Defining Doctrine

In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.

These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.” 

See, defining “doctrine” as that which cannot change is problematic. In the first instance, that definition doesn’t tell us anything of value. That is, if “doctrine” is the stuff that doesn’t change, we can never know ex ante what is doctrinal. All this definition tells us is that, if something has changed, it wasn’t doctrinal, no matter how important we believed it was before the change. Ultimately, then, the doctrine-vs.-policy argument becomes a shorthand way of announcing whether we think the current practice can change or not. The word “doctrine” ultimately becomes superfluous.

Or maybe it’s worse than superfluous: I think it actually impedes discussion. The shorthand allows us to skip articulating our belief that something can or cannot change, and, perhaps worse, encourages us to elide why we believe something can or cannot change—it merely is or isn’t doctrine. It drops us into an impasse, talking past each other (and, often, becoming frustrated).

Ultimately, though, if “doctrine” really does mean unchangeable, then we’re stuck with the impasse. The good news: it doesn’t. I’ve been curious for some time about the providence of this idea of doctrinal immutability. So I thought I’d try to run it down. Here’s what I can come up with:

The (Non-Mormon) Meaning of “Doctrine”

Webster’s 1828 English Dictionary[fn1] defined “doctrine” as that which is taught, or as the truths of the gospel in general.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s[fn2] definition also focuses on teaching and instruction. It also includes truth-claims made in fields including religion, politics, and science.

Black’s Law Dictionary[fn3] defines “doctrine” as “A principle, esp. a legal principle, that is widely adhered to.”

None of the common definitions of “doctrine” I found demand immutability.[fn4] Instead, they focus on the idea of teaching.

But What About Mormon Thought Specifically?

Of course, there’s no reason that Mormons can’t have an idiosyncratic definition of “doctrine.” And, in our general rhetoric, it looks like we do. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism’s entry for “doctrine” explains that, in scripture, “doctrine” (singular) means the doctrine of Jesus Christ, whereas “doctrines” (plural) refers to false teachings, either from devils or others. The entry then goes on to assert that

the “doctrine of Jesus Christ” is the only teaching that can properly be called “doctrine.” It is fixed and unchanging. It cannot be modified or contradicted, but merely amplified as additional truths that deepen understanding and appreciation of its meaning are revealed.

The entry, however, gives no source for its assertion that doctrine cannot be modified or contradicted.[fn5]

Which isn’t to say it’s unsupportable in Mormon thought. In a 1984 talk to the Regional Representatives‘ Seminar, President Packer admitted that “[p]rocedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. We are quite free, indeed, quite obliged to alter them from time to time.” However, he claimed, “the principlesthe doctrinesnever change.”

The idea that doctrines do not change predates President Packer, though. Greg Prince, in his biography of President McKay, says that, to President McKay,

there was a distinct difference between a “policy” in the church, which he saw as conditional and thus changeable, and a “doctrine,” which was immutable.[fn6]

From where did President McKay derive this difference? I don’t know; Prince claims the difference was lost on many of his colleagues, so it may have been original to him. On the other hand, he may have learned it from someone else. Either way, though, the Mormon idea that doctrine doesn’t change, while non-doctrinal peripherals may, goes back at least to the first half of the 20th century.

The Scriptures

As the Encyclopedia of Mormonism says, “doctrine” in the scriptures generally corresponds to “teachings.” Strong’s Concordance says that  Hebrew word translated as “doctrine” in the Old Testament (Strong’s number H3948) appears 9 times, and means learningteaching, and insight. It’s translated four times as “doctrine,” four times as “learnings,” and once as “speech.”

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “doctrine” (Strong’s number G1322) shows up 30 times, 29 as “doctrine” and once as “has been taught.” Again, the word means “teaching.”

We get something similar in the Book of Mormon. According to Reynolds’s Book of Mormon Concordance, “my doctrine” shows up nine times, eight of which are in 3 Ne. 11, and all of which could easily mean “my teachings.” “Doctrine” shows up another nine times, frequently within a couple words of words like learn and teacher, which again suggests the idea of doctrine as teachings. “Doctrines” shows up four times, and are always false, and once also vain and foolish.

Doctrine of Christ” shows up an additional seven times. It’s frequently associated with teaching or preaching (though twice it’s essentially put in the mouths of people who erroneously call it false or foolish).

So What?

N.b.: This post isn’t about women and the priesthood. It’s not about marriage. Or the Church’s stand on immigration or MX missiles or the Equal Rights Amendment. Instead, it’s focused on definitions and usage. If you really want to talk about the merits of any Church practice, there are plenty of places on the internet to do so. Here’s not the place.

That said, the underlying definitional issue is relevant to all those things, and more.

To take the Ordain Women example: I assume that most people who are uncomfortable with the aims of OW would concede that it is at least within the realm of possibility that God could announce, through His prophet, that women, too, can hold the priesthood. Conversely, I assume that most supporters would concede that it is at least possible that a male-only priesthood is God’s will and will not change.

But ex ante, we do not know which will happen. Which means that our traditional doctrine v. policy distinction (that is, immutable v. changeable), adds no value to our discussion. But it makes discussion between the two poles (and any number of points in between) tremendously charged and difficult.

Perhaps, then, we should step back from the precipice of doctrine vs. policy. Instead, we could embrace the dictionary (and scriptural) definition of doctrine. And when we want to talk about immutability, we can expressly talk about it, rather than code arguing about doctrines and policies.

[fn1] Why Webster’s 1828 dictionary? Primarily because it reflects the English being spoken in Joseph Smith’s time. Though there’s no guarantee, it’s fairly likely that when he translated something in the Book of Mormon as “doctrine,” and when he used the word in, e.g., the Doctrine and Covenants, he meant something like the definition in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.

[fn2] Sorry, no link. The OED online is a subscription database.

[fn3] Also from a subscription database. Sorry. Though, as some consolation, perhaps, I learned that there is an insurance law concept called the damn-fool doctrine:

The principle that an insurer may deny (esp. liability) coverage when an insured engages in behavior that is so ill-conceived that the insurer should not be compelled to bear the loss resulting from the insured’s actions.

That, I thought, was pretty cool.

[fn4] And you’re welcome to try dictionary.com’s definition, too, if you think I’m cherry-picking.

[fn5] It does, though, go on to say that, in Mormon vernacular, “doctrine” means, essentially, “virtually everything that is, or has been, taught or believed by the Latter-day Saints.” This vernacular usage corresponds pretty closely to the dictionary definitions of “doctrine,” though not to our current doctrine vs. policy definition.

[fn6] Gregory A. Prince & Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism 75 (2005).

Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Good work.

    The term that baffles me is when somebody claims to know some “deep doctrine”.

  2. rameumptom says:

    It would be useful if we added adjectives to the term “doctrine”, and sometimes the Church does. In the LDS Newsroom’s article “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” they distinguish between doctrine and “core doctrines”, as well as one-off statements from leaders.

    I think there are some core doctrines that will not change: God is our Father, Jesus is the Christ, keep the commandments, temples and ordinances, etc. However, once you get beyond those basic statements, the door opens to a variety of interpretations. We believe in the atonement of Christ, but HOW the atonement works is open for discussion, as different GAs and LDS scholars consider various theories.

