Monday, August 17, 2009

Why the Nicene Creed?

There have always been two criticisms of the Church that always irk me.

1) Latter-day Saints don’t believe the Bible. Those that assert this falsity usually insist that the Bible is the sole authoritative source of inspired information. However, they also insist that the Bible can only be interpreted within limits set by later councils and creeds. In other words, when they assert that I don’t believe in the Bible, they usually mean that I don’t believe in the post-biblical interpretations of creeds and councils.

2) The canon of scripture is closed, therefore the Book of Mormon is false. Those that assert this also demand that Latter-day Saints accept and honor the added doctrines of the councils and creeds in order to be Christians.

One of the more well-known post-biblical creeds is the Nicene Creed. Long after they had declared the heavens sealed and prophets and apostles to be a thing of the past, the leaders of what called itself the Christian faith met in Nicaea to determine the nature of the God they worshipped. The event is known as the church’s first ecumenical council, and out of it came the first formal Christian creed.

It was during the reign of Constantine, who became Caesar in A.D. 306. Prior to Constantine, the pagan emperors of Rome had persecuted the Christians because of their disbelief in “the gods.” According to the pagans, the gods provided the good things in life: health, prosperity, love, peace, etc., and when when bad things transpired to the Romans, it was only natural to blame the Christians who refused to pay homage to the pagan gods.

However, Constantine changed things. As recorded by Eusebius, a 4th century Christian writer, Constantine was converted to Christianity while at a major battle at Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312. Before the battle, Constantine had a vision in broad daylight depicting a standard in the shape of a cross – above the cross were the words, “By this sign, conquer.” That night he dreamed that Christ came to him with the same sign and told him to use it as a protection against his enemies. The next morning he commissioned a lavish replica of what he saw, with two Greek letters at the top, a chi and rho – the first two letters of Christ’s name. He later engaged in battle and won a resounding victory.

Being a long-time sun worshipper, Constantine naturally assumed that the Christian God and the sun god were one and the same, and subsequently decreed that the Christian God was to be worshipped on the day of the sun (Sunday), and that the birth of Christ was to be celebrated at the time of the winter solstice (Christmas-time). Upon conversion, Constantine also declared an empire-wide cessation of Christian persecution and actually provided a society of religious freedom not unlike what we enjoy in the U.S. today. By the end of the 4th century, Christianity was the state religion of the Roman Empire.

So, where does the Nicene Creed come into the picture? Well, Constantine decided to unify his vast empire under the dogma of Christianity. However, the Christian church by this time was severely disunified over several fundamental theological issues. In order for Christianity to unify the Roman Empire, Constantine had to first unify Christianity.

One of the major issues of contention at the time was the question of Jesus’ divinity, or how to understand His divinity in light of the fact that he was also human. Also, they wondered how both Jesus and God could be God if there is only one God.

At the time there were two schools of thought:

A) Arius of Alexandria, Egypt taught that in the beginning there was only God the Father. But at some point in the eternities, God brought his Son into existence, and it was through this Son that God created all things. Thus, Christ was divine, but subordinate to God the Father. (Sounds pretty much like what the Latter-day Church believes)

B) Athanasius, a young deacon in the Alexandrian church opposed Arius’ view. Athanasius taught that Christ had always existed – he did not come into existence at one point in time – and he was separately divine, not inferior to God the Father. Indeed, he was of the same essence as God the Father. This obviously led to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

In an attempt to unify the Christian church, in A.D. 325 Constantine called 200-250 bishops to decide the issue. Everything associated with this council was at odds with the pattern of faith preserved in the scriptures. Here prophets were formally replaced with the learned men of the say and the revelations of heaven were replaced by philosophical speculations. The majority sided with Athanasius.

The following is the resulting creed of the council at Nicaea:

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit.

"[But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church]" (emphasis added).

Notice the last paragraph of the creed; the council actually condemned the doctrine espoused by Arius and exiled him and any followers for their belief.

