Christ explained “eternal life” as knowing Him: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.)
The writers of the New Testament knew Christ. They were taught by Him or He appeared to them. Prior to His death, Christ promised He would continue to be known, because He and His Father would take up their abode with others in the future. “Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:22-23.) This promise was intended to be taken literally.
In addition to His followers, the antagonist (Saul) was also visited after Christ’s resurrection. Christ approached him on the road to Damascus. (See Acts 9:1-22.) Christ appeared and then took up His abode with Paul, who was later caught up to heaven and was taught “unspeakable things” of the mysteries of God. (See 2 Cor. 12:1-5.)
A modern prophet explained that Christ’s promise to “take up his abode” with men is not merely figurative or in the heart, but is indeed a personal appearance in which the believer comes to know his Lord: “John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.” (D&C 130:3.)
Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and he testified of the appearing:
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!” (JS-History 1:16-17.)
In another appearance to both Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, they jointly testified:
the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. (D&C 76:19-24.)
Christianity was never intended to be controlled by pastors, ministers, priests, bishops or even apostles. Christianity was intended to be alive, with Christ directly involved with His followers. But the creeds of Historic Christianity have impeded the relationship between a God who wants to be known and religious institutions who preach He is unknowable.
The entire message of Joseph Smith can be reduced to one verse in the Bible: James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph believed this and asked. God answered. Christians can all do the same. “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6.)
God has the capacity to answer all prayers addressed to Him. And He will send no one away empty-handed.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matt. 7:7-11.)
Christ “lost His body” as a result of the post-Nicaea church philosophers who twisted the scriptures to fit their incorporeal idol. That was neither part of the New Testament teachings nor how Christ was understood in early Christianity.
The post-Nicaea concern was over polytheism. They abhorred the idea of multiple gods, thinking it a pagan idea. Israel had “one God” and not several. Therefore, the idea of the Trinity allowed them (and Historic Christianity ever after) the pretense of monotheism despite the separate beings of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
The “oneness” of God the Father and Christ does not consist, as the Historic Christian creeds suggest, in these being one person of one substance, uncreated, incomprehensible and altogether “other than mankind.” Christ explained His “oneness” with the Father in His intercessory prayer in John 17. Speaking about the immediate disciples who were with Him when He prayed, He petitioned that, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11.) The disciples were not of one substance with Christ, nor uncreated, nor incomprehensible, but were separate individual men. Yet they were to be “one” just as the Father and Son are likewise “one.” Christ’s prayer also referred to future believers who would accept the testimonies of the apostles. Concerning them Christ also prayed, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21.)
Do you believe on the apostles’ testimonies? Are you therefore “one” with other believers? Did you merge into the bodies of other believers in order to become “one” with them? Are you the same substance as your minister or priest? If by belief in the same testimony as other Christians you can become “one” with them, then Christ and the Father can likewise be “one” without disturbing their entirely separate existence from one another.
This is not a heresy and not a recent invention. In The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, he relied on what would later become New Testament scripture as well as common sense to explain that Christ came into the world as a mortal man, although He had been created by the Father and acknowledged by Him as His Only Begotten Son. Here is Ignatius’ explanation:
The Word, when His flesh was lifted up, after the manner of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, drew all man to Himself for their eternal salvation. And I know that He was possessed of a body not only in His being born and crucified, but I also know that He was so after His resurrection, and believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” “For a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have.” And He says to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger into the print of the nails, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side;” and immediately they believed that He was Christ. Wherefore Thomas also says to Him, “My Lord, and my God.” And on this account also did they despise death, for it were too little to say, indignities and stripes. Nor was this all; but also after He had shown Himself to them, that He had risen indeed, and not in appearance only, He both ate and drank with them during forty entire days. And thus was He, with the flesh, received up in their sight unto Him that sent Him, being with that same flesh to come again, accompanied by glory and power. For, say the holy oracles, “This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen Him go unto heaven.” But if they say that He will come at the end of the world without a body, how shall those “see Him that pierced Him,” and when they recognize Him, “mourn for themselves?” For incorporeal beings have neither form nor figure, nor the aspect of an animal possessed of shape, because their nature is in itself simple. (Chapters II and III, long version as found in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 89; Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishing, Fourth Printing, 2004; emphasis added.)