    We do not have a specific theology. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, as good as it is, is already outdated, and is filled with a lot of opinions. The Catholics, Baptists and others have a clear cut theology that specifies most of their beliefs. They also do not have continuing revelation as LDS do, which can turn a doctrine/teaching on its head in an instant. For our religion, this is both a strength and a struggle. It can mean that something that has long been considered inviolate is suddenly different. And it may be that seeing doctrine as unchangeable must be placed in that context: it is unchangeable until God changes it.

    It is correct doctrine or the doctrine to abide by until the Lord gives us something additional.

  3. Hedgehog says:

    I have noted a confusing of principle in the sense of gospel principles such as faith & repentance, which are also doctrinal, with general workaday principles, such as used in E. Ballard’s recent talk, where he says “I’m a great believer in the principle of follow-up”. Of course all three things are principles of practice. But I’d be hard-pressed to see “follow-up” as doctrine, even taking immutability out of things. Though of course I wouldn’t deny that missionary work (the context of E. Ballard’s statement) is doctrinal. I might be splitting hairs here, but…

  4. Craig H. says:

    Nice ideas Sam. Maybe a better word for what Mormons mean by “doctrine” would be the Catholic favorite “dogma,” which has more the connotation of something not changing and of being easily distinguishable from mere policy/culture. But of course both words turn out to be problematic, for reasons you note, and also because the more centuries of religious history you study the more change you see to unchangeable things, and the more complicated it gets to separate things out.

  5. A microcosm of this problem is found in the definition of the word “doctrine” itself. The term has been redefined throughout our history. The church’s current definition is that doctrine “resides” in the canonized standard works and the FP/Q12 establishes church doctrine consistent with their collective understanding of the standard works. (see newsroom statement “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” and Elder Christofferson address “The Doctrine of Christ.”)

    For me, it is clear that labeling a teaching as “doctrine” does not keep the teaching from changing. In 1949 the FP declared that the teachings of the curse of cain and pre-existence fence-sitting were revealed doctrine. Today, the church disavows those teachings. Doctrine changes. QED. This doesn’t mean that labeling something “doctrine” is immaterial. Effectively, the label just means that the teaching is more entrenched and will take longer to change than other teachings we label as “policy” or “non-core doctrine” or whatever else.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    I’ve argued that “doctrine” has become analytically useless as a term.

  7. Thanks, everyone. I don’t know how we would ditch the usage of “doctrine,” given that it has no analytical value (and little rhetorical value), but it really doesn’t do much good, and we’d be better off without it.

  8. Peter LLC says:

    “It would be useful if we added adjectives to the term ‘doctrine’, and sometimes the Church does. In the LDS Newsroom’s article “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” they distinguish between doctrine and ‘core doctrines'”

    How would a core vs. periphery distinction be any clearer than a policy vs. doctrine one?

  9. Very interesting post. I do agree that, in large part, the doctrine v. policy discussion is unproductive. But how to change the discourse? We need a snappy word that can replace “doctrine.” I like “principle” but that’s somewhat benign and doesn’t quite do the trick.

  10. marginalizedmormon says:

    I appreciate this topic being brought up, but I don’t think there is an ‘answer’. The only real ‘doctrine’ I know is this:

    31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

    32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

    33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

  11. It seems to me that, if the LDS church wishes to believe in continuing revelation, it should also have a healthy dose of humility. If they believe that God will yet reveal many new truths, then they cannot be completely certain that what they teach is true. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  12. Angela C says:

    The word “doctrine” really just means teachings, but in Mormonism it has this untouchable quality to it, like it’s straight from God. Maybe if we acknowledged that it’s just our current teachings and that teachings are subject to further light and knowledge . . .

  13. One approach to improving the clarity of the usage of the term “doctrine” is to follow President Packer’s lead (in the quote above) and to use doctrine more like we do principle: a teaching that is more general rather than a teaching that is more specific. (Or to stop using the term “doctrine” for something that is unchanging and use the word principle instead) I think this is better since principles, by virtue of being more general, are less likely to change.

    So the usage would be general principles (doctrines) vs. specific applications (policies). And if something is put forth as an unchanging doctrine, the question would be, is it general enough that it could be described as a principle that could be applied in multiple specific situations through time and culture or does it seem like it is specific to a particular situation, time or culture in which case it is more susceptible to change.

    This is obviously not a bright line, but it think whether something is general or specific is a better guide as to whether it will change than whether it is important (core) or un-important.

  14. Aaron B says:

    Good stuff, Sam. I tend to eschew the word “doctrine” altogether when I teach, to avoid all the baggage the term tends to have. I just say “teaching”.

    I discussed an aspect of this subject on the blog once. In retrospect, I wish I could rewrite some of it for clarity, but it hits on some of what you’ve said here.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/04/11/having-our-doctrinal-cake-and-eating-it-too/

  15. So long as I remain Mormon–which I assume will be the rest of my mortal existence–I will insist that there is only one teaching in the church for which the English word “doctrine” fits our idiosyncratic use of the term, and that’s 3 Nephi 11:31-40. Jesus came in the name of the Father, we are to believe in Him as our savior, we are to repent, we are to be baptized in His name, we are to receive the Holy Ghost and be saved in the Kingdom of God. That’s it. That is, of course, Christianity; it’s the Apostles Creed, it’s John 3:16, it’s the whole point of meeting together and taking the sacrament and saying prayers. If we are going to go along with the Mormon use of doctrine as something which is unchangeable, then this is the only thing that qualifies. Compared to it, everything else–temple rituals, priesthood offices, tithing, missionary work, ecclesiastical structures, everything–is, well, “policy.” Because they can change, whereas the aforementioned can’t.

  16. unendowed says:

    Mark Brown, whenever I hear the phrase “deep doctrine,” my brain jumps immediately to Divine Comedy’s sketch “Every Sunday School lesson ever.”

    “Deep doctrine. Deep, deep doctrine. Deep, false doctrine.”

  17. I would agree with the core idea of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article (though not with its entire approach) that the only real “doctrine” we have is the Doctrine of Christ (as quoted above by marginalizedmormon and also as found in Christ’s “definition” of the Gospel in 3 Nephi 27). Aside from that, given that we purposefully have no systematic theology, we also have no doctrine. Only teachings.

    We purposefully reject any semblance of a systematic theology because such a thing is observed (or discovered) and then outlined (or analyzed) — that is, created — by scholars or rather intellectuals. Culturally, we don’t honor this kind of work from Mormon intellectuals because we sustain Church leaders as being capable of receiving directing guidance from God through revelation, when it is His will to speak on a given matter, or through inspiration at other times. So what use is a Gospel scholar or a Mormon intellectual? If you have a question about Church teachings, you can ask your bishop or stake president. Scholars or intellectuals have no place in the process and, as we all know, are in fact viewed with hostility. Anti-intellectualism is a cultural mainstay. Though it does not necessarily follow from the principle of sustaining Church leaders that we must also reject scholars, intellectuals, and the exercise of theology, that is the approach that has long dominated Mormon discourse.

