Sunday, February 24, 2008

What is doctrine?

This can be a pretty challenging topic as some of my friends have found out, what is actual doctrine and what is not? Are there varying degrees of doctrine, and if so what are they and how are they established? Initially I would assume that there are varying degrees because that is just how most things are in life. Many people might just initially assume, "Anything that is said across the pulpit by a GA is doctrine." When one looks into that further they find that there are many times when this parameter of the doctrine definition brings opposing statements in conflict with one another.

I came across a church press release that discusses this exact topic in unusual detail. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
  • 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.
  • Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines.
  • 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.” [Carson's note - therefore the fullness of the gospel does not mean that we have already received all the doctrine that the Lord is to reveal. Sounds obvious, but is forgotten too often].
  • [T]he 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. [Carson's note - and vice versa therefore, not just via the spirit, but with your intellect as well.]
From these statements one can quickly surmise that there are core doctrines, non core doctrines and opinions. What falls into each category on a more specific basis is something for another day.

41 comments:

the narrator said...

thanks for the publicity ;)

i'm currently working on a much longer piece about 'doctrine,' 'truth,' and authority in mormonism.

for a couple other good essays on this issue, you should read "what do we really believe" by robert millet in discourses in mormon theology, as well as the two first essays in the recent edition of element: the journal of the society for mormon philosophy and theology which you can get by joining the society.

Anonymous said...

How does the following quote from Presidant N. Elden Tanner coorelate to that recent Church release that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine?

"I was much impressed by that simple statement, which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us. Wherever I go, my message to the people is: follow the Prophet...Whose side are we on? When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over." - President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency, Ensign, Aug. 1979, p. 2-3.

Carson Calderwood said...

Easy, there are two aspects to this:

1-although not stated, it is implicitly implied that the prophet would be speaking as the prophet in a prophetic situation. He doesn't mean when the prophet is talking with a friend about what truck he likes to drive and he says, "Fords are better than Chevys." Are you going to go and sell your Chevy for a Ford?....
2-new revelation supersedes previous statements. Just ask Paul about the difficulties of that.

Anonymous said...

But Carson, "Fords are better than Chevys!"

Anonymous said...

2-new revelation supersedes previous statements. Just ask Paul about the difficulties of that.

Question:(Sorry Dwight)
If revelations are from God, does that mean God has changed his mind if the new revelation contradicts the old revelation?

Carson Calderwood said...

If revelations are from God, does that mean God has changed his mind if the new revelation contradicts the old revelation?

Since text gives no indication of tonality I'll have to assume you are serious. What do you call it when Paul received the revelation to take the gospel to the gentiles and that certain foods were no longer deemed unclean?

Anonymous said...

Actually, the tone is serious, but not confrontational.

Most people who believe in God, believe he is "all knowing." If that is the case, why would he give a revelation that would contradict an earlier one?

Religious leaders throughout history appear to have been inspired by their own philosophy. Could this be the cause for changes and contradiction in in doctrine? I would think God would be consistant in his message. He already knows "what's coming down the road."

Cody said...

To anonymous, God can and has changed His policies according to the obedience, preparedness, and faith of His children. As was pointed out by Carson (it was Peter who received the commandment by the way), God rescinded a previous commandment concerning the gentiles. Peter questioned it, much as you are now, and was given an unequivocable answer in Acts 10:15 "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Which basically means, God has his reasons, even if we don't understand. Also, God rescinded, or more appropriately fulfilled the law of Moses. Why didn't he just give His children the higher law from the beginning since he knows all and can see what's to come? The answer to this is the same as the answer for your question of whether or not He contradicts himself. He does so because we are not ready for all that He has available for us. In addition to these examples from both the old and new testament, there are others in the Book of Mormon and in the modern day church.
Assuming that mr. anonymous is Mormon, this is the reason why one of the articles of faith is that we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things to us.
Circumstances change, and the Lord adjusts accordingly. Also, as far as your complaint that a religious leader's philosophy shapes their revelations, I would like to say that maybe their philosophy is more aligned with God's than ours and that is where some of the confusion and disagreement might stem from. In addition, some modern prophets have left their previous political views behind once ordained a prophet. For example, President Ezra Taft Benson and President Joseph Fielding Smith. Although they had some viewpoints and political beliefs that clashed with those of other leaders of the church, once ordained as Prophet of the church, they didn't mention those anymore.
My testimony regarding this is that God does guide and direct the church. It is not lead by the philosophies of it's leaders, but by the wisdom and mercy of a God that knows what we need. I am grateful for the guiding light of a living prophet so that we don't get tossed around on the waves of temporal popularity. So many of our peers today get lost in the storms that surround us because they either refuse to look to the guidance of a prophet or they take their eyes off that lighthouse.

