This is a follow up to my post about Christ speaking on official church doctrine, in which I observed that according to the Savior the church can apparently have an “official” position that just represents the hardness of the hearts of the members, but the spiritual consequences still remain. There is plenty of law of Moses that testifies of that truth. It should be added that, that in his day Christ was the head of the church of course. But his statement about the official position on divorce under the law of Moses being because of the hardness of their hearts, as well as the spiritually damaging consequences, were as true when he said them as they had been for the preceding many hundreds of years.
I wrote that post because it is interesting to have that pointed out by the Savior. I also pointed it out because there has been a belief more and more among members that their duty is to learn whatever constitutes the official doctrines of the church. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Which may sound good at first, but it is utter bunk.
If that were true, we shouldn’t read the scriptures. We should instead read the church sanctioned Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Once we know everything in there, we can read the prophet’s talks in the conference Ensigns since it was published, and we will be done. We know all the official doctrine of the church. Case closed.
This runs strongly counter to what is portrayed in the lives of faithful members in all ages past.
The scriptures DO teach to follow the living prophet.
The scriptures DO teach to search the scriptures.
The scriptures DO teach how to discern truth from error.
But scriptures DO NOT teach the modern role of “official” doctrine as it exists in the minds of many members.
And the idea that our obligation with regards to truth isn’t to ask, seek, and knock but to instead carefully enumerate which ideas can be justifiably called “official” church doctrine actually runs severely contrary to the scriptures.
The idea of “official” doctrine appears to probably have been coined originally with the intent of bringing some member around to accept basic doctrines. Which is good.
But the notion has taken a life of its own in the hands of some of the membership and the term “official doctrine” in its current incarnation is used far more frequently for evil than for good.
This switch from asking “what is true” to asking “what is official” is one of the most standard ways that members in the church are convinced to discard anything and everything found in such wonderful church works as “Doctrines of Salvation” by Joseph Fielding Smith, or “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce R McConkie. Quite clearly these members do not discard these tremendous writings because they have already gleaned all the truth those books had to offer and are ready for more. This is typical of the life the word “official” has taken in the church these days. It has been twisted into a tool for rejecting good teachings. In fact, many of the modern “official” crowd will even object to my calling such books “church works” since they aren’t “official” publications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Which is ridiculous. We aren’t obligated to accept every word of them, but the sheer quantity of truth contained in them is tremendous and that truth is about the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rejecting an enormous amount of truth because it isn’t all guaranteed to be perfect is exactly the life “official” has taken to itself. When those authors wrote books, they had no question they were writing church books.
The shift from “what is true” to “what is official” has also started to be turned against even basic truths, as many basic truths of gospel living were tacitly assumed as universal truth, and sometimes finding a good source that is “official” enough can be difficult in these days. These tend to be fundamental truths about family, gender, marriage, intimacy and children. The shift also enables enemies of truth to argue over just exactly how official any statements made by the brethren are. By moving the argument away from truth and into the realm of a sort of doctrinal bureaucracy they dramatically increase their ability to obscure and discard truth. Discussion of doctrine is shifted from discussions about actual doctrine to a debate about what is official. Even discussion on the Proclamation of the Family degenerate into what is official and what isn’t, instead of truth being taught. We are becoming experts on bureaucracy, but not experts in doctrine.
We are also becoming experts at collecting quotes, but not experts at gaining the understanding that allowed the original speaker to make the quote in the first place. After all, if you can’t say anything that hasn’t been already said, there really isn’t any point in trying to root out the basic principles anymore, is there? What purpose is there to gaining the depth of understanding that allow a speaker to say something if you are only going to quote exactly what he said in the first place anyway?
But in reality, our leaders are not trying to put words in our mouths, but to put the gospel in our minds and hearts. They want us to gain the same spiritual knowledge that would have allowed us to have said the same things for ourselves, independently, in the first place. The move to an obsession with quotes and “official” doctrine is a move away from understanding principles and becoming independent witnesses for truth. It is a move away from what our leaders are actually try to lead us towards.
It is typified by passing around quotes, but without ever thinking about them. There are many profound statements that have been made, but we don’t ponder them, we just pass them around like desktop calendar quotes, or inspirational ideas.
