What’s the Official Doctrine on “Official Doctrine”?

August 9, 2007 | 70 comments

Esteemed reader Andrew Ainsworth is writing a paper on the official doctrine on what constitutes official doctrine. He emailed me the following bleg for your help.

As Church members, we are often confronted with the question of whether a statement is “official doctrine,” as opposed to just being a Church leader’s opinion. I’ve found there’s a wide divergence of understandings among Church members about how we are to determine whether a statement is “official doctrine.” I’ve searched high and low for an official statement that defines “official doctrine,” but haven’t been able to find one.

My search for an official doctrine about “official doctrine” has raised a number of questions for me, and I’d be interested in hearing what understandings other people have about these issues. I am currently researching and writing an article on this subject and I want to get as wide a cross-section of answers from Church members on this issue as possible.

1. Are you aware of any official statement or official doctrine that explains how we are to determine whether a Church leader’s statement is “official doctrine”? If so, what is it and where is it found?

2. To be considered “official doctrine,” who must make the statement? The president of the Church? An apostle? (And how do you know that?)

3. To be considered “official doctrine,” does the statement have to be jointly made by a combination of Church leaders? For example, does a statement have to be made jointly by the First Presidency? The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles? Both? (And how do you know that?)

4. To be considered “official doctrine,” does the statement have to appear in a source that is published by the Church? If so, what is your understanding of which sources are official Church publications? Church website? Ensign magazine? Church News? Sunday School manuals? (And how do you know that?)

5. To be considered “official doctrine,” does a statement have to have been made relatively recently? In other words, do the statements of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that have not been reiterated by prophets and apostles in relatively recent history lose their “official doctrine” status? (And how do you know that?)

6. Are you surprised that in a Church as structured as the LDS Church there would be any ambiguity about how Church members should determine whether a statement is official doctrine?

Please post your answers and links to any useful articles, scriptures, blog discussions, etc., in the comments.


70 Responses to What’s the Official Doctrine on “Official Doctrine”?

  1. Adam Greenwood on August 9, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Here’s Nate Oman on the subject:


  2. Adam Greenwood on August 9, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    I personally don’t have anything to say. But this article I read earlier at First Things, on how we determine what’s part of the literary canon, the philosophical canon, etc., made me think that maybe there’s some interesting parallels to how we determine what’s church doctrine.


  3. Visorstuff on August 9, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    From my study, true doctrines come in two kinds: official church doctrines (AKA the doctrines of Christ or doctrines of salvation) and gospel doctrines. Official church doctrines are few and far between, as they should be – Christ taught that the doctrines of salvation are few. But gospel doctrines are truths that are eternal yet undefined, real and expand as we understand and apply them.

    Examples of gospel doctrines that are not necessarily church doctrines include Elder Ballard’s “doctrine of inclusion” or Parley P. Pratt’s “doctrine of god in embryo.” And the list goes on.

    Official church doctrines usually tie back to just a few things (in no particular order): faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, resurrection, atonement, Temples, God is our Father, Prophets warn people and other what most would consider “core doctrines” (think temple recommend questions and articles of faith). These lead to salvation. Christ said his church teaches few doctrines – anything outside of those is not taught by the church, so in this way church doctrines are meant to be few. However, church leaders inspire us to learn and seek out gospel doctrines.

    If they don’t lead to salvation, they are likely not church doctrines, but gospel doctrines. The church is here to lead us to salvation first and foremost, and secondly to help us learn gospel doctrines.

    Church doctrines are a subset of gospel doctrines, and are typically the safer to study. We typically know a good deal about church doctrines, but not much about gospel doctrines.

    I know some will think i’m missing the point, but it is important to see the difference in what we teach in church settings. It is okay to allude to the second, but we should focus on the first.

  4. Jacob on August 9, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Visorstuff – Does that mean in Gospel Doctrine class we should be teaching the doctrines that don’t lead to salvation? (Grinning broadly) Wait till I tell my bishop this one!

  5. Matt W. on August 9, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Wasn’t there a recent lds.org statement on this?

  6. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks Visorstuff, can you please let us know the source of this “gospel doctrines” versus “Church doctrines” categorization?

  7. Alan Jackson on August 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    While perhaps not as helpful as you’d like, I agree with Visorstuff. I was just reading in 3 Nephi when Christ comes and the first thing is says is that he doesn’t want contention over doctrine. The he says that his doctrine is that we must repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized in his name and that’s it (or something to that effect).

    There is plenty more leading to salvation and plenty more to discuss in the gospel, but that is the basics. Also, it is useful to look at whether the speaker is expounding or says the knowledge came from God directly.

    I don’t think there is a clear cut answer out there to find as to official position of the church on everything, but there are clear statements as to what is required for salvation.

  8. Jacob on August 9, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Sorry Visorstaff, I couldn’t resist that last comment.

    As far as what constitutes Official Church Doctrine . . . well . . . it all kinda gets all foggy when you really try to pin it down. Its like when you ask what is scripture, to which the response usually includes “The Standard Works”, to which you have to ask, “Which parts? What do we learn about the plan of salvation from Jacob’s sons who slaughter a bunch of guys because one of them raped their sister?” To which the response is ” Well. . . uh. . ” The way that I look at is that the Lord set up a system to help us stay in the right way, and that will help us to eventually find the right knowledge of His Doctrine. The prophets and apostles are there to teach us in how we should walk, not how we should think, know, and understand.

  9. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Matt, yes, there was a recent statement issued by the Newsroom. However, the Newsroom’s statement seems to fall short of its own definition of what’s “official,” raising the question of whether an unofficial statement can define what is “official doctrine.” Also, the Newsroom’s statement seems to conflict with what I’ve read in other Church publications about this issue.

