Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Is Official "Mormon" Doctrine?

Due to several conversations both with members of the LDS Church and with several people not of the Mormon faith, I felt it would be important to clarify what exactly constitutes “what Mormons believe”, or in other words, “official doctrine”. Some do error if they actually think that the book Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie is actually doctrine for the “Mormon” church. That’s a clever name for a book, but it's not actually the (official) truth. Those were his opinions. He was certainly very knowledgeable, and yes, he did become an apostle, but that doesn't make the book official doctrine. (And we all know he had to change some of his opinions as he learned more.) Some general authorities have even expressed opinions that run contrary to general Mormon belief. No worries, we’re not bound by speculation.

I think a quote from my former professor and mentor Stephen Robinson would be helpful here. He makes so many important points that seem to hit several nails right on the head:

“So what constitutes genuine Mormon doctrine? What is the LDS equivalent of “nihil obstat” and “imprimatur”? What do the Latter-day Saints believe? Can something be said to be “Mormon” doctrine if any Latter-day Saint anywhere believes it? If my LDS grandmother believed that frogs cause warts, or that the earth is flat, does that make those ideas LDS doctrine? If some LDS missionary somewhere believes that the earth is hollow and that the lost ten tribes are hiding inside, is his or her belief therefore LDS doctrine? Of course not.

“Virtually every religion has procedures for distinguishing the individual beliefs of its members from the official doctrines of the church, and so do the Latter-day Saints…

“B. H. Roberts, a General Authority of the LDS church, summarized the issue perhaps as well as anyone has:

“The Church has confined the sources of doctrine by which it is willing to be bound before the world to the things that God has revealed, and which the Church has officially accepted, and those alone. These would include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price; these have been repeatedly accepted and endorsed by the Church in general conference assembled, and are the only sources of absolute appeal for our doctrine.”

“Of course it is true that many Latter-day Saints, from the Presidents of the Church and members of the Quorum of the Twelve down to individual members who may write books or articles, have expressed their own opinions on doctrinal matters. Nevertheless, until such opinions are presented to the Church in general conference and sustained by vote of the conference, they are neither binding nor the official doctrine of the Church. The critics of LDS doctrine seldom recognize this vital distinction. Rather, if any Latter-day Saint, especially one of the leading Brethren, ever said a thing, these critics take it to represent “Mormonism,” regardless of the context of the particular statement and regardless of whether any other Latter-day Saint ever said it or believed it. Often the Latter-day Saints themselves are guilty of this same error and search through the Journal of Discourses as if it were some sort of Mormon Talmud, looking for “new” doctrines not found in the standard works and not taught in the Church today.

“Usually the critics insist that the Latter-day Saints must defend as doctrine everything Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any other General Authority ever said. But the LDS concept of doctrine simply cannot be stretched this far. The Latter-day Saints allow that sometimes the living prophet speaks in his role as prophet and sometimes he simply states his own opinions. This distinction is no different than that made in some other Christian denominations. For example, even though Roman Catholics believe in “papal infallibility,” they insist that the pope is infallible only in certain clearly defined circumstances –when he speaks ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals. Cannot the Latter-day Saints be allowed a similar distinction? The LDS view was expressed succinctly by Joseph Smith himself: “I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.”

“Non-Mormon critics, on the other hand, often insist that the Brethren must speak and write prophetically at all times. This absolutist expectation usually flows out of an extreme inerrantist view of prophecy and of scripture that is held by the critics, but not by the Latter-day Saints. The critics’ belief in the Bible as absolutely perfect, without error and inspired in every word, leads them to make the same demands of anyone claiming to be a prophet. They would impose their inerrantist view on the Latter-day Saints and their prophets.

“But the Latter-day Saints have no such inerrantist views, neither of the scriptures nor of the prophets. The scriptures are the word of God, but only as far as they are translated [or transmitted] correctly; and prophets sometimes speak for the Lord, and sometimes they express their own opinions. Certainly, if the Latter-day Saints were radical inerrantists, such a view as the foregoing would be a contradiction and a scandal, but since we are not inerrantists, the view scandalizes only our inerrantist critics. B. H. Roberts expressed it in this way:

“It is not sufficient to quote sayings purported to come from Joseph Smith or Brigham Young upon matters of doctrine. Our own people also need instruction and correction in respect of this. It is common to hear some of our older brethren say, “But I heard Brother Joseph myself say so,” or “Brother Brigham preached it; I heard him.” But that is not the question. The question is has God said it? Was the prophet speaking officially?

As to the printed discourses of even leading brethren, the same principle holds. They do not constitute the court of ultimate appeal on doctrine. They may be very useful in the way of elucidation and are very generally good and sound in doctrine, but they are not the ultimate sources of the doctrines of the Church, and are not binding upon the Church. The rule in that respect is–What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine.”

“In their encounters with anti-Mormon critics, quite often the Saints seem to feel constrained to defend too much. For example, the fact that Orson Pratt may have said such and such on this or that occasion does not make it a proposition that needs defending. Elder Pratt was very outspoken in his opinions, which sometimes disagreed with the opinions of other General Authorities. He was frequently instructed to make clear to his hearers or readers that his views were his own and not the doctrine of the Church; and on at least one occasion he was instructed by the President of the Church to recant publicly opinions he had represented as doctrine.

