Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions

by Joseph Fielding McConkie

IT IS NOT UNCOMMON IN gospel discussions for someone to challenge what is being said with the question, “Is that official Church doctrine?” This question often means the one asking it does not like what is being said and is seeking a reason not to be bound by it. The question is generally successful in putting the one being challenged on the defensive because of the difficulties associated with defining “official Church doctrine.” In telling the story of the Creation, for instance, teachers are commonly challenged with the question, “Does the Church have an official position on the theory of evolution?” The answer is no, it does not. On the other hand, and this is certainly very important in such a discussion, the Church does have an official position on the doctrine of the origin of man. The way questions are framed is very important. On the one hand, the Church is not in the business of evaluating scientific theories; on the other, it is in the business of teaching that all humankind are the offspring of divine parents and thus not the product of an evolutionary process. The knowledge that we obtain in the temple, knowledge required for us to enter into the presence of the Lord, and the ordinances performed there do not permit the notion that our blood line traces to animals.

If the body of “official doctrine” is to be limited to formal declarations by the First Presidency, the Church has precious little doctrine. From the time of its organization in the spring of 1830 to the present, there have been very few instances in which the First Presidency has issued “official” doctrinal declarations. These have included the statement on the origin of man, a doctrinal exposition on the Father and the Son, and most recently the proclamation on the family. Each of these declarations is marvelous in its own right, but if our definition of “official doctrines” is defined so narrowly that it is limited to these declarations and the few others we have received, we could not even declare faith, repentance, and baptism as doctrines of the Church. Indeed, most of what we understand to be the doctrine of the Church finds no mention in such documents. Certainly the standard works, the temple ceremony, and much instruction that has come to us by those whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators is also “official doctrine.”

The difficulties in defining doctrine too narrowly are matched by those that are too broad and sweeping. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear someone say that anything taught in general conference is “official doctrine.” Such a standard makes the place where something is said rather than what is said the standard of truth. Nor is something doctrine simply because it was said by someone who holds a particular office or position. Truth is not an office or a position to which one is ordained. Let us examine some points that will help clarify what things are or are not doctrine.

QUESTION

How do we distinguish the doctrine of the Church from that which is not doctrine?

ANSWER

Perhaps the safest way to answer this question is to identify the characteristics that are common to good doctrine. They include the following:

First, good doctrine will always sustain the idea that the living prophet, not scripture or any other document, is the constitution of the Church. The Church is not governed by canon law, we have no creed to which we must pay allegiance, nor do we have a written constitution. The governing authority of the Church is the voice of the living prophet. It must ever be so. Our faith embraces “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9). The man who stands at the head of the Church is the instrument through which the Lord conveys the doctrine that is to bind the Church as a whole. Perhaps the following illustration will help.

Some time ago I received a long-distance call from a missionary serving in Texas. He had been given material produced by anti-Mormons declaring that Latter-day Saints believe that Adam is God. “What’s the deal?” he asked with considerable excitement in his voice.

“Elder,” I asked, “were you born and raised in the Church?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Did you attend seminary?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever had an institute class?”

“A few,” he said.

“Do you read the Church magazines?”

“Yes.”

“Have you read the standard works?”

“Yes.”

“Do you listen to general conference?”

“Yes.” The tone of his voice now contained a hint of exasperation.

“Well, then,” I said, “in all that you have read and been taught, how many times have you been told that Latter-day Saints believe that Adam is God?”

“Never,” he said a little sharply.

“What do you suppose the reason for that is?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” the missionary said.

“Well, then,” I said, “could the reason you were never taught such a thing in Sunday School, or sacrament meeting, or priesthood meetings, or seminary, or your institute classes, or stake conference, or general conferences, or in Church magazines, or in the scriptures be because we as Latter-day Saints don’t believe it?”

“Well,” he said, “it says here that Brigham Young taught it.”

“Elder,” I asked, “is the issue whether Brigham Young taught it or whether it is a doctrine of the Church?”

“Both,” he said.

“All right, let’s take first the issue of whether it’s the doctrine of the Church. We have about ten million members of the Church. Do you suppose that a single one of them has been taught in any Church class or meeting that Adam was God?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because we don’t believe that,” the missionary replied.

