Authorized doctrine

A frequent question from both member and critic alike asks what exactly is Mormon Doctrine. There are a lot of answers to this question, but the response that best reflects reality is one that reframes the original question. To respond coherently, we must ask what is the authorized doctrine of the Church.

There is no doubt that there are gospel luminaries such as Elder Packer who employ the term “doctrine” in such a manner that means “immutable truth of God.” There are instances when this definition yields significant devotional benefits; however, to always conflate the term “doctrine” with “truth” renders any historical discussion of our people incoherent.

Practically, a doctrine of any church is the sum of their beliefs and praxis. Our Church’s doctrine is similarly manifest. The difficult issue for some, is that our doctrine changes. Now, this would seem to contradict the doctrine as truth position championed by some, but it is demonstrable that Bro. Brigham, Joseph Fielding Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley held/hold beliefs that are contrary to each other. It is also demonstrable that public sermons across our history have contained conflicting “doctrine.”

Some try to explain doctrinal shift by stating that while personal opinion changes with time, Church doctrine has not. Try telling Orson Pratt that Brigham Young’s views of God were not doctrinal.

I like the term “authorized.” Specifically, I like how it is used in the updated temple rituals and in relation to our holy vestments. The twelve governed the church after Joseph’s death not because there was a revelation that said they should (for there is none), but because they were the only ones who had the right to administer all of the temple ordinances — not even the surviving members of the first presidency had that authority. They were the only ones who both had the fullness of the priesthood and had the right to bestow it upon others. Sidney was ultimately excommunicated for preparing fraudulent ordinances.

After the death of the prophets who had lived in Nauvoo there has only been one revelation announced, the full text of which has never been made public (it is not sure that it was even recorded). Despite this, the hierarchy of the church leads, because beyond charismatic authority, they have the right to govern the Church. God gives individuals the priesthood and to some the keys of presidencies. God established an institution and established an order by which the bureaucracy can be managed. In the nineteenth century this was often referred to as a legal right to govern the Church. The choices that every presidency makes are not infallible, but God sustains the church despite the human weakness (1). It is by this right to governance that a teaching becomes “authorized.”

In 1976, the church sent out hard bound copies of eight volumes to be included in meetinghouse libraries: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder; The Miracle of Forgiveness; Gospel Doctrine; Jesus the Christ; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith; Doctrines of Salvation vol. 1-3. This was also the Missionary Reference Library. The following year, Elder Dean L. Larsen, Managing Director of Curriculum Resources, answered the question, “Should that which is written in Church publications and lesson manuals be taken as official doctrine?”:

Over the years a careful selection of these hardbound, independently published books has been made and approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve for placement in Church meetinghouse libraries. They are to serve as approved resource materials for priesthood leaders, teachers, and the general membership. Any additions to this ‘authorized list’ of hardbound books must be approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve. (2)

If one flips through manuals and leadership handbooks of instruction from the 70’s and early 80’s, one will regularly find quotes from these books. This is no longer the case and those books are no longer to be found in meeting house or missionary library (3). This change in material does not negate the measure of truth found in any of these books; however, it does affect their status as authorized sources for doctrine. Their status has changed from authorized doctrine to “speculative,” “folk,” or “unauthorized” doctrine. What is authorized doctrine today may become folk doctrine tomorrow. This is no different than the shift away from teachings of our greatest heroes (e.g., Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, etc.) and will be no different for our children’ leaders.

Another example of doctrinal shift is women administering to the sick and blessing by the lying on of hands. Early First Presidencies repeatedly affirmed the right of Sisters to anoint and or bless with other sisters or in conjunction with men. The prospect of such actions in the modern church would bring uniform condemnation.

The difficulty lay in distinguishing the boundary between authorized and unauthorized doctrine. A rule of thumb might circumscribe the materials found on This is only problematic in that the website contains legacy materials. Personally, I would say anything published within the last five years that hasn’t been subsequently upgraded should be definitively “authorized.” Inasmuch as materials in this window quote legacy materials (like the Journal of Discourses) it is only that quote that is authorized.

The absence of revelation on a topic does not preclude strong belief or tradition. Those that have the right to govern and administer the ordinances of the Church have been historically quite willing to champion certain beliefs and traditions that are not explicit in the revelations. Individuals, the church membership as a whole and church hierarchy have all been proven resilient against the changing tides of time. The mutability of our doctrine, on all levels, doesn’t show weakness and it shouldn’t upset anybody. I’m grateful that we are able to change.


  1. e.g., Joseph F. Smith recounted President Woodruff’s response to someone critical of his counselors:

    Brother Woodruff assured him that if he did not have confidence in his counselors, he at least had, and that was sufficient for him, and in as much as they were united it was for the Lord to deal with them, if they gave wrong counsel… The Lord is doing this work–not Brother Woodruff, nor his counselors, nor the Twelve Apostles. It is true, we hope to be instrumental in His hands of doing some good, especially in fulfilling the object of our mission and calling; but we give God the honor and glory, and we attribute success to Him. When failure comes, God suffers it; it is through the weakness of man, and the Lord permits it because of that weakness. (CD vol. 5 pg. 126-127)

  2. Ensign, Aug. 1977, pg. 38
  3. The current Missionary Reference Library dates to the release of Preach My Gospel and includes: Jesus the Christ; Our Heritage; Our Search for Happiness; True to the Faith.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    What was the one announced-but-not-made-public revelation that you alluded to?

  2. OD 2

  3. Well written and explained, J. Thank you.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Interesting perspective, J., but I can’t help but wonder if you’re not just substituting one vague term for another — we can get hung up on the definition of “authorized” just as easily as “doctrine.” I would probably not agree that everything on is authorized, for example, for reasons you cite and others.

  5. Sure, it is somewhat fuzzy. In the absence of some official, exhaustive and regularly updated doctrinal guide, we are going to have some fuzziness. I think the authorized approach approaches reality closer than any other framework.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    It approaches reality only in that it is more prone to easy institutional control — “authorized” is far more sweeping a provision than “doctrine.” Any admin in the Church office building could rubber-stamp a program, rending it authorized. Doctrine is far more rigorous, in my view. I guess I view these ideas as complementary — authorization is a necessary but not sufficient condition to doctrinal status.

  7. Mark Butler says:

    Doctrine is a more general term that needs to be qualified one way or the other. I prefer doctrine of the Church. The ambiguity problem in precisely enumerating what the doctrine of the Church is unavoidable, but I think workable definitions are pretty easy to come by.

  8. Practically, a doctrine of any church is the sum of their beliefs and praxis. Our Church’s doctrine is similarly manifest. The difficult issue for some, is that our doctrine changes. Now, this would seem to contradict the doctrine as truth position championed by some, but it is demonstrable that Bro. Brigham, Joseph Fielding Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley held/hold beliefs that are contrary to each other. It is also demonstrable that public sermons across our history have contained conflicting “doctrine.”

    From my perspective “doctrine” is a representation of correct principles as established by divine edict. The term is meaningless unless we apply it to information revealed by God. Within that context and in the absence of correct doctrine, it makes no sense to argue about what is “truth” or “authorized”. Doctrine is either true and authorized by God, or it is not. This is, in fact, a specific point where I think we depart from most sectarian groups which wrest their presumed “authority” from the arguing of learned men, or from their own personal “calling”.

    Your argument appears to be conflated with common sectarian definitions of these terms, and your overview of historical events ignores the importance of prophetic inspiration and divine revelation.

    In judging such matters as apparent “contrary” teachings or positions by church leaders, I assume that my perspective is limited, and that where I tend to see disagreement, there is simply a difference of expression or emphasis. As an approach to understanding such matters, this is my foundational premise. Thus in instances where I find apparent conflicts, I find it more plausible to blame myself than to presume that my own understanding is higher than those whose teachings appear to contradict or conflict. Indeed, within my admittedly limited perspective I often find those who practice such “higher criticism” to be generally less cognizant of their own faults. It seems always to be easier to see other people’s limitations.

  9. I think you are conflating doctrine with something else, Steve. The scenario you present is correct, an admin in the COB can manufacture doctrine. That is quite true.

    I don’t know what you seem to be looking for, maybe Doctrine as Truth?

  10. Steve Evans says:

    “an admin in the COB can manufacture doctrine. That is quite true”


  11. Jim Cobabe, I would be very interested in your explaination of the change in women anointing and blessing if it is not one of doctrine. you state, “From my perspective “doctrine” is a representation of correct principles as established by divine edict. The term is meaningless unless we apply it to information revealed by God.” You seem to be taking the Doctrine as Truth postion, which, as I mentioned has some benifits, but it is also incoherent in many respects. for example, if you want to delineate Catholic doctrine, Methodist doctrine and Mormon doctrine.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Stapley, I think this lil’ brochure may be informative on your topic.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    or alternatively, the definitive article on the subject.

  14. Steve Evans says:

    …and yes, I know that it says “Claim of Scripture.” So far as I know, the distinction between doctrine and modern scripture is meaningless.

