Role of the Godhead Is Paramount in Missionaries’ Teachings
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
Bearing fervent witness of the reality and divinity of the Godhead, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told mission presidents and their wives June 23 that when instructing missionaries, they need to balance the “how” with the “why” of missionary work.
“When we know the ‘why,’ then the ‘how’ will come much easier, and it will be much more eagerly entertained and much more aggressively pursued,” said Elder Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Citing a statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith that it is the first principle of the gospel to know for certainty the character of God, Elder Holland said, “I wish to expand the Prophet’s challenge and say that we, our missionaries, our members, and our investigators must know for certainty the character of the Godhead. We must have a correct idea of Their individual perfections and attributes and admiration for the excellency of Their personal character.”
He declared that when missionaries teach, “there is no point in going on to any other gospel truth we believe if we have not fixed in our minds and in the minds of those we teach the preeminent role of the Godhead in our doctrine and in our eternal destiny.”
He added: “We are to know these divine beings in every way we can. We are to love Them, draw near to Them, obey Them, and try to be like Them. We are not baptizing people into the church of a man, whether that man be Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Gordon B. Hinckley or Thomas S. Monson, revered as those prophets may be.
“And we’re not baptizing people into the church of the happy families or the church of the Tabernacle Choir … or the entire BYU athletic program, beloved as all of those may be. We baptize ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ In doing so we are bringing people to the Father through the ministry and Atonement of His Son, with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We must keep it uppermost in our minds always as we undertake our missions.”
Many people whom missionaries are apt to contact do not know who God is, Elder Holland observed.
“If they are to embrace the restored gospel and truly find salvation for their souls, it will have to begin with some knowledge and understanding of these members of the Godhead,” he said, adding that ultimately true and saving worship is found only among those who have that understanding.
“A God who cares about them as tenderly as a parent cares about a child cannot be an ethereal mist or a vague philosophical ‘first cause’ or a deistic absentee landlord,” Elder Holland said. “He must be recognized for what He truly is: a merciful, compassionate Father in whose image every one of His children have been made and before whom all of us will one day again stand.”
Lesson 1 in the missionary guide Preach My Gospel begins with the declaration that “God is our loving Heavenly Father,” Elder Holland pointed out. The first determination the missionaries are to make in that lesson is what the person being taught understands regarding the true nature of God.
“Please do not let missionaries slide over that inquiry,” Elder Holland admonished. “If they can get a proper understanding of God in the minds and hearts of their investigators at the outset, everything else will fit into place much easier in the instruction that comes thereafter.”
Likewise, missionaries and investigators must appreciate the majesty of Jesus Christ’s message and mission, he said. “All must come to appreciate that Jesus came to show us the way of the Father and to do the will of the Father as we are to do also.”
He exhorted, “Please have your missionaries teach with particular faith and fervor the doctrines of Christ as declared in the holy scriptures and as summarized and outlined in lesson 3 of Preach My Gospel.”
Investigators need also to know that the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, “the one with whom they will have their most frequent and most intimate relationship as they seek to understand His role and pray for His companionship,” Elder Holland said. “It is the member of the Godhead that will lead the investigator to truth and will then bear witness of truth as they encounter it.”
Missionaries should not try to teach, and investigators need not know, overly complex doctrines, he said. “Remind your elders and sisters that the greatest truths are simple enough for a child to grasp, but missionaries and investigators alike must grasp this simple truth, first and foremost, that it ‘is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3).”
“Latter-day revelation teaches that ‘the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit,’ ” Elder Holland pointed out.
“You can’t get a baseline statement clearer than that,” he said. “But, unfortunately, nearly two millennia of Christian history have sown terrible confusion and near-fatal error in this regard. Many evolutions and iterations of religious creeds have greatly distorted the simple clarity of true doctrine, declaring rather that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, co-eternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time.”
He asked, “How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of striving to be like, one who is incomprehensible and unknowable?”
It is never the purpose of the Church to demean any other person’s belief or the doctrine of any religion, Elder Holland said. “But no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the gold standard in that field, records, ‘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 anywhere in the New Testament.’
“So we are very comfortable, frankly, in letting it be known that we are New Testament Christians, not ‘Nicene Christians,’ that we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century, pagan-influenced view of the Godhead, and neither did those first Christians who were eyewitnesses of the living Christ.”
Elder Holland hastened to say that “when we’ve made the point about the distinctiveness of Their persons, it is equally important to stress how unified the Godhead is and truly one they are in every other conceivable way.”
He said: “Understanding the proper unity of the Godhead should help our missionaries as they strive to delineate our beliefs and explain our position, acknowledging readily that, save for common embodiment, the members of the Godhead are much more united, much more alike, much more the same, and much more one than many Christians think we believe and more than we have sometimes adequately explained.”