“There is an important point in all of this, Elder,” I said. “Never let anyone outside the Church tell you what the Church teaches. You were sent out to teach, not to be taught (see D&C 43:15). The doctrines of the Church will always come to you through the channels that the Lord ordained, and the Lord didn’t ordain anti-Mormon literature as one of those channels.”

“Okay,” he said, “but did Brigham Young teach such a thing?”

“I don’t know what the pamphlet you have attributes to Brigham Young,” I said, “but I don’t think that is the real issue. Brigham Young taught a host of eternal truths in which this pamphleteer has no interest. That has to tell us something about the pamphleteer. His is not a search for truth; it is a search for something to quibble about. He is building what we call a straw man.”

“What is a straw man?” he asked.

“To build a straw man, your critic takes something he knows he can pound the stuffing out of, and he attributes it to you as your belief. He then beats it up as evidence that the doctrines of the Church aren’t true. One way for him to do that is to show where two of our leaders have said something that appears to be in conflict. The fallacy in his doing so is that he has the notion that we believe in the infallibility of prophets. Thus if Brigham Young said something that is not the doctrine of the Church, then the Church can’t be true because one of its prophets made an error. Now, Elder, do you see what is happening? Your critic is telling you that we believe in the infallibility of prophets. The truth is, we simply don’t believe that. Joseph Smith was the great prophet of this dispensation, yet the Doctrine and Covenants contains a number of revelations in which the Lord scolds him and invites him to repent. In this Church everyone is privileged to make mistakes and repent of them. We take that as an evidence that the Church is true, not that it is false.”

By now my young called had calmed down considerably. “So what you’re telling me,” he said, “is that if this Adam-God stuff was really a doctrine of the Church, we would be teaching it today.”

“You got it,” I said. “The word doctrine means `teaching.’ We teach our doctrines.”

“So can prophets make mistakes on doctrine?” he asked.

“Elder,” I said, “I have never known a man whom we sustain as a prophet, seer, and revelator who thought himself infallible. Nor have I met one whose counsel and testimony were not worth listening to.”

“Okay,” he said and hung up.

The man who presides over the Church holds the keys of the kingdom. “For him to whom these keys are given,” modern revelation declares, “there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11). In a revelation given on the day the Church was organized, the Lord defined the relationship that was to exist between its members and its presiding officer. “Wherefore, meaning the church,” the Lord said, “thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory” (D&C 21:4-6).

Second, all true doctrine will have revelation as its source. It will come from the Father in the name of Christ. It must be taught and learned by the Spirit of revelation. True doctrine will always declare God and revelation as its source. It will never be based upon “philosophical speculation,” as were the decisions of the ecumenical councils out of which the creeds of historical Christianity have come. To those of the Old World Christ declared, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16). In another instance he said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). Teaching the same principle in the New World, he said, “This is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father” (3 Ne. 11:35). Teaching this principle in our dispensation the Lord said:

“Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.

“Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.

“Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?

“To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

“And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?

“Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.

“Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

“And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

“And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

“If it be some other way it is not of God.

“Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

“Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:11-22).

Third, pure doctrine will always come through the channels the Lord has ordained. “This greater priesthood,” the Lord said, “administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19). Explaining this principle, Joseph Smith said that the “Melchizedek Priesthood . . . is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 166-67).

A commonality among cultist groups is the claim to revelation that makes them independent of the order and channels the Lord has established. The claim carries within itself the seed of its own destruction. As the malcontents claim the right to revelation placing them above the discipline and order of the Church, so their followers will claim the same right to rebel against their organization. Thus we find constant division among their ranks.

The revelations of heaven will always call for unity among the Saints and require that they sustain those called to preside over them.

Fourth, it is not for us to either add to or take from the system of salvation as revealed by the Lord. It is not for man to add to or take from the purity of the revealed word. Having taught the principles of faith, repentance, and baptism, the Savior said: “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. 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” (3 Ne. 11:39-40).

This text is marvelously instructive and challenging. On the one hand it directs that we are to neither take from or add to that which has come from the Lord. On the other hand, we are to build upon the foundation he has laid. We must build revelation upon revelation. We cannot say, We have this, or, We have done that, and that is sufficient. “Wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!

“And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.

“Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Ne. 28:27-30).