  15. Steve, you seem to be conflating Mormon Doctrine and Mormon Scripture. There is a huge difference.

  16. J., not in terms of practical effect, there isn’t. Doctrine is the will of the Lord, just as scripture. Don’t we talk about First Presidency messages as “modern scripture,” albeit noncanonical? Sure, doctrine is found both in and out of scripture. But the concept of scripture itself has been reinvented and/or gutted by the existence of modern and continual revelation.

  17. I thought this was settled. An apostle named Bruce McConkie wrote a book called “Mormon Doctrine.” End of story, right?

  18. Comparing the new missionary library to the old, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Mormon doctrine is shrinking.

    I prefer to just avoid the term “doctrine” altogether, and use “teaching(s)” instead. But otherwise I agree with everything J. Stapeley wrote.

  19. No, the title Mormon Doctrine was actually a dictation error by a low-level secretary. McConkie was actually trying to call his literature “Mormon Doctor In.” a play on words that intimated how McConkie’s book would “doctor” the interpretation of scriptures into saying things that they really didn’t. It was taking Nibley’s satirical blasts at Christianity’s mangling of biblical hermeunetics and turning it onto the Wasatch Front and their culture of exclusion.

    /sorry for the threadjack, resume thoughtful discussion

  20. Aaron Brown says:

    gst, what are you trying to do … create a firestorm with 600 comments?

    Aaron B

  21. Aaron Brown says:

    Classic, Ryan. I love it. I’ll be dropping that one in GD class with great frequency.

    Aaron B

  22. Aaron Brown says:

    Great post, J. However, I’m with Ed Johnson. I don’t even use the word “doctrine” anymore. Too much baggage. I just say “teachings.” I find that this usage tends not to trigger all the boring arguments about whether doctrines “change,” that I’m so tired of having with folks.

    Aaron B

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    “What is authorized doctrine today maybe become folk doctrine tomorrow.”

    I completely agree, Stapley, but it’s worth pausing at this comment and recognizing what disturbing implications this has for a lot of people.

    People are attracted to Mormonism for many different reasons, but for many, the notion that they will be provided with rock solid, unchanging “doctrines” is of paramount importance. I disabused myself of this need long ago, but many, many folks have not. Thus, while I agree with your conclusion, I cannot join you in saying:

    “The mutability of our doctrine, on all levels, doesn’t show weakness and it shouldn’t upset anybody.”

    O.K., maybe I sort of agree that it shouldn’t, but it certainly DOES, and it’s no mystery as to why. Your understanding of things, while correct in my view, does not comport with what lots of Churchmembers think they signed up for when they embraced Mormonism.

    Aaron B

  24. Brent Hartman says:

    The doctrine of God does not change. “For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.”

    God does not change the doctrine of his kingdom, but man does and has. This has always been the pattern. God reveals doctrine through his prophets, and once the prophets have died, so does the doctrine of the kingdom of God. That’s why we no longer follow the counsel given in the Doctrine and Covenants, but rather the counsel in the Church Handbook of Instructions.

  25. Brent, your comment presuposes that we no longer have prophets among us. The same logic that you apply here was what William McLellin and David Whitmer used to apostatize after the 1835 changes from the Book of Commandments.

    I’ll be the first one to admit that there has been a reduction in propensity to delineate organization change in the Doctrine and Covinants, but that started with Joseph himself. Where is the Council of Fifty, the Anointed Quorum and the ultimacy of the Twelve in the D&C?

    The whole point of this post is that the current hierarchy does indeed have God’s sanction.

  26. Mark Butler says:

    I think the following scripture is sufficient to establish that God’s own doctrine is spiritual and eternal, but when translated into mortal (temporal) terms, it can and does change:

    But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit. For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal—

    First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work—

    Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed.

    Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.

    Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
    (D&C 29:30-35)

  27. Brent Hartman says:

    I believe in living prophets. I just believe that true prophets don’t change doctrine, but rather expound upon doctrine.

    We know from the scriptures that “by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets”. We also know from the scriptures that neither does God “vary from that which he hath said”.

    As Joseph Smith taught, “Now taking it for granted that the scriptures say what they mean, and mean what they say, we have sufficient grounds to go on and prove from the Bible that the gospel has always been the same; the ordinances to fulfill its requirements, the same; and the officers to officiate, the same…” Joseph also taught,”It was the design of the councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and laws of the priesthood should be predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything to gather the people, and they would not be gathered, and He therefore poured out curses upon them. Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.”

    Based on these statements, I find it hard to believe that God has changed his mind on so many things.

    Isn’t that one reason why we have the scriptures, so that we can judge the men of flesh that preside over us, so that we can know if their words are consistent with the prophets that have gone on before, and the will of God? And to see example after example of people that think that they can’t apostatize and therefore do.

    Where are those parts of the gospel and the kingdom of God that have been rejected by the church today? Why are they no longer needed? Why were they ever established if they weren’t necessary for this dispensation? Is Joseph wrong? Is Nephi wrong? Is God wrong?

    Your argument seems to take the position that the iron rod, should instead be the rubber rod, that bends as needed.

    “‘We believe all that God has revealed’, except for that which he was mistaken, and that revealed by false prophets of the early church. Those things that have been revealed in the past where for the past. That’s why we have a living prophet so that we can trust in him and never be led astray, until he dies and then his revelations, if there are any, cease to be relevant.”

    What a strange gospel that is.

  28. Brent Hartman says:


    I must admit that I’m a bit confused. So God’s doctrine is spiritual and eternal, and all the commandments he gives to us are spiritual. Isn’t that which is spiritual also eternal?

    I think this does go along with D&C 3:1-3.

    “Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men…”

    I agree with that. Men make mistakes. The further they get from the fountainhead of truth, the more mistakes they usually make.

    The difference I see in our two viewpoints is that I believe the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and their contemporaries, and you believe in the teachings of Gordon B. Hinkley and his contemporaries. You believe that the early prophets of this dispensation where struggling with truth and the later prophets corrected the early prophets by trashing all their ramblings. That the Doctrine and Covenants is filled with error. That Joseph just wasn’t as good at communing with God as Gordon B. Hinckley. That even after Joseph’s death, when he was still visiting Brigham and the apostles, that Joseph still wasn’t in tune with God and was still teaching error. That the fullness of the gospel wasn’t obtained until many of the teachings of Joseph Smith were rejected. Am I right?

  29. Brent, you’re not right. You’re an unbalanced fundamentalist.

  30. Brent Hartman says:

    Thanks for answering, Steve. That’s why I asked. So am I wrong because I’m an unbalanced fundamentalist, or was it something I said? If it was something I said, then feel free to correct me.

  31. Brent, I guess I would respond that the Church is and always has been dynamic since the time of Adam. Sure, Joseph established a lot principles that are no longer “authorized,” but it seems to me that Brigham innovated in the Church more during his tenure than Hinkley has (priesthood prohibitions, adam-god, priesthood reformation, etc.).

    My personal theological views are probably more flavored with Nauvoo-era ideas than is contemporarily common, but I fully recognize the current hierarchy’s god-given right to define God’s will for our people, and as JFS pointed out in the footnote above, God will be mindful. The whole ascension of the Twelve in Nauvoo after the martyrdom is based in Temple rituals and rights to govern…this is still true.

    Your comments, as Steve mentions, resonate with fundieness. I am halfway expecting reference to the “one mighty and strong.” That is fine and all, but you can’t be surprised that such positions aren’t particularly encouraged.

  32. I think Brent hits the heart of the problem.

    It’s a little hard to simply take “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” and say: Oops! Think we didn’t quite get that right! Ha, ha… But no blood, no foul… no harm done.

    I also have to say that I’m not entirely comfortable with our Church’s current focus on “being friendly” with our neighbors.

    I’m worried that this focus might come at the expense of being right.

  33. Mark Butler says:


    I believe Joseph Smith said something about the teachings of church leaders being adapted to present circumstances. I quoted D&C 29 in favor of the proposition that God adapts his own revelations unto the level of our understanding.

    So the principles which he bases his governance on are essentially eternal (though authored by him, but that is another story), but the way they are administered depends upon our level of preparation.

    For example, the children of Israel were not ready for the fulness of the higher, or Melchizedek priesthood, so they were given a lesser law of temporal ordinances, to lead them unto Christ, many of which were (in their original form) fulfilled in him, though they stand for more lasting and eternal realities.

    So I should say that I have no problem with a lesser understanding of certain doctrinal principles from time to time, adapted to our understanding and present circumstances. The great danger is that people will mistake the lesser understanding for the fulness, as if we were ready for that here and now.

    That is a very common and very serious mistake that is the practical equivalent of establishing our present level of understanding as a creed, a practice that the Lord said was an abomination. We believe in continuing revelation precisely so the Lord can take us up to the next higher level in understanding when we are prepared to do so, either collectively or individually. Extensive, binding theological creeds make that nearly impossible – hence the prohibition.

  34. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I’m not sure I agree with your definitions, although I can’t completely put my finger on why. I think you have part of it (authorized is an interesting angle to take) but I think it’s incomplete. I think we have to look deeper to understand what doctrine really is, and how it drives everything that happens in the Church (and how it should drive our lives). It’s not just about what books are published or what has some official stamp (hypothetical or literal) on it. I think we have the responsibility to sift beyond that to understand what really undergirds God’s plan of salvation. That to me is what gets us to the heart of what doctrine is.