  10. Jacob J on August 9, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    There have been a bunch of bloggernacle discussions about this. Matt W’s post is here.

  11. Dan on August 9, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    1. Are you aware of any official statement or official doctrine that explains how we are to determine whether a Church leader’s statement is “official doctrine”? If so, what is it and where is it found?

    I don’t know of any official statement, but I do think it actually does exist.

    2. To be considered “official doctrine,” who must make the statement? The president of the Church? An apostle? (And how do you know that?)

    Actually, any one of us may make a statement that is official doctrine. For example, the atonement of Jesus Christ enables all who were born here on earth to receive an immortal body after this life. As to the creation of official doctrine, well, here is where it gets muddy. An Apostle (or well, anyone really) may expound on doctrine to reveal something deeper, not yet revealed. If done in the spirit of prophecy (as stated in Alma 26), and the prophet of the Lord does not question the revelation, then it is official doctrine. (at least that’s my take on it). Of course church doctrine is actually more fluid than we sometimes think.

    3. To be considered “official doctrine,” does the statement have to be jointly made by a combination of Church leaders? For example, does a statement have to be made jointly by the First Presidency? The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles? Both? (And how do you know that?)

    Usually a statement need only be said by the First Presidency, though of late the protocol is to have the unity of the Twelve behind a statement to ensure there is no doubt. How do I know that? Because when it comes to official statements, I can’t recall seeing one coming solely from the prophet, or one of the Apostles.

    4. To be considered “official doctrine,” does the statement have to appear in a source that is published by the Church? If so, what is your understanding of which sources are official Church publications? Church website? Ensign magazine? Church News? Sunday School manuals? (And how do you know that?)

    Well, the Proclamation to the Family, for example, is published in many forms and formats. The particular publication is probably not as important as the message and who signs off on it.

    5. To be considered “official doctrine,” does a statement have to have been made relatively recently? In other words, do the statements of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that have not been reiterated by prophets and apostles in relatively recent history lose their “official doctrine” status? (And how do you know that?)

    I think it depends, in regards to what Joseph and Brigham have said. I think today’s leaders have not done a good job in clearing up the questions many have about what is official doctrine from the writings of both Joseph and Brigham. I don’t think there is a clear answer, at least not one that I know.

    6. Are you surprised that in a Church as structured as the LDS Church there would be any ambiguity about how Church members should determine whether a statement is official doctrine?

    No. I think that is one of the most amazing thing about this church. Too quickly we wish to become rigid, not realizing that rigidity did in the Jews, for example. The traditions of the fathers is a hard thing to break. I personally don’t think that God wants us to be rigid. Too much of the world around us is a cornucopia of things that challenge how we initially view things. This is a good thing, because if we had the ability to step back and see the larger picture (which we don’t—except for the briefest of moments) we’d realize that our perspective is highly biased, and as such leads us to conclusions that differ from what God would have us see. The issue of homosexuality, I think, is one of the greatest examples of this. Initial perspective from one rooted in the Gospel is to dismiss homosexuality. But the more you reflect on it, the more you start to realize that you don’t really know enough to cast a judgment one way or another.

    That’s just my view though. :)

  12. Dave on August 9, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Adam/Andrew, I see two problems. First, while LDS doctrine can be found in a variety of sources and from various speakers, some more authoritative than others, I don’t believe the Church has designated any source as a record or compilation of “official doctrine.” Maybe First Presidency statements when signed by all members of the Presidency, but they are not assembled and codified as a “source” that can be consulted and cited. If the Church is unwilling to recognize such a category, then trying to impose one as part of a study or paper is, to a certain extent, forcing a square peg in a round hole. An alternative question might be: How can the Church function so effectively without employing the category “official doctrine”?

    Second, there’s a complementary doctrine missing from the list of questions: continuous revelation. The two are related. Recognizing and defining “official doctrine” allows anyone to make definitive statements (or criticisms) of “official” LDS doctrine, and also serves to limit the scope of LDS leaders (under the banner of continuous revelation) to modify or revise earlier doctrinal statements when necessary, desirable, or so inspired. If expanding “official doctrine” means restricting the scope of continuous revelation, one shouldn’t expect to see much “official doctrine” codified.

  13. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Thanks Dan, and I agree this flexibility is one of the most amazing things about the Church. I just get confused when I read statements from General Authorities that warn Sunday School teachers, for example, to make sure they are teaching official doctrine, rather than opinions. To me, those types of statements are based on the assumption that there is this thing called “official doctrine” that is clear and readily accessible to Church members. In my experience, however, there is no such clarity about “official doctrine”–leaving me to wonder how I am to ensure I am walking in between lines that I can’t see.

  14. will on August 9, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    This seems like an epistemological whirlpool. What statement do we have on what\’s official? Who gave it? Do they have authority to make official statements? Says who? If there is some earlier statement that offers answers to these questions, how do we know that it was official? Who gave it? Do they have authority to….

    Is there a distinction between \”official\” doctrine and \”actual\” doctrine (i.e. God actually agrees with it)? If not, the confirmation of the Spirit seems to be the only foundation any doctrinal system can have. Which is unsatisfactorily subjective for such a large organization.

  15. Geoff J on August 9, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Blake Ostler posted on this subject at this very blog. See here. He wondered if there is any real LDS doctrine. I agree with him — we mostly have sacred texts, and in the absence of a systematic theology those texts can be interpreted in a lot of ways.