“Yet time and again the private opinions or even the half-serious speculations of Orson Pratt and others are presented in the literature of the anti-Mormons as mainstream LDS doctrine. The problem is compounded by some enthusiastic Latter-day Saints who themselves will not observe this distinction and insist on teaching the personal opinions and speculations of past leaders as though they were the official doctrines of the Church.

“Now, none of this should be taken to mean that in matters of administration within the LDS church the General Authorities are not inspired or that they must submit every policy decision to the members for a sustaining vote. The revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, already accepted as binding by the Church, along with the ordination to their callings give the Brethren the keys and authority to administer the affairs of the Church as the Lord may direct without their needing a sustaining vote for each individual decision. Thus the Church in conference sustains only the individuals who hold the keys, but does not need to sustain separately every detail of their administration. Consequently the policies and procedures of the Church are “official” and “inspired” whenever those holding the keys of that ministry unitedly declare them to be so. Similarly the revelations already accepted by the Church give to the General Authorities and to many others the right to “preach, teach, expound, exhort,”–that is, to interpret and apply existing doctrines within the context of their individual stewardships. The Brethren need no further license or sustaining vote to interpret, define, and apply the doctrines of the Church, or to administer the affairs of the Church and dictate its policies and procedures, than to be sustained in conference as prophets, seers, and revelators and as duly ordained members of their respective quorums.

“Latter-day Saints believe that the General Authorities receive inspiration and revelation from God constantly in the administration of the affairs of the Church. They also believe that individuals within the Church may receive personal revelation, even on doctrinal matters, for their private benefit. When doctrinal revelation is given to such individuals, however, the Lord commands them to keep it to themselves (see Alma 12:9). Such revelation is not for the Church generally, but for that individual alone. No new doctrine is binding as the official doctrine of the Church unless it has been received by the President of the Church and until it has been sustained by the Church in general conference.

“Finally, from an LDS point of view some things may be correct without being official Church doctrine. For example, it is probably true that the sum of the squares of the sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of its hypotenuse, but the Pythagorean theorem has never been sustained in a general conference of the Church. Similarly the doctrinal opinions of individual Latter-day Saints could very well turn out to be correct–and some such opinions are believed by many of the Saints –but that does not make them the official doctrine of the Church. This category of things that may be true and that are believed by some in the Church is confusing to members and nonmembers alike.

“Hence the Brethren have insisted again and again that the members avoid such speculative matters and teach only from the standard works, for only they contain the official doctrines of the Church.
For all of these reasons the only valid judgments of whether or not LDS doctrine is Christian must be based on the official doctrines of the Church, interpreted as the Latter-day Saints interpret them.”
(Stephen Robinson: “What is Official Doctrine" from the book "Are Mormon’s Christian?”)


Eric Nielson said...

For some reason my last comment didn't take. But this is a great quote Clean, and important for us to keep in mind.

I would also like to pass along a link to lds.org called Approaching Mormon Doctrine

It says similar things.

Velska said...

When I was a missionary in England in the beginning of the 1980's, a general authority gave a pretty good rundown of what constitutes doctrine. As a fairly new member that I was, it was a very instructive lesson.

The basic doctrines of the Church are plain and simple. The thing is, many people wish to have a deeper understanding - no harm in that. There is some basic value to even sharing our speculations with others. The problem with blogging is that it can be difficult to take it back when we learn more and have to update our speculations. As we receive truth "line upon line, precept upon precept", this is likely to happen sooner or later. I know it's happened to me.

The Church leaders have in the last 2 decades at least concentrated on basic doctrines. I don't think "loving thy neighbor" is too simple for us.

How about The Family - A Proclamation To The World? I would rate that as pretty established by now, seeing how it came about and was published.

Berean said...

The long quotes by Stephen Robinson are actually self-indicting because this individual is giving his opinion on what Mormon doctrine is. Who is Stephen Robinson? Who is Robert Millet? These are BYU spin doctors that have no authoritative voice for the LDS Church, but yet they are referenced to state what is Mormon doctrine in the Church. Seems like circular reasoning to me.

The statement by B.H. Roberts could also be the same thing...he's giving his opinion. What is the difference between B.H. Roberts' words and Orson Pratt's? The LDS people like to have it both ways when it comes to picking and choosing what doctrines they want. I call this "Vegas buffet" Mormonism. They pick and choose what they want. If a certain doctrine of the past doesn't coincide with something they personally have a taste for even if it's an "old dish" they reject it and choose something else that suits their spiritual taste.

Mormons love the Journal of Discourses when it suits their needs and quote from it for that purpose. They pick and choose what they want from it. I've heard Mormons say that that the book "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith" is not authoritative. However, these are published sermons given by Joseph Smith that are authoritative.