    I also think you may be conflating doctrine at some level (or in some cases) with practices and policies. The example of women giving blessings doesn’t seem to be doctrine to me as much as a practice that changed. We’ve actually been told that doctrine doesn’t change. Consider the following:

    “Changes in organization or procedures are a testimony that revelation is ongoing. While doctrines remain fixed, the methods or procedures do not….

    “There will be changes made in the future as in the past. Whether the Brethren make changes or resist them depends entirely upon the instructions they receive through the channels of revelation which were established in the beginning.

    “The doctrines will remain fixed, eternal; the organization, programs, and procedures will be altered as directed by Him whose church this is.”

    (Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 14)

    “There are principles of the gospel underlying every phase of Church administration. These are not explained in the handbooks. They are found in the scriptures. They are the substance of and the purpose for the revelations.

    “Procedures, 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. But the principles, the doctrines, never change.

    “If you over-emphasize programs and procedures that can change, and will change, and must change, and do not understand the fundamental principles of the gospel, which never change, you can be misled.

    “Now, listen carefully. I do not imply that you should ignore the handbooks or manuals, not for one minute would I say that. What I do say is this: there is a spiritual ingredient not found in handbooks that you must include in your ministry if you are to please the Lord.”

    (Boyd K. Packer, “Principles,” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 6, emphasis his)

    If the above is true (and I take it as true) then one important definition of doctrine is that which is fixed. I don’t think that means we have the fulness of all doctrine, but what I hear Pres Packer saying is that there is consistency and continuity in what is true doctrine. Therefore, working backward, if something isn’t fixed, then perhaps we can safely say it isn’t doctrine.

    I think a really good way to see what is fixed is to see and search for patterns of teaching through the decades and centuries, both in latter days and in ancient ones as well. (Incidentally, I think this is part of the benefit of the RS/Priesthood courses of study…we can see those underlying truths that have been consistetly and repeatedly taught, and start to sift out what doctrines undergird all that goes on and has always gone on in the Lord’s kingdom.)

  35. m&m, as I mentioned in my original post, I recognize the Doctrine = Truth conception and Elder Packer as the chief exponent. Packer is one of my all-time favorites and he is wont to teach the leaders of the Church to “teach pure doctrine.” I love this counsel. That said, if we take this definition outside of context then it is rendered completely incoherent.

    If women anointing has never been doctrinal, then neither have father’s blessings, patriarchal blessings, blessings of comfort and counsel, healing of the sick (in all its incarnations), etc.. Are you willing to take that position? I think such is folley.

    Imagine if you were to ask a Catholic what the doctrine of the their Church is. This is a similar excercise.

  36. Mark Butler says:

    M&M, you say “but then working backward, if something isn’t fixed we can safely say it isn’t doctrine”.

    I think that is a practical definition of truth. So given that we have ther term truth, or gospel truth, why should we want to conflate the term doctrine with it, to the degree that many can no longer tell the difference? If we do that, we simply have to come up with a new word to be used to convey the meaning of the old one. I do not think that is very economical.

    Not only that, it makes the concept of “false doctrine” a contradiction in terms. i.e. All doctrine is true, except for false doctrines, which are not. I beleive in virtually every case where the term doctrine appears the scriptures, the neutral, dictionary sense (clarified by qualifers or context) is used. For example:

    Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
    (1 Tim 4:1)


    But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils
    (D&C 46:7)

    Now I am not saying that principles which have been discarded are generally speaking doctrines of devils, or commandments of men, but most commonly simpler explanations given according to our understandanding. At the time, they were certainly doctrinal, however, and did indeed lead many to a fuller understanding of the truth.

    If one wants to divide the whole world of ideas into absolute truths and the blackest falsehoods, I am afraid many of our theological guesstimations and approximations will not qualify. That is why I am not a fan of the bivalent theory of truth. I think it is more accurate to think of language like a painting, that has a degree of resemblance or fidelity. And the fact that a painting is not perfect does not make it worthless.

    In other words, a doctrine does not need to be perfect to be of God. It merely need be significantly better than what it replaces, according to the spirit of inspiration. There was a First Presidency statement on this subject (the inspiration in other religions) in the seventies.

  37. Mark Butler says:

    Also, if one wants to take seriously the idea the God’s Word is Truth, the idea that immutability is a strict criterion for truth won’t fly either. The scriptures are full of statements about God decreeing this or establishing that, and none of those principles can be considered true is divine authority is not sufficient to make them so.

    Now I am sure that some might argue for a quasi-Platonic gospel authored by no one, but I much prefer the concept of a plan of salvation that was authored by God, and made true and faithful by the Word of his power, than some sort of plan that was forced upon him in every detail, or some collection of abstractions that he is identical to. Fidelity and efficacy are much better criteria for truth than immutability.

  38. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    OK, J, I don’t understand your statement about women’s anointings and rendering other blessings null and void. Perhaps you can explain a little more to me what you are thinking.

    I also don’t quite see what you mean about taking the concept of doctrine=truth out of context. Sorry if I’m being dense, but I’m not following your reasoning.

    (And sorry for missing that line in your original post. I still find his definition more useful, though…but am interested to understand a bit more of your thoughts if you care to share. If my questions are too annoying, feel free to ignore them.) ;)

  39. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    For the record, Mark, I wasn’t sure about my working backward equation. Note that I added a “perhaps” to my statement. :)

    As to your other comments, I don’t know if I can adequately address what you are saying. There are obviously various definitions of doctrine out there. The one I am still personally most comfortable with is more toward immutable truths that undergird the plan of salvation. I don’t think that makes the concept of false doctrine contradictory; I just see that concept as recognition that some things can be taught as doctrine when in fact they aren’t. Also, such a definition in my mind doesn’t necessarily mean all false doctrine is devilish, either. Some attempts to teach doctrine may just be misguided. That’s why the pattern of authorized servants repeating the same things seems a good way to me to shake out the true doctrines.

    The problem I see with giving doctrine the leeway that “not equating it with truth” gives it is that it’s too easily dismissed. (We see that happening with issues surrounding marriage, for example.) That makes it awfully hard to have confidence in teachings of prophets if we always think they can be replaced or shown to be “folk.” My opinion is that we are invited and expected to discern those things that truly are immutable, recognizing which aspects of our faith really are bedrockish. I realize this may not be the point of view others have, but it’s the one I am most comfortable with at this point. (That doesn’t eliminate the idea of authority, however, at least not in my mind. And I should remind you that I’m no philosopher. I’m just trying to figure out how to articulate what I’m thinking. Not sure if I’m doing a good job, however….)

    Would you be willing to explain more what you meant in 37? I see the plan as authored by God as well, so I’m not sure what you are getting at.

  40. Mark Butler says:


    My main point is simply that doctrine is a general purpose term that means “formalized teaching”. So one can speak of true doctrines, and false doctrines, and doctrines of God, doctrines of men, and doctrines of devils.

    No one needs to go around conflating the concepts of “doctrine” and “true doctrine”, because to do so corrupts the language in the manner I have spoken of – where no one knows what words mean anymore.

    My second point is the criterion of truth in the gospel is not immutability, but rather fidelity to the way things really are. The virtue of God’s power and authority is that he has the capacity to fulfil all his words – thus his words are true and faithful, as are the words of his servants when operating within the legitimate bounds of their discretion. The priesthood is a matter of honor – honor from above and honor from below, and the importance of the former generally far outweighs the latter in a formal sense, but is often adapted to the latter in a practical sense.

    So the question of whether a principle is true and faithful is not efficacy throughout all time and eternity alone, but rather a question of divine author-ity. And since divine authority may be adapted to circumstance, somethings that are authorized, true, and faithful in some times and seasons and not authorized, nor true, nor faithful in others.

    Polygamy is a classic example. We cannot go around saying that those marriages will not be honored in the eternities (provided of course both parties are willing to abide within them). Polygamy was the doctrine of the Church for about fifty years, and is most definitely not the doctrine of the Church anymore – certainly not in any temporal sense.

    But the fact that the doctrine has changed according both to circumstance and revelation, does not mean that the practice was not true then, nor does it mean that the practice is not false today. Many practical aspects of doctrine are questions of divine authority more than anything else, although we should certainly except to find principles by which changing practices may be tied together with a common thread.

  41. m&m, if you were to travel back in time to 1880 and see women administering with the equal sanction of a Father giving a blessing. There would be no way to determine if one was “doctrinal” and the other not. Fast forward to today. Women administering has been discouraged. You say that it never was doctrinal. Well if it never was doctrinal (after every church authority for close to 100 years said it was) then what is to say that the Fathers blessing (or anything else similar) is doctrinal?

  42. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I think you may be misreading me, but that is probably because we have different definitions of what doctrine means. I simply see this example as a difference in practice, not doctrine. In my mind, the change doesn’t negate other blessings that are still practiced. There are myriad examples of such changes throughout the history of the Church. It may be that our semantics won’t allow us to agree, however. :)

    I think we may be dealing with the same semantic issue. I don’t see polygamy as a doctrine in the way I see/define/understand doctrine. Perhaps the semantics just become a bother and pointless to discuss, but the way I hear Pres. Packer defining doctrine (“fixed”), I would say the whole “command and revoke” doctrine and the “follow the prophet” doctrine are what undergird polygamy, and polygamy was more a commandment given, a law applicable to some people for a time. Laws, practices, procedures, organizations, etc. built on fixed doctrines can change, but the underlying doctrines don’t. That’s the way I am choosing to define it and that’s how I hear Pres. Packer defining. I see doctrine as being more universally applicable and more tied to the elements of the plan of salvation that bind us and lead us to Father through Christ.

