The Holy Ghost, Scriptures…and LDS Church handbooks

Some Christians have a difficult time understanding just what is authentic (read: “official”) LDS doctrine. For instance, former Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw and others like him want to believe that Mormonism can be comprehended by talking to scholars at BYU. This way of thinking completely ignores what has been taught over and over by the LDS general authorities.

look_it_up_TAs thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson is reported to have said in a church manual that is being used twice a month throughout 2015 in adult Sunday classes, “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, 149). Criticizing those who disagree with the prophet, Benson also wrote, “The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich. The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them; otherwise, the prophet is just giving his opin­ion-speaking as a man. The rich may feel they have no need to take counsel of a lowly prophet” (Ibid., 138).

In addition, page 48 of the 2009 church manual Gospel Principles plainly states, “In addition to these four books of scripture [Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price], the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, the Liahona or Ensign magazine, and instructions to local priesthood leaders.”

In an article titled “Church Handbooks: The Written Order of Things” by Seventy Per G. Malm published in the September 2015 Ensign magazine, church handbooks can be used to understand Mormonism. Known as Handbook 1 and Handbook 2, these manuals are supposed to be used by local church leaders to determine procedures and beliefs. As Malm explains, “I realize that in addition to the Holy Ghost and the scripture, what really helped me were the Church handbooks.”

The article cites Apostle Dallin H. Oaks who said, “While [the] handbooks do not have the same standing as the scriptures, they do represent the most current interpretations and procedural directions of the Church’s highest authorities” (61).

The First Presidency and the apostles “are men of ‘seasoned maturity, experience, and extensive preparation,’” Apostle Russell M. Nelson adds in the next quote. Malm then writes on page 62, “Thus, the Church handbooks reflect the collective wisdom—derived from tested, proven experiences—of prophets and apostles. That wisdom results in carrying out the mission over time.”

Malm concludes his article on page 65 with a quote from Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, who stated that “the handbooks ‘will become a treasure to you as you use [them] to help you lead others to choose the way of eternal life. That is [their] purpose.’”

For once and for all, let’s get rid of the concept that Mormon doctrine can be garnered by talking to our neighbors, co-workers, and yes, even the scholars. Anything that is said by anyone other than the LDS general authorities is relegated to mere opinion unless it can be supported by official teaching. So, the next time a Mormon tells you “the way of eternal life” and you’re not sure if what is being said is official Mormon doctrine, simply ask, “Now where is that found in the church handbook?”

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9 Responses to The Holy Ghost, Scriptures…and LDS Church handbooks

  1. falcon says:

    “You have to be Amish to understand.”
    That’s what an Amish man, whom I had become friends with, told me one time. He had been explaining something to me about their way of life and some decisions that had recently been made regarding their community. I kept asking him questions trying to comprehend the decision making process and the rationale behind the out come. He was right. I needed to be Amish to understand.
    I think, in a way, that’s the way it is with the LDS sect. Those folks think differently than the rest of us who are not fully indoctrinated into the “community”. Walter Martin said, “Mormons can think rationally in every part of their life except when it comes to their religion.”
    This is the way it is with the “count, doesn’t count” explanations we are given regarding the utterances and proclamations of their “living prophet”. And another thing, ever heard that saying, “If you want to know about Mormonism, ask a Mormon.” ? Well that’s a real delight. I think the leadership purposely keeps things “fluid” in order to provide cover for themselves and the sect. We’ve had Mormons post here and they’ve led me to ask them, “What brand of Mormonism are you practicing?”. It certainly wasn’t anything consistent with their history and past spoken doctrine. It’s their opinion and supports their own comfort level. In this way, Mormonism provides them with a blank slate upon which to write.
    It’s not unusual to pull out an LDS publication and show a member actual documentation of what has been proclaimed and have them stare like deer in the headlights. It doesn’t support their own views.
    There’s a reason that Mormonism has been described as a “maze”.

  2. falcon says:

    LDS have a living prophet who hears from the Mormon god who then gives messages to the LDS faithful. I’m wondering why then doesn’t the prophet answer a bunch of questions and straighten some things out? I’ve studied Mormonism enough to know that there are a lot of different sects with a lot of different prophets but from what I gather, they don’t agree.
    I often mention Bruce McConkie’s book “Mormon Doctrine”. I’ve read where it was the “go to book” for generations of the faithful on matters of doctrine for the sect. I’ve also read where Brother McConkie was the “go to guy” for the leadership when it came to these matters. But alas, Bruce it seems has fallen out of favor and his book isn’t even published any more. It appears that he was sort of a controversial figure within the sect. He’s living in the LDS crazy uncle attic with Brigham Young and a few others.
    The kindest thing to say about Mormonism is that it “evolves”. Can anyone deny that Utah style Mormonism of say 1850s vintage isn’t around any more? Well maybe it is but it isn’t within the LDS sect. The various FLDS sects are still hard core Brigham Young Mormons. A couple of the sects won’t go near BY, the FLDS or even the LDS. Their “restoration” more accurately reflects pre-Nauvoo Mormonism.
    So as far as the “burning in the bosom” that folks talk about regarding the reading of the BoM, I guess it all comes down to who an individual decides to follow.
    As for me? I’ll follow the Lord and leave these latter day prophets with their “other” gospel to those who are foolish enough to get sucked in.

