Thursday, August 2, 2007

Why No LDS Catechism?

A frequent question that is asked by non-LDS (especially Catholics) is why the LDS Church does not have an officially approved Catechism, wherein the doctrine of the Church can be systematically and formally defined. They say that that is because LDS doctrine is subject to frequent change! That is certainly not true. LDS doctrine is eternally fixed and defined in the scriptural canon of the Church, known among us as the standard works (i.e. the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price). We do not have a catechism because we prefer to let the word of God to speak for itself, rather than let someone else tell us what it should say. It is the policy of the LDS Church to encourage Church members to learn to extract true doctrine directly from the scriptures, rather than indirectly through some other source. We believe that no one can do better than what God Himself has done, in defining the doctrines of the Church in His own revelations and scripture that He has given to the Church. That is why they are given. There is nothing that man can do that can improve on what God has done.

Having a catechism does not mean that doctrine cannot change. It is more likely to change! It is scripture that does not change. Catechisms can and do change. Has the catechism of the Catholic Church always been the same? Has the Catholic Church always had a catechism? When was it written? Has it never been revised or changed? Has it evolved? What is the history of it? According to an article in the Wikipedia on the Catechism, “The current Catechism of the Catholic Church [is] the first complete rewrite since the Council of Trent in 1566.” So it looks like the Catechism of the Catholic Church has not always been the same. Maybe Catholic doctrine is not so “unchanging” after all! But scripture dose not change. The word of God is unchanging and eternally true. That is the ultimate, authoritative source of LDS theology and doctrine.

I am sure that if a “Mormon Catechism” was published by the Church, it would prove very popular among a segment of the LDS community. The reason why the Church does not want to publish one is that, firstly, no such book written by man will ever be perfect. One would always be able to find flaws in it; whereas the word of God is perfect. The doctrine of the LDS Church is ultimately that which is revealed in LDS scripture. Such a book could not “add” anything to what the Lord has already revealed in scripture; neither could it “express” it any more correctly and accurately. It would always be something less perfect than the word of God itself, and you would always be able to discover flaws in it. I like what the Psalmist has written about the virtues of the word of God:

Psalms 19:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

8 The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

That is the sentiment about the word of God that the LDS Church adheres to. We don’t want to supplant the word of God with man a made catechism.

Secondly, a catechism, no matter how well prepared, can never provide an answer to every conceivable or unexpected doctrinal, theological, procedural or moral question that can arise in the Church. The word of God, however, always seems to have an ability to give us answers to every unexpected theological or moral question, or an unexpected situation we may find ourselves in life.

Thirdly, the Church wants its members to become authoritative interpreters of scripture so that they can find for themselves the answer to any such question that may arise in their lives, as directed by the Spirit of the Lord, rather than some imperfect man-made catechism. A catechism if published would tend to replace the scriptures in the minds of many LDS as the primary source of LDS theology and doctrine, which would not be a desirable situation from an LDS perspective. It is the will of the Lord that LDS should familiarise themselves with the revelations of God, and develop the love for and the ability to extract correct doctrine directly from them, rather than relying on secondary, imperfect, man-made sources. The scriptures too seem to be of this opinion. In the Old Testament we read:

Deuteronomy 30:

10 If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

11 For this commandment which I command thee this day [i.e. scripture], it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.

12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Moses seems to be very emphatic. He is not commanding the Jews to create a “catechism,” and then hearken to the catechism. He is commanding them to hearken directly to the word of God itself, as preserved in its purity, in its original form as penned by the prophet; and in order that they may not misunderstand, he emphasizes it by saying: “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” That is what the Lord wants all mankind to do with the word of God, not to replace it with some catechism. He wants us to read the scriptures themselves, and learn to understand them, extract our doctrine directly from them, and then follow them. In the New Testament Paul gives a similar counsel to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;

15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

I don’t see any room here for creating a catechism, and relying on the catechism instead of the word of God. The reliance is solely on the word of God, without an intermediate “catechism” coming in between. The Book of Mormon too gives us good counsel in that regard:

2 Nephi 32:

3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

To sum it up, the catechism of the LDS Church it is the standard works! There is no need to write another.

