Doctrines vs. Policies


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an easy target for attack because of our claim of living prophets. As the Savior said anciently:

“…ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets…I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city”. (Matthew 23:29-34)

Fortunately, we live in a day where murdering a prophet is difficult to get away with. But the attempted silencing of prophets is alive and well. There are several strategies of the Adversary to accomplish this end. Prophets can be discounted in the minds of some people by character attacks, misrepresenting their message, or conspiracy theory (among other things).

Within the membership of the church, Satan seems intent to get people to question prophets any way he can. I’ve noticed that one way he seeks to accomplish this is by confusing doctrine with policy. A doctrine is an eternal, unchanging truth. A policy is an official application of doctrine. Elder Dallin H Oaks (a prophet and apostle of Jesus Christ) explained how those who preside are given keys to direct policy and administration, but only the Lord can reveal new doctrine.

A common example of this confusion was with the priesthood restriction on black members of the church that ended in 1978. (A great explanation of this policy can be read here.) This is often misunderstood as a doctrinal change, when it was, in fact, a policy change. It was never taught by a leader of the Church that this restriction was eternal. There were plenty of opinions and attempted doctrinal explanations offered (none of which were authoritative), but it was always understood that “the long promised day” would come when all worthy males could hold the priesthood.

This misapplication then leads some to conclude that a seemingly similar change could happen with same sex marriage or women ordination to the priesthood. Since both of these changes wouldn’t just be policy changes, but would in fact be doctrinal changes, they run contrary to the eternal nature of doctrine. A man has always been meant to marry a woman. Men and women have always had different roles to play in the plan of salvation. Both of these doctrines are clearly taught in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World“, a document that was set forth by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (whose unity in this document fulfills the scriptural requirement of establishing doctrine. See D&C 107:27. See also 27:2, 7).

There is no long promised day in either of these instances. That’s not to say we have everything revealed on these subjects, as I’m convinced we have much more to understand about both. But the foundational direction is set, and it will not be moved. Unfortunately, I see members of the church who look sideways at any prophetic teaching that runs counter to their personal, political, or societal philosophy. They conclude, “oh this is just like blacks and the priesthood, just wait and they’ll come around.” According to a revelation given the day the church was organized, this is a dangerous mindset.

“Wherefore, meaning the church, 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)

It is my hope that the honest in heart will not be deceived by these snares of Satan. We live in a day of living prophets. If scriptural history teaches us anything, it is that following prophets has always been the test of faithfulness.