The discussion of “church doctrine” on this blog has thus far focused on what might be called its soteriological significance. However, it seems to me that this is hardly the only reason that one might want to be able to understand “church doctrine.”
Soteriology refers to the theory of salvation. Thus, our discussions seem to assume that when thinking about “church doctrine” the important issue is to understand how it relates to one’s salvation. Hence, we get two common approaches. One approach asserts that most doctrine probably doesn’t matter all that much, since what is really important is how one lives. The second approach is really an elaboration of the first one. On this view, we look at doctrine not in propositional terms, but in terms of its transformative power.
However, it is not obvious to me that understanding “church doctrine” is only significant in the soteriological context. Here are non-soteriological some possibilities:
1. Church doctrine is an important concept in certain administrative contexts. For example, I believe that the General Handbook of Instructions gives as at least one definition of apostasy continuing to teach as church doctrine that which is not church doctrine after having been told to stop doing so by the appropriate authorities. This sort of apostasy can lead to church disciplinary action. Thus, the appropriate authorities might, justifiably, want some working definition of what counts as “church doctrine.”
2. One might want to understand our religious positions comparatively. How are we the same or different from other religions? The point of the comparative understanding need not be soteriological. One could simply be curious, desiring deeper understanding of both one’s own beliefs and the beliefs of others.
3. One might be interested in the implications of church doctrine in fields that are not immediately related to soteriology. For example, I am interested in contract law. It is not immediately obvious to me that my salvation hinges on any particular position that I might have about contract law. On the other hand, it is a field that presents complex philosophical and ethical issues. It is not unreasonable to think that “church doctrine” (whatever it is) could have implications for how I think about such things. My goal would not be to provide some authoritative or official “church position” on say the doctrine of consideration. Rather, I have two somewhat less dramatic goals. First, I am interested in some intellectual integrity in my life, and I view the simplistic compartmentalization of my religious and intellectual lives as threatening that integrity. Second, I am genuinely perplexed by the problems of contract law, and I am hoping that “church doctrine” could give me further light and knowledge on these problems. In this second guise “church doctrine” provides a useful field from which to borrow ideas, much as economic theory or Kantian ethical philosophy might provide useful ideas.
As should be obvious, my non-soteriological interest in “church doctrine” mainly revolves around 3. As should also be obvious, I don’t think that 3 is limited to contract law or even law in general. Rather, I am interested in the possibility that Mormon theology could furnish the intellectual resources to provide insights on other disciplines.