For most of the existence of the LDS Church it has been marked by:
- A lack of formal theologians.
- A lack of creeds.
- A very amorphous and loosely held set of doctrines.
- A willingness to borrow or find truth no matter where it is found (e.g. an expressed willingness to borrow any good thought).
- Leaders who often disagreed sharply on what was good doctrine or even good policy.
It is easy enough to look at the debates Brigham Young had with himself for a starting place (even a simple question of whether every family should be raising pigs and eating them or avoiding pork and pork products at all costs has Brigham Young on both sides of the question, multiple times) or the debates between Brigham Young and the Pratts.
There is also the teaching that Brigham Young championed that all understanding and revelation was colored by the language and the context of those who received revelation. In that he followed Joseph Smith who was sharply aware of the limits of language and how that crippled understanding.
With that introduction, I would suggest:
- We have a lense limited by our own language
- We have a scriptural definition of doctrine.
- We have a number of policies.
- In general, what we have involves a great deal of flux — which is appropriate.
The limits of language
The preface to the Book of Commandments says that the commandments were given to the Lord’s servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24).
And a hope that we might be delivered “from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink;—and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”
At least according to our scriptures, and the writings we have about them, the revelation we have is given to us in weakness, limited by the language of those who received it.
Currently the Church teaches that we cannot understand the scriptures or other materials just by reading, it takes the Spirit as well. That means that what is written is not clear enough on its own to be understood.
So, what we have is a lense that is limited by our own language, understanding and context.
Scriptural Definitions of Doctrine.
There is a statement in the Doctrine and Covenants (Chapter 10) as to what is God’s doctrine:
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
We also have this statement from The Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11)
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
I would suggest that this is not what we think of when we think of doctrine.
As to the New Testament, the word doctrine is used for the word “teaching” rather than specific teachings or beliefs. Over and over and over again.
So that leaves us with a pretty simple scriptural definition of doctrine (vs. everything else).
Policies–there are a lot of them.
Policies and programs are often what we think of when we think of doctrine. Do we have one meeting or three (or more or less) on “the Sabbath?” Do we ordain only certain families or groups to the priesthood and the offices in the priesthood or is it more open than just Levites and the Sons of Aaron? What day is the Sabbath? Sunday? Saturday? Thursday? (all used in different parts of the world).
What commandments do we follow? Is lobster off-limits? What about catfish or rabbit or beef with potatoes and sour cream? Does it matter where our meat was butchered?
None of these appear to be doctrine, all appear to be policies or programs (at least in hindsight).
And all of them change — even Coke is available at BYU now.
Policy is useful, organizes us and helps us to be united (obviously it is more important that we worship together on the same day that which day we pick). It is like a skeleton for the body of Christ that comprises the Church.
Why flux is appropriate.
If what we have is incomplete, crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect, and controlled by context, and if our language and context is different from that of those who received revelation, then our understanding is going to be different. If the words alone are not enough to teach us, but we need the Spirit too, then there is a good chance that is because there is more for us to learn than just the words.
As things change, so will our understanding.
In addition, our needs may very well be different. God gave Abraham circumcision. It appears that as of Paul and Peter in the New Testament, God’s people no longer needed that. To read the New Testament, especially from Acts on, is to read of a people dealing with the realization that what they considered core doctrines and practices were not central at all (things like circumcision, which foods they could eat and a number of other laws) — they were not even appropriate to the new community of faith. Things had gone from necessary to extraneous in less than a generation of time.
If God works that way, then it is important for us to appreciate that perhaps we will continue to have flux just as Peter and James and Paul and the other apostles and disciples did and that it is a feature of the way God communicates to us — flux is appropriate rather than a result of misunderstanding.
In that context it makes sense that perhaps the core of “doctrine” is what brings us in this time to Christ and leads us away from anger and contention as buttressed by current policy and procedure.
