Why the Church doesn’t have creeds or dogmas.

Recently, someone asked me why the Church does not have a set of specific doctrines to neatly create a broad theology and foundation for all we believe. Why don’t we have an established theology, developed by great philosopher-prophets like St Augustine, Origen, More or Aquinas?

In pondering it, I believe the LDS Church intentionally does not have a set theology, but only a few core doctrines, leaving room for  lots of personal revelation for individuals to seek God for themselves.  While Mormons do not have a specific theology, some Mormons DO theology. Check out saltpress.org as an example of this.  There are LDS philosophers, BTW.  James Faulconer, Joseph Spencer, Adam Miller, Blake Ostler, Clark Goble and others are excellent philosophers.  You can find many of them blogging about philosophy and the Church, as well as articles and books from several of them (like at saltpress.org).

The real problem isn’t philosophy, but philosophy that becomes doctrine or dogma.  When we establish creeds that are imperfect, then we close off the heavens and refuse to let them shower new revelation down upon us.  So the “philosophies of men, mingled with scripture” becomes bad when we establish such as dogma, rather than keep it as theory.  For the full gospel to be revealed, it requires that we keep an open mind to the things God wishes to reveal to us. It is possible that some LDS dogma of the past (Curse of Cain, etc) may have kept our members and leaders from receiving revelation on the priesthood until 1978, when most members were ready to hear and receive such a revelation and negate the wrong dogmatic claims made for over a century.

We’ll remember that the Lord told Joseph Smith not to join any other churches, because their creeds were an abomination to Him. Why were they an abomination, when most of us would agree with at least some/many aspects of the creeds?  Because, even if mostly true, they closed off the heavens to mankind, keeping them from receiving purer and more correct truths from heaven.

So, philosophy is not necessarily bad.  Doing theology isn’t necessarily bad.  Creating creeds and dogmas IS bad, as it nails the coffin shut on receiving any new light.

16 thoughts on “Why the Church doesn’t have creeds or dogmas.

  1. While I agree with you that creeds and dogmas are bad things, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with you in regards to Mormons not having any.

    I would posit that, say, the Articles of Faith are exactly that – a succinct summation of our doctrine, which is all that a creed is. So too is, for example, the Young Women’s theme. These are short, memorizing-easy snippets that most people take as doctrinal truth – therefore, making them creeds.

  2. I agree with the principle behind this post. Joseph Smith said, “The Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.”

    But in practice, it seems we do have creeds and dogmas, scattered throughout official scriptures, 1st Presidency statements, stated beliefs which must be made to get a temple recommend, etc.

    Is there a difference between these official statements of belief, and what you are defining as “creeds and dogmas?”

  3. The Articles of Faith are not a creed. They are a set of beliefs that are not forced upon the membership in anyway, and especially not with a specific and systemic theology behind it.
    For example, to be an evangelical requires one to accept certain creeds, or you are not considered Christian or one in fellowship with them. They do not consider Mormons (and some do not even consider Catholics) Christians because of differing creeds. You MUST believe in the Trinity. You MUST believe in X, or you are not of good standing.

    While we teach the AoF, have you ever been asked if you believe them 100%? With the exception of believing in God and Christ, must you believe them to be baptized or receive a temple recommend? No. They are only a set of beliefs, which Mormons generally believe, but are not imposed upon them.

    We do not tell other Christian churches that they must believe the AoF or the YW Values, otherwise they are not Christians. As it is, most other Christian churches would agree entirely with the YW values, and with much of the AoF.

    Must I sustain my government leaders to be a Mormon? Of course not. German Mormons fought against Hitler in the Underground, and they remained Mormon.

    There are many LDS that do not believe the Book of Mormon to be historical. There are many who do not believe the Garden of Eden was in the Americas, and so the American New Jerusalem is new and not an ancient concept.

    And again, these items are not theologically detailed. They are basic statements of belief that are not imposed on anyone, unlike the creeds.

    In fact, tomorrow the prophet could receive a revelation that changes an Article of Faith. Perhaps the New Jerusalem will be moved to another continent. That is the importance of not having creeds or a huge and established theology that cements our every belief.

