Mormon Doctrine: Confusion or Clarity?

Mormon doctrine is showing up in unlikely places lately, including the campaign trail, where earlier this week Mitt Romney squelched a questioner’s short speech that started off quoting from the Pearl of Great Price. I suspect that will not be the last doctrinal question of this campaign. But the glare of heightened publicity and attention that comes with having an LDS candidate on the presidential ticket is making it evident that Mormon doctrine — simply what it is and what it isn’t — is just not all that clear.

Let’s start with Elder Christofferson’s recent Conference talk titled “The Doctrine of Christ,” which was both an admission that we have a problem and a bold step toward a solution. Here’s the admission:

We have seen of late a growing public interest in the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is something we welcome because, after all, our fundamental commission is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, His doctrine, in all the world (see Matthew 28:19–20; D&C 112:28). But we must admit there has been and still persists some confusion about our doctrine and how it is established.

As the Bott Affair made clear last month, the confusion is not restricted to journalists or outsiders but extends to insiders, Mormons, us. If a BYU religion professor can’t get the doctrine straight, we have a serious institutional problem.

Moving toward a solution, Elder Christofferson first noted that only apostles can announce doctrine: “[E]stablishing the doctrine of Christ or correcting doctrinal deviations is a matter of divine revelation to those the Lord endows with apostolic authority.” The recent LDS press release is a rare (at least up until now) example of a definitive official apostolic doctrinal statement. It said the statements made by Professor Bott “do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Elder Christofferson continued:

At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.

Of course, as helpful as that statement is in providing a rationale for dismissing opinion (even well-considered opinion) rather than automatically elevating every statement of every leader to doctrinal status, that statement is itself just a well-considered opinion made by a single leader on a single occasion. Let’s hope it gets repeated by other apostolic speakers in coming months and years.

I’m certainly not the only one to sense that the confusing state of Mormon doctrine is suddenly a problem. At Peculiar People, the newest LDS group blog on the block, Matt Bowman discussed “Why Is It So Hard to Figure Out What Mormons Believe?” While noting the advantages of a pragmatic rather than a formal approach to theology, he nevertheless observed its key failing:

But there is no creed, catechism, or systematic theology to hold Mormonism to any fixed point, and therefore, the cluster of ideas that make up Mormon doctrine, all of which at some time or another seemed the unvarnished truth to some group of saints or another, is in a constant state of evolution.

Joanna Brooks weighed in as well:

Mormonism has no professional clergy, no theological-scholarly corps. There is no regularly recited doctrinal creed. For well over a hundred years the tradition has been conveyed by word-of-mouth in thousands of lay-taught Sunday School classes and around kitchen tables and campfires. A correlated, cradle-to-grave curriculum was developed in the 1950s, but beyond central tenets of what Mormons might call “the gospel” — faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism; the inspired origins of the LDS Church and Mormon scripture; the eternal significance of families — Mormonism remains a theological “jungle,” as one eminent LDS scholar put it.

So welcome to the jungle. But we don’t want a doctrinal jungle, we want Paradise City. How are we going to get there?

53 comments for “Mormon Doctrine: Confusion or Clarity?

  1. I guess it creates quite a problem for outsiders to make sense of without the guidance of Spirit or proper indoctrination. Maybe that’s why their questions tend to be squelched, side stepped, sugared up and spun. On the positive side this seems to be motivating the Newsroom to sweep out old rarely used doctrine to tidy things up, if you want something done right do it yourself!

  2. I should have included a link to the “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” article posted at the LDS Newsroom in 2007. It includes the following passage which appeared almost verbatim in Elder Christofferson’s talk (although the article was not cited in the footnotes):

    Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.

  3. Why not have a church council? Or publish a catechism? Such guides would be useful even if all they did was deny doctrinal status to all kinds of things that people say and have been saying for generations. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine and the Encyclopedia or Mormonism are admirable attempts to put everything between two covers. But the former is too bold and the latter is too timid.

