Changing Doctrines and Practices in the LDS Church

There has been a lot of hoopla surrounding upstart ladies who “demand” Things They Shouldn’t Ask For. As “proof” that this is The Way Things Are, many talk about how the doctrine is “perfect” and it never changes. However, this isn’t the case; doctrine and practice in the LDS Church are in almost-constant flux. Since the Restoration, we’ve seen the results of changing practice and doctrine. In fact, even though many of us bellyache about slow progress, when taken with a bit of perspective, it seems as though change to doctrines and practices in the LDS Church can come lightning-fast.

A long time ago, when I attended Institute, an instructor offered a diagram that illustrated the layers involved in religious observance. I copied it onto a blank page at the front of my quad:

Club Mormon Practice

As you can see, in his opinion, the bedrock is Absolute Truth, or the Mind of God. However, layers get added on, since we are human. We might not be prepared for certain realities, receiving “line upon line,” until we are ready, as individuals and as a collective, for “higher” principles. Sometimes, cultural, traditional, and interpretational realities affect what happens with religious observance. The only thing that doesn’t change is Absolute Truth. Scripture — true Scripture — changes very little, although we can always receive more of it. Sometimes, what we think of as scripture really isn’t, or it might have been changed over time or translated incorrectly. Interpretation of scripture might change over time, as does Doctrine, which is what we teach. Finally, Practice, the things we do culturally as an expansion of Doctrine, can vary. Doctrines and practices in the LDS Church are at the top level, meaning that they are most likely to be changed. You’ve probably seen changes to practices — and probably doctrines — in your own lifetime.

Mormons are comfortable, in a general way, with the idea that Doctrines and Practices in the LDS Church can change. We have numerous examples of how Doctrine and Practice change over time. In the early years of the LDS Church, women gave blessings of healing to other women, and Eliza Snow encouraged women to go to their female leaders with their issues and confessions, rather than approach male leaders. And what about blacks and the priesthood? Joseph Smith ordained black men, Brigham Young forbade the practice, there was decades-long debate about it, and now black men are ordained.

It’s not just women and blacks. The Law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ, changing practice and doctrine. Remember when most of the officiating was done by the Levites? The gospel is preached to the Gentiles. The Word of Wisdom progresses from being more of a suggestion to being a requirement for entrance to the temple. Polygamy, anyone?

Doctrine and Practice change over time. We see it all the time. My Institute teacher said that sometimes we confuse Practice with Doctrine, and confuse Doctrine with Absolute Truth, when they are not the same thing.

One of the tenets of Mormonism is that we make progress eternally. Yes, we need to progress and bring our lives in line with what Heavenly Father wants for us. However, the Church as a whole also progresses and changes. Sometimes I think that some of the questioning is less about rebellion and more about the overall progress and expansion of all of our roles.

This post is largely a re-post of something written earlier, and that had to be modified. You can see the original post, and its comments, here.

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