Are seminary and institute books authoritative and doctrine of the Church? According to the website link from the first poster they are. These books have the Church stamp on the back. Why do so many of these church manuals that I have contain countless references to books such as "Mormon Doctrine", "Journal of Discourses", "Teachings of the Propeht Joseph Smith", etc., but yet none of them contain any references from Stephen Robinson?

I know that the LDS people are not very happy and proud about many of the things that their prophets have taught and do their best to run from them. These so-called "prophets" and mouthpieces of God said that they were speaking in his name and many of those sermons were conference addresses as well. Were the things that Brigham Young taught (Adam-god, blood atonement, etc.) incorrect doctrines? Was he wrong and not a prophet of God? The LDS Church holds him in high esteem still today, but yet run away from his teachings.

Mormons seem to get away with rejecting doctrines they don't like by stating that it was only the opinions of the author and nothing else. You will never hear a Christian (evangelical or whatever) state that they reject certain things that Paul, Peter, John, Abraham, etc., said and were only giving their opinions and thus they thereby reject it.

The LDS manual "Teachings of the Living Prophets" on pages 21-22, and 26 state what the Mormons are supposed to think and believe when it comes to subject of opinions by their leaders. By the way, that book has the Church stamp on the back and is put out by LDS Distribution in Salt Lake City. That makes it official just like the Church manuals that I have that reference "Mormon Doctrine", "Journal of Discourses" and "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith". I'm still waiting for LDS Distribution to distribute Stephen Robinson's "Believing Christ". When they do I will recognize Robinson's statements as authoritative, but until then anything he says is just his opinion and is meaningless.

Eric Nielson said...


I would imagine that if somebody tried hard enough they could find some quotations from Christian leaders from the past that would seem doctrinally strange.

The examples you give are John, Paul, Abraham. We would list these examples also. But what of all the reformers? Take Calvin for instance. Calvin was a biggy amongst the reformers. But there are doctrinal extremes in strict Calvinist doctrine that most protestants/evangelicals would not go along with. Should we try and hold all protestants to defend every aspect of Calvinist theology as official Christian Doctrine?

Whether it is Calvin, Luther, Campbell, or any of a host of protestant reformers there is difference of opinion. This difference of opinion is why there are so many Christian churches. They all have slightly different beliefs. Because of the conflicting opinions of early Christian reformers. Some of which every Christian rejects.

Anonymous said...

Here's the LDS problem; there is a claim that they have a living prophet who speaks for God. The men that you mentioned in Christian History are men. I can accept, reject or consider their writings any way I wish. But Mormons have a real problem because of the conflicting and off the wall statements made by those in authority, the so called living prophets. Remember, in the LDS religion, when the leaders speak the thinking has been done. So when BY was expounding on Adam-God or Blood Atonement, he was speaking as a prophet. The LDS took it as such at the time. When Gordon Hinkley appeared on Larry King and was asked about progression to godhood he said, "I don't know that we've ever taught that." He's was the prophet. The big kahuna. Hearing directly from god and he doesn't know about the most fundamental doctrine within Mormonism? Mormonism has no systematic theology. Just continual revelation, which is dubious and as changeable as the whether.

Berean said...


There have always been differences of opinions on issues in Christian theology outside of the fundamentals of the faith that are necessary for one's salvation. These are called "non-essentials". They are non-essential for salvation. While there are many different denominations in Christendom I'd say about 90% of the churches agree on the fundamentals of the faith that are essential. Those would be the nature of God, the work, person, nature and deity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. I've been to many different Christian churches and have enjoyed fellowship with my brothers and sisters in the Lord because we are in agreement on the essentials/fundamentals. The apostle Paul said, "For there must also be factions among you" (NASB, 1 Cor 11:19). He recognized the need for varying opinions and the context of that verse is dealing with communion (sacrament).

Christians can have different views on sacrament. Some can take it every week while others may want to only once a month. Another group likes no musical instruments in church while another group likes only the piano while another likes a full orchestra. Thus there is a denomination. One group only likes the KJV Bible while other denominations recognize other versions. Some groups preach against its members going to movies, playing cards or dancing of any kind while others see no problem with it and leave the decision to its members on what they feel convicted of in their liberty and freedom in Christ in those matters. However, with all of the above we agree on the fundamentals/essentials of the faith that determine our eternal destiny. We have all put our faith, hope and trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation by grace in His redeeming work. I've never heard any Christian Church that is mainstream say that their church is the only way to God and apart from it is damnation. The LDS Church says that they are the only true church (D&C 1:30). "Doctrines of Salvation" states that there is no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith and the LDS Church (Vol.1 pages 189-190). You would never hear a Christian church say this about the prophet Abraham or some apostle or their church specifically. If they did, then that church would be "put out to pasture" and considered cultic and wacky. Baptist and others will be the first to tell you that there are plenty of people in other churches that have eternal life while many sitting on their pews are spiritually lost. There is a big difference in these statements compared to the Christian view of things.