    I think the way you begin your last paragraph show the challenge we face. You talk of doctrines changing, but then switch to practices to complete your sentence. Practices may change. Personally, I am interested to chew more on what Pres. Packer has said to figure out what those fixed features are in our faith. I think if we can sift those things out, it will make obedience to whatever laws and counsel we receive a lot easier along the way, because we can know the authorized directions are based on the bedrock doctrines. That’s my approach anyway. :)

  43. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    p.s. Thanks to both of you for enduring discussion with me. :)

  44. m&m, are current healing practices doctrinal?

  45. J. Stapley: Introduction: 5th paragraph.

    Your 5th paragraph says: “…The Twelve governed the Church after Joseph’s death not because there was a revelation that said they should (for there is none)….”

    Actually there was a revelation that the Twelve should govern the Church after Joseph’s death:

    Joseph Smith, under the Lord’s direction, set up the procedure of succession: D & C 107 says that, when there is no 1st presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve presides over the Church with authority equal to that of the First Presidency. Because of D & C 107, there should have been NO confusion as to who presided over the Church after Joseph’s death. There certainly was NO confusion in Brigham’s mind because previously Joseph had taught the members of the Twelve about their powers. But as usual the Saints had NOT read the scriptures and so were confused.

    Thus, because the Quorum of the Twelve has authority equal to that of the First Presidency [when there’s no First Presidency], the Quorum has the authority to establish the First Presidency – just as God’s messengers had the right to establish Joseph as the prophet.

    D & C 107 also says that when the First Presidency exists, then the Quorum of the Twelve serves under the First Presidency.

  46. YL, but the same revelation states that the 70 and the Stake high council had equall authority to the twelve. Moreover:

    The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.

    Additionally, during Joseph’s life, the twelve were considered to be a traveling high council (as per revalation) and didn’t particularly have any authority of standing high councils as per the refferenced verse.

    I have a feeling that the Saints and the authorities knew and understood this revelation a bit better than we do. The first half was written in 1835 at the request of the Twelve, to which Joseph added a revelation from 1831 and added a few editorial comments before publication.

  47. Changes in policies and methods do not constitute changes in doctrine. Doctrine is eternal. Policies and methods depend upon the people involved, the time, and circumstances. All the so-called differences in church “doctrine” as you call them, are really changes in policies and methods.

    Also, what also appears as change is sometimes merely the learning of doctrine line upon line, precept by precept.

    Also, speculative statements by early church leaders were never intended to be interpreted as doctrine. When the Gospel was restored, it stimulated much speculation among early members and leaders. Members were expected to be able to judge between doctrinal and speculative statements by using the Spirit. We are still under that expectation, but the policy has changed to discourage speculation because weaker members do not know how to use the spirit.

  48. The comments in this thread perfectly illustrates why I think we should just avoid the term “doctrine.” No matter how clear you try to be, confusion will remain.

  49. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I may be seeing what you might be getting at. The question is, what is the underlying doctrine of healings? Perhaps that might help us discuss and analyze this point. This is one I am mulling over today, actually. (BTW, of course the current practice is doctrinal.)

    I see this as something similar to how things have changed over time regarding how priesthood is given, to whom, etc. The doctrine of the priesthood (consider that the constant, whatever it might entail) allowed for changes in who was able to hold the priesthood and administer the ordinances. For example, for quite a while it was only for the lineage of Aaron to have this resopnsibility. We have seen drastic changes in this last dispensation as well. But none of these changes would seem to me to change the doctrine of the priesthood — that God delegates authority to men of His choosing to do His work (I know there is much more to that doctrine, but you understand what I am getting at, I think). Do those changes negate how priesthood used to be delegated? No. All arrangements in priesthood delegation were doctrinal.

    I don’t know that we always know why procedure changes, but I think we can trust that they can change without the doctrinal foundations changing.

    As a p.s. my point of view is that “truth” encompasses more than doctrine. I see doctrine as being quite specific related to the plan of salvation. Doctrine is a subset of truth from what I understand.

    D&C 88
    78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand….

    The Lord also separates doctrine and the law of the gospel, which I find interesting.

  50. m&m, so, women healing was doctrinal, but no longer is?

  51. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Is the confusion from trying to define doctrine or trying to redefine it? Since our leaders are comfortable using this term (and, after all, it is included in the name of one of our books of scripture), why would we want to avoid it? I think rather it would be well for us to figure out what they mean by it. :)

  52. Actually, m&m, the “doctrine” part of the D&C used to be the Leactures on Faith, which were removed from teh D&C in 1921. The covenants part is what we have now.

  53. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    J., I’m not sure what you are trying to get me to say. Our history on this subject makes me a little cautious. So, let me just throw it back at you for now: How would you answer your own question? :)

  54. I’m just trying to follow your logic. As I see it, you are contradicting yourself.

    Of course it was doctrinal! You can’t have explicit and repeated First Presidency approval of a spiritual ritual and have it not be doctrinal (if you want that word to mean anyting). However, it no longer is.

  55. J. Stapely 46

    Yes, the D & C 107 does say that the quorum of the seventy is equal in authority:

    22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests [FIRST PRESIDENCY], chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and cupheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
    23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
    24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
    25 The aSeventy are also called to bpreach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
    26 And they form a quorum, equal in aauthority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.

    But what this means is that if there were no First Presidency, and if there were no Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, then the quorum of seventy would preside over the church with authority equal to that of the First Presidency. How do we know that this is the meaning? Because when all 3 quorums [First Presidency, Quorum of 12 Apostles, Seventy] are co-existent, then the 12 serve under the First Presidency, and the seventy serve under the Twelve, according to D & C 107:

    33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the cGentiles and secondly unto the Jews.
    34 The Seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve or the traveling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

    You also quoted:
    36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.

    This means that decisions that “the standing high councils, at the stakes” make within their stewardship, within their stake responsibilities carry the same weight as if those decisions came from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve. This is true today as the general authorities tell us to follow the counsel of our local priesthood leaders.

    Thus, the Lord revealed a marvelous plan of organization and succession in the church.

  56. I’m glad you see it that way, but Joseph Smith didn’t seem to have.

  57. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I’m trying to follow your logic, and what I understand, I simply don’t agree with. :)

    Consider the change in priesthood. Did the doctrine of the priesthood change when the holders of the priesthood did? NO! All that priesthood was before remained the same…what changed is the “who.” The purposes and powers of priesthood did not change. The “who” was all that changed. That is what I see with the blessings thing. The “who” changed. And since women were still encouraged to seek the elders whenever possible (that is what I have read at least), I think the blessings adminstered were not of the same ilk, even if they had the same result.

    The question remains: What is the underlying doctrine that ties this all together with the blessings issued then? What doctrine was/is fixed? It is not priesthood because women never received the priesthood by laying on of hands, and they were not giving blessing by the power and virtue of the priesthood. Perhaps faith? Gifts of the Spirit? I’m not sure, but I still am not convinced that any doctrine changed, anymore than doctrine changed when countless other administrative and procedural changes have happened. In short, if doctrine is fixed, then these changes simply don’t imply a change in doctrine.

    I personally think this (definition of doctrine) is an extremely important concept to get right. Some things change. Some don’t. Pres. Packer says we can be misled if we don’t figure out which is which. I don’t want this to come across wrong, but I don’t understand why you want to try to reinvent the wheel here. Why not accept a prophet’s definition of doctrine and go from there?

  58. Why not accept a prophet’s definition of doctrine and go from there?

    I accept it in a context where it is coherent. The bottom line is this definition may be considered, according to my original post, authorized doctrine. It doesn’t change the fact that it is inside baseball and that the definition is a new development in Mormon thought.

    (that is what I have read at least)

    I would recomend reading more.

    The priesthood question is a great example. If you were to have asked JFS whether the priesthood prohibition was doctrinal or not he would have said yes. President McKay would have said no, that it was a policy. The important thing is that to those inside and outside of the church, it was doctrine, because that is what was preached.

    Thankfully, President Kimball recieved a revelation from the Lord and it is no longer the case.

  59. I agree that in this context the term “doctrine” is problematic. Don’t like “teachings” or “policies” either. I prefer “notions.” Try it out sometime in Sunday School: “Let’s discuss the Church’s notion that tithing is 10% of our increase…”

  60. Jared E. #61:

    You’ve got to love those homeless people who just want your watch (sigh).

    Why do these homeless guys need watches? Are they late for somewheres? I had always thought that it was kind of a set-your-own-hours gig.

  61. Sorry, that last comment was supposed to be on another thread. But as I look at it now I think it works pretty much anywhere.

  62. The bottom line is this definition may be considered, according to my original post, authorized doctrine. It doesn’t change the fact that it is inside baseball and that the definition is a new development in Mormon thought.

