11 August 2008

Doctrine, Policy and Tradition

This is my first foray into a deeper subject. As is ButtonGear, I am also a member of the predominant local denomination. Also like ButtonGear, I don't fit the local mold. Primarily because I am not a Utah Mormon.

I think that all of us, at one time or another - regardless of religious background, go through a phase where we question everything we have been taught. I think this hits those of us in the LDS community more heavily than others as we have some pretty odd beliefs . . . in comparison to the rest of the Christian community.

One thing I re-discovered in my search was a concept that my father explained to me as I was much younger. The church (and all churches I suppose) operates on three legs: Doctrine, Policy, and Tradition.

As I understand it, the doctrine of a religious community is comprised of those core issues they feel are requisite for salvation. All organizations, regardless of type, require policies to operate smoothly. As organizations mature, traditions grow and are the spice or flavor of the community.

As my father explained, policy and tradition can (and will) change. The doctrine remains as the core of the church. Problems arise when people start equating policy or tradition as doctrine. Some topics that often arise: "Coke (Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Mt. Dew) - are you going to hell for drinking it" or "White shirts - mandatory wear for all worthy priesthood holders?

The challenge becomes greater because of the tradition where anything said over the pulpit at General Conference is now scripture. On that same plane, if the Prophet makes a statement, it must be doctrine.

Bupkis! Brigham Young said that those of African heritage wouldn't receive the priesthood until the millennium. I loved President Hinckley. He was a Prophet of God. I also know that there are times that Gordon Hinckley's opinion came across the pulpit in conference or when he was conversing with Larry King.

So, the point of all this?

To my knowledge, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings one concept to the table that I haven't seen anywhere else. The concept that you shouldn't base your beliefs on anyone's say-so. We believe that you should consult your Heavenly Father with your questions and he will answer. Quite frankly, that is why I am here. I took Moroni's challenge but did so differently. My initial concerns weren't whether the Book of Mormon was true or whether Joseph was the Lord's prophet. I needed to know that there was a God. If not, nothing else mattered. If so, then I would continue the search.

So, I asked and got answers. The answers I received were not quite the answers I expected or even wanted. I know that there is a God and that he is my Heavenly Father. I know that He sent His Son Jesus the Christ and that he was anointed to atone for the sins of the world. That is the foundation for my testimony. This created a level of pain because I knew that it meant that I needed to change my life.

Back to the point. The process I followed is part of LDS doctrine. There is a God and you can converse with him to find out his will for your life. That is an example of doctrine. That we practice the ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is doctrine. The apparel of those officiating in that ordinance is policy based traditional. The bread and water used in that ordinance are policy based and traditional. I imagine that, in a worst case scenario, we could even use a caffeinated beverage in place of the water should the need arise.

Again I have probably overwritten. This has given me something to think about, though. Where is the division in the LDS faith between doctrine, policy, and tradition? The church helped cover this somewhat in 2007 with a press release entitled "Approaching Mormon Doctrine" ).

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