What am I to do with the many different splits in Mormonism? The Community of Christ (formerly RLDS), the Church of Christ (Temple Lot- Hedrickites), the FLDS and the other 100 branches that are polygamous that all recognize Joseph Smith as a prophet and have the Book of Mormon. It goes both ways. The difference is that the LDS Church doesn't recognize those other churches, right? In Christianity, we recognize the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., as long as they are in agreement with the essentials/fundamentals of the faith. If they don't or if there is outward sin prevelant in that body of believers then we do not give them the right hand of fellowship. Would the LDS Church offer fellowship to the other brances that split off from the main body in Salt Lake? I don't think so.

Back to the orginal topic of this blog thread. I was doing some research tonight on another topic and was referencing some of my LDS manuals. Just picking up two of them and within five minutes I found numerous references to "Mormon Doctrine" by Bruce McConkie. Also listed were references to the "Journal of Discourses". I am referring to "Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325". In another official Church manual entitled "Achieving a Celestial Marriage" they have many references to works such as "Mormon Doctrine" by McConkie and "The Seer" by Orson Pratt. I ask again, if these sources are not authoritative and these apostles were only giving their opinions, then why are official publications of the Church that teach doctrine referencing them as authoritative?

Clean Cut said...

Berain, I disagree with you about the “spin doctors” and the “circular reasoning.” Stephen Robinson was merely explaining what is commonly known to be the accepted source for official Mormon Doctrine. He wasn’t the one defining what he thought should be official—just stating what is already commonly accepted as authoritative and binding. I could have explained it too, but he said it better. However, other than that, I actually think you bring up some valid questions.

I admit that I’m having to smile right now because the irony is that this past week I was preparing to teach my first lesson as a newly called Sunday School teacher. As I was reading over the lesson about the Great Plan of Happiness, I was actually really impressed with the folks at Church Curriculum who did the writing for that particular lesson. I loved the emphasis that was placed on Jesus Christ being central to the Plan of Salvation and the doctrine in Alma 40-42, which the lesson was on. There were several very good quotes from past LDS General Conferences (Elder Maxwell and President Benson). I even thought I should write to whoever writes the curriculum for Sunday School and compliment them. And then, I came to a quote towards the end of the lesson, whose source caused me to groan out loud. It wasn’t from General Conference, but “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce R. McConkie.

I roled my eyes and began to complain that the folks at Curriculum writing should know better to not quote from any book not officially endorsed by the Church. I had to call my wife in to talk about it—I had some strong feelings about that. And the thing was, I actually thought the quote was a great quote. I had no objections with the quote. It was true. It was well said. It was just the fact that it was included in the manual even though the book isn’t an official church publication. I’m sure a lot of people would find it profitable, but to me, it’s one of my pet peeves that we stick to the official doctrine.

So I simply decided not to use the quote as a matter of principle—that no matter how good the quote, I didn’t feel it should have been a source for the Sunday School auxiliary organization Gospel Doctrine Manual. So I understand your feelings of frustration.

But such is life. The Church is true. The people aren’t perfect. I’m not going to make a big fuss about it, quit the church, or break my covenants with Christ just because some folks at Church Curriculum writing did something I personally would not have done if I were in their shoes. All in all, I think they do a pretty good job with the manuals that are published.

I bet we all have things we think could have been included that were not, and some things that were included that maybe didn’t need to be. It can still be profitable. Even if only for lessons of patience. And the Church is still true, even if some of the things LDS people do drive you crazy. ☺

Clean Cut said...

Sorry, that's "Berean", not "Berain". I'll try to get your name right from now on.

Although we could use a little rain here in south Texas. :)

Clean Cut said...

As for the Adam-God Theory, that’s simply an anomaly, and not representative of the LDS tradition as mainline or official LDS teaching. The truth is we don’t know what was even meant by those statements, as they don’t really compute with statements even Brigham Young made around the same time period.

The Church can’t make sense of what Brigham Young was really saying about the relationship between Adam and God, nor can it (nor does it need to) reconcile it with official church doctrine. It’s not a matter of not dissing Brigham Young, it’s just that we don’t even know what “it” is. If he were here today, we’d ask him. So how do we deal with an anomaly? We don’t. We set it aside. It’s a moot point anyway, since it was never accepted as official, binding, LDS doctrine.

What is our doctrine? What do we teach today? If any teaching or idea is not in the standard works, not among official declarations or proclamations, is not taught currently by living apostles or prophets in general conference or other official gatherings, or is not in the general handbooks or official curriculum of the Church, it is probably not a part of the doctrine or teachings of the Church.

ps: Non-LDS Christians find a similar anomaly in Paul’s statement about baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. It’s not a matter of whether or not they believe Paul, it’s that they don’t understand what he really meant by it. So they set it aside and don't really deal with it. (Fortunately for the Latter-day Saints, we do understand it).

Eric Nielson said...


The men we say are prophets are just men. Your statement about the thinking been done is wrong and I suspect you know it.

You are correct about no systemic theology, and the possible evolution of certain doctrines when one believes in ongoing revelation and an open canon of scripture.

Eric Nielson said...


We feel much the same way about essentials and non-essentials.

We do reference things frequently that are non-authoritative in our manuals and such. We are getting farther away from that as time goes on, but we still reference those things - you are right about that.