  18. Just to add to the reading material, Nate Oman’s article from several years ago is very good:

    http://nboman.people.wm.edu/What%20is%20CD%20–%20Element.pdf

  19. Lew Scannon says:

    Anyone who argues that LDS “doctrine” is immutable and has never changed has not read Charles Harrell’s book “This Is My Doctrine.” He chronicles all sorts of doctrinal development that has happened since 1830, some of it rather extreme. All you have to do is look at the Book of Mormon carefully, which is pretty much a Protestant document in terms of its “doctrine.” It bears little resemblance to what Mormons now believe on topics ranging from the Godhead to what happens in the hereafter. Celestial kingdom? Temple ordinances? Priesthood? Spirit birth? Deacons? Genealogy? The First Presidency? Succession by seniority? Girls camp? You won’t find any of this in the Book of Mormon.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I think sometimes an idea or practice is categorized as doctrine in a (perhaps cynical) attempt to prevent that idea or practice from being changed. If, for example, one doesn’t want womee to be ordained to the priesthood, then calling a male-only priesthood a doctrine of the church (withe the implication of such not being subject to change as you mention) puts a lot of stress on efforts to change that state of affairs.

    It also makes things difficult after the fact when such and so has already changed, as in polygamy or blacks and the priesthood. It forces us to do our best Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Neeever miiiind…”

  21. It seems that we’ve redefined a bunch of words for our own purposes as a people; “doctrine” would seem to be one of them. (This post has given me a slight headache as I try to sort through the ramifications.) “Apostasy” is clearly another, as recent events have shown, and we rarely if ever use the term “heresy,” one I heard all the time on my mission in a Catholic country.

    I especially like the notion that “doctrine” (such as it is) is not necessarily unchanging, although we do have a sort of half-baked working definition that might not satisfy a Jesuit but seems to serve us pretty well most of the time. Thus, we frequently hear that the Church renounced the practice of polygamy, but not the doctrine. However, that’s much more problematic when applied to the PH Ban (for example), and the Church is reduced to trying to say that it was never “doctrine.” We said it was at the time; apparently we were mistaken.

    Joseph neatly made hash of all of the angels dancing on all of the pinheads when he said, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill'; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”

    That seems to do nothing to help nail down a practical definition of “doctrine” that isn’t a folk definition, has some analytical value, and isn’t purely a weapon to be used against those with whom the powers-that-be (whether they be Sunday School teachers, EQ presidents, bishops, or whatever) disagree.

  22. In LDS vernacular doctrine is synonymous with scripture. It simply means scriptural. And scriptural means it’s based on revelation, it’s inspired. Doctrine is to be confined only to revelations.

  23. Excellent thoughts, Sam. I try to avoid using the word “doctrine” specifically to avoid connotations of immutability. I think the need to use qualifiers like “eternal” doctrine proves what you have said – that “doctrine” merely means “what is taught” at any particular time.

    I figure if circumcision can be replaced by baptism as the sign of a covenant people, almost everything else is subject to change. Seriously, going from cutting off a part of one’s body to a symbolic bath makes almost any change imaginable. What’s left as immutable? Perhaps nothing more than what I see as generalized principles / actions:

    Belief in the unseen but hoped; attempted, life-long change; a symbolic renewal; striving to follow one’s best understanding of the will of God; endurance – all on a foundation of charity

  24. What is doctrine? Now that is interesting. Confused about it? You can’t make sense out of the muddle myriad of opinions of commenters? Ask a general authority. But if you want an even murkier view read what is said at Fairlds: http://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/What_is_Mormon_Doctrine.pdf

  25. I think it’s interesting how lds.org has menus for “scripture,” “teachings” (General Conference and stuff) and “resources” (magazines, manuals), but no “doctrine.”

  26. And worth noting there is a difference between revelation and interpretations of revelation. It’s a matter of authority. For example church manuals and conference talks, these are not doctrine, because they are interpretations of doctrine, not the actual source of said doctrine. A revelation on the other hand comes from God. And a person can receive a revelation without even knowing what it means. Did Joseph Smith understand all the spiritual lessons in the BOM? Or did he simply receive the text? The text is the doctrine, not our interpretation of it.

  27. Best writeup on subject I’ve seen is this.

    http://www.staylds.com/docs/WhatIsOfficialMormonDoctrine.html

  28. marginalizedmormon says:

    @john f.–

    thank you for noticing me (:)), and I think you have some very pertinent things to say in your second paragraph. Things that need to be said–

    words that need to stay on a page and be seen.

  29. “Anti-intellectualism is a cultural mainstay.” Balderdash. That is like saying Mormons do not believe science.

  30. Ashton’s Mormon Doctrine What’s Official, And What Isn’t? is one of the best pieces I have read on the subject. http://www.staylds.com/docs/WhatIsOfficialMormonDoctrine.html

  31. jlf9999 says:

    It is about 1520 MDT and I just read that Kathryn Kelly was ex’d yesterday. It is not surprising. While I disagree with her I still get an empty feeling in my stomach. She knew what was going to happen yet she kept at it. I wonder if she will ever come back.

  32. Christopher S says:

    I am surprised by how little value people seem to find in the word “doctrine.” I understand the problems it introduces, but I think it has a lot of value, and I don’t think jettisoning it would resolve any of the problems that accompany it. If anything, I think it’s the word “policy” that we need to take a deeper look at in this debate of doctrine vs policy. I’m also worried by how easily we seem to be approaching the idea of unchanging/unchangeable teachings.

    I’ve found the following to be a useful framework for approaching this:

    1) Truth: Unchanging and Unchangeable. I strongly agree with Russell Fox that just about the only thing we should feel comfortable categorically including in this is 3 Nephi 11:31-40. Truth, as a category, is obviously bigger than that (much bigger), but including anything beyond it here seems like a recipe for trouble.

    2) Doctrine: The cumulative, collective study and struggle of God’s prophets to communicate “Truth” through revelation. I think this category is best defined as anything we believe would require a revelation to change.

    3) Policy: The best efforts of Church leaders at understanding “Doctrine” and the institutions, requirements, rituals and teachings implemented by those leaders to spread understanding and adoption of Doctrine. Change to this category should be approached cautiously and with humility (I use the term “best efforts” in the strongest possible sense; “inspired efforts” would probably be a good way to phrase it), but should not be unexpected.

    4) Practice: Most everything else. Regular change, while not done willy-nilly, should be expected.

    5) Green Jell-O: I think this is self-explanatory. For example, allowing only men to offer the opening prayer of a church meeting. Things of cultural value should be cherished, but recognized for what they are. Everything else can/should be jettisoned at will.

    Viewed through this lens, I think the word “policy” does a very poor job of capturing the idea of #3. The word “policy” seems to capture only behavior. I think we need a word that captures both behavior and ideas. For example, I would categorize the Church’s statement that the people of the Book of Mormon “are among the ancestors of the American Indians” to be part of #3, but calling that statement a policy seems like a poor use of the word. (In fact, it sounds almost creepy).

    I think there’s a lot of value to be gained by maintaining a distinction between doctrine and policy. I think there’s even more to be gained by maintaining a distinction between truth and doctrine and policy. I know this framework has issues (defining exactly what constitutes a “revelation” that is capable of changing doctrine, for example), but I think it does a good job of retaining our ability to receive further light and knowledge, while maintaining rigidity where needed.

    In my interactions with other members, I think this also comes pretty close to capturing the way we already think about these issues as a people. Getting people to see the distinction between #3 and #4, and #4 and #5 will always be a struggle, but I think we’d gain a lot by trying to keep distinctions between #1, #2 and #3.

