Bishop Bill Asks: What is Doctrine?

May 20, 2014

Need an answer? Just ask me. I’ll make something up that sounds semi-convincing.

Once again, we revisit the beloved series:  You’re the Bishop!

As Bishop I often got asked by ward members about various practices in the church and why we did them. I finally compiled this list of various practices, beliefs, and norms in the church, and why we do them. I’ll leave off my answers as to why I think we do these, and leave it to you, the bishop, to answer why we do/believe these things.

First, let me give you a few working definitions:

  • Doctrine (D):  These are items that are solidly backed by scripture, or an official First Presidency statement.
  • Conventional Wisdom (CW):  This category is for those “doctrines” or teachings which can’t be solidly backed up by scripture, but on which the brethren have generally appeared to be in agreement.
  • Unanswered Question (Q):   Doctrines on which there is not a consensus among the brethren.
  • General Policy (GP):  Rules, regulations or practices that are set by church leadership (Salt Lake City level) to help us with doctrine.
  • Local Policy (LP):  Rules, regulations or practices set by local authorities, sometimes based on doctrine, sometimes on tradition, or maybe a bit of both with some personal preference of leaders thrown in. These vary from time to time, place to place.
  • Tradition (T):  Things we do because we have always done it that way based on culture or tradition. Often confused with Doctrine, General Policy or Local Policy.  The difference is that there is no clear origin for these.

Gee, thanks, bishop! That sure sounds semi-convincing!

Now I’ll share a list of 25 practices or concepts that members have asked me about, wanting to know the origin of the practice or belief and the basis for why it is binding (or not binding).  In the comments below, I’d like to see how each of you, if you were the bishop, would categorize each of these practices.  You can copy paste the list and put the letters next to each one to tell us what category it fits or you can use the numbers to reference them.  Let’s see if there’s any consensus and which ones have the biggest range of answers.  Go!

  1. Baptism
  2. Clean shaven men
  3. We call each other “Brother” and “Sister” and use last names
  4. Polygamy (polygyny) is practiced in the celestial kingdom
  5. We meet in a 3 hr block on Sunday
  6. We observe the Sabbath on Sunday
  7. Using right hand to take the sacrament
  8. We don’t use the cross in our worship
  9. Word of Wisdom
  10. Implementation of Word of Wisdom
  11. Using right hand to sustain
  12. The bishop partakes of the Sacrament first
  13. The specific wording used in sustaining various callings
  14. Principle of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings
  15. Implementation of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings
  16. Deacons wear white shirts
  17. Men must wear dress shirts and ties, women dresses, to church
  18. In the hereafter there is (no) movement between kingdoms
  19. The idea that God is living in (or out of) time
  20. Members should not be cremated
  21. Men can’t teach primary alone
  22. The content of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet
  23. Only a specific subset of hymns are allowed to be sung for the sacrament
  24. Noah was an actual person who lived as recorded in Genesis
  25. How the artwork that is used in our churches and temples is selected

Remember to defend your answers.  Good luck.

Discuss.

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17 Responses to Bishop Bill Asks: What is Doctrine?

  1. Geoff -Aus on May 20, 2014 at 11:44 PM

    Surely you’ve been asked what category the opposition to Gay marriage, or ordination of women, comes into too? both Conservative Utah culture in my estimation.

    I’d say 2,3,4,16,17,20,21,22,23,24,25, also are purely culture, and are not consistently enforced throughout the church.

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  2. hawkgrrrl on May 21, 2014 at 12:00 AM

    D: Baptism, Polygamy (polygyny) is practiced in the celestial kingdom, Principle of tithing,

    CW: I could be convinced several from GP belong here and others from T do.

    Q: In the hereafter there is (no) movement between kingdoms, The idea that God is living in (or out of) time,

    GP: Clean shaven men (in response to the sexual revolution, but since downgraded to a Tradition), We meet in a 3 hr block on Sunday, Word of Wisdom (at best since it wasn’t by way of commandment), Implementation of Word of Wisdom (in the 1930s when it was formally adopted), The bishop partakes of the Sacrament first (food tester?), The specific wording used in sustaining various callings, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings, Implementation of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings, Men can’t teach primary alone, The content of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, Only a specific subset of hymns are allowed to be sung for the sacrament, How the artwork that is used in our churches and temples is selected

    LP: Deacons wear white shirts,

    T: We call each other “Brother” and “Sister” and use last names (begun by JS, but with first names, later changed to last names), We observe the Sabbath on Sunday (Christian tradition), Using right hand to take the sacrament, We don’t use the cross in our worship (actually a counter-tradition to show we aren’t protestants), Using right hand to sustain, Men must wear dress shirts and ties, women dresses, to church, Members should not be cremated (squeamishness and Americentric policy), Noah was an actual person who lived as recorded in Genesis