  16. Matt W. on August 9, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    a fairly good thread on this is here.

  17. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    I agree with the statements above that reject the idea that there is a rigid formula or definition for “official doctrine”. That being the case, I am surprised when I see a statement from the LDS Newsroom that purports to provide a rigid definition of “official doctrine.” The apparent purpose of such limiting statements seems to be the desire to distance the Church from uncomfortable statements that some Church leaders have made in the past.

    When confronted by uncomfortable statements, I wonder if, instead of trying to create a rigid definition of “official doctrine” that seeks to exclude those uncomfortable statements, maybe it would be a better approach to issue a statement along these lines:

    “Church leaders speak as they feel moved upon by the Holy Spirit. Such freedom inevitably results in differing views on the same issues, including some unique and seemingly unusual statements from time to time. Church members are encouraged to follow their consciences and the Holy Spirit in using those statements by Church leaders to help guide their lives as best they can. The fact that a single Church leader may have made a seemingly unusual statement in the past in no way obligates individual members or the Church as a whole to adopt that view as well.”

    The Newsroom’s statement began to make that point, however, it then went on to provide a limited list of official sources of doctrine that was more narrow than previous definitions I’ve seen.

  18. Ben on August 9, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    A few sources:

    Elder Reuben J. Clark, When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954.

    The recent post at the LDS newsroom on Approaching Mormon Doctrine

    Robert Millet, “What is Our Doctrine?” (published in Religious Educator, but available through LDS.org as well.)

    I have a few more to post after I dig up my file.

  19. Ben on August 9, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    FAIR’s collection of links on “what is official doctrine?”

  20. Jacob J on August 9, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    The problem I have with the J. Reuben Clark talk is that he focuses almost exclusively on the question of how we can tell if something is true rather than how we can tell if something is official. Those questions are very different, so his conclusions turn out to be unusable when applied to the question of officialness.

  21. Ray on August 9, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    I think “official” in Mormonism is very different than in the rest of Christianity – as has been said, because of our belief in the need for continuing revelation as we strive to move from “seeing through a glass darkly” to seeing “face to face”. I think we have official and eternal principles, but very little (if any) else that is official and eternal.

    Having said that, there are examples of what can be and have been termed “official” statements – those signed by the entire FP in the past and the FP and 12 currently. I give MUCH more weight to those statements than to pronouncements by individual leaders – or even by multiple leaders – or even to most scriptural pronouncements, since I view the united word of the FP & 12 as the most recent understanding revealed in my own day.

    In the end, however, I return to the idea of eternal principles (faith, repentance, following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end – that might about cover it) and ordinances to remind of our need to follow those principles. The way we define “exercising faith” rather than “having faith” – and our natural tendency to shirk our individual responsibilities and push it off on others – leads to the need to define doctrines that guide that exercise, but we are told that Jesus himself said that all of the law and the prophets hang on the foundation principle of love. Everything else seems like counsel concerning how to understand what that means, then internalize and live that principle. (“If you really love God and others, then you will do this and this and this and this . . .”)

    To paraphrase Jacob, “The less receptive we are to the whisperings of the Spirit, the more we need to be told what to believe and do – the more we need official doctrines.”

  22. Jacob on August 9, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks Ray. . . at least, I think you were paraphrasing me. (grin)

  23. Jordan F. on August 9, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I do think there are a few things that can be termed “official church doctrine”. Recently, as I was teaching the Gospel Doctrine class that covers the resurrection of the Savior, we listed the “official doctrines” regarding the resurrection. There were not many, but the list we made affirmed the power of correct doctrine. We culled these doctrines from the scriptures and modern revelation. They were things like how every person will be resurrected, how the resurrection is a restoration, how the resurrection does not all occur at once, etc. I do not think the canon of “official church doctrine” is necessarily large, but I do think that what there is is powerful and affirmative.

  24. Visorstuff on August 9, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    RE: #4 – I didn’t say that gospel doctrines shouldn’t be taught by the church, rather they should be. But they are not “official” church doctrines – they are good (and important) to know but don’t lead to salvation.

    #8 – I agree with you. Scripture is what is spoken when moved upon by the spirit – scripture is personal, the standard works are canonized scripture. But scripture does not always equal canon. Elder Oaks wrote an article a few years about how when we read the standard works we should receive our own scripture from it. Elder Scott also pushed people to write their own thoughts when reading the standard works – they are personal scripture he said. This is scripture, but not for the entire church..the church president interprets the standard works into scripture and policy for the church

    Scripture is only binding to those who receive it, to those present or those so instructed (ie patriarchal blessings or your stake president that may give revelation/sciputre for his stake, but the neighboring stake may not need). The Standard works are what we can compare scripture/personal revelation to and use to receive more of it.

    Your patriarchal blessing is scripture, but it is not canonized. Neither are dozens of revelations to church presidents, but the standard works are the baseline to compare our own revelations to and a place to get revelation, hence the term the church uses – “standard works.”

    Therefore what by said over the pulpit is not canon, but can be scripture, until (or unless) it is canonized by the body of the church.

    #6 Let me track down a Joseph Smith quote for you…but Alan #7 points to a good source from 3 Nephi. Clearly Christ wanted some doctrines taught plainly by the church. But his instructions do not prohibit other doctrines from being taught or even existing.

  25. Kevinf on August 9, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I think that Richard Bushman’s response to a similar question when he appeared at the Pew Forum on Religion recently is interesting. Here is the question, and Bushman’s answer:

    DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN: I’m interested in a clarification on the teaching authority, if we can say that, versus kind of revelation. If you shy away from the philosophical or rational kind of development, what is the teaching authority then based on? Is it personal revelation to the prophets, or just how does it work in general, say, in regard to an issue like contraception or abortion or so on, and then how is that binding on individual Mormons or on Mormon politicians? I think you said earlier that they don’t have to follow one thing or the other in the Mormon Church.