That means that the real question about doctrine is similar to what is taught in Moroni, Chapter 7. Does a teaching or practice lead us to peace and faith and Christ or does it stir up anger? Do we repent, grow and live or do we reject, embrace anger and fail? Do we have patience and love for others or do we spread contempt for them?
- What do you think?
- How do you define doctrine?
- What mistakes have I made in my analysis?
- Am I missing that perhaps arrogance, anger and pride have a place that I’ve not understood?
- Should we expect leaders in our days to have disagreements like Peter and Paul have recorded in the New Testament?
- What have I left out?
Images are from wikipedia commons:
I think that whether we embrace contempt or reject it is important. How dismissive are we, how contemptuous? Do we embrace mockery and spite?
Recently the corrosion of contempt and anger has been at the forefront of a lot of commentary, but I think it is important to not forget.
I’ve also written about prophets (http://ethesis.blogspot.com/search?q=prophets)
To summarize, they function to:
1. A Witness or Testimony of Christ.
2. A Call to share and act in the love of Christ.
3. A Call to repent of our sins.
4. Prophetic warnings against particular temptations or dangers of our time.
5. Changes in the procedure or course of the Church for our time.
So I’m not rejecting policies and procedures — I think they are very important. I’m just aware that flux in them is part of why we have prophets. I see flux as a feature, not a flaw.
Stephen – What do yo mean by “corrosion of contempt’? Do you mean contempt itself is being corroded so that individuals are pushing for more kindness & civility? Or do you mean that contempt is corroding discourse? I see both as being true.
One of the big challenges on this topic is that doctrine for most members of the church is whatever church leadership says it is in the moment. And really, that’s the definition of doctrine that matters because it is the definition that governs the church, so if we wish to function within the church we have to make some sort of peace with it even if our own personal moral compass leads a different direction.
I’ll add that for me personally, I’ve very caught up in Adam Miller (still – if I can puzzle through a couple pages a week, it’s a good week) and particularly the idea of not obeying the law/doctrine, but rather fulfilling it. I’m interested in how that could possibly occur institutionally. Perhaps it can’t though in the same way the people of the Old Testament could never fullfill the Law of Moses.
To take the teachings of Jesus Christ and use inspiration to apply those teachings to our own lives is a wonderful thing.
Due to the culture of the LDS church and how it has evolved, any deviation from the standard expected behaviors of the membership is often not being viewed as personal inspiration. It is too frequently seen as apostasy.
When someone walks away from the LDS church, people discuss that situation using the phrase of “Leaving The Gospel”. Until the Gospel of Christ can be seen as separate from the Gospel of the LDS Church, personal inspiration doesn’t really have full legitimacy within the LDS religious culture. When leaders are viewed as infallible and individuals are seen as weak and easily swayed, even in matters of importance only to that individual, there is a problem.
The early LDS church tradition was very accepting of personally inspiration. It is a great sadness to me that such an amazing tradition has been lost.
Shared By Request.
THIS IS PURE DOCTRINE
“Just makes me wonder how anyone can say “doctrine” doesn’t change.”
This is a comment heard from time to time on the Internet, especially by those feeling disappointed. And replies often go: “Doctrine does not change!”, which is far from satisfying in the face of changes — to doctrine!
This is a misunderstanding that arises out of a regretable imprecision in the use of language. Many, even most people are imprecise with their use of the word “Doctrine”. Even general authorities are lax in this usage. I believe it has led to much heat and not so much light.
Some folk will make a distinction between different forms of doctrine and declare one type of doctrine is doctrine and the other type is not doctrine. When in fact, both are doctrine.
Doctrine is: “that which is taught or practiced”.
A frequent error arises when there is an effort to attribute to “doctrine” the concept of “Truth” so that only things that are “True” are “doctrine” but doing that is fraught with all kinds of problems. This is a very common misunderstanding. And both faithful Mormons, as well as their detractors, make the same error without having a good set of boundaries on what they each mean by “Doctrine”.
A moment of reflection will reveal that doctrines do not have to be true! There are “True” Doctrines and, as most people know, there are certainly “False doctrines”.