Anonymous said...

Cody: Well stated response.

Sometimes a person's intellectual, philisophical and religious ponderence does not arrive at the same intersection. I guess faith is the religious GPS system.

Cheers!

Carson Calderwood said...

Oops. Thanks for fixing my Peter/Paul slip.

I agree, excellent point. We have to be careful not two paint our religious painting with one color and a wide paintbrush. One person may paint their painting with just the color and brush of Prophetic Inerrancy while another paints just as broadly with the brush/color of Imperfect Men. For me, the artwork is a harmonious mixture of both.

Anonymous said...

Cody: Your position is based on faith that "every" single revelation/doctine that you believe in not only came from God, but that it remained in its pure state and was not tainted by the messenger.

Logically, it would be hard to believe that there is a 100% accuracy rate. That is where reason and faith conflict.

the narrator said...

In response to David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and others' question concerning Joseph Smith's failed prophecy about their selling of the Canadian copyright for the Book of Mormon, Joseph replied "Some revelations come from God, some from man, and some from the devil."

Like the rest of us, sometimes those called to lead the church have difficulties in distiguishing the sources of their revelations. Continuing revelation is an attempt to clean things up over time.

dr.brian said...

To comment on your original post, I must say that I do appreciate that the church came out with that press release. However I think it would be nice for the church to actively set certain historical errors straight. For example, on my mission I remember reading a talk by some Seventy saying that blacks were fence sitters. This is not a well-considered opinion but perhaps a personal bigoted perspective reflective of the times. Unfortunately these statements still circulate and confuse many members. I propose an LDS web resource like SNOPES.COM where the church can actively debunk the crazy rumored doctrines out there (intriguing stories/myths about the 3 Nephites, etc would not qualify as doctrines). Such a site would be a very interesting read on evolution, blacks and the priesthood, Heavenly Mother, and more. Since the church is so concerned about correlation, why not take this step to lay it all out there?

Anonymous said...

I would like clarification on the premise that we are all descendents of Adam and Eve.

So Adam and Eve have children. Then what? Who gets together with who? Logically, isn't incest an issue here?

If incest is a sin, why didn't God just put a quantity of unrelated people here on this earth and let it proceed from there?

Carson Calderwood said...

Anon,
You make too many assumptions and then conversely think too narrowly. Again, I think you are doing it just to provoke, but in the effort of good "sportsmanship" I'll point out my reasoning.

How do you know there weren't others to marry? Even if there weren't how can you blatantly say that it would be a sin in their case or even a problem genetically?

Carson Calderwood said...

When I reread that after posting I noticed that it sounded too harsh. What I mean to say is that I do think you are throwing out straw men knowing yourself the weaknesses of the argument.

the narrator said...

Cody (and others),

when Brigham Young said that God revealed the Adam-God Doctrine to him, was he speaking God-revealed doctrine? What about J Fielding Smith about evolution?

If they were wrong, how do you know? If they were right, how do you know that other prophets who have said the opposite were wrong?

Carson Calderwood said...

AG doctrine is not quite so clear as with all things BY said. There were apostles that publicly and strongly spoke out against him on that. Anyway, you can find a BY quote to support you on anything you want.