    BUSHMAN: Yeah, it’s one of the mysteries of how it works in that Mormons, both individually and as an official church, have always rebuffed attempts to systematize ideas. There is no creed. If a book is published called Mormon Doctrine that tries to outline Mormon doctrine, it’s repudiated by the president of the church. Over and over again, people go back and say, look, follow the Scriptures, read the Scriptures – which in a way begs the question of how you interpret the Scriptures. But every effort to do doctrine systematically is resisted. In that way, it’s kind of an anti-intellectual thing against systematic theology. (End quote)

    I think this describes the nature of the problem we are addressing here. It’s somewhat like herding cats, or defining pornography: “I know it when I see it”.

    Bushman also points out that there is no professional clergy, making it hard to define the group that even decides what official doctrine is. It’s interesting to note that in the discussions I have been involved in relating to the new edition of the Handbook of Instructions, that it is practice derived from principles based on doctrine, which is not a lot more clear to me. It is interesting to note that the handbook has grown more compact, less detailed, and clearly addresses primarily administrative activities, and not doctrine.

    Clearly, we end up with a loose collection of thoughts and influences from the scriptures, personal revelation, and experiences, and it is somewhat in a state of flux. Certainly one of the perceived core doctrines of the church, the Word of Wisdom, is anything but clear, and has a history of different interpretations. You may not be able to tie this topic up in any sort of a tidy package.

  26. Ray on August 9, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    What kevinf and Elder Bushman said. :-)

  27. Kevinf on August 9, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Clearly, I have used the word clearly and it’s derivatives, way too often for a subject this murky. There is anything but clarity here. And Ray, thanks for lumping me in with Bro. Bushman. That’s good company.

  28. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    I am thankful that Church leaders encourage members to exchange their understandings with each other. At the same time, I want to heed the important warnings that have been given about making public statements that are contrary to Church doctrine. For example, voicing my views on T&S blogs could get me in trouble if I’m not careful in ensuring the orthodoxy of my statements. But in order to ensure my views are in accordance with Church doctrine, I need to have a clear understanding about how to determine what is Church doctrine. Consider the following statement from President Faust from his October 1993 General Conference talk:

    Free discussion and expression are encouraged in the Church. Certainly the open expressions in most fast and testimony meetings, or Sunday School, Relief Society, and priesthood meetings attest to that principle. However, the privilege of free expression should operate within limits. In 1869, George Q. Cannon explained the limits of individual expression:

    “A friend … wished to know whether we … considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy. … We replied that … we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing these differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term” (Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist, 2 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, 2:276–77).

    Among the activities considered apostate to the Church include when members “(1) repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders; (2) persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority; or (3) continue to follow the teachings of apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority” (General Handbook of Instructions, 1989, p. 10-3).

  29. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    As a follow up to my last post, it appears that the Church recognizes the ambiguity surrounding what is Church doctrine because it only considers a person to be in apostasy if they publicly advocate a view that is not Church doctrine only “after being corrected by their bishops or higher authority.” This “warning” rule seems to recognize that at times it may be difficult for members
    to determine what Church doctrine is on a particular issue, so it is only fair that they be shown the error of their ways before being considered an apostate.

  30. Jacob on August 9, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for the quotes Andrew. I love that we still have to warn against “apostate cults (such as those that advocate plural marriage).” Cracks me up.

  31. m&m on August 9, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Before attempting to answer, I’d like a definition of what “official doctrine” is. :)

  32. Dave on August 9, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    Andrew (#28), now you’re using the term “Church doctrine” which (following the quote from the CHI) is pretty much anything that a “bishop or higher authority” says it is. It’s not like they have an Encyclopedia of Official Doctrine to consult. Since neither “Church doctrine” (whatever a bishop thinks LDS doctrine is; this varies depending on which ward and stake you live in, of course) nor “official doctrine” (which doesn’t seem to exist as an identifiable set of statements) is accessible to any of us, how are we supposed to “ensure the orthodoxy of our statements”? Other than just shutting up, of course. In a constitutional law context, that result would be an example of how an ambiguous statute regulating speech (especially one that gives unfettered enforcement discretion to a magistrate) creates a “chilling effect” on otherwise permissible speech, and would on that basis be held unconstitutional.

    For what it’s worth, the approach CES materials take is to slavishly quote LDS General Authorities (at any level, and from any era) on any point of doctrine or history. Quoting a GA is a doctrinal safe harbor; anything else is potentially (if rather remotely) risky.

  33. Bob on August 9, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    #29: Is this some kind of “Lemon Law”?

  34. Visorstuff on August 9, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    One more thought, didn’t the Brigham/Orson doctrinal battle end up with the church publishing official doctrinal clarifications in the Des News? Was that in the early 1870s? I can’t remember the year…

  35. Lupita on August 9, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Wait, is this the same Andrew that was Zack de la Rocha’s prodigy? The artist formerly known as Drew Boy?

    Andrew, this is an interesting question. I agree that “official doctrine” is a nebulous term. It would be nice to have a more concrete definition but I think that would really take a lot of the fun out of GD class–it’s so fascinating to see how different people define and defend it!

  36. A Dawg on August 9, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Lupita, thou has said. Quien eres?

  37. Andrew on August 9, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    Bob (33), actually, in torts law we call this the “Every Dog Gets One Bite” rule.

  38. Mark IV on August 9, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    “I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. It dont prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine.”