  33. I agree with others here that the word “doctrine” has no consistent meaning among Latter-day Saints. I’m fine with that. The problem with over-emphasis on doctrine, though, is that is can easily lead to legalism. One member can beat another member over the head, so to speak, with his or her notion of doctrine. So I prefer the definition of doctrine to be kept as small as possible. Even honest and sincere true can be legalistic. We are instructed to avoid doctrinal disputations but are invited to be gracious to one another. Romans 14:1: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. So much of what we enjoy as Latter-day Saints is our practice, and I’m okay with our practice. Practice can be honorable in its own right; it doesn’t have to be turned into doctrine to be honorable.

    I wish that EVERY article in EVERY church lesson manual had the author’s name. I would rather see a name than anonymity in the name of the church.

  34. I don’t have a good definition of doctrine. For myself I have a fairly tight view of it–things like Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, the savior.

    I like the difference between doctrine and practice. Girl’s camp, no matter how much work and fluff put into it, is not doctrine.

    It is helpful to have the real stuff separated from the stuff we tend to do now and separated from the cultural stuff. It’s hard to separate it, but important.

  35. wondering says:

    @Andrew says: “In LDS vernacular doctrine is synonymous with scripture. ”

    Strongly disagree. The LDS standard works have been mostly in place since the mid 1830s. But you can hardly find a teaching or practice that has not undergone significant change since then.

  36. I echo Lew Scannon’s endorsement of Professor Harrell’s book, “This is My Doctrine.” The author demonstrates that not only have our doctrines changed and continue to change with some frequency but they have changed throughout all of recorded religious history. The Old Testament chronicles the evolution of the doctrines taught and believed by the Israelites. And Pauline Christianity differs in numerous respects from what is recorded in the Four Gospels.

    Claims that doctrines are eternal and never change are patently false. Such assertions are often uttered in conjunction with two other fallacies: scriptural inerrancy and prophetic infallibility. Perhaps there are doctrines that are eternal and that do not change. But our limited human understanding has not, in my opinion, reached the point where we can perfectly articulate even a single doctrine of our Heavenly Father. Also, to take a different tack, who says God can’t change his own doctrines to fit the needs, circumstances and limitations of his children at a given point in time? I, for one, am loathe to say that He can’t do that.

  37. Doctrine may be solidly defined as the collection of Principles as being taught by Jesus Christ himself yesterday, today and in the future. I view the use of the word in general such as “Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ” as referring to the best efforts of mankind to represent and to teach those Principles in as perfect a manner as is possible. Such an effort to teach the Doctrines of Jesus Christ perfectly without altering them is only possible if there is personal revelation from God during the teaching moment to use the proper language to represent the Principle in the given context. This may have the appearance of a constantly changing opinion that is not understood. Is it not demonstrated in the New Testament how the Sadducees and Pharisees consistently misunderstood Jesus?, and yet the Principles Jesus taught were consistent and unchanging everywhere He went. (Can we start this blog anew and discuss the meaning of the word Principle and the aspects of immutability surrounding it?)

  38. Hedgehog says:

    “Can we start this blog anew and discuss the meaning of the word Principle and the aspects of immutability surrounding it?”
    Has my vote (as per my much earlier comment – Principle v. principle).

  39. Lisa M. says:

    I think it is also important to note that we follow current LDS doctrine, found on LDS.org and in Church manuals. This includes the published General Conference messages that contain doctrine, pure and clear, from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. We do not follow future doctrine or “hopeful doctrine” or speculative space doctrines. We follow what is, not what isn’t. These days, we should not have to wonder what doctrine is or isn’t. We’ve got all the resources on LDS.org. No need to ask about hokey ideas on internet forums.

    According to the Church Handbook of Instructions (a great resource), it says:

    Purity of Doctrine

    The doctrines of the Church are found in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles. The Lord instructed, “The elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 42:12; see also D&C 52:9, 36).

    All leaders should ensure that true doctrine is taught in the Church. If a person teaches false or speculative doctrine, leaders should correct it promptly and sensitively. Errors can usually be corrected in private, but major or repeated errors may require public correction.

    If local leaders are unsure what doctrines or teachings are correct on a given subject, they may seek guidance from their immediate presiding authority.

    https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/uniformity-and-adaptation?lang=eng&query=doctrine

  40. Nameless says:

    Lisa ^. I am glad you brought this up. I have been watching Kate Kelly’s journey from the sidelines…not sure what to think. One thing I can not seem to resolve is what exactly is the doctrine of women and the priesthood. What scriptures or revelation is it based upon? I did a search on LDS.org and did not specifically come up with who was to be ordained to what priesthood. Lots of info on how to use the priesthood but not so much on the who. Thanks for any insight or help you can provide.

  41. In my opinion, and considerable experience, not only do we Mormons have very little “official” doctrine, but regardless of whether we term it principle, policy or doctrine, the meaning of said doctrine is still quite debatable. The origins, translations, and provenance of all scripture can be questioned as can the true meaning of the words in them.

    For example: As an earlier comment quoted ” repent and believe in me….And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Is there a specific, universally (even within the church) accepted definition of “repent,” “believe,” “saved,” or “inherit the kingdom of God?” Or, can we possibly agree that these scriptural phrases are “doctrine” (immutable) and yet not agree on their meaning?

    I find nearly all scripture (especially the KJB) to be vague and ambiguous–though often stirring or poetic. Is this the “narrow prison of words” Joseph Smith referred to? Ergo, “doctrine” is only what the Holy Ghost communicates to our spirits–if such reception can be trusted.

    Or, is this straining at gnats…argument for the sake of arguing?

  42. “rabid rabbit.” You might want to read my comment again. You are reading way too much between the lines. Regardless of my difference of opinion about interpretations of scripture, or doubts or disagreements in the accuracy (or truth, for that matter) of what the church teaches, leaving is not in my plans. There still is a baby in the dirty bath water.

    My comment regarding the Church having little by way of “official” doctrine refers to our leaders repeatedly (both recently and many times during the past 150+ years) disavowing a great deal of what they previously taught us (as prophets and seers) via their books, their conference talks, and their official curriculum materials. They simply say it was never “doctrine”–though when actively being taught it was heresy/apostacy for one of us simple folk to say that. We no longer are taught that homosexuals are an abomination, women (and sex) are solely for “multiplying and replenishing the earth, no consideration should delay married couples having babies, blacks were less valiant, Adam is God, men should have multiple wives, the Creation was accomplished solely by God and took place in 6 days, Adam was made from “dust” and Eve from his rib, and, all men are descendants of Adam and Eve. [That last one has not formally been revised, but give it time.] There are many more teachings such as these that were once widely understood to be doctrine.

    The more I consider it, my comment is largely a reaction to the nearly useless discussion of what is doctrine and what is policy or practice. The problem in that regard is that our leaders almost never make such a distinction though they spend a great deal of time preaching and teaching us “the gospel.” I believe this is a conscious decision. Thus are they able to disavow what they or others taught that is no longer culturally en vogue.

    If it is important whether or not what they teach is immutable (doctrine), then THEY (the “prophets, seers, and revelators”) have a responsibility to make it abundantly clear when they are not teaching doctrine–which by implication of immutability is more important than policy and practice–as in “carried to and fro by every wind of doctrine.”

    Regardless of how much I respect their sincere service, I have every right to disagree with what they do and teach–within the bounds of not “leading away the weak into sin and disbelief.” I am not a mindless love it or leave it kind of guy.