  4. One of the major issues underlying this problem is a failure to define the word “doctrine,” and resulting confusion with how this term should be used. On one hand are LDS leaders (especially Elder Bednar) and CES folk who use and define “doctrine” to denote eternal divine truths that have a certain divine power to them. (For example, Bednar is fond of saying that “the teaching of doctrine” and “doctrine” in itself has the power to do this and that. On the other hand, there are apologists and PR-minded persons who want to say that “doctrine” is simply a synonymous term with “teachings.” Given the fact (an inevitable one with modern revelation) that the Church has taught different (and sometimes contradicting) things at different times, those who want to define “doctrine” as eternal divinely-given-and-powered truths fail to fully comprehend the challenges and reality of changing doctrines; and those who want to merely define “doctrine” as teachings leaves the Church feeling drab and uninspired; and then those who try to both (like Millet) end up seeming to trip all over themselves.

  5. I dunno, Dave.

    Is D&C 107 a useful guide? That is, decisions and statements offered in unison as First Presidency, QoT, or Seventy, or some combination of the three or all three, constitutes correct interpretation of doctrine, or doctrine itself?

  6. I like the openness of our doctrine. There is more room to think and explore and find your own approach to God within this Mormon framework. And along with that is personal responsibility to know God’s will for yourself.

  7. As much as I would love to give the church’s recent press release denouncing racism and racist doctrines doctrinal status, it doesn’t, on its own terms, explicitly claim to be an “official apostolic doctrinal statement.” It merely says that “the church” does this or that. It doesn’t have the name of any apostle on it, so is it really an apostolic doctrinal statement? If it is just the newsroom speaking for the church, then it fails the Newsroom’s own test for what is doctrine. On the other hand, you could say that saying “the church” rather than the newsroom or some spokesperson implies an apostolic source, but it isn’t clear.

    It’s also a bit problematic, given the wide variety is apostles’ opinions, historically, to just say that apostles can declare doctrine. Does that mean that a lone apostle’s speculations are doctrine, or does it require some measure of unanimity or at least majority consensus within the quorum? Or is agreement with the quorum not necessary as long as the apostle makes it clear that he is declaring doctrine rather than just his opinion?

  8. I thought the Articles of Faith were the “creed, catechism, or systematic theology” that was meant “to hold Mormonism to any fixed point”. It is a well organized and easily understood list of things that Mormons believe.

    Is the problem that is doesn’t cover enough areas such as Jos. Smith, racial issues, the manner of creation, or same-sex marriage? I know that it does leave out many areas, but do other churches have creeds that cover every area? If you find the AoF to limited, rather than come up with something new (a new list, or book, or whatever) couldn’t we expand to include what already have (History of the Church, Book of Mormon, PoGP, etc).

  9. There was a talk in the Saturday AM session of conference on the difference between the Gospel and the church.

    This is a very important concept. I would be happy to have more detail on what is in the church but extra to the Gospel.

    Could it include polygamy, negro exclusion from priesthood, female exclusion from priesthood, anti homosexual, modesty.

    I think the speaker made the point that the church was here to help us to came to the Gospel, which sounds to me as though you can ignore parts of the church which do not help you toward the Gospel.

    Of course the speaker was not an Apostle so the whole concept may be invalid.

    I do think however it would only be helpfull to have the Gospel clarified by a code.

    I have been somewhat disturbed by some of the content of the LDS Newsroom, which seems to be bordering on lying for the Church. Such as claiming we no longer believe/teach our potential to become Gods. It’s in an upcoming p’hood/RS lesson. There are other things that seem to be aimed at making us more protestant.

  10. There is perhaps no greater mistake here than to define doctrine as having the same scope as eternal truth. The use of the term without a qualifier is symptomatic. Don’t tell me about doctrine in the abstract. There is no such thing. A doctrine is taught by somebody. We would go a long way if we would drop the use of the term without a qualifier until it became clear that what we really should be talking about is the doctrine of the church.

