody else is doing it right.

For this reason, they often appeal to students who are seeking a really zealous and whole-hearted way to follow Christ. Everybody wants to feel special and important, and these groups try to meet that need by telling students that they are among God’s few and chosen elite. Colossians 2:16-19 warns about those who go around trying to disqualify others by preaching an elitist message of asceticism and legalism.

Second, their doctrine departs from orthodox Christianity. Most of the cults I’ve run across at A&M are Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. In other words, they hold that works are in some way actually meritorious — only those who practice particular actions will end up in heaven (for more on this see my previous post about Brother Jed). Of course, this contradicts the New Testament in a number of places, most notably Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:21-26.

Often they have heretical beliefs regarding the Trinity, as well. They might hold that Jesus was simply an exalted man, or that each member of the Trinity is like a different “mode” or “representation” of God. The orthodox view of the Trinity is that we serve One God who exists in three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) simultaneously. Each Person is distinct, but each Person is fully God.

Third, they are isolationist in their methodology. Rather than encouraging Christians to engage in community with the local church, they separate people from it. Sometimes they encourage students to move into “communes” of sorts, where they can be monitored at all times. Some groups ask their members to hand over control of their personal finances to the group leadership. They discourage or even restrict contact with family or friends who disagree with the cult’s teaching. They do not practice the unity encouraged by Paul in Ephesians 4:1-6.

Fourth, they aggressively proselytize, but in ways that communicate open disrespect for anybody who disagrees with them. There is usually no productive dialogue with cult leadership. It’s “my way or the highway.” Those who question their methods or teaching are shouted down or ignored. In an individual conversation, they might seem meek or mild-mannered, but in public settings they are confrontational and angry. They violate the command of 1 Peter 3:15, which calls us to give a reason for our hope with gentleness and respect.

This is really just a start, but these four characteristics will hopefully be helpful as you respond to various groups and preachers on campus. For some great information about cults and world religions, check out www.probe.org.

What other questions or comments do you have about cults?

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C.S. Lewis, Inclusivism, and Scripture (Part 2)

Last week I began to address Jordan’s questions regarding C.S. Lewis’s views on inclusivism. I concluded that C.S. Lewis was indeed an inclusivist who held that although Jesus is the only way to eternal life, explicit faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation. Lewis’s views are echoed by other theologians and pastors — most notably, Billy Graham has endorsed a form of inclusivism in recent years.

So does the Scripture support inclusivism?

I’ll be arguing my position from the Bible, but my intent is not to label those who disagree with me as heretics or heathens. I’ll talk more about that issue in my final post on this subject, but my hope is to simply lay down the biblical facts as I see them.

That having been said, I strongly believe that the Bible supports Christian exclusivism, the belief that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life. Here’s why:

The Scripture consistently states that faith in Christ is necessary to receive salvation. Although you could argue that “faith in Christ” includes unconscious belief, this isn’t the most natural way to read the passages in question. For example, John 3:16-18 repeatedly talks about faith in Christ as necessary for salvation — it’s hard for me to imagine the original readers understanding that in any way other than explicit belief in what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection. Romans 3 is another example. After declaring that nobody achieves eternal life through his own righteousness — because everybody is wicked — Paul states that justification comes only through belief in Christ. In other words, I think he directly contradicts the inclusivist position here by saying that no amount of sincerity or piety is enough to receive salvation apart from exercising faith in Christ.

Most of the apostles died trying to evangelize the world. Why would they do this if they felt that a sincere person could be saved apart from knowing about Jesus? Why not leave well enough alone? Why insist upon the worship of Jesus alone (and face terrible consequences for doing so) if it wasn’t really necessary? From what I see in the Scripture (particularly the book of Acts), they strongly believed in the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Christ.

Romans 1, in particular, eliminates the myth of the “righteous pagan.” In Romans 1 Paul states that worship of false gods is the way that people run away from God, not a way that they seek to know Him. As I stated above, his premise is that general revelation leads to condemnation, not to salvation. What we often call “seeking for God” is in fact a way of avoiding Him and rejecting Him. So the idea of an idolater in Africa who has never heard of Jesus but worships Him nonetheless is a myth, according to Romans 1.

