The Unfolding Restoration Lesson 2: Understanding Doctrine – powered by Happy Scribe
Welcome to the unfolding restoration. My name is Anthony Sweat, and I’m so excited to talk to you in this second video about studying church history and doctrine is such an important question as we study about our church’s history, our church’s doctrine, to really get into what do we mean by doctrine and how do we approach church history. Those are the goals that I want to accomplish in this video as we talk together for this time for a lot of different questions about church doctrine over the years and some general questions.
I hear things like this. If God is unchanging and truth is eternal, and why are some of the church’s own teachings changed over time or maybe about doctrine? You yourself, you’ve heard questions like this, like why don’t we why don’t we still teach this or emphasize this like the early church used to teach? Were they wrong or are we wrong since that emphasis has gone away or. This is one of my personal favorites. I once heard that Blinkx General Authority fill in the name said that fill in the blanks.
Was that like church doctrine? And sometimes people will will do that. They’ll they’ll hear a general authority or some church leader say something and they’ll say, well that there’s the church’s doctrine on that. Sometimes people get confused because they’ll find something that a general authority said that contradicts maybe something that a previous or even a current general authority says. How do we handle that when it comes to church doctrine, you know, without being too facetious or like minded about it, sometimes people react, oh, yeah, well, elder so-and-so said this and somebody who has an opposite position, like elder so-and-so said this and they’re like, well, I see your elder so-and-so and I raise you as an elder so-and-so as though we’re trying to pit prophet against prophet, which isn’t wise.
So how then do we know when something becomes like an official church teaching or something that the church stands by? And when is it just that own particular church leaders opinion or position on the matter? Well, those are just some of the reasons why we need to talk about doctrine. So what I want to do with you, first of all, is define the word doctrine. What do we mean by that word? Because a lot of the debates and discrepancies come over defining the word doctrine.
There’s various definitions used. All have their benefits in their own way and in their own time. One common definition that is used in the church today is that doctrine are those things that are eternal and unchanging. I’ve used that definition. I know church leaders and church curriculum have used that definition, and it’s helpful in certain contexts when we’re using doctrine. But the problem is that sometimes that definition can also be problematic, is problematic, because then if something is not eternal or has changed, people think it’s not doctrine or they think that if it doesn’t fit it within, that they don’t need to believe it or somehow it’s not binding.
Like, let me give you some examples with that. Based on that criteria of only the eternal, unchanging truths of the gospel being doctrine based off that tithing is not church doctrine. I have a hard time with that. I dare you to stand up at the podium and and say, you know, tithing is not part of our doctrine or base because by the way, tithing has changed. It’s changed how it’s been paid in this dispensation. It’s not known if it was had in every dispensation or something that’s specific to our dispensation, like the building of the new Jerusalem.
So is that not doctrine? Because it’s not eternal and unchanging or maybe the gathering of Israel or the Lord appearing in Ataman Diamond or let me give you another one. The word of wisdom, the word of wisdom has gone through notable shifts and changes, as I’ll talk about in a later video. So does that mean the word of wisdom is not doctrine? Because it’s not eternal and unchanging? You see some of the problems with this. Sometimes people want to just call those policies.
Well, those are just church policies. And while that can be beneficial, the problem with that is if you stood up and said tithing or the word of wisdom is not part of our church’s doctrine, you wouldn’t get in trouble for teaching false policy. You’d get in trouble or be questioned for teaching false doctrine. What I like to use is the definition of is it an authorized teaching of the church? Is it something that the church would stand behind as one of their official statements?
And that is, by the way, how the word doctrine was used in scripture when people after Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, says they were astonished at his doctrine and he covered a wide variety of things from from eternal truths, but also to behaviors and policies. Even in our own church history, we have the book doctrine and Covenants. Or did that title come from? Well, the original title of the book was The Book of Commandments.
