Pop Quiz! What is the definition of gospel doctrine? Hint: We’re not talking about the class in church.
This is a fill-in-the blank answer. No lifelines are allowed; no internet searches, no skimming through this article for an answer, and no phoning a friend.
A long-time member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might say, “Duh. It’s…well…everything that the scriptures and the prophets teach. Right?”
The thing is…that’s not exactly accurate.
In order to truly understand the definition of doctrine, it’s helpful to define what it is and what it is not. In his book, [Increase in Learning], the apostle Elder David A. Bednar draws a distinction between three terms: doctrine, principles, and applications.
A doctrine is “a truth — a truth of salvation revealed by a loving Heavenly Father.” Doctrines are eternal — meaning they do not change— and pertain to our eternal progression. They are “foundational, fundamental, and comprehensive” (p. 151).
Examples include the Godhead, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the Plan of Happiness. In fact, the Church actually defines [nine basic doctrines of the LDS Church] in the manual for Seminary and Institute teachers.
Doctrines answer the question “Why?” The doctrine of the Plan of Salvation addresses why are we are here on earth. The Atonement of Jesus Christ tells us why Jesus Christ is our mediator with the Father (p. 152).
For more information, check out “What is Doctrine?”
A principle is a “doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency.” (p. 154?) Principles always are based upon doctrines.
Examples include the first four principles of the gospel as outlined in the fourth [Article of Faith]: faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Principles tell us, “What?” Faith and repentance, for example, tell us what process we go through to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ. They are not specific actions, but are guidelines for the actions (p. 155).
An application is “the actual behavior, step, practice, or procedure by which gospel doctrines and principles are enacted” (p. 156). Unlike doctrines or principles, applications can change according to the time and circumstance.
Examples include attending all three hours of church every week, praying morning and night, or cooking a meal for a friend. On a larger scope, church policies, like the lowest missionary age or standards of modesty have morphed over time.
Applications help us understand, “How?” How do we exercise faith? How do we repent of my sins?
“I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (ezekial 11:19).
Once we really understand these concepts, we began to view our lives differently. When we read the scriptures, for example, we don’t do just because someone in church said that it’s a good thing. We do it because we believe and sustain the prophets of old and their ability to receive revelation for us. We don’t apologize to our friends because we want them to like us again; we do it because we believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its ability to transform us.
When I first learned these concepts, my mind was literally blown. This knowledge has totally transformed the way I live the gospel.
The next time you encounter a gospel-related concept, you may want to ask yourself, “Is it a doctrine, a principle, or an application?” You may find, just like me, that this deepens your understanding, your appreciation, and your ability to follow Christ.