Official Doctrine — Harold B. Lee

A recent online spat I had with one of CARM’s worst (baptizedinchrist) got me thinking again about the “official” status of certain doctrinal points. I found this interesting quote from former president and prophet of the church Harold B. Lee:

President Harold B. Lee in a European area conference:

If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth.1

This is the position that I take on the issue as well. The ironic, and distressing, thing about this position however is that to my knowledge it can’t be substantiated by the standard works. In other words, my belief about official doctrine is that it includes only that included in the standard works. Unfortunately, the standard works are silent on the question!

It reminds me of the Protestant belief in the closed canon, when no such thing is taught by the canon! I may add to this post later as I gain new insights through studying the issue further. Your comments are encouraged!


1. The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24-26, 1973, with Reports and Discourses, 69.

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14 comments on “Official Doctrine — Harold B. Lee

  1. I also think the statement is pretty ironic. I struggle with this issue as well. I believe the statement, but with certain reservations… There was an interesting discussion on the topic here:

  2. DougT says:

    This quote you have given is better than the other 3 of his I have on this issue. Thanks.

    Your concerns about nothing to back it up Scripturally are reasonable. But I would pose that it needs no evidence. It is a catch 22. He was the prophet at the time he said it in a conference. So if he is wrong, that would make him right.

  3. James says:

    President Lee did say it in a conference, but it was not General Conference. Furthermore, even were it said in General Conference, it still wouldn’t automatically be “official” doctrine.

  4. Pedro says:

    Im far more concerned about correct PRACTICE than correct BELIEF.

    Id rather see an elder believe in “adam-god”, keep it to hmself, and be an excellent home teaching, temple working, refferal giving, 10 commandment obeying, wife loving LDS


    for the same elder belive in all the right things, yet never home teach, lack a temple recommend, never give refferals and neglect his wife.

    Two extermes, but I illustrates a point.

  5. James says:

    Thanks for your input Pedro. I think you make an excellent point. In general, I agree with it.

    But on the topic of “what-is-official-doctrine” I think it is important for the church to clearly identify what is acceptable to believe and what is not. For now, there are a lot of grey areas.

  6. Pedro says:

    I see what you mean. I think sticking to the standard works is the best way to go; it is the only set of books that is canonized. This is how I view it:
    Doctrine: official teaching of the Church
    Truth:things as they are, were and will be.

    All doctrine is true, but not all truth is doctrine.

    For example, John McCain and Barak Obama had a debate last night, true. However, as true as that is it does not constitute the official doctrine of the Church.

    I think that some times we make the mistake of thinking doctrine=truth, truth=doctrine. In reality, only the first statement is correct.

    For example, I believe that Jesus Christ, during his mortal ministry was married, and possibly even polygamous. When viewed in this light, his interactions with Mary and Martha take an interesting light. Is this Church doctrine? Heck no!!!! Thats why I dont teach in classes or from the pulpit.

    Where is the doctrine found? The Scripture and official statements and or proclamations from the 1st Pres and Q of 12. Where is truth found? Revelation. After all, revelation is also what produces the doctrine.

  7. Pedro says:

    ps. Just so there is no confusion, im not claiming God told me Jesus married in mortality.

  8. James says:

    Thanks Pedro.
    I agree entirely with your observations about the difference between doctrine and truth. It is sometimes difficult when discussing the issue with others (especially Evangelicals) because they don’t seem to understand the important differences.

    Another example is Joseph Smith’s statements about the origin of God the Father. It may or may not represent actual truth, but I can’t see that it in anyway constitutes Church doctrine.

  9. Pedro says:

    Well, if it doesn’t represent actual truth then the Lord better do something quick because as far as I know, it has been perpetuated by every President of the Church since Joseph Smith Jr. Pres. Eyring perpetuated it during a CES fireside. “I bear you my witness that God the Father lives, a glorified and exalted Man. He is the Father of our spirits. He and His Beloved Son, both resurrected and glorified, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in a grove of trees in New York”(Spiritual Gifts for Hard Times, CES Fireside for Young Adults • September 10, 2006 • Brigham Young University). And it even krept into our Joseph Smith manual and Gospel Principles manual.

    For me, if it’s in the manuals then I teach it. Lord knows they do alot to make sure anything that seems “unpleasant” keeps from being put it. If you didnt know any better you would think that BY was a monogamist the way the edited his manual : )

    I guess Im alot like a fundamentalist when it comes to these type of things. I’m more apt to agree with BY and HCK than I am to agree with Robert Millet or your local institute director.

    When an anti/Ev says “You guys believe that God was once a man”. I say: “Yes we do and that is only one of the plain and precious truths that was restored by the Prophet Joseph”. When an anti says: “BY said that you have to enter polygamy in order to become a god”. I say: “Yes, he did. So what?” They say: “well, you dont practice polygamy.” I say: “Thats because the Lord hasnt asked me too, but I will do the things He has asked me too.”