    Joseph Smith, Jr. (WoJS 183-184)

    Our religion is much more concerned with behavior than doctrine, as this statement by our founder demonstrates. Nobody cares whether I believe the doctrines underlying the law of chastity, for example, as long as my behavior is chaste.

  39. Lupita on August 9, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    Quien soy yo? Pero, esto es lo que es divertido acerca del internet. Alright, married to a former bandmate of yours, I’ve broken exceedingly fine bread with you and yours many times. Alas, we were then exiled to the tundra y aqui estoy, echando de menos la amistad de la familia Ainsworth (especially your cool wife, my former roommate). We’re practically related.

    But enough about me. Back to serious definitions…

  40. Bob on August 9, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    #37:You are closer with your Tort Law. But I like the idea if someone gave gives you a bad doctrine, you can bring it back and get a new one,once you find out.
    In Baseball, there is an.” Official” Strike Zone. But it doesn’t help much in the heat of the game. It may take a game or years for a player to even find out where it is.

  41. Bob on August 9, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    #37: What Attorney ever gave a dog one bite?!

  42. Adam Greenwood on August 9, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    Nobody cares whether I believe the doctrines underlying the law of chastity, for example, as long as my behavior is chaste.

    Joseph Smith was known to get pretty feisty with people for false teaching. And I really doubt that no one cares whether you believe the law of chastity. Get up in testimony meeting, announce that you live the law of chastity but that you think its all a bunch of bunk, and see how you get received.

  43. Keller on August 9, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    I spent some time trying to define and classify mormon doctrine on my blog awhile back:

    The most important thing to get right in representing a particular Mormon belief is whether said belief can be traced to a source considered doctrinal. Let me start with a few definitions.

    From Wikipedia:

    doctrine: “a body of teachings” or “instructions”, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.

    From Princeton’s Wordnet:

    doctrine: a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school.

    religious doctrine: the written body of teachings of a religious group that are generally accepted by that group.

    These definitions bring up a number of criteria in determining whether a belief is doctrine or not. To qualify, a doctrine must be written, must be considered an authoratative teaching, and must be generally accepted by the group. Each of these criteria have their own challenge in Mormonism. For example, unwritten traditions, oral teachings, art, ritual practices, experiences too sacred to be written about, or written but not accessible, or multimedia presentations often play a role in shaping beliefs.

    1. binding, official doctrine: The canonized LDS scriptures: The Bible (For English speakers the KJV), The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.
    2. official doctrine: Statements signed and publicly promulgated by the First Presidency; should be able to find a reference to such on the LDS church website or the Church Handbook of Instructions. Examples include: The Proclamation on the Family, The Living Christ, and The Father and the Son.
    3. recent, public discourse doctrine: General Conference addresses as are easily searchable on the LDS Church site.
    4. correlated doctrine: found in recent church lesson manuals, recent church periodicals, current church handbooks, and books approved and available from the church distribution services such as Jesus the Christ.

    I then found 25 proof-texts within texts that fit within the four categories above to support my classifications. see: http://www.mormonandcatholic.org/part-1-motivation/

  44. Mark IV on August 10, 2007 at 12:03 am

    And I really doubt that no one cares whether you believe the law of chastity. Get up in testimony meeting, announce that you live the law of chastity but that you think its all a bunch of bunk, and see how you get received.

    Adam let me try again. I DID NOT say that it doesn’t matter whether I think the LoC is a bunch of bunk. I said it doesn’t matter whether I believe the underlying doctrines – by that I mean the doctrines we use to explain and justify the LoC. I think there is a difference, although you may disagree. The principles outlined by Elder Holland in his Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments talk are all plausible and, for all I know, 100% true. But there isn’t one Mormon in twenty who can even tell you what those principles are, so I can conclude that it is not necessary to believe them, since it is impossible to believe something you don’t even know about. The TR question is “Do you live the law of chastity?” not “Can you explain the rationale behind the law of chastity?”

    And of course Joseph Smith lost patience sometimes with false teachers, that is beyond dispute. I threw out that quote just to show that our habit of providing dueling GA quotes is really child’s play and doesn’t advance the argument. In my opinion, Oman’s thoughts in comment # 1 say just about all there is to be said on this topic.

  45. Mark IV on August 10, 2007 at 12:10 am

    You can find further clarification of Nate’s thoughts on the topic here.

  46. Keller on August 10, 2007 at 12:43 am

    So following those classifications, here is how I would answer the questions.

    1. No. Within official doctrine we are presented with guidelines and narratives for determining the truth of any proposition, for the most part on individual basis — think Alma 32, Moroni 7, 10, D&C 6, 9, John 7:17 etc. (This idea seemed to be the main point of J. Reuben Clark’s essay, which isn’t a doctrinal text all by itself by the above definitions.) There are also some texts within official doctrine that provide narratives and guidelines on an institutional basis such as common consent, the resolution of doctrinal disputes in D&C, the priority of the President, instructions as to what the missionaries should teach, what Jesus said his doctrine was and so forth. Still even all these texts combined don’t deliver an unambiguous criteria in which an individual can determine what official doctrine is.

