Changing Doctrine

Doctrine is a tricky word to define in an LDS context.  There are many ways it can be defined. Some define it as anything said by a General Authority; or said in conference or published in the Ensign, or in Mormon Doctrine, or published by an LDS owned company, or available at Deseret Book, or….  etc.  More recently, it’s been described as things which are consistently taught by the presiding Elders of the Church.  However, the best definition I’ve come across is that the Church’s Doctrine are those teachings which are binding upon the church… that is, the 4 standard works of the church.  Anything above and beyond that is to be judged based on those standard works. They have been presented to the body of the church and accepted by common consent.

The trouble really starts when people start talking about doctrine being unchanging.  If you accept most of the definitions listed above, you run into trouble when you find that Church leaders once were consistently proclaiming that Adam was God our Father, or that black skin was a curse for being less valiant in the pre-existence; two “doctrines” that have now been labeled as false by the living prophets.  However, you really still have issues of calling doctrine “unchanging” if you just limit yourself to the standard works… I mean, doctrine was changing rapidly at the beginning of the restoration as Joseph was adding to the cannon.  If D&C 132 wasn’t a change, I don’t know what could possibly qualify.

So, how do we separate in our minds the difference between truth, doctrine, practice, teachings of the Apostles and prophets?  I put together the little diagram below trying to better picture all this in my own head.


Above, we see the first broad distinction, between those things which are true vs false. From there, I think it’s simplest to start in the center, and work your way out.   At the heart of it all is Christ’s Doctrine.  Note this is a subset of the larger box of Church Doctrine.  This is because Christ Himself defined His Doctrine:

“This is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me… and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

“And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned… Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine (3 Nephi 11).

Moving out from this center of the gospel, Christ’s Doctrine, we move into other important parts of the gospel, but which are “appendages” of the gospel, rather than it’s core.  These “appendages” are also important, and true, and are contained within the 4 standard works; such items as the sacrament, meeting together oft, serving others, etc would fall into this category. Notably, however, these are not simply concentric rings, and there are some things which are found within the standard works, which most members would agree are not true principles: for example, that adulterers should be executed, or that appropriate punishment for raping a girl is to pay her father some money and marry her. In another box, we find items in scripture which are not true (in my opinion), yet many are actually taught by General Authorities (current or recent past), including the idea that polygamy is not only OK, but will be required of all who enter the Celestial Kingdom, or that God views white skin as the best.

Interestingly, there are also items which are found in the scriptures, that I’d argue are actually true, yet they aren’t included in the box of things taught by the General Authorities.  A couple of examples are listed, including  how to pay an appropriate tithing (10% of surplus), or that the Word of Wisdom actually gives the OK to beer (aka mild barley drinks).

Moving further out, we find the teachings of the General authorities.  This will include lots of teachings on the Doctrine of Christ, many good teachings about the Scriptures, and many other ventures into other opinions and interpretations, both true and false.

Finally, in the outer edges, you could list endless statements which are not particularly related to the gospel, such as the mass of a proton, the mode of transmission of Zika virus. I listed Evolution largely in this category, with a small corner poking into the GA box, as you can find teachings accepting of evolution, though you’ll find many times more statements adamantly against it, which could go in a different box.


Language is tricky, and communication is hard.  It is harder when we use the same word to mean different things at different times, but pretend there is only one way to use it. “Doctrine”, is typically used by members of the church to mean either the official position of the Church leaders on something, or to mean whatever is actually true.  Those two are not synonymous.  And defining doctrine as unchanging makes one of them impossible. I can see only two ways of seeing doctrine as unchanging.

  1. Doctrine = Truth… but then the word doctrine loses its utility… if you’re telling me the church position can change on something, but not on those things which are true, you’re not giving me any information I can use.  How do I know which of the “teachings” are actually doctrine vs not.
  2. Doctrine = Christ’s Doctrine: Here, we do finally have something which doesn’t change.  Faith, repentance and baptism.  It’s that simple, and in its simplicity it doesn’t change.

Instead, I think the more useful definition is to see doctrine as those teachings accepted by the body of the Church as binding… mostly true, but surely containing some misconceptions and misunderstandings, which will be corrected line upon line.


Seers seeing

Mosiah 8:15-16

15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.

