“…My doctrine is too simple for mankind to comprehend.” -Doctrines of the Saints 125:8
There is a difference between doctrine and theology. Many confuse these two terms, as they are similar. However, our understandings, theories, and ideas are not doctrines. These are theologies.
Doctrine is from the Latin, doctrina; “teaching,” or “learning.” Doctrines are the teachings on the scriptures, the established truths. Some, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, define doctrine as the teachings found in the scriptures themselves. Doctrines can be redefined based on who is teaching and/or who is learning, for example with Jesus in the Gospels people were amazed by His doctrines (teachings). However, eternal truths do not change.
Theology is from the Latin theologia, literally “God-ology.” These are beliefs, understandings, or theories on the doctrines (teachings). Unlike doctrine, theologies can change over time.
Doctrines of Man vs Doctrine of Christ
Warning Joseph Smith Jr., Jesus said of the churches of the day, “They teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Avahr 5:30). These are the same words He said in the New Testament, showing clearly that this has always been a problem (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7). Yet we see that the Latter Day Saint moment that Joseph was called to start quickly fell into this same trap. While the theology of the Latter Day Saints in Joseph’s time evolved line upon line, precept upon precept, Latter Day Saints today are stuck in a war of words, just as our fellow Christians were in Joseph’s day, and sadly many are stuck in even now.
What then is the Doctrine of Christ that we should follow? The Book of Mormon and the Book of Avahr (early Doctrine and Covenants) give us Jesus’ doctrine clearly:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” -Mark 1:15
“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you: I will declare unto you my doctrine: And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me; and whoso believeth in me and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. -3 Nephi 5:32-35 RAV, 11:31-34 OPV
“Behold this is my doctrine: Whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me the same is my Church.” -Avahr 17:39 (DaC 3:16a RLDS/CoC, 10:67 CJCLdS)
What then does this mean, to repent? Sin in the Tanakh or Old Testament is “chata’ah” (חטאה). Chata’ah comes from the root word “chet” (חטא) which means to “miss the mark.” To the ancient Israelites, this meant to neglect one’s obligation, whether to man or to God. Repentance in Hebrew is “teshuvah,” which means “return.” Jesus is asking nothing more of us than to return to the path of God. That’s not a list of things to do or not do, but an attitude. Let’s look at the teachings of Jesus to better understand.
- Make peace with your enemies, love your enemies (Matthew 5:21-26, 43-48; 3 Nephi 5:69-75, 89-92 RAV; 12:21-26, 43-48 OPV)
- Love your spouse (Matthew 5:27-32; 3 Nephi 5:76-80 RAV; 12:27-32 OPV)
- Mean what you say (Matthew 5:33-37; 3 Nephi 5:81-83 RAV, 12:33-37 OPV)
- Give merely to give (Matthew 5:38-6:4; 3 Nephi 5:84-96 RAV, 12:38-13:4 OPV)
- Build your relationship with God (Matthew 6:5-18; 3 Nephi 5:97-109 RAV, 13:5-18 OPV)
- Look to God in all things (Matthew 6:19-34, 7:7-12; 3 Nephi 5:110-6:12, 6:19-24 RAV; 13:19-34, 14:7-12 OPV)
- Don’t judge (Matthew 7:1-6; 3 Nephi 6:13-18 RAV, 14:1-6 OPV)
- Walk in teshuvah (Matthew 7:13-14; 3 Nephi 6:25-26 RAV, 14:13-14 OPV)
- Seek the good, be the good, do good deeds becasue it is who you are (Matthew 7:15-27; 3 Nephi 6:27-37 RAV, 14:15-27 OPV)
Do these things, and you will be perfect. What are these things? Love. He is teaching the great commandment: love God, love you neighbors; or in other words, love the Creator and love the creation. How can we love God yet hate that which God has made? Notice, this isn’t a to-do list; Jesus is teaching a way of life.
The doctrine of Christ is simplicity itself, we stop focusing on ourselves, our egoism, our pride, and look beyond ourselves to love all of our fellow beings and the creation itself. It is not a list of things to DO, but a way to BE. Anything we add to this is man made theology. And once we start arguing over theology, we are no longer Christ’s. God has said:
“Whosoever declareth more or less than this is not of me, but is against me; therefore, he is not of my Church” -Avahr 17:40 (DaC 3:16b RLDS/CoC, 10:68 CJCLdS).
“And whoso shall declare more or less than this and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell standeth open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.” -3 Nephi 5:42 RAV, 11:40 OPV
“He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention; and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger one with another; behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger one against another; but this is my doctrine: that such things should be done away. -3 Nephi 5:30-31 RAV, 11:29-30 OPV
“My Church are all they that repenteth and cometh unto me; and this is my doctrine, for the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil.” -Doctrines of the Saints 125:10
As Latter Day Saints we must heed the words of the Lord given to us through Joseph Smith III:
“Let contentions and quarrelings among you cease; sustain each other in peace; and ye shall be blessed with my Spirit, in comforting and strengthening you for my work.” -Doctrines of the Saints 95:23
If we can cease our contentions and quarreling, and love one another, then we can truly be called Saints and live as Israel in teshuvah, becoming not one in denomination, yet one in Christ.