The Abominable Creed of Doctrine and Covenants

Posted: August 6, 2017 in Christian History, Creeds, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies

An icon of the Bishops of the First Council of Nicaea with Constantine (in the crown).

by Fred W. Anson
One of the most common Mormon arguments is that they have no creeds. They further argue that the creeds of other churches are an abomination as well as evidence of their corrupt and apostate state. Probably no one has articulated this stance better than BYU professors Craig Ostler and the late Joseph Fielding McConkie when they wrote:

“Wherever creeds are found one can also expect to find a paid clergy, the simple truths of the gospel cloaked in the dark robes of mystery, religious intolerance, and a history of bloodshed”
(BYU Professor Emeritus Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig Ostler, “Revelations of the Restoration”, p.964)

And of the many “abominable creeds” of Christendom to chose from, I think one would be hard pressed to find one that Latter-day Saints more pour contempt on than the Nicene Creed:

“Men with keen intelligence got together… [at] Nicea and created a God. They did not pray for wisdom or revelation. They claimed no revelation from the Lord. They made it just about like a political party would do, and out of their own mortal minds created a God which is still worshiped by the great majority of Christians”
(Spencer W. Kimball, “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball”, p. 426. Ellipsis and brackets in original)

“The trinity was voted on in the Council of Nicene hundreds of years after Christ’s death. A bunch of church leaders and government officials got together and voted on ‘who God was?’, and it wasn’t even a unanimous vote. There were about four different versions of God that they voted on. The version that is used by Catholics and Protestants today only won by about a 40 percent margin. Their view of God, as you may know, is that He is like a formless mass of spirit that fills the whole universe and when He comes to earth, part of it breaks off and forms itself into Jesus.”
(Scott Marshall, “Tracting and Member Missionary” Work, p.73)

“The knowledge of God and His physical separateness from His Son and the Holy Ghost was lost after the death of Christ and His Apostles. Confusion and false doctrines about the Godhead were fashioned out of the Nicene Creed and Constantinople councils… I know that heaven-sent revelations have replaced the gross errors of man-made doctrines concerning the Godhead”
(Gary J. Coleman, “Mom, Are We Christians?” Ensign, May 2007, pp.92-93)

“If Christians are people (and this is the standard definition of the clergy of the day) who believe in the holy trinity as defined and set forth in the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles creeds, meaning that God is a three-in-one nothingness, a spirit essence filling immensity, an incorporeal and uncreated being incapable of definition or mortal comprehension — then Mormons, by a clergy chosen definition, are ruled out of the fold of Christ”
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Doctrinal New Testament Commentary” 2:113)

“Our Catholic friends, our Protestant friends, give us their definition of deity in the Nicene Creed. But that’s just a creed that came of the discussions of men. The marvelous thing is that the boy Joseph was able to testify of the real nature of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. And that makes it possible for you and for me to understand our relationship to them. Each of us is a child of God. A son or a daughter of God in a very real sense and we can pray to Him and He will hear and answer our prayers.”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Nature of God”, Church News, July 1, 2006, p.2)

“We do not accept the Athanasian Creed. We do not accept the Nicene Creed, nor any other creed based on tradition and the conclusions of men.”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking About Us?” Ensign, November 1998, pp.70-71)

But if the Nicene Creed is such an abomination, why is so much of it found in D&C 20:17-28? A side-by-side comparison is very surprising.

Doctrine & Covenants 20:17-28
(from the 1835 edition of D&C) 

Nicene Creed
(from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer)

By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth, And all things visible and invisible;

 

And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man.

Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him. He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day; And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father; That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved– And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds, 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: Who for us men, and for our salvation he came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered, and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life, As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.
Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end.
And I believe in one Catholick and Apostolick Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.
Amen. Amen.

source: Owen D. West III, “Questions to Gospel Answers: Are all their creeds an abomination in God’s sight?”1

So if the Nicene Creed is abominable, then what does that make D&C 20? And if it’s a creed that’s, according to former LdS President Gordon B. Hinckley, “based on tradition and the conclusions of men” that “came of their discussions” then what does that say about an alleged revelation that has it embedded right in it?2

Speaking of Ecclesiastical Councils…
(the Quorum of the Twelve Latter-day Saint Apostles and the First Presidency circa 2017)

NOTES
1 Here are the original end notes of  Owen D. West, III, the creator of this table, regarding it’s background and content:

(The Nicene Creed is also based almost entirely on scripture, much more so than the Articles of Faith. Almost every phrase is taken word for word from the Bible. All phrases have Biblical supporting scriptures).

