The Nicene Creed and the Nature of God

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The American Heritage Dictionary defines the Nicene Creed as “a formal statement of doctrine of the Christian faith adopted at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 to defend orthodoxy from Arianism and expanded in later councils.” The Nicene Creed was established “to identify conformity of beliefs among Christians, as a means of recognizing heresy or deviations from orthodox biblical doctrines, and as a public profession of faith.” [1]

History of the Nicene Creed

Council of Nicea

Arius was eventually summoned by Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and questioned about his beliefs. He refused to recant his teachings which were considered heretical, and was finally excommunicated by a council of Egyptian Bishops. After being excommunicated, he went to Nicomedia in Asia where he petitioned various bishops in defense of his position. Ultimately, the Emperor Constantine called for a council of Bishops in Nicea (present day Iznik in Turkey), and in A.D. 325, by a decided majority, the Bishops of the Church disavowed Arius and formulated the first draft of what is now known as the Nicene Creed. It was formally ratified at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381.

The Nicene Creed and the Nature of God

The first Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Members of The Church of Jesus Christ, or Latter-day Saints as they are officially known, believe that God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate personages of the divine Godhead. They believe that all three are one, but one in mission and purpose, not one in the same substance, or a trinity as a large portion of Christendom believes.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a modern day Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in his address titled The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent given during the 177th Semiannual General Conference, stated:

Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.
Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament]. [2]

Elder Holland further noted in his address:

We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer [just mentioned], His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four. [2]
Those who oppose referring to Latter-day Saints as “Christians” simply because they do not believe in the Trinitarian idea of the Godhead, must also in honesty and sincerity, ask whether or not any of the disciples were Christians, as they lived and practiced Christianity in a time when there was no Nicene Creed, and the concept of a “trinity” as expressed in some religious circles today did not exist either.
Certainly, it cannot be denied that not only the word "Trinity", but even the explicit idea of the Trinity is absent from the apostolic witness of the faith. The doctrine of the Trinity itself, however, is not a Biblical Doctrine” (RL Richard, "Trinity, Holy", in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols., (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1967) 14:298).

A Jesuit [Catholic] scholar had this to say concerning the matter:

There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers, if this means an explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But the three are there, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a triadic ground plan is there, and triadic formulas are there...The Biblical witness to God, as we have seen, did not contain any formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, any explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons (Robert P. Casey, “Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Platonism,” Harvard Theological Review 18 (1925): 39–101, at page 82, referring to Contra Celsum 7.27, and Commentary on John 13.22).

It is a certainty that the idea of “three” is ever present in the scriptures, but not as ‘three co-equal divine persons’ that are one being. An idea about the nature of God (or the Godhead) is clearly present, but it is different from that which is taught as Trinitarianism.

Elder Holland concluded his General Conference address with a powerful testimony:

My additional testimony regarding this resplendent doctrine is that in preparation for His millennial latter-day reign, Jesus has already come, more than once, in embodied majestic glory. In the spring of 1820, a 14-year-old boy, confused by many of these very doctrines that still confuse much of Christendom, went into a grove of trees to pray. In answer to that earnest prayer offered at such a tender age, the Father and the Son appeared as embodied, glorified beings to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. That day marked the beginning of the return of the true, New Testament gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restoration of other prophetic truths offered from Adam down to the present day. [2]

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