Rivi rivin päälle

Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine
Edited by Gary James Bergera. Signature Books, 1989. ISBN 0-941214-69-9.

Line upon lineOne of the distinguishing features of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a near absence of formal creeds or statements of binding doctrine. For all practical intents, the authoritative systematization of doctrine and theology does not exist, and deliberately so. As founding prophet Joseph Smith explained, "The most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians [is] that the latter [are] all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprive[s] its members of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time." This rejection of doctrinal creeds prompted one non-Mormon observer to label LDS beliefs as a kind of "do-it-yourself" theology.

This is not to suggest, however, that the church possesses no mechanism for canonizing doctrine, by which it defines itself and its teachings in relation to other religions. For example, on 3 April 1976, during the church's semi-annual General Conference, Mormons from around the world participated in creating new canon by common consent. This canonizing process, however infrequently used, occupies a central, determining place in the formulation of official church doctrine (see also D&C 28:3; 26:2).

An important distinction exists between canon and other church-related discourse--"official" or otherwise. Despite statements equating all individual utterances inspired by the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:2-4) with binding institutional doctrine, inspired discourse and canon are not necessarily synonymous. If they were, it would have been unnecessary to present the Doctrine and Covenants to a general assembly of the church for its support in 1835, to present the Pearl of Great Price to a General Conference in 1880, to present church president Wilford Woodruff's Manifesto to members in 1890 for acceptance, or to present the official announcement regarding the eligibility of black Mormons to hold the priesthood to members in 1978 for their consent. In each instance, the sustaining vote of the general membership was required to change the status of the particular document from teaching or policy to official, institutional doctrine.

Needless to say, the canonization of some doctrines necessarily relegates others, however "true," to places of lesser institutional authority. That is, a teaching or doctrine may be true without being official or binding from an institutional perspective. Thus the writings of any Mormon--whether a General Authority, a regional leader, a local officer, or lay member anywhere--unless canonized, are secondary to the four printed "standard works" of the church--the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price--which contain the official, canonized doctrines of the church. "No revelation given through the head of the church ever becomes binding and authoritative upon members of the church," President Joseph F. Smith publicly explained, "until it has been presented to the church and accepted by them." The process of canonization, Elder B. H. Roberts echoed, represents "the position of the Church . . . upon the authoritative sources of their doctrine."

This distinction has at least two important applications for Mormons today. First, it affects the writings of church leaders and members who attempt to provide thorough, exhaustive, and especially "official" expositions of institutional doctrine and belief. Too often this kind of writing is used by otherwise well-meaning members to test and measure each another's orthodoxy. Such misuses are easily tempered by the fact that a healthy variety of competing--and occasionally conflicting--views and teachings exists. In the absence of authoritative, binding statements, no member's loyalty or commitment to the church should be questioned simply because his or her personal convictions differ from prevailing beliefs.

Second, the existence of a canonization process highlights the all-too-frequently ignored fact that the highest quorum in LDS church government is the general membership. This places the primary responsibility upon individual members for determining and evaluating canonized doctrine. Mormons must never retreat into the admittedly comfortable but ultimately irresponsible security of blind obedience from the trying, responsibility-laden path of reasoned and reasonable faith.

The genius of the LDS church regarding doctrine and theology is that it allows for, perhaps even requires, a diversity of views and opinions. As Hugh B. Brown, first counselor in the First Presidency, exhorted students at Brigham Young University in 1969, "We call upon you . . . to exercise your God-given right to think through on every proposition that is submitted to you and be unafraid to express your opinions. . . . We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts." "If our members are ignorant of the doctrines," Apostle Boyd K. Packer later warned, "we are in danger, notwithstanding efficient programs and buildings." A thoughtful, educated membership tends to be more stable than one that follows blindly.

Each of the sixteen essays selected for inclusion in Line Upon Line addresses a particular doctrinal or theological topic--usually one upon which different views and opinions exist. The authors--sensitive, cautious, and thoughtful--rely on a variety of authorities, approaches, and sources and make no pretense of trying to answer all questions or, more especially, of resolving what President J. Reuben Clark once described as "adventuresome expeditions" into "highly speculative principles and doctrines." Instead, they hope to foster greater reflection and generate responsible discussion; to identify areas in need of more openness and tolerance; to note the relative strengths and weaknesses of various theological positions; and to suggest that differences of opinion, far from implying unorthodoxy, can indicate the presence of a genuine and sincere faith. Readers should know also that neither the authors nor the editor necessarily agrees with the views and conclusions reached in all of the essays that follow.

Gary James Bergera is co-author of Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. A graduate of Brigham Young University, he has received awards for his articles from the Mormon History Association and the Dialogue Foundation. He lives in Salt Lake City.


  1. Speculative Theology: Key to a Dynamic Faith Thaddeus E. Shoemaker
  2. Defining the Contemporary Mormon Concept of God Van Hale
  3. The Earliest Mormon Concept of God Dan Vogel
  4. The Development of the Mormon Doctrine of God Boyd Kirkland
  5. The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine Thomas G. Alexander pdf
  6. Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and Omniscience in Mormon Theology Kent E. Robson
  7. The Concept of a Finite God as an Adequate Object of Worship Blake T. Ostler
  8. Finitist Theology and the Problem of Evil Peter C. Appleby, revised by Gary James Bergera
  9. The Development of the Concept of a Holy Ghost in Mormon Theology Vern G. Swanson
  10. The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven Linda P. Wilcox
  11. The Origin of the Human Spirit in Early Mormon Thought Van Hale
  12. The Idea of Preexistence in Mormon Thought Blake T. Ostler
  13. The Traditional Mormon Doctrine of Man George Boyd
  14. Salvation in the Theology of Joseph Smith David John Buerger
  15. Eternal Progression and the Second Death in the Theology of Brigham Young Boyd Kirkland
  16. Epilogue Stephen L Richards


 Etusivu | Sivun alkuun


 2002-03-10 — 2002-11-22