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Archive for January 12th, 2009

The Journal of Discourses – Not an Authorized Source of Mormon Doctrine

Posted by JLFuller on January 12, 2009

Just about everyone who questions LDS doctrine cites the JoD as an authorized source of true Mormon doctrine but is it a reliable source of current Mormon beliefs and practices? No, it is not. So I suggest that people who quote from it refrain from saying it is.  If it is important enough for you to comment on, check with an authoritative organ of the Church for an authentic answer to your questions or response to a statement before you publish what you think we believe.  We understand people make mistakes. We all do. Certainly I err and have to revisit something I said to clarify. But deliberately and knowingly misinforming others is not a mistake.  Don’t get caught up in bearing false witness. 

So why isn’t it authoritative? The JoD was written and printed in Great Britian between 1854 and 1886.  According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a MacMillian publication edited by religion professors at BYU and some others, “It served as the printed word of the LDS Church for members who had no access to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. It most often published sermons of Church leaders which were not always considered to be official statements of doctrine.”  At best it is an historic resource which often contains authorized doctrine of the times, but not always. 

Former BYU Religion Department Dean Dr. Robert Millet  presented a paper in 2004 to the faculty on Church doctrine. In it he again re-iterated how offical doctrine is determined. In his presentation he said   “…let me affirm at the outset that I understand implicitly that the right and authority to declare, interpret, and clarify doctrine rest with living apostles and prophets.” Dr. Millet re-affirmned what LDS members have been told for decades and in fact longer than that.  The prophet and the Twelve, when acting in concert, are the sole source of doctrine. Other members have no authority to declare what doctrine is. I should emphasize the living part of his statement.  There are no other authoritative sources. Our recently departed President and prophet, Gorden B. Hinckley said that a living prophet was better than a dead one, and so it is.

Authoritative sources are Church published teaching resources such as manuals and other printed documents, pamphlets, letters from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, presentations made at semi annual Conference or statements or proclamations issued by the Church. There are many highly reliable sources to which one can turn to report on Church doctrine such as Church magazines, official Church organ publications and schools such as BYU, presentations by individual General Authorities and other Church leaders. However, unless the message presented originates from one of the sources of authorized doctrine, it cannot be considered authentic. That means personal opinions don’t count even if they come from a high ranking leader. I encourage readers to read Dr. Millet’s paper and read his footnotes as a means of confirming what he said. 

Now, so I don’t mix messages here, counsel from our leaders is important. Guidance from our bishops, stake and branch presidents and others is intended to aid us in understanding gospel principles. We believe in taking their guidance and using it as an aid in our lives. When they provide us with guidance they will refer us to where their guidance comes from. We as members and they as leaders note, or should note,  when we state our opinions or those of others and if our message is not clear we hasten to clarify. Teachers are provided with training and teaching aids and manuals along with authoritative sources, from which their message is taken. In all cases, presenters of the message should have spoken with the aid and presense of The Holy Ghost after sincere prayer and supplication to the Lord. We as receivers of their message are admonished to pray for confirmation by the Holy Ghost of what is  said.

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