I think in Mormonism there is an 'optimism' that we can eventually know the truth of all things. We are not there yet. There is something about Mormonism that leads to speculating. We love the gospel of Jesus Christ and want to understand it the best we can. We feel that we should study things out and pray about them.

Since we do not have a tight systematic theology, and in a way a bunch of sort of random revleations, we as a church are still trying to sort out all the implcations of scripture and revelation.

In a way we are sort of paying the price for our tendency to speculate. We have to remind ourselves that we do that sometimes.

Berean said...

The Adam-god theory, as you call it, was and did become doctrine when Brigham Young said it in conference address in the "Journal of Discourses" Vol.1, page 50. Mormons knew clearly at that time what Brigham meant. Mormons today do not because it's a doctrine they have discarded because of controversy. However, there are droplets of this doctrine found in D&C 27:11 and D&C 116:1 where Adam is referred to as the Ancient of days. In the Bible, this is a title for Heavenly Father and Him alone in Daniel 7:9,13 and 22. Notice that "Ancient" is capitalized. When that is done in scripture that in this sense it is meaning deity/God. By applying this title to Adam the Mormons are referring to Adam as deity in the world of Christendom. Brigham Young taught many things that were controversial and it wasn't just Adam-god. There are remnants of those teachings still around today only just hidden...moving on.

You're incorrect about 1 Cor 15:29 and Christians not knowing what it means. We do. When Christians approach Bible verses that are hard to understand we follow some general rules:

1. Look at the historical background of the passage.
2. Scripture interprets scripture.
3. Unclear scripture must be cleared up by more clear scripture.
4. When an unclear scripture contradicts with more clear scripture then we know that whatever interpretation that we gather from it must be incorrect.

The historical context of the passage in 1 Cor 15:29 is this: Just north of the city of Corinth was a city named Eleusis. This was the location of a pagan religion where baptism in the sea was practiced to guarantee a good afterlife. This religion was mentioned by Homer in "Hymn to Demeter". The Corinthians were heavily influenced by the religious practices found at Eleusis. Paul spends much of 1 Cor scolding the believers at Corinth for copy-catting the pagan rituals that were going on around them and urging them to separate themselves from those groups.

The Bible: One needs to place careful attention at the pronouns in the chapter and who Paul is addressing in verses 12,29 and 30. Who are these people?

You = Corinth church
They = False teachers
We = Corinth church

Did Paul command believers to do baptisms for the dead? Did Jesus and the apostles ever do baptism for the dead or ever mention the practice? No. If Paul actually performed the ritual himself he would have included himself when talking about it.

The Bible is very clear that there are no second chances for salvation after death. See Heb 9:27 and Luke 16:19-31 just for a short list. By the way, the passage in Luke is not a parable. When real names are used in the Bible it is not a parable. It's a factual account or a real event. Our LDS friends reference 1 Peter to try to come up with another way to eternal life after death but it's not supported there either.

When Mormons reference this passage in 1 Cor 15 I often ask them when they are going to start doing the "command" in Mark 16:18 where handling snakes and drinking poison is the order of the day. There are some wacky groups up in the Appalachian mountains that base their whole church service on this one verse. The danger with taking one verse from the Bible and building a doctrine/ritual around it leads to dangerous conclusions.

Coming back to Mormonism, I find no support for baptism for the dead in Alma 34:30-35. It's very clear especially in verses 34&35. The Book of Mormon is said to be the most correct book on earth and that a man would get closer to God by abiding by this book than any other book. If baptism for the dead was so important and reversed the teachings of the Bible on no second chances, then I would expect to see this LDS teaching in the Book of Mormon. However, I do not and the text in Alma ironically supports the Bible's very clear stance on no second chances for salvation for dead people.

Clean Cut said...

The original quote what constitutes official doctrine still stands. You seem to want to criticize us for things that are not doctrine, never were doctrine, and never will be doctrine. By any means, to criticize us for things we don't even teach? That's unfortunate.

An example of the procedure of how something becomes official was also given in the link I provided. It's "taken from the records of the Fiftieth Semiannual General Conference of the LDS church, 10 October 1880, when President George Q. Cannon addressed the conference:

"I hold in my hand the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and also the book, The Pearl of Great Price, which books contain revelations of God. In Kirtland, the Doctrine and Covenants in its original form, as first printed, was submitted to the officers of the Church and the members of the Church to vote upon. As there have been additions made to it by the publishing of revelations which were not contained in the original edition, it has been deemed wise to submit these books with their contents to the conference, to see whether the conference will vote to accept the books and their contents as from God, and binding upon us as a people and as a Church."

"Subsequent changes of content in the standard works of the Church have been presented similarly to the membership in general conference to receive a sustaining vote. It is that sustaining vote, by the individual members or by their representatives, that makes the changes officially binding upon the membership as the doctrine of the Church.

When Wilford Woodruff, as President of the Church, committed the Latter-day Saints to discontinue the practice of plural marriage, his official declaration was submitted to the Sixtieth Semiannual General Conference of the Church on 6 October 1890, which by unanimous vote accepted it "as authoritative and binding." It was that vote which made the document official (it is now printed as Official Declaration- 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants).