    Perhaps forcing things into your paradigm is the cause of all the “change”. Doesn’t change the fact that doctrine is a reflection of immutable eternal principles.

  63. Mark Butler says:

    M&M, One reason is that if we speak a foreign language, no one can understand us. A second reason is that the scriptures almost invariably qualify the term, as if they were written in standard English, and not late twentieth century Mormonese.

    For example:

    Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
    (D&C 10:67)

    And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom
    (D&C 88:77)

    Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
    (D&C 121:45)

    And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
    (2 Ne 31:21)

    Now how would we explain the qualifiers here if the term is to be defined without qualification as “gospel truth”. i.e. why doesn’t the first scripture read as follows:

    “Behold, this is doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church”

    Or the second as:

    “And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another doctrine”

    Or the last as:

    “And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is doctrine. Amen.”

    If the definition of term is as it is purported to be, those qualifier free alternatives should be equivalent, right?

  64. Mark Butler says:

    J. Stapley,

    Do you have an authoritative citation for your claim that the Lectures on Faith were considered the “Doctrine” part of the “Doctrine and Covenants”?

    I always thought the Lectures were to be considered lectures on theology, or lectures on doctrine, not doctrine per se.

  65. On Sept. 24, 1834, The Kirtland High Council moved:

    to appoint a committee to arrange the items of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, for the government of the Church of Latter-day Saints, which Church was organized and commenced its rise on the 6th of April, 1830. (HC 2:165)

    Mind you, the Kirtland High Council were essential general authorities at this time (no twelve yet or anything else). Joseph was obviously very involved in the process of the Lecture’s development.

    According to Woodford (because I have never seen an 1835 copy), the 1835 edition was divided into two sections. The first was the Lectures on Faith with carried on the title page: “On the doctrine of the Church of the Latter-day Saints.” The second part was entitle: “PART SECOND – Covenants and Commandments.” He then explains how the name Doctrine and Covenants was derived from the titles of the sections.

    For more, I would check also check out (all of which are available online):

    Leland H. Gentry, (1978) What of the Lectures on Faith? BYU Studies. vol. 19, Fall, pg. 5–19.

    Alan J. Phipps, The Lectures on Faith: An Authorship Study. Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1977.

    Richard S. Van Wagoner, Steven C. Walker, and Allen D. Roberts. (1987) The “Lectures on Faith”: A Case Study in Decanonization. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. vol 20, no. 3 pg. 71-77.

  66. I’m in the doctrine = teaching camp, though I recognize that some use it to mean eternal truth.

    Consider 3 Nephi 11. Jesus defines his doctrine rather narrowly and then states “And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock.”

    If we take his words literally using the doctrine = truth formulation and carry it out to its logical extension, we end up having to chuck many modern-day teachings. It makes a lot more sense to me to use the word as a synonym for teaching. Indeed, in the dictionary that is what the word actually means.

    In one of his more recent books, Joseph F. McConkie uses the doctrine = teaching formulation to deal with Adam-God. He basically says, the word doctrine means teaching; we teach our doctrines; we do not teach Adam-God; therefore Adam-God is not Church doctrine.

    J. Reuben Clark, in the speech linked to in #13, says that only the President of the Church can “change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church.” In this context, the statement seems abusrd if he is not using doctrine as a synonym for teaching. How could the President change eternal truths?

  67. Mark Butler says:

    Thanks, J.S.(#65) – That is very helpful.

  68. J, I own the Herald Heritage Reprint edition of the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (1971, Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri), which is a photostatic reproduction of the original. It confirms your statement. Here are other interesting tidbits about it:

    The 1835 Doctrine & Covenants actually starts with the Lectures on Faith (most people are under the impression that they were at the end, as they were in later editions).

    The main title page reads:



    [Presiding Elders of said Church]


    There is no separate title page for either the Lectures or the portion corresponding to what we now call the D&C. They simply have their own headers.

    The header on the first page of the Lectures reads:

    Of Faith.

    Then the subsequent lectures bear the header:

    LECTURE <ordinal number>
    Of Faith.
    SECTION <roman numeral corresponding to ordinal number>.

    The header on the first page of the stuff corresponding to current D&C reads:

    to his servants of the church of the

    And subsequent sections simply read “SECTION II”, “SECTION III”, etc., with occasional brief historical information or topical heading. For example, the header to Section 3 reads:

    Section III

    And the header to Section 4 reads:

    Section IV
    A Revelation given the 22d and 23d of Sept. 1832

    Lastly, it’s worth noting that the preface ends with the following statement:

    We do not present this little volume with any other expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced, in that day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed, and the reward of every man’s labor be given him.

    And the preface then closes with the names of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and F. G. Williams.

    In fact, aside from the portion of the preface that notes the division of the book into 2 sections and describes them as theological and regulatory (respectively), there’s nothing in the preface that leads one to believe that the authors of the preface view either part of the book as any less scriptural than the other.

  69. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I am not sure what you were answering, but you make a good point, although there are other examples where doctrine shows up on its own. I don’t disagree with you except that I don’t think that changes the idea that doctrine(s) is/are constant. You can lump all the sub-labels of doctrines you listed from scripture and still call that doctrine, couldn’t you? Doesn’t seem like a stretch to me. But maybe I’m missing your point….

  70. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    As to the whole women and blessings thing, I think you and I have gone around on this enough to know that on some points we will probably have to agree to disagree, as we probably will on other things here.

    Maybe I’m missing something, though, that I would like to understand. Why don’t you think Pres. Packer’s comments (in two separate talks) are generalizable. You seem to think the context is limited. I will go back and read over the talks, but I got the sense he meant what he taught as pretty general.

  71. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    To all…given all the differing definitions of doctrine that are out there, what does one who doesn’t think doctrine is unchangeable (which position I can understand since doctrine has been used in various ways at different times and in different contexts) call something that is unchangeable? I guess I’m trying to get my mind around what others think — what do we call the things that don’t change, and how do we know what those are from your vantage point. Just wanting to understand others’ points of view. I am still wondering if some of this will boil down to simple semantics or if there are more fundamental differences in points of view here….

  72. So tell me J and S, when do we get the final “Official” version of true doctrine then?

    A lot of doctrine has been revealed by God to his servants the prophets. We have, as you say books filled with it. However a lot of that doctrine , supposedly revealed by God, authorized by his servants the prophets is now shelved and in some cases even denied on TV by the voice of modern prophets. The church is true; we just have moving targets (doctrine).

  73. Steve Evans says:

    M&M, you’re thinking of Truth. or, Eternal Truths. Something like that.

  74. Mark Butler says:

    Yes, “Eternal Truth” or “Eternal Principle”. (Or even more precisely “natural law” or “metaphysical fact”, if you want to be technical about it.)

    Note the name New and Everlasting Covenant. Now why should it be called a new covenant, unless it is superior to and replaces an older one? Perhaps even the covenant that governed our first estate?

  75. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    No, Steve, that is what you are thinking. :) That was the answer I was basically expecting.

    Comment 72 explains why I don’t like talking about doctrine in ways that suggest it can change any day. Maybe because that’s because I hear too often people trying to rationalize teachings away thinking that it might change anyway. At some point, we have to ground ourselves a bit more than that, IMO. I think that is a huge reason why I resonate with Pres. Packer’s definition. It helps me understand changes that have taken place while seeking to understand the unchanging principles underlying ALL decisions along the way.

  76. Mark Butler says:

    The fact that certain truths have moral hazards does not make them untrue. We will be judged according to the law that we have been given, not according to the law that we have not. So those that use the mere expectation of change (even if it proves to be correct in the long run) to rationalize disobedience will be the losers for it.

    Remember the dispute about the law of Moses in the Book of Mormon, and how some said it didn’t need to be followed any more?

    Also, the principle is that “sin is the transgression of the law”. Laws can and do change for a variety of reasons – no one can say what I did was justified by appealing to a law which was not in force when the act was committed, let alone one that has not yet or perhaps never will be enacted. That is a prescription for chaos.

  77. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I agree with what you are saying. I still think there needs to be better understanding about what the bedrock truths are that are the foundation of the plan of salvation. I think if we truly understood those things, there would be a lot less contention about teachings or counsel or positions or policies or whatever else and a lot more unity in the Church. After all, the Savior said we shouldn’t be contending over points of doctrine (the doctrine to which He referred came directly from His Father, so I think this can be generalized to Truth from Father)…so if we aren’t to contend about those things, shouldn’t we agree on what they are? I think sometimes things are called teachings or whatever when they should be called truths and then remain in the sphere of contention. I don’t care what we call them, I just hope for us to have the ears to hear when those Truths are right in front of us.

    In short, I fear the semantic battle as we see here (as a microcosm of what goes on with what we are taught) can keep us from hearing what can help us truly see and understand Truth.

  78. Mark Butler says:

    M&M, As I mentioned earlier, any gospel compatible conception of the term Truth, has to account for the precept that his Word is Truth.

    So far as matters of practice are concerned, His word as delivered through his appointed servants is the truth of the matter unto us, unless we have explicit countervening inspiration (for our own personal situation).

    However, I readily agree that if we study the gospel carefully, we can find the eternal principles that underlie even changing practices, such as the change to and from the Law of Moses, the change to and from the practice of polygamy, the change to and from the United Order to tithing (and eventually back again).

