Understanding LDS Doctrine, Commandments, Policies and Fences

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Hi, I’m Hannah and this is Firm Foundations.
Thanks for watching. In this series we are learning how to separate the facts from the
fiction in LDS history and doctrine. Today we’re going to talk about commandments
and doctrine vs. policies and fences. What’s the difference and why are those differences
important? So, Commandments and doctrine. Are they the
same? Kind of. Commandments are like a subset of doctrine. Doctrines are truths from God,
and commandments are truths that we should live by or obey. For example, when Christ
was on the earth, he emphasized 2 great commandments, to love God and to love thy neighbor. All
other commandments that he had previously given fall into one of those two categories.
To the ancient Israelites God revealed a set of sacrifices to teach mercy and redemption.
During his mortal ministry, Christ fulfilled the law of sacrifice, instituted the sacrament
and commanded his followers to partake of it in remembrance of his sacrifice. Changes in doctrine are exceedingly rare,
because doctrine is the fundamental truths that form God’s laws and the laws of Heaven
do not change. But what we know about them, and how far we have progressed towards them,
does change, and as we are ready to receive more knowledge, more doctrine is revealed. For example, during The Restoration, when
Joseph Smith first formed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many doctrines
that had been lost over time were restored. These doctrines included forming a quorum
of 12 apostles, having one prophet to preside over the church on earth, and how to perform
priesthood work. New doctrines were also introduced, including ordinances for both the living and
the dead. Doctrine is revealed only to the current prophet.
Because humans are fallible, it may take a little while for us to fully comprehend and
act upon revealed doctrine correctly. God, knowing we are not perfect, also allows us
to use crutches or things we are familiar with as we comprehend and implement doctrine.
This may be a reason Joseph Smith became a mason before introducing temple practices.
Learning about Masonic rituals may have helped him implement a divine rituals and promises
with proper authority and keys. To help clarify what counts as doctrine, the
LDS Church release a statement titled, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine.” This is a useful resource.
It says that all doctrines are true but some are much more important than others. The doctrine
that Christ was born, atoned for our sins, died, and rose again so that we may repent
and live with God is the most important doctrine. The two great commandments, love God and Love
thy neighbor, are also very important doctrines. A medium (so to speak) doctrine would be something
like The Word of Wisdom, which is a doctrine or truth from God, and is important to implement
in our lives, however, it is not as central as the Savior’s Atonement. A lesser, or
unimportant doctrine is something like the location of The Garden of Eden, because, it
has no impact on our ability to regain God’s presence. Core doctrines remain constant, even when
related commandments change. For example animal sacrifices have been superseded by the sacrament,
both of which remind us of the Atonement of Christ. Just like with revelation, when we
study doctrine, the newest is truest. And we must also evaluate ourselves to be sure
we are living the most important doctrines earnestly and not focusing on lesser or irrelevant
bits of scripture. D&C 43 distinguishes between doctrine, commandments,
and teachings. When we watch General Conference or attend other church meetings, we primarily
experience teachings. Teachings are not equivalent to doctrine or commandments. Teachings tell
us how to act on doctrines and commandments. These talks have been prayerfully prepared
and the doctrines they reiterate and discuss have been studied in order to provide additional
insight or inspiration into a doctrine. They are beautiful reminders and explanations,
but sometimes contain false conjectures or assumptions and are not always perfect. For
example, several years ago a a church officer gave a talk on “Ponderizing” a word he
created to explain how to do personal scripture study. While his method is a lovely idea for
some people, the concept was not feasible or the best choice for other members. Ponderizing
is a teaching, not revelation. Like with revelation, if you are earnest in listening to and studying
teachings, the Holy Spirit will testify to you if they are important to your life. New doctrine is rarely revealed, as in about
0.01% of the time do we hear a new doctrine issued from the Prophet of God. Doctrine is
verified as truth by all living apostles. The Family: A Proclamation to the World”
is prefaced with the words, “WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim.” When new doctrine
is revealed, we are responsible to seek confirmation of the truth of that doctrine through personal
revelation and to implement that doctrine in our lives. “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” lists what
is considered doctrine, it states, “With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the
prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest
governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently
proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard
works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants
and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.” Doctrine is issued through revelation, but
policies and fences can also sometimes come from revelation. So what is the difference
between doctrine, policy and fences? Policies are infrastructure. Policies can