JSF never once spoke about evolution once he became the prophet and the church has emphatically declared that they have no doctrine on that subject anyway.

Anonymous said...

Wow, is this lively!

Genisis 4 doesn't provide any detail. Adam and Eve have Caine and then Abel. Then it jumps to Cain's wife having a child. Where did Cain's wife come from?

The same applies to the story of Noah's Ark. The children of Noah's family and his wife's family were also in a quandry and any further generations would again be faced with the same choice.

Logically, it doesn't work.

So how would you apply the law of parsimony to this situation?

Anonymous said...

Carson: If you want to read some serious, thought provoking back and forth on this Adam and Eve/Evolution dilema, go here:

http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php?showtopic=24059

It will make you go: Hmmm....
No "narrow" thinking involved. I promise you.

Anonymous said...

One final note.

Cody sounded as if he was curious if I was Mormon or not. Well, I'm not, but I once knew someone who was.

It's been lovely!

Carson Calderwood said...

I love the topic of evolution, as a bio major at BYU I wrote my senior thesis on it and reconciliation of LDS doctrine.

Anonymous said...

So did your thesis provide a reasonable explanation for Cody? Just kidding!

Carson Calderwood said...

We have spent many hours discussing that exact subject and we pretty much see eye to eye, basically the same conclusion that most biologist eventually arrive at. That being said, I'm not sure what aspect of his comments you might be referring to.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm just kidding and trying to wrinkle Cody's nose, if he's even reading this. It was somewhat along the lines of your parents saying, "Oh no! What have we created!" Just a little humor.

Carson Calderwood said...

That can be fun, but dangerous!

Anonymous said...

Being serious again, what are your thoughts about the time line of scientific man versus the timeline that the Bible presents?

Carson Calderwood said...

The million $ question...

I started to write it out, but didn't feel comfortable throwing it all out there. Feel free to email me and I'll send you (or anyone else for that matter) what I wrote. I just don't like to put all that personal speculation, built upon personal speculation, etc out in print.

you can email me at org.calderwood*drc just replace the * with an @ sign and rearrange the text properly. I do that cryptically to avoid the spider-bots that crawl the web scavenging for emails to then send spam.

Anonymous said...

Here are my thoughts so that you may understand my perspective:
1. I believe in God.
2. I believe God created all things on this Earth, including Man.
3. I believe in the ongoing evolution of all things, ie; Man is now taller than he once was. It's a scientific fact.
4. However, I don't believe that most animals, plants, etc., evolved into what they claim. There are too many disconnects.
Nature and Man are too complex, too unique to have arrived at the point they are at due to evolution alone.
5. I believe God created early man (Neanderthal), but also separately current Man. I don't believe current man is a descendent of say the Neanderthal man. Breeding would have to be too controlled to arrive at the current state of Man.
The missing link will stay the missing link because it doesn't exist.
6. I believe science is correct in many theories. However, science can't account for many of the beautiful things on this Earth. This is where I put on my God hat.
7. I believe the ancient documents of Man, the Bible and others, are at obviously incomplete. Some weren't even scribed until hundreds of years after they supposedly took place. I believe most are stories to learn by, and not necessarily an actual event. At best, the accounts are embellished or they morphed into what the scribe would prefer that they portray.
6. I believe Jesus Christ existed. Were his teachings inspired by his belief in God? Yes. Were all the events in his life accurately portrayed in the Bible? Probably not.
7. I believe Moses existed. Did he part the Red Seas? I don't think so. Were the 10 Commandments inspired by his belief in God? Yes. Were the 10 Commandments received as described in the Bible. I doubt it. I do believe that mankind needed some guidelines to become civilized.
Other than the Muslim religion, which basically has no regard for human life, the balance of the world's population is based on the premise of the 10 commandments.
8. I believe that nature and Man will continue to "slowly" evolve.
9. I believe Science will continue to make incredible discoveries. Science is obviously progessing at a quantum rate compared to 100 years ago.
10. I believe Science will make discoveries/advances that will cause even the very religious to pause and reflect upon all their deeply rooted beliefs, and what science has presented to them.
11. I believe there needs to be balance in all things. I believe the truth lies somewhere between. I believe a position either too strongly religious, or too strongly scientific, will skew an individuals ability to process the enourmous religious and scientific data without their perspective being skewed in one particular direction. Once positioned, it is very hard for an individuals perspective to change, even if the data becomes available to support a change.
12. I believe I just rambled on incoherently for 11 items and it is time to stop. Please forgive grammer and words incorrectly spelled, but I need to stop and check the Drudge report! Just kidding.