The idea that Christ is now and will be a physical being when He returns in glory was a fundamental teaching of the New Testament and early Christians. Do not allow the false reasoning of Historic Christian philosophers to change the person of our Lord into an imaginary idol invented by those who hijacked Christianity and changed it into a political, economic and social industry.
Ignatius regarded any who taught to the contrary to be damned: “but blasphemes my Lord, not owning Him to be God incarnate[.]” (Id., Chapter V.) He declared:
Let no man deceive himself. Unless he believes that Christ Jesus has lived in the flesh, and shall confess His cross and passion, and the blood which He shed for the salvation of the world, he shall not obtain eternal life. (Id. Chapter VI.)
This was important precisely because understanding the correct doctrine is required before it is possible to know God. It is as if Ignatius took aim at the heretical and false doctrine in Historic Christian creeds that God is incomprehensible:
Do ye, therefore, notice those who preach other doctrines, how they affirm that the Father of Christ cannot be known, and how they exhibit enmity and deceit in their dealings with one another. (Id.)
Because they deny Christ is a person of flesh and bone, “they make a jest of the resurrection. They are the offspring of that spirit who is the author of all evil.” (Id., Chapter VII.)
Truth comes by the revelation of heaven. Men corrupt it, and it ceases to have the same authority and effect as it would if believed. All men are required to repent and return to God. Part of that repentance will require Historic Christians to forsake the abominable creeds adopted by false priests and come to know Christ Jesus, who was sent by the Father into the world as a man, who lived, died, was resurrected and will return again in glory.
When Christ appeared to His disciples, after His resurrection, they thought He was a ghost (or spirit). He corrected their misunderstanding:
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:36-43, emphasis added.)
The testimonies of those who saw the risen Lord confirm He was not a “spirit” but composed of “flesh and bone” and could (and did) ingest food, just like a man of flesh and blood would likewise do.
These marks on His body of “flesh and bone” are intended as an identifier of the Savior. Isaiah confirms His wounds are for our benefit and salvation. (Isa. 53:5.) They will certify Him as the Messiah when He returns:
And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. (Zech. 13:6.)
A modern revelation on March 7, 1831 explains this future event more fully:
And then shall the Lord set his foot upon this mount, and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake. And the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it; and the nations of the earth shall mourn, and they that have laughed shall see their folly. And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire. And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet? Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God. And then shall they weep because of their iniquities; then shall they lament because they persecuted their king. (D&C 45:48-53, emphasis added.)
On the day of His resurrection, Christ spent several hours walking on the road to Emmaus with two disciples. The men regarded Him as a “stranger” with no particular distinction between Him and other mortals as they walked together for hours. He taught them from the Hebrew scriptures about the mission of the Messiah requiring Him to suffer and die. They implored Him to remain for dinner, which He did. When He blessed and “brake bread” –a clearly physical act by a clearly physical being– they recognized Him as Jesus. (See Luke 24:13-31.)
Christ lost His body of “flesh and bone” in the Council of Nicaea when He became “homoousios” (of one substance with the Father) instead of “homoios” (distinct from, but like the Father). And thus the Son of Man (Mark 14:21; Matt. 26:24; Luke 22:22; John 3:13–among many others), as Christ identified Himself, was transformed by the arguments of men into something altogether “other” from those who descended from Adam. With that development in 325 a.d., the “Trinity” sprang into existence as a fundamental belief of Historic Christianity. This dramatic departure in the definition of God really marks the departure of the original or “Primitive Christianity” from the later “Historic Christianity” which replaced the original.
Fishermen and laborers who saw Christ and testified and described Him as a man, were shunned in favor of the philosophies of men who had not seen Him. But the philosophers controlled Christianity, and could dictate all of its terms.