This passage suggests that we may well be missing the point by attempting to answer the question of what doctrine is “official” and what is not. At issue is truth—finding and complying with the principles that bring salvation. The issue is not whether something is official, or once was official, or will yet become official. The issue is whether or not it builds upon the foundation laid by Christ and his apostles. Is it in harmony with all other laws and ordinances of the gospel? Does it sanctify the soul? Does it lead us closer to God? Surely any principle that responds affirmatively to such questions can be numbered among the doctrines of the Latter-day Saints.

Fifth, true doctrine will always edify. The Spirit of the Lord is positive, not negative. It lifts and builds. “That which doth not edify,” we are told, “is not of God” (D&C 50:23). Originally the verb “to edify” meant to build sacred edifices, for instance, the temple. With use the word has come to describe the process of improving character or building spirituality. All that is of God edifies—that is, it lifts, builds, and improves; to edify is, conversely, to eschew that which demeans, belittles, or excuses. To edify is to make the body and soul of man a holy tabernacle, a temple to God. Any doctrine that does not lead to this end is not of God. To those who feared that the Book of Mormon might have some kind of negative effect on the stature of the Bible the Lord said, “I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up” (D&C 10:52). Such is the purpose of the restored gospel. Never does a missionary ask prospective converts to surrender any positive habit or practice in joining the Church. Rather they are told to hold tenaciously to such good things and the restored gospel will add to them. “Yea, and I will also bring to light my gospel,” the Lord said, “which was ministered unto them, and, behold, they shall not deny that which you have received, but they shall build it up, and shall bring to light the true points of my doctrine, yea, and the only doctrine which is in me” (D&C 10:62). In harmony with this principle the charge given by Christ to the meridian Twelve was to “seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness” (JST Matt. 6:33).

Sixth, the standard works are the measuring rod for all doctrine. “It makes no difference,” stated President Joseph Fielding Smith, “what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.

“You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.

“Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4).

Teaching the same principle, President Harold B. Lee said: “It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they [speak] and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, `Well, that is his own idea.’ And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them `standard’—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it” (“Place of the Living Prophet, Seer and Revelator,” 14).

Seventh, no true doctrine can stand independent of the testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that salvation is in and through him and none other. Announcing this truth in our dispensation the Lord said, “Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved; wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day; wherefore, if they know not the name by which they are called, they cannot have place in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 18:23-25).

All true doctrine testifies of Christ. No doctrine of salvation can stand independent of him.

It is impossible for a person to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost and at the same time deny that Jesus is the Christ (see 1 Cor. 12:3; Smith Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 223). Similarly, it is impossible for anyone to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost and at the same time deny that Joseph Smith is the great prophet of the Restoration or that the Book of Mormon is true—or any other saving truth in the restored gospel.

QUESTION

Does the gospel embrace all truth?

ANSWER

No. Innumerable truths have no bearing on that sacred body of truth we call the gospel. It is true, for example, that my father wore a size fifteen shoe, liked to wear bow ties, and had my mother cut his hair. Though such things are true, they have nothing to do with the gospel. None of these things affected his knowledge of the gospel or the testimony he bore. You need neither imitate them nor remember them to be saved.

There is no equality among truths. They are like pebbles on a dirt road. Only rarely will you find one that is of any measurable worth. Gospel truths, the truths that are eternal and have the power of salvation in them, will have God as their author and revelation as their source. They will lift and edify the soul and be accompanied by a spirit of peace. They will also cause the adversary to holler and complain. Any truth that does not offend the prince of darkness, causing him to rant and rave, cannot be of any particular moment.

Similarly, any principle that does not require the Spirit of the Lord to teach can be taught as well by a faithless man as a learned, as well by students of faith as by those who are making no effort to accord their lives with the standards the Lord has set. Such a truth is not a gospel principle and will be of no value in the world to come.

When missionaries go out into the world to declare the “fulness of [the] gospel” (D&C 1:23), we send them out to teach faith, repentance, and baptism. They do not go out to prepare people to receive a college degree. They go out to prepare people to receive a degree of glory that centers on that understanding that comes only from living gospel principles. In so saying, there is no demeaning the value of secular learning. The knowledge of such things has placed many in a position to be of meaningful service both to their community and to the Church. Yet it would miss the mark to suppose that secular knowledge could somehow substitute for purity, faith, and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

QUESTION

Does doctrine change?