"Similarly, when President Spencer W. Kimball declared in 1978, by revelation from the Lord, that the priesthood was henceforward to be given to all worthy male members, this pronouncement became Official Declaration--2 by the sustaining vote of a general conference on 30 September 1978."

Berean, if any so called "doctrine" doesn't fit this pattern, or is not found in the Standard Works (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price)--it is not doctrine.

Clean Cut said...

Eric, I forgot to thank you for posting that link to "Approaching Mormon Doctrine". Thank you!

Berean, as for baptism for the dead, that is fully doctrinal as found in the Standard Works as revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith--and it's a witness of God's justice, love, and grace for all of his children in all ages of time--especially for those who lived and died without ever being taught the gospel. I like how Jeff Lindsay states it here on his FAQ page about Baptism for the Dead

Clean Cut said...

For anyone whose curiosity has been sparked about "The Journal of Discourses", there is a blog about it that I really enjoyed reading here: Journey Through the Journal

Clean Cut said...

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine"

Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.

The Church welcomes inquisitiveness, but the challenge of understanding Mormon doctrine is not merely a matter of accessing the abundant information available. Rather, it is a matter of how this information is approached and examined.

The doctrinal tenets of any religion are best understood within a broad context (see here and here), and thoughtful analysis is required to understand them. News reporters pressed by daily deadlines often find that problematic. Therefore, as the Church continues to grow throughout the world and receive increasing media attention, a few simple principles that facilitate a better understanding may be helpful:

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. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.

Based on the scriptures, Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

Because different times present different challenges, modern-day prophets receive revelation relevant to the circumstances of their day. This follows the biblical pattern (Amos 3:7), in which God communicated messages and warnings to His people through prophets in order to secure their well-being. In our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the family in our increasingly fractional society. In addition, the Church does not preclude future additions or changes to its teachings or practices. This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges. According to the Articles of Faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

Latter-day Saints place heavy emphasis on the application of their faith in daily life. For example, the active participation of Latter-day Saints in their community and worldwide humanitarian programs reflects concern for other people. As Jesus Christ declared, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.

Those writing or commenting on Latter-day Saint doctrine also need to understand that certain words in the Mormon vocabulary have slightly different meanings and connotations than those same words have in other religions. For example, Latter-day Saints generally view being born again as a process of conversion, whereas many other Christian denominations often view it as a conversion that happens in one defining moment. Sometimes what some may consider an argument or dispute over doctrine is really a misunderstanding of simple differences in terminology.

Journalists, academics and laymen alike are encouraged to pursue their inquiries into the Church by recognizing the broad and complex context within which its doctrines have been declared, in a spirit of reason and good will.

Berean said...

My point about the "Journal of Discourses" was that this large volume/collection of sermons is quoted throughout many of the LDS publications that I have as is "Mormon Doctrine". You seem to be missing that point and that is the main subject of your blog post. The article you linked confirms this because these church manuals are official publications of the Church. These publications quote the works that you like to dismiss because some of those teachings don't fit today. That is one of the many problems with Mormonism. The Mormon god can't seem to make up his mind what doctrine he wants for what period of time. Plural marriage was on during Smith's day, cancelled in 1890 supposedly even though the next two prophets after Woodruff continued in plural marriage and then it will be back on again in the Millennium according to "Mormon Doctrine".

I see you didn't bother to do any research into the presentation that I gave you on 1 Cor 15:29. The link by Jeff Lindsay is nice, but that is only his opinion and I don't recognize it because it's not authoritative. This view is not historical accurate and provable outside of LDS comfort zones. Baptism for the dead was never a Christian practice and it is not now. There are no second chances after death. I know that this doctrine makes the Mormons feel better about things because one can have other chances for eternal progression and on up to exaltation, have a planet and procreate for all eternity. The Bible doesn't support it. It appears you didn't check into the verses that I referenced.

That is another problem that the LDS people have is that they don't think outside of what the Church tells them. They run to FARMS or FAIR and don't think on their own. They don't ask questions. I know asking questions is discouraged because I was sitting in a ward sacrament service back in April when they read a statement from the First Presidency discouraging Church members from sending in questions that the leadership didn't have time to address. That is the problem everywhere I went - nobody could answer even the simplest of questions. When some of them did they were deliberately misleading. For example, I asked point-blank if the Mormon god is an exalted man (which the Bible does not support) and many Mormons denied this and tried to skirt around the answer when it's very clear in their writings that the Mormon god is an exalted man. By being deliberately misleading, not honest and truthful they are in violation of Articles of Faith #13.

I personally don't care to discuss Brigham Young's Adam-god theory, polygamy, the blacks and the priesthood or Moutain Meadows Massacre. I would rather talk about more important things like repentance, forgiveness, grace, works and most importantly: Who is Jesus?

When I want to know what the LDS people believe I order official publications that are taught in seminary and institute classes from LDS Distribution. According to the article you linked that I have already referenced previously, the books that I have are authoritative. Some how when I quote from these to Mormons they get all upset. When I tried to read the King Follet Discourse to some Mormons that were at my house they became angry and stormed out the front door. Why would the words of Joseph Smith make them so uncomfortable?

