Comparative Theology on the Nature of God, The Father

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At 15 years of age, a young man by the name of Joseph Smith entered into a wooded place near his home and prayed. This has become known as the First Vision where Joseph Smith records various religious denominations engaged in preaching and proselytizing individuals. Upon reading James 1:5, he shares that he had determined to seek God for answers to his questions regarding the nature and truth of which denomination to align himself with. He shares:

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak.

Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.

When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

Joseph Smith’s First Vision Account

This account is, and the founding principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has long been the subject of much controversy, attack, and proclamations that Mormons do not teach the God of the Holy Bible. According to Joseph Smith’s account, he bore witness of two separate and distinct beings – the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ. Resurrected and glorified with bodies of flesh and bone. This revelation and restored doctrine continues to cause quite a stir among Protestant, Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelical Christians. They ignorantly appear to hold to the claim that the teachings of God the Father have come down through the centuries without any change.

However, when we thoroughly examine the Old and New Testament passages dealing with the nature of God; one soon discovers that the teachings of modern Christiandom is far from Biblical. In essence, through the centuries after the First Century Christians and Apostolic teachings, the nature of God has become a doctrine of abomination and anathema to the teachings of the Bible.

This article will focus on briefly exposing the heretical second Century Gnostic Teaching that prevails in modern Christian Churches today.

COMPARATIVE CHART OF SOME OF THE CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS TEACHING ON THE QUESTION OF GOD’S NATURE

The chart will show the Second Century Gnostic Valentinian teaching on the nature of God. Below that will be the prominent Christian denomination beliefs on the nature of God.

Second Century Gnostic Valentinian Teaching Valentinians believed that God is incomprehensible and cannot be known directly. Therefore he defies accurate description. He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed. Everything including the world lies within the deity and continues to be part of it. The Godhead manifests itself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining its unity.

Valentinians believed that God is androgynous and frequently depicted him as a male-female dyad. This is related to the notion that God provides the universe with both form and substance. The feminine aspect of the deity is called Silence, Grace and Thought. Silence is God’s primordial state of tranquillity and self-awareness She is also the active creative Thought that makes all subsequent states of being (or “Aeons”) substantial. The masculine aspect of God is Depth, also called Ineffable and First Father. Depth is the profoundly incomprehensible, all-encompassing aspect of the deity. He is essentially passive, yet when moved to action by his feminine Thought, he gives the universe form.
Seventh Day Adventist TeachingSeventh-day Adventist teach that there is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. God, who is love, is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation.
Eastern Orthodox TeachingThe fundamental truth of the Orthodox Church is the faith revealed in the True God: the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is in reality the declaration of the Christian faith, formulated and pronounced by the Ecumenical Synods of the One Undivided Church. It is impossible for the finite human mind to comprehend objectively the substance of the True God, true worship, and true norms of life. Human reasoning in regard to faith in the Holy Trinity is confined to formulating the truths which already have been revealed in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. These truths of the Holy Trinity were formulated by the First and Second Ecumenical Synods in the Nicene Creed and were based on Divine Sources.

The Orthodox Church believes that God is one in substance and Triune in three Persons or Hypostases. The Church pronounces in its lucid liturgical confession: “I confess the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.” In the Holy Scriptures, there are passages recorded to strengthen this belief in the Holy Trinity in which the faith in God is revealed. The Scriptures proclaim “to us there is but one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6); “in him (the Son) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9; cf. Matt. 26:63); and, relating to the Holy Spirit, “thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4). This fundamental belief in the Holy Trinity was the subject of all the Ecumenical Synods in which the unchangeable pronouncement on the Holy Trinity was affirmed. They proclaimed primarily that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Logos, and the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, are of the same essence, Homoousios, of the Father. In the personal attributions of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father begot the Son and from the Father proceeds the Holy Spirit. The Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, sends the Holy Spirit to guide His Church (cf. John 15:26). The nature and attributes of the Persons of the Holy Trinity are revealed through Jesus Christ. The truth can be reached only by faith, being above and beyond human comprehension.
Lutheran TeachingThe Being who made the world and man and to whom man is responsible. Man’s knowledge of God falls into 2 broad categories: (1) God is known to man through power and design in the natural world and through pattern in the forces of hist. (Ps 19; Acts 17:22–31; Ro 1:18–2:16); man is thereby enabled to construct a mental picture of a supremely powerful Force working out man’s destiny with a heavy hand, confronting mankind with continual challenge. Human reactions to this understanding of God result in reverence for nature and idolatry, in attempts to rationalize God into abstract natural law and to remove man’s responsibility to Him (2 Ptr 3:3–4), or in despair and fear. This natural knowledge of God, basic to every human system of religion and to most philos., is insufficient for a satisfying and adequate faith in God, who still remains Deus incognitus (the unknown God). Insight into God is not within range of human endowment (Jn 1:18). (2) God revealed Himself to man more clearly and completely by the incarnation* of Christ* Jesus (Deus incarnatus) as a Being infinitely pained by man’s deviation from His holiness, yet infinitely desirous to repair the breach, to the point of Himself assuming responsibility for this repair at the cost of His own sacrifice. Thus God is revealed as perfect and holy, as personal and driven by love to conform man to the image of His Son (Ro 8:29). This revelation* of God in His Son is communicated through the written Word (see Word of God). This Word presents more data about His nature, which are intelligible and credible to us, however, only in the light of the central revelation in Christ Jesus, the Word of God (Deus revelatus). God is eternal, not subject to time (Ps 90:1–4; 2 Ptr 3:8). God is neither confined to space or time nor limited in power, knowledge, or wisdom. He is benevolent, inasmuch as He desires to bless the objects to His love. All resources of God are at the disposal of man in Christ (Ph 4:13) and are recognized by him to work for his good (Ro 8:24–39). A Christian’s insight into God and his power to grasp and to trust in God as his forgiving and enabling Father is the work of God Himself, the gift of the Holy* Spirit. The Christian church* summarized the nature of God and a Christian’s knowledge of God in the concept of the Trinity.* RRC
Methodist Teaching When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we join with millions of Christians through the ages in an understanding of God as a Trinity—three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, who is one, is revealed in three distinct persons. “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” is one way of speaking about the several ways we experience God.