ANSWER

Doctrine consists of eternal principles, which are the same yesterday, today, and forever. The principles known to us in our second estate were known to us in our first, or premortal, estate. A knowledge of these principles will rise with us in the resurrection to be used by us in the same manner as they are here. Though the principles are eternal, they find application according to time and season.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” (Eccl. 3:1-8).

During one time and season missionaries are commanded to go forth without purse or scrip; in another, to take the same (see Luke 22:35-36). In one instance they are commanded to speak forth boldly; in another, to remain silent (see D&C 75:4; Matt. 17:9). Circumstances may change, but the principle of revelation remains constant. The Prophet taught, “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 256). At no period in earth’s history could the kingdom of God be adequately governed by the revelations given to another people in another time for other reasons. The constitution of the Church must always be the voice of its living prophet.

QUESTION

Who can declare doctrine?

ANSWER

It has occasionally been argued that only the president of the Church has the authority to expound scripture. This argument appears a little ridiculous when it is remembered that it is the duty of the priests in the Aaronic Priesthood “to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize” and that both teacher and deacon are also called “to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:46, 59). “To expound” is defined in the dictionary of Joseph Smith’s day as “to interpret; as, to expound a text of scripture” (Webster, American Dictionary, 78). The argument that only the president of the Church can teach doctrine usually comes from someone who doesn’t like the interpretation that someone else has placed on a particular text, so he or she simply argues that whoever said it is without authority to do so. Thus the focus of the discussion is shifted from a consideration of the correctness of a particular statement to a consideration of authority.

It is true, and well understood by Latter-day Saints generally, that all sound doctrine must trace itself to the prophetic voice and that the living head of the Church is the binding voice on all doctrinal matters. That does not mean, however, that every doctrinal insight must originate with him or that no one else’s doctrinal understanding can exceed his. It was never intended that only ordained prophets could write inspired books, poetry, plays, hymns, or music for the edification of the members of the Church. Neither was it intended that they give all the patriarchal blessings, deliver all the inspired addresses, teach all the classes, or lead all the choirs. Indeed, it may never be their lot to paint the great paintings, sculpt with inspiration, or design chapels and temples. The kingdom of God is to be built as the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple in Jerusalem was—by the revelation of God as it manifests itself through a prophet and a nation of artists and craftsmen. All who labor to build the house of the Lord, be it temporal or spiritual, be it ancient or modern, are to do so with the Spirit of revelation. And it goes almost without saying, that as the greatest of temples awaits building, so the best of books, music, art, and all things that testify of our God still await the day of their earthly creation.

QUESTION

When we teach, is it ever proper to go beyond the literal rendering of the scripture itself?

ANSWER

Even scripture is not scripture unless we bring the Spirit of inspiration and revelation to it. Illustrating this principle, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Those who preach by the power of the Holy Ghost use the scriptures as their basic source of knowledge and doctrine. They begin with what the Lord has before revealed to other inspired men. But it is the practice of the Lord to give added knowledge to those upon whose hearts the true meanings and intents of the scriptures have been impressed. Many great doctrinal revelations come to those who preach from the scriptures. When they are in tune with the Infinite, the Lord lets them know, first, the full and complete meaning of the scriptures they are expounding, and then he ofttimes expands their views so that new truths flood in upon them, and they learn added things that those who do not follow such a course can never know. Hence, as to `preaching the word,’ the Lord commands his servants to go forth `saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.’ (D&C 52:9.) In a living, growing, divine church, new truths will come from time to time and old truths will be applied with new vigor to new situations, all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God” (Promised Messiah, 515-16).

QUESTION

Are all the answers we need found in the scriptures?

ANSWER

No. This is the party line of apostate religion, and it is called the doctrine of sufficiency. The claim is that the Bible contains all that is or ever can be necessary for the benefit of man. In making such a claim, they are sealing the heavens, silencing God, doing away with the need for living prophets, and denying the power of the Holy Ghost. For a Latter-day Saint to say the same thing of the standard works is to agree in principle with this basic dogma of the Apostasy. Nephi said of such a notion, “For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Ne. 28:30).

QUESTION

How should doctrinal issues be settled?