    And of course as far as instruction in more general principles is concerned, we ignore the voice of the prophets at our peril. Occasionally we may have a personal insight into some matter or another, but we must remember that the words of the prophets, like the word of the Lord, is adapted to our understanding, in this case the general understanding of the community of the Saints, and so we should generally not expect an exposition of the mysteries of godliness in General Conference. And of course those mysteries are the true common threads running through all of the Lord’s dealings with the children of men.

  79. M&M, Presumably, there is some such thing as “Eternal Truths” in the sense that there are statements that accurately describe things that don’t change. But we have no criteria for distinguishing the permanent doctrines from the volatile doctrines. Thus, we haven’t the faintest idea of what is an eternal truth and what is a transient truth. From our point of view, anything at all could be changed at any time by the prophet.

    At the Library of Congress Symposium on Joseph Smith, the question, “What counts as Mormon doctrine?” was asked directly. The answer, if I recall correctly, was anything that was in correlated materials as well as supported by scripture and by recent GA statements was fair game. This definition seems to give the Correlation committee a default veto on what counts as doctrine. I know they’re supposed to be inspired, but I still think it’s a bit scary.

  80. Mark Butler says:

    M&M, Now I would not adhere to a doctrine of strict (absolute) theological voluntarism (there being such a thing as a natural law of morality of which divine law is an elaboration of). However, it is well worth noting the following principle taught by Joseph Smith:

    Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. 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. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.
    (TPJS p. 256)

  81. Steve Evans says:

    M&M, you’re a wide-eyed idealist, looking for Truth everywhere. Doctrines are mutable — the will of the Lord is given by revelation to suit the times and circumstances of man as needed. Doubtlessly there are some precepts that are eternal, unchangeable truths, but these are few, such as the Atonement itself. Beyond that, as Mormons we know that the very essence of the restored gospel is change. This isn’t semantics, it’s essential.

  82. Brent Hartman says:

    Herein lies the fruits of the everchanging gospel.

  83. Also, the principle is that “sin is the transgression of the law”. Laws can and do change for a variety of reasons – no one can say what I did was justified by appealing to a law which was not in force when the act was committed, let alone one that has not yet or perhaps never will be enacted. That is a prescription for chaos.

    Whoa there Mark. I think you’re missing the point.

    The law changed. The sins didn’t. All clear now? The Law of Christ didn’t suddenly mean adultery was OK, did it? Same goes for keeping the Sabbath day holy, honoring parents, respecting marriage, providing for the poor, forgiving debts, etc.

    All it means today is that you won’t be stoned to death for sleeping around. That sounds more like a change in programs than a change in anything else.

  84. #81 Steve,

    What does that make you?

    A narrow-eyed cynic?

    Join the club.

  85. Hold on, that should have read “street-smart realist.” Sorry.

    Street smart. Yup.

  86. Steve Evans says:

    Seth (#84) — you racist.

  87. D. Fletcher says:

    I’ve always wondered what exactly was authorized doctrine. It does seem like the Church has made “proclamations” over the years, which extend the rules a little bit. I don’t know if this is considered doctrinal, or not.

    Some of these that happened during my youth seem a bit silly, now.

    No face cards, for instance.

  88. D. Fletcher says:

    One of my favorite phrases, first heard in one of my sister’s talks at Sunstone, is “truth is slippery.”

  89. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I think there is more than just personal cost by ignoring the prophets, while that is significant. There is a community cost in that unity is lost and the potential to receive more is probably jeopardized as well.

  90. m&m, how about this: Every prophet up to and including President Hinckley have used the word Doctrine to mean Teaching (not eternal truth) as well as most apostles. I assume that you believe that only the President of the Church can make changes that overturn all previous notions. So, it would seem by your own definition that your definition of Doctrine is simply a practice, that changes.

  91. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Sorry, should have put all responses in one comment.

    DKL, I disagree strongly with your comment that there is no way to know of permanent doctrines. (Consistency and repetition over time are good guidelines, for example.) I’m considering (and have already started working on) a post (to post somewhere, sometime) that will attempt to pin down some of them. I know, I know, you can’t wait to read it. :)

    As to the symposium comment, Elder Oaks got to something similar in his Alternate Voices talk, although I do think we will find a mixture of what is relevant to us now in terms of procedure, etc. and the fixed doctrines in our materials. I also suspect that anyone on Correlation would say that any story in a Church magazine will necessarily have the same weight as say, a prophetic talk. I have mentioned before that I know a bit about how correlation works, and it’s a pretty good system, including guidance about what kinds of doctrines to keep pure and always a group working together so it’s never one opinion guiding the decisions. Keeping the doctrine pure is their mandate, which would imply that they have a sense for what the doctrine is. :)

    Steve, I actually don’t think it’s idealistic to acknowledge that there ARE some unchanging truths (and to seek to understand what they are) while recognizing that change happens as well with other elements of the gospel. Call me what you will, though. You are entitled to your opinion. :)

    D., so is Sunstone a true source about truth? :) I wouldn’t see face cards as an unchanging truth. That is a guideline that clearly is relevant to a certain time. Don’t know if Nephi would have needed the same protection from gambling risks. {grin}

  92. M&M, you win the award for most excessive smileys in a single comment. and you’re mischaracterizing what I said. I would entirely acknowledge that there are some unchanging truths, while recognizing that change happens. In fact, that’s pretty much exactly what I said.

  93. D. Fletcher says:

    I never was much interested in Sunstone, I have to admit to everyone. Is truth revealed there? Yes, but my brain can only take in so much truth.

    Do I think the banning of face cards is doctrine? No, and I think it’s silly.

  94. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    J., I said above that in the end I don’t necessarily care what we call those unchanging Truths. I think, while it would be nice to have a word that we could agree on, it’s just important that we recognize fixed Truths exist and identify what they are. And also appreciate that whatever we hear from our prophets, whether fixed Truth or current guidance and teachings, is truth to us. :) Ultimately, whether that guidance can change or not shouldn’t matter, which is what I think Mark was getting to earlier. We are held responsible for how we treat the words of our current prophets. And that’s the truth. :) (I have an image of Lily Tomlin doing a raspberry in my mind….)

  95. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I know, Steve. I admit it. I’m addicted to smileys. But…I’m…trying…to…resist…just…to…show…I…can…do…it. : ) Ah.

  96. Mark Butler says:

    The fact that the divine authorization for a practice can change according to circumstance is key evidence for a loving, personal God, and not a Platonic ideality, by the way. I don’t care to worship the God of Plato – who is at best an eternal abstraction, not an eternal Father.

  97. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I agree. I realized that I wanted to clarify that with all my desire to recognize and know of the unchanging Truths, I’m also supremely grateful for continuing revelation and living prophets.

  98. I’ve been following this thread for a while and still cannot figure out if I know what is an unchanging Truth and what isn’t. Can someone name me a few unchanging Truths?

  99. (And if there are unchanging Truths, are there changing Truths, and is that even cosmically possible? I will refrain from quoting Ben Kenobi from Jedi.)

  100. D. Fletcher says:

    In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (the side of a right triangle opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs (i.e. the two sides other than the hypotenuse).

    For one.

  101. Can someone name me a few unchanging Truths?

    3 parts lime jello + 1 part shredded carrots = 1 dish acceptable at any LDS potluck dinner.

  102. Talon,
    Funny. But no! Not at any LDS potluck dinner outside of the US. Nationalist.

    But what if that triangle is on that Star Trek planet where none of the math rules work?

  103. Ronan, 98,

    And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

    1 Nephi 11:17

    That is one of the few doctrines I am willing to go out on a limb for.

  104. Maybe God doesn’t love us. Maybe he wants us to think he loves us. Maybe it feels like love. But it’s something else.

    God says he loves us but hey, per D&C 19 (“eternal punishment”) God has been known to use emotions for rhetorical effect before.

    Just sayin’, man.

    I simply have no way of knowing whether something is an unchangeable Truth or not. They may exist, but they are beyond my sphere. If I were to know them, that would make me God. And I ain’t.

    (Or am I? Am I in a Matrix-like pod training programme for gods. They’re going to switch it off any minute.)

    /slurps peppermint tea, strokes goatee.

  105. #102

    I have to disagree. Jello/carrot salads are perfectly acceptable in Canada at any LDS potluck (along with peach flavored punch and funeral potatoes). And Canada, contrary to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, is most definitely not part of the U.S.


  106. Mark Butler says:

    D. Fletcher (#100),

    Regrettably that principle (so beloved of Pythagoras) only applies in a Euclidean geometry and the jury is still out on whether the universe is Euclidean or not. (I think so, but most experts think not, due to the reputation of Einstein among other factors.)

    If Einstein was right, there is no place in the universe where that theorem strictly applies. (And if I were a lot smarter, I would work on proving Einstein wrong in that regard.) Curved space looks pretty until one has to actually get anything done in it. On the other hand, what about the empty void? Can the the Most High effectively administer a universe with no spatial limits?

    Ronan (#98),

    Christian theology suffered a major crisis of sorts in the fifteenth century because people realized that an absolutely omnipotent God who personally set the standard for his own morality independent of any external or social constraint could not be distinguished from the devil.