    If the church doesn’t reduce a precept to writing and propagate it far and wide, it can’t possibly be considered a doctrine of the church, no matter how true it is.

    And if we were to make a further distinction, I would suggest that we reserve the term doctrine of the church for canonized teachings of the church, as found in the standard works, and use the term teaching of the church for all other teachings that make an appearance in church manuals for teaching and instruction.

  11. Thanks for the question Dave. I think the first thing we need to do is get rid of the idea that we are trying to figure out what Mormon Doctrine is because we just are curious and want to know what it is. No one wants to know what Mormon Doctrine is just to know what it is. Defining what Mormon Doctrine is, is itself a means to an end, it is not the end. Until this is recognized we are going to continue to have problems.

    For example, often many people relish in pointing out that Mormonism doesn’t have creeds or a systematic theology or it doesn’t have theology or theologians. There may be several reasons why one would take this position, but a well-known reason is found in identity politics. We are contrasting our practices with others. Mormons do not have creeds, all those other Christians do. Mormons do not do theology, that’s what all those other Christians do. At its heart is identity formation.

    Mormon hierarchy and leadership can try to reign in on speculation and undesirable teachings within the Church by appealing to official doctrine. Again, this is a means to an end. The Manifesto was language by the Church to the federal government. In many cases, the incentive to define doctrine is to speak to those outside the church, not inside the church.

    On the other hand, J. Reuben Clark, or Mark E. Peterson, are speaking to those inside the Church when they argue that one must only teach official doctrine, there is a historical context to these addresses. They do not come in a vacuum. In fact, these talks historically originated in disagreements within the Church. There are other moments in the Church where the Church decided not to take an official position. Yes, that too is an option and a valuable strategy to take.

    Members of the Church, who hold no leadership positions, wield around what is or is not official doctrine not against outsiders but within their own community. Again, this has a very different function. For many people, it is best to have as little official doctrine as possible so they can believe how they wish. And when they say “That isn’t Mormon Doctrine” what they mean is, “I can still be a legitimate member of the Church and I don’t have to believe what you believe.” None of this has to do with Mormon doctrine. It is a rhetorical maneuver to negotiate one’s place within the community.

    Apologists have incentives to argue what is or is not Mormon doctrine. Many members of the Church make Mormon doctrine such a small target so that they do not feel compelled to respond to defend every argument heaped upon them by critics. They can wave their magic wand and say “This isn’t doctrine, so I’m under no obligation to defend or answer.” But this too has nothing to do with Mormon Doctrine. It’s a strategy for maneuvering in polemical environments.

    You don’t want to know what is Mormon Doctrine, you want something else. Once a person acknowledges this, then we can work on Paradise City, as you say.

  12. @ Mark D,
    The definition of “The Church”, is no better than the definition of ” Our Doctrine”.
    If the “Newsroom” says it, and the Church remains silent___The Church owns it.

  13. At work__someone says “Let’s all go to a nice place for lunch”!! Everyone agrees and is happy!!
    THEN__it must be decided and agreed to where a nice place is. If it can’t be agreed to, but everyone stay with their idea__ the group will not be going together for lunch. They can’t have a “strategy” of each deciding for themselves. They need a doctine.

  14. The notion that Mormonism doesn’t have a doctrine (or doctrines) because it doesn’t have officially recognized theologians like Thomas Aquinas or creeds seems rather naive to me. First, there are literally thousands of various theologies even within those denominations that clearly have both, e.g., Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Methodists and so forth. It is traditional “doctrine” (based on the creed derived at Chalcedon in 421 A.D.) that Jesus was both God and man, that the divine nature is necessarily logically distinct from the human nature, but both are essential to the identity of the one person who has both disparate natures manifested as Jesus Christ. (Frankly it’s a logical mess). But even with these clear statements, what it means and the various ways it can be parsed has given rise to innumerable different views of the matter.