    2. The who that makes or creates a statement is not as relevant the who that endorses a statement. If the membership accepts a text as scripture by formal vote at a conference than a that text becomes official and binding on the church in some sense. That idea is not found explicitly in scriptures but such was the language used when scriptures have been presented in the past as preserved in correlated church materials and conference reports. Correlated church materials have also defined “official doctrine”:

    The official doctrine of the Latter-day Saints is clearly defined and readily accessible to all. Doctrines are official if they are found in the standard works of the Church, if they are sustained by the Church in general conference (D&C 26:2), or if they are taught by the First Presidency as a presidency. Policies and procedures are official whenever those who hold the keys and have been sustained by the Church to make them declare them so. Other churches claim the right to define and interpret their own doctrines and policies and to distinguish between official church teachings and the opinions of individual members. Surely the Latter-day Saints must be allowed the same privilege.—-Stephen E. Robinson, “Are Mormons Christians?” New Era, May 1998

    3. Yes. Yes. No. See above
    I would want to reserve the right to quibble over anomalies and details though.

    4. Yes. The rest of this section asks about correlated church materials that aren’t official doctrine by the above classification, yet remain in the doctrinal hierarchy. There is a nice quote in a past Ensign that covers this ground:

    Church publications fall into four general categories: (1) materials related to the curriculum, such as lesson manuals, teachers supplements, and student materials; (2) magazines; (3) administrative documents, such as handbooks, leadership training materials, organizational guidelines and bulletins, etc.; and (4) missionary discussions, tracts, and support materials. All of the materials within these four categories are prepared under the direction of some officially recognized Church agency, and they are reviewed and cleared by the Church Correlation Review committees before they are published and issued to the Church. A wide range of hardbound books, pamphlets, and other printed materials is constantly being printed and placed on the market by independent publishing companies. Many of these materials deal with religious matters. Some are written by Church members, including General Authorities. Publications that fall into this category are not generally authorized by the Church. The authors, compilers, and publishers assume full responsibility for the content and do not seek or receive official Church endorsement. …While the content of the approved Church publications identified above does not claim the same endorsement that the standard works receive, nonetheless they are prepared with great care and are carefully screened before they are published. ….

    The only thing it doesn’t cover is the use of official websites or offsite items that the websites link to.

    5. This question is easier to answer for binding, official doctrine that remains as such unless decanonized (my view of LoF) or overruled (my view of the Law of Moses). Official doctrine in terms of First Presidency statements are a bit more difficult to assess. Some of the older items are kept current by re-publicizing or reiterating them in correlated materials such as the CHI. Some of it has been virtually renounced like statements on race and some of them have been phased out through the principle of benign neglect as Mauss termed it. The idea that old teachings can lapse is well encapsulated by the “living prophets trump dead ones” motif that one can find throughout correlated material. For past teachings from prophets in general, we might be able to better address this question after all the manuals in the PH/RS are completed.

    6. I like the way things are set up now. It give individuals some room within limits of forming their own beliefs by following basic principles and yet gives the organized church some way of moderating what gets taught in its devotional settings. Having more legalism would entail endless intellectual debates that take centuries for resolution (see Christian History) and would hamper personal and institutional growth by de-emphasizing experience and revelation.

  47. Andrew on August 10, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Keller, thanks for your several informative posts!

  48. Andrew on August 10, 2007 at 12:57 am

    Lupita, “How come you neva caaaaallll?!”

  49. Kingsley on August 10, 2007 at 1:44 am

    It’s impossible to look closely at Joseph Smith’s life & believe that the Temple Recommend questions have much to do with whether or not I’ll progress hereafter or stay put, penisless but I don’t have to water my lawn. If you can take on a dozen extra very young wives without telling your own wife, hold the door shut on the latter as you converse with one of the former, & authorize other men to behave in the same manner, yet be hailed by millions again, I just don’t think smoking cigarettes will bar you from the best celestial clubs. I’m not saying eat drink & be merry etc., & I believe Joseph’s story, & accept that I never knew his heart; but to hell with moving targets such as do you sustain so-&-so or sympathize with such-&-such. Bloom was right when he said that a great religious imagination has, in part, been betrayed, watered down to grooming standards & porn mania, at least on the popular level; — look, if a stroll through Deseret Book doesn’t leave you nearly paralyzed with depression … — Joseph said peep five minutes into heaven & you’ll know more etc., & I believe him; it’s huge, the sort of afterlife he hinted at. He said, “You’d kill me if I told you what I know,” etc. It’s huge & bizzare & we don’t understand JACK, & if the culture responsible for “beard cards” tops the list of the Chosen then everyone who isn’t a serial killer or child pornographer/molester with a perfectly functioning psyche should be feelin’ pretty fine.

  50. Andrew on August 10, 2007 at 2:25 am

    Thanks Kingsley, your comment certainly gives us all a lot to think about (not to mention a couple images to erase from our minds).

  51. Kyle R on August 10, 2007 at 3:50 am

    #49 “Bloom was right when he said that a great religious imagination has, in part, been betrayed, watered down to grooming standards & porn mania, at least on the popular level.— look, if a stroll through Deseret Book doesn’t leave you nearly paralyzed with depression … — Joseph said peep five minutes into heaven & you’ll know more etc., & I believe him; it’s huge, the sort of afterlife he hinted at.”

    Kingsley, you’ve just summed up anything I would ever want to say on the subject. Who’s this Bloom?

  52. Kyle R on August 10, 2007 at 3:55 am

    Actually, scratch that. I’ve just seen who Bloom is from David Banack’s post.

  53. Adam Greenwood on August 10, 2007 at 6:47 am

    Licit jovi, non licit bovi. I’m not a Joseph Smith. Even in Joseph Smith’s time, most of the Saints weren’t Joseph Smith. I can’t fake being a protean, titanic figure and any method of salvation adapted to the assumption that I’m such a figure would fail.

    And I have a sneaking suspicion that we might be disappointed, if we were to associate with Joseph Smith, to see how much petty moralism coexisted with the other parts of his character.

