Mormon Deification Compare to Orthodox Christian Theosis - Rene Alexander Krywult; Michael Warne Hickenbotham
A response to Rev. Dn. Dr. Brendan Pelphrey's: I said, your are gods
For years LDS scholars have pointed out that the early Christian Church Fathers taught that men can become gods as justification for our own deification beliefs which have been rejected by most evangelical Christians. LDS scholars have argued that this specific doctrine can not be the basis for denying the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints its claim to being a Christian church. They went even further pointing out that theosis continues to be an important doctrine in modern Eastern Orthodoxy and is quite often used as a synonym for salvation and no evangelical would ever question their claim to Christianity.
But Latter-day Saint scholars have erred in this assumption. As the Orthodox Rev. Dn. Dr. Brendan Pelphrey points out in his essay "I said, you are gods: Orthodox Christian Theosis and Deification in the New Religious Movements," prominent Evangelists started out denouncing not only a lot of the Christian writers of the first, second and third century as deviant and heretical, but also all Eastern Orthodox Christianity!!!
More serious evangelical scholars have decided to take another position concluding that Early Christian theosis and Eastern Orthodox theosis were totally different from the LDS concept. We have to admit that Mormons and Evangelicals very often do not understand each other but this difference of opinion is not so much a question of a lack of goodwill as it is a "I know what you believe!"-attitude. Rev. Pelphrey in his intercourse with evangelicals observed this same attitude with regard to Orthodox beliefs:
As of this writing the topic of deification is still an emotional one. Recently a statement appeared on the Internet that Orthodox Christians believe they become uncreated gods by attending the Divine Liturgy. When I pointed out that we do not teach anything of the kind, I was scolded that we Orthodox do not understand our own faith. Unfortunately some Evangelicals, still upset by the Evangelical/Mormon debacle and misled by poor scholarship, are ready to defend Christianity at all odds against--well, ancient Christianity.
Rev. Pelphrey's purpose in writing his essay seems to be to show what Orthodox theosis is and what it is not. Although the Reverend no doubt knows what he is talking about in regard to Orthodox beliefs in this area, his knowledge of Mormonism seems to be very limited. Rev. Pelphrey may not have intended his article to be anti-Mormon, but his repeated references to Mormons and the LDS Church (25 times in 22 pages) and his misrepresentations of LDS beliefs make it deceptive to other Christians and an affront to members of the LDS faith. In addition to correcting some of Rev. Pelphrey's statements, we will attempt to show that Rev. Pelphrey's concept of Mormon deification and other associated LDS doctrines is erroneous in many areas and that, in reality, there are few differences between what he defines as deification and theosis and in those few areas of disagreement, Protestants, Catholics and Mormons do not agree with Eastern Orthodoxy. Following Rev. Pelphrey's use of terms, we will refer to the LDS doctrine as "deification" and the Eastern Orthodox doctrine as "theosis".
Before discussing Rev. Pelphrey's misconceptions we should note that this article was apparently adapted from an earlier treatise on deification in Eastern religions. In attempting to adapt his previous article to include "the various kinds of popular religion which teach deification today," he has made false assumptions and, as a result, many misleading comparisons. His numerous references to "Mormons" and "Mormonism" make it clear that he is primarily comparing his own beliefs with LDS beliefs and his apparent assumption that our doctrine of deification is similar to those of the Eastern religions has lead him to make misleading claims. An examination of Rev. Pelphrey's sources and reference reveals volumes.
Rev. Pelphrey's sources for LDS doctrine seem to consist of Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson's How Wide the Divide and several articles by non-Mormons plus a review of "The God Makers" film by Wally Tope. If Rev. Pelphrey actually did read Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson's How Wide the Divide, he didn't believe it because he makes a point of asking "what about obvious non-Christian doctrines and practices in Mormonism?" then stating, "Indeed, LDS theology could be characterized as a distortion of every significant point of Christian doctrine including the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the nature of sin and salvation, the sacraments, revelation, the scriptures, even morality and anthropology."