dictate how we implement doctrine or church activities, and can sometimes be inspired,
but are not necessarily the will of God. For example, the age at which missionaries can
be called is a policy. There is no doubt that the leaders of the church counseled together
and were inspired each time the missionary standards changed, but these were not doctrinal
changes, merely changes in policy. Perhaps the most famous and controversial
policy is how the church handled Black men receiving the priesthood. While Joseph Smith
campaigned for the US Presidency on the platform of emancipation for all slaves in the United
States, and while he was prophet, and again while Brigham Young some black men were ordained
to the Priesthood, later a policy was put into place in 1852 denying Black men this
privilege. We do not know all the reasons it was implemented, but perhaps racism, cultural
bias, fear of repercussions from a racist nation that already hated the LDS Faith, and
other factors were at play. The policy also had other long-reaching consequences, as black
members were denied temple recommends and in Africa, black investigators were not baptized.
Finally, in 1978 the ban on men of African origin receiving the priesthood was lifted.
Throughout the ban, members of the church, including apostles justified the policy with
theories about why we would deny some children of God blessings and not others. These theories
and teachings were not true or doctrinal, as policies are sometimes no more than the
best efforts of fallen humans who inevitably fail and make mistakes. Now onto fences. What is a fence? A fence
is not an official or scriptural term. It is simply a boundary put in place to help
us keep commandments. For example, the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet is full of
fences. These fences, like not dating until age 16 and not swearing are put in place in
order to keep us from breaking commandments. The fences themselves are not commandments,
but they serve as a padding, or border that, if we follow, we do not risk breaking those
commandments. Why wait until 16 to date? The doctrine is
that sexual intimacy is to be reserved for marriage only. The fence of waiting until
age 16 to date, then starting with group dates, sets up the standard for sexual purity early
and provides protection from committing sexual sin at a young age when the brain is underdeveloped.
Is it a sin to attend a dance at age 15? No, not really. However, teens facing this dilemma
should consider why the fence was put in place, understand prophetic teachings on the subject,
and then counsel with their parents about what is right for them. Judging a teen for
going on a date before the age of 16 is also a sin, as only the teen, the Holy Spirit and
the teen’s parents should be involved in that decision. So, what’s wrong with swearing? Many swear
words derive from derogatory sexual terms, and because sex is sacred, using sexual terms
flippantly is sinful. Other swear words can be used against someone in anger, violating
the second great commandment, to love thy neighbor. It is important to note, that not
only swear words can be used in this way, almost any words can be harmful and sinful.
The fence around swear words is in part protection and in part an exercise, to form the habit
of choosing how we communicate carefully and with charity. It’s also important to note
that we need to make adjustments and allowances by culture and life experience. Different
words can be swear words in some countries and not others, so simply making a list of
words offensive in one place and time and expecting people throughout the world to adhere
to that list is wrong. Parents can also set fences as they teach
and protect their children. My parents set careful fences around cell phone and internet
use, caffeine restrictions, whose homes we could visit, how much TV we could consume,
as well as what type, and requiring us all to be at dinner each night. These fences helped
us learn the restraint and judgement needed to become functional adults and protected
us in the years when we were developing those skills for ourselves. Fences are not just
for children, adults are expected to know themselves and the doctrine of Christ, and
construct their life in such a way that they live up to the commandments, using fences
when necessary. As we wrap-up, I want to recommend a book,
titled “Boundaries” By Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend. This book examines boundaries in
the context of the Christian family. They study the boundaries that Christ and other
biblical people had and why they are important to implement in our own lives. Understanding
Christ-like boundaries is vital for many reasons, including so that we can come to understand
what policies and fences are good, and which are not. So, to summarize, Doctrine is God’s truth
as revealed through his prophet. It is revelation that very rarely changes. Commandments are
a subset of doctrines that require action on our part to keep them and repentance when
we break them. Policies are infrastructures that help keep the church organized. Policies
change from time to time. They are sometimes inspired by revelation and are sometimes simply
the organizational ideas of men and women doing their best, but not always doing perfectly.
Fences are protective borders around commandments. By following fences or guidelines, we do not
risk breaking the commandments. However, the necessity of and strictness of a fence changes
based on the person, age, and commandment. Crossing a fence is not a sin, but it also
may not be particularly wise. Thanks for joining us! Firm Foundations is
created by me, Hannah. We are funded by the More Good Foundation, with production assistance
from Rachel Grant. Don’t forget to subscribe, and we’ll catch
you next time.

 

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