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Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie

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Mormon Doctrine Book
Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, was written in 1958. It was written when Bruce R. McConkie was a Seventy, a position of authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but lower in authority than an apostle or prophet. The book was written without review or guidance from church leaders, and included a notation from him that he was entirely responsible for its content. The book has never been an official source for church doctrine.

What is an official source?

"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]

A second edition to Mormon Doctrine was created under the guidance of Spencer W. Kimball, who would later become the prophet of the Church. He guided Elder McConkie through the preparation of the second edition to Mormon Doctrine, suggesting approximately fifty changes to make, and Elder McConkie made other changes on his own. No official doctrine was altered in the book, but the author softened the tone, removed material extraneous to the purpose of the book, and also took out material that was not official doctrine and clarified status on other items. However, Mormon Doctrine is still not an official source of doctrine and the publisher of the second edition states in the front of the book that it is "a reflection on the times and culture in which it was written" and that it “should not be considered an official statement of doctrine.”

Mormon Doctrine remains a Mormon classic. Elder McConkie explains well the basic tenets of the Church in an understandable manner. The format is encyclopedic, so topics are alphabetized. Following are some excerpts from the second edition of the book:

Poor: “Whether people are rich or poor ordinarily does not establish whether they are righteous or wicked. The wealthy and the poverty stricken are found both in and out of the Church; and the Lord in His infinite wisdom tests various of his saints with the perils of poorness and others with the snares of worldly riches. It is true, however, as in the entire Nephite history testifies, that when the saints become rich in worldly wealth, they frequently become proud and haughty and fall into apostate practices and evils.”

Intellectuality: “But it is spirituality, not intellectuality, which is of prime importance in the salvation of man. Intellectuality of itself has no saving virtue; it is only when it is coupled with spirituality that the greatest benefits result.”

First Vision of Joseph Smith: “For instance, if he had said that the Father taught him certain truths (rather than saying that the Father introduced the Son and that the Son gave the actual direction to him), such would have shown his story to be false. Inexperienced as he was, he could not have known that by God’s eternal law it is everlastingly ordained that all revelation comes through Christ and that the Father never does more than introduce and bear record of the Son.”

Revelation: Devout persons of all Christian faiths readily accepted the truth that revelation was poured out upon the faithful, from age to age, from Adam to the days of Christ’s apostles. They suppose, however, that since the apostolic era the heavens have been sealed and that revelation has ceased. In reality souls are just as precious in the sight of God today as they ever were, and revelation is still poured out in abundance so that souls may be led to salvation.”

Looking Back at Mormon Doctrine

The book went out of print in 2010, and a plethora of editorials accompanied its retirement. An article written by Bob Lonsberry was perhaps the most fair and even-handed:

"Understanding 'Mormon Doctrine' and Bruce R. McConkie requires understanding Joseph Fielding Smith [Bruce R. McConkie's father-in-law]. Called to be an apostle in his early 30s, he served for 62 years. For 19 of those years, he was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. His authority was towering and his zeal was significant. His encyclopedic 'Answers to Gospel Questions' was compiled from decades of doctrinal questions he answered in church publications.
"The great compilation of his teachings is titled 'Doctrines of Salvation' and was edited by Bruce R. McConkie in the years immediately before the publication of 'Mormon Doctrine.' Joseph Fielding Smith was a man who ate, breathed and slept doctrine, and Bruce R. McConkie was his protégé.
"Bruce R. McConkie was continuing a tradition of the family he had married into. He was also teaching and testifying of truth in the bold, declarative manner of his culture and personality.
"During the 13 years of his apostolic ministry, Bruce R. McConkie was beloved by the Mormon people. His distinctive voice and unshaken certitude were the hallmarks of a generation. His final General Conference address, a powerfully sacred testimony, was given just days before his death.
"But Bruce R. McConkie wasn’t politically correct then and he isn’t politically correct now. His unwavering certainty bothered those who didn’t share it, and those whose faith could not match his questioned and mocked it.
"Bruce R. McConkie was in the positions he held, for the decades he held them, because the Lord wanted him there. He was every bit as much an apostle as anyone else in the quorum. He was called by God and sustained by the church. There is no such thing as a lesser apostle.
"Nor is there any such thing as an infallible man, and there may be random errors in Bruce R. McConkie’s writings. He may also have sometimes stepped on people’s toes – inadvertently or on purpose. But he honored his priesthood and he magnified his calling. And he did what he set out to do – he boldly declared the doctrines of the Mormon church."

Often in his book, McConkie declared the meaning of prophecies from the Bible, or stated his own opinions. Because of his very authoritative tone, which left no room for other opinions, people assumed that everything he said was owned by the Church. Yet, McConkie's disclaimer is there at the beginning, that this was his own work and his own opinions, and not those of the Church.

References

  1. Harold B. Lee, 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. Quoted from "Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders", on Fair Wiki
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