  4. Nate, there are very few concrete dogma, or as we would call “core doctrines.” Beyond just a handful of well defined requirements, the rest is pretty much a bunch of teachings that each member must personally pray about and determine for him/herself whether it will be binding upon them and their family.

    There are requirements for baptism and temple ordinances. But they really are a very small list in comparison to the established theologies of other religions. We do not have the 618 specific rules of the Mosaic Law that we must follow exactly, in order to be considered a righteous Jew.

    Have some church leaders attempted to establish creeds and theologize the church’s teachings? Yes. And occasionally we get caught up in all of it. We are now in a period of time where we are moving away from the creeds of Elder McConkie, for example. In its place, we do not have one major voice telling us what to believe. Instead, we have President Packer telling the apostles to “teach the doctrine” and leave the rest alone. Most theology today is done by scholars rather than prophets, and none of it is creedal nor established in stone.

    We do not have to believe in a specific hemispheric or local model for the geography of the Book of Mormon. We do not have to believe polygamy is required in the heavens. We do not have to believe that David W Patten saw Cain as Bigfoot, as recorded by Elder Spencer W. Kimball in Miracle of Forgiveness. We do not have to believe that the two prophets in Jerusalem during Armageddon will be LDS apostles, as Elder McConkie taught.

    Beyond a few commandments, and belief in Jesus Christ’s divine mission, in living prophets, and in the well developed teachings given in the scriptures, we do not have much else we must believe. And even in these things, there is often room for new revelation to help us see/understand things better.

  5. I mostly agree with you that we have no creeds, or necessary beliefs that must be maintained to remain in good standing. For a revelatory church that is a good thing, but holds problems of its own. This very discussion is one of them. If there is no standards (and that really is the main purpose of having creeds), then confusion can be equally troubling.

    Squabbles and fights break out over what constitutes Mormonism (and I suppose there is a few scriptures in the Book of Mormon warning of this), causing those who once believed to no longer believe. Since we all have the same theological authority, there are those wolves in sheep’s clothing who warp even easy to understand doctrines long held as definitive into something else. Outsiders become confused and disoriented, thinking to make up their own versions that few or no Mormons believe. Lack of creed might protect against splinter, but it doesn’t prevent it. Instead what most often happens is a slipping away into inactivity or more irreconcilable battles. Groups are formed that remain together that might do better leaving each other alone. The good news is that for more than 100 years its been controlled chaos. How long that is going to last cannot be predicted.

    It was about 300 years before “historical” Christianity became exclusionary orthodox. There was several hundred years before that unity fell apart, but ironically all of the denominations still share in the same basic creeds with minor differences (to an outsider) or power struggles holding them apart. I see this same trajectory for Mormonism. The main difference is its driven by the membership body rather than a few ecclesiastical authorities.

  6. I didn’t say we don’t have standards. We do have standards, such as the 10 Commandments, WoW, etc. We do not have creeds: a long list of required beliefs. Our Church, therefore, often focuses more on behavior than on belief.

    For example, one can be Democrat or Republican and still be LDS. For example, one can believe in homosexual marriage, and be LDS. The behavior becomes the issue: if members with SSA choose to marry and live together, they can be excommunicated.

  7. The questions asked during the temple recommend interview are explicitly creedal. If one cannot secure a temple recommend one is not fully Mormon– everything before that is merely preparatory. To say that Mormons are non-creedal is a lie we tell ourselves to justify rendering negative judgment on all those who declare us non-Christian based on our rejection of their creeds. I think the Prophet Joseph could honestly claim the Church of his time to be non-creedal. Today, we cannot make that same claim.

  8. When a person is baptized, he/she is considered Mormon. The temple recommend does have some belief requirements: do you believe in God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, etc. But most of the questions regard behavior – whether a person is living the type of life required to enter into the temple.
    I did note previously that there are some who have tried to theologize creeds into the LDS Church in the past, but we have moved away from that again.
    Our new Church Handbook of Instructions is an example of moving away from creeds, and to allowing personal revelation to guide most of what we do in the Church.

    To call my statements “lies” is a pretty big claim. I would hope that you could actually back it up.

