Authoritative Church Doctrine

10 Oct

Many people try to claim that the LDS church is confusing as to what its doctrine is. Others try to claim things as doctrine which aren’t, or try to deny what is. For this purpose I would like to discuss what it means to be doctrine in the church, and why some things, though once taught by the leaders, are not doctrine.

To determine whether something is official doctrine there are only a few things to consider.
First is what the source is. There are many sources, and not all are as good as others. Here are the various types in order of doctrinal importance.
1. We do have a set of scriptures that we call the standard works for good reason. They are the standard of doctrine that all else is compared to. Thus the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are the first and most authoritative of all sources of doctrine. If a doctrine is found taught in these sacred scriptures it is official doctrine of the church.
2. Church published manuals and magazines are reviewed by those who have the authority to declare and clarify doctrine. If something is not made clear in the standard works we should first turn to these sources for instruction. This includes church magazines, like the Ensign and Liahona; as well as manuals for Sunday school and priesthood/relief society meetings. It also includes any book that was specifically commissioned by the church and written by one of the First Presidency or the Twelve Apostles (like Jesus the Christ).
3. Books and other material produced by the leaders of the church that are not directly commissioned by it, or overseen by its leaders. This would include books like “Mormon Doctrine” and the “Journal of Discourses.” These men are the leaders of the church, and so know the doctrine; but acting in this capacity they are not declaring the mind and will of God, but their own thoughts and understanding of it.
4. Books and material produced by members, regardless of how educated they are, such as FAIR and that produced by BYU professors.
5. Anything not falling into one of the previous categories has no authority to pronounce doctrine, and thus is rightly ignored.
One note needs to be made: For several years the manuals and material produced for Sunday school and other church auxiliaries was not overseen by the leadership. As such any manual produced before the unification of material was established does not go in category two, but rightly belongs with Category four.

To place all these in perspective there are two things that must be considered when determining if something is doctrine.
The first is whether or not it is taught by a more authoritative source or not. If it is than we have a firmer grasp on whether it is doctrine or not. If the idea is not in at least the first or second category it is not official doctrine. This does not make it false, only unofficial.
The second is whether it contradicts a more authoritative source. If it does than the idea is most likely false and not official doctrine.

So, say an idea is taught in the Journal of Discourses, but it is not found in any source that holds more authority. It is not found in either the standard works or church publication. This means that it is not official doctrine and doesn’t really matter. However, it does not contradict those categories either, and so it may be true, and may not be.

This is just a brief rundown of how doctrine is known and how one can evaluate the source of information regarding it.

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2 Responses to “Authoritative Church Doctrine”

  1. Enki January 19, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    Hello Shem, This is Enki from the blog ‘Mormon Coffee’. Thank you for putting together this explanation. I am sure its not specifically for me. But it seems to be a pretty good explanation for how to measure LDS sources for authenticity.

    • shematwater January 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Your welcome, and thank you for stopping by.

      I have actually written on a few topics from Mormon Coffee, and invited those there to come read what I wrote. So far your the only one who has.

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