The newly re-created image was unlike man, thus causing a contradiction between God’s original description of Himself. (Compare Genesis 1:26.) Indeed, how two beings could be one renders Christ “incomprehensible.” This admission was added by another council which adopted the Athanasian Creed, which states in part:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
Whereas Christ said “life eternal” is to “know Him” (John 17:3) Historic Christianity decreed, in effect: “don’t even try to know Him. You can never comprehend Him.” John’s testimony promised men could see and know Christ, because we are like Him: “now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2.) But Historic Christianity’s creeds imposed a barrier upon knowing Him, and therefore a barrier upon “life eternal” for Christians.
Creedal Historic Christianity is like the New Testament Samaritans, whom Christ rebuked saying: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22.) The philosophers of Historic Christianity are like the pagans on Mars Hill whose beliefs were denounced by Paul as “superstitious:”
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWNGOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent[.] (Acts 17:19-30, emphasis added.)
Men are of one blood, and all are the offspring of God. God is, therefore, knowable and wants for mankind to know Him. Christ said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.)
Christianity has a troublesome history. The Christian religion is not a single, monolithic thing, but a cascade of divergent segments with great differences, even contradictions, between them. Christian history can be divided into:
The Apostolic age: This began at 33 a.d., and lasted until shortly after 100 a.d. During this time, the body of scripture used by the Christians consisted of the Hebrew Old Testament, primarily the Septuagint. The leading figures knew or met Christ, and spread their testimony of Him. Paul was a towering figure, writing two-thirds of the letters which would later become “books” in a new addition to scripture, The New Testament.
The Ante-Nicene Period: This began shortly after 100 a.d., and lasted until the Council at Nicaea in 325 a.d. The testimonies of the Apostolic Fathers were collected and began to be regarded as scripture. By the 300s these writings were respected, but they would not acquire an official status as a “New Testament” canon until the council of Trullan in 692 a.d.
Catholic Christianity: The consolidation of Christianity into a universal, or catholic, tradition followed Constantine’s decision to make it the state religion of Rome. Though splinters remained, the state religion used coercion against the unorthodox groups, and did its best to kill off other versions.
East-West Schism: In 1054 a.d., a split between Rome and Constantinople divided the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian Church. The division remains today. When they parted company, they also parted in beliefs, practices and claims to authority. The Orthodox tradition prized the vision of God, mystic or gnostic knowledge as superior, while Rome prized rational theology, reason and philosophical knowledge, trusting it as the superior route to truth.
The Great Schism: In 1517 a.d., Martin Luther posted a list of 95 abuses the Roman Catholic Church was practicing (known as “The 95 Theses”) which led to his excommunication in 1521 and ultimately to a rebellion in Germany against Roman Christian hegemony. Although he did not intend to found a church, the Lutheran Church claims Martin Luther as their founder. Among other things, the Roman Catholic monopoly on possession of and reading scripture was overthrown by Luther when he translated the New Testament into the common language. The movable type press, invented by Johannes Gutenburg in 1440 a.d., made widespread printing and distribution of the scriptures possible. It was the alignment of Luther’s religious rebellion, the availability of the printing press, and Germany’s desire for independence from Rome that allowed the Protestant Reformation to begin.
Living at the same time as Luther, John Calvin aided in the Protestant fires against Rome. Luther and Calvin initially agreed with each other, but fell into disagreement over the interpretation of the Eucharist.
John Knox also lived at the same time, and led the reformation in Scotland. He is credited as founder of the Presbyterian Church. He was troubled over the authority given a woman king by Catholic Bishops and questioned the “divine right” to rule in those circumstances. He wondered at the duty to serve and obey an idolatrous sovereign, asking John Calvin to counsel him on these topics.
Much of the Protestant Reformation grew out of the abuses inherent in combining church and state. When a state religion claims it is true and approved of God, then anything resisting the state religion is by definition both false and in rebellion against God. It was easy for “Christianity” to torture, kill, imprison and abuse their victim-proselytes for more than a millennium. That was part of governing.
Evangelical Era: One of the most recent Christian developments is the innovation dubbed “Evangelical Christianity” which began in the 19th Century. Credited with laying the foundation for this innovation are John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. Billy Graham made it spread internationally.