In 2007, President Hinckley said the following about the Nicene Creed during the October conference:

When Constantine became a Christian in the fourth century, he called together a great convocation of learned men with the hope that they could reach a conclusion of understanding concerning the true nature of Deity. All they reached was a compromise of various points of view. The result was the Nicene Creed of a.d. 325. This and subsequent creeds have become the declaration of doctrine concerning the nature of Deity for most of Christianity ever since.

I have read them all a number of times. I cannot understand them. I think others cannot understand them. I am sure that the Lord also knew that many would not understand them. And so in 1820, in that incomparable vision, the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph. They spoke to him with words that were audible, and he spoke to Them. They could see. They could speak. They could hear. They were personal. They were of substance. They were not imaginary beings. They were beings tabernacled in flesh. And out of that experience has come our unique and true understanding of the nature of Deity” (Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain,” Ensign, Nov, 2007, 83–86) (emphasis added).

It is interesting to note that when the Prophet received the First Vision, the Lord declared that it was the creeds of modern Christianity that were “an abomination in his sight” (JSH 1:19). “[T]his is because creeds are philosophical idols created by human minds, imposed upon the Scriptures and then revered as God’s word in place of God’s word. Those who believe such creeds are not ‘abominable.’ They are just wrong” (Craig L. Blomberg & Stephen E. Robinson, “How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation,” pg. 161).

The Nicene Creed is not found in any Gospel. It derives from no utterance of Christ nor from the words of any of his apostles. The ideas portrayed therein are instead cloaked in Greek philosophy from whence it came. In fact, it directly contradicts the langauge of the New Testament.

At the risk of extending this already lengthy post, any thoughts?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coming Up Next At Sunstone: A Critical Look At Cipher In The Snow

I think Sunstone Symposiums produce some quality scholarly works that do not always have a place in conferences at BYU or FAIR. It may be the only venue where you can learn about things that aren’t generally spoken of. But sometimes, or perhaps more often than not, it becomes a place to grind an axe.

You know when you are at work or with friends/family and you are both upset about a co-worker or family member. And what happens is that you are both so upset that you keep going on about things that annoy you even though you start to realize that you are getting to the point where you are embellishing, but you both continue to do it anyways? I see this happen at work a lot when people complain about a boss where I start thinking, “Ok, I agree somewhat, but you are overdoing it now.”

Enter writer Holly Welker at Sunstone’s Symposium. I refer to her presentation on Johnny Lingo, entitled, “A Price Far Above Rubies Vs. Eight Cows: What’s a Virtuous Woman Worth?”. The always objective Salt Lake Tribune gives a report here. In full disclosure, I have never seen the movie but am familiar with the plot. It seems a little hokey but there is a good underlying moral. It is, essentially, that people should value intrinsic worth and beauty.

This does not please Welker. As the Tribune reports:

Welker said the film often is cited "as a wise, compassionate story of male sensitivity to female identity, a positive demonstration of how to foster female self-worth." But Welker argues it instead is about male identity and power, the power to assess and determine female worth, the power to claim or create a desirable mate, the power to see what others do not, the power to manipulate less insightful people around you, and the power to acquire what one truly desires."

Really? Hold on, let me say that again. Really? Maybe it’s just me, but this strikes me as looking beyond the mark. Is Ms. Welker incapable of reading anything hyperbolic into a story which millions of teenagers are capable of doing? Does holding a doctorate in English from the University of Iowa absolve a person from using common sense?

The report continues:

Mahana has no say in the marriage. She cannot refuse the husband who has bought her, even if she doesn't like him or believes that his price is too low. The bridal bargain is a contest of wills between two men: Mahana's father and her future husband. "Johnny Lingo" is about its active and powerful hero, not the passive heroine.

Indeed, Mahana's transformation is "not because someone loves her, or because she loves someone, or because she is treated with respect and kindness, but because she knows she is the most expensive commodity on the island," said Welker, who earned a doctorate in English at the University of Iowa. "The fact that women are bought and sold in this culture, their thorough objectification, is not open to scrutiny, only the damaging effects of being sold cheaply.