Of course, Latter-day Saints believe the real distortion of Christian doctrine is not in LDS theology but in modern Christianity. We would highly recommend James L. Barker's Apostasy from The Divine Church, Bishop C. Johann Perrie's What Every Christian Should Know, or more recently Richard R. Hopkin's How Greek Philosophy Corrupted The Christian Concept of God and Barry Robert Bickmore's Restoring The Ancient Church.
We suspect Rev. Pelphrey is unaware that many knowledgeable Christian and Jewish organizations have recognized "The God Makers" film to be a clever anti-Mormon ploy to convey a high degree of believability to a very defamatory and untrue portrayal of LDS beliefs. The results of a recent survey by FAIR (an LDS apologetic group) has demonstrated the sad fact that Christian pastors and ministers recommended this film more than any other as a source of information on LDS beliefs. In this regard we highly recommend Gilbert W. Sharffs' book entitled "The Truth About 'The God Makers'" if you can locate a copy. It consists of a point-by-point analysis of the film and the subsequent book refuting the literally hundreds of errors in both the film and the book. Anyone who relies on this film for true information about LDS Church doctrines and beliefs will ultimately find out that they have been grossly mislead when they discover the real truth.
Rev. Pelphrey writes:
In a dialogue between Evangelical Christians and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published in 1997, the question was raised whether Mormonism should be treated by Christians as a kind of Christian sect rather than as a different religion or an overt heresy. That the question was even possible points to a reversal in recent years of the Mormon stance vis-à-vis Christianity in general. Previously, Mormons were taught, and said in their witnessing, that Christians are going to hell. More recently Mormons have begun to assert that they are Christians too, and to demand acceptance as such. Pointing to the phenomenal growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide some Mormons would insist today that they are a mainline Christian denomination.
This is a charge often made against Mormons saying "You denounced Christianity for years, and now you want to be a part of it". Let me say it bluntly: The statement "Previously, Mormons were taught, and said in their witnessing, that Christians are going to hell," is patently wrong and no responsible Mormon would ever make this statement.
It is wrong on several counts:
1. In the LDS view, Christians are not going to hell, as understood by Christians or Mormons. For Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, hell is the ultimate and neverending punishment after the Last Judgment. This Christian view of hell is what Latter-day Saints call "outer darkness." The LDS belief is that an extremely small number of individuals called "Sons of Perdition" will receive this judgment (D&C 76:43-45). Latter-day Saints believe that none of these individuals will be Christians but will be apostates from the truth who commit the "Unforgivable Sin." We believe that these individuals have to receive the testimony of the Holy Spirit and then -- fully knowing that it is true -- reject it. This is not the case for "Christians." Mormons do believe in another temporary hell which is a subdivision of the spirit world where the spirits of all men go after death to await resurrection and the Last Judgment. Even this hell will not include Christians who lived according to the truths Christ taught.
Mormons also do not "condemn" Christians. On this subject Joseph Smith declared:
The Mussulman condemns the heathen, the Jew, and the Christian, and the whole world of mankind that reject his Koran, as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised, are Gentile dogs, and will be damned. The heathen is equally as tenacious about his principles, and the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed, and submit to his ipse dixit.
