Wednesday, December 21, 2005
What is "Official" Mormon Doctrine? (Part 1)

What do Mormons believe? Many individuals (both within and outside the LDS church) have attempted to answer this question. Nevertheless, given the nature of continuing revelation in Mormonism as well as the relative authority of various LDS materials, one must begin by grappling with the issue of "official" beliefs. What does the LDS church officially believe and teach?

The Problem

Robert Millet is a professor at Brigham Young University who has recently written a book to share with evangelicals and others what Latter-day Saints believe about Jesus Christ. Yet even in this work, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Millet states,

While I owe a deep debt of gratitude to faculty colleagues, ministers and theologians of other faiths, and students who have challenged me to clarify my thinking, I alone am responsible for the conclusions drawn from the evidence cited. This book is a private endeavor and is this without imprimatur or authorization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Brigham Young University (xii-xiii).

So, Millet admits that the LDS church neither authorizes this book nor does it necessarily summarize official Mormon doctrine.

With this in mind, where can we turn to understand LDS beliefs? Many have found Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine helpful. However, one Mormon scholar points out the potential limitations of this work as well:

For two generations, many Latter-day Saints have relied for matters of doctrinal clarification upon an encyclopedic tome called Mormon Doctrine (first printing 1958) as the definitive statement on the subject, because of its authoritative title, tone, and authorship by a prominent apostle, Bruce R. McConkie. But it never received official sanction, and it expresses what an increasing number of Mormons see as an overly rigid fundamentalism (Terryl L. Givens, The Latter-day Saint Experience in America, 94).

Again, we ask to the question: where can we turn? Where can we look to find the teachings of Mormonism? And how can we seek to correctly understand Mormon doctrine so that we can accurately and effectively respond to the claims of Latter-day Saints? Simply put, we need a way to measure the authoritativeness of LDS sources. Since different LDS material has various levels of authority, we need to keep these distinctions in mind while studying Mormonism.

We will begin examining this "hierarchy of authority" in my next post.

(Originally posted at the A-Team Blog: )

posted at 3:00 AM  

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I am a former Mormon who has been saved by Jesus Christ. Now I am a missionary involved with the Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR). I seek to live in light of Paul's words: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21 ESV)

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