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  3. Glenn Smith on May 21, 2014 at 5:36 AM

    1) D. 2) GP 3) D supported by scripture “Mark 12:50″ 4) CW 5) GP 6) D 7) CW with scriptural basis Matthew 25:31-34 8) CW 9) D 10) D 11) CW – see #7 12) GP 13) T 14) D 15) CW 16) T 17) T although strongly encouraged by General Authorities in talks 18) D 19) What?????? Must be a local tradition somewhere. Never herd that one before. Even eternity is a reference to time. 20) GP but not proscribed 21) GP 22) CW with scriptural support 23) GP with flexibility 24) D 25) GP

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  4. Kullervo on May 21, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    Does doctrine include things that necessarily follow from scripture, even if they are not explicitly spelled out? If not, why not?

    It also seems like it could be hard (i.e., impossible) to tell Doctrine from a General Policy promulgated by the First Presidency.

    Baptism: Doctrine (unquestionably scriptural).
    Clean shaven men: Depends on context, but ranges from General Policy (on a mission) through Local Policy to Tradition.
    We call each other “Brother” and “Sister” and use last names: Tradition, but may also be Policy.
    Polygamy (polygyny) is practiced in the celestial kingdom: Doctrine, in that it necessarily follows from Mormon scripture.
    We meet in a 3 hr block on Sunday: Doctrine or General Policy (per my comment above–if it’s a policy instituted by the First Presidency, how is that different from Doctrine?).
    We observe the Sabbath on Sunday: Ooh, I don’t love the way this one is framed at all. But, assuming a Mormon viewpoint, at the very least, celebrating communion/sacrament/Lord’s supper on Sunday is Doctrine in the sense that it is described in scripture, even if it is not framed as an imperative. I can’t remember if there are Mormon scriptrures or First Presidency statements about it, but I imagine there are.
    Using right hand to take the sacrament: Tradition, as far as I know.
    We don’t use the cross in our worship: I am tempted to say Tradition, but I strongly suspect that if a Bishop tried to set up a big wooden cross at the front of the chapel, he would quickly find out that it was certainly Local Policy and probably General Policy…
    Word of Wisdom: As written in the D&C? Doctrinal by definition.
    Implementation of Word of Wisdom: As currently practiced? It is Doctrinal even though it is counterscriptural, because it is based on a history of explicit First Presidency statements. As applied in terms of baptismal requirements and temple recommend interviews? Not sure, but certainly General Practice.
    Using right hand to sustain; the bishop partakes of the Sacrament first; and the specific wording used in sustaining various callings Without seeing what’s in CHI1, I can’t be sure whether these are Policies or just Tradition.
    Principle of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings I’m not sure what the “principle of home teaching” is. But the idea of tithing, temple attendance and giving to the poor are all definitely Doctrinal.
    Implementation of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings: I’m not sure specifically what this means, but I suspect that we’re talking about a bundle of different things that are variously General Policy, Local Policy and Tradition.
    Deacons wear white shirts: Seems like Tradition.
    Men must wear dress shirts and ties, women dresses, to church Definitely Tradition.
    In the hereafter there is (no) movement between kingdoms: Not sure. Probably Conventional Wisdom.
    The idea that God is living in (or out of) time: Unanswered Question or Conventional Wisdom.
    Members should not be cremated: I assume Conventional Wisdom, but could also be an Unanswered Question or Tradition (or Policy! or Doctrine!).
    Men can’t teach primary alone: I assume General or Local Policy.
    The content of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet: Certainly a mixture of Doctrine, Conventional Wisdom and Tradition.
    Only a specific subset of hymns are allowed to be sung for the sacrament: I assume General or Local Policy and/or Tradition.
    Noah was an actual person who lived as recorded in Genesis: Um, by your definition of “Doctrine” this has to be Doctrine.
    How the artwork that is used in our churches and temples is selected: Absolutely no clue, except I assume it’s not Doctrine.

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  5. Hedgehog on May 21, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    I believe artwork is general policy. We seemingly can’t have our churches getting too individual in expression. It all has to be approved. That was a wave good bye to those few pictures painted by ward members in buildings I’ve been in… sigh!

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  6. kmarkp on May 21, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Here’s a list of my own I put together some time ago..

    Word of Wisdom-
    Concept of personal health is doctrine. Specific proscription of alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee is practice.

    Home/Visiting Teaching-
    Concept of caring for neighbors is doctrine. Visiting assigned families once a month is practice.

    Family Home Evening-
    Teaching gospel to children is doctrine. Weekly Monday night lessons is practice.

    Tithing-
    Giving 10% of one’s increase is doctrine. Giving 10% of gross income in cash is practice.

    Sabbath observance-
    Keeping the Sabbath day holy is doctrine. Proscriptions of recreation, entertainment, shopping, etc., are practice.