But then in eighteen thirty five for the eighteen thirty five publication, they added these lectures on faith and the lectures on faith weren’t revelatory. They were not. Thus, said the Lord from Joseph Smith, scholar. The ship has shown the Sidney Rigdon was likely the author of much of the lectures on faith, and so the church added these great theological lectures into the book. So now the question was, well, what do we call it? They’re not all book of commandment.
So they said, let’s change the title and let’s call it doctrine and covenants. Part one, the doctrine was the lectures on faith. Part two was Covenants and Commandments of the Lord Joseph’s Revelations. So from the very beginning, even something like the lectures on faith, if you look at the original nineteen thirty five, it says On the doctrine of the church now, these were not always timeless, eternal, unchanging truths that were in there, but they’re using it more in the term of the doctrine means that teaching to be had.
So when we say that doctrine doesn’t change, if you’re uncomfortable with that, that’s fine, because sometimes we need to say no, we need to hold on to things that don’t change. I think maybe another way we can talk about it is instead of saying doctrine doesn’t change, what we really might be saying is the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t change or the doctrine of Christ as preach my gospel and the Scriptures call it. And the doctrine of Christ is faith in the Lord.
Repentance, baptism, reception of the Holy Ghost, the gospel of Christ doesn’t change, but various church teachings, authoritative teachings can and do change. And there’s reasons why. Let me just give you a few. Sometimes new understanding is revealed, things that we didn’t have before that add or augment to it. I’m holding this clicker right here. And if I if I asked you to describe this and to teach about it, well, you can give it shape and dimension.
You can mention it has this yellow thing and anything else you might say. No, but as more of it is revealed and you see the front of it and buttons and a screen, then the teaching gets augmented. So sometimes as the Lord gives us more, it sheds more light, more well rounded on the subject as a whole. The second thing, sometimes concepts just need to be clarified by revelation. And so the teachings of it are clarified and unchanged sometimes er or just needs to be removed about things.
And sometimes context and application change is what is taught. For example, it was an authorised teaching. The Lord commanded the church in Section thirty eight to gather to Ohio. That was a command. Well, that command no longer is in force. We don’t teach that to the whole church. To going to Ohio is not an authorised teaching anymore, so applications in context can change. So throughout this video series, if you hear me say the word doctrine, what I’m referring to is an authorised teaching of the church as a whole.
And sometimes, by the way, God just is going to give us new directions and new laws as a whole. I found it helpful and two of my colleagues helped me develop this model. We worked together on it.
Michael McKay and Garrett Dermot, as we talked about different types of doctrine, as I listened to profit Sears and regulators teach, sometimes they’ll use words like this is a core doctrine or this is a fundamental doctrine or this is an eternal doctrine. Sometimes they’ll say this is a policy. This is a this is an explanatory teaching, things like that. So we developed a model to help categorize different types of authoritative teachings of the church. The first one is a core doctrine.
Core doctrine are these things like Elder Bednar and Elder Packer and many others that have said are unchanging and eternal. God is our loving Heavenly Father and the Gospel blesses families. Jesus is our savior. The resurrection will redeem women and men from death. Those are these core, essential, eternal doctrines that have been taught from the very beginning of time and will be taught throughout throughout every dispensation, including this one. With that, though, and by the way, often core doctrine are things that need to be known and believed in order to be saved.
There are the essentials. And related to that, a lot of teachings in the church fall under the next category that we would place, which is supportive doctrine. The supportive doctrine is something that elaborates on the core. It helps us understand it better. It helps us process it better. Now, maybe it is not needed or known in order to be saved, but it helps us grasp the core better. So, for example, a core doctrine may be, well, is that Jesus saves us from sin.
A supportive doctrine to support or elaborate on that core idea is that Jesus died in Jerusalem or that he bled from every pore, or that he suffered not only for sin, but that he also suffered pain and sickness, that he he died and resurrected on a Sunday morning. Now, somebody does not need to know that Jesus blood from every pore or that he resurrected on a Sunday morning in order to be saved, to be saved, they need to know that Jesus is the savior.