    Elder Christofferson’s limitation of doctrine to 3 Ne. 11:32-40 is a bare bones statement of beliefs that reflects the doctrine related to Christ. But is that really all that there is? The problem, and the promise, is that with continuing revelation, there will always be more. We cannot make a summa of Mormon doctrine because it will be (not may be) superseded.

    Why would we want anything beyond the revelations with a charge to do our best to gather what knowledge we can from them? It is so liberating to belong to a church that allows for its members to formulate their own view of how the revelations fit together with our best take on the world around us. We can gain from looking at how we each put it together and how we make sense of our received tradition to give meaning to our lives within the world in which we move and have our being.

    Why would anyone want doctrine in the sense of a norm of beliefs from which one cannot vary and remain within the fold?

  15. See The Religious Educator Volume 4 number 3, 2003. “What is Our Doctrine”, Robert Millet Good article on how to determine what is and what is not doctrine.

  16. Blake wrote: We cannot make a summa of Mormon doctrine because it will be (not may be) superseded.

    Why would we want anything beyond the revelations with a charge to do our best to gather what knowledge we can from them?

    I like this, it makes sense. Although Joseph wrote the Articles of Faith as a part of a letter to the editor of the Chicago Democrat apparently for similar reasons to those that prompted this post. So maybe it’s time for an update.

  17. Ned, Yaaaa just a little Patience is important but not enough. Doctrine properly understood comes from distilled as the dews from heaven. How do you know you are the recipient true doctrines of the Priesthood? It feels like you’re knocking on heavens door.

  18. Every man can speak in the name of the Lord (D&C 1) and the doctrine of the priesthood can distill upon on the soul of a good man like the dews from heaven (D&C 121). There is no apostle in the middle of this revelation from God to man. The role of apostles is the testify of Christ, along with the rest of us.

    I don’t want to diminish our apostles — they are good and holy men with an important office.

    I hope we never have an academically rigorous and complete Mormon catechism or all-encompassing theology — never, never, never. Like Paul of old, let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind on matters of doctrine (Romans 14). And let’s all try to be kind and helpful to others.

  19. I like Blake’s sentiment. And I like having very little doctrine. Look at Christianity’s obsession with doctrine. It’s historically anomalous, and I think it’s been taking to an unhealthy degree. It’s used to divide instead of unite.

    Doctrine is useful only inasmuch as it makes us better people. How much doctrine do we really need to accomplish that?

  20. The fundamental principles of our religion are…

    oh, oh, oh sweet child o’ mine. But the question remains: where do we go now?

  21. “where do we go now?”

    I really believe that everyone is overthinking this. The fact is, Preach My Gospel (used by missionaries and should be owned by all members) and the updated Gospel Principles manual used in MP/RR in 2010/11 (and currently used in SS Gospel Essentials classes) outline “Mormon doctrine” at this stage of the 21st century.

    Do they answer all of the questions someone might have? Of course not. Are they as fun of a read as Sam Brown’s book that wraps up many of the esoteric teachings of Joseph Smith’s time around the theme of conquering death? Nope. I suppose if one wants to really wants to touch all the bases of Mormon thought, one could begin reading the many, many volumed Journal of Discourses. If you choose that rout, all I can say is…Welcome to the Jungle.

  22. Re: “The recent LDS press release is a rare (at least up until now) example of a definitive official apostolic doctrinal statement.”

    The “official apostolic doctrine statement” didn’t say what our doctrine is. It only clearly stated what it isn’t. Therefore it isn’t that helpful, really. The church is in a difficult position in regards to the “policy” or “doctrine” of denial of the Priesthood (and therefore the highest blessings of heaven) from people with African descent. The church has no explanation for this denial, except to say that it was denied, and that it was denied for God’s own reasons. But there is a huge vacuum there: What were the reasons? If we never understand the reasons, then something will fill that vacuum. On the other hand, if we simply say that the denial was based on the biased and racist ideas of early church leaders, then we seem to be saying that our church leaders can lead us astray. So we are a bit stuck. Rather than looking for reasons among those with African backgrounds, we could look to reasons among the Caucasians, such as this: The ban was a test of church members, a test that it took around 130 years to figure out and get right.