But not only are there profound statements made, there are many things that cannot be taught sufficiently with a single statement. Not every good idea fits inside an internet meme or a twitter post, or even in a quote brief enough to be cited in an article or online discussion.
Some people are so attached to this notion of “official” that if one even speaks against it they immediately conclude that one no longer believes in following the prophet. The scriptures teach that we should follow the prophets. That is foundational truth. But the commandment to ask, seek and knock, is not about enumerating which teachings can justifiably be termed “official” doctrine.
We have the gift of the Holy Ghost for crying out loud.
We have the light of Christ, which, according to the scriptures, we can search diligently in to determine whether anything is right or wrong, and know with a perfect knowledge what is right, and what is wrong.
Shifting from “what is official” back to the scriptural approach of searching for truth brings discussions to the heart of what is being taught instead of a quagmire of who has a quote from the Ensign, and who has one from a CES fireside, or from a book, or from general conference, or whether the speaker was an apostle or not when the statement was made. Or whether what was said in a more official source is sufficient to justify a slightly different case as official. Or debating the precise scope of a statement that was clearly very official. Or whether a very large number of less official sources is enough to state that something really is part of our official doctrine. Or any other spiritual bologna which all derive from changing our search for truth from “ask, seek, and knock” to “what is official”?
There was only one group in the scriptures as concerned about what was official was we now are, and it isn’t one we want to be emulating. It was the Pharisees. Now don’t get me wrong. Speaking collectively we are definitely not emulating the Pharisees in our moral and spiritual practices. We are, speaking collectively, a group of followers of Jesus Christ. However, our doctrinal practices are taking more and more of a leaning in the Pharisee’s direction. And sadly, as this mindset becomes more part of our thinking, the obsession with what is official is providing a tool for some to actually follow in the Phariee’s footsteps and justify in committing sin in action and thought if they can find a loophole in the doctrinal bureaucracy.
We have replaced what the scriptures taught with something much less spiritually useful. And many of our number have taken this so to heart they have branded the approach portrayed by the scriptures as heresy. They want to claim that you if you don’t like the obsession with “official” doctrine, it must be because you disagree with official doctrine. As there are many who actually do disagree with our doctrine, they mentally toss you into that boat.
But the real problem is that “official” is the wrong question altogether. Our obsession should be with asking, seeking, and knocking. It should be an obsession with truth itself.
If truth is our real pursuit, then we will drink freely from the words of the living prophets and apostles. We will be thrilled that we have living prophets and apostles. We will also drink deeply from the scriptures and the temple.
Ironically, those obsessed with whether something is “official” generally take a very limited view of what that might include. General conference talks by Brigham Young? For many of these people, those are not “official” doctrine. Statements of the first presidency previous to the last 50 years? No thank you, still not official. Sometimes not even “official statements of the first presidency”. In fact, while I won’t go into specifics, it is interesting how many people obsessed with official doctrine like to throw away unpopular teachings of the brethren as not “official” enough, without having any idea of the weight of the prophetic words that have stood in favor of them. Just not in their lifetime. So it must not be “official” doctrine.
Yes, we follow the prophet. He is the Lord’s living oracle. Yes, we sustain the prophet and the twelve as prophets, seers and revelators and the only men with the right to lead the church. That is a foundational principle. And if truth is what you are after, then that is a foundational truth. You drink deeply from their teachings. You also drink deeply from the scriptures and the temple, which are the fountainhead. If truth is what you are after, those are truths you start with.
Joseph Smith taught:
Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 316)
Apparently, to be a true Mormon we are accountable for recognizing whatever good and true principles we run into. Note that these were religious ideas Joseph Smith was speaking about.
We are apparently accountable to simply accept truth.
That kind of flies in the face of those obsessed with only accepting or teaching what is “official”. According to Joseph Smith, they aren’t even true Mormons.
So if the baptists have some truth, and we should accept what truth they have, and if the Methodists have some truth, and we should accept what truth they have, then it also follows that when we hear truth taught by any member, we are obligated to accept it. This is not particularly different than what the scriptures teach:
D&C 68:3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
There you have it. An official statement from an official source of what constitutes our official doctrine. If someone speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are obligated to accept it. It is officially official. More importantly, it is true. If you want an official doctrine, there is one right there. Our official doctrine is that whatever a man teaches by the Holy Ghost is our official doctrine. We are obligated to accept whatever truths are taught by the power of the Holy Ghost. Put differently, all such teachings constitute part of our official doctrine.
