When comparing and contrasting Biblical Christianity with Mormonism, should one limit consideration of “Mormonism” to what minimalists deem “official” and “binding”?
I answer “NO” for a number of reasons:
- Mormons, even minimalist Mormons, disagree amongst themselves over what constitutes “official” and “binding” doctrine. Some restrict it to recently emphasized teaching via institutional channels (regardless of whether it is in the Standard Works). Some restrict it to the Standard Works alone. Some restrict it to what is recently emphasized by the Church which is ALSO in the Standard Works. Some restrict it to what a particular individual has an emotionally epiphanous testimony on.
- The LDS Church has no binding and official position on what constitutes a binding and official position. Even its related, relatively recent LDS Newsroom article is ambiguous and leaves unsettled the internal Mormon debates on what constitutes official doctrine.
- The LDS Church teaches that it is the authoritative intepretative grid/lens for understanding the Standard works. So even if one somehow tries to restrict “official” Mormonism to the Standard Works, the LDS institution and tradition still come out as having final say.
- Even if we restrict consideration of Mormonism to what is taught in the Standard Works, it leads to absurdities. For example, we would have to speak of “Mormonism” as a religion which encourages the drinking of beer (D&C 89:17), something modern Mormons would lose a leadership position and temple recommend for doing.
- The thrust of LDS institutional teaching and tradition fosters a “prima ecclesia” (primacy of the Church over scripture) approach to doctrine, that the living oracles are more vital than the Standard Works, and that living oracles override or upgrade scripture if there is ever a perceived conflict.
- Mormon culture fosters a sense of different levels of accessible knowledge. Some metaphorically speak of this as “chapel Mormonism” and “temple Mormonism.” There is a layer of theology that Mormons assume is true yet don’t feel obligated to publicly confess or defend. A 19th century example of this was polygamy. One 21st century example is that of belief in Heavenly Mother: Mormon theology and even some institutional teaching lead most Mormons to assume her existence, yet because her existence isn’t explicated by minimalist standards of what is “official”, many Mormons feel like they can simultaneously believe in her and yet publicly deny that she is part of what outsiders may acceptably consider when critiquing the religion.
- When Jesus said to watch out for false prophets and false teachers, and that we would know them by their fruits, he did not say, “You shall know them by their fruits, but the only fruits you are allowed to consider are binding and official fruits voted on in General Conference for inclusion in the Standard Works.”
- To obscure real problems within any religion by appealing to abstract notions of what is and what is not “official” would be cruel, because it would overlook individuals affected—individuals that Jesus loves.
Mormonism sees power in ambiguity, strength in ambivalence, solidarity in equivocation, and encouragement in non-officiality. But Christ says, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)