    Anyway, my main point here is that we need something a bit better than a list of what our doctrine isn’t.

  23. I wonder if part of the difficulty is the assumed infallibility of our leaders. If they are not supposed to make mistakes, then how can doctrine ever grow? Shouldn’t it have been perfect the first time round?

    Honestly, I am coming to appreciate some of the advantages of leaving us untrammeled, requiring us to talk about it, think about it, and justify our positions. It certainly leads, in ideal circumstances, to a much richer, communal commentary on our beliefs.

  24. But isn’t it the case that many Latter-day Saints believe that there is a kind of heavenly Summa? And that when God provides revelation he is “lifting the veil” and showing humanity additional parts of that Summa? Wouldn’t it be fair to say that many people hold this paradigm? Wouldn’t it be fair to say that many Mormon thinkers throughout our history have done theology under this paradigm, that they understand themselves to be merely putting all the pieces together and connecting all the dots so that they can see the entire and complete whole, which is already put together?

    In addition, Mormon thought is consistently being superseded. The Articles of Faith is not a static set of beliefs. Those very beliefs have changed over time. Various ideas within Mormon thought has been superseded and will continue to do so. Mormon thought has never been static. But I do not believe this is because it doesn’t have creeds or theology. Evangelicals have many different systematic theologies, but they do not stop writing them and publishing them simply because someone has already done it one time. Having a systematic theology has never meant the end of theological investigation and inquiry, in fact it is only the beginning. Even those religions that Mormons think do not believe in continuous revelation, will continue to evolve and develop. They change and have their ideas “superseded” even without Mormon notions of continuous revelation.

    Again, I am hearing sentiments that people want as little Mormon doctrine as possible. But isn’t this an expression of something else? Isn’t it fair to say that people want the freedom to believe as they wish and be able to write what they want, without being condemned as a heretic by their fellow members? In other words, having Mormon doctrine can mean pain and restriction for many people. They find it limiting. Therefore, the last thing they want is for there to be official doctrine on every point of religious thinking. But isn’t this merely symptomatic of a larger concern?

  25. aquinas (no. 27) — I’m one of those who wrote that I hope we never have an all-encompassing catechism — there is doctrine, and there needs to be doctrine, to be sure — but we don’t want folklore being turned into doctrine; we don’t want hedges being adopted as the doctrine (and then new hedges built); we don’t want academic or philosophical reasonings to become the basis of our faith. Well, I write “we” but maybe I mean “I”.

    Romans chapter 14 is on-point here — Christians were disputing among themselves about various points of doctrine — Paul’s answer was to let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and let no man put a stumblingblock in front of his brother. That’s a wonderful message!

    The Lord tells us in D&C to not dispute tenets but to teach repentance and faith. That’s a wonderful message!

    As the Peculiar People posting said, there is much that Mormons may believe but little that they must believe. I like that thought.

  26. I don’t think the Church has too little Doctrine, it has too much. I can’t think of many churches that have more doctrines than Mormonism(?) Mormonism has ten answers to every question. That’s where the Confusion comes in.

  27. Paul’s answer was to let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and let no man put a stumblingblock in front of his brother. That’s a wonderful message! It would be very nice if it were so, but stray a bit from the correlated “gospel” out loud in church and see how it is received. It seems the correlation department is in charge of narrowing and laundering doctrine from the practical day to day point of view and it is often mindlessly and blindly supported by faithful members who haven’t thought the issue through.

  28. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Narrator (#4), what you have described as Elder Bednar’s use of the term “doctrine” sounds a lot like what Davies described in his books as cosmic principles (e.g., “agency” or “priesthood”) that are referred to in Mormon discourse and that frame particular Mormon doctrines (in the narrow sense of the term).