One sources of confusion when discussion this subject with Catholics is that the Catechism has two different meanings in the minds of a Catholic. The role of the Catechism of the Catholic Church initially was simply to provide basic instructional material for use by new members, or those being instructed to become members of the church—hence the meaning of the words “catechize,” “catechist,” and “catechumen”. In that sense of the term, there is no objection to a catechism. The LDS Church too has special instructional materials intended for use by new converts and investigators. There is a book called Gospel Principles that is used to teach investigators and new members the basic doctrines of the Church. It is used as a textbook to teach new members, for the first year after they join, the basic doctrines of the Church. After that they graduate to the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class, where the textbook of study is the scriptures themselves. There are even online resources for people who want to familiarize themselves with the basic beliefs and doctrines of the Church. They can be seen here, and here. In that sense of the term, I have no objection to a catechism, and I don’t believe the LDS Church would object either. But the Catechism over the centuries has acquired a different significance in the Catholic Church. As the Catholic Church has over many centuries drifted away from its original shores, and wandered off into uncertain waters, the Catechism has acquired a significance that it originally did not have—it has become a standard document to officially and authoritatively define the doctrine of the Catholic Church. That is a role which we are not prepared to give it. To LDS the scriptures (the standard works) are, and can ever be, the only source that authoritatively defines Church doctrine. There is nothing else that can ever assume that role. When Catholics talk about the Catechism, they usually have both these two different meanings in mind, and unconsciously switch between the two in their thoughts. It is important to point out to them that LDS have no objection to a catechism as originally intended and used in the early Christian church—i.e. as instructional materials for new converts. It is only in the second meaning it has acquired in the Catholic Church that the LDS Church would object to. To sum it up, the catechism of the LDS Church is the standard works! There is not need to write another.

The LDS Church does not have a Catechism for more or less the same reasons that it does not have a written liturgy. The traditional established churches, such and Catholic and Orthodox, have huge liturgical volumes in which every aspect of every church service for every Sunday of the year in prescribed in minute detail. The nearest thing that we have to a written liturgy is the two sacramental prayers that are offered over the bread and water (which are prescribed by revelation), and which can be written on half a sheet of paper. We don’t have anything comparable to the massive liturgies of the established churches, and I am convinced never will. In modern LDS scripture that is forbidden. The Church is commanded to conduct its services as moved upon by the Holy Ghost:

Moroni 6:

9 And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

D&C 20:

45 The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.

D&C 46:

2 But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.


Joesif Smyff said...

Your leaps of logic astound me!

Your bizarre perversions of Scripture impress even the ghost of Communist dialecticians!

I think you mean "LSD" whenever you write "LDS" cuz man, you be on one shuckin an' jivin' trip!

Loretta said...

CATECHISM. (1) A handbook of questions and answers for teaching the principles of a religion. (2) Any similar handbook for teaching the fundamentals of a subject. (3) A formal series of questions; close questioning. [Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, 1970.]

The venerable textbook "Gospel Principles" fits definition #1.

Sarcastikus said...

Wouldn't Joseph Smith's "Lectures on Faith", which was included in the first edition of The Doctrines and Covenants (then known as "The Book of Commandments") be considered a catechism?

Anonymous said...

First off, you have no authority to write a blog such as this and state everything as fact. Only our Prophet can do such a thing in regards to doctrine. Secondly, I highly recommend you read "A History of Mormon Catechisms" from the book "A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration." I think you will find that your argument has been soundly reputed in the aforementioned text. The early LDS church did make use of catechisms, and then faded out in the early twentieth century.

Anonymous said...

Mormons don't have a catechism because they don't want non-Mormons to know their true beliefs in their COMPLETENESS. Why stir up trouble?

For instance to deny the standard Trinitarian formulation of Christianity simply opens oneself up to a charge of polytheistic paganism. So silence is golden.

I further don't see the justification for a massive onslaught on Roman Catholicism. This is about Mormonism. Not anti-catholicism. Also I am unaware of any of the major traditions of CHristianity which do not have a published catechism, whether called by that name or something else.

Jim said...

This seems to be approximately 10 years old but... Your stance about Mormons not having a catechism is strongly opinionated. I would reiterate that you stated in the intro to this "defense" that this is your opinion and you don't officially represent the church. We do have a catechism back from 1858. I not sure why this is not more widely known but it is found here in our historical special collections library of Brigham Young University. If I were unfamiliar with the special collections I would say that it is my opinion that our church tends to look to the leaders twice a year in world conference scheduled at for summary and enlightenment of the doctrine. I think the conference goes a little beyond that but it more closely helps us with the two great commandments of loving our Great God and serving, lifting, helping and healing our neighbor. It is not for members only but view the conference and see if your heart expands.

zerinus said...

Thank you Jim for the interesting find. However that book, titled CATECHISM FOR CHILDREN, was just that, a children's training or education book, and it was not an official Church publication. It was published by Elder John Jaques in the UK, and cannot be regarded as an official Church publication. When I say that the LDS Church does not have a catechism, I mean in the same sense that the Catholic Church, for example, has a catechism—meaning a volume in which the doctrine of the Church is officially and formally declared and enshrined. In that sense of the term the LDS Church does not have, and never has had a catechism. Just because two things are called "catechisms," it does not follow that they are the same kind of things, or serve the same purpose. That is a distinction that you do not appear to be aware of. As for the rest of your comments, I can only assume that you had not read my post carefully enough. I suggest that you go back and read it again before making further comments. I had stated that the LDS Church does have publications that partially serve the same purpose, such as the Gospel Principles manual for example. And again as I had stated, the reason why the LDS Church does not have an official catechism (like the Catholic Church), is because our doctrines are enshrined in the Standard Works, and we like it to stay that way. General Conferences has nothing to do with it.