Carson Calderwood said...

Great comment. I'll admit, I used to think the same as you on #4. After seeing all the information I came to know that there is actual less diversity than what COULD have come about via evolution. In other words, the time that science proposes for the age of the earth and first signs of plant/animal life are longer than was was needed to create what we have today via random mutations. Still, there is such an amazing complexity that exists, way beyond what you think when you get down to the cellular level. Each cell is more complex than a small city in all that goes on in there. I've detailed that out a time or two on the Madb blog that you reference earlier, but in the end it is hard to grasp the entire scope of this complexity (and the understanding of how evolution could have easily created it) without taking the many courses or reading a couple long books. But, after doing that I changed my mind.

5-I think more or less the same. PofGP shows me that Adam is a literal son of God. The Bible hints at other people being around that Adam's daughters married when they should not have. Could those be the early hominids? I think possibly so.

6-That's why I subscribe to a divinely instituted evolution. ie-a single comet or volcano that made many large dinosaurs disappear paved the way for the small fledgling mammals to expand their territories and bio-diversity so that pre-man could eventually evolve. Without that single event that could easily be divinely guided, evolution would not have turned out as it did.

I also believe lie you that we can't take everything in very ancient scripture literal and things like an entire earth flood (most likely) did not occur, but I am definitely more on the traditional view side of the Jesus Christ spectrum than you.

I really like your following comment, "I believe a position either too strongly religious, or too strongly scientific, will skew an individuals ability to process the enourmous religious and scientific data without their perspective being skewed in one particular direction." I think when people hold too tightly to one or the other they become irrational.

BTW, you posted 14 points that were good and not just rambling. I appreciate your POV. I wouldn't recommend nailing them to the door of any chapels though ;) Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

That 6, 7, 6, 7 numbering system is the "new math" being taught in schools!

the narrator said...

carson,

it is well documented that brigham young taught the adam god doctrine. his counselors also taught it, even though many in the church (especially orson pratt) disagreed with it. not only did he teach it, he claimed it was revealed to him by god and was essential to our salvation.

joseph f smith that adam was not god.

which was right?

Carson Calderwood said...

Although not a clear cut answer (which is why I think this can be such a difficult topic) here are my thoughts on the subject:

1 - BY gave almost 2000 talks, speaches, etc as a prophet and only 20 of these talk about Adam-God theory, of those 20 only a few have items that don't coincide with general LDS doctrine
2 - I don't think we should take an apologetic approach and try to put his comments in a context that makes them jive with accepted doctrine

I think that this was a personal philosophy of his that he said a few times that was flat out wrong. Even if he was prophet, and he said it was doctrine, I don't think that it was. Because of things like this current prophets and apostles are more guarded in what they say. Just because we haven't had an official reversal (like the '78 revelation that countered things Bruce R M said) doesn't mean it was doctrine. That is my $0.02 anyway.

Carson Calderwood said...

http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2008/03
/can-anyone-articulate-adam-god/

Here is a good post that just came up about that.

Anonymous said...

Brigham Young said that when his sermons were corrected, they were scripture (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p.95).

"How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I have revealed to them, and which God revealed to me...namely that Adam is our Father and God...Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys to everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or ever will come upon the earth" (Brigham Young, Deseret News, June 18, 1873).