  3. MJP says:

    Also understand that one may get different answers depending on how they view the current prophet besides Smith or Young or any other previous prophet.

  4. Mike R says:

    Those of us who have been ministering to false prophet led groups like Mormonism for many, many years have seen this behavior by various Mormons to come up with several different responses as to what is accurate teachings of the Mormon gospel, by influential Mormons — from BYU professors , to apologists, to General authorities . To some the place to find “official ” Mormon belief is only the 4 Standard Works , to others it’s the 4 Standard Works and Conference sermons , and others say it’s also Church published manuals / books , some say if a particular teaching or policy is’nt voted on by church members then it is not a true belief .
    What’s the reason behind all the rhetoric in establishing what is a ” gospel teaching” of Mormonism ? The answer is not difficult to discern if you’ve been involved in reaching out to the Mormon people with the true gospel for the last several decades , and keeping track of what’s been happening within Mormonism since that time :

    It’s hard to pin down a exact date when Mormonism began to ramp up it’s tactic of wanting to appear as another Christian church on the block . To do this more effectively changes must be made in oder to enhance the Church’s public personna etc . One of the main ways this would transpire was to deny or downplay some of the “unique” teachings by Mormon leaders of the past , teachings which the public would be surprised and even shocked to learn of . With the rise of the internet this tactic became much more difficult to use as information on Mormon teachings became easy to find . More and more rank and file LDS also became uneasy at finding out this information . Mormon leaders down to Mormon apologists were kept busy trying to put as good of a face on Mormonism but with minimal success as more and more LDS were asking hard questions about their history and doctrine and this seems to have come to a head in 2013 when the first of the Church’s Essays appeared attempting to be more forthright about certain teachings . Many LDS feel this latest effort still did not go far enough , and found the answers anemic .

    This whole issue about what is ” official ” or accurate teachings of Mormonism is a direct result of the Mormon Church’s attempt to sound more Christian and less Mormon if you will . Unfortunately they have been fairly successful at selling their message , and so today when a non LDS hears a Mormon give a answer why they won’t accept some past teachings of their leaders , the non LDS needs to remember it’s all because of Mormonism’s proselytizing efforts .

  5. falcon says:

    Good post Mike.
    How about this? “It happened a long time ago.” That seems to be able to placate many of the LDS folks. If it happened a long time ago then it doesn’t count. It has no meaning.
    I remember the contortions some LDS posters here would go through to school us on what counts. One of these was that it had to be spoken at general conference. I think it even had to be voted on by members present. So when it’s pointed out about things proclaimed at general conference by the prophet et. al. that proved to be nutty, it was put in the “doesn’t count” column. It’s gotten to the point where we’d tell them, “Let me get this straight. In order to count it must be spoken at general conference, up on the podium, behind the lectern with the prophet standing on his right foot only with his left hand in the air.”
    I can’t remember who the former Mormon poster was but he told us that he left Mormonism in part because he got sick of trying to defend it. As long as Mormons stick to their group and don’t venture out of their comfort zone, they’re OK. When they have to defend the sect’s beliefs and history to outsiders they either get angry and retreat or perhaps they start asking questions.

  6. MJP says:

    You know, one of the hardest things to do is to pin down Mormon beliefs, I can’t even call it doctrine, with Mormons. What they seem to say is entirely contextual and expedient based on the goal of the conversation. They have few hard and fast beliefs. Even something like ‘forever families’ gets wishy washy.

    Since there is an emphasis on focusing on the current prophet, beliefs of old that have not been altered or commented on in decades get muddied and unclear.

    I wonder how much of that is due to embarrassment on what the beliefs are or pure ignorance on the part of the general lay membership.

  7. SoCalExile says:

    Recently I had a long online discussion with some Mormons that seemed to go from one issue to the next and back again. I think we hit on every issue in the LDS and even some twice.

    Eventually, in the interest of not creating new atheists, I started hitting on the difference between LDS beliefs and the Bible. What seemed to create some emotional responses and eventually silence was Ephesians 1:4 and the idea that people can not only know they are saved, but that they were saved from the beginning. I guess the idea that your salvation isn’t dependent on what you do is threatening?

  8. Mike R says:


    The downplaying, dodging, or denying , of some teachings of Mormon leaders by many Mormons today , is directly connected to Mormonism proselytizing methods .

    I’m sure you have experienced the shocked look on a non LDS’s face when you shared with them some of the teachings of Mormon leaders .

  9. MJP says:

    Mike, yup, but it at best creates a confusion as to what true Mormon beliefs are within the Mormon community. I do think most Mormons sincerely believes things that are not ‘official’ or even directly contrary to being ‘official’. Why is that?

    I don’t know the answer personally, but it seems that Mormonism has a free-for-all relativistic bent to it that allows adherents to develop their own personal ‘dogma’, and as long as they stay loyal to the folks in SLC, there is no desire to direct people to true and accurate current beliefs as defined by leadership.

    The irony of that is that the leadership does go to great pains to centralize what is taught. Its just that what is taught is often quite wishy washy.

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