But these other teachings elaborate on the core. They help us to explain them and understand them and process them more deeply.
The third level or the level or or category that we’re most familiar with in terms of changes in church teachings. And this is what we would call policy doctrine, policy doctrine. Are these timely statements? Usually they deal with behaviors, applications, things that we need to do. Missionaries go on missions at 19. Well, now they can go on 18. They serve for three years. Well, now they serve for two years.
They cannot call home. But on Christmas and Mother’s Day, now they can call home every week if possible. These are kind of policies that change and adapt based on the circumstances. Now, those are more behavioral, but even policies with behaviors such as without being too much with the word of wisdom could be seen in this. It is a policy doctrine that was timely application. Don’t drink this. Don’t drink tea. Well, that’s something that is had likely only in our dispensation.
I am not sure if that was ever taught in any other dispensation. It was a timely application to our time. Now, one of the reasons I just brought up the word of wisdom is because there are some times where people want to dismiss things as mere policy, as though somehow it does not need to be followed, as though it’s not a binding expectation or law upon the children of men if it is coming from the Lord through his authorized servants as a binding expectation, even if it’s a policy, we need to follow it.
We could not in Abraham’s day, for example, say, well, we don’t need to follow your application or this policy that every male needs to be circumcised because one day that will go away and that will change, which that teaching has gone away and changed. But Abraham taught that you could not be part of the covenant and you could not be saved if you did not adhere to this timely behavioral law. So policy doctrines can also be laws that must be adhered to that can affect our ability to participate in the ordinances of salvation and exultation.
That’s why I would never dismiss things as mere policy. If they’re coming from Prophet series and revelations from the Lord’s Voice, the last level of doctrine to think about things is what’s called esoteric doctrine. Now, esoteric is just a fancy word. That means that it’s partially it’s only partially known. It’s obscured. It’s not fully revealed or discussed. There’s more to be discovered on it in a sense, or it’s only had by a special group of people.
In a sense, the holy teachings of the temple. Parts of those could be considered esoteric doctrine. What’s on the sealed portion of the book? Mormon would be esoteric doctrine. Things that some people do know and I don’t. Esoteric is not a pejorative word. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with it. It just means that there’s it’s only had by a small group of people and it’s not taught openly and publicly or there’s yet more to be revealed on the subject that makes it so that it’s somewhat unknown still and maybe the nature of intelligence in the mortal life, for example.
So with those four designations, let me give you an example just to help clarify it and how it can add my whole point on this is I want you to give you ways to think about as you study church history and church doctrine, ways to think about it. So let’s take a core doctrine. You must be baptized to be saved. That has been taught from Adam through every dispensation, its core and its expected a supportive doctrine to that might be baptisms for the dead in our dispensation.
I’m not sure baptisms for the dead was had in every dispensation, but for our dispensation. It elaborates on the idea that everybody needs baptism and can have a baptism. Now a policy doctrine is that baptisms need to be gender specific. Males are baptized for males, females for females. That was not always the case, by the way. Likely the first baptism for the. Out on record was the baptism of Jane Nyman for her son in the Mississippi River.
It took a few years before the church established that policy of males to males and females to females. Now, let me give you an esoteric part of baptism when we perform a baptism for the dead in the temple. How is that ordinance communicated to the dead? How do they learn of it? How do they accept it formally? Well, those are all parts of our teachings on redemption for the dead that are unknown. Surely those in the spirit world know that.
But those teachings seem to be unclear, at least to me they are anyway. And and somewhat esoteric, more to be revealed. So that’s just one example of how these different categories could help understand the idea. So let me give you a few to think about. The atonement of Jesus Christ is a core policy, supportive or esoteric doctrine, meaning the Christ Atonement says, I hope you said core on that one, how Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemani.