I agree that these are problems in society and perhaps LDS culture, but are you really seeing all these issues in Johnny Lingo? Isn’t it possible that it’s a 24-minute film set in a Polynesian culture where the moral is more important than some of the details? Do young LDS women come away from that movie really thinking that they have no say in marriage and that their church is telling them that they shouldn’t? Or do they come away thinking that even though some people don’t value them very much based on their looks, men and women should value their internal beauty.

Is the objectionable part the use of cows as chattel? Or is it objectionable that the man is the instigator (astonishing for a film form 1965, isn’t it!). I personally would not buy a spouse with cows, maybe chickens…no, probably not those either, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see the moral of (or SHOCK, enjoy!) the story where this does happen. This strikes me as stretching for something to complain about at the perfect place to grind an axe. J. Stapley touched on this as well a few days ago in his critique of Sunstone Symposiums and their drift from actual religious scholarship.

I expect Ms. Welker to provide a hard hitting critique of how Curious George is really an example of racist undertones in children’s media. Or how Clifford is an evil portrayal of Ginger kids. As a fellow blogger here at The Seer Stone would say, it seems a little “Hoity Toity”.

And from Sunstone, I expect next year a critical look at the shameful portrayal of alcoholic Step Fathers in next year’s Symposium: “A Critical Look at the Cipher in the Snow, the Untold Story of That Step Father Who Was Kind of Mean To That Kid Who Asked to Get Off The Bus to Fall Into The Snow And Died, At Least That’s What I Think Happened Because I Didn’t Really Pay Attention To The Movie When I Was 14 In Sunday School”.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Religion and LA Fitness Shooter

I have been reading up on the shooting that happened the other day in PA (for those who have not seen the story--this man went into a gym and fired something like 65 bullets, injured many, and killed something like 3 people and himself) and one thing stuck out to me that I doubt anyone in the press would ever talk about. It comes as no surprise that a man capable of such an act has many twisted thoughts in his mind, but let's take a look at this one.

The shooter's last journal entry was this:

August 3, 2009: I took off today, Monday, and tomorrow to practice my routine and make sure it is well polished. I need to work out every detail, there is only one shot. Also I need to be completely immersed into something before I can be successful. I haven't had a drink since Friday at about 2:30. Total effort needed. Tomorrow is the big day.

Unfortunately I talked to my neighbor today, who is very positive and upbeat. I need to remain focused and absorbed COMPLETELY. Last time I tried this, in January, I chickened out. Lets see how this new approach works.

Maybe soon, I will see God and Jesus. At least that is what I was told. Eternal life does NOT depend on works. If it did, we will all be in hell. Christ paid for EVERY sin, so how can I or you be judged BY GOD for a sin when the penalty was ALREADY paid. People judge but that does not matter. I was reading the Bible and The Integrity of God beginning yesterday, because soon I will see them.

I will try not to add anymore entries because this computer clicking distracts me.

It's a funny twist on the faith/works issue and shows a very fundamental misunderstanding of the atonement. What sticks out to me though, is how at least part of the rationalization and logic of this shooter is not a huge leap from what some people actually teach.

I wonder whether if this understanding of the atonement were corrected, would there have been a different path? I tend to doubt it. But did this man really believe that there were no consequences for his actions because he has faith in Christ? A belief like is immensely dangerous and could lead to a great deal of evil acts. Do you think this type of teaching is being taught, or rather, that it is being taught in a form that easily allows a minor twist to lead to the shooter's conclusion?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I Wonder Who the Pope's Guardian Angel is...

A few weeks ago Catholic Pope Benedict XVI fractured his right wrist when he fell while on vacation. When queried about his misfortune, he stated that “[u]nfortunately, my own guardian angel did not prevent my injury, certainly following superior orders.” (See article reported in Breitbart here)

I wonder if he was being coy, or if he truly believes there is some being on the other side of the veil dedicated to his safety and protection. Admittedly, I do not know Catholic doctrine well enough to affirm this. However, I am somewhat versed in Latter-day Saint teachings.