You're right...in the end it does come down to one believing if Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God. I don't after studying Mormonism for a number of years and the reasons are numerous and the evidence is overwhleming in my opinion. I believe the Mormon people have been deceived by a false prophet and are on their way to outer darkness if they continue in Mormonism. This concerns me a great deal because of my love for the Mormon people. I say this in love so don't misunderstand my motives.

Berean said...

By the way, I do have one more question regarding baptism for the dead in Mormonism. I was thumbing through my papers tonight and came across the temple record of Adolf Hitler. Why would the LDS Church do temple ordinances for this killer who is responsible for the genocide of over 6 million Jews? Isn't murder not forgiven in this life nor in the next life? (D&C 42:18,79). According to "Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual" murderers can only hope for the telestial kingdom. Yet, not only was baptism by proxy done for Hitler but also the endowment ceremony performed on December 10, 1993 at the London Temple. He was sealed to his parents on March 12, 1994 also at the London Temple. Hitler can now become a god in the Mormon view? Unbelievable! I guess nobody is exempt in the LDS plan? When I showed this to some Mormons they laughed. They thought it was funny. I don't think doing temple work for the man responsible for the death of 6 million people is funny.

The film call number is 1903846.

Clean Cut said...

Berean: "I personally don't care to discuss Brigham Young's Adam-god theory, polygamy, the blacks and the priesthood or Moutain Meadows Massacre. I would rather talk about more important things like repentance, forgiveness, grace, works and most importantly: Who is Jesus?"

I say: Based off that quote, you have more in common with Latter-day Saints than you even realize. :)

Berean, you're interesting to me. I'm unsure as to how to respond to you. For those struggling with concerns or doubt, and yet WANT to believe, I would try to win your trust and help you see there's more sides to the story than what you have just presented.

However, it seems that you don't really have a desire or want to believe it. Only you know where you actually line up on that. But if this latter appearance is what best suits you, all I can say is that I'm not going to replace dogmatic criticisms with more dogmatic answers, I'll just say that a more positive interpretation is possible.

Clean Cut said...

PS: You are mistaken about Latter-day Saints being discouraged to ask questions and think for themselves. Searching out questions is actually one of the things I do a lot of. It invites revelation. We're encouraged to ask questions and try to seek answers through the proper channels. Please, please refrain from making those sweeping generalizations.

We Latter-day Saints don't have all the answers Berean. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi is asked a question by an angel. I like Nephi's response. Nephi said that he knew that God loved his children but "I do not know the meaning of all things."

What's interesting is the humility, the modesty of Nephi's claim. Here he is a prophet, and yet he clearly doesn't understand everything, doesn't know everything. I'm not saying that this is an excuse for not knowing certain things or for not trying to think through things on our own.

I try to think so much about some of the questions for which I can't find answers that it really, really bugs me! But I'm patient as well, and this is just a reminder that there are limitations. So while I strive to seek out answers to questions that I have, I also strive to stay true to my core, while remembering the constraints and the limitations of the knowledge that we have.

Clean Cut said...

One more thing needs to be taken into account. In some things, the question isn't about whether something is official or not, it's about which interpretation is correct. For example, interpreting the King Follet Discourse is an example of this. Yet many members and non-members alike haven’t realized or recognized that there is more than one way to understood the doctrine Joseph Smith taught at King Follet’s funeral. There isn't one "official" interpretation, but various interpretations exist.

My understanding has evolved lately about what Joseph was actually teaching. If one is not aware of other possible interpretations/meanings, one can get confused very easily over what to make of the King Follet discourse, whether it contradicts scripture, or what to make of God once being a man, or whether he was not eternally God. I’m guessing that a majority of people are confused because they aren't familiar with the fact that there are other interpretations. I'm sure that there are some, like I was, who are wondering what to make of it, not knowing whether they should accept it, defend it, ignore it, or do something else.

I'm fortunate enough to have had interaction with a special "mentor" to better help me make sense of this, and I’m now very comfortable with what I believe Joseph was actually teaching. I'm confident that my new found interpretation is correct, but I can't force it onto anyone. But it is important, as well as liberating, to know that on some things we are not bound to believe just one way or the other.

With some things that were most certainly said, yet not uniformly understood, it’s important to recognize that various interpretations are possible and do indeed exist.

For example, in the King Follet Discourse, I believe that what Joseph was really saying, and what makes sense to me in view of all the other revelations and scripture that came to us through Joseph, is not that God hasn’t always been God, but that God once had a mortal experience.

We know that Jesus, as God, had a mortal experience living as a man on earth. But he was not a man exactly as we are. He was still divine. So I can feel comfortable that this was what Joseph was really saying--not that God was once not divine, but that he too had a mortal experience, as did Jesus. That would have been a very different mortal experience than the one we’re presently going through, but I can believe that he went through one.

This indeed would seem to be more of a comfort/funeral appropriate teaching, and also in line with our doctrine that we will always worship God the Father as our Father, not replace or supplant him. We do not believe we will ever be worshipped like God is. We do believe we can become like Him and develop the same qualities and attributes as our Father, and live the kind of life that allows us to be “joint heirs” with Christ and the Father. (See my post about that here.)