  54. Kyle R on August 10, 2007 at 10:14 am

    #53 The cows are at least permitted to imagine all kinds of things in the mind of Jove. But does Jupiter similarly overestimate the cows? Or he does he know exactly what they’re like.

  55. Bob on August 10, 2007 at 10:47 am

    #53 & #54 Now, now..let’s not start speaking in tongues!

  56. wgg on August 10, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I apologize if this point has already been made, but I have not read all of the posts or the references referred to.

    But I find my self agreeing with Nate Oman’s views that “doctrine” is not something that is easily defined. But that said I believe that sometimes we do confuse “rules” with “doctrine” or “principles.” We probably also need the guidance of the Spirit in identifying the true doctrines and principles.

    I find the comments of Elder Oaks very helpful when he talks about identifying the true doctrines and principles and then seeking the guidance of the Spirit in applying these things to our particular situation at the time. He gives the example of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. See Oaks, Nov. 1999 Ensign, 78.

    Folowing is an excerpt from his talk:
    “Teachers who are commanded to teach “the principles of [the] gospel” and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77) should generally forgo teaching specific rules or applications. For example, they would not teach any rules for determining what is a full tithing, and they would not provide a list of dos and don’ts for keeping the Sabbath day holy. Once a teacher has taught the doctrine and the associated principles from the scriptures and the living prophets, such specific applications or rules are generally the responsibility of individuals and families.
    Well-taught doctrines and principles have a more powerful influence on behavior than rules. When we teach gospel doctrine and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching, and we enlist the faith of our students in seeking the guidance of that same Spirit in applying those teachings in their personal lives.”

  57. CEF on August 10, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    #8 Jacob – This could be taken as something rather negative, but that is not the spirit in which it is asked. From what you said, what is the difference between us and the other christian churches? Don’t they make the same claim or something close? By what is said here, do we not relegate ourselves to a position of being irrelevant?

  58. Jacob on August 10, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    CEF – good question. I don’t really have a good answer for you. For all the time that I think that the gospel is about right living, there’s an equal amount of time where I think that the gospel is about right knowing. “A man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.” There are so many contradictions in how I think that when I try to define it all, I say something that makes no sense. I think this quest for Official Doctrine has the same difficulty. On the one hand, there’s been enough falsehood that many people believed to be doctrine – i.e. blacks not worthy of the priesthood – but on the other hand, if just living a good life was enough, there would be no need for our doctrines of the priesthood and the nature of God.

  59. queuno on August 10, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    And I really doubt that no one cares whether you believe the law of chastity. Get up in testimony meeting, announce that you live the law of chastity but that you think its all a bunch of bunk, and see how you get received.

    Interesting question. How about the reverse? Stand up and say you believe in the law of chastity but don’t follow it. Which of the two testimony-givers would be treated better?

  60. Aaron Shafovaloff on August 13, 2007 at 3:27 am

    \”Even though it is a revealed religion, Mormonism is all but creedless… While certain doctrines are enunciated in the standard works and some doctrinal issues have been addressed in formal pronouncements by the First Presidency, there is nothing in Mormonism comparable to the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Augsburg Confession. Few of the truly distinctive doctrines of Mormonism are discussed in \’official\’ sources. It is mainly by \’unofficial\’ means-Sunday School lessons, seminary, institute, and BYU religion classes, sacrament meeting talks and books by Church officials and others who ultimately speak only for themselves-that the theology is passed from one generation to the next. Indeed it would seem that a significant part of Mormon theology exists primarily in the minds of the members. The absence of a formal creed means that each generation must produce a new set of gospel expositors to restate and reinterpret the doctrines of Mormonism.\” – Peter Crawley. \”Parley P. Pratt: Father of Mormon Pamphleteering\”, Dialogue, Autumn 1982, pp. 20-21. Quoted in \”Speaking with Authority,\” Sunstone 10:3/13 (Mar 85)

  61. Aaron Shafovaloff on August 13, 2007 at 3:30 am

    I highly recommend the following:

    Grass-Roots Deviance from Official Doctrine: A Study of Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) Folk-Beliefs
    by Richley H. Crapo
    Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec., 1987), pp. 465-485

  62. Kyle R on August 13, 2007 at 8:12 am

    #61 A highly illuminating article Aaron, thanks. – (readily available at http://cc.usu.edu/%7Efath6/grassrts.htm for anyone interested.)

    This is an interesting quote from it:

    “Within the church setting itself, the avoidance of controversy is even more evident. Open disagreement with one another in religious discussions is explicitly discouraged, and formal lessons in meetings where group discussion is appropriate are usually structured around rhetorical questions which channel members into acceptable responses that are not likely to stimulate disagreement. Teachers in such settings typically compliment any response but are less likely to follow up on comments which deviate from the desired response. Potentially controversial topics are carefully avoided in established church meetings. Religious topics of this kind are typically referred to as “the mysteries.” They are issues considered dangerous to speculate about because they may lead to heresy. Non-religious topics of a potentially controversial nature are labeled “political issues.” They, like “the mysteries,” are considered taboo in a church sanctioned setting. Criticism of any church leader, which is likewise taboo, is sometimes described as behavior such “leads to apostasy.” These patterns of conflict avoidance encourage the repression of any conflict within the church. Members readily acknowledge the existence of “Mormons” who have not been in harmony with the church hierarchy, such as the various polygamous, fundamentalists past and present, other schismatic groups which have arisen throughout the history of the church, and political activists and feminists such as Sonia Johnson, who have received public attention in the news media. However, these are not discussed as examples of debate over contrasting views within the church. Neither is the pathos of the personal conflicts such persons may have experienced concerning church doctrine or practice a normal part of conversations in which they are mentioned. Rather, such people or groups are described as having “fallen away” from the church and its teachings. Dissension, in other words, never happens “within the ranks,” since dissent is merely the act by which individual members separate themselves from the church and its teachings.”

