Sorry to get your hopes up with the title, but there is no operative definition of “Official Mormon Doctrine”. There are many theoretical ones, but none of these have been officially endorsed by the Church leaders (and they would be the presumptive determiners of how to define Official Mormon Doctrine, right?). Of the various definitions LDS Church members have made up for themselves, none of them are applied consistently throughout the Church. While we may all agree that the “Articles of Faith”are “official”, or that the “standard works” are “official”, once you get beyond these clearly defined areas, it gets very gray, very fast.
For the most part, it doesn’t matter. Membership in the LDS church is a very personal experience. As long as people keep their mouths shut, it’s fine to have 20 people sitting in a Gospel Doctrine class each with their own personal definition of what is “official doctrine”. So what’s the point in writing about it?
The problem is when people actually start talking about “Mormon Doctrine”, and each has the assumption that the other people define “official doctrine” the same way they do. Since that is hardly ever the case, the conversation quickly degrades into an argument over whether or not something is doctrinal. After you’ve had this conversation 50 times, it gets pretty boring.
It also gets humorous when you mix in the propensity people have to regard anyone with a “stricter” definition of doctrine as a “zealot”, and anyone with a “looser” definition as an “apostate”.
The most entertaining and convoluted definitions of “official doctrine” tend to be found online (because that is where most of the conversations regarding official doctrine take place), and the practice of defining “official doctrine” from online discussions with LDS church members can best be likened to trying to nail jello to the wall. Except I suspect nailing jello to the wall would actually be easier.
With that in mind, I was pleased to actually find a useful summary of how we Mormons define our doctrine, courtesy of John Larsen at the Mormon Apologetic & Discussion Board. While there are many theoretical definitions bandied about, this is the first practical guide to “official doctrine” I have seen. And I think it is the most commonly used definition by online-Mormons, whether they realize it or not.
- You are bound to believe the things required by the temple recommend questions (if you want to go to the temple).
- You cannot public disagree with any doctrine held by a current apostle.
- New “doctrines” do not have to be reconcilable to old “doctrines”.
- Old doctrines taught by apostles that have not be renounced or contradicted by later apostles may well have expired without further action.
- There is an “unwritten order of things” both doctrinal and procedural that you may be held to.
- The current brethren may be “speaking as men” but you can take no action on this fact. This only applies to dead apostles.
- The scriptures are not necessarily a doctrinal bind since non scriptural commentary on the scriptures by later brethren my change or obsolete the scripture.
I will be printing that out and gluing it right behind my Articles of Faith. If you ever wish to discuss doctrinal matters in an online forum, those points are a good place to start in determining the likelyhood that other LDS will consider a statement or teaching to be “doctrinal”. If you plan on discussing a quote, teaching or “doctrine” that doesn’t meet this criteria, expect an apologist or other defender to argue “But that’s not really doctrinal…” in the first 24 hours.