Mormonism and the Christian Creeds

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The history and evolution of Christian creeds began in the discord, divisions and confusion over doctrines that plagued the ancient Church that Jesus Christ and His Twelve Apostles had organized. As the Apostles taught the pure gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the ancient world, misunderstanding, false teachings and intermingling doctrines began to emerge. The Apostles worked hard to correct the problems, but after their deaths, the pure knowledge was lost over time. Amid this confusion, Christians tried to agree on their beliefs. From the Latin root “credo”—which literally means “I believe”—the ancient creeds sought to define exactly that: What Christians believed.

From their beginnings in ancient Christian councils to their use — or rejection — today, creeds highlight the fractures within Christianity. Some Christian denominations use creeds in their worship services, some don’t. For others, the adherence to a particular creed is the defining difference between an Orthodox congregation and one that is not. Some Protestant denominations have longer statements of beliefs similar to creeds, but they are called confessions of faith. Other Christian denominations — particularly those born out of the Radical Reformation of the 16th century — believe they don’t need to have a creed. [1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church — has the Thirteen Articles of Faith, which are statements outlining the core principles and beliefs of the Church’s teachings. With so many differences among the Christian denominations, it can be difficult to decipher which church contains the fulness of God’s teachings.

Christian creeds were the beginning of the search for truth following the death of Christ’s Apostles. The search concludes with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In speaking of doctrinal differences and their origins, modern prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ do not seek to offend anyone of another faith. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ— said:

These descriptions of a religious philosophy are surely undiplomatic, but I hasten to add that Latter-day Saints do not apply such criticism to the men and women who profess these beliefs. We believe that most religious leaders and followers are sincere believers who love God and understand and serve him to the best of their abilities. We are indebted to the men and women who kept the light of faith and learning alive through the centuries to the present day. We have only to contrast the lesser light that exists among peoples unfamiliar with the names of God and Jesus Christ to realize the great contribution made by Christian teachers through the ages. We honor them as servants of God. [2]
Mormonism

The Apostasy: True Doctrines Lost

The time of confusion and the eventual corruption of pure doctrine is called by Mormons the Great Apostasy. After a time, the pure, undefiled teachings of Jesus Christ were not found on the earth. The true concept of the nature and character of God was lost, as were other vital principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the death of Christ’s Apostles, the priesthood keys were lost. Since priesthood keys are the authority that God gives to man to direct, control, and govern the power of God given to men to act in all things for the salvation of His children, the power of God gave way to the wisdom of men.

Confusion over the teachings and doctrines of the ancient Church began before the Apostles died. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (1 Corinthians 11:18). To the Galatians, Paul wrote:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that …would pervert the gospel of Christ. But [if] we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-8)

Elder Oaks explained what happened in the early centuries of Christianity. He said:

…The concepts identified by such nonscriptural terms as “the incomprehensible mystery of God” and “the mystery of the Holy Trinity” are attributable to the ideas of Greek philosophy. These philosophical concepts transformed Christianity in the first few centuries following the deaths of the Apostles. For example, philosophers then maintained that physical matter was evil and that God was a spirit without feelings or passions. Persons of this persuasion, including learned men who became influential converts to Christianity, had a hard time accepting the simple teachings of early Christianity: an Only Begotten Son who said he was in the express image of his Father in Heaven and who taught his followers to be one as he and his Father were one, and a Messiah who died on a cross and later appeared to his followers as a resurrected being with flesh and bones. [3]

Christian Creeds: Attempting to Define the Nature of God

Attempting to end the confusion and discord, ancient Christian leaders organized councils to clearly define their beliefs. One of these councils was held in Nicaea. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, late prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

When the emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity, he became aware of the divisiveness among the clergy concerning the nature of Deity. In an attempt to overcome this, he gathered the eminent divines of the day to Nicaea in the year 325. Each participant was given opportunity to state his views. The argument only grew more heated. When a definition could not be reached, a compromise was made. It came to be known as the Nicene Creed, and its basic elements are recited by most of the Christian faithful. [4]

In this and other councils that followed, the true nature of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, were lost. Elder Oaks said:

Other councils followed, and from their decisions and the writings of churchmen and philosophers there came a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine in which the orthodox Christians of that day lost the fulness of truth about the nature of God and the Godhead. The consequences persist in the various creeds of Christianity, which declare a Godhead of only one being and which describe that single being or God as “incomprehensible” and “without body, parts, or passions.” [5]

The Reformation Begins with Bringing the Bible to the People

Bible

As the centuries progressed, some Christians saw the need for reform. In the early days of Christianity, few people possessed the scriptures — which are the word of God. Many people were illiterate. The first step in the reformation was to spread the written word to the people. Elder Robert D. Hales, an apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