  43. Okay. This is going to be a long comment. For those who want a simple, concrete answer, please read in its entirety. This really isn’t that complicated, folks. I don’t say that in a spirit of pride, but in a spirit of sadness. There is a lot of confusion in the Church today with everything going on, I have felt as Nephi must have felt when speaking with his brothers. He gave this warning to us after teaching the Doctrine of Christ.

    “I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark” (2 Nephi 32:4). I see all of the controversy lately not as open rebellion on the part of those found in transgression, and not as a lack of light from the heavens to God’s servants. It is merely a matter of ignorance and a lack of education in the ways of the Lord. Really, understanding Doctrine. We have complicated it to the point that we have lost the way. We are “looking beyond the mark,” as Jacob said.

    So let’s set the record straight.

    There are 3 things we need to be aware of: Doctrine, Principles, and Applications. Policies fall under Applications. We must understand how to differentiate between these in order to understand how to obtain salvation and life pragmatically.

    Elder Bednar defined doctrine this way:

    “A Doctrine is a truth revealed from our Father in Heaven that pertains to our eternal progression. Doctrine is simple, doctrine is foundational, and doctrine is fundamental.”

    Doctrines, or “core doctrines” as some define them, are the teachings in the Church that you cannot be saved without knowing. By that I mean, they are eternal truths that, unless known, would create gaps in your understanding that would prevent you from exercising your agency in righteousness (with love, hope, trust, faith, patience, etc).

    Joseph Smith, in the Lectures on Faith (The Bible Dictionary Definition of “Faith” contains an excellent summary) explained this concept (summarized by the bible dictionary):

    “Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true (Heb. 11:1; Alma 32:21), and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation. To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone. The Lord has revealed Himself and His perfect character, possessing in their fulness all the attributes of love, knowledge, justice, mercy, unchangeableness, power, and every other needful thing, so as to enable the mind of man to place confidence in Him without reservation.”

    Why does God reveal himself and those attributes about himself? Because, says the Prophet Joseph:

    “If he [man] did not, in the first instance, believe him to be God, that is, the Creator and upholder of all things, he could not center his faith in him for life and salvation, for fear there should be greater than he who would thwart all his plans, and he, like the gods of the heathen, would be unable to fulfill his promises; but seeing he is God over all, from everlasting to everlasting, the Creator and upholder of all things, no such fear can exist in the minds of those who put their trust to him, so that in this respect their faith can be without wavering.”

    I recommend reading all of “Lecture Third” in Lectures on Faith. To summarize, The Prophet explains the following:

    Without knowing God is love, we wouldn’t trust his judgments and we would rebel.
    Without knowing he is just, we would sin freely hoping to get away with it.
    Without knowing he is merciful, we wouldn’t go to him for healing or forgiveness.
    Without knowing he is all knowing, we wouldn’t go to him for revelation.
    Without knowing that he is no respecter of persons, “they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion.”

    etc, etc.

    Really, Boyd K. Packer summed it up best when he said this in Preach My Gospel: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”

    It’s really that simple. Here is the Church doctrine that we complicate so much, and that many, as of late, have been losing their crap over.

    God is all loving, all powerful, all knowing, unchanging in his attributes, no respecter of persons with regards to salvation (see Joseph Smith’s parable of the praying men here: https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-smith/chapter-35?lang=eng), and is a god of truth and cannot lie.

    Jesus Christ is his Son. He is the prototype of the perfect human being. He has shown us the example of what we are and who we are to be in order to obtain supreme happiness. Faith must be centered in him, because he is the only thing that does not fail. When we sin and fall short, he heals us. When our own bodies fail and we die, he resurrects us. This is because of his Sacrifice.

    Jesus Christ has taught us his Doctrine, which, quite simply, is this: by using our agency to begin the path of following the principles of positive action and self reformation, making sacred covenants, being cleansed by the Spirit and enjoying the gifts thereof, and developing consistency to the point of keeping our covenants perfectly, we may have joy in this life and be exalted in the world to come.

    Because God loves us, he appears to men we call prophets, reveals his attributes, the Doctrine of Christ, and Christ himself, and elects them legal representatives – his voice on earth – to teach us these things.

    Because God loves us, he will mercifully confirm or deny the calling of said individuals through personal revelation. Conversely, he will justly condemn those who fail to ask due to pride or rebel against those representatives after receiving said witness.

    Principles are patterns of behavior that direct the individual use of agency. Doctrine is fact – the why – and principles are the “therefore what?”

    Here is an example:

    God loves us, so he gave us bodies. He knows everything, so he created a perfect plan that would help us to know everything. Part of that plan includes the wonderful gift of bodies.

    That’s all fine and dandy. So what?

    THEREFORE

    “I give unto you a Word of Wisdom.”

    The doctrine and principle has always been the same. Bodies are sacred gifts from a loving god (Doctrine). THEREFORE, do not put things into those bodies that would 1) Cause undue physical harm or 2) Interfere with it in such a way that agency is restricted and the Holy Ghost is lost.

    Now we move on to applications. Applications are the how. How do we do such and such a thing? Are we to do it all the same way, or are we allowed to do it differently? If we are to do things differently, how specifically do I do it?

    An application is, as the name implies, an application of a doctrinally based principle to a specific group of people in a specific time frame. These are relative truths. The absolute truths do not change, but the way they are applied change.

    For example, Adam and Eve were given bodies, taught the doctrine, etc. They were also given the principle of the Word of Wisdom. Harold B. Lee said that the first commandment ever broken was the Word of Wisdom (see his Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manual). They were told not to put something into their body, or they would die (physical harm) and be cast out (become distanced from light and truth). They broke the word of wisdom and were cast out.

    Later, people lived in a fallen world, without forbidden fruit and trees of life lying around. But there were fallen things that could harm them, such as disease from food and drink. Thus God applied the principles, based on doctrine, and prescribed specific health codes in the Law of Moses to help people to live.

    In our day, the health code has changed yet again. In Nephite times, in the time of Christ, and really in the history of ever, alcohol in moderation was accepted. The commandment was to “cease drunkenness.” Now, the commandment is, no alcohol at all because of the “hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” God has applied the principle for us. Indeed, for us it is different now than it was 150 years ago. For us, it is a commandment, whereas for the early saints, it was merely a principle – something to be warmed up to due to an entirely fresh body of believers already making radical changes in mind, body, and soul.

    Principles are always beneficial when followed and harmful when ignored. Alcohol under the Word of Wisdom is still alcohol without the Word of Wisdom in force. It can save you from dehydration if there is no water around, but it can also damage your brain and cause dependency, depending on how you apply the principle. Applications are important though. They may change, but when God or his servants apply them, they become commandments for our generation and we are obligated to follow them, lest we perish due to some information we may not know.

    There are certain applications which are left up to us. That’s where God gives us the responsibility. Continuing with the Word of Wisdom example: The Thou Shalt Nots in the Word of Wisdom are a standard for everyone. You either get high or you don’t. You either drink or you don’t. You either smoke or you don’t. It’s cut and dry.

    But there are principles in there as well as explicit applications. Eat meat sparingly. How much is too much? Quite frankly, God doesn’t care. It’s up to the individual to use his agency, to pray, and to adapt the principle according to his relative circumstances. Just don’t make yourself sick, have it become addicting, or drive away the Spirit.

