Mormonism 101 is an annual series of lectures presented at Harvard Law School by the school’s Latter-day Saint Student Association. On March 19, 2012, Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland spoke to a religiously diverse audience in the historic Langdell Hall. In the past, speakers have included other prominent members of the Church, including Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Thomas B. Griffiths, a federal circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Elder Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explained the central beliefs of Mormonism with the very center being the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Creator and Redeemer of Mankind. Elder Holland explained that the Church of Jesus Christ is not part of the Christian reformation that sought to reform the abuses and missteps of Christian orthodoxy, but is instead the complete restoration of lost power and authority that used to reside with Christ’s original apostles. He emphasized that this is the only Church on earth that has that power and authority, and that it has come from Christ Himself through heavenly messengers.
That some do not consider Mormons Christians, Elder Holland acknowledged. He stated that Mormons believe in the Christ and Heavenly Father of the Bible and not of the Christian councils (like the Athanasian Councils) that redefined the Godhead into an incomprehensible being.
“What brings me to you today is not a message of reformation but of restoration,” he said, “the restoration of that church Christ established by His hand in the meridian of time and which He has reestablished by His hand in this present time.”
“We are not considered ‘Christian’ by some, I suppose because we are not fourth-century Christians, we are not Athanasian Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ,” he said. “No, when we speak of ‘restored Christianity’ we speak of the Church as it was [before] … great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, we are not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria we do not know. (Actually, we know them, we just don’t follow them.)
Thus, we teach that:
- God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate and distinct beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bone. As such we stand with the historical position that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament]” We take Christ literally at His word—that He “came down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of him that sent [him.]” Of His antagonists He said they have “hated both me and my Father. These, along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, make clear Jesus’ physical separation from His Father. However, having affirmed the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed “one” in every other conceivable way—in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways I have just said, but They are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter we differ from traditional creedal Christianity but agree with the New Testament.
- We also differ with fourth and fifth century Christianity by declaring that the scriptural canon is not closed, that the heavens are open with revelatory experience, and that God meant what He said when He promised Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease.” We believe that God loves all His children and that He would never leave them for long without the instrumentality of prophets and apostles, authorized agents of His guidance and direction. The Book of Mormon and other canonized scripture, as well as the role of living oracles, witnesses to the fact that God continues to speak. We agree enthusiastically with the insightful Protestant scholar who inquired, “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible . . . If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today . . . about matters that are of significant concern?”
- Lastly, for today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called “our most distinguishing feature.” That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential, but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:
“How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim:
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?”
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of “who laid hands on him” all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly “the most distinguishing feature” of our faith.
*Read the full transcript of Elder Holland’s Talk.