What Is “Mormon Doctrine?”

In my first post I discussed why God was concerned with creating creeds and using them as a test of one’s allegiance to God. In my last post I explained what it means to not have creeds and gave examples of the LDS Church following that pattern. I am now prepared to tackle the question of “What is Mormon Doctrine?” To outsiders, our doctrines must seem slippery or downright fluid. It’s impossible to pin us down on anything that they care about!

What informed (semi-informed?) outsiders want to know is what our specific teachings are on all the juicy subjects they’ve heard through the anti-Mormon grapevine:

  • Was Mary really a virgin?
  • Did God once live on another planet and live a sinful life?
  • Do Mormons secretly worship other gods?
  • Do Mormons want to take over the world?
  • Do men in the LDS Church get to decide if their wives are resurrected or not?
  • Why were African Americans banned from the priesthood?

I can’t say that I blame them. Thanks to our Evangelical neighbors, a half-true version (and by this I mean “a lie”) of many of our “doctrines” has long since leaked out. Worse yet, every juicy statement made by our 19th century leaders has been carefully combed through for any bombs and all have been dropped.

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The Only Truly Creedless Church on the Face of the Whole Earth

“[Unlike the Latter-day Saints] Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled [sic]. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”
– Joseph Smith (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 288)

In my last post I explained why I believe the creeds of Christendom were an abomination in God’s sight. To summarize: I believe the content of the creeds are, for the most part, harmless. The real problem with the creeds is that they are used as a litmus test of one’s allegiance to Christ. Thus the creeds are treated as equivalent to revelation/scripture and are used as a basis for determining other people’s salvation.

In this post I will discuss what I see as one of Mormonism’s greatest strengths: our non-creedal nature, or attempts to be so in any case.

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What’s Wrong with the Creeds of Christendom?

This is the start of my ‘reprints’ from Mormon Matters. Mormon Matters recently went belly up and John Dehlin seems to have removed all previous posts, or at least at the moment they are not available. So I’m going to start rerunning them here.

After nearly 1800 years of silence, the heavens at last reopened. The boy prophet knelt before God the Father and the Son, who told him to “join [no Church], for they were all wrong.” (JS-H 1:19)

And why are they wrong? I suppose Jesus could have mentioned any number of reasons for considering no Church His own. The loss of priesthood authority comes immediately to mind. The loss of the Gift and powers of the Holy Ghost is another contender.

But Jesus’ condemnation of Christendom was instead rooted in their creeds: “all their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight…” he stated. (JS-H 1:19)

Allowing for the possibility that the word “creed” might just be a general term meaning “what a church teaches” it should not surprise us that the more common interpretation is that Jesus was rejecting the literal creeds of Christendom, those pillars of belief hammered out in ecumenical councils. Starting with the famous Nicaea council in 325 A.D., there were approximately 21 ecumenical councils that produced the creeds of Christendom over the course of 1640 years. The Catholic Church accepts all 21 while Protestants differ on which they accept; usually limiting their accept to the first 7.

Mormons have traditionally understood God’s denunciation of the creeds to be that they contain doctrinal falsehoods. While this is undoubtedly true, I question if this alone could account for God’s concern with the creeds.

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