    Retire to thy bed early, and arise early. How early? God doesn’t care. It’s up to you based on your needs – what keeps you healthy, what brings you clarity of mind, what makes you receptive to the Spirit.

    What does all of this have to do with what’s going on in the Church today?

    The Doctrine is that God appears, calls men, and gives them authority by the laying on of hands (his own or those of his messengers) to perform ordinances, teach the gospel, judge, prophesy, help, lift, etc.

    The principle is that “no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”

    The application is that God restricts or extends priesthood based on righteousness, time, circumstance, geography, efficiency, previous covenants made with past generations, etc. But it always comes through either him personally, or by his earthly servants when his Church is on the earth. Always.

    The questions people need to ask then are doctrinal: does God really appear to men and give them authority? Has god or an angel appeared to me, placed their hands upon my head, and ordained me? No? Okay. Who has he done that to, if anyone? Is it the modern Church today? Yes? If so, I will follow then. No? If so, I’m gonna get the heck out of a corrupt institution that is lying to me and pretending to have God’s authority.

    Another Doctrine: God is no respecter of persons with regards to salvation. In order to obtain salvation, all people must make and keep promises or covenants of some kind or the other.

    Principle: Certain covenants are given for specific purposes. If you abide by the terms, you are blessed. If you don’t, you are damned. If you are not asked to make said covenant, you are not accountable.

    Application: Men are given the priesthood covenant (because God has applied it that way from Adam up until this point as far as we know from scripture and current revelation). Women are not (there may be exceptions, but the scriptures are silent concerning the matter).

    Therefore, Men are required to hold it and magnify it. If they do? Exaltation. If they don’t? Damnation. Women are not required to hold it. If they don’t magnify the priesthood, what happens? Absolutely nothing. It is not their responsibility. If they do magnify it, what happens? Nothing. It is not their responsibility.

    However, if they magnify their own responsibilities in their sphere, they are promised every blessing of exaltation that a man can enjoy. If they do not, they are subject to the same punishments that men are liable to experience for failing to keep a covenant.

    The doctrine and principles have not changed and do not change. It is the application of said principles that can change. Can God give his power to Women? He can do whatever he wants, and he will do it through the servants he has called, or do it himself. Has he? As far as I can tell, he has done neither. So I will do the things he has asked me to do, and do them well, and live the principles that help me to learn the doctrines of truth, love, mercy, justice, and unchangeableness.

    Hopefully something I have said has clarified things for someone. I recognize that while this all makes sense to me, it may not make sense to everyone. I do not speak this by way of pride or condemnation to anyone. Just trying to extend knowledge to those who may misunderstand and may be doubting because of that misunderstanding. I promise you that true doctrine, understood, will change your attitude and behavior.

  44. fbisti, you said:

    “Regardless of how much I respect their sincere service, I have every right to disagree with what they do and teach–within the bounds of not ‘leading away the weak into sin and disbelief.’ I am not a mindless love it or leave it kind of guy.”

    You are absolutely correct on this point. You have every right to do so. So agreed for sure. Thank you for using your intellect and for reasoning and trying to understand truth for yourself. Questions like your are how I came to have a testimony of the Gospel. But that’s a story for another time.

    However, for the sake of clarity, I’d like to correct some of the examples you used and hopefully clear up some of the “dirty bathwater” you mentioned. I do this to try to help, not condemn. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for the answers to the same questions that you have, and I want to share them with you. I can’t express love very well through a keyboard and the internet, so just know that if we were having this conversation over dinner, it would be heartfelt, enjoyable, and I’d probably pay for the meal. =) capiche? Alright, here we go. Feel free to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I’m an average member with no keys to direct anyone’s opinion. As with everything, criticize it, examine it, dissect it, fact check it, compare it with the standard works, and ultimately ask God. The following thoughts are mine, and what I have come to understand. =)

    “We no longer are taught that homosexuals are an abomination.” True, but we are still taught that homosexual behavior is an abomination, as is adultery, fornication, and any kind of uncleanness. The doctrine also holds that, according to D&C 76:103, “they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” will inherit the Telestial Kingdom after suffering in the Spirit World. Adultery in the scriptures is often used to generalize both adultery as we term it today, and fornication (any sex act outside of the bonds of marriage). Christ, the Law of Moses, Paul, and modern prophets and apostles have made it pretty clear what all of those unlawful sex acts are.

    I seriously don’t know why we focus so much on homosexuality. My struggles with pornography addiction were deeply engrained in my system and were hard to change. Indeed, it was a part of my sexuality, which is a part of me, and that’s what made it so difficult. But that addiction, if I give into it and refuse to repent of it, will send me to hell and an eventual redemption in the Telestial Kingdom just as much as a homosexual relationship, or an adulterous relationship, or pleasure from habitual lying.

    We can take comfort in this fact, however. Richard G. Scott taught, “God treats weaknesses differently than he does rebellion.” Those who have an aversion to homosexuality are no worse than those with an aversion to pornography, and those with an aversion to pornography are no worse than those who struggle with alcoholism, or any other sin for that matter. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. It’s what we do with our sins, whether we choose to let them define us and hang on to them, or whether we give them to Christ that matters. And when we give them to Christ, no matter what the sin is, he will take us.

    I believe that in the Church, we need to stop ranking sins in terms of “better” or “worse.” To quote Joseph Smith, “I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm, yet … deals his substance to the poor, than the smooth-faced hypocrite.” All sin is bad. We need to start seeing the good in people more frequently, confessing our own weaknesses more openly, and then getting over ourselves and helping each other reform.

    I will never look down upon another man for his sins, because I understand the pain they can cause. A guilty conscience is band enough. Why afflict a man any more than he already is? Joseph Smith said to the Relief Society, “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, “the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.”

    So, because I’m waxing wordy (I have a tendency to write novels), all sin is an abomination in the eyes of God. Not just homosexuality. But those who are battling those abominations are his children, and he has prepared a way for us to escape those “awful monsters, death and hell.” And we can do it. And we need to not judge each other according to weaknesses, but according to our strengths. =)

    “Women (and sex) are solely for multiplying and replenishing the earth.” Ask Parley P. Pratt, this was never a rule. He was in the School of the Prophets. Read “Key to the Science of Theology.” He has a whole chapter on marriage and states the current position of the Church, which is that not only is it for multiplying and replenishing the earth, but it is also to nurture natural affection for one another and to express love.

    “No consideration should delay married couples having babies.” The apostles still harp on us for this one. haha. I heard it two priesthood sessions ago. And I just read it in Miracle of Forgiveness last week. Brigham Young taught it, David O. McKay taught it, Elder Ballard taught it in my stake conference three months ago. It’s still in full force and a very difficult commandment to keep because the culture of the world is drifting so far away from that. When I am married, that is going to be a tough decision for me to make.