At first I used the Nicene Creed as used in English by the Roman Catholic Church today. I then realized that the Roman Catholic Church would have been using Latin in 1830, and since we have already seen a strong tie to the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer for the Sacramental prayers (Rite I), and since this book has been available in the U.S. since 1789, I changed to this version, which (should come as no surprise) is much closer on a word by word basis to D&C 20 than is the modern English Roman Catholic version. I then compared to the even older Book of Common Prayer from the Church of England and found it to be word for word the same as the old Episcopalian version (with different capitalization and punctuation and spelling, e.g. Catholic and Apostolic for Catholick and Apostolick). [It is the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer that is the source of so much animosity in the early LDS writing. Polemics against a God “without body, parts or passions”, or the emphasis on the Creed of Athanasius are related to this book.] I have used the Church of England Nicene creed above.

D&C 20 is obviously related to the Nicene Creed in both word and organization. Joseph Smith used the format of the Nicene Creed in writing D&C section 20 in the same way that I did when I wrote my own statement of faith. I wrote my statement of faith without referring to the Nicene Creed because after saying it so many times and having memorized it is easy to use these familiar phrases, blending them into my own belief statement. I believe Joseph Smith (or whoever actually wrote this part of D&C 20) did not have to refer to this well known Christian creed because it was part of his background. I believe this is also why we find familiar phrases from the “Doxology” in the modern scriptures published by Joseph Smith. These phrases were already a part of his religious “vocabulary”.

2 Oh, and by the way, the way that Mormon leaders portray the events of the Council of Nicea bears little to no resemblance to the historical record. As Christian author James White notes:

Nicea was not creating some new doctrine, some new belief, but clearly, explicitly, defining truth against error. The council had no idea that they, by their gathering together, possessed some kind of sacramental power of defining beliefs: they sought to clarify biblical truth, not to put themselves in the forefront and make themselves a second source of authority.

This can easily be seen from the fact that Athanasius, in defending the Nicene council, does so on the basis of its harmony with Scripture, not on the basis of the council having some inherent authority in and of itself. Note his words: “Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.”

The relationship between the sufficient Scriptures and the “Nicene Bishops” should be noted carefully. The Scriptures are not made insufficient by the council; rather, the words of the council “remind” one of the “religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.” Obviously, then, the authority of the council is derivative from its fidelity to Scripture…

Modern Christians often have the impression that ancient councils held absolute sway, and when they made “the decision,” the controversy ended. This is not true. Though Nicea is seen as one of the greatest of the councils, it had to fight hard for acceptance. The basis of its final victory was not the power of politics, nor the endorsement of established religion. There was one reason the Nicene definition prevailed: its fidelity to the testimony of the Scriptures.

And as Dr. White concludes:

Why do Christians believe in the deity of Christ today? Is it because they have been forced to do so by legislated theology from councils and popes? No, it is because the Scriptures teach this truth. When orthodox believers affirm the validity of the creed hammered out at Nicea, they are simply affirming a concise, clear presentation of scriptural truth. The authority of the Nicene creed, including its assertion of the homoousion, is not to be found in some concept of an infallible church, but in the fidelity of the creed to scriptural revelation. It speaks with the voice of the apostles because it speaks the truth as they proclaimed it.
(James R. White, “What Really Happened at Nicea?”, Christian Research Institute Journal, June 2009) 

16th Century Fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting the First Council of Nicea.

16th Century Fresco in the Sistine Chapel depicting the First Council of Nicea.

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Comments
  1. Is there a reference for Gordon B Hinckley’s statement regarding D&C Section 20 being informed by a ‘creed’? Thank you.

    Like

    • Though you didn’t specify, I believe that the passage in the article that you’re referring to this is one, which was used as a promotional epigraph on social media when this article published:

      “So if the Nicene Creed is abominable, then what does that make D&C 20? And if it’s a creed that’s, according to former LdS President Gordon B. Hinckley, “based on tradition and the conclusions of men” that “came of their discussions” then what does that say about an alleged revelation that has it embedded right in it?”

      That passage is referred to the Gordon B. Hinckley citation that immediately precedes the table:

      “We do not accept the Athanasian Creed. We do not accept the Nicene Creed, nor any other creed based on tradition and the conclusions of men.”
      (Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking About Us?” Ensign, November 1998, pp.70-71)

      That said, nowhere in the article is it asserted that Mr. Hinckley claimed that D&C 20 was informed by a creed – quite the opposite in fact.

      Like

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