Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Mormon doctrine

Posted by cherylem on May 6, 2007

This news release from the church dated May 4 2007 and found at lds.org is interesting. I don’t have any comments to make but thought it might spark some discussion here.

Approaching Mormon Doctrine

SALT LAKE CITY 4 May 2007 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.

6 Responses to “Mormon doctrine”

  1. Jim F. said

    Cherylem, I hope you don’t mind that I put the tag in your piece so that only the first paragraph shows on the front page. If that is a problem, let me know and I’ll change it back.

  2. cherylem said

    Jim F: Thanks for doing this. And this press release is probably old news to most of you already. Still, I think it relates to some of what we talk about here.

  3. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for posting this, I hadn’t seen this before. I think this nicely complements our discussion on the other thread about the multivalent quality of symbols and the need for continual reinterpretation of scripture, temply symbols, etc.

  4. BrianJ said

    Cheryl, this is great. I hadn’t seen it before. I went to the newsroom and noticed that the article contains numerous links to Ensign articles and other newsroom pieces, some of which were quite interesting. Here is the link, for those interested.

  5. Robert C. said

    Brian, thanks for pointing to the links in that article. I thought the Cannon, Dahl and Welch articles were particularly interesting (here and here) in how they laid out and discussed the 6 major doctrines that Joseph restored.

  6. BrianJ said

    Robert: I agree, the C-D-W articles are very good. What I found more interesting (on a “meta” level), were the choices of articles. For example, the words “First Presidency” are linked to a talk by Pres. Hinckley, the words “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” are linked to a talk by Pres. Packer, and the words “Book of Mormon” are linked to a talk by Elder Oaks. I understand the first two links—Hinckley and Packer are presidents of the referenced quorums—but why choose Oaks as the “representative” of the Book of Mormon? Or Ballard for the Bible? And note that the words “Doctrine and Covenants” are simply linked linked to its title page—as though no talk could be found?

    I don’t want to read too much anything into this; a press release on “doctrine” is hardly a source of doctrine. I just say that it is interesting, because it makes me wonder about the thought processes of the person(s) who wrote and edited the release. (I’m not really sure who put out this release—it isn’t signed—but I imagine it had to go through a GA committee.)

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