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Whom Do We Worship Anyway?

Seth - September 19, 2007

Part of the Mormon blogging community has been picking over the Nicene Creed and all that stuff about homoousian, the created or uncreated nature of members of the Trinity, and other “heavy stuff” that you may or may not want to wade into. One big sticking point between us and traditional trinitarian Christianity seems to be whether God created Jesus or not. They don’t think He did. We do. The Mormon explanation of Christ’s divinity blurs the line between God and man quite a bit more than many traditional Christians are comfortable with. I assume it was these controversies that recently led one evangelical blogger to pointedly ask: How many Gods are there anyway?
Well, for Mormons, the answer is a tad murky. It seems to depend on your definition of “God,” for one thing. It also depends on which sources of LDS authority you are citing (my understanding is that they aren’t all in agreement). So we tend to equivocate on the question a bit – and are invariably accused of dishonesty by our critics. But for me, one question in particular has been nagging me:

Whom do we worship?

Well, God the Father obviously. But do we worship, say… the Holy Ghost?

I don’t think we worship the Holy Ghost…

What about Christ?

Even tougher.

I would imagine this isn’t as much of an issue for a traditional Christian, since under the Nicene Creed, they believe all three beings in the Godhead are “one God.” So the question of which one you are worshiping is rather irrelevant. But for Mormons with their independent and distinct personalities in the Godhead, the question does seem to require an answer.

My understanding growing up, was that we do not worship Christ. Neither do we pray to him. Christ is presented to the Mormon student as a conduit to the Father. He is personalized as our “Elder Brother.” Scriptures where Christ deferred to the Father – such as John 14:28 – are emphasized. Furthermore, we are all on this path to godhood together. Perhaps Christ is simply further along that path than we?

But wait a minute… Something doesn’t quite sound right about that… What about what Bruce R. McConkie said in Mormon Doctrine, under the heading “Worship?”

The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; Ex. 34:14; Mosiah 18:25; D&C 20:17-19.) No one can worship the Father without also worshiping the Son. “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23.) It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worship the Son. “Believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.” (2 Ne. 25:16, 29.)

Hmmm… well that’s awkward. So we do, in fact “worship” Christ. At least, according to Elder McConkie we do, and I’ll admit, he makes a strong case for it. But this doesn’t satisfy the question either. What is “worship” anyway. Elder McConkie, in the same entry in Mormon Doctrine, defines it simply as “paying divine honors to a deity.” Which I suppose easily includes Christ, even by the Mormonism I grew up with. But I’ve still got this nagging sense of protocol and hierarchy telling me that I really should only be worshiping the person at the top – which would be God the Father.

So I ask again: Whom do we worship anyway?


  1. But for Mormons with their independent and distinct personalities in the Godhead

    Trinitarians believe that have separate and distinct personalties as well. I think LDS could accept the doctrine of the Trinity except for the canonized version of the First Vision which poses the Father and the Son with their own bodies. If the church used an older version of the First Vision there would be no problem here.

    Comment by Tim — September 19, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  2. I can understand your feeling about wanting to only worship God, the Father. It’s logical, and as you said, it’s hierarchial and follows protocol.

    However, OTOH, I think it’s also very easy to understand why we worship Christ. It would make even more sense, too. The Atonement –dying and suffering and Resurrecting –would be enough to Praise Him Forever. Which is what I do. Well, it’s what we do.

    I know Christ said “And the Glory Be Thine” to HF, and I’m sure He meant it, but He also said “Love the Lord Thy God” and He was speaking of Himself (as Jehovah).

    I guess I just always assumed it was kind of a win-win situation. We worship our Father in Heaven because He is God, He is our Father, He is our Creator. We worship Christ because He is our Eldest Brother, He carried out the Plan of Salvation, He gave us the Atonement, etc. etc.

    So even if Christ isn’t “as High up” as the Father would be (or is…?), it doesn’t matter. He deserves our worship for eternity.