Do Latter-day Saints believe in guardian angels? Is there a spiritual being assigned to each mortal to aid us through mortality? If there is such a thing, could we potentially offend that being and lose any offered protection?

By revelation Joseph Smith learned that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5). Thus, Joseph F. Smith observed that:

When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from among our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. The ancient prophets who died were those who came to visit their fellow creatures upon the earth. . . . Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 435-437) (emphasis added).

So, who is it that protects the Pope? A former prophet of the Lord, or maybe a deceased relative?

The scriptures are replete with instances where angels have been marshaled to protect the Saints. One of my favorite instances took place when an army from Syria surrounded the city of Dothan to take Elisha prisoner. Having arisen early, one of Elisha’s young disciples discovered the trap that had been laid for the prophet and feared greatly. Untroubled, Elisha responded:

Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-18) (emphasis added).

Nephi and Sam were spared from Laman and Lemuel through the intervention of an angel of the Lord (1 Ne. 3:29); Daniel had an angel as his companion when he was thrown into the lions’ den (Daniel 6:22); Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also enjoyed the company of an angel (Jesus Christ himself) when they were cast into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25); Helaman’s sons, Nephi and Lehi, were protected by fire from those who sought to kill them, “and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them,” before some 300 witnesses (Helaman 5:21-49).

Similar instances have happened in our dispensation, also. On one occasion, Joseph Smith saw Brigham Young in a vision “standing in a strange land in the far South and West in a desert place on a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head, with a drawn sword in his hand, protecting him.” Commenting, Joseph said, “But he did not see it” (History of the Church, 2:381) (emphasis added).

In the April 1973 General Conference of the Church, Pres. Harold B. Lee shared the following experience:

May I impose upon you for a moment to express appreciation for something that happened to me some time ago, years ago. I was suffering from an ulcer condition that was becoming worse and worse. We had been touring a mission; my wife, Joan, and I were impressed the next morning that we should get home as quickly as possible, although we had planned to stay for some other meetings.

On the way across the country, we were sitting in the forward section of the airplane. Some of our Church members were in the next section. As we approached a certain point en route, someone laid his hand upon my head. I looked up; I could see no one. That happened again before we arrived home, again with the same experience. Who it was, by what means or what medium, I may never know, except I knew that I was receiving a blessing that I came a few hours later to know I needed most desperately.

As soon as we arrived home, my wife very anxiously called the doctor. It was now about 11 o’clock at night. He called me to come to the telephone, and he asked me how I was, and I said, ‘Well, I am very tired. I think I will be all right.’ But shortly thereafter, there came massive hemorrhages which, had they occurred while we were in flight, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it” (“Stand Ye in Holy Places,” Ensign, Oct 2008, pp. 44–49) (emphasis added).

Since the passing of my grandfather and mother I have, on at least one occasion, felt a distinct impression from one of them. Specifically, I was prompted to encourage a cousin to serve a mission. The feeling I received was one that my cousin needed to serve a mission so as to prepare himself spiritually to be a worthy husband and father to several children waiting to enter mortality.

I think that when a righteous man or woman dies, they do not cease to love their family still in mortality, they probably don't cease to pray for them, nor labor in their behalf. And in some instances, they may be given the opportunity to serve as “guardian angels” to their estranged loved ones. Elder Charles W. Penrose of the Quorum of the 12 (1911-1925) stated the following:

As the living are not in their mortal condition, able to see and converse with the dead, so it is rational to believe, the inhabitants of the spiritual domain are, in the normal condition, shut out from intercourse with men in the flesh. By permission of the Lord, persons on either side of the veil may be manifest to those on the other, but this will certainly be by law and according to the order which God has established” (“Masterpieces of Latter-day Saint Leaders,” Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1953), pp. 66-67) (emphasis added).

It is comforting to think that my deceased loved ones may be watching over me and, when permitted, protecting me. It only seems rational that those who found joy in their family during mortality will only have those feelings intensified on the other side of the veil. Thus, most of us have likely entertained “guardian angels” unaware.