Some doctrines are “temporal”. That is to say, they may be true or based upon truth but they are not permanent. This is similar to the way man’s mortality is not permanent. (But the mortality of man is a definite and true doctrine).
Other doctrines are, as far as we know, eternal in nature and will never vary or alter.
There can be confusion about which are which. And the imprecise use of language (which is ubiquitous) enhances this confusion.
A fair question, then, is: “how do we know which is which?”
Here is my answer. It is not as precise or concise as I would prefer, but I hope it helps. My answer requires unpacking the term “Doctrine” into the ideas intended by that word and definitions for those concepts. In particular, I shall refer to five (actually 1+4) categories of doctrine. In doing so, I am ignoring other categories (statecraft, warfare, etc.) that would be found outside of the Church meaning or that will not be useful to most people discussing “doctrine” in this context.
These five (or 4+1) categories are:
1. Official Doctrines
2. Eternal Doctrines
3. Enduring Temporal Doctrines
4. Mutable Doctrines of God
5. Inspired Doctrines of Men
I would not normally include this as a category, however, it is used so often, that it is reasonable to at least describe it. Official Doctrine is very simply this:
Official Doctrine is anything taught through the Official Organs of the Church and, especially with respect to Mormons and Mormonism, it is:
1. In the Scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
2. By the Presiding Officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
3. In Official Declarations
4. In the Instructional materials and directives developed under those officers.
Official Doctrine may contain ALL Of the other Four categories of Doctrines discussed below. It is not impossible for false doctrine to sometimes be expressed in Official Sources. But this is increasingly rare as the Officers of the Church oversee the pronouncements, letters, and publications more closely in the last few decades.
There are some doctrines that are axiomatic. That is to say, they are the bedrock upon which all other doctrines and practices rest.
Bedrock doctrines are those things upon which the others rest. They were ordained from BEFORE the Foundation of the World.
We do not know all of these doctrines at this time. And some of them are more important to us at this time than others. But, absolutely first and foremost for us now is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This single doctrine is the single core and fundamental pin upon which all others of importance to us will hinge. It is:
1. There is a God – the Father of people alive today, but especially and peculiarly Father to Jesus Christ.
2. Jesus Christ was sent to the world by His Father to do the will of the Father.
3. It was the will of the Father that Jesus be lifted up upon the cross to defeat death and sin.
4. That through this process – the atonement — men are resurrected and brought to stand before God to be judged of their works – whether they be good or evil.
5. Jesus Christ will be the key. He will be the judge. He will bring people before the bar, He will judge them and then He will stand up for them before the Father if they pass His standards. The Father will accept the Testimony of Jesus in all things.
6. Jesus requires the following measures from us:
a. Belief and trust in Him (Faith)
c. Baptism in His name
d. Endurance to the end.
7. Those who do these things shall obtain the Holy Ghost to help them become holy.
8. Those who do all of the above also obtain mercy before the bar of God. Those who do not do these things will obtain justice before the bar of God.
9. Those who obtain mercy shall be washed clean of their sins and shall enter into the presence of God, spotless (for no unclean thing may enter into the presence of God).
10. Those who know these things are under obligation to do them and to live the life of a disciple of Christ.
These above points are the most fundamental and bedrock doctrines of the Church and Gospel. They cannot change. There cannot be a revelation to change these things.
ENDURING TEMPORAL DOCTRINES
Some doctrines are so closely connected to these mentioned above that changing them does not seem in any way reasonable possible and changes would require very dramatic revelation. So far, they have endured through all of earth’s history and we have every reason to expect them to continue to endure and be taught HERE ON EARTH, for as long as the earth remains in this state. However, it is possible that we could learn new things once we leave this earth or are increased in capacity.
What are these things? Here are some:
1. God has a purpose and a plan. This purpose is for men to become like Him — exalted, perfected, powerful and communing with His children through eternity in a family structure. The plan also includes outcomes for those who do not qualify for the full purpose of God’s plan.