ANSWER

Perhaps an illustration will help. I received a call from a woman asking about a doctrine we had studied in a class she had taken a few years before. She told me that the question had come up in a Gospel Doctrine class and she had mentioned what she had learned in class only to be severely rebuked by some of the class members. Then others got involved, and people divided themselves into two camps. At that point the bishop intervened and said that he would teach the lesson the next week and settle the issue and that after he had taught there were to be no questions. I don’t know what happened the following week and am probably happier not knowing.

The problem here is at least twofold. First, it is unfortunate that Latter-day Saints would divide themselves in a spirit of sharpness in a discussion over doctrine. That would have to be offensive to the Spirit of truth. It is also unfortunate that the bishop chose to settle the issue with what might be called a priesthood power play. Not the least of the difficulties here is that such are subject to reversal every time a new bishop is called. Would it not have been more appropriate for a charge to be given to each member of the class to go home and prayerfully search the scriptures and for the class to come together again the next week in a spirit of searching rather than in a spirit of defending? The Lord has frequently enjoined us to search the scriptures; he has never directed that we debate them.

I am sure no one would question that the final word on all doctrinal matters rests with the president of the Church. Certainly the united voice of the First Presidency and/or the Quorum of the Twelve carries the same authority. Independent of decisions made by such authority, the standard works constitute the measuring rod. Bishops and stake presidents and the disciplinary councils over which they have the authority to preside are responsible to handle matters of apostasy, which could include the persistent teaching of false doctrine. There is always a right of appeal that attends their decisions, so, if necessary, any disagreement could be reviewed by the highest authorities in the Church.

AT ISSUE

The whole system of salvation centers in our obtaining the “mind of Christ,” as Paul said (1 Cor. 2:16). It is the process by which we come to think as God thinks, to believe as he believes, and therefore to act as he would act. It embraces, Paul explained, our “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The original sense of this text was to “cut a straight path,” or to “hold to a straight course.” It was a charge to teach the truths of salvation without adding to or taking from them (see 3 Ne. 11:39-40). It also embraced the idea of dividing to every man according to his need (see D&C 84:85). A proper understanding of the text gives us a clearer view of the ministry of John the Baptist, who was charged to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). That is, his office was to teach the doctrine that would prepare the hearts and minds of men to accept Christ and his teachings. All good doctrine has this as its end. No good doctrine “rightly divided” would ever do otherwise. Good doctrine “cuts a straight path” and demands that we “hold to a straight course.” Believing in good doctrine always lifts us to a higher level of commitment while at the same time placing us in a position to see and understand all other doctrines more clearly.

Most doctrinal errors are rooted in a desire to accommodate either the standards of the world or its philosophies and theories. In a sobering, prophetic description of our day, Nephi said, “They have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Ne. 28:14). The Lord warned Joseph Smith that the prince of darkness would come to[“[take] away light and truth, through disobedience,” doing so under the cloak of the “tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:39). In the process of discerning what constitutes sound doctrine, among the basic questions that ought to be asked is, Where does this lead? Does it lead us to favor with God or man? Robert J. Matthews properly observes that “in the process of apostasy, the most spiritual doctrines are cast aside first. Ethical teachings remain even in apostasy, but the most profound doctrinal precepts are discarded as narrow, theoretical, opinionated, discriminatory, uninspired, and socially unacceptable” (unpublished lecture).

The only true danger facing Mormonism is that which comes from within. It comes from those who would seek to popularize Mormonism so that we might be like, and thus acceptable to, the world. Such people should remember, observed President Joseph F. Smith, “that the theories of the worldly-wise cannot with safety be engrafted into the principles of the gospel. We have received a distinct dispensation of the gospel.” Ours is a revealed faith, a new dispensation, which by its very definition demands that we stand independent of the world. “We cannot,” President Smith observed, “consent to be guided by inspiration from the outside, but are in duty bound to follow in the way revealed by God. To be directed by the postulates of the world, and by leaders of men, will be just as fatal to the Latter-day Saints, as it was for the Former-day Saints” (“Principle, Not Popularity,” 731).

Of necessity there will always be things about our faith that will be offensive to the world. “Do you suppose that this people will ever see the day that they will rest in perfect security, in hopes of becoming like another people, nation, state, kingdom, or society?” Brigham Young asked. “They never will,” he declared. “Christ and Satan never can be friends. Light and darkness will always remain opposites” (in Journal of Discourses, 1:188).  [Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions, 211-230, by Joseph Fielding McConkie]