Bruce R. McConkie wrote a letter that stated: "He [Brigham Young] expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel" (letter to Eugene England dated Feb. 19, 1981). However, the consequences associated with Young's false teaching are not clear, because McConkie goes on to say: "We will be judged by what we believe among other things. If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned. If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls...(2 Nephi 28:15). This clearly means that people who teach false doctrine in the fundamental and basic things will lose their souls. The nature and kind of being that God is, is one of these fundamentals. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation...what he did is not a pattern for any of us. If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines, we are making an election that will damn us" (letter to Eugene England dated Feb. 19, 1981). It is not clear why the ordinary Mormon is damned for doing this, but Brigham Young is not.

BY veered off course on more than just his "Adam is God" doctrine.

The incredible challenge facing living members of the church will be determining which existing doctrines may be false, and the validity of any new ones that might be revealed.

Carson Calderwood said...

The incredible challenge facing living members of the church will be determining which existing doctrines may be false, and the validity of any new ones that might be revealed.

This is not "incredible" by any stretch of the imagination. My original intentions for this post derived from the occasional statement by a GA that some take as "solidly etched in stone doctrine" when that is not always the case. 98% of the statements in the entire history of the church are easily distinguished as correct doctrine from God, they strongly resonate. The other 2% are usually about fringe doctrine anyway. There are no questions about the core doctrines of the gospel. If that 2% becomes a stumbling block that someone can't quite get around then they are looking way beyond the mark. Take the pebble farther away from you eye and you see it as a pebble and not a giant boulder. Most of the time it comes down to an academic/intellectual postulation or discussion because you are making assumptions built upon assumptions. This is most prevalent when dealing with historically mined quotes. Many things were written from second hand (or further) sources, many things were written by others as if they were written in first person by someone else, etc. The more I look into church history or doctrine the stronger my testimony becomes.

Please don't post about this subject any more Mr. Anon. I appreciate all people's opinions, but not masked CARM, various Ministry organizations, disaffected members, or people in general that really want to put forth faith destroying questions as "genuine" personal interest. Your latest statement has made your intentions blatantly clear.
Thanks

Anonymous said...

First of all, I apologize that you perceived my input to be mean spririted. It was not.

Free agency precludes that there is no thing as a "faith destroying question."

As requested, I will no longer post.

Carson Calderwood said...

I requested that you not post on that subject, not that you don't post at all. Feel free, just avoid that game on other subjects.

Along those lines, I didn't see your posts necessarily as mean spirited, just not what I want on this blog. You could be whole heartedly doing what you see as good, which is fine, but not what I want here, at least to that level.

the narrator said...

wow carson, that was quick to accuse someone of being an anti-mormon. i have pointed out the exact same problems elsewhere, yet you have not accused me of being an anti-mormon (and have been much kinder than your brother). the problem anon pointed out about the 'truthfullness' of current church teachings (i hate the word 'doctrine') in light of the falsity of past church teachings (many of which were taught at one point to be 'core doctrines' essential to our salvation) is actually the crux of my paper that i am currently writing.

the narrator said...

carson,

in fact my paper that you linked to at the beginning of your original post ends with that exact problem illustrated by mr. anonymous...

"If the teachings of Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie can be ignored or rejected as false, how are Mormons today supposed to understand the teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, Boyd K. Packer, and other current leaders? Could these teachings also be false? How would one know? How and why should Latter-day Saints trust the teachings of current Church leaders when history has shown they can be false?"

anon did make a good point to. if according to mcconkie, the belief in adam-god was a damnable belief, should not brigham young be damned? of course, the simple answer to this (as with much mcconkie arrogantly taught) is that mcconkie thought he was much more inspired than he really was and, like often, was just plain wrong.

Carson Calderwood said...

Although just an opinion I think that your comments are not usually intended to create doubts as much as inoculate or discuss something that doesn't come easy to everyone's understanding.

I felt that Anon's comments evolved to the point of throwing out bombs. I may have been a little hasty, but after seeing what looked like a bomb I wanted to kick it out the door before it went off rather than wait and see. That is why I tried to make sure that he/she could continue to post, but just avoid that bomb-looking thing that was thrown into the room.