    Aquinas (#12), I think we Mormons make too much of the fact that we don’t subscribe to traditional creeds or publish a doctrinal catechism. Creeds and catechisms do not eliminate doctrinal diversity in the denominations that subscribe to them, nor does avoiding them mean the Church doesn’t have defined doctrines. But without creeds and catechisms as touchstones, we do need to spell out in more detail how doctrine is produced, promulgated, and superseded.

    On the general sense that we don’t need no stinkin’ doctrines: I think I agree that our problem is we have too many doctrines. We need some doctrinal pruning. Contra Stephen Hardy (#25), historically Christian doctrine is often defined by identifying specific doctrines that are rejected. That’s how the Calvinist TULIP script emerged, as an explicit point-for-point rejection of Arminian doctrinal development. So being able to say “No, we don’t believe that, that is not one of our LDS doctrines” is a very important institutional step.

  29. The Articles of Faith is not a static set of beliefs. Those very beliefs have changed over time.

    We do have a list of beliefs that have changed over time, but I don’t think that the Articles of Faith can be included in that list, can it? I can’t think of a single one of the AoF that isn’t believed today or that isn’t supported by each General Conference. Every conference confirms our belief in Christ, our trust in the Atonement, the need for obedience/faith/repentence/baptism/and the Holy Ghost. We are still taught about proper priesthood authority, gifts of the spirit, hierarchy, scriptures, continuing revelation, the establishment of Zion, being good citizens, and seeking after that which is clean and pure. Views on things like where the BoM took place, polygamy, race, modesty, etc., have changed and will continue too, but IMO the Articles of Faith are unchanged and will continue that way.

  30. While at first the idea of “I want as little doctrine as possible” resonated with me, I also, like Aquinas, wonder why I think this. I think it is because I naturally equate doctrines with false creeds, man-made policies, and codified folklore. But what if the doctrines are TRUE? As in, they actually reflect Celestial or greater reality? If so, then why wouldn’t we want more of them? It’s like standing in a cardboard box, and resisting the idea of poking more holes to see out of the box, saying, “But without holes, we can be more free to imagine what it’s like outside the box!”

    My initial resistance to having more doctrines probably reflects my inner desire to just believe whatever makes me feel good without having to check it with an outside source. But isn’t the purpose of institutional/priesthood revelation to provide a reliable source of true doctrines?

    If not, then what is it for exactly? Just to perpetually kick the doctrinal can down the road? And give us (biased, imperfect) policies/rules to follow in the meantime?

  31. I think everyone here will agree that “Gender is Eternal” is a new doctrine which was presented in the Proclamation on the Family (which we know is NOT a revelation because of the refutation of the claim made by Elder Packer in conference by changing the wording in the written version). How did this new doctrine come about? If it was by the consultative method described by Elder Christofferson last week then what was the reasoning behind the establishment of the doctrine? The Brethren involved in concluding that “Gender is Eternal” must have had many discussions on the definition of gender and how it fits into the plan of salvation and the eternities. According to Elder Christofferson’s method of establishing doctrine it was only AFTER the Brethren reached a conclusion based upon existing scripture and reasoned study that they went to the Lord and asked Him to CONFIRM what they had concluded.

    We can assume they received a positive confirmation from the Lord that the doctrine was correct or the Church would not have published it to the world. So where are the details on the reasoning that led to the conclusion? Why will they not define what they mean by “gender” (biological, traits, or roles) and how that fits into the plan of salvation? If Gender is Eternal and has always been with us since our days as Intelligences then which parts of our gender are eternal and how does that impact our mortal probation? How does that factor into our quest for godhood and the upper level of the Celestial Kingdom? Will those who are not deemed worthy to be eternal pro-creators find themselves no longer needing the biological components of gender?

    Help me out if I am misunderstanding something here.