2. He reveals His plans at least in part to men through prophets.
3. These teachings are often recorded and are sometimes given the honor of being called scriptures. The Book of Mormon is a special case of these scriptures, being developed specifically for the purpose of testifying of God and Jesus in these latter-days and to be a test mark for people to decide to believe the Prophet Joseph Smith.
4. He grants unto men the means for them to obtain salvation and exaltation including:
c. The Gift of the Holy Ghost to help so that we may increase in Holiness
d. And so that we may obtain revelations for eternal and sometimes temporal salvation.
e. All of these are conducted through Prayer.
5. He provides organizational structures for men to be taught the gospel and to obtain the ordinances. This includes (again) family structures and formal organizations like the Church.
Doctrines such as those above are so deeply woven into the basic fabric of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that there is no practical way to get rid of them *in this mortality*. They may not have a place in the eternal realms after the Judgment. But on earth they are indispensable. They generally are *revealed* through Prophets over time — and there may be more things revealed along these lines — but they do not change over time. New revelations of this type tend to build on the old ones, not replace them (line upon line, precept upon precept).
MUTABLE DOCTRINES OF GOD
In addition to these Eternal and Enduring Doctrines, there are less permanent doctrines that come from God that can more easily change. These would include things like:
1. The structure of God’s organization on earth and what it shall be called.
2. How men are to dedicate their lives to God
a. What foods they may eat
b. What clothes they should wear in ritual dedication
c. What Sabbath rules are to be followed
d. What specific rituals, ordinances, and procedures are to be followed.
e. What components of sacrifice are to be conducted
d. Under what conditions are individuals to be expelled from the Congregation.
3. What people, if any, shall lead the revelation of God to the World.
4. What do people need to do now for their temporal salvation.
5. What specific messages of hope, love, or warning do people need to hear now.
THESE are the sorts of things that men may be surprised at seeing changes in, but which are not so tightly woven into the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they are unchangeable. They are doctrines that are fitted to man — and not intended that man should be fitted to them. (The Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath is an example) Changes to these things is one of the KEY reasons we have prophets.
INSPIRED DOCTRINES OF MEN
And finally, there are doctrines, which are doctrines of men. Although they may be doctrines of men — they can be (and in the Church, should be) inspired of God. Nevertheless, when imposed by men in proper authority, they are to be followed (God says “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”).
Examples of this might be:
1. Where to locate a church building.
2. What materials should be used to construct buildings
3. What instructional methods should be used to teach the Gospel.
4. Who is to be called to a position of responsibility.
5. What program is to be used to further the work of God in the earth.
6. How shall assets be accounted for
7. Where shall missionaries serve in the World?
While men seek inspiration for these doctrines, these decisions are fully committed unto men to make — and by making them, to create doctrines. As such, they may be changed by mere men at any time those in proper authority see fit.
It is important for servants of God to seek the Spirit so that these Doctrines of Men do not replace the Gospel of Jesus Christ or its intents. This is always a risk even among the best of people and requires diligence and oversight by inspired leaders.
A REVIEW OF DOCTRINAL “CHANGES”
Doctrines, naturally change all the time. This is necessary for a functioning system of human beings who operate inside the frame of time and mortality. For example, we have just changed the manner by which we may pay tithing — using an online system. This is a new doctrine and practice.
But, in truth, these are not the sorts of things that occur to people when they discuss “Changes in Doctrine”. What they are referring to are “hot button” items that occur to them to be vacillations in the face of pressure.
Some changes, especially the Doctrines of Men can change due to circumstances and opinions. These were never the Eternal Doctrines nor even the Enduring Temporal Doctrines described above. Not because such doctrines did not change and were thus permanent. Rather it is the other way around. They did not change because they are bedrock.
The changes that took place were either Mutable Doctrines of God or Inspired Doctrines of Men.