    By that principle alone, we may conclude that there are natural (though not self enforcing) laws of morality, ones I think quite well described in the early chapters of Hobbes’ Leviathan. For example Hobbes identifies a natural obligation to be grateful when one receives a gift, among many other principles. If you actually want serious enforcement, or even promotion of the law, government of some kind needs to enter the picture.

    For Hobbes, that was the Leviathan – a righteous monarchy to loom over the body politic, enforce contracts, and punish disturbers of the peace.

  107. Mark Butler brings up an interesting issue when he says that the term “new” in the phrase “New and Everlasting Covenant” implies something that is better than the preceding covenant–as though it meant “The Latest and Greatest Everlasting Covenant.” I don’t much like this attachment that Mormons (and, indeed, westerners in general) have to neophilia. I prefer to skip the entire thing by using the term “substitute” instead of “new” and “original” instead of old. Thus, I refer to “The Original Testament” and to “The Substitute Testament” and to “The Substitute Everlasting Covenant.” As far as the denotative meaning, it works perfectly, and it avoids all the unfortunate connotations.

    M&M: DKL, I disagree strongly with your comment that there is no way to know of permanent doctrines. (Consistency and repetition over time are good guidelines, for example.)

    There’s a very long list of things that have come and gone. Blacks and the priesthood is the most salient example, where a single revelation made obsolete countless “final word” type statements by numerous general authorities.

  108. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I’m not disagreeing that some things have come and gone and changed along the way. That is part of the program as well. It always has been. But clearly some things haven’t. For example (to answer Ronan):

    “God, our Heavenly Father—Elohim—lives. That is an absolute truth….And Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Master of the only true way of life—the gospel of Jesus Christ….

    “The Gods organized the earth of materials at hand, over which they had control and power. This truth is absolute….

    “The Gods organized and gave life to man and placed him on the earth. This is absolute….

    “[The Savior] overcame [death] and established the resurrection. This is an absolute truth.”

    “[W]e as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father responded [to the plan of salvation] with gratitude. We took our turns and came to earth, as bodies were prepared by our earthly parents. We are now on trial—on the proving ground. This, also, is an absolute truth.”

    And on how one can know truth:

    “We learn about these absolute truths by being taught by the Spirit….Man cannot discover God or his ways by mere mental processes. One must be governed by the laws which control the realm into which he is delving.”

    Spencer W. Kimball, “Absolute Truth,” Ensign, Sept. 1978, 3

  109. For once, m&m, we agree.

  110. M&M, the spirit tells far too many people far too many things to be considered the arbiter of truth. Surely, the spirit told Bruce McKonkie to say so many things about blacks and the priesthood that he was forced to retract later. Surely the spirit told Joseph to write the parts of the revelations that he changed. And don’t ever try using the spirit to discern whether you should make an investment–this is a favorite (and very effective) tactic of con men in Utah.

    What Kimball calls “mere mental process” has yielded palpable results for centuries. Either the distinction that Kimball is drawing simply doesn’t hold (I think this is the position Joseph would take), or Kimball is advancing a singularly unreliable way to discern truth.

  111. Mark Butler says:

    DKL (#107),

    I believe the classic scripture on this principle is the following, from Hebrews:

    But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.

    For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

    For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:

    Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

    For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

    And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
    (Hebrews 8:6-11)

    Now in my opinion, the lesser covenant given to the children of Israel in their rebellion was in part a reprise of a lesser covenant from the first estate, one which was not found adequate then (hence the Fall) and thus a new covenant was authored for the second, a covenant which was founded upon better promises, among which is the promise that all except the truly rebellious will be saved in the process of time, either in this world, or in the next (cf. John 3:16-17, 1 Tim 2:6, and the KFD).

  112. Mark Butler says:

    I believe that if one is sufficiently familiar with the voice of the Spirit, he can almost always adequately distinguish it from lesser spirits, including the spirit of his own thoughts, and the spirit of the lesser doctrines, philosophies, and theologies of men.

    The problem is the Spirit comes in degrees, and is usually manifest in its fulness only on occasion, and so it is exceedingly easy to make improper conclusions about its influence unless one is extremely careful.

    I will say though that I have never had any experience resembling a strong witness of the Spirit except temporarily due to withdrawal symptoms from a rather potent medication. When I realized what was going on, it turned into the most faith shaking experience in my life. I have never had an experience more horrifying than to realize that intense a perception of the Spirit may occasionally be incorrect due to physiological factors.

  113. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    For once? C’mon, it’s been more than that, hasn’t it? :)

  114. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Mental processes alone will not allow us to discover spiritual truths. Other truths, perhaps, but not the truths that lie in the spiritual realm. That’s not to say that spiritual truths don’t make sense, but that have to be discerned first through the Spirit.

  115. Mark (112): Samuel Taylor Coleridge had the same problem as yours. The result: “Kubla Khan.”

  116. M&M, As I state in my comment, I don’t think that there is a hard and fast distinction between the spirit and mere mental process–at least not enough of a distinction that we can meaningfully talk about the value of one to the exclusion of the value of the others.

    Remember how Oliver was chided when he tried to translate using only the spirit? God told him to think about it, too.

  117. DKL,
    The spirit confirmed BRMs Blacks and the Oriesthood commnts? That seems a stretch. It seems much more likely that he reasoned it, drawing on old quotes and assuming that the ban HAD to have a doctrinal basis. In other words, he THOUGHT it out. You can reason your way to anywhere as surely as you can misinterpret the spirit. I have found these discussions rarely if ever even begin to change the mind of either side. Sufficeth it to say, you need both your mind and your heart. In fact, the spirit uses both.

  118. Mark Butler says:

    DKL, Oh I have had a dream or two that I knew was a medication side-effect hallucination, although certainly not with the literary imagination of Coleridge. The horrifying part was the one time I went several weeks with the most lucid and potent quasi-spiritual impressions that I later realized were truly fabrications of a frenzied mind.

    Now as you might imagine, I rather more closely sympathize with William Cowper. I do not think I have ever had symptoms quite as severe as he, but he was not so lucky to have the blessings of modern medicine either.

    He long survives, who lives an hour
    In ocean, self-upheld;
    And so long he, with unspent power,
    His destiny repelled;
    And ever, as the minutes flew,
    Entreated help, or cried ‘Adieu!’

    (William Cowper, from ‘The Castaway’)

  119. Mark Butler says:

    M&M is right. There are some truths (those of the plan of salvation, mostly) that can only be known by revelation. Attempting to reason one’s way to the necessary details is like trying to reverse engineer the mind of God, which is a questionable enterprise in any case, His thoughts and His ways being so far above our own.

    That is why a purely natural theology is doomed to failure. Nature cannot tell us of the will of God. Only He can. Nature runs down hill, and the Spirit uplifts. The way it uplifts and how it uplifts will likely long remain a mystery to the natural man.

  120. DKL?! Give me some credit, Mark.

  121. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    For the record, I never said that the mind didn’t come into play at all in the search for truth. I like the way Pres. Packer put it:

    Enos, who was “struggling in the spirit,” said, “Behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind.” (Enos 1:10; italics added.) While this spiritual communication comes into the mind, it comes more as a feeling, an impression, than simply as a thought. Unless you have experienced it, it is very difficult to describe that delicate process.

    The witness is not communicated through the intellect alone, however bright the intellect may be.

    “The natural man,” Paul told us, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:13–14.)….

    If doctrines and behavior are measured by the intellect alone, the essential spiritual ingredient is missing, and we will be misled.

    Boyd K. Packer, “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21

  122. “God, our Heavenly Father—Elohim—lives.”

    To pick one example: this statement, in its God/Heavenly Father/Elohim triad, would not have been an “unchanging Truth” in the 19th century. The only possible absolute here is “[A ‘Divine’ Being] exists.” We simply have no absolute idea as to who God is, where he came from, what his relationship with us is, etc. Virtually everything to do with the personality (rather than the simple existence) of God has undergone a myriad of changes, not just in Mormonism, but in world religion since the beginning of time.

    As far as the Spirit confirming all this truth, the best we can do is: “I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit has confirmed this to me.” That’s pretty good, actually. But I would never attempt to raise my faith, my hope in things to the level of absolute knowledge of cosmic verities based on this.

    Doc (117): it is simply inconceivable that Elder McConkie, if asked at the time, would have said, “Yep, that’s one I came up with by myself.” I am sure he would have felt confident that he was teaching a Spirit-sanctioned truth. And besides that, your model is problematic: you are suggesting that Apostles are apt to make stuff up on their own, so how can you know when something is a home-made Gospel or an unchanging Truth? The Spirit? Well, good luck trying this one: “The Spirit has told me the Brethren are wrong about gays…Can I have my Temple Recommend please!?”

    Best to just accept that surety is sticky in a world of ever-shifting “truths.” Be happy with uncertainty.

    Glass darkly, folks, glass darkly. Which is to say, absolute religious truths may exist, but I am unconvinced that we can ever know of them in all their absoluteness. We have approximations only. Our theology is constantly attempting to paint a better portrait of them, but do not mistake the portrait for the thing being painted.