    Comment by Cheryl — September 19, 2007 @ 11:43 am

  3. Who do Mormons think the Jews of the Old Testament worshiped?

    Comment by a random John — September 19, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  4. “I worship [Jesus Christ] as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His wounded feet and hands and side, amazed at the love He offers me.”

    – President Hinckley, “In These Three I Believe

    I don’t think we worship the Holy Ghost, but I believe a strong case can be made for worshipping both Jesus and His Father.

    Comment by Connor — September 19, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

  5. I just wanted to compliment you on your correct use of “whom” in the oblique case :) Prescriptive grammarians unite! /threadjack

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  6. He is our Eldest Brother,

    I gotta find some way to get my younger brothers to worship me. —– I shaved the cat and took a spanking on your behalf, etc. :)

    Comment by Tim — September 19, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  7. Connor, it appears that you have changed your perspective (not that that is a bad thing).

    Mormons have a long history of worshipping Jesus the Lord and Christ. There is tons of First Presidency level material on this, despite whateve McConkie and Adam-God folk say.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 19, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  8. On “Elder Brotherism” see Corbin Volluz, “Jesus Christ as Elder Brother,” BYU Studies 45/2 (2006): 141-58 and this post.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 19, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  9. Oh, Tim, you’re so witty.

    Comment by Cheryl — September 19, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  10. McConkie and the Adam-God people, all lumped in together. That’s funny!

    Comment by Mark N. — September 19, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  11. I admit Cheryl, I laughed at #6 too.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 19, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  12. Yeah, but mine was more of a sarcastic laugh –kind of “Hahahaha…ha…ha..hmmm…” But there was indeed some smiling going on. :)

    Comment by Cheryl — September 19, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  13. Some would say we worship ‘God’ and mean the union of our Heavenly Parents.

    Comment by claire — September 19, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  14. Seth: One big sticking point between us and traditional trinitarian Christianity seems to be whether God created Jesus or not. They don’t think He did. We do.

    No we don’t.

    As Joseph Smith taught: “There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.”

    Now even if one bought the whole notion of viviparous spirit birth (which I don’t) and/or the tri-partite model of spirits; it would still not be true to say that Mormonism teaches that Jesus was created unless you were only talking about his body.

    But the Arian notion is nothing like that — it says that Jesus was created ex nihilo along with everything else in existence. Mormonism rejects that outright.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 19, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  15. Seth: Whom do we worship?

    My answer is that we worship the One God. The one God is the name we give the unified Godhead. So since the Holy Ghost is part of the One God I would say to an extent we worship the Holy Ghost. I don’t think we would worship any given member of the Godhead if they left the divine unity of the One God though (and our scriptures imply that is a logical possibility).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 19, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  16. Thanks for the clarification Geoff. You’re right, I missed on the created part entirely.

    Comment by Seth R. — September 19, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  17. I’m still confused about the definition of “worship.” Seth quotes Elder McKonkie as saying “paying divine honors to a deity.” I have no idea what tha means. I pray to the Father, through and in the name of the Son and I rely on the Holy Ghost to give me answers to those prayers. I know that without all three we would be lost. Is that “paying divine honors.”

    Comment by lamonte — September 19, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

  18. On who we pray to–in my mind that falls under the fact that each member of the Godhead has a different mission and different responsibilities. As for worship, I just worship who the Father and/or His mouthpiece tell me to.


    Hence the reason for our emphasis on the word “organized” over “created,” right?

    Comment by Bret — September 19, 2007 @ 4:58 pm

  19. From my notes from a BYUI Education Week class taught by Joseph McConkie earlier this summer:

    In NT exchanges between the Father and the Son, the Son always refers to God as father.
    The divine sonship has been systematically taken from the Bible. Joseph Smith restores it.
    And my favorite, “We are not Baptists in temple garments. It’s not about any ‘relationship with Jesus’, it’s about being brought back to the presence of God the Father.”

    Comment by C Jones — September 19, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  20. I think lamonte hits on an important point: what do you mean by worship? If it means “pray to” then the answer for LDS is clear: we worship/pray to Heavenly Father (except when Jesus is present, then we can pray to him–a la 3 Nephi 19:18). But I don’t think that’s a good definition of worship. I prefer “worship = trust in.”