Or we shouldn’t drink wine. Or we should ordain young men to the priesthood at the age of 11. Just think about where would those and there’s no hard and fast rule, the point of this is not to assign something to a category that it has to be in that category. The point of it is to give a model, to conceptualize and think through different type of authorized teachings that the church gives, which is not related to that. One of the questions then is how do I know?
Then if it’s an authorized church church teaching, I might be able to categorize it. But does that mean it’s official church teaching? So how do we know if the church stands behind certain teachings? Let me give you four of them. Four ways to think about it, whether it’s official number one, can I find it taught repeatedly in the holy scriptures? The scriptures are our standard. They’re called standard works for a reason. They are as detailed Christopherson and Joseph Fielding, Smith and and and many others, Boyd K.
Packer. And they’ve said they are standard. There are measuring yade for doctrine, for the truthfulness. And by the way, not as it just found once in the scriptures, but is it found repeatedly, consistently taught the scriptures authenticate each other. So we look at how the Bible as a whole teaches something, how the Book of Mormon teaches that, how the doctrine covenants and Pearl of Great Price teaches it. And then we look how those things are coming together.
The reason why that matters is you couldn’t say, for example, take one lone verse that says no man has seen God at any time in the Book of John, which there is that saying. But that does not mean that nobody’s never seen God. Sometimes that’s thrown out at our missionaries. Like we’ll see. Joseph Smith couldn’t have seen God because look, one verse no man has ever seen God. We look at what the scriptures teach broadly. We gather all that data together and we look at how it clusters and we find that there are many, many verses where people have seen God.
So we look at what do the scriptures teach repeatedly or doctrine? How do I know if it’s authorized? Well, a second question is, is there a united statement from the first presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Doctrine and Covenants Section one hundred and seven, verse twenty seven is so important on this subject. When the Quorum of the 12 Apostles is organized in February of eighteen thirty five, the Lord gave this revelation of Section one of seven mostly to them, in that it gave this standard.
It said that all the decisions made by either of these quorums need to be by the unanimous voice of the same in order to have power and validity. Now, it does give the the standard that a majority can render a quorum or render a decision when it’s not when they’re not able otherwise. But the goal is unanimity. President Gordon B. Hinckley, I remember him saying that in the fifty years that he served as an apostle and in the first presidency, there was never any major decision based on the doctrine and teachings or policies of the church, or that standard of unanimity was not met.
So we we look for for power and validity. Is it supported by the united voice of the first presidency in the Quorum of the Twelve? Pay attention. When you hear the prophets speak often they will say, we’ve made the decision. We are unanimous in this decision. We find those united things in letters from the first presidency and official handbooks and things that come from the stamp of the first presidency or the quorum of the twelve. Literally, some documents have all their signatures affixed, like the proclamation of the world or the living Christ look for their united, their united voice on that third thing is it consistently taught by general authorities and officers of the church acting in their official capacity.
So maybe there’s not a united statement that has been stamped and signed and sent. But if we take again what the general authorities and general officers are teaching consistently, it offers a chorus of what is being taught that is louder. As other Bednar recently said that than any solo statement on a subject. And the last is it found in recent church publications. The church has this wonderful organization called Correlation, or their curriculum writers. They work very hard to make sure things that are published in the churches, magazines, on the church’s websites and the teaching manuals that try to guide us and these other materials that we receive as church members.
So if I’m finding that the official church is publishing and releasing it, that is generally something that the church would stand by and say, yeah, that that is one of our teachings. Now, that’s not foolproof, but those are just four great ways to know if something is an official church teaching. So let me give you just a quick exercise again with with official church teaching. So maybe we here we have the Heavenly Mother, is that taught in the harmonized scriptures, is it taught by the united voice of the first presidency in the 12th and the repeated teachings of general authorities in church publications and official church publications?