We also try to find adjectives that describe the divine nature. In our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, we affirm God is “everlasting” and “infinite” in “power, wisdom, justice, goodness, and love.” Because we cannot speak literally about God, we use metaphors: God is a Shepherd, a Bridegroom, a Judge. God is Love or Light or Truth.
Presbyterians Teaching
The Scot’s Confession
We confess and acknowledge one God alone, to whom alone we must cleave, whom alone we must serve, whom only we must worship, and in whom alone we put our trust. Who is eternal, infinite, immeasur-able, incomprehensible, omnipotent, invisible; one in substance and yet distinct in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. By whom we confess and believe all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, to have been created, to be retained in their being, and to be ruled and guided by his inscrutable providence for such end as his eter-nal wisdom, goodness, and justice have appointed, and to the manifes-tation of his own glory.
Roman Catholicism Teaching228 “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD. . .” (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29). “The supreme being must be unique, without equal. . . If God is not one, he is not God” (Tertullian, Adv. Marc., 1, 3, 5: PL 2, 274).
229 Faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him.
230 Even when he reveals himself, God remains a mystery beyond words: “If you understood him, it would not be God” (St. Augustine, Sermo 52, 6, 16: PL 38, 360 and Sermo 117, 3, 5: PL 38, 663).
231 The God of our faith has revealed himself as HE WHO IS; and he has made himself known as “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). God’s very being is Truth and Love.
Unitarians TeachingUnitarian Universalists have many ways of naming what is sacred. Some believe in a God; some don’t believe in a God. Some believe in a sacred force at work in the world, and call it “love,” “mystery,” “source of all” or “spirit of life.” We are thousands of individuals of all ages, each influenced by our cultures and life experiences to understand “the ground of our being” in our own way.
Evangelical Christianity TeachingThere is one God, and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. This is clear in the Scripture, and while it may be mysterious to us, it is the objective claim of the Bible. The first Christians understood the importance of retaining this truth about God in order to retain the true identity of Jesus. When early Christians tried to maintain the oneness of God without regard to the Divine description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as we’ve just described, they usually redefined (and mischaracterized) Jesus as a human, limited, or finite creature. But, if Jesus is not God in every sense of the word (as the Bible claims), then He does not have the power to save us on the Cross. If Jesus is not God Incarnate, then he simply cannot take our place and bestow upon us the righteousness of God. For this reason, the earliest leaders were very careful to describe the triune nature of God as seen in the Bible. They eventually described God as one in substance, essence or nature, while being distinctly but undividedly three in person.
Comparative Chart of prominent Christian Denomination Teaching on God’s Nature

As we look to the Second Century Gnostic Teaching of the Valentinian doctrine of God we discover the commonality of all Christian teachings stemming from it:

  1. God is incomprehensible and unknowable
  2. Infinite and without beginning or end
  3. Ultimate origin of Creation
  4. Encompasses all things
  5. Manifested through the self-unfolding through the Son and Holy Spirit
  6. Maintaining one essence and unity of three persons in one being

Majority of modern Christians proclaim that this doctrine and idea of God’s nature is biblical and authoritative. They argue that Latter-day Saints teach a false God that is not Biblical and not part of Christian history and Tradition. Take for instance this article over at Bible.org (written by Probe Ministries):

The Mormons reject the traditional Christian view of the Trinity as being in error. Joseph Smith wrote,

“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God [anyhow]–three in one and one in three…It is curious organization All are crammed into one God according to sectarianism (Christian faith). It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God–he would be a giant or a monster. (Joseph Smith, Teachings, 372) “

Church president James Talmage stated, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are as distinct in persons and individualities as are any three personages in mortality.”