For those who do sincerely want to know God, He provides further revelation leading to an understanding of the Gospel. I have biblical evidence of this and anecdotal evidence. From the Scripture, we see the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), who genuinely wants to understand the Old Testament but has nobody to tell him what it means. He is the paradigm of the “righteous pagan.” How does God respond? He sends Philip to the man, and Philip clearly explains the Gospel of Christ! Cornelius is another example (Acts 10). God sent Peter to this God-fearing Gentile, just so he could know about Jesus and be saved.

Anecdotally (from people I know personally), I’ve heard of Muslims having dreams instructing them to listen to a particular missionary who would tell them about Jesus. I know of a formerly Hindu man who had a vision of Jesus that led to his salvation. I strongly believe that God is gracious, and He can get the message of the Gospel to whomever He pleases, assuming those individuals are prepared to hear it.

And this is critical to explain about exclusivism — we don’t believe that everybody in the Middle East is going to hell because they happen to be born in a particular place with particular parents. To the contrary, God is very capable of penetrating those lands with the Gospel in any way He pleases, and He does it all the time. God is deeply gracious and concerned with the salvation of the entire world. And I think we will be surprised to see many people from all over the world with us in heaven because God in His mercy revealed the Gospel to them in amazing ways.

There’s obviously not enough space to answer every question on this topic here, so I’ll leave it to your comments. My next post will address the question of how we ought to respond to the writings of Lewis, and others who hold his view. What should we think about a brilliant Christian theologian who held a view with which many of us strongly disagree?

[Image via http://www.lostseed.com/meet-jesus/prayer.php]

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How Christians Responded to Harold Camping — A Few Thoughts

By now everybody has (hopefully) come to terms with the fact that the Rapture did not occur last Saturday. The world is still turning, we Christians are still here, and Harold Camping and his followers are disillusioned and confused.

Most American evangelicals did not believe Camping’s predictions, although the majority do believe that Jesus will return one day. It’s not that May 21, 2011 was particularly unlikely to be the date of Christ’s return. It just wasn’t any more likely than any other day. As one commenter pointed out in response to my previous post, Matthew 24:36 clearly says that nobody knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return.

What was interesting to me, though, was the variety of responses from those Christians who did not align with Camping’s views on the end of the world.

Some responded with anger. One notable Christian leader tweeted that Camping should publicly repent for misleading his followers. Early on Saturday, he also expressed dismay that Camping had “embarrassed Christians.” I’m reading reports this afternoon that Camping plans to make a public statement — perhaps for the purpose of repenting. For some, stern rebuke is the best way to handle a man like Camping.

Some responded with cynicism. One popular blogger and Tweeter (under the handle JesusNeedsNewPR), wrote a thoughtful piece for the Washington Post last week about Camping and his followers. He explained that people like Camping can do a great deal of harm, even unintentionally, and that his followers should  not be mocked but pitied. He promised that he would not make wisecracks or jokes poking fun at Camping’s sect. However, on Saturday he issued several Tweets supposedly from heaven, as if the Rapture had occurred. He claimed he had learned that John Calvin was gay, that the Pope thought Martin Luther was a pervert, C.S. Lewis was asked to leave, and Gandhi is in heaven but in therapy. He avoided directly mocking Camping — but in the process came across as if he was mocking the very concept of heaven, the Rapture, and Christianity in general. Jesus Needs New P.R., indeed. For some this was an opportunity to give free reign to cynicism and mockery, to prove that nothing is sacred and everything is a joke.

Some responded with sadness and concern. This was my first reaction. I was sad for Camping’s followers who blew their life savings overnight because they believed him. I was sad for Christians everywhere who were being mocked and ridiculed because of one misguided man and his incorrect theories. And I was a bit sad, frankly, that the Rapture didn’t occur on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong — I never placed any stock in Camping’s date-setting. But still — if you are a Christian and some little part of you didn’t at least hope it might happen on Saturday, perhaps you’ve lost sight of hope. For that matter, I hope it happens today!