But wait, don’t we only turn to the brethren for revelation? Aren’t they the only one’s who receive revelation for the church? Yes. But there is a huge difference between revelation with a capital R, and revelation with a small r.
What is discussed above in D&C 68 is revelation with a small r. In fact, if someone speaks truth from a different church that doesn’t even have the Holy Ghost, then according to Joseph Smith, to come out true “Mormons” we should gather whatever good and true principles they offered. If we have that obligation, we certainly also have the obligation to accept whatever is taught by the Holy Ghost, exactly as outlined in D&C 68:4 above.
If someone comes forward with a vision or marvelous manifestation that they want to make public, that is revelation with a capital R. Those are given to the church only through those with the proper authority. Otherwise what a mess we would be in. Everyone and anyone that claimed to come forth with a revelation from God would have to be considered and weighed to determine what was divine manifestation and what was not. After all, there is nothing more perfect than a direct revelation from God. If God speaks directly, that is as perfect as it gets.
There is a great difference between these two types of revelation. We can determine what was taught by the Holy Ghost. We may even determine that part of what someone said was spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost, but that some other portions weren’t.
The revelations with a captial R are very different. If we accept them, we have to accept them whole hog. We have to accept them absolutely as being on the same par as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. If the Lord speaks personally, we accept his words as perfect.
Thus there is a huge difference in our obligation in the two cases.
And consequently there is a huge difference in how the Lord dispenses the two. Any member can speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, and we are obligated to accept what truth is taught under the influence of the spirit. We may even find that we learn truth this way that wasn’t stated by the original speaker – more is conveyed than what he had in mind. We may find it was stated imperfectly but that the Holy Ghost, which conveys it to us, clarifies the meaning and frames it more perfectly than the original speaker was able to state.
However, only those who are called are authorized to received revelation with a big R for the church. We sustain them as prophets, seers, and revelators. That is because such revelations have to be either accepted or rejected whole Hog. This is also because, if such a revelation is accepted as true, such revelations have to be accepted as being perfect as God is perfect, on equal standing with the scriptures.
Joseph Smith taught by the power of the Holy Ghost, but he was blunt that there was a difference, an enormous gap, between his teaching and the revelations he had. Joseph Smith taught in the school of the prophets. But he didn’t want his teachings there put on par with the revelations he received. He confessed that he was flawed, but stated that there was no flaw to be found in the revelations he had. The revelations he had were revelations with a big R. They are perfect as God is perfect. Someone could not take just part of one of these revelations and accept it, but think the rest was error. Each was either an entirely perfect truth, or entirely deception.
Thank goodness God calls men as prophets, seers, and revelators for his church. We can and must discard revelations and marvelous manifestations published by others than those he has called.
Most of the teachings of the brethren in this dispensation are revelation with a small r. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Ghost can lead the brethren what to say or do and that is a perfectly fine way for Christ to lead his church by revelation. If we have any question why there has not been given more revelation with a capital R, we need only turn to the existing revelations to find the answer.
D&C 84:54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.
Put differently, if we really haven’t accepted and lived up to the big R revelations we have already received there is not reason for us to receive more. Frankly, I don’t think we are living up to many of the small r revelations we receive each general conference either. What sort of questions do groups of members come to the brethren with these days? Are they the results of many members asking, seeking and knocking for truth? No, so far, they are all the result of looking so much to the world that they wonder why the church can’t be more babylonian. The most recent questions to arise from a significant number of the membership seem to be things like: “Can women have the priesthood?” and “Is homosexuality really morally wrong?”. Universally in my lifetime the doctrinal questions posed by enough members for the brethren to answer in conference have been questions like these questioning our already existing doctrines. What need is there for further big R revelation when all we can come up with to ask is whether the existing revelations are really all that necessary? Let us follow both types of revelation we receive now, and have already received in the past. It is by faith and obedience that the Lord leads us into greater light and knowledge.