This interpretation could also very well be scriptural. At least Joseph felt it was. He said he was going to reveal this “secret” by proving it through the Bible. So I, like other Latter-day Saints, don't think Joseph Smith ever taught that there was a time before God was God or when God was merely mortal and not divine. I, like other Latter-day Saints, believe that God was always eternally God and that there was never a time where he was not God. I don't accept the interpretation that Joseph Smith taught God was once just a mere mortal and had to grow into becoming a God. I don't believe that that King Follet Discourse teaches this. That’s not what I believe the “great secret” was referring to.

Joseph Smith certainly felt his theology was consistent with the Bible. As my mentor explained: “He doesn't say he will refute the Bible. He says he will refute the idea that God was God from all eternity, but to me it only makes sense to understand Joseph as saying "I will refute the idea that God the Father never had a mortal experience." When Joseph says "he [the Father] was once a man like us" we need to read it along with the phrase "the same as Jesus Christ himself did." In other words, Jesus Christ was definitely a man who dwelt on an earth just like us, but he was God and we are not. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I was not. Therefore, to me, it makes sense to understand that God the Father was also God when he "dwelt" on an earth. Thus, I do not believe that Joseph Smith was teaching that there was a time when God was not divine. Rather, he is trying to teach that God the Father experienced mortality. We are experiencing mortality, Jesus Christ also experienced mortality. Experience is the hallmark of Mormonism. We need experience. Even the Son of God needed experience.”

So the “great secret” would have been that God the Father also once had a mortal experience, as did Jesus. But that’s the extent of our understanding, as nothing more was ever said on this by Joseph Smith, and the Church has declined to issue an official interpretation or understanding. Instead, the Church publishes only those parts of the King Follet discourse in official curriculum that it feels is completely understandable with a standard interpretation. Thus, we have the freedom to believe how we see fit in regards to the other interpretations, and frankly, we don’t care that we don’t presently have all the answers yet. So we don’t really feel the need to discuss this doctrine very much because it’s not going to determine anyone’s salvation to believe one way or the other, and to do so would only bring up more speculation that we don’t have answers for.

Suffice it to say that Latter-day Saints have the freedom to interpret this differently. Nobody is forced to believe one standard or generally accepted interpretation of the entire King Follet Discourse.

Clean Cut said...

The King Follett Sermon--Part 1

The King Follett Sermon-Part 2

dash1730 said...

For another blog, I wrote up this historical look at how the Church establishes its Official Doctrine. I hope this helps.

Mormon Official Doctrine does not necessarily include any statement, rational or otherwise, that comes from any leader of the Church, including the President of the Church. Official Doctrine consists solely of the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. There have been No Changes to them since then except by the entire membership. No Church leader, on his own, can impose a doctrinal change. It must be accepted by the entire church membership to be binding.

Official Doctrine was added to, or changed only 6 times since the Church’s founding in 1830.
Bible & Book of Mormon was accepted with the organization of the Church in 1830
Doctrine and Covenants was accepted in 1835
Doctrine and Covenants additional sections were added, and Pearl of Great Price
officially added in 1880
Polygamy was repealed in 1890.
The priesthood was given to all peoples regardless of race in 1978.
D&C 137 & 138 were added in 1976.

Each time the Prophet presented the new doctrine to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for approval. Then it was presented to the membership of the Church for acceptance. Once all three approvals happened, then the Church adds it to the Standard Works.

This procedure for modifying the LDS cannon has been used since the church was founded 1830.

Any statements by any Church leader teaching any other concept inconsistent with the Standard Works, is personal opinion. But personal opinions are not Official Doctrine, no matter how strongly expressed, even by the highest leaders in the Church.

dash1730 said...

P.S. Thanks for your comments on this subject. Official Mormon doctrine is a concept that many don't understand. But understanding it can eliminate much misunderstanding and pain.

Clean Cut said...

In light of recent conversations with critics who like to bring up quotes from the Journal of Discourses as if they're representative of official church doctrine, as if they represent essential doctrine, and are representative of general church membership belief, I'm re-recommending this post.

In re-reading the comments above, the double standard is even more obvious than before. Our critics insist that prophets must be held up to the standard of infallibility in every word they speak.

It was already conceded above that Christian theologians and reformers can disagree on non-essentials. After all they're just men. Apparently, however, the Latter-day Saints are not allowed to hold this same position!

I propose a level playing field. Latter-day Saints must be allowed this same rational--no double standard! When it comes down to it, most of these quotes of speculative nature that critics bring up are NOT essential, fundamental, or saving doctrine at all. Even prophets can have their own personal views. After all, these prophets are "just men" too.

David O. McKay wisely reminded us all that when the Lord calls a man to be a prophet, he does not unmake the man! (See "What Is Our Doctrine?").

The original post and quote by Stephen Robinson still stands as important as before. To it I also recommend this article by Professor Robert Millet.

Daniel said...

Thank you to everyone involved in this blog post. I have been edified.