Finally, some responded by staying faithful and continuing to serve the Lord. Those with level heads and faithful hearts kept doing what they were already doing — sharing the Gospel, making disciples, and seeking to know the Lord. They woke up Sunday morning, like every morning, and kept living as if Jesus might come back today. They prayed for their friends, their church, their family, and even Harold Camping. They refused to get caught up in speculation, anger, or cynicism. They just kept trucking along, convinced that Jesus will come when the Father decides it’s time. Until then, they have a job to do and plan to keep doing it.

And those people — the faithful ones — those are the ones I want to be more like. What about you?

[Image via http://www.eternalpath.com/forums/false-teachers-cults/153-harold-camping-family-radio.html]

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Will May 21, 2011 Be Judgment Day?

If you’ve been following the news, you are probably aware that a group called Family Radio is predicting that the end of the world will be this Saturday, May 21. This isn’t the first time that a group like this has arisen — the world has a long history of religious groups setting a particular date for the end of the world and the return of Christ. One of the more interesting groups popped up near my hometown of Dallas in 1998. They moved to Garland, a nearby suburb, and began proclaiming that God would take them to heaven in flying saucers on March 31 of that year. No saucers materialized.

It’s always possible that the world will end on Saturday, although the biblical justification for this group’s belief system is quite thin. They are missing the simile in 2 Peter 3:8 — a day is like one thousand years. It’s not literally one thousand years. My guess is that Jesus is not going to come back this Saturday.

Many blog posts and articles have explained the damage this group might do to Christianity’s public image, and others have deconstructed their biblical arguments. In the midst of the discussion, though, I’ve decided to take the opportunity to reiterate some biblical truth that tends to be forgotten when groups like this emerge.

First, judgment day is coming for everybody. It might not be this weekend, but God has established a day in which He will judge the world through Jesus (Acts 17:30-31). The day is coming — we don’t know when, but it’s on the way. The Scripture calls us to trust in Jesus in order to escape the devastating judgment that is on its way (John 3:18). While we might discount Family Radio’s date-setting, the concept of final judgment is a biblical one.

Second, your judgment day could be closer than you think. I can say with confidence that one of the following things will happen in the next 100 years — either I will die, or Jesus will return. Either way, my moment (and yours) to be judged is coming relatively quickly. It could be very quickly, for all I know. In fact, for more than 100,000 people, judgment day will in fact be this Saturday.

Third, we are called to keep serving Jesus and proclaiming Him right up until the moment of our death, or His return. Several reports mention that followers of Family Radio have sold their homes, quit their jobs, and generally dropped out of life to await Judgment Day. There have been other groups throughout history who have taken the same approach. In fact, it’s quite possible that this is what was going on in the church of Thessalonica, which motivated Paul to tell them to keep working and to avoid idleness (2 Thess 3:6-12).

The appropriate response to the coming judgment is not idleness or withdrawal, but faithfulness and proclamation. The only way to be judged favorably — on that day or when we die — is to trust in Jesus. Those who know Him have a responsibility to keep proclaiming the truth, serving His people, and worshiping Him. That way when Judgment Day does arrive, God will find us hard at work fulfilling His purposes in the world.

[Image via http://media.photobucket.com/image/charts%20and%20maps/VISAGE_photo/May%2021%202011/billboard.png?o=12&sortby=sevendaysview]

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Justice, Mercy, and Osama bin Laden

In the past few days, Christians have discussed and debated (mostly on Twitter and Facebook) our proper response to the death of Osama bin Laden. Should we rejoice that an evil man is dead or should we grieve the destruction of a fellow human being? Should we support the actions of our government in bringing about his destruction, or should we caution against vengeance and violence, even if that violence was provoked?

Just a few thoughts:

Wicked men and women deserve punishment, and God loves justice (Isaiah 61:8; Ps 73:18-20). You don’t have to read the Bible for long before you recognize a clear pattern — God will decisively judge the wicked. If they are not judged now, then they will be judged in eternity. It is appropriate to rejoice that justice has been done (Psalm 58:10-11). Justice ultimately means freedom from the effects of wickedness and sin — those who would deny the ultimate destruction of the wicked also unwittingly deny the final salvation of the righteous.

The death of bin Laden provides a limited but real sense of justice for the thousands of people who lost friends and family members, or who were permanently damaged physically or psychologically through his violence.