But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, 'according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,' or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, 'not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,' those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, hereafter TJPS, Section Four 1839-42, p.217-18)
His following quote shows how unlikely the claim that any Mormons once said, "Christians are going to hell." Speaking about the conditions of the Christian nations after death, Joseph Smith taught:
The situation of the Christian nations after death, is a subject that has called forth all the wisdom and talent of the philosopher and the divine, and it is an opinion which is generally received, that the destiny of man is irretrievably fixed at his death, and that he is made either eternally happy, or eternally miserable; that if a man dies without a knowledge of God, he must be eternally damned, without any mitigation of his punishment, alleviation of his pain, or the most latent hope of a deliverance while endless ages shall roll along. However orthodox this principle may be, we shall find that it is at variance with the testimony of Holy Writ, for our Savior says, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men wherewith they shall blaspheme; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, evidently showing that there are sins which may be forgiven in the world to come, although the sin of blasphemy [against the Holy Ghost] cannot be forgiven. Peter, also, in speaking concerning our Savior, says, that "He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:19, 20). Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah; and what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not! Let His own declaration testify. 'He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight of the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.' (Luke 4:18.) Isaiah has it--"To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness from the prison house." (Isaiah 13:7.) It is very evident from this that he not only went to preach to them, but to deliver, or bring them out of the prison house. Isaiah, in testifying concerning the calamities that will overtake the inhabitants of the earth, says, "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall and not rise again. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited." Thus we find that God will deal with all the human family equally, and that as the antediluvians had their day of visitation, so will those characters referred to by Isaiah, have their time of visitation and deliverance; after having been many days in prison. (TJPS, p.218-19)
So, the sentence "Christians are going to hell" is utterly incompatible with Mormon beliefs as taught not only recently but at the very beginning by Joseph Smith!
2. Now let's examine Rev. Pelphrey's second point: "Mormons but recently started to assert, that they are Christians too, and to demand acceptance as such." Mormons in reality have asserted that they were Christians and asked to be accepted as such since the days of Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon, which just like the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price form the LDS canon, calls true believers in Christ "Christians" (cf. Alma 46 and 48). If this book of LDS scripture which was finished even before the Church was formally organized in 1830 refers to believers in Christ as Christian, our use of this appellation for true believers is obviously not recent.
The Random House American College Dictionary defines a Christian as "believing in or belonging to the religion of Jesus Christ, exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ (i.e. Christ-like), one who believes in Jesus Christ, an adherent of Christianity, or one who exemplifies in his life the teachings of Christ". Though somewhat broad, none of these definitions exclude Latter-day Saints and technically any one should qualify them as Christians.
In addition, the Cambridge Bible Dictionary informs us that the title Christian was "a name first given to believers in Jesus Christ...." Interestingly, it also adds that "in the first years of the Church, believers were known among themselves as the brethren, the disciples, the saints, the faithful, and the elect." The title brethren, for example, was used over 500 times in our King James Bible; disciple or disciples was used over 350 times; saint or saints was used over 100 times; faithful was used in reference to his servants over 50 times and elect was used 20 times. By contrast, the words Christian or Christians is used only 3 times throughout the entire Bible. It is probably not a coincidence that the former titles also seem to be preferred in modern revelation and among the Latter-day Saints themselves. The official name of the Church, given by revelation, contains both the title "saints" and most importantly, the name "Jesus Christ". Unlike many modern churches, the LDS Church identifies itself first and foremost as being the Church of Jesus Christ. It is not named after any reformer, founder, or Bible principle. The title conforms to Paul's teaching that Christ's church should be associated not with men but with Christ (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though having somewhat different beliefs in comparison to other Christians, consider themselves to be Christian.
Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks observed that:
There is, after all, something rather peculiar about the assertion that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian. It is not a self-evident truth, and would even seem to contradict obvious fact. (This is presumably why it is so frequently announced with an air of breathless discovery.) Mormons declare themselves Christian, and are astonished to be told that they are not. They belong to a Church in which every prayer is uttered, every sermon is given, and every ordinance is performed literally in the name of Jesus Christ. Their hymns--the devotional heart of their Sunday worship--sing of Christ and his atonement. At Christmas and Easter, they join with hundreds of millions of Christians around the world in a celebration of his life. In baptism and in the weekly communion they know as "the sacrament," they testify that they are willing to take upon them his name (D&C 20:37, 77). Their first Article of Faith announces their belief in "God the Eternal Father, and in His son, Jesus Christ." The Book of Mormon closes with an exhortation to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him" (Moroni 10:32). One of the high points of the Doctrine and Covenants is a stirring testimony of Jesus (D&C 76:22-24). Their story begins with the claim of a young boy to have seen the Father and the Son. That young boy later claimed to be a prophet, defining "the spirit of prophecy" as "the testimony of Jesus". His successors, likewise regarded as prophets, are assisted by a presiding quorum of "Twelve Apostles", or special witnesses of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world. (D&C 107:23) (Offenders for a Word, pp. 176-177)
The following quote of Joseph Smith further affirms our claim to Christianity:
The enemies of this people will never get weary of their persecution against the Church, until they are overcome. I expect they will array everything against me that is in their power to control, and that we shall have a long and tremendous warfare. He that will war the true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days will have wicked men and angels of devils, and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against him. When wicked and corrupt men oppose, it is a criterion to judge if a man is warring the Christian warfare. When all men speak evil of you falsely, blessed are ye. Shall a man be considered bad, when men speak evil of him? No. If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him. But it will be but a little season, and all these afflictions will be turned away from us, inasmuch as we are faithful, and are not overcome by these evils. By seeing the blessings of the endowment rolling on, and the kingdom increasing and spreading from sea to sea, we shall rejoice that we were not overcome by these foolish things. (TPJS, Section Five 1842-43, p.259)
How could he talk about the "Christian warfare" (designating by this term the cause of God), and on the other hand not believe that he is a Christian? I could quote Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor et.al. without end teaching firmly that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian. While it may be true that Mormons have started only recently to demand acceptance as Christians, this is not due to a "reversal in recent years of the Mormon stance vis-à-vis Christianity in general", but due to a changing position of anti-Mormons who in the 1960s started to proclaim that Mormons were not Christians. Without this false accusation there was no need to "demand acceptance as Christians" at an earlier date.
Further writes the Reverend: "In the last decade, however, 'secret' Mormon temple rituals, including deification rites, have been published and analyzed in non-Mormon journals and have become a matter of common knowledge." First, Mormon temple rituals are not "secret", but "sacred". And sacred things must only be uttered within the proper context. And the only proper context is the temple. Second, every ritual that leads us to God is a "deification rite", there is no sacrament God has given to men which is designed for anything else, be it baptism, the laying on of hands, the eucharist, Priesthood ordinations, marriage or the temple Endowment, which is unique to the Latter-day Saints. When one understands that the reason that members of the LDS Church visit the temple often is not to save themselves but to do proxy work for the rest of mankind that they may also be saved with us in God's kingdom, Rev. Pelphrey's remark takes on a very hollow ring. We do not condemn the rest of mankind to hell as does Rev. Pelphrey but instead are spending a great deal of our spare time trying to make it possible for them to be saved too. To call this work a "deification rite" is hypocritical in the extreme.
We should also note that Rev. Pelphrey's remarks in regard to Satan's temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden are without merit. Rev. Pelphrey's asserts that "the desire to be deified is the whole point of the biblical story of the temptation of Adam and Eve." If we analyze Genesis 3:4-5, we find that Satan told Eve that eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would 1) surely not cause death (a lie - Gen. 2:17; 5:5) but would cause their eyes to be opened so that they might know good from evil and therefore "be as gods" (true - Gen. 3:7, 22). In this instance, Satan, like many anti-Mormons today, told a half truth. It is important to note that the Lord himself affirmed in Genesis 3:22, that the second half of Satan's statement was true by declaring, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil...". Could there be any clearer witness than this one from God? We should understand by this that Satan was not tempting Eve with Godhood. He was mixing the truth that she would become like the gods (having the ability to decern between good and evil), with the lie that she could not die. The fact is that we do become as God when we gain knowledge of truth (good and evil) and learn obedience to God's commandments (Rom. 2:6-8; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; Titus 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:20-21; 1 Jn. 2:3-5; 3:2, 9-10 ). Rev. Pelphrey also describes Adam and Eve's discovery of their nakedness as "false enlightenment." We might ask how is it false if they really were naked?