    “Blacks were less valiant.” Okay, I’ll give you that one. =D

    “Adam is God.” I’ve looked into this a ton. Frankly, we don’t have enough information to determine what Brigham was trying to teach. The accounts are fragmented at best. I am of the opinion that well intentioned and outspoken Brother Brigham had received a great personal revelation (much like Lorenzo Snow when he first received the doctrine of exaltation before Joseph did) and he tried to explain it but was unable to adequately. He recognized that it was causing division, and said publicly that it wasn’t binding on the saints and they would in no way be held accountable for understanding it or not. We also know that he made it abundantly clear that Elohim and Adam were separate and distinct individuals. He taught that more times than he ever taught that Adam was God. Decades and decades he taught the traditional Godhead, and even after he first revealed the “Adam God” theory, he continued to teach the traditional doctrine. I believe Brigham didn’t take his own advice when he said, “Many have tried to penetrate to the First Cause of all things; but it would be as easy for an ant to number the grains of sand on the earth.” I think he found out how hard it was to convey grand principles to others, so he stopped trying and shut it up. Then he died, and now we can’t learn from him. haha. So his attempts at conveying a great mystery are now speculated about over and over again, and he will be judged for his words based on the confusion they have caused. And, knowing his character, he will humbly submit and be a total man about taking it. I love that guy. haha!

    “Men should have multiple wives.” See my above post about doctrines, principles, and applications. The doctrine is that marriage between a man and woman is required for exaltation and perpetuating spiritual as well as physical offspring. The principle is that we are sealed by the power and permission of the priesthood in holy temples of God for time and all eternity. The application is how many women men are allowed to be sealed to. The application has changed many times throughout the history of the world, largely in circumstances that required the perpetuation of our species, building the Church, or the fulfillment of prophecy/covenants. Polygamy was not allowed for Adam, but was later practiced by the ancient patriarchs and by the Israelite kings when commanded of God, and when sanctioned by the prophets of God. David and Solomon are prime examples of taking an initially righteous principle into their own hands and corrupting it by ignoring the commandments of God’s prophets. Despite this, Christ was still born through Solomon’s line, which came from a polygamous relationship. Polygamy, however, was strictly forbidden among the Nephites. (See Jacob 2). Likewise, in our day, polygamy was commanded to raise up seed. I am grateful for god’s commandment to practice polygamy, or I wouldn’t be alive. I am from wife #7 of Milo Andrus.

    “The Creation was accomplished solely by God and took place in 6 days.” We never believed that. Joseph Smith taught exactly the opposite.

    “Adam was made from ‘dust’ and Eve from his rib.” Brigham Young taught that this was strictly metaphorical. So did Spencer W. Kimball and Joseph Fielding Smith.

    “All men are descendants of Adam and Eve. [That last one has not formally been revise but give it time.]” You’re right. It hasn’t been formally revised, and it won’t be. It is crucial to everything about the Plan of Salvation and understanding our purpose on earth.

    I will provide a list of helpful sources so that you can learn these things for yourself:
    “Jesus the Christ” by James E. Talmage
    “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” by Joseph Fielding Smith
    “Key to the Science of Theology” by Parley P. Pratt
    “Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball
    “Answers to Gospel Questions” by Joseph Fielding Smith
    “Discourses of Brigham Young” by John A. Widstoe
    “History of the Church” by B.H. Roberts
    All of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals currently published by the Church for use in Elder’s Quorums and Relief Societies.

    Thank you for raising real doubts and concerns that are inspired, well meaning, and well intentioned, and for being a kind individual about it. I respect that! I hope this helps!

  45. I’m not going to take on Odes and Oracles. For a dozen reasons. But I did chuckle at this line–which contains a probably unintended truth–and expect to repurpose it.
    “Those who have an aversion to homosexuality are no worse . . . All have sinned . . .”

  46. Left Field says:

    Often when I am writing, I’ll check a word with Merriam-Webster to verify that it has the shade of meaning I’m looking for. Sometimes, I find that another word works better. On one or two occasions, I’ve been shocked to discover that the word means the exact opposite of what I thought.

  47. I suppose there is a question relevant to the OP. How do you put “doctrine” around “love your neighbor” and “no extramarital sex”? Both? Neither?

  48. Odes and Oracles: We most certainly would have a spirited discussion. We would disagree on so much.

    I used to use “ascribe” when I meant “subscribe.” Not sure what word you meant instead of “aversion” (inclination, proclivity?). But, I understood your point via the context.

    In summary: My point was that we (all of us watching General Conference, sitting in sacrament meetings, SS classes, priesthood and RS classes) have long been taught as doctrine a whole lot of opinions, suppositions, practices, and principles. I merely listed things that had (sloppily) been taught as revealed doctrine (and, therefore, supposedly, immutable) that have later been proven to have NOT been doctrine (because the GAs were wrong, or they progressed). And, many of it was false even so. It does not matter that Parley P. Pratt stated that sex between married individuals was for more than procreation–or any of the other good examples/corrections you gave. What matters is that our Mormon culture and curriculum did NOT. We are expected to learn and believe what is being taught to us by the Official Church–and much of it has been proven to be baloney, or changed as our leaders (notwithstanding their supposed pipeline to God and “eternal” truth) and the culture/curriculum they largely control adapted to the wider society and the truths first discovered by them (civil rights, equality for women, evolution, etc.)

    Therefore, I restate that there is very little actual Mormon Doctrine being taught because there is actually very little of it. My point is that the official church needs to stop allowing the inference (our culture) that nearly everything in the curriculum and said by GAs is. That way the not infrequent backtracking (e.g., “we don’t know the origin of the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood”) could be minimized.

    IMO

  49. fbisti says we have been fed distortions and factually untrue things. Correct but not because of some malevolence on the part of leadership. Rather, it is because we took the “follow the prophets” admonition too literally. Leaders tend to believe one another and those placed in positions above them often without thinking about it. It is almost like a “what ever the boss says goes” mentality… unless and until the Holy Ghost hits over the head with a stick.

    How many of us actually prayed to receive a private confirmation of the these things especially when we were explicitly told to do so in almost every case? I know I did not. In my opinion, most of the gobbledygook we read and hear from Mormon haters is stuff we told them we believed. How can we expect them to know any better if we don’t? The bottom line seems to be that It is imperative that we get a personal witness from the Holy Ghost and when we do not we get confusion.

  50. Another thought: What if God’s minimum expected standard for a fully functioning organization is that the very best and most righteous leaders get it right 20% of the time? But what if through personal study and prayer, the rest of us get it right 10% of the time? Where do we get the greatest likelihood of a correct outcome? I suggest it is through the combination of the two. The diminution of the membership’s correct counseling places a greater burden on the leadership to get it right more often.

  51. General question – how do I edit my comment once I saved it?

  52. Answer: you can’t. But I can delete it.

  53. fbisti

    You are absolutely correct. I meant inclination or proclivity. That’s what I get for writing at 3 AM. =D Thank you for correcting me my, friend.

    I like the way you think, my friend. I agree on this point. “The official church needs to stop allowing the inference (our culture) that nearly everything in the curriculum and said by GAs is.”

    The main problem I see with our culture is this: you give people an inch, and they take it miles and miles and miles. haha. I am a strong proponent of individual questioning and validation (as you are). And I don’t think people do it enough. So when someone says something in the Church, they either take offense, doubt in the name of seeking “education,” and leave, OR they apply it to an extreme without questioning their actions and end up harming others. Neither are healthy.

    C.S. Lewis explained the need for questioning in his book The Abolition of Man. He explains that some people never see past a specific viewpoint, and become obtuse. He makes the point that we need to make things transparent, see through, them, and examine them closely as to their true purpose and proper function.