Originally the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, languages unknown to common people throughout Europe. Then, about 400 years after the Savior’s death, the Bible was translated by Jerome into Latin. But still the scriptures were not widely available. Copies had to be written by hand, usually by monks, each taking years to complete.
Then, through the influence of the Holy Ghost, an interest in learning began to grow in the hearts of people. This Renaissance or “rebirth” spread throughout Europe. In the late 1300s, a priest named John Wycliffe initiated a translation of the Bible from Latin into English. Because English was then an emerging, unrefined language, church leaders deemed it unsuitable to convey God’s word. Some leaders were certain that if people could read and interpret the Bible for themselves, its doctrine would be corrupted; others feared that people with independent access to the scriptures would not need the church and would cease to support it financially. Consequently, Wycliffe was denounced as a heretic and treated accordingly. After he died and was buried, his bones were dug up and burned. But God’s work could not be stopped. [4]

The work of translating the Holy Bible—and the opposition to it—continued. Elder Hales said:

While some were inspired to translate the Bible, others were inspired to prepare the means to publish it. By 1455 Johannes Gutenberg had invented a press with movable type, and the Bible was one of the first books he printed. For the first time it was possible to print multiple copies of the scriptures and at a cost many could afford. [6]

As the centuries wore on, other men were inspired to translate the words of the Bible into the common vernacular of the day. William Tyndale was one, and he was passionate and determined. Said he in a dispute with a learned man, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture, than thou dost.” [4] Tyndale and others were persecuted, arrested and finally martyred for their work — which did not end at their deaths. Elder Hales continued:

Because of a disagreement with the church in Rome, King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church in England and required that copies of the English Bible be placed in every parish church. Hungry for the gospel, people flocked to these churches, reading the scriptures to one another until their voices gave out. The Bible was also used as a primer to teach reading. Though martyrdoms continued across Europe, the dark night of ignorance was coming to an end. [7]

King James also commissioned a new official version of the Holy Bible in response to divisions among his people. The Bible scholars who undertook this effort built on the works of Tyndale and other martyrs.

The Truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ Are Restored

Joseph Smith First Vision

The preparations for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ continued with the discovery and exploration of the New World. Because of the religious turmoil in Europe, many righteous people came to America seeking religious freedom. Elder Hales said:

Over a century later, such religious feeling guided founders of a new nation on the American continent. Under God’s hand, they secured religious freedom for every citizen with an inspired Bill of Rights. [8]

Once the groundwork was laid, the time for the restoration was come. In April 1820, 14-year-old Joseph Smith wanted to know which church he should join. After reading James 1:5, which says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” the young boy decided to do just that. So he knelt in a grove of trees and prayed. His humble petition was answered, and God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him and told him not to join any churches. Elder Hales continued:

This humble farm boy was the prophet chosen by God to restore the ancient Church of Jesus Christ and His priesthood in these latter days. This restoration was to be the last, the dispensation of the fulness of times, restoring all the priesthood blessings which man could possess on earth. With this divine commission, his work was not to reform nor was it to protest what was already on the earth. It was to restore what had been on earth and had been lost. [9]

Through Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ restored the fulness of His gospel on the earth. This restoration brought back priesthood keys as well as the pure doctrines and teachings of the Savior — including saving ordinances, temple worship, and sacred covenants. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon—another testament of Jesus Christ and a companion scripture to the Bible — was another key part of this work. Other modern scriptures include the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of modern revelations. Elder Oaks said:

The theology of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is comprehensive, universal, merciful, and true. Following the necessary experience of mortal life, all sons and daughters of God will ultimately be resurrected and go to a kingdom of glory. The righteous — regardless of current religious denomination or belief—will ultimately go to a kingdom of glory more wonderful than any of us can comprehend. Even the wicked, or almost all of them, will ultimately go to a marvelous — though lesser — kingdom of glory. All of that will occur because of God’s love for his children and because of the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:43).

The purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help all of the children of God understand their potential and achieve their highest destiny. [10]

The history and evolution of Christian creeds begins with the discord and confusion over doctrines that plagued the ancient church after the death of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The conclusion is the restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the modern days. All of the principles, ordinances, teachings, doctrines, priesthood authority, and covenants that Jesus Christ instituted in His ancient Church were brought back to the earth in their glory. Christian creeds were born of honest seekers of God’s truth in the time that the heavens were closing, so to speak, and Christ’s priesthood and authority were taken from the earth. Through the persistence and determination of righteous people to follow God the best they could, the foundation was laid for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the re-opening of the heavens.