    I think that sometimes we use the “speaking as a man” loophole a little too much. I sthe loophole real? Does it have application? Absolutly it does. Statements about BoM geography or the reason behind priesthood bans are prime examples. Anyone who takes a look at the history of these two will see that its alot more complicated than cracking open a copy of the JoD or BRM’s Mormon Doctrine.

    There is a thing in mormonism which I call “prophetic wierdness”. Examples of PW are seer stones, Lorenzo Snow couplet, polyandry etc. My initial reflex is to embrace the wierdness rather than trying to explain it away. A man can never be condemned for beliveing too much, but he can be condemned for not beliving enough.

    Im not saying your gonna be condemned : )

  10. James says:

    Thanks for your point of view. Whereas you are more apt to embrace “prophetic wierdness” (a clever phrase) I am more inclined to hold it cautiously at arm’s length. I don’t reject the possibility that it might be truth, but I just don’t see room for some of those things to be considered official Church doctrine.

    I respectfully disagree that Joseph’s teachings about the origin of God the Father should be considered official Church doctrine. As you said in an earlier comment, the Standard Works exist for that reason. I don’t read Pres. Eyering’s recent comments as confirming the doctrine at all. I can accept that God is an exalted man (which is scriptural) as official Church doctrine, but I can’t yet accept any non-scriptural speculations about how he arrived at that state, or even IF he arrived at that state.

    But returning to the more general subject of “what-is-doctrine?” I take a differen course than you do when asked those kinds of questions by Evangelical critics (for example). When they say “You believe that God was a man on another planet” I usually respond that yes, some of us believe that, but it is not official Church doctrine and it is not required that any LDS believe such a thing.

    Thanks for your input.

    P.S. Are you Her Amun?

  11. pedro says:

    Yes, I am “Her Amun”.

    In regard to the mysteries, they have to be revealed to a person. They aren’t things that can be tought by men.

    As for doctrine, I think another way of saying it might be:
    Church doctrine is what the Church as an institution teaches today.

    Then again, this is what we get from being part of a creedless Church.


    I love the creedless-ness of Mormonism

  12. Pedro says:

    Ok, Ive benn thinking about it.

    Doctrine=what the Church teaches today.

    Where can we find “what the Church teaches today”?
    Pamhlets, General Conference talks, magazines, official publications,scriptures etc.

    What about the scriptural supremacy?
    Problem is, many people differ on interpreatations.

    All doctrine is true, but not all truth is doctrine.
    What is and isn’t doctrine can change by simply chaning what is and isnt tought.

  13. In Blake Ostler’s “Bridging the Gulf” which is a review of Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson’s “How Wide the Divide?” Ostler offer’s what he calls a “continuum of sources” (see the article here:, or as I like to say, there are “degrees of officialness”

    While I do not fully espouse Oslter’s version of this “continuum” I think it best makes sense of all the data. Certainly, we have prophets and apostles for a reason, and we hear from them and other leaders (in settings like General Conference) for a reason. Their words hold some weight and authority. Furthermore we have manuals and church curriculum for a reason, and what is in those manuals holds some weight and meaning.

    But, at the same time, we have a canonized standard for a reason as well. As such, I think these things need to be considered in “degrees,” or “levels,” or “tiers,” of “officialness.” Those start at the top with the Standard Works as the only “fully binding” or “fully official” source of church doctrine, and then after that you have “official” statements and declarations or proclamations from the 1st Pres/Q of 12, after that it gets a little fuzzy, but you have “official” church publications like the manuals, magazines, etc., and words spoken by modern prophets (which must be further sub0divided based on setting [i.e. GC or a less official conference or fireside, etc.], position [i.e. were they at the head of the church, a counselor in the 1st pres, or in the Q of 12?], and if they are current [living] or past [dead], etc.)

    Fully making sense of how all these factors interact and effect each other, and what should be given more weight is definitely a tricky thing to determine. For example, does a previous head of the Church trump a living apostle because he held the higher position, or should precedence be given the apostles words because he is living and the past prophet is dead? I think there is a straightforward answer to this question. Still, we must recognize SOME amount of authority to BOTH, or else the purpose and significance or having living apostles and prophets is lost.

    While it can get complicated, I believe we MUST recognize some “degrees of officialness,” other wise we end up inadvertently closing the heavens, as was erroneously done thousands of years ago, and which continues to hold people back from discovering the truth today.

    Sorry that was long, just some thoughts. I hope it all made sense.

  14. Oops, in my fourth paragraph that should say “there is *not* a straightforward answer” Sorry.

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