Thursday, October 26, 2006

What is Doctrine?

I hate to engage in absolutes (when a nice relative statement will do), but I think I can safely say that the aspect of Mormonism that most frustrates me is the inability to nail down any particular teaching or doctrine. In fact, even the things that are clearly and uniquely Mormon, say polygamy or the Word of Wisdom, change status and boundaries all the time. There are probably hundreds or perhaps dozens of examples, depending on your definitions. Let’s take an example.

Joseph started practicing polygamy in 1838 (or was it 1833? It’s so hard to tell.), revealed it as doctrine in 1843, Brigham spread the fun to about 20% of the boys in the club. John Taylor said it was so important that it would never be taken from the earth. Less than 10 years later, under new management, Wilford Woodruff changes his mind and does just that. For the next 70 years or so the church proudly teaches that it’s a principle that will come back someday. Then when ‘correlation’ became the fashion, they swept it under the rug, with the rest of the uncomfortable and confusing doctrine. Today, when the church produces lesson material about the life of Brigham Young, they not only fail to mention polygamy, they even go so far as to edit any reference to multiple wives out of his words.

Another quick example. Every president of the church up to Gordon B. Hinckley has said that worthy members can become Gods of their own worlds when they die. So isn’t it interesting that Hinckley now denies that this is doctrine, and you cannot find it in the lesson manuals.

Now to the dilemma. When you ask a devout Mormon about any particular lost doctrine, they will claim that it was never a doctrine of the church. They will say that it is nothing more than a rumor or a tradition. That it was never taught. That it was taught, but not by a prophet. Or if you really pin them down, as in the case of the ridiculous pronouncements of Brigham Young or Orson Pratt that appear in the Journal of Discourses, they will say “It was never canonized, so it doesn’t count”.

As I contemplate this more, I realize this could easily be 3 or 4 blog posts, so I will stop here and get this one posted. As a parting thought, consider the last excuse. “It’s only doctrine if it is canonized, and if the body of the church sustains it in General Conference”. I will grant you that I was never a church scholar, but I can think of only a single doctrine that was accepted in this manner. That being the Official Declaration 2. Did I miss something?


Blogger Alma said...

Did you miss something? It depends on how old you are. Before OD2, sections 137 and 138 were canonized in April conference of 1976. The Articles of Faith, and OD1 were canonized in the 1890 October conference. The Pearl of Great Price was canonized in the October 1880 conference and the D&C at a conference in August of 1835.

I think you might have missed the fact that something might be true but not necessarily either canonized or doctrinal. I don't recall ever having heard taught anything from a church manual about the Father having ever been mortal. I know that Joseph Smith taught it and I believe it is true; but it is neither canonized nor doctrinal. Plural marriage is canonized but not doctrinal because the practice was suspended by OD1. (Same thing for animal sacrifice and priesthood ordination being limited to sons of Levi.) References to plural marriage generally stay way below the radar screen because the Church was criticized for mentioning it. These critics assumed that referring to it or defending it was the same as encouraging it. Heber J. Grant was criticized for promoting polygamy because he gave money to the University of Utah in the names of his wives. There was a limit one individual could give and he said he wished he could give more.

I don't think Pres. Hinckley has ever denied the doctrine of theosis, but he has been careful not to imply that there is an official teaching that God the Father ever was not God. That isn't doctrinal. It may very well be true, but it isn't part of the canon.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Nom de Cypher said...

I think that you illustrate my point rather well.
No one can know what to believe, because the clear definitions of what is, and is not doctrine do not apply to most of what Mormons believe.
Sticking with the idea of our eternal progression to Godhood, there is no doubt that it has been taught. Joseph taught it in the King Follett Discourse. It is recorded in the Journal of Discources. It even appears in some lesson manuals (Gospel Doctrines), and yet Gordon B. Hinckley doesn't seem to remember if it's doctrine or a couplet. How can any mere member know? Personal revelation, I guess.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Nom de Cypher said...

Pardon me. I meant the Gospel Principles manual, above. Page 301 in my edition.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Hi.. I was found it pretty funny that the doctrines that I was taught in church in the 60's, 70's, and 80's is now being called traditional and not doctrinal or cannonized. Actually Cannonized was a word not used often because it made the members remember catholicism... It was called the great "whore" of revelations at the time.

When I was growing up in the church, if the prophet spoke it was doctrinal. So when Gordon B. Hinkley said that the couplet

"As man is, God once was.
As God is, Man may become/"

was false, I had to laugh. And the couplet was in the church manuals... taught to the teenagers in the 1970s. It was also taught in Primary. (I know because I was a Sunday School teacher at the time)... soooooo

does this make Mr. Hinkley a false prophet? or what...

The doctrine in the LDS church has changed so rapidly in the last ten years that I can't keep up with it. Interesting...

5:00 PM  
Blogger An Enlightened Fairy said...

Great post. This has always bothered me as well.
How are we supposed to know whether the prophet is speaking as a man, voicing his opinion or if he's speaking as a prophet, advising his followers? Personally, I think if he's going to open his friggin' mouth, he needs to specify whether what he's stating his opinion or if it's divine revelation. I'm tired of them using this to cover their rears.

10:49 PM  
Blogger 2xmom10xgma said...

Did Jesus come to establish a church where his teachings need to be canonized or did He come to restore a Kingdom? Canonization is a Catholic invention. Please show me scripture and verse where the Word of the Lord needs to be accepted by the vote of the people.

Did he come to bring the Gospel or to publish doctrine.

Indeed He said "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law (meaning Torah), till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:18

I do not find one place where He called for a vote except at Sinai when the Children of Israel covenanted And all the people answered together, and said,
"All that the LORD hath spoken we will do." Exodus 19:8

5:13 PM  

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