Or maybe we hear about the enabling power of the Atonement. Maybe sometimes people hear that Jesus was married. Is that an official church teaching with the church? Stand by that in any of these four areas. Or the tzion will be built upon the American continent. Well, those are just different church teachings. You might hear that if you can ask yourself the question, is this an authorized church teaching by running through those four categories, it will help to know whether it is something that is just somebody’s opinion, something that people are appropriately and wonderfully talking about.
But that’s different than is this an authorized teaching of the church, OK. For the last five, ten minutes that I have with you, not only do we need to kind of think about how we study church doctrine, we also, as we study the doctrine covenants, we need to look at how we study church history as a whole. I also want to give you some guys to thinking about church history as a whole and thinking about sources that create our church’s history.
Church history is really important, by the way, and it may be more important in our church than perhaps in some other faiths. One of the reasons why is because a number of other faiths are founded more on a theological movement rather than historical events for our church.
A lot of history informs our theology or our doctrine. For example, Joseph Smith goes to a grove and prays that’s an event, a historical event. But it informs our doctrine that God speaks to his children or that there was a great apostasy. An event informs doctrine or maybe Joseph Smith. History goes and uncovers a book, The Book of Mormon and translated. Those are historical events, but they lead to doctrinal teachings. What’s in the Book of Mormon?
Or that the canon of Scripture is open or historical event? Peter, James and John come and give Joseph Smith and Oliver Kadry Priesthood Authority. That’s a historical event, but it informs doctrinal teachings about priesthood, keys and authority to perform ordinances and govern the church. So think of history and doctrine, kind of like how you think about bones and muscles.
History sometimes acts as a framework. The bones upon which the muscles of doctrine move. Sometimes they’re not inseparable. That is why former church historian Marlink Jensen and member of the 70s said this, quote, It is important that we become familiar with our church’s history, especially with its founding stories. These stories, Joseph Smith’s first vision coming forth of The Book of Mormon angelic visitations by John the Baptist, Peter James and John Elijah. Elias and others contain the foundational truths upon which the restoration is based.
So as we study church history, we hear lots of things about church history. Maybe you heard, for example, that Joseph Smith had a breastplate and spectacles with The Book of Mormon plates. And you hear that Lucy McSmith describes them as three cornered demons that were or she describes the breastplate as concave and convex. Maybe you’ve heard in our history, for example, that when Joseph Smith had the first vision, there’s a source that says that God touched Joseph Smith eyes in the sacred grove that really happened.
Or maybe you hear something about the word of wisdom that the reason why it was given was because Emma Smith was complaining about the floor being so dirty. Or maybe you heard something about Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage. We hear these things all the time. Think about how many times you hear I heard that Joseph Smith blank. I heard that Brigham Young Blank or I heard that in our church’s history. This well, my question is, are all those historical claims to be believed?
Are they all to be relied upon? And if they’re not, what are some ways to think about whether we do or don’t support a historical claim about the church?
So I want to give you five things that I’ve gleaned from wonderful historians that I’ve been able to associate with these five or this number one. Is it a primary account? A primary account means it was produced by somebody who is actually there. They are a participant in the event they saw it. They experienced it. They heard it. That’s different than a second or third hand account where they’re trying to to say, I heard Joseph Smith say, I heard.
And then they’re passing that on. Now, that becomes the second or third. And you guys know, any time we start to move down the telephone line, facts get admitted. It gets reinterpreted through people’s different perspectives and lenses. Second question is, what’s its relationship with other sources to say you have a historical claim? Do we have other sources that seem to say the same thing, kind of like church doctrine when we find lots of sources? Good.
Credible sources that all seem to be saying consistent things that helps with the believability and validity of the source as a whole. Now, that doesn’t mean that just because a source says something different or that just because it’s second hand that we don’t believe it. These are just things to take into consideration as we look at the source. Third, is it a contemporary account? Contemporary? Every account means it was produced relatively near the time of the events. Now, that doesn’t always have to be the case again, but we do know that memory changes over time and sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s bad.