For example, Blacks and the Priesthood. Some people consider the ordination of blacks to be a change in Eternal Doctrine. Well, not quite. As far as I can tell, when there was Priesthood here on Earth, there have always been blacks — usually including African Americans — ordained to the priesthood. It was just not authorized for most. And those for whom it was not authorized, it was not ever considered a permanent situation; there were always teachings that blacks would at some point receive the priesthood. So, when they got the priesthood, it was not really a change of an Eternal Doctrine.
Plural Marriage was sometimes seen as an Eternal Doctrine and with Good reason as it was tied up with the concept of eternal marriage — which IS a Fundamental, Eternal Doctrine.
But, the official doctrine of the Church was always that there would be times that God would command plural marriage and there would be times that He would command it to not be done at all. In addition, the Official Doctrine was that only one person on the earth could authorize these marriages. Only he has the power at any time to authorize such marriages or withhold that authorization. And it has always been in his power to withhold authorization. So, while the abandonment of plural marriage was painful, and chiefly done under protest and abuse, nevertheless, it was not a change of a Eternal Doctrine, even if (as a peculiar and defining institution) it felt like it.
Some people have the sense that because these doctrines have changed, so also might other doctrines such as marriage being exclusively between a man and a woman. In contemplating this, one should note that the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman is not a mere Doctrine of Man. Nor does it have the history of a Mutable Doctrine of God. It does not even appear to be an Enduring Temporal Doctrine – just for this life and maybe different in Eternity. It was a Doctrine from the time of Adam and is even the marriage of God the Father to our Mother in Heaven. Such marriage is the top and crowning achievement in this world and in Eternity. Indeed, it is called “Eternal Marriage” and is considered to be the path to deification. And as with Baptism, there is no other way.
Under these conditions, there does not appear to be any crack or opening by which the Church will recognize marriage between same-sex individuals as being of an eternal nature.
On the other hand, only men — and not women!– holding the Priesthood is absolutely NOT an Eternal Doctrine. Indeed it is the opposite; that women will (or perhaps already do) hold the Priesthood is part of Eternal Doctrine. So a change in this is not so impossible sounding. Nevertheless, this is not a mere “Inspired Doctrine of Men”. It was revealed by God that the Priesthood is for men to become the SONS of Moses and Aaron. Jesus who had women all through his retinue only chose men for his Apostles and other officers. And we know of no reliable instances of any women being ordained to the Priesthood under the auspices of any Prophet of God. So, the notion that women are not to be ordained to offices of the Priesthood is certainly a Doctrine of God and it appears to have an enduring quality. It cannot change merely as a matter of policy — there must be a revelation. But it is not entirely impossible.
Good topic and a lot could be said and argued on this. My definition of doctrine: “whatever is taught”. Can it change? Obviously. But when it does change, we back fit the narrative and call it policy or misunderstanding or whatever, so that we can preserve a narrative that doctrine never changes and we never misunderstand doctrine. All this can be conceived as a negative or a criticism, especially relating to the LDS dominant narrative, but it shouldn’t be considered a criticism in general compared to other religion, as if they are all well led and we are twisting in the wind with no theological support and lack of leadership. If anything, for a relatively large organization, we have an extremely strong, centralized leadership and relatively clear doctrinal understanding. I don’t get how people can criticize correlation and in the same breath criticize a lack of well defined doctrine. I also disagree with the criticism I hear occasionally about “lack of theologians”. Usually this seems to be brought up by an academic and seems to have “turf war” at its roots.
“Until the Gospel of Christ can be seen as separate from the Gospel of the LDS Church, personal inspiration doesn’t really have full legitimacy within the LDS religious culture.”