    Where do we currently have a long litany of belief requirements? Where in the church do we impose a catechism to ensure members think exactly alike on all topics?

    We don’t.

    We do have revealed guidance in scripture, etc. But we do not force a long theological set of beliefs upon the members. For those with set creeds, their members are expected to walk lockstep with every little detail of belief.

    For us, it is like we are a current of water flowing downstream. As long as we stay within the wide banks of core doctrine, we are considered LDS.

  9. Rame writes, “As long as we stay within the wide banks of core doctrine, we are considered LDS.”

    So, what’s the “core doctrine”?

    Regarding a creed being something that other churches “force on” people: It’s no such thing. It’s a statement of what that church believes to be true doctrine (and in this sense, the AoF is a creed). People can accept that truth or reject it. The churches have no method of “forcing” people to believe it.

    Naturally, the choice whether to join a church depends on whether you believe that church possesses the truth. The thing is, you can’t determine whether you believe a church possesses the truth, unless you know what it claims to be true!

    If someone examines the creed or the catechism of a given church, and decides he doesn’t believe it, naturally he will not join that church, and therefore will not be considered a member of it. Nor, presumably, would he want to be.

  10. Agellius,

    If I were a Southern Baptist and went to my congregation and stated that I believed in the LDS version of Godhead, rather than the creedal Trinity, I would be forced out of the Church.

    They call us a cult, much because we do not accept the non-Biblical Trinity. They refuse to recognize us as Christians, even though we probably have a higher Christology than most other Christian churches. They insist that we will burn in hell.

    Meanwhile, while we disagree in belief systems, we accept Southern Baptists and Catholics, etc., as Christians and eligible for heaven.

  11. Rame:

    You write, “If I were a Southern Baptist and went to my congregation and stated that I believed in the LDS version of Godhead, rather than the creedal Trinity, I would be forced out of the Church.”

    I don’t claim to know whether a Baptist church would “force you out” or not. I suspect what would happen would be a lot of people offering to counsel you, read through the scriptures, pray with you, pray for you, etc.

    But even assuming you’re right, this does not amount to “forcing” you to accept their creed. Being pro-life is a legitimate condition of belonging to a pro-life club; being a boy is a legitimate condition to being a Boy Scout. What’s wrong with requiring a Baptist to be Baptist in belief as well as in name? Does a pro-life club need to welcome pro-abortion members, and should the Boy Scouts welcome girls? If they don’t, does that amount to forcing people to be pro-life or male?

  12. By the way, you may have overlooked my previous question. You said, “As long as we stay within the wide banks of core doctrine, we are considered LDS.”

    What are the “core doctrines” for being considered LDS?

  13. There’s nothing wrong for a group to have standards. However, a large theological set of standards equates to the end of revelation. It requires a careful balance to have rules, but not so many they kill new inspiration.

    such happened in history with the firm settling of the Bible we have. The proto-orthodox struggled with Gnostic and others’ claims to continuing revelation. So, they established a canon, imposed it upon all the church, and over time this caused the end of continuing revelation in the church, replaced with occasional synods to establish creeds to explain things that were not clearly explained in the Bible and could not be determined by new revelation (since there wasn’t anymore new revelation).

  14. Core doctrines probably could be found in the baptismal and temple interviews. They are all very basic, and not in depth.

  15. “… a large theological set of standards equates to the end of revelation.”

    This is only a problem if you believe in continuing public revelation. Which you do, so it’s a valid point given your premises. Those of us who believe public revelation is complete have no reason to consider it a problem. My only quarrel was your assertion that creeds force beliefs on people.

    As a matter of fact, though, we Catholics do believe private, non-binding revelation can still happen. Since new Mormon revelation, even when it comes from the Prophet, is also non-binding — i.e. it’s up to each member to decide whether he accepts it — it seems we believe in continuing revelation in pretty much the same sense.

  16. “Core doctrines probably could be found in the baptismal and temple interviews. They are all very basic, and not in depth.”

    If you have a set of “core doctrines” that you need to believe in order to be LDS, as far as I’m concerned, that’s your creed. In my view you can only claim to be creed-less if you have no essential beliefs at all.

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