But let us now proceed to the meat of Rev. Pelphrey's assertion that the Early Church Fathers understood theosis differently than we do. Rev. Pelphrey asserts that deification is the opposite of theosis and "it is nowhere argued by the Church Fathers that human beings become 'gods'." The following quotes seem to contradict Rev. Pelphrey's opinion:
We are not made gods from the beginning; first we are mere humans, then we become gods. --St. Irenaeus, Adv Haer III IV:38:4
Let us become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods --St. Maximus the Confessor
For the Son of God became man, that we might become God. --St. Athanasius, De inc.
He has called men gods that are deified of His Grace, not born of His Substance.--St. Augustine
The Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God --St. Irenaeus, Adv Haer III
Let us applaud and give thanks that we have become not only Christians but Christ himself. Do you understand, my brothers, the grace that God our head has given us? Be filled with wonder and joy--we have become veritable Christs! --St. Augustine of Hippo
The Only-begotten Son of God, wanting us to be partakers of his divinity, assumed our human nature so that, having become man, he might make men gods. --St. Thomas Aquinas
The highest of all things desired is to become God. --St Basil the Great
It is interesting that these writers believed that we could become God just as Christ became God. Would Rev. Pelphrey have us believe that this idea bears no resemblance to LDS beliefs? The FAIR-LDS web site in their September 1999 Apologia newsletter cites over 100 similar quotes by the early Chruch Fathers in their Publications section (www.fair-lds.org).
Rev. Pelphrey states that we believe a heresy regarding Christ's nature. He cites Palamas as saying Christ "is not a creature or angel or a deified human as certain herisies would teach (today such heresies include Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons)." He tells us Mormons are a heresy although I feel sure he meant our doctrine of deification is such.
By the way, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that, "Our Savior was God before he was born into this world, and he brought with him that same status when he came here. He was as much a God when he was born into the world as he was before". (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:32). We make no claim to know when Christ became God but we do know it was prior to the "foundation of the earth" (Heb. 1:8-10; see also Col. 1:15-16; 1 Pet. 1:19-20; Rev. 13:8). We likewise know that he did not, as some say, attain Godhood in another world prior to this one. We do teach that Jesus Christ created other worlds (Moses 1:33) and that he died only once to atone for our sins (Heb. 9:28) forever (Heb. 10:10-12). Christ's atonement was infinite (2 Nephi 9:7) and eternal (Alma 34:10) and "brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption" for "all those who shall believe on his name" (Alma 34:15-16).
Though members of the Church have been accused of believing that Jesus Christ was not God prior to his birth, nothing could be further from the truth. We believe not only that Christ was God prior to his birth but that he was the God of the Old Testament (John 1:1-3; 1 Cor. 10:1-4; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:27, 32). It is amazing that those who criticize us in this area have utterly failed to understand this important LDS doctrine. The clarity with which modern scripture sets forth this doctrine is unequaled in Bible scripture. Consider the following passages from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants:
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the world (3 Nephi 11:13-14).
Behold I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses. Behold I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law, therefore it hath an end (3 Nephi 15:4-5).
The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father (D&C 110:1-4).
This same doctrine is found throughout LDS scripture and the writings of the prophets (1 Nephi 19:7, 10, 13-14; 2 Nephi 25:29; Mosiah 3:5, 8; 4:2; 7:27; Helaman 8:22-23; 3 Nephi 9:15, 19; Ether 3:14-18; D&C 29:1; 39:1; see also Jesus the Christ, pp. 32, 37-38; Mormon Doctrine, p. 392). Since this teaching is clearly found in the Book of Mormon, there can be no doubt that it is LDS doctrine and those who say we believe Christ was not God prior to his birth have been misled. It is interesting to note that although LDS scriptures revealed this doctrine over 160 years ago, some Protestant denominations seem to have just discovered this truth while others still seem to be divided over the true identity of Jehovah.