    Temple worship-
    Temple worship is doctrine. Specific recommend worthiness questions are practice. Endowment films featuring actual characters is practice.
    Temple sealing for time and eternity is doctrine. Combining sealing with marriage is practice.

    Missionary work-
    Sharing the gospel is doctrine. Specific techniques and procedures (setting baptismal goals, Preach My Gospel, etc.) are practice.

    Scripture reading-
    Studying and learning the scriptures is doctrine. Using charts and schedules is practice.

    The Standard Works-
    The Bible as authoritative scripture is doctrine. Exclusive use of the King James Version is practice.
    The use of leather-bound gold-leafed scriptures is practice.

    General Conference-
    Learning from our church leaders is doctrine. Considering their sermons as doctrinal pronouncements is practice.

    Bearing Testimony-
    Faith in Jesus Christ is doctrine. Saying “I know the Church is true, etc.,” is practice.

    Sacrament meeting-
    Meeting weekly as a congregation to share testimonies and take the Sacrament is doctrine. All other meetings are practice.

    Sacrament-
    Taking symbolic emblems of Christ’s body and blood is doctrine. Using white bread and water is practice.
    The highest ranking priesthood officer taking the Sacrament first is practice.
    Taking the sacrament with your right, or “covenant,” hand is practice.

    Obedience-
    Obedience to God’s commandments is doctrine. Obedience to church authority is practice.

    Genealogy Research-
    Redeeming the dead is doctrine. Tracing genealogy back to Adam is practice.

    Sunday School
    Weekly meetings to learn and teach the gospel is practice.
    Using correlated lesson manuals is practice.

    Relief Society-
    Caring for others is doctrine. An organization for the purpose is practice.

    No R-rated movies-
    Seeking what is virtuous and lovely is doctrine. Singling out movies with an MPAA “R” rating is practice.

    No dating until 16-
    Chastity is doctrine. Dating age restriction is practice.

    Grooming and clothing standards-
    Rules (spoken or unspoken) about facial hair, piercings, tattoos, hair length, skirt length, etc., are practice.
    Wearing “Sunday best” to church is practice.
    White shirt and tie as “Priesthood uniform” is practice.

    Youth programs and Primary- practice

    Teachings on food storage, disaster preparation, money management, and self reliance- practice

    Women and the Priesthood-
    Only men can hold the Priesthood- unclear
    Women cannot serve in leadership positions over men- practice

    Fast Offerings-
    Giving aid to the poor is doctrine. Giving money to the church to do it for you is practice.

    Prayer-
    Communion with God is doctrine. Jacobean-style prayer language and step-by-step order is practice.
    Thanking God for our food is doctrine. Asking him to bless it (including refreshments!) is practice.

    Priesthood-
    Sharing the power of God is doctrine. Administrative hierarchial callings are practice.

    Instrumental Music in Sacrament meetings-
    Singing hymns–doctrine. Using an organ for accompaniment– practice. (Is there anything inherently “worshipful” about organ music?)
    Certain instruments not allowed in worship services- practice

    Symbols in worship-
    No use of cross–practice.
    Pictures of temples and prophets in the home–practice.
    No worship of objects-doctrine.

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  7. Elaine on May 21, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    Oh, I don’t know.

    4. Polygamy (polygyny) is practiced in the celestial kingdom
    seems more to me like “Conventional Wisdom” than Doctrine to me. The scriptural source is Section 132. Regarding the union of husband and wife, the scripture reads:

    21 [I] a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise… they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
    20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

    The anticipated exaltation and glory is “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever,” which is hardly clear or specific, and certainly far from “we will create and populate our own worlds.” The new “gods”, however, will be above all, and all things are subject to them, they “continue”, and have all power, and the angels are subject to them. These are a little more understandable, but, I would insist, still incomprehensible to those of only mortal experience.

    On the other hand, the verses regarding polygamy promise:

    61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

    62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

    Passing over the obvious, that women are here characterized as property (“the belong to him”), I would note that the promise is entirely comprehensible: “[H]e cannot commit adultery.”

    This seems far less than the transcendent promises made in the beginning of Section 132. How this will translate in the eternities is, to me, entirely unclear.

    I would also say that tithing, fast offerings, baptism, home teaching, and temple attendance are commandments rather than doctrine.

    I would consider doctrine to be phrases such as “We are all children of Heavenly Parents, and lived as spirits in Their presence before we were born,” “Children are born innocent” and “Through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved.”

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  8. Kullervo on May 21, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    I would also say that tithing, fast offerings, baptism, home teaching, and temple attendance are commandments rather than doctrine.

    I would consider doctrine to be phrases such as “We are all children of Heavenly Parents, and lived as spirits in Their presence before we were born,” “Children are born innocent” and “Through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved.”

