Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Doctrines, Principles, and Applications

Today, I've been watching the DVD that comes along with Elder David A Bednar's book, "Increase in Learning". One of the principles he highlighted in the DVD is that of Doctrine, Principles, and Application, and the roles of the three. It has caused me to seriously reflect and ponder on this lesson he taught.

Doctrine is divine truth revealed by God to man through a prophet, binding on the whole church. They are very fundamental: such as the Plan of Salvation, the Nature of God, or the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ's Atoning sacrifice. President Boyd K Packer once taught, "True doctrineunderstood, changes attitudes and behavior" (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1986/10/little-children?lang=eng). That is the importance of Doctrine that Elder Bednar touched on. He incessantly asked people (when they brought up specific questions) :What doctrine, understood, would change that individual's behavior?

To know what he means, he differentiated between knowing the doctrine and understanding the doctrine. Knowing the doctrine involves getting it into your head. Understanding doctrine involves getting it into your heart. Only the Holy Ghost can help us understand doctrine: only though the spirit can the gospel get planted deep into our hearts.

Out of these overarching doctrines come principles. The definition of a principle is "a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived" (definition 2 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/principle?s=t). Examples of this would be the Law of Chastity, or that the Lord wants us to not harm our bodies (in teaching the Word of Wisdom), or that we "treasure up continually the words of eternal life" in the context of Gospel Study.

Applications come from those principles. Out of the principle of the Law of Chastity comes the application of not dating until you turn 16. Out of the principle of not doing harm for our bodies comes the application of abstaining from smoking. Out of the principle of "treasuring up continually" comes reading a chapter from the Book of Mormon every night.

Elder Bednar taught that nothing really fits into these boxes. Something that could be a principle in one situation could be a Doctrine in another and vice versa, and even applications can end up being "noodled around" with (his words, not mine). The Law of Chastity, for example, could be a principle in the context of The Plan of Salvation, but a doctrine in its own right with the principle of controlling thoughts with the application of not viewing pornography.

So why are these things really even brought up? It is because far too often we only teach the applications. The power comes in the understanding of the doctrine and the principles of the Gospel. Without the doctrine or the principles, the applications become a mechanical check box of things to do. For examples of this, one need look no further than the Pharisees in Christ's day. They were so focused on the applications (how many steps you can take on the Sabbath) that they failed to see the principles (keeping the Sabbath day Holy) or the doctrine (Obedience to God's Commandments).

When you include the relations of the application to principles and doctrine, that gives power behind the application. "[T]he elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel" the commandment says (Doctrine & Covenants 42:12). That is what the Lord expects of us. The doctrines and the principles of the Gospel is what are necessary to be taught, and then people can figure out the applications themselves. (Though there is no harm in including an application or two as an example).

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." That is the pattern that we must follow. We give men and women opportunity to be agents to themselves: to act and not merely be acted upon when we teach the principles. When we teach in this way, the Spirit will be with us, and we will be teaching by the Spirit, not behind the Spirit, not in front of the Spirit, but by the Spirit. He will carry the truth unto their hearts, and then it is up to them to let it into their heart or understanding the doctrine.

I testify that as we teach the doctrines and the principles, that the applications will flow naturally therefrom, and the power of our teaching will increase with our learning.