One of the reasons why memory affects the validity of a source is because if somebody wrote down in their journal that day, what happened? That is probably more credible for the details of the event. If they rather than if they were thinking about the event 30 or 40 years later and trying to rehearse that time and shows that we we change our memories inadvertently as time goes on. However, one of the benefits sometimes is that after time has gone on, sometimes we can see the past a little bit more clearly.
Fourth, does it seek an objective perspective? Now, I want to be clear here. There is no such thing as objective history. History is created. It’s created by those who record it through their lens, those who interpret it through their lens and by those who consume it through their lens. There is no such thing as being purely objective. What we’re trying to do is figure out why it’s being interpreted that way. And we’re looking at things like, is this being really heavy handed or not with the source to look for trigger words?
Look, do they conveniently omit certain details and facts, look for spin where they’re trying to manipulate the idea or the reader as a whole. And then fifth, is the claim supported by evidence or is it just mere conjecture, hearsay and that person’s own subjective opinion about it? There are lots of things that have happened in history that can be supported by facts and by evidence. There are other things where it’s just that person’s own read or not on that person’s own perspective.
Now, as I conclude again, that doesn’t mean that just because a source doesn’t fit any of these five things that we throw it out, all it means is that we use these things to consider the source a metric that my colleague and I have developed I can afford.
We we label them green, yellow or red in these five areas when we look at a source. And green means it’s good in this area. Yellow means there’s probably some caution. Red means there’s a reason to exercise a lot of caution in this category. And that just kind of helps us know whether that source is really credible or not. I want to reiterate, it doesn’t mean we throw it out. It just means that we’ve thought about it and whether that source is credible and valid to start to form conceptions about our history as a whole.
So let me give you one example of what I believe is a really good source and why it is. Here’s a source on the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. It’s written by Willard Richards. Willard Richards was in the room. He’s one of the four men in the room, one of only two people to survive. He is a firsthand contemporary witness of this. He wrote this and it was published. He probably wrote it in July. It was published in August, just a month or two after the martyrdom as a whole.
As you pay attention to it, it’s very factual. Liquidy says after the shooting starts and Hieronymous hit, he records, Joseph is saying, Oh, dear brother Hiram and opening the door two or three inches with his left hand discharge, one barrel of a six shooter pistol at random. In the entry, Joseph continued snapping his revolver round the casing of the door into the spaces before three barrels of which missed fire, while Mr. Taylor, with a walking stick, stood by his side and knocked down the bayonets and muskets, which were constantly discharged through the doorway.
When the revolver failed, we had no more firearms and expecting an immediate rush of the mob and the doorway full of muskets halfway into the room and no hope but instant death from within. Mr. Taylor rushed into the window and he was shot, the force of which ball threw him back onto the floor and he rolled under the bed. Joseph attempted at the last resort to leap from the same window from whence Mr. Taylor fell when two balls pierced him from the door and one entered his right breast from without.
And he fell outward exclaiming Oh Lord, my God. Now, the reason why I think that’s a very credible source, firsthand account. He was there. It’s very factual. It’s very straightforward. There’s not a lot of spin there. He talks openly about things about Joseph shooting a revolver to try to get the mob to to go back. It gives details that are valid. Aided by evidence there and again, it’s very contemporary source written very relatively near the time of the events.
So that’s just one example of a good contemporary source and running through those metrics to see why it’s a good source as we form our conception of the past. Well, as I conclude to uncritically quote a source, so long as it supports the position that we desire is simply not good scholarship, it will not lead us to truth. And it’s inconsistent with the spirit of the restoration. This is true for the church critic as well as for the church apologist.
As one textbook says, the historians basic task is to choose reliable sources, to read them reliably and to put them together in ways that provide reliable narratives about the past. I hope that these metrics in these ways to approach church history and church doctrine can give you some ways that you can form good, reliable thought through conceptions of both church history and church doctrine as you study the doctrine and covenants and the wonderful events of our own church history.