Damascene, maybe I’m reading your comment wrong, and I don’t know what you mean by the Gospel of the LDS Church (the doctrine? which the OP is pointing out is hard to define?). It seems to me you’re just saying that anything taught in church with which you disagree is not part of The True Gospel of Christ, which you presumably receive by personal revelation, and if other church members don’t accept your personal worldview, they’re not really respecting your personal revelation. I’d disagree with that. The fact that members of the church don’t necessarily respect each other’s choices does not at all mean we don’t accept personal revelation. Was Joseph not allowing for personal revelation when he shut down Hiram Page’s revelations? We’re all subject to all sorts of things which determine what we accept as true (including reason and personal revelation), and it seems reasonable to me that we reserve the right to judge when somebody’s out-to-lunch. I find it strange that when a community is organized around a certain culture/ideal/set of principles, that people would find it odd that they feel marginalized if their viewpoints stray far from the norm. Why would you expect members of the church to see someone who walks away from the church to say “Oh look, she’s received personal revelation to leave the church!” Never in the history of the church has it been so, as far as my knowledge, so I don’t know what tradition you’re talking about that has been lost. In fact, leaving the church (voluntarily or otherwise) was historically the only real way to apostatize. Maybe you’re just saying that people ought to be more friendly about disagreeing? Or maybe my gospel doctrine class respectfully accepts more different perspectives than yours, so I’m not relating?
Martin, the Gospel of Christ is taught by many Churches. It is only the LDS church that considers anyone who disagrees with the LDS church as having “Left the Gospel”. It is only the LDS church that views any outlier as having abandoned Christ.
Did Emma Smith “Abandon the Gospel” when she chose not to move West? She did not become a Brighamite. Does that count as personal revolution or does that count as apostasy? As the FLDS have continued to live as the LDS church members were counseled to live 120 years ago, do we consider them in apostasy? The LDS official stance is that they are in apostasy. It bothers me immensely that my ancestors lived like THAT in the past. It is abhorrent to me, and yet, it was the doctrinal prescribed way to eternal happiness at one point. 120 years ago, personal revelation was supposed to push people into polygamy. Personal Revelation is now supposed to keep people away from it.
As LBGTQ members attempt to find a way to live and love honestly and openly, do we consider them personally inspired or do we consider them in apostasy? Does personal tevelation have a place in this situation?
Who gets to choose?
And why is the phrase “Leaving the Gospel” used when someone leaves the LDS church? Leaving the LDS church does not mean belief in Christ has been abandoned.
Who gets to make the rules that dictate my relationship with Christ? When is my personal revelation enough?
Damascene, I don’t know if this will provide partial answers, but in decades of attending the LDS church I have never heard the phrase “left the Gospel” “leaving the Gospel” or “abandon the Gospel.” It does not surprise me, however, that some LDS may have used one or more of those phrases, but even then, I doubt they mean by any of them “abandoning Christ.” It seems to me there is a great deal of confusion as to that in part because LDS usage of “gospel” varies widely, as it does sometimes, though I think less widely, in many other Christian churches. One of the broader LDS definitions is: “God’s plan of salvation, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The gospel includes the eternal truths or laws, covenants, and ordinances needed for mankind to enter back into the presence of God.” https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/gospel?lang=eng&letter=G The LDS church insists on the necessity of ordinances performed by persons with actual authority from God and that that authority does not exist outside the LDS church. Thus, IF this particular definition of “gospel” is used, then leaving the LDS church would constitute leaving the “gospel” but does not imply abandoning Christ. At least sometimes, LDS members use “gospel” in a different way, more like what it means in the New Testament. See, e.g., https://www.lds.org/ensign/1975/01/i-have-a-question/does-the-scriptural-term-gospel-have-the-same-meaning-for-us-today-as-it-did-for-the-early-saints?lang=eng When used in that sense, it does not seem to me that leaving the LDS church even means leaving the “gospel” let alone not meaning “abandoning Christ.”
As to your personal revelation, who gets to choose? You do. I’m not sure that affirmation of “free agency” or “moral agency” is what you’re looking for, but when it comes down to the question who gets to make the rules that dictate your relationship with Christ, He does.
So ironic that LDS members are taught to read and ponder scriptures yet are told in the same breath that if anything the current prophet says contradicts that , then it’s the scripture that’s null and void. Currently the LDS president had demenia. Call me crazy but that doesn’t that seem a recipe for disaster?
