Defining doctrine

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The LDS Church recently released a statement about what constitutes doctrine. The following is an excerpt:

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.

What I find interesting is that they include proclamations as doctrine. Official declarations have been presented to the general body of church membership for an acceptance vote. Proclamations have not.

What do you think? Are proclamations doctrine, particularly when they contain tenets not found anywhere else? Is doctrine the same as canon?

3 thoughts on “Defining doctrine

  1. What I get from this is that doctrine is what is consistently taught by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in official church publications. So a single statement by any one of these that is not consistently taught would not be doctrine. I think the law of witnesses is important here and that is why the “consistently taught” is a key component of doctrine. If something was consistently taught in Brigham Young’s day and is no longer consistently taught I think its doctrinal status must be questioned. It seems that the teaching of the church has been refined through the course of its history with some ideas being discarded and new ones added and this is likely to continue in the future as we grow in light and knowledge. There is also an element of corrolation here to.

    Doctrine doesn’t come from the Seventy or General Auxiliary Leaders. Doctrines find their origins in the canon (scriptures) but doctrine also comes via the word or God which is revealed to living prophets, seers, and revelators. Doctrine only comes by the Lord’s servants, the prophets, of which there are usually 15 though it may be reiterated by others.

    We can and should all teach true doctrine but it does not originate with us.

    First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve can make doctrinal statements recorded outside of the canon but they should not contradict the canon. So proclamations are not part of the canon but should also not contradict the canon. Also it would be foolish to take every statement in the canon as doctrine as many statements in the bible are not doctrinal but historical or narrative. Some like the Song’s of Solomon, though canon, have been of questionable importance. We do not believe in the inerrancy of the bible and even the Book of Mormon alludes to the possibility of mistakes of men in the record.

    It is likely that at some future date these proclamations may be canonized.

    I think the relevant article of faith here would be the ninth.

    There are few doctrines in the church and doctrines generally are unchanging gospel truths. This is not the same as principle or policy. Policy may be inspired and God’s will but that does not make it doctrine. Principles can change based on circumstances. What may be right in one circumstance may not be right in another. But doctrines never change… if we could only agree on just what they are.

    My thoughts….

    1. Some interesting points. I am intrigued by the idea that doctrine is fluid, that something can be doctrine at one point, but years alter it might not be doctrine. I wonder how this idea fits in with the idea that God is unchanging.

  2. I don’t think doctrine is fluid from God’s point of view.

    The fluidity comes from our understanding what is doctrine and how much is revealed to us.

    I think there has been a refining in the church as to what we view as doctrine. In the early days what Joseph and Brigham said was doctrine. However, in the ensuing years prophets who have weeded out what wasn’t good doctrine.

    If you remember in President Hinckley’s interview with Dan Rather or was it Larry King he said that the idea of man becoming God was not doctrine (or some such statement). Many wondered why he would say that when the idea is clearly so pervasive within Mormonism. However if you watch the brethren these days this teaching of man becoming God seems to be out of vogue, it is no longer consistently taught. It is not in the missionary discussions. Any time man’s future status is discussed they seem to use more ambiguous phrase “we can become like God”. Is this “likeness” strong or soft?

    I don’t know if my observations are correct or what the official church doctrine on all questions is but with church correlation there seems to be a very conservative approach to doctrine stating only what is absolutely certain as doctrine. Brigham Young did not seem to have this same constraint and sometimes gave speculation many received as doctrine, and some of these statements plague us today.

    We see the troubles one apostle faced by writing a book titled Mormon Doctrine. Even with the best of intentions and done by the best of men he still did not realize what he didn’t know. Once a prophet reveals true doctrine regarding a matter we must change our view.

    So, despite all my speculations I don’t know if I am closer to being able to define what doctrine is.

    The way we codify doctrine and the limits of human expression can get in the way. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is obviously the central piece of doctrine in God’s plan but how does one capture all the complexity, power, justice, mercy and infinity in a simple doctrinal statement?

    In this regard I think it is useful to take doctrinal statements from the scriptures.

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