16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.

joseph_smith_jr-_portrait_owned_by_joseph_smith_iiiA few weeks ago in Sunday school, we the teacher led the class in a rather routine discussion about what a Seer is (relative to a Prophet or Revelator). It was interesting to me that she focussed on how a Seer has (not just can) seen everything from the beginning to the end of time) However, the class took a turn into the teacher asking for specific examples from the modern Seers leading the Church.  Below is the list of specific items the class came up with:

  1. President Hinkley predicting the dot-com bubble popping
  2. Hinkley saying Y2K wouldn’t be the end of the world.
  3. The Proclamation on the Family
  4. The Gay’s are coming! (see #3)
  5. The feminists are coming! (see #3)

Aside from raising my hackles with all the anti-gay, anti-feminist discussion and ignorant comments, what was most striking to me was watching a room full of saints grabbing at anything they could to try and find evidence of seership.

Lets take a look at these one by one.

1 – In July-Aug of 1998, the stock market took a huge tumble, after a long period of rapid growth (dot-com bubble).  The market soon came back up and continued climbing, but the swing prompted President Hinkley to address part of his October remarks to his desire for all of us to get out of debt, due to the unstable nature of the economy.  He discussed the problems with debt, and the freedom and relief that comes by being free of it.


Prophets gone astray

7. Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,
But he later learned to listen and obey.
When we really try, the Lord won’t let us fail:
That’s what Jonah learned deep down inside the whale.

Certainly my least favorite song in the Children’s Song Book (to the point that I refused to play it at all during my last stint in primary), but the story of Jonah has been going through my mind a lot for the last week or so.

I recently listened to a great podcast episode discussing the Assyrians and Nineveh which put it fresh in my memory.  When you look at the book of Jonah, the first chapter contains almost everything we all remember about Jonah: He was called to preach to Nineveh, runs away, gets thrown overboard, then eaten by a whale, where he stays for 3 days/nights.

However, if you continue on, Chapter 2 is his prayer of thanksgiving for having survived. Things start getting interesting in Ch. 3 (for our purposes at least).  After he’s on dry land, the Lord commands him to go cry repentance to Nineveh (and boy did they need it – see the Hardcore History episode above if you want details), and threaten them with destruction.  When the people hear his dire prophecy, they actually repent, and God stays His hand and doesn’t destroy the city.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Instead of expressing joy like your typical missionary, Jonah then gets MAD! He’s upset that God didn’t punish those darn evil people like He said He would.  The rest of Chapters 3 and 4 go on to show God teaching Jonah how he loves EVERYONE. (more…)

Keys, Divine Decrees, and Shopping Sprees

I heard a lot of members who were happy about Elder Oaks talk addressing the concerns raised by the Ordain Women movement. However, I was rather disappointed  Here is a paragraph from his talk, (emphasis mine)

The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.


Problem #1

First, I want to say that he misses the point entirely in his response.  As he is a former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, I’m reluctant to think this was unintentional. He most certainly is at least remotely aware of their petition, that the Presiding Authorities take the question to the Lord for an answer as to whether women might be ordained.  Yet, instead of answering that relevant question, he issues a “ruling” on a totally separate matter.  He instead chooses to answer the question, “Oh, come on… Can’t you just ordain me right now!?” This reminds me of times when the Supreme Court decides to pass on really ruling on merits of a case, and rather rejects a case due to some minor technicality without addressing the more useful point of law. (more…)

Mormonism, Masturbation, and Growing Up Male

This is another post from the old blog. This one was born after reading a post at the old CulturalHall called “Confessions of Serial Masturbator/Repenter.”  A very interesting read, but I haven’t been able to locate it again to link here. 

My Story

 We’ll start at the beginning, my beginning. I grew up in a Mormon family… pretty much. We went to church every week. But there was very little religion at home, no FHE, prayers, scripture study, etc. I grew up more or less believing that the church was true, but never really had reason to doubt it either. When I was approaching puberty, my dad lost his job, and had to go back to school. Since we lived in a rural area, that meant he was gone during the week, and came to visit on weekends for a few years. That meant dad was no longer coming to church. I’d also reached that age where you start to question things, and, long story short… I pretty much decided over the next few years that there was likely no such thing as God, and I was starting to be ok with that.
It was during this time, when left with large open spaces, solitude, and a rather introverted personality, that I discovered masturbation. (more…)