    Okay but then “God commands his children to pay tithing” is doctrine, right?

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  9. Frank Pellett on May 21, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    To add an anomaly to some people’s knowledge, many Middle Eastern (and other predominately Islamic or Judaic) Countries have the Sabbath on Saturday, even for LDS congregations. Sunday is a work day, not part of the weekend.

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  10. Elaine on May 22, 2014 at 3:16 AM

    Kullervo:

    I suppose it is a fine point, but I consider Doctrine to be universal and eternal while commandments are, for the most part, transient and limited.

    God always gives commandments to His chosen people, but those commandments may vary with time and circumstance.

    Not everyone in every dispensation is required to live the Word of Wisdom; all who seek salvation are required to have Faith. Tithing is a lesser law; Charity endureth forever. Not everyone in every dispensation had the blessing of attending the Temple; but every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.

    To add another anomaly:

    Doctrine & Covenants 29: 29 And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.
    30 But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men…

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  11. Hedgehog on May 22, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    #9, Friday for Islamic nations.

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  12. IDIAT on May 22, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    According to a minister friend of Robert Millet’s, our doctrine is like jello, which makes it difficult to nail down. Millet then went on to give some insight into how we might discern what we consider to be doctrine. Good talk found in the bowels of the CES website somewhere.

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  13. IDIAT on May 22, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Robert L. Millet, “What Is Our Doctrine?,” in By Study and by Faith: Selections from the Religious Educator, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 69–89.

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  14. New Iconoclast on May 22, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    Tracing genealogy back to Adam is practice

    Are there really people in the Church who believe this to be true for their families? I mean, they actually have a chart? This would have to trace back to one of those medieval brown-nosing genealogies prepared for some European prince from whom the gullible member is descended, right?

    Oh, my aching head. Seriously? This is worse, much worse, than Young-Earth Creationism.

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  15. NewlyHousewife on May 23, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    New Iconoclast, yes. People actually do trace their heritage back to Adam. I don’t get it either.

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  16. NewlyHousewife on May 23, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    Baptism (D)–this is pretty much a given.
    Clean shaven men (GP)–in most cases you can’t be a temple worker and have a beard.
    We call each other “Brother” and “Sister” and use last names (T)–other than JS, I don’t know how this entire thing got started.
    Polygamy (polygyny) is practiced in the celestial kingdom (D/T/Q)–depends on who you ask. If you ask a widower’s second wife she’ll say is Q or T. Ask a teen, they’ll probably think D. Personally, I see it as T simply because no one has clearly explained it since the Manifesto.
    We meet in a 3 hr block on Sunday (GP)–wasn’t always that way, and was changed with CW.
    We observe the Sabbath on Sunday (GP/D)–I don’t know if we’ve ever observed on a day not Sunday.
    Using right hand to take the sacrament (T)
    We don’t use the cross in our worship (GP)–there’s nothing forbidding it, we just don’t.
    Word of Wisdom (D)–asked in temple recommend questions.
    Implementation of Word of Wisdom (D)–see above.
    Using right hand to sustain (T/GP)–when sustaining it is asked to do with the right hand.
    The bishop partakes of the Sacrament first (CW)–no idea where this started other than somewhere in Utah.
    The specific wording used in sustaining various callings (GP)–wordings change all the time, see temple ceremony.
    Principle of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings (D)–the principle yes is doctrine.
    Implementation of tithing, home teaching, temple attendance, fast offerings (LP/GP/T/CW)–GP determines overall what happens, which is mainly driven by Tradition. LP determines how it happens on the ground level, which I would like to think is based on CW.
    Deacons wear white shirts (T)
    Men must wear dress shirts and ties, women dresses, to church (T/CW) T for women, CW for men.
    In the hereafter there is (no) movement between kingdoms (D/CW)–depends on who you ask.
    The idea that God is living in (or out of) time (T)–never heard of this.
    Members should not be cremated (T)–it’s listed in the Handbook, but clearly no one pays attention to it which defeats the GP idea.
    Men can’t teach primary alone (GP) in the handbook.
    The content of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet (CW)–I don’t believe for a second the First Presidency wrote it all by themselves. There was a committee assigned to do it, just like there is a committee for changing light bulbs.
    Only a specific subset of hymns are allowed to be sung for the sacrament (LP/T/CW)–Local Policy usually determines how this works, but whoever picks songs usually chooses what they know.
    Noah was an actual person who lived as recorded in Genesis (T)–A literal belief in the Sacred Works is not required for baptism.
    How the artwork that is used in our churches and temples is selected (CW)–see pamphlet.

    I think a lot of these could be solved with more open awareness of what the committees do, and what the First Presidency does.

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  17. NewlyHousewife on May 23, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    But I’m also of the mindset that if it is not asked during a Temple Recommend interview, it does not matter.

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