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Figuring Out Doctrine: What It Is and What It Isn’t

How can we tell what is true doctrine, what is false doctrine, or what is simply cultural tradition?

Many people inside and outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wonder what constitutes “Mormon doctrine.” With information available from many different websites, books, and people, they often have tough questions, such as:

  • What do members really believe?
  • How can members resolve apparent conflicts between traditional beliefs and newly available information?
  • How can we avoid getting off track in the first place?

Robert L. Millet, former dean of Religious Education at BYU, addresses these questions in his article “What Is Our Doctrine?” published in the Religious Educator. Brother Millet explains that only prophets and apostles have authority to establish doctrine. He also gives helpful guidelines to evaluate unexpected information based on scriptures, teachings of current prophets, and historical context. He addresses the points of keeping doctrine pure, establishing doctrinal parameters, remaining loyal to prophets while recognizing they are not infallible, and facing hard issues.

In addition, Millet points out that we do not always know all the answers. “I regularly state to my classes that it is as important for us to know what we do not know as it is for us to know what we know,” he says. “Far too many things are taught or discussed or even argued about that fit into the realm of the unrevealed and thus the unresolved.”

As we keep these parameters in mind, our discernment can increase. And rather than sowing doubts, our questions can increase our faith.

  • Keep doctrine pure: To keep ourselves from getting off track, teach from the scriptures and carefully study the words of the living prophets. Stay out of the realm of speculation.
  • Establish doctrinal parameters: Recognize what matters most. Focus on the central, saving doctrines—that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, for example—and don’t worry about peripheral issues. Consider statements from former Church leaders in context.
  • Remain loyal to prophets while recognizing they are human: Keep in mind that God uses imperfect leaders to accomplish his perfect purposes—as he has throughout history.
  • Face hard issues with faith and charity: When confronted with a difficult question, evaluate it in the context of the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Respond to questions with respect and civility.

Read Brother Millet’s full article, “What Is Our Doctrine?

Source: Religious Studies Center

—Ariel Szuch, Mormon Insights 

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