Why Mormons Don’t Debate Doctrine
All of the workings of the Mormon Church, from the bottom (choosing a Sunday School teaching substitute), to the top (who will speak in the General Conference session), are open to inspired discussion. Personal revelation is received to help members with callings according to their stewardships. That is, a bishop may receive personal revelation on behalf of the ward over which he presides, but not the ward presided over by another bishop; his stewardship includes only his own ward. Even so, the bishop has counselors to help with decisions, and interaction with members serving in other positions who may offer opinions and ideas. However, the doctrines of the Church are not open to discussion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique among all the churches of the world in that it is managed through revelation directly from Jesus Christ. The doctrines of the Church come from Christ through prophets, both ancient and modern, and from scripture. Modern revelation takes precedence over ancient revelation, because it pertains to our situation today. Doctrines dictated by the Savior are always true. Those who disagree with the doctrines of the Church cannot change them by forming special-interest groups, petitioning the General Authorities of the Church, or writing or speaking against them. Members who disagree with the doctrines of the Church are invited to do one of two things—1) to continue in faithfulness and obedience until they receive a testimony or assurance of true doctrine, or 2) to find another church more in line with their personal beliefs.
Thus, members who feel same-sex marriages should be condoned by the Church will never achieve their goals. They must bring themselves in line with revealed doctrine or find another church. (See the Proclamation on the Family issued by the First Presidency of the Church). The same thing goes for those who feel that if they petition long enough, women will gain the priesthood.
That is what the Savior told his professional critics, as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Luke. He was confronted by a group who had hypocritically built monuments to the prophets their predecessors had murdered, while personally rejecting the living prophets God was sending them. (See Luke 11:47–49.) In what I understand to be a condemnation of their rejection of revelation, the Savior pronounced woe upon these worldly professionals: “For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” (Luke 11:52.)
The early leaders of the restored church had to learn that same truth. In several revelations the Lord rebuked Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, and others for not having their minds on the things of God, for yielding to “the persuasions of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:6; Doctrine and Covenants 5:21), and for being “persuaded by those whom I have not commanded” (Doctrine and Covenants 30:2).
The Church is extremely careful to be sure that correct revealed doctrine is taught throughout the Church. In new areas of the “mission field” where there are few seasoned members of the Church, missionaries fill branch and ward leadership positions until new members can be educated in true doctrine. The Church prints a plethora of manuals for teachers and leaders to promote consistency throughout the Church. Authority is in place in regions, areas, and missions to correct improper ideas or teachings.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said:
In all our teaching we represent the Lord and are appointed to teach His gospel. We are the Lord’s agents, and as such we are empowered to say only those things which He wants said. Our business as teachers is to teach His doctrine and none other. There is no other course we can follow if we are to save souls. We have no saving power of our own. We cannot create a law or a doctrine that will redeem or resurrect or save another person. The Lord only can do these things, and we are appointed to teach what He reveals on these and all gospel doctrines.
In the revelation known as “the law of the Church,” the Lord says, “The elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:12). Numerous revelations say: Preach my gospel and my word, “saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:9). Having commanded all teachers to teach the principles of the gospel as found in the standard works, the Lord says: “These shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.” Then He gives the great directive: “And the Spirit shall be given … by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.”
Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said the following:
I offer this brief summary of the tremendous outpouring of knowledge and authority from God upon the head of His Prophet [Joseph Smith]. Were there time I could speak of others. There is one more that I must mention. This is the principle of modern revelation. The article of faith which the Prophet wrote declares,
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9).
A growing church, a church that is spreading across the earth in these complex times, needs constant revelation from the throne of heaven to guide it and move it forward. With prayer and anxious seeking of the will of the Lord, we testify that direction is received, that revelation comes, and that the Lord blesses His Church as it moves on its path of destiny.