  63. California Condor on August 13, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Aaron Shafovaloff,

    It makes it hard to nail a Mormon for something Brigham Young said in the 19th century, doesn’t it?

  64. Damaris Fish on August 14, 2007 at 2:17 am

    Richard Bushman in a forum on Mormonism and Democratic Politics in May of this year had a comment on official doctrine. It is in here (the entire transcript – and I recommend reading the whole thing) http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148 then do a word search on \”doctrine\”
    He refers to the LDS Newsroom statement
    … BUSHMAN: Very safe, okay. How can an institution be so self-contradictory? There is a clue given in a statement recently posted on the church\’s newsroom Web page defining the bounds of church doctrine. It says, \”Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of church doctrine.\”
    That statement is here –

  65. Aaron Shafovaloff on August 16, 2007 at 1:48 am

    California Condor,

    It might be hard to convince a Mormon that what a dead prophet said even matters, but in principle it’s still important. And it’s difficult for most to deal with the idea of a “true” prophet publicly teaching what Mormon leaders later condemn as damnable heresy.

    I know people who have left Mormonism and discovered a personal relationship with Christ largely because of trying to deal with this very issue, so I don’t see it a beating a dead horse.

  66. Ray on August 16, 2007 at 2:15 am

    Aaron, it’s harder when all of Christianity does the exact same thing. If someone leaves Mormonism and accepts mainstream Christianity because of the irrelevance of a dead prophet’s words in their own time, that is about as uninformed as can be. Plenty of people can change religions due to a disagreement over a particular issue, but the irrelevance of former teachings? No leg to stand on there, dude, unless you are willing to stone adulterers and ban women from speaking in church – to name only two.

    Also, lay off the “discovered a personal relationship with Christ by leaving Mormonism” line. It’s absolutely ludicrous as a general statement, because the vast majority of members I know have that type of relationship. If some members didn’t have it as Mormons, I’m happy they were able to find it elsewhere, but it can happen just as easily as a Mormon. Your comment smacks of what I have heard ad nauseum from my Protestant friends who smiled as they consigned me to Hell; I don’t need to hear it here. On this bolg, I dare say you are beating a dead horse.

  67. Jonathan Green on August 16, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Aaron, I don’t want to repeat everything Ray said, but, depending on the particular portions of the horse you wish to beat, another venue may in fact be more appropriate.

  68. Aaron on August 29, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Ray, the emphasis on the living prophet in Mormonism makes for very little concern over doctrinal continuity throughout the past 175 years. This is a big reason why I think the words of dead prophets in Mormonism often have very little relevance unless they support what a living prophet is willing to explicitly, publicly affirm.

  69. Visorstuff on September 9, 2007 at 1:56 am

    A couple of quotes of interest (I was mistaken on who said the following quote I referred to above, in post #24, it was Brigham Young discussing church doctrine versus true doctrine. Other quote from the Young administration on wanting to clarify his own teachings that would one day be misunderstood. A little ironic.

    In 1865 the First Presidency counseled the Latter-day Saints: “We do not wish incorrect and unsound doctrines to be handed down to posterity under the sanction of great names, to be received and valued by future generations as authentic and reliable, creating labor and difficulties for our successors to perform and contend with, which we ought not to transmit to them. The interests of posterity are, to a certain extent, in our hands. Errors in history and in doctrine, if left uncorrected by us who are conversant with the events, and who are in a position to judge of the truth or falsity of the doctrines, would go to our children as though we had sanctioned and endorsed them. . . . We know what sanctity there is always attached to the writings of men who have passed away, especially to the writings of Apostles, when none of their contemporaries are left, and we, therefore, feel the necessity of being watchful upon these points.”


    For me, the plan of salvation…incorporates every system of true doctrine on the earth, whether it be ecclesiastical, moral, philosophical, or civil; it incorporates all good laws that have been made from the days of Adam until now; it swallows up the laws of nations, for it exceeds them all in knowledge and purity, it circumscribes the doctrines of the day, and takes from the right and the left, and brings all truth together in one system, and leaves the chaff to be scattered hither and thither. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.3 – p.4)


    If the Lord Almighty should reveal to a High Priest, or to any other than the head, things that are true, or that have been and will be, and show to him the destiny of this people twenty-five years from now, or a new doctrine that will in five, ten, or twenty years hence become the doctrine of this Church and Kingdom, but which has not yet been revealed to this people, and reveal it to him by the same Spirit, the same messenger, the same voice, the same power that gave revelations to Joseph when he was living, it would be a blessing to that High Priest, or individual; but he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source to become the property of the people at large. Discourses of Brigham Young, p.338


    Brethren, leave these themes of profitless discussion alone; keep closely to the teachings of the revealed word, as made plain in the standard works of the Church and through the utterances of the living prophets; and let not a difference of views on abstruse matters of doctrine absorb your attention, lest thereby you become estranged from one another and separated from the Spirit of the Lord.
    Joseph Fielding Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.364

  70. Visorstuff on September 9, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    And another:

    “This title which the Lord gave when they got out this edition—let me refer to the title page: ‘The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’—is very significant and tells the story of what this book actually is. It contains the doctrine of the Church; it contains the covenants the Lord will make with the Church, if we are willing to receive them.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1987, page 83)

    Bring to this the statement that the Doctrine and Covenants will never be a closed book, i guess we now know where to find the official doctrines….


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.