Rev. Pelphrey asserts that deification is also different from theosis because those who believe it think they can be not only like God but take his place. This is a patent misrepresentation of the LDS doctrine of deification. We do not believe that man can become God's equal nor be independent of him despite Rev. Pelphrey's assertion to the contrary (D&C 76:58-62). We do believe that man may be exalted and yet remain subordinate to God if we overcome the world through the atonement of Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 5:4-5; Rev. 5:9; 7:14; D&C 76:69-70). It is only in this way that we can become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 4:6-7; Jam. 2:5; D&C 84:37-38) and inherit all things as Christ has inherited all things (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 21:7). This point is reiterated on numerous LDS web sites including: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/2671/realgod/html and http://www.mormons.org/basic/godhead/Godhood_EOM.htm
Rev. Pelphrey demonstrates his ignorance of LDS doctrine again when he says Mormons believe "those who are deified will live as gods, but not on this Earth." This also false as any Latter-day Saint will affirm. The Earth will become the Celestial Kingdom of God where those who attain the highest glory will dwell (D&C 88:17-20, 25-26).
Rev. Pelphrey identifies the following corollaries as having appeared historically in non-Christian religions:
1) God cannot be known in the material world, or to material beings. (Some systems conclude, therefore, that practically speaking there is no God.)
2) God exists, but God cannot be known under ordinary circumstances. To know God one must become all "spirit," either through a discipline or through acquisition of secret knowledge (gnosis).
3) God (or the divine spirit) is hidden within ourselves and is the only true reality. The inner self must be discovered carefully through personal development.
4) We ourselves are God.
This again demonstrates that Rev. Pelphrey has relied very heavily on his earlier paper which distinguishes between Eastern religions and Eastern Orthodox beliefs. None of these statements of "non-Christian religions" are what Latter-day Saints believe. In opposition to these "non-Christian" beliefs Rev. Pelphrey cites ten "Christian" teachings which, we are told, distinguish the "Christian" theosis from the (non-Christian" deification. Let us examine these ominous ten points which Rev. Pelphrey uses to seal his argument:
1) In the Christian tradition God is the Creator and we are creatures of God. God is not "within" us in the sense that we ourselves are divine or take the place of God or are gods. God is never identical with ourselves. Rather, we bear in our flesh the Image of God, and by grace, may grow into the divine Likeness, which is Christ.
This is an interesting point in many ways.
First, no Christian Church teaches this concept more firmly in our day, than the LDS church, namely that we bear in our flesh the image of God. We are even condemned as being non-Christian for teaching it! Catholics and Protestants alike claim that our SPIRIT is in the likeness of God, saying that humans are in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature. Thus, humans mirror God's divinity in their ability to actualize the unique qualities with which they have been endowed, and which make them different than all other creatures: rational structure, complete centeredness, creative freedom, a possibility for self-actualization, and the ability for self-transcendence.
Second, we can fully agree with this point that God, meaning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, or each one of the Divine Persons, is not and will never be identical with us. If, as was mentioned earlier, through God's grace a Latter-day Saint does one day become a god, he will continue to put his faith and trust in God, the Father, his Son and our Redeemer and Savior Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit, and they will continue to be his God.
Rev. Pelphrey tells us in his next point:
2) The material world, including the human body, is not illusory, but quite real. It is not evil or an impediment to knowledge of God. Rather, it was created by God in order to have a relationship with God and to participate in God. The process of theosis is a transformation of life in the flesh, and is visible in flesh itself: for example, in the light which was visible at the Transfiguration of Christ, transforming even his clothing; and in the miraculous signs which accompany the relics of certain saints.
This is another point, where Orthodoxy opposes Protestant teachings. In Evangelical views the whole world is depraved and utterly unable to do any good, predisposed to every evil. Mormonism agrees with Orthodoxy, that the material world is good, and it was created to have a relationship with God, or as Paul puts it:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (NIV Rom. 8:19, 22-23)
Mormons do NOT agree that miraculous signs accompanying relics are a necessity or even a sign for deification. There are examples of the same signs as seen in the relics of the "saints," but the persons having these supernatural signs have often been deceived by Satan.
Rev. Pelphrey says:
3) Christians agree that the essence of God cannot be understood or experienced by any creature. Nevertheless, it is possible to know God personally and intimately in this life. This immediate knowledge of God is made possible by the Incarnation, in which God became flesh in order to redeem flesh.