Nancy, I don’t doubt you’ve heard some LDS teach that, though “null and void” is going further than I have heard it. On the other hand, LDS members are also taught: “…even the President of the Church, himself, may not always be ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where subsequent Presidents of the Church and the peoples themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” J. Reuben Clark Jr., “When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, July 31, 1954; quoted/cited by Elder Christofferson in April 2012 conference (see text and fn 6). https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-doctrine-of-christ?lang=eng
People find it difficult to embrace a lack of certainty.
I tend to be a practical, concrete sort of guy and not necessarily a great metaphysical thinker. That said, I’m much more comfortable with ambiguity than I was in my youth, probably because I’ve known a lot more people and a lot more of life. I think you’ve pegged it pretty well here, Stephen. I expect that core doctrine won’t change, but – I don’t know, let’s call it “working doctrine” – may change quite a bit to match the needs and understanding of the Saints.
All of Scripture is a history of humans coming to grips with this.
So we no longer practice plural marriage, we no longer do certain things and no longer forbid others, etc. – and it’s not all linear progression; there’s some pendulum and some “retrograde advance” as well (*COUGHpoxCOUGH*) since we’re conditioned to obey. But though the moral arc of the universe is long, it tends toward justice.
I’ for one, am glad that Brother Brigham settled on the side of “OK with bacon.”
the Apostle Christofferson talked about the Doctrine of Christ in April 2012 conference.
In that talk, he said: “the truths and doctrine we have received have come and will continue to come by divine revelation.”
He seems to suggest that other groups outside the mormon church used councils to develop creeds based on men deciding what sounds right (Nicene Creed, for example), where as in our church…”We value scholarship that enhances understanding, but in the Church today, just as anciently, establishing the doctrine of Christ or correcting doctrinal deviations is a matter of divine revelation to those the Lord endows with apostolic authority.”
So…understanding what revelation is and isn’t and what is authority is and isn’t, is key to defining and understanding doctrine.
From what I can see…the mormon church has councils and committees to come up with what is revelation from God by those that have authority.
It is basically the same process as others, it is just the faith that we are doing it with men who have been given keys to revelation. We seem to think we are doing it soooooooo different than others…because we have a prophet. But…do we? Is it really any different?
You either have faith that the authority separates what we say is doctrine vs the “opinions” of others who don’t have the authority…or you don’t.
But overall…I see no difference in how we receive revelation…we are trying to do the exact same things others are in finding Christ’s true teachings and God’s will for us today.
I find it interesting in Elder Christofferson’s talk that he says:
“The Savior taught His doctrine in the meridian of time, and His Apostles struggled mightily to preserve it against a barrage of false tradition and philosophy. New Testament Epistles cite numerous incidents demonstrating that serious and widespread apostasy was already under way during the Apostles’ ministry.
The centuries that followed were illuminated by occasional rays of gospel light until, in the 19th century, a brilliant dawn of Restoration broke upon the world, and the gospel of Christ, full and complete, was once again upon the earth.”
He makes it sound like once the restoration happened in 1830 (a single event) all was well and the doctrine was all given and now we have it with clarify. But we know that isn’t true. It didn’t happen as an event, but a process (still unfolding).
That paragraph about how the apostles struggled mightily to “preserve it against a barrage of false tradition and philosophy” exactly explains Joseph Smith and the apostles in the 1800s…and still today. I don’t know about you…but I sometimes find the philosophies and traditions coming from sources outside mormonism end up being very true, and very much helping to clarify doctrine…I find them VERY helpful. Truth comes from many sources, and we adopt what ends up working (as others have stated).
It never has been clear doctrine and now there is no debate or confusion. Because of the language issue you raised in your post…I believe as soon as revelation is received…there is confusion on how to express it and hear it. There is constant apostasy and restoration…constant revelation (institutional and personal) going on.
The doctrine only makes sense to me at a base level…love others. Everything else is debatable.
I should post this on the thread in the Givens message, but I like it and so it is going here: