Another consideration is the legitimacy of his criteria for defining Christianity for those who lived before the development of the specific doctrines he touts as foundational. There was no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE. James may argue that it is biblical in origin, but no one prior to Nicea ever expressed the notion as James understands it. Were they Christians?
It is absurd, of course, to say that there was “no such thing as a Trinitarian prior to the fourth century CE.” I would find it doubtful that Mr. McClellan would have read The Forgotten Trinity, but as I argued there, the Apostles themselves were experiential Trinitarians. Peter had heard the Father speak on the Mount of Transfiguration, he had walked with the Son, he was then indwelt by the Spirit. This is why the Trinity is the matrix from which the New Testament writings speak. The Trinity is not so much a revelation found in those documents as the ground and air out of which they speak, the revelation itself having taken place before the first word of the New Testament was penned. The revelation of the Trinity is to be found in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and these events took place intertestamentally. No one has put it better than Warfield:
We cannot speak of the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, if we study exactness of speech, as revealed in the New Testament, any more than we can speak of it as revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was written before its revelation; the New Testament after it. The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is as much to say that the revelation of the Trinity was incidental to, and the inevitable effect of, the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men. (B.B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), II:144.
And he went on to say,
We may understand also, however, from the same central fact, why it is that the doctrine of the Trinity lies in the New Testament rather in the form of allusions than in express teaching, why it is rather everywhere presupposed, coming only here and there into incidental expression, than formally inculcated. It is because the revelation, having been made in the actual occurrences of redemption, was already the common property of all Christian hearts (ibid., p. 145).
As a result, we find the writings of the early church reflecting this Trinitarian understanding, speaking easily of the existence of one true God, while likewise speaking of the deity of persons clearly differentiated in the thinking of the writer. Note how Ignatius of Antioch, writing around AD 108, speaks as a Trinitarian:
My spirit is but an offscouring of the cross, which is a scandal to the unbelieving, but to us it is salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called understanding? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to a dispensation of God, from the seed of David, yes, but of the Holy Spirit as well. (Ephesians 18)
Here we have a full recognition of the deity of Christ, yet a reference to “God” (evidently the Father), and the Holy Spirit, just as we have in New Testament passages. This is seen even more clearly in another famous text from the martyr bishop:
…you being stones of a temple, prepared before as a building of God the Father, being raised up to the heights through the mechanism of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, and using as a rope the Holy Spirit….(Ephesians 9).
Had the term “Trinitarian” been coined yet? Of course not. Yet, Ignatius believed in one God, and he spoke easily of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What he never talked about, of course, included many gods, Kolob, exaltation to godhood, men becoming gods as God is divine, temple ceremonies, priesthoods, sealings, and the whole host of specific LDS beliefs. In other words, Ignatius was no Mormon. But he was a Christian, which might just mean…Mormoism is not Christianity! But I would like to provide a second citation relevant to the early church, this from Melito, bishop of Sardis:
And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.
The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead
and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is “the Alpha and the Omega,”
This One is “the beginning and the end”
—the beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
“To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen.”
Was this man a Christian? He surely speaks as one. No amount of anachronistic argumentation from Mr. McClellan can obscure the fact that he cannot find any Mormons in the early experience of Christianity. In fact, if he follows the lead of his mentors, he may attempt to drag some Gnostics into the fold so as to provide a precedent, but if he does so, he will only be making my point for me. (Click here for a lengthy example of where Mormon scholars have gone astray in such an attempt in the past).
I would like to emphasize the strength of simply vitriolic denunciation with which LDS leaders have separated themselves from historic Christian teaching on the matter of the nature of God. One of the best known leaders of the LDS Church in the late 20th century was apostle Bruce R. McConkie. I once gave him a tract on the blood atonement issue outside the north gate of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. He represented the kind of Mormon I enjoyed talking to: he knew what he believed and did not engage in so much of the post-modern “squishy” Mormonism that prevails today. In any case, he was known for being blunt in his words. In reference to this topic he wrote,
It is also written that there are two Gods, and three Gods, and many Gods—not one God only. And so also is it: We worship two Gods who are personages of tabernacle; there are three Gods in the Godhead; and there are Lords many and Gods many, all of whom are exalted beings having eternal dominion….The Father and the Son are personages of tabernacle; they have bodies of flesh and bones and are in fact resurrected, glorified, and holy Men. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, a spirit person, a spirit entity. These three individuals, each of whom is separate from the other, comprise the Godhead; each is God in his own right. They are three Gods as distinct from each other as are the man Peter, the man John, and the man James, who together comprised the First Presidency of the Church in time’s meridian….This one-God concept is preserved in the creeds of Christendom in such a way as to subvert and alter, completely and totally, the truth about those Holy Beings whom it is life eternal to know. These creeds are confessions of faith brought forth in councils of confusion and contention….But of all the creeds ever composed, the one named for Athanasius spreads more darkness and preserves more contradictions than any other. The portion of the Athanasian creed dealing with the Godhead contributes this mass of confusion to what men call Christianity….These creedal certifications, along with all the others devised during the long night of apostate darkness, came from uninspired men who had lost communion with those in the celestial realm who alone have power to reveal the truth about the Godhead….Is it any wonder that the Lord of heaven, as he stood by his Father’s side on that glorious day in 1820, speaking of all the churches in all Christendom, told young Joseph “that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” (JS-H 19.) (The Promised Messiah, 113-117)