I’ve been reading a great book called “Increase in Learning” by Elder David A. Bednar (he’s a modern apostle in the LDS church). I recommend it, because it has changed the way I “make” my life. Let me tell you about a concept I’ve gleaned from it’s pages:
In making your life, you turn to DOCTRINES, Principles, and applications. They create a framework within which you can forge the tools of life-building, or the weapons of life-desolation. They form your worldview.
A DOCTRINE is a foundational, fundamental, and comprehensive truth. It answers the question, “Why?” In the LDS church, the doctrines are believed to be revealed by God to man through ancient or modern prophets.
A Principle is a doctrinally-based guideline. Principles provide direction. They answer the question, “What?”
An application is an actual behavior, action step, practice, or procedure by which doctrines and principles are enacted in real life. This is where the rubber meets the road and plans are executed. An application answers the question, “How?”
Doctrines are frequently spoken of in a religious context, but they also have wide applicability. For instance, in America we adhere to the doctrine of freedom. We believe that all humans are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That is an important doctrine, and one principle that stems from it is the first amendment right to free expression. In other words, the US government cannot use its powers to silence its citizens. In application, this might mean you are protected when you protest at your state capitol building. It also means that the publishing of a repugnant anti-Islamist movie is beyond the reach of US government to censor, in spite of the global instability it might incite. Applications can naturally and appropriately vary widely from case-to-case, and doctrines and principles only carry power if they are held constant and inviolable.
With that framework in mind, let’s explore some of the doctrines of the restored gospel of Christ (as we Mormons believe them). I will list some of the primary doctrines, sub-doctrines, and principles (sometimes the lines are a bit blurry).
- We believe that God is our Father.
- We are all children of God and we should treat each other like brothers and sisters. We are one big family.
- He loves us. His work and his glory is to bring about the eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39)
- He has a plan for us. We can trust Him and His plan.
- We believe that all men and women are free agents.
- The purpose of life and of God’s plan is for us to choose to learn godliness. Life is a test and we couldn’t grow without free will.
- We are encouraged to find and do good things without being commanded.
- We are flawed and it’s part of God’s plan.
- When Adam and Eve ate that fruit in the garden, it led to mortality, pain, and suffering. It also led us to learning what true joy is (see 2 Nephi 2:22-25).
- Help one another through our flaws and woes.
- We believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind may be saved.
- We can receive the grace of Christ by entering into a covenant relationship.
- He doesn’t require perfection of us, but he requires a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (see 3 Nephi 9:19-20). In other words, we show our faith by being faithful to Him.
- The power of His atonement makes us perfect.
- We believe that God spoke, speaks, and will continue to speak to man.
- We believe in modern prophecy. Men today have seen Jesus Christ and received instructions from Him. This began in modern times with Joseph Smith.
- All people may have a message given to them by the power of the Holy Ghost. Asking God questions in prayer yields answers. Seek and ye shall find.
You’ll notice I never mentioned abstaining from coffee or alcohol. I didn’t talk about paying tithing or avoiding swimming on the Sabbath. I didn’t even mention going to church every Sunday (in some parts of the world Mormons worship on Saturday or Friday). That’s because all of these are application-level decisions, appendages to the doctrines, and there are hundreds of thousands of possible applications. So many good things I could do, it’s overwhelming!
Identifying core, fundamental doctrines has allowed me to put my life together. It has helped me prioritize my everyday activities and set long-term goals. I also hope that by explaining them to you, you will be better able to relate to me and other Mormons. Ask us questions about these and tell us the doctrines that drive you.