  123. Kevin Barney says:

    Equating Heavenly Father with Elohim is an ironic example of Absolute Truth. The Elohim = Father and Jehovah = Son equations we use in the Church today are simply conventions adopted by the Church in the wake of the 1916 1P statement drafted by James Talmage. In the vast majority of 19th century LDS sources, Jehovah was the Father, and this convention doesn’t hold for the OT either.

    To illustrate, I recently saw a question from a confused Saint about Psalm 110:1. He understood that the use of small caps for the first occurrence of LORD in that verse is the divine tetragrammaton, YHWH, or Jehovah. But on that understanding, he couldn’t make any sense of the passage. If we assume this must refer to the preexistent Christ, then the Christianized, messianic interpretation of this passage is nonsensical, because according to that reading the second occurrence of “Lord” (without the small caps) is the allusion to Christ, not the first. Only if you let go of the modern Mormon convention can you read the verse in that way.

  124. Mark Butler says:

    My apologies, Steve. The credit is yours. DKL isn’t quite sure I am even real. (smile)

    Now as a technical matter I agree with Ronan that absolute knowledge of even rarer absolute truths is rarely to be had. However that does not mean that certain knowledge, particularly morally certain knowledge, is commonplace.

    For example I know that Australia is a real nation, people, and country though I have never been there. And this knowledge rises to the level of a moral certainty. And by a moral certainty I mean that it is more than certain enough to base the most consequential of moral decisions upon. In other words, I would readily take a course of action where my life, or the life of any number of others, was contingent on the actual existence of Australia as a nation, people, and country.

    Now knowledge of absolute certainties is much rarer. I am absolutely certain that 2 + 2 = 4, but that is because it is an analytic truth that is readily provable. Where the truth of God is only known by experience, including revelatory experience (dreams, visions, transfigurations, and so on) and no such things can technically be known absolutely, but I am sure that if one interviewed Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, or Joseph Smith they would tell you that their knowledge of God rose rather significantly above the level of a moral certainty.

    And how did Jesus gain his testimony? How did he know that his sacrifice would count for something? That he wasn’t just throwing his life away? That he would be resurrected? Was it not through the witness of the Spirit to his soul, and further, more intense spiritual manifestations after that?

    Now if the convincing power of the Spirit was powerful enough for our Lord to lay down his life, I should think it sufficient for the sacrifices we are called to bear. Though exalted in the kingdom of heaven could we ever be absolutely sure that we were not brains in a vat? The search for absolute (as opposed to certain) knowledge of anything beyond the laws of mathematics is a vacuous exercise that enervates every morally significant enterprise.

    There are fewer faster ways to end in riddles and enigmas than to be obsessed with absolutes. We believe in the one true and living God, not the deification of the Absolute.

  125. Doc, I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that Bruce McKonkie felt that the spirit confirmed his emphatic statements concerning blacks. But I think you and I can agree that we can’t know either way, because Bruce McKonkie a dead man.

  126. That is funny, Kevin. I have so completely equated “Elohim” with generic “God” that I didn’t even think about the Elohim-Jehova split. Interesting that Kimball doesn’t equate Jesus with Jehova in that passage.

  127. Mark Butler says:

    Oh, I agree. Jehovah (LORD in small caps throughout the KJV) is the Eternal Father (aka Elohim, technically speaking a Personification of the divine concert if we are to take the word of Prophet Joseph Smith at all seriously).

    The convention or assertion to the contrary is technically wrong. As Jesus said, “of mine own self I am nothing”. My “authority is not mine, but His that sent me”. In other words Jesus is not Jehovah all by himself, he can only act as or on behalf of Jehovah by virtue of the mantle which has been placed upon him.

    And by the same principle (not that personal identity matters that much anyway), how can we be certain that any particular personal appearance of Jehovah or the great I AM, is necessarily Jesus Christ and not some other person invested with the same name, such as the post-mortal patriarchs, or even the Most High himself (as seems quite apparent in Moses chapter 7).

    The doctrine of the name of Christ seems to mean that any sufficiently righteous post or pre-mortal man (or woman in some cases) could be sent as a representative or type of Christ, or LORD, or Jehovah and no one would be able to tell the difference. Remember how hard a time John the Revelator had telling who was who.

  128. Mark Butler says:

    Elder McConkie is most definitely not dead.

  129. Mark, unless you’re positing that he’s been resurrected, then Bruce McConkie most certainly a dead man. Death is the terminal point of mortality, and McConkie passed that point some time ago. He is, therefore, a dead man. If people didn’t die, then it would be impossible to kill them, murder would be A-OK, and life would be one long multiplayer role playing game on a PK server.

    At any rate, the question of whether some part of Bruce McConkie may linger on somewhere in anticipation of a killer body is an entirely separate one.

  130. Mark Butler says:


    I am saying that strictly speaking post-mortal persons are not dead, and it is an abuse of the originary sense of the term to describe them as such, hence such neologisms as “passed away” and “no longer with us”.

    These are the first ten Random House Dictionary definitions of the term:

    1. no longer living; deprived of life: dead people; dead flowers; dead animals.
    2. brain-dead.
    3. not endowed with life; inanimate: dead stones.
    4. resembling death; deathlike: a dead sleep; a dead faint.
    5. bereft of sensation; numb: He was half dead with fright. My leg feels dead.
    6. lacking sensitivity of feeling; insensitive: dead to the needs of others.
    7. incapable of being emotionally moved; unresponsive: dead to the nuances of the music.
    8. (of an emotion) no longer felt; ended; extinguished: a dead passion; dead affections.
    9. no longer current or prevalent, as in effect, significance, or practice; obsolete: a dead law; a dead controversy.
    10. no longer functioning, operating, or productive: a dead motor; a dead battery.

    Now can you tell me fairly that any of those ten definitions applies to Elder McConkie? He is certainly living. He has not been deprived of life. He is most certainly not brain dead, nor inanimate, nor bereft of sensation, nor numb. “Dead people” is strictly speaking an oxymoron. The doctrine of annihilation is false.

  131. Bruce R. McConkie is dead, man.

  132. If it is true that dead men tell no tales, then it should be obvious that BRM hasn’t quite found his way to Davy Jones’ locker.

  133. Starting with a supposition “The blacks do not hold the priesthood.” Then asking why givien,
    1) God is no respecter or persons
    2) We all existed before we were born.

    hmmm, in order for God to be just, perhaps those denied the priesthood were less valiant in a previous life.

    My very spirit being and what I know of the God’s love, backed by a greater understanding that came through a thorough understanding of the 100 year history behind these statements, and more current revelation tells me this is false.

    However, left to logic alone, this is a reasonable supposition, tragic in its consequences but strictly logical. Logic leads you there. The Faith assuring thing is that God, working through living prophets later corrected it. BRM himself stood before CES and told them to “throw out everything that has been said on the subject up to now.” Is it problematic to state that perhaps BRM had a habit of leaning to much to his own understanding?

    I don’t think so. I know I am prone to it. We all are, which is why we sit here arguing our individual cases. This process is called rationalization. It is strictly the product of reason and logic and the mind. It is powerful and can drive us where we want to go. Its existence is a primary reason why we even need prophets, who though fallible, are given greater insight direct from God. Were navigating this all easy, and we all “knew” the complete truth, there would hardly be a point to this life.

    Yes, Ronan, we are stuck with faith, looking through a glass darkly. It sounds like you and I are working through the same model, only I have faith it all sorts itself out in the end. I have faith God is implementing a perfect plan through imperfect beings without trampling our agency.

    That faith has been nourished and grown spiritually and has born some wonderful fruit in my life. Marx would likely say this is just an example of religion as an opiate of the masses, but he is only saying so because he has faith in that supposition. He doesn’t KNOW. One may attack a spiriual witness all he wants, but at the end of the day I find it no more convincing than a man leaning to his own understanding.

  134. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    The difference between the BRM example and your temple recommend example (re: gays) is that BRM was essentially on his own. ALL of our leaders are united on the gay marriage thing. Watching for such patterns, repetition and consistency is one way we can have increased confidence that this is not “home-made.”

    I completely agree that just because we know God lives doesn’t mean we know all there is to know abuot Him. But that doesn’t change the fact that we can know some things about Him. And the fact that He is our Father and has a plan and sent His Son and…undergirds everything the gospel and Church is about. Adding to knowledge about these truths doesn’t negate them.

  135. Mark Butler says:

    There are other possibilities for the historical origin of priesthood differentiation – one possibility is that all men were created before all women, making men actual Elders in the first estate, and all that might properly imply. The key to this bizarre idea is Moses 1:34, also 4:26.

    I do not mention this as justification only as a possible explanation.


  1. […] How different is this concept of doctrinal development from the LDS understanding of continuing revelation? One challenge in answering such a question is that “revelation” is a rather ambiguous term. (As a recent BCC thread points out, so is “doctrine.”) In 19th century thought, revelation was generally understood as God revealing truths of faith. Much of recent theology, on the other hand, understands revelation not as God revealing something, but rather as God revealing himself. (While Newman’s own view of the matter is not entirely clear, his framework has proved useful for those taking the latter approach.) Mormons, I think, tend to conceptualize revelation as propositional— according to the Ninth Article of Faith, after all, God has yet to reveal “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” […]

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