Mormons believe that … . On this earth, there are three separate gods, God the Father or Elohim, Jehovah or Jesus the son, and the Holy Ghost who make up the Godhead. Instead of Trinitarian, tritheistic would be a better word to describe Mormon belief. Mormon theologian Bruce McConkie states, “There are three Gods–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”6 He further explains that, “[T]hree separate personages–Father, Son, and Holy Ghost comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a god, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only gods we worship.”

So, what exactly do Latter-day Saints believe regarding God and His Nature?

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. 
~ First Article of Faith ~

… all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator
.~ Alma 30:44 ~

The Existence of God

The foundation of Judeo-Christian belief constitutes the knowledge of the attributes and character of a Divine, Sovereign, and Supreme Being. This is central to an intelligent exercise in faith.

James E. Talmage remarked, “There is a filial passion within human nature that flames toward heaven.” (Articles of Faith – Chapter 2). Talmage also observes that humanity has a natural propensity toward worshiping:

his soul is unsatisfied until he finds a deity. When men through transgression fell into darkness concerning the true and living God, they established for themselves other deities, and so arose the abominations of idolatry. And yet, even the most revolting of these practices testify to the existence of a God by demonstrating man’s hereditary passion for worship. 

Talmage refers to this as an inborn attribute of mankind that needs demonstration of proof or a question of reasonable logic. The existence of God is proven as evidenced by history and tradition, human reason and intellect, and conclusive evidence through direct revelation (whether ancient or modern).

In Hyrum L. Andrus works – God, Man and the Universe – he remarks on the following observation: “The Father is the ultimate source of all attributes and powers of life, and He is the Supreme Intelligence over all other beings known to man.”

Vayera-Vision-or-Visit
Abraham and the Three Angels. James Tissot 1836-1902 the jewishmuseum.org

The Supreme, Sovereign, and Divine Council

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long held the belief that the Godhead is comprised of three separate and distinct personages. The Father and Son possess resurrected, glorified bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Spirit is a personage of spirit.

Through Jesus Christ, the only begotten of God in the flesh, we worship the Father as the absolute sovereign and supreme being. We accept Jesus Christ as not only the Savior and redeemer of fallen humanity, we recognize him as mediator and the only means by which salvation is given. It is through the power and gift of the Holy Spirit are we able to find comfort, guidance, inspiration, and personal revelation.

The doctrine of a divine council is nothing new. It is a restored revelation based on ancient origins and theophanies recorded throughout ancient cultures of the Hebraic, Sumarian, and Canaanite peoples. Much scholarly work continues to enlighten us on the nature of this divine and supreme council.

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Fatherhood of God

When Mary came to the Tomb, she found it to be empty. Afraid, she turned and spoke to whom she thought was the gardener. Instead, the Savior revealed himself to her. Naturally, she wanted to reach out and touch him. The Savior forbade this, saying: “Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my father:but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God. (See John 20:17, KJV).

This is the only place in scripture where we read how Christ referred to God as not only His father, but the father of the disciples whom followed him. What did he mean by  my father and your father; and my God and your God? 

Through modern revelation, we are taught:

“Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 335).

Joseph Fielding Smith also taught:

God is our Father; he is the being in whose image man is created. He has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s (D&C 130:22), and he is the literal and personal father of the spirits of all men. He is omnipotent and omniscient; he has all power and all wisdom; and his perfections consist in the possession of all knowledge, all faith or power, all justice, all judgment, all mercy, all truth, and the fullness of all godly attributes. … If we are to have that perfect faith by which we can lay hold upon eternal life, we must believe in God as the possessor of the fullness of all these characteristics and attributes. I say also that he is an infinite and eternal being, and as an unchangeable being, he possesses these perfected powers and attributes from everlasting to everlasting, which means from eternity to eternity (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (2013), 35–47)

Through these teachings, we see God as a loving Father who cares for our needs and blesses us accordingly.  This is quite important for us to understand.

Importance of Knowing God

We are only able to know who God is through His Son, Jesus Christ. In John 17, Christ offers up a priestly prayer. In this prayer, Christ proclaims that our eternal life is based on knowing whom God isand Knowing Jesus Christ (see, John 17:3). In Moses 1:39, we understand that God’s purpose is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of humanity.

This requires our obedience to the commandments God has established. Through our obedience, we come into perfect harmony with Jesus Christ, who is in perfect harmony with the Father. In our reverential awe toward the supreme sovereignty of God, we see Him as merciful, kind, compassionate, and forgiving. We walk with him as our ancient fathers have walked with God. This comes out of our love toward God, and His love toward us.

What do we know about God?

  1. He is supreme, sovereign, full of wisdom, power, and glory
  2. He is a distinct being who is glorified and exalted, omniscient and omnipotent
  3. He is our Eternal Father who desires us to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life
  4. He provides comfort and direction through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.

The comparison between true scriptural authority on God’s nature and that of modern Christiandom brings us to the conclusion that the doctrine of modern Christianity is the one that is anathema to the Bible and based on a heretical second century gnostic teaching. Through Joseph Smith, God’s true nature is revealed and restored as scripture authoritatively proclaims.

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