When you go to www.lds.org today you will find a “First Presidency Message” from Gordon Hinckley, printed in the Ensign magazine, July, 2006. Since this is the current prophet writing, being published in the official church publications, and being recommended for use and discussion by home teachers, there is little ground upon which anyone can question that this is official teaching. Not Scripture, but official interpretation thereof, a clear exposition of the official position of the LDS Church. If the prophet can make this kind of statement for the First Presidency in the church’s official publications and it still just be his “private opinion,” there is really no logical way to determine what Mormonism actually believes or teaches any longer.
I found this message most interesting. In many ways, it is a re-affirmation of “old time Mormonism,” those beliefs that some LDS seem to at least be embarrassed about today, and even to be waffling on, in some instances. Hinckley confirms, at least positively, the majority of what I presented in my book, Is the Mormon My Brother, though conspicuous by its absence is the historic emphasis upon man’s own exaltation to the status of a god. Though this is not the specific subject of the message, that part would not have been missed sixty years ago. And at one point, it almost looks like an effort was made to avoid the topic. We read early on:
“It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God” (History of the Church, 6:305).
Notice there is no period in the citation. That’s because it is a partial sentence. Here’s the whole thing:
It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (King Follett Funeral Discourse).
The original emphasis in the cited text was upon the fact that God “was once a man like us,” leading to the teaching that we may become gods like him. So while much of this statement seems to me to be aimed at Mormons who are speculating more and more about abandoning certain elements of LDS theology that are embarrassing (polytheism as a religious viewpoint is incoherent and self-contradictory in any form), it still reflects the modern situation where the emphasis has shifted, at least in Hinckley’s official statements, away from the old-time LDS emphasis upon exaltation to godhood. What is clear is that Hinckley sees no room for Mormonism to adopt historic Christian beliefs regarding the unity of the Godhead on an ontological level. The plurality of gods stays, even if the corollary doctrine (exaltation) is not nearly as strongly asserted. Notice the following statement:
I believe without equivocation or reservation in God the Eternal Father. He is my Father, the Father of my spirit, and the Father of the spirits of all men. He is the great Creator, the Ruler of the universe. He directed the Creation of this earth on which we live. In His image man was created. He is personal. He is real. He is individual. He has “a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22).
The person familiar with LDS theology knows well what these words mean, though those who are not well read in Mormon teaching would tend to read these statements in an orthodox (Christian) fashion. When Hinckley says God is the “Father of my spirit” he means that literally: his God, in a “body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s,” begat his spirit with one of God’s heavenly wives, so that Hinckley pre-existed his mortal life in a spirit existence in heaven. All men pre-existed in this fashion. Note that God “directed the creation of this earth,” not that He made all things, for the LDS God cannot in fact create anything at all. He can only organize pre-existing matter, and even here, he did so by directing Jehovah (Jesus) and Michael to organize the earth (contra Isaiah 44:24). But since he himself once lived upon an earth himself, he cannot be confessed to be the Creator of all things, only those things “pertaining to this earth.” And Hinckley continues to emphasize the anthropomorphic nature of the LDS God (or as one LDS acquaintance of mine puts it, the theomorphic view of man) with the citation of D&C 130:22, a text familiar to all who evangelize the LDS people. That he is emphasizing the physical nature of God is clear, for he goes on to say,
Could any language be more explicit? Does it demean God, as some would have us believe, that man was created in His express image? Rather, it should stir within the heart of every man and woman a greater appreciation for himself or herself as a son or daughter of God.
Given the biblical denial that God is, in fact, a man (Hosea 11:9), or limited to time and space as man is, yes, it is demeaning to God to say he is an exalted man from another planet. The imago Dei is not a physical image at all, and I would say it is demeaning to the true nature of that image (that which distinguishes us from the animals, and allows us to have communion with God) to limit it to the physical, as Hinckley does here.