Christianity is anything but a smooth transition from New Testament source to modern denominations. There were serious disconnects from the Apostolic age to the time of Constantine. If there was any legitimacy to the founding of the Roman Catholic Church, then the subsequent rebellion of, and excommunication by Rome of the Reformation founders renders Protestant Christianity powerless to save. And if the Protestant Reformation was justified by the wickedness and apostasy of Rome, then the Roman Catholic Church forfeited their right to claim to be Christ’s one-true-church. If Rome made herself a harlot by selling indulgences or forgiveness of sins, then the Protestant daughters are children of that harlot and hardly able to claim authority derived from Christ’s ordination of apostles. (John 15:16.)
Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians should be troubled about the legitimacy of their sects. Their denomination (whichever they accept) has taken a troubling route from the death of the apostles until today. The developing stages are so jarringly different from one another that the modern Evangelicals would be regarded as heretical and either forcibly converted or killed in the first fifteen-hundred years of “Christianity.” Even after the Protestant Reformation, church and state remained intertwined and heterodoxy was still dangerous for the non-Lutheran in Germany, the non-Anglican in England and the non-Presbyterian in Scotland.
The English colonies and early states of the United States likewise had tax-supported state churches. The First Amendment prevented a national religion, but the states were free to adopt their own state religion. Virginia had as the state religion the Anglican or Church of England for 224 years (1606-1830). New York had the same state religion for 225 years (1614-1846). Massachusetts had the Congregationalist Church as their state religion for 204 years (1629-1833). Maryland adopted the Anglican or Church of England as the state creed for 235 years (1632-1867). Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania did not have an official religion, but supported clergy with tax dollars for 155 years, 199 years and 109 years respectively. Connecticut’s state religion was Congregationalist for 179 years (1639-1818). New Hampshire was also Congregationalist for 238 years (1639-1877). Both North and South Carolina were Anglican or Church of England for 212 years (1663-1875) and 205 years (1663-1868) respectively.
Roman Catholicism was discouraged, even persecuted in the American colonies and early states. The Puritans, who fled to the colonies to escape religious persecution, wanted freedom of religion for themselves. But they did not extend that freedom to other faiths, and were intolerant and opposed to religious freedoms for Catholics in particular and other religions generally.
If the divergent Christian positions asserted by various Christian sects are taken at face value, then within the billions who have believed in some form of Historical Christianity almost all will be damned because they have failed to believe in the “correct” version offered by competing groups.
There is a great difference between recognizing the “signs of the times” and knowing the detail of how prophecy will be fulfilled. An example of the difference is found in Matthew. Matthew 2:1-18 tells of “wise men” who studied the scriptures, watched the signs in the heavens, recognized a “star” that testified of the birth of the Messiah or newborn “king of the Jews,” traveled a great distance (perhaps as long as two years) to worship Him, facilitated fulfilling prophecy by their presence in Jerusalem, and were visited by God in a dream. Here is the account:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Despite all the wise men were able to know, they did not know where to find the newborn king. They mistakenly went to Herod’s people to inquire about Christ’s birth. They did not know, and God did not reveal to them, that Christ would be born in Bethlehem.
It is unlikely they would have willingly acted to fulfill the Jeremiah 31:15 slaughter of children. Yet Matthew credits their involvement with fulfilling this prophecy. Can men unwittingly fulfill prophecy? Can anyone, even wise men who are well studied in scripture and prophecy, ever fully understand prophecy.
One of the lessons from this scriptural account is that all “wise men” whose diligence and faithfulness lead them to understand God’s hand is at work may still not understand how or where God will act. There remain “mysteries” which God will accomplish, but men cannot understand beforehand.
If the wise men knew He had been born, but could not identify where Christ’s birth happened, despite all else they were able to do, then how can anyone know how God will accomplish His “strange act” in the last days?
Remember the modern caution in D&C 101:93-95:
What I have said unto you must needs be, that all men may be left without excuse; That wise men and rulers may hear and know that which they have never considered; That I may proceed to bring to pass my act, my strange act, and perform my work, my strange work, that men may discern between the righteous and the wicked, saith your God.
Prophecies are not given to know details beforehand. They are given so that when they are fulfilled one may understand that God knows the end from the beginning. (Isa. 48:3-5.)