  32. Syphax (no. 34), I like doctrine, really! I just don’t want most of the stuff that other Mormons say to become doctrine that I must agree with in order to be a “good” latter-day saint. I don’t want all of our folklore to become codified. I want to maintain Paul’s teaching in Romans chapter 14 to let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. I prefer ambiguity and abillity to grow rather than an all-encompassing catechism written to erase the ambiguities and individual ability to grow. I want to let the Holy Spirit teach me a little today, and a little more tomorrow.

  33. Come to think of it, a rich theological summa could be parsed purely from Guns N’ Roses lyrics. Although it would require keen hermeneutical insight, and some might question its soteriological value, it could lead to the proverbial Paradise City evoked by Axl Rose’s homilies. But alas, nothing lasts forever.

  34. In other words, having Mormon doctrine can mean pain and restriction for many people. They find it limiting. Therefore, the last thing they want is for there to be official doctrine on every point of religious thinking.

    This may be true for a lot of people who participate in these discussions online, but I hardly think it’s true of most of the people I know. Just the contrary: Many people want to know “what we believe” (as if they had no distinctive personal beliefs) and be done with it — hence the popularity of Mormon Doctrine and the combing of old sources like the Journal of Discourses and the passing around among missionaries of 12th-generation photocopies of obscure GA talks and the folklore that refuses to die. A lot of people think it’s all doctrinal, and that much of it is forgotten doctrine, or hidden doctrine, and they’re busy trying to fit it all together “because if Elder X said it, then it’s what we believe.” If Elder X had said something else, that would be just as satisfactory to the same people.

  35. The Roman Catholic Church has a very nice catechism. It is not considered scripture, it does not go into metaphysical details, and it is subject to revision. It does, however, establish what the core teachings of the RCC actually are. See here.

    That is what we need. Something simple enough so that you can say that if something is not in it, it is not a fundamental teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while more readable and definitive than anything that looks like a dictionary, encyclopedia, or lesson manual.

  36. Blake, I would say that the closest thing we have is the book True to the Faith. My problem with it is that it is organized like a dictionary, and each entry reads like a discussion, not like a statement of belief. It doesn’t quite serve the purpose because it is too informal. A statement of belief should be structured more like an outline, with individual sentences that are de facto articles of faith.

    The website is of a similar character, and more so, because it was defined for a different purpose, namely to introduce others to what we believe. It is a narrative, a presentation, much more abbreviated and considerably less structured than True to the Faith itself.

  37. Other churches can do the exhaustive doctrine, using the methods of philosophy. I find all that interesting and worth paying attention to. But I see no need for a church based on revelation and relationship with a transcendent being to replicate or imitate it.

  38. Michael, to the degree a religious institution cannot reduce its primary beliefs to writing, it may be said to have no primary beliefs at all. We can rely on the scriptures, and in actual practice that is about the only option available. If we didn’t want to have any fixed beliefs of course, the very first thing we should do is get rid of them.

    The canon is always getting in the way of progress, no? Those irritating revelations from past dispensations that always have to be explained away? Reduced to the speculation of prophets and apostles who didn’t have a clue as to what they were talking about?

  39. An interesting book collecting quotes on this subject is “Determining Doctrine” by Dennis Horne. Published by Eborn Books, 2005.

  40. I foresee “schools of thought” developing in the next few decades, where people recognize that various apostles (or scholars) had very different ideas and that you just subscribe to one school while admitting that another school of thought is legitimate within Mormonism. We will become more like Jews in this way as we become better educated.

  41. This is why I’m utterly confused as a new convert. Depending on who I ask (missionaries, the Bishop, fellow ward members, researching online), I find differing statements on what the doctrine is (and when someone speaks when it becomes official doctrine/word of God). Sigh. This isn’t helping my testimony…mainly because I sense the need to follow and live according to doctrine, but how do I know? I read pretty specific ideas from past prophets and apostles about doctrinal issues that those members I’ve asked about have claimed just aren’t what the Church teaches. I used to be Catholic and the catechism stated the official Church position on things. Whether or not individual members believed/followed these positions is not the issue. The issue was that if I wanted to know what the official position was on something, I knew where to look. I want that in Mormonism.

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