    But he also said this:
    “You can’t go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

    The more I learn about the Gospel, the more I realize that it is about finding balance.

  54. Also, I appreciate people responding to me kindly.

  55. Sigh… it’s frustrating that you can’t edit posts. Dang enter button! haha The above is not a request for people to treat me with more kindness. For clarity: I was in the middle of giving a thank you for responding to my two enormous posts with tolerance and respect. =) god bless you guys.

  56. Thanks Steve but if you take suggestions from the cheap seats, editing would help some of us eleven thumb typists. Anyway, I appreciate your answering my question. Maybe I should just type it first on WordPad and and copy and paste.

  57. Step up your game, yo.

  58. “The more I learn about the Gospel, the more I realize that it is about finding balance.” Good points Odes. The phrase “moderation in all things” is something we are admonished to do in the Word of Wisdom. It was also discussed as advisable in ancient Greece and Rome I believe.

  59. There is nothing whatsoever in the Word of Wisdom that can reasonably be read as “moderation in all things.”

  60. Not “all things”, but certainly verses 10-13 are in that vein of exercising wisdom in consumption.

  61. RE: rabid rabbit’s post: “…we have been fed distortions and factually untrue things. Correct but not because of some malevolence on the part of leadership. Rather, it is because we took the “follow the prophets” admonition too literally.”

    I agree completely and have been struggling against both the untruths and the members’ mindset (one of the downsides of our Mormon culture) since exiting Plato’s Cave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave) during my mission over 45 years ago.

    One thing I have slowly come to realize is that, anthropologically speaking, we (Mormons) would not have developed the generally very positive and effective (in raising up good people) institution we have without many of the lies, distortions, propaganda, and indoctrination that has occurred since Joseph first told of his “first vision.” I have read articles by people much smarter and educated than I that agree with this–beyond the basic universality of religion in all known societies throughout history. It seems that we humans “can’t handle the truth.” The mob must be manipulated for it’s own good. That does not mean that I endorse Elder Packer’s/Holland’s comments about truth not being all that useful at times. And, it certainly does not mean that I accept ALL the lies, spin, propaganda, and manipulation that continues today–however well meaning.

  62. Rabid rabbit says:

    Yes fbisti, but we do not focus on them mistakes. We do not make our testimony and church activity and belief depend on the absolute correctness of everything that comes out of the mouths of falable people. We do not do that with our families and friends so neither should we with respect to,our church leadership. Like some one once told an acquaintance, “mellow out”.

  63. By the way, what does fbisti mean? I picked rabid rabbit because a couple of folks said I was rabid about my fence of the church and picked the rabbit part from a friend who did not believe I went home for lunch for just soup and sandwich.

  64. Ken Kyle says:

    It’s very simple. Merriam-Webster defines doctrine as “teachings”. There are two kinds of teachings in the LDS Church: 1) those which have been agreed upon by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve (see statement that Pres. Hinckley caused to be put on lds.org. — i.e., “Approaching Mormon Doctrine”). These are official or binding teachings. 2) teachings by everybody else. They may or may not be consistent with eternal truth.

  65. Rabid Rabbit: Yes, perhaps I should “mellow out.” But, my friends don’t claim to be speaking for God, nor teaching me that (direct quote from a Regional Representative circa 1985) “our manuals are the mind and will of God.” Absolute correctness is not MY expectation, It is what I have been repeatedly taught is coming from the mouths and pens of the General Authorities–hence I should obey.

    One of the church’s weaknesses is a culture that reinforces a total lack of questioning leaders and curriculum materials–Such as a line in the 2010 Aaronic Priesthood manual…”We don’t understand how, but Christ is the light of the sun and the moon and the stars.” This lack of open-mindedness exists in our culture notwithstanding several statements Brigham Young, for one, made instructing us to learn for ourselves the truth of what we are taught by him and other leaders. Our General Authorities, generally, don’t consciously choose to teach and repeat teachings/history that will later be shown to be more or less false. They are also victims of our Plato’s Cave culture. That is why their lies and hyperbole and spin can be said to be well-meaning.

    My post-mission experience has been a series of repeated shocks as I learned that the carefully manicured, inspiring, faith-promoting Church history (and a not inconsiderable amount of “doctrine”) I had always been taught was rife with adulteration and (faith-promoting) propaganda. This is all the more disconcerting when it emanates from God’s only true church on the face of the earth–rather than from “my friends and acquaintances.” The latter sources do not engender quite the sense of betrayal. So, though I want to mellow out, I have some justification for the chip on my shoulder.

    As for “fbisti.” It is a Native American term/name http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisti/De-Na-Zin_Wilderness

  66. Then fbisti means you spent too much time alone in the outback and your gizzard is cooked?

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  68. I like what fbisti had to say about oft quoted absolutism being considered doctrine when in fact it is someone’s opinion. A few years ago I asked former BYU Dean of Religion Robert Millet about this subject and he provided me an email copy of a missive he wrote to his staff. I think it was dated 2004. Unfortunately I deleted it when I had some hard drive trouble so it is gone but essentially he reiterated what Presidents Hinckley and Benson said when they expounded on the subject.

    They were in agreement that way too many times members – and even some leaders- pronounce as doctrine things which are not. I concluded that we are only obligated to follow the most recent declarations not those from previous church administrations. The reasoning was based on changes in the way the current generation understands.doctrine and new information made available by researchers and others which affect policy. The way the older leadership looked at the world no longer works for our ever increasing world wide membership.

    The point MIllet was making was that only the most recent printed material is the leadership’s position not that from earlier leaders. Reading between the lines I took it that the Brethren were trying to correct some misunderstandings of the past and update policy for the new world we are living in. But for the homosexual and OW crowd there is no substantial change in long-standing doctrine.

  69. “But for the homosexual and OW crowd there is no substantial change in long-standing doctrine.”

    Yes, there is – not as extensive as many would like, but absolutely substantial (and much more substantial than many people realize).

  70. Explain please. If so I may have not understood what the Brethren have said on the subject.

  71. 2010: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Father.”

    2012: Mormons and Gays website: “Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”

    that’s a pretty big change in the span of two years. It’s not changing our “doctrine” but the understandings and teachings surrounding our “doctrine of the family”

  72. The most recent statements about homosexuality are very different than what was taught when I was a young adult (see “God Loveth His Children” and mormonsandgays.org), and Elders Oaks and Ballard have given recent talks that ought to change fundamentally the way we talk about women and the priesthood. Just the statement that both men and women are endowed with the exact same priesthood authority and power in the temple is a major paradigm changer, and Elder Oaks’ talk went further than that.

    If you want a detailed analysis of Elder Oaks’ talk, presented in a Sunday School lesson format, go to my personal blog and read the four lesson summaries for the youth class I teach. With the permission of my Bishop, we went through and discussed the talk sentence-by-sentence, since it was delivered after the regular lesson outlines were prepared, and it took four weeks to complete. They are posted on each Saturday of last month; the link to the first one is:

    “My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesstood – Elder Oaks”

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2014/06/my-sunday-school-lesson-recap-our-new.html

  73. Sorry for the typo in the lesson summary title. Don’t know how I missed it when I re-read the comment before submitting it.

  74. Lj fuller says:

    The data suggests homosexuality is a choice. There is no “homo” gene that turns on at puberty. It is nature versus nurture.

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