Governments are established, in part, as God’s (imperfect) agents of justice (Romans 13:3-4). At their best, human governments act as enforcers of God’s will to punish evil-doers and reward righteous people. However, governments are established and run by people, so they are always imperfect. As hard as it is to believe, it’s possible that my own government could make a mistake in its execution of justice. Just because God uses one nation to punish another does not mean that the avenging nation is more righteous — otherwise He never would have used Babylon to judge Judah!

However, the justice effected by human governments will never be enough. We await a final and decisive judgment (Revelation 19-22). The justice brought about through human means may temporarily appease our need for justice, but will not fully satisfy it. For that reason, human justice can even make us grieve because it reminds us of how much remains to be done. How many really believe that the death of bin Laden constitutes decisive judgment on all acts of terrorism and violence?

Finally, God does not delight in the death of the wicked, so neither should we (Ezekiel 33:11). Even as we rejoice in the accomplishment of limited justice, we recognize that a tragedy has occurred. A man made in God’s image found himself in a position worthy of severe and deadly judgment. It would have been better, much better, had he turned to Jesus and found eternal life. So yes, we grieve at the death of Osama bin Laden even as we rejoice that he will do no more harm. We grieve because apart from Jesus, millions more will spend eternity separated from God.

And we pray that we can be vessels of God’s mercy, to extend His grace to the next potential Osama bin Laden before justice has to be served.

[Image via http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/10/02/3027767.htm]

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Mormonism and Orthodoxy: Does the Trinity Matter?

The college town in which I live has a higher concentration of  Mormon missionaries than any other place I’ve lived (Mormons are also known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). It is not unusual for my home to be visited by missionaries multiple times in a single month. As a result of its prominence in our community, students and adults frequently ask me how the theology of Mormonism compares to that of Christianity.

I mentioned in a previous post that I would be writing about the “essentials” of the Christian faith over the next few weeks, and this post is a continuation of that series. One of the most significant ways in which Mormon doctrine varies from that of traditional Christianity is in its understanding of the nature of God.  To put it plainly, Mormonism denies the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. As seen from the link, they argue that the Trinity was a late addition to the Christian faith, one that is non-essential for Christians and is in fact false doctrine. Perhaps the most frequent argument they use against the Trinity is to say that the word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible — a true statement, but one akin to saying that because the Constitution does not use the phrase “separation of powers” the concept is therefore absent.

The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is only One God, who exists in Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Mormonism differs from orthodoxy because it ultimately amounts to a subtle form of polytheism — Jesus, the Son of God, did not exist from eternity past, but instead became a god through obedience and faithfulness to His Father.  Faithful people (read: Mormons) can also become gods through obedience and belief in Jesus. This is their doctrine of theosis, which amounts to a plurality of gods — polytheism. (Note: The links in the above paragraphs are to the official LDS website — I’m obviously not endorsing their views but am providing the direct links so you can confirm that I’m not misrepresenting their theology).

It is a critical issue, and one that truly does separate Christianity from the cults. The Scripture does not use the word Trinity, but is clear on the concept — which is why the Nicene Creed was drafted by the Church in A.D. 325.  It was a response to a heretic named Arius, who insisted (as the Mormons of today) that Jesus was a created being who became divine.  Here is some Scriptural evidence for the Trinity:

  • There is only one God who rules the entire Universe — not just this planet (Is 45:5; Dt 6:4; Is 42:8; Dt 4:35; Is 40:25-26; Ps 8:3-4).
  • Jesus is God and existed as God from before time began (Jn 1:1; Col 2:9; Heb 1:3; Jn 8:57-59; Jn 20:27-28).
  • The Holy Spirit is a personal Being who is God (Acts 5:3-4; Jn 16:4-15; 2 Cor 3:17-18; 1 Cor 12:4-6).
  • The Scripture repeatedly puts the Three members of the Trinity together in formulations that imply oneness, not just of purpose but also of nature and Name (Mt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 13:14; Mt 3:16-17; Eph 1:3-14).

There is little doubt that the Scripture supports the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, and it is a mark of orthodoxy for Christians. Far from being an optional idea, it speaks to the very core of our faith.

So my question for you: What are the practical implications of the Trinity for the spiritual life? For example, if Jesus or the Holy Spirit were not divine, would it matter to our faith? Why or why not?

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