    Comment by BrianJ — September 19, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  21. What is worship? I don’t know. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Seth R. — September 19, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

  22. We should worship Christ, at least according to Nephi:

    2 Nephi 25:29

    29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

    Comment by kuri — September 19, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  23. C Jones, “It’s not about any ‘relationship with Jesus’”

    Care to clarify that? It seems hard to reconcile with “no other name by which you can be saved,” “become sons of Christ”—among numerous other verses.

    Comment by BrianJ — September 20, 2007 @ 6:16 am

  24. It’s just interesting that Joseph McConkie was very direct in saying that the Father is our object of our worship.

    In the New Testament, the Son defers to and gives all glory and honor to the Father without exception. Without diminishing the importance of the atonement, and while being supremely grateful for it, should we do anything other than what the Son did in reference to the Father?
    I think his crack about Baptist in garments whose religion is all about their relationship with Jesus just means that we should not let our gratitude for Christ and his atonement distract us from the ultimate object of our religion– to return to the presence of the Father.

    Comment by C Jones — September 20, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  25. In the 70s there was a “thing” going around the church about worshipping Christ and our “relationship” to Christ. There was either a talk or a specific letter that was given by Bruce R. McConkie that made it very clear that the object of our worship was God the Father and that we are not here to form a relationship with Christ. I’ll see if I can find the talk/letter, I saved it somewhere because the explaination was excellent.

    Comment by Don Clifton — September 20, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  26. What is the supposed distinction between having a relationship with Jesus and having a relationship with the Father? Are y’all implying that it is even possible for us to have a relationship with one and not the other?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 20, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  27. I don’t argue that Jesus always deferred to the Father. But could we also say the reverse? You know, the Father says, “This is my Beloved Son, hear him!” (not, “listen to me ’cause I’m the Father.) I’m not trying to stretch things, just to ask the question.

    I’m also thinking that there might be something to the way that each member of the godhead testifies of and defers to the other members.

    As for the McConkie talk, I’m interested to see how it deals with scriptures that I think pretty clearly point to Father AND Son worship.

    Comment by BrianJ — September 20, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  28. We worship whom we emulate, strive to become, etc.

    What is worship more than honoring (by attempting to become one with) the thing being worshiped?

    Comment by Daylan — September 20, 2007 @ 8:51 pm

  29. Here is the link to the McConkie talk against having a personal relationship with Jesus:


    Comment by Tim — September 21, 2007 @ 9:32 am

  30. Thanks for the link, Tim. But now I’m confused: was C Jones quoting (#19) Joseph McConkie or Bruce McConkie? Either way, I don’t think the talk Tim linked to (by Bruce McConkie) addresses my concern. (In fact, it only raises more questions.)

    Comment by BrianJ — September 21, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  31. The question of who we pray to is pretty well established. Other than that, I think the worship question has to be answered in the affirmative for both.

    The doctrinal reason is:

    “Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.” (D&C 20:28)

    Comment by Mark D. — September 21, 2007 @ 10:57 pm

  32. Seth, this is completely unrelated to this thread, but this being your most recent post, is my first attempt at getting some information I hope you will be so kind as to give me. In my next step, I google you.

    I followed a link on a comment you made on Millenial Star to get here. You refered to the quote by Neal Maxwell “if you do not choose the kingdom of Heaven first, it will ultimately make little difference what you chose instead” in a correction of someone misquoting and misusing his words. I have been looking for the exact quote and it’s source for a while. Would you be so kind as to tell me where he said it?

    And last but not least, I am so glad to have found this blog, it is, to say the least, a breath of fresh air.

    Comment by Elyse — October 2, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  33. When Christ comes to this Earth, I will fall down and worship at His feet. I will pour out my soul unto Him and give every scrap of love this pitiful being can muster. I will do so without hesitation, without thinking, without remembering who I might have decided to worship at an earlier time.

    I will be unable to do otherwise.


    Comment by Noah Vail — October 5, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

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