Again, we do agree. Furthermore it is impossible to know of God by any other means than revelation, or as Paul puts it:
But God hath revealed [them] unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Cor 2:10-13)
Rev. Pelphrey further tells us:
4) Knowledge of God is not esoteric or "secret" knowledge available only to some initiates, but is given freely to the whole world. It is ours through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those who receive Christ and are willing to follow Him.
We agree, this knowledge is not secret, it is sacred, and we ought to be careful with it (Matt. 7:6). Everyone who comes to Christ and follows in his footsteps, everyone who searches diligently for the Holy Spirit will receive a knowledge of God.
And Rev. Pelphrey further states:
5) Theosis is the result of God's own initiative. It is ours through trust (faith) and by participation in the life of the Church. It is not a matter of our own achievement, since it is not within the power of human beings to rise even to full humanity. Therefore, it is not a matter of techniques of meditation or psycho-physical exercises, but of being receptive to the grace of God which is in Christ, and is ours in the sacramental life of the Church.
King Benjamin stated it clearly in the Book of Mormon:
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come unto him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body -- I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement... (Mosiah 4:6-7).
King Benjamin's discourse to his people also illustrated the futility of trying to earn salvation. He declared:
...if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another -- I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another -- I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you. And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? (Mosiah 2:20-24)
This same teaching has been affirmed in our day by a modern LDS Apostle, Orson F. Whitney:
Can anyone believe that all Christ did was to point out the Way of Salvation and bid men walk therein? What about the construction of the way? There was no way till he made one. Walking in it, however difficult at times, is a mere bagatelle by comparison. Adam's fall placed man on earth and made available for him the plan of salvation and exaltation. It was Christ who brought about the resurrection. He is its Author. It was his death, his sacrificial offering, that gave vitality to the gospel plan and rendered effectual, man's faith and works in his own behalf. Without the Atonement, to offset and nullify the fatal effects of the original transgression, all man's self-help would count for nothing, and the very Gospel itself would be mere machinery without the power. When Adam fell, it was as if the human race had fallen into a pit, from which they were powerless, by any act of their own, to emerge; having no means whereby to climb up and out, and not even knowing how to climb. But a Friend, all-wise and all-powerful, comes to the mouth of the pit, compassionates its wretched inmates, and proposes to rescue them from their unhappy situation. He makes of his own life a ladder; lets it down into the pit and says: 'Now climb!' They who climb, get out of the pit. They who refuse to climb, remain in the pit--and who is to blame but themselves? The Crucifixion, on Calvary, the self-immolation of a God, is the Rock upon which the gospel rests--the Everlasting Gospel, the ladder unto life eternal. 'Faith without works is dead.' We work out our salvation. There is no question about that. But we work it out through Jesus Christ, and not independently of Him. WE DO NOT SAVE OURSELVES. We but avail ourselves of the means of salvation provided by our Lord and Savior, the God who died that man might live." (Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, October 1927, p. 149)
Rev. Pelphrey again:
6) To be transfigured into the divine image is to become more human, that is, to grow into the fullness of humanity. The transfigured person is, therefore, drawn closer both to God and to the world itself. This occurs in this life, and is evident in our relationship with others and with nature itself. By contrast, in the new religious movements deification ultimately means rejection of the world and withdrawal from the material plane.
If "the world" is equivalent with "material plane", as it is normally understood, we can fully accept this statement. The Book of Mormon teaches that "Men are, that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25)
And D&C 59 affirms:
Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards; Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. (D&C 59:16-20)
On the other hand, "the world" in New Testament language often refers to the kingdom of the devil on earth. We are urged to purify and distance ourselves from it.
Rev. Pelphrey once again:
7) The Christian experience of drawing closer to God and being transformed by God (theosis) is humbling and is always accompanied by repentance. The fathers speak of the gift of tears as one of the chief signs of true spiritual transformation. One becomes conscious of being "the least of all and the servant of all." In the new religious movements, on the other hand, the experience of deification raises up the Self as divine and even all-powerful. The promise is often made that the true disciple can gain power over others and over the world itself. The aim and purpose of deification is to elevate the self and to become a Master.