Christians who recognize the danger of man-centered theology (as seen in modern evangelicalism’s mad rush to please fallen men while ignoring the glory and honor of God) cannot help but see how this danger comes to full bloom in Mormonism. Consider, for example, Hinckley’s comment, “His love is greater than the love of any other, for His love encompasses all of His children, and it is His work and His glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters of all generations (see Moses 1:39).” One does wonder how those who promote an unbiblically balanced concept of “omnibenevolence” respond to such an assertion. In any case, here God’s very glory is made dependent upon the exaltation of his “sons and daughters,” i.e., defined by their own achieving of godhood. How utterly unlike Christianity Mormonism is at its most foundational levels.
Well, I did not intend to write a paper here. Let’s pick up the pace and look at some of the other key statements from this recent message from the LDS First Presidency:
I stand in awe and reverence and gratitude for His appearance in this dispensation when, as He introduced the risen Lord to one who had sought Him in prayer, the Father declared: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17).
This is a reference to the First Vision, one of the key elements of Mormonism that is simply impossible to make compatible with biblical Christianity.
I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal, living God. I believe in Him as the Firstborn of the Father and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. I believe in Him as an individual, separate and distinct from His Father.
Historic LDS theology once again. Christ is a separate god, the first begotten of the Father in the spirit realm, and the only begotten in the physical realm (note the all-important phrase “in the flesh”). Hinckley is old enough to know well the universal teaching of the physical fatherhood of Jesus by the Father (yes, via sexual union with Mary), and how, in priesthood meetings, this is the explanation of how Jesus could be immortal, for he had a mortal mother but an immortal father (hence his ability to take his life back). This is surely one of the most embarrassing elements of LDS teaching, any many at BYU have already repudiated it, relegating it to nothing more than 19th century “speculation.” But Hinckley was quite clear: “I believe that He was born of Mary of the lineage of David as the promised Messiah, that He was in very deed begotten of the Father….” Any honest LDS person knows what he is saying.
Next, listen carefully to the following statement, and ask yourself, “How many Christians would possess the discernment to see where this is in error?”
I believe that through His atoning sacrifice, the offering of His life on Calvary’s Hill, He expiated the sins of mankind, relieving us from the burden of sin if we will forsake evil and follow Him. I believe in the reality and the power of His Resurrection. I believe in the grace of God made manifest through His sacrifice and redemption, and I believe that through His Atonement, without any price on our part, each of us is offered the gift of resurrection from the dead. I believe further that through that sacrifice there is extended to every man and woman, every son and daughter of God, the opportunity for eternal life and exaltation in our Father’s kingdom, as we hearken to and obey His commandments.
Sound just slightly familiar? It should. An historical Arminian would not have the first bit of problem with that statement, though, of course, it needs to be read within its Mormon context. You need to understand the difference between general salvation (which equals resurrection) and individual salvation (exaltation). But still, all in all, this kind of universal atonement language is very much a common ground for most evangelicals today. But surely not for those who believe in substitutionary atonement and the perfection of the work of the cross.
Mormonism’s continued rejection of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is stated clearly in this message. But at the same time, one is left wondering whether Gordon Hinckley actually understands the doctrine he rejects any better than most Mormons do. The possibility truly does exist that he managed to get into the upper echelons of Mormonism without ever encountering anyone who could disabuse him of his modalistic interpretation of the doctrine. Under the subtitle “Three Distinct Beings” Hinckley asserts,
I am aware that Jesus said they who had seen Him had seen the Father. Could not the same be said by many a son who resembles his parent?
When Jesus prayed to the Father, certainly He was not praying to Himself!
They are distinct beings, but They are one in purpose and effort. They are united as one in bringing to pass the grand, divine plan for the salvation and exaltation of the children of God.
This is surely the objection you hear from 19 year old LDS missionaries, but is it possible Hinckley himself does not understand the difference between modalism and Trinitarianism? One truly wonders. The difference between being and person is lost on him, leading him to make objections that are irrelevant to the actual doctrine of the Trinity. But the fact that Hinckley, as the Prophet of the LDS Church, remains thoroughly polytheistic (LDS prefer the phrase “plurality of gods” but there is no real functional difference) even at the end of his life. He may be more “careful” about how he presents it, but Mormonism remains as far removed from Christianity at its most basic level as it was in the days of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young.