Good doctrine tastes good. Joseph Smith said “I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you.”
But sadly our members don’t really believe that. Most good members have a mental checklist. They don’t really believe in truth. It is more like they dreamed up a bureau of official doctrine that itemizes all the truths there are in this world – apparently in quotations. If you can’t find it at the bureau, they think, it doesn’t exist.
The gospel and its doctrine is not a checklist. And it is not a set of quotations.
I was trying to describe this to my children. It involved Elder Bednar who stated during this last general conference: “The fear of the Lord … is the prospect in His presence of facing things as they really are about ourselves and having ‘a perfect knowledge’ of all our rationalizations, pretenses, and self-deceptions.”
I pointed out to my children that this wasn’t something Elder Bednar read somewhere. He wasn’t trying to think of a quotation or scripture that would validate this before he taught it. Instead, when the Holy Ghost was upon him he had learned from his own experience that where the Holy Ghost is sufficiently manifest, truth is also plainly manifest. For the wicked that would be awful because it sweeps away their rationalizations and self deceptions and lays their own state bare before them.
I pointed out to them how different that is than trying to understand the gospel from a checklist of quotations.
A list of quotations is nice to have, but if that is really all that constitutes your knowledge of gospel truth then it is just a body without a soul. It is missing the part that makes it alive. It is made alive by the Holy Ghost. The gospel is based on faith, repentance, baptism, and giving people the gift of the Holy Ghost. Why would we give people the gift of the Holy Ghost and then tell them not to use the Gift of the Holy Ghost?
Christ recited this pattern of repentance, baptism, and learning by the Holy Ghost. He then said:
3 Nephi 11:39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
And I think that if we are trying to supplant the Holy Ghost with a quotation checklist, we are “not built upon his rock”. As a second witness of that I would point out that Joseph Smith taught: “Jesus in His teachings says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ What rock? Revelation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 273.
The rock we are to be built on is revelation. Now put that with Joseph Smith’s statement that:
“No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.”
Did you catch that?
It said that if you have received the Holy Ghost, if you are doing more than learning to live by the light of Christ, then you receive revelation. Period. Put differently, you can tell the degree by which you have kept the commandment to “receive the Holy Ghost” by whether or not you are acquainted with learning by revelation.
And that is the whole point. The point of the Gift of the Holy Ghost is for members to grow into the principle of revelation for themselves. If you don’t believe me, read Joseph Smith’s statement again “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” We give people the Holy Ghost FOR THE PURPOSE of teaching them to receive revelation. And why is receiving revelation so important? Because that is how they come to know God.
Ancient Israel told Moses to speak with the Lord for them, because they did not want to. Can we grow to be one with the Lord while not willing to learn at the hands of the Holy Ghost? How do we think the brethren made those wonderful quotations in the first place? Will we raise up a generation that is prepared for the second coming of the Son of God, but who are not acquainted with the Holy Ghost?
The whole idea is that we become one with the Father and the Son by growing into the gift of the Holy Ghost. He bears record to us who they really are as we become acquainted with him. To rob our religion of that is to rob us of, well, our religion, because God stands revealed, or remains forever unknown.
If we take that away we have robbed the gospel of its life. We have driven out its spirit. We have said to the Holy Ghost and to the Lord “here you may go, and no further” and held up a checklist of statements that they may not step beyond.
And if that is our attitude, we can hardly expect them to do so.
If one truly believes in a checklist of official doctrine then one might be interested in what our official statement is about what constitutes our official doctrine. It is:
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.
So there is an official statement about what constitutes our official doctrine. Officially. And the answer is that it is what is spoken when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
Yes, we have canonized scripture. What defines it? It was inspired by revelation, the vast bulk of that revelation being received through the Holy Ghost.
Yes we have general conference. Yes we have prophets and apostles. But the point of it is to listen to leaders speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost, and if you took that away, no matter their calling it would be pointless. For goodness sake, they are called chosen “vessels” of the Lord because they are supposed to be vessels that are filled with the spirit of God. It is that which makes what they say worth listening to. It is for that reason that they were chosen in the first place.
Our official statement of official doctrine is that we need to learn and teach by the Holy Ghost.
I ran across an interesting account of a man who did want a quote on something. He knew it was true. He had apparently have never seen a quote by anyone on the subject. He was apparently not aware of any scripture that teaches or even addresses it. He did happen to know who would have likely discussed such a matter, and found a couple of quotes by that prophet stating the matter perfectly.
But the point is that he would still have known it was true if he hadn’t found those quotes.
And THAT should not seem to any member of this church like an unusual experience because as we read the scriptures and we learn to taste truth, and when an idea occurs to us that is right, we can learn to recognize the truthfulness of it by the light of Christ and by the Holy Ghost. We tend to relegate the Holy Ghost to the position of “The Eternal Butler”. We think of him as being able to influence household affairs, to warn us of danger, and sometimes make a suggestion. But he is a God. That is not the purpose of giving us the companionship of a God. Instead, he is the one who will reveal to us his Father and ours, as well as the Savior of all mankind. That is how we come to know them and become one with the Godhead as they are one with each other. And without that revelation, we really have cast the soul out of the gospel.