The aim and purpose of deification is to become like God and become like the Master (Luke 6:40), not through our own works, but through grace, not in this world, but in the life to come. Repentance and humbling is the very core and fundamental to Christian behavior, for, saith the Lord: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Mat 11:29) So, if we want his grace to transform us into his likeness, we have to have a Christ-like personality. And to be a master like our Master, we have to be humble servants of all.
These same thoughts are expressed eloquently in the Book of Mormon:
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth? Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say--Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth--and that he will save you? Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?
I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (Mosiah 5:14-19)
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? (Alma 5:27)
Rev. Pelphrey again informs us:
8) The Christian experience of theosis is to be drawn into the Love which is the Trinity. Here there is a mirroring in the self of the mystery of the Trinity. In the Trinity, the divine Persons are not confused or mixed with one another; similarly, there is no confusion between the person of faith, and the Creator. We are not God, but we are made one with God. The doctrine of deification, on the other hand, is that there is a merging or union between the self and the divine nature so that there is no "other" at all, no essential difference between self and God, or self and the Absolute (in Buddhist terms, the dharmakaya or Third Body of the Buddha). There is an experience of being "one" with the universe; all enlightened beings are One. By contrast, in Christianity all disciples are unique, with differing gifts. There is a synergy of persons, but not an identity.
Again, let's answer this with Alma from the Book of Mormon:
And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved. (Alma 5:9)
We are drawn into and experience God's Love. It is the same experience.
Now, for the question of personality, we quote D&C 130:2: "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." Concerning gifts D&C 47:11 tells us "For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God."
9) Christians locate theosis in Christ. To say this is not enough, since many religious movements speak of "the Christ" or "the Christ-spirit." Usually Christ is said to be a spirit who has reincarnated in all the great Masters through history. Christians, however, are not concerned with an appearance of God (the "Christ-spirit") on earth, but with the incarnation of God on earth, which is unique and historical, not an appearance but actual flesh and blood.
Again, from the Book of Mormon:
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men. And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall arise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men. (Mosiah 5:5-10)
Does this qualify for a belief in "the incarnation of God on earth, which is unique and historical, not an appearance but actual flesh and blood"?
Now Mosiah 18:20 says: "Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people." And Mosiah 15:23: "They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death." These statements together with the words of King Benjamin and Apostle Whitney quoted above should justify our claim for "locating theosis in Christ."
Last of all Rev. Pelphrey states:
10) Christian theosis takes place through participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Those who truly love Christ love the Church, his own Body. It is, furthermore, the Church of history, with real bishops, priests, deacons, people--not every sect which calls itself "Church." Any promised "deification" which turns one away from the historic "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" Church, is not deification but a false promise.
Mormon deification takes place through participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Those who truly love Christ love the Church, his own Body. It is, furthermore, the Church of history, with real apostles, bishops, priests, deacons, people--not every sect which calls itself "Church." We completely agree here.
The disagreement lies herein, that Mormons believe that this church is not an Eastern Orthodox Church, and every Protestant and Catholic will agree here. But Mormons believe that a church set up by men will never be the Lord's Church, so in the LDS view, Protestant Churches can never qualify as the Lord's Church. Either Christ's Church (with real bishops, priests, and deacons) has continued since Christ's day on earth, or it fell into apostasy and ceased to be his church on earth and must have been restored from heaven by heavenly messengers for it to be on earth today. Latter-day Saints believe that an apostasy and restoration has taken place as predicted in the Bible (Matt. 24:5; 2 Thes. 2:2-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; Acts 3:21; Rev. 14:6-7) and that Christ's Church (with real apostles, bishops, priests, and deacons) is once again on the earth today.In the final analysis it comes down to this point: the main difference between theosis and deification is a question of ecclesiology and not soteriology. And this main difference is even a non-issue for Protestants.