Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning seminary. He currently serves in the high council as the stake Young Men president.
A short time ago a very good friend of mine sent me a text message expressing deep concern over a message he had received from Church leadership. The new information he received seemed to contradict his personal feelings and thoughts. He shared with me his desire to follow his leaders but also how he was torn on how he should act. As I listened to him and thought about what an appropriate response would be, several thoughts came to mind. Do I advise him to go against his church leaders? Should he abandon his feelings and concerns?
In October 2010 general conference, President Oaks has stressed the importance of both a personal line revelation and our priesthood leadership line of revelation. He taught,
“We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny. The restored gospel teaches both, and the restored Church provides both.”
Even more recently, in April 2018 general conference, President Nelson counselled us that,
“In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
As we seek to understand the need for priesthood leadership while also receiving our own revelation, may I suggest a framework for we can act in faith.
Correct Knowledge – Saving Doctrines
The foundation of acting in faith is truth. True faith must be based upon correct knowledge or it cannot produce the desired results. Pure gospel truth is found in the core or fundamental doctrines of the Church. The label of doctrine can often be misunderstood and misused in our church vocabulary. The core or fundamental doctrines of the church are unchanging and pertain to the eternal progression of Heavenly Father’s children. They include the nature of the Godhead, the plan of salvation, the Atonement of Christ, priesthood and priesthood keys, prophets and revelation, ordinances and covenants, marriage, and the eternal family. These doctrines can be referred to as saving doctrines.
There are also non-saving or supportive doctrines. These doctrines help clarify and support the core doctrines but aren’t necessarily vital to our salvation. Supportive doctrines are scripturally based and validated by the first presidency and quorum of the twelve. In addition, they can be found in church publications. To show the difference of the two, a core doctrine would be the Atonement of Christ, His redeeming power, His resurrection. A supporting doctrine may be that Christ was born in Bethlehem, He healed the sick, He bled from every pore in the Garden, He felt all our pains. While this supportive information is important doctrine, I don’t necessarily need to know this information to be saved.
Understanding doctrine leads us to principles. According to Elder Bednar, principles are
“a doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency.”
In other words, principles provide direction. A principle is not a behavior or specific action, rather, principles provide basic guidelines FOR behavior or action. An example of a principle would be faith in Jesus Christ.
Principles work hand in hand with the core doctrines. Many people like to use principles in statements of truth through an If/then statement or a cause-and-effect approach. For example, If God is our Father then I can have complete faith in Him. In short, a principle is a guideline or guardrail that leads us to an application or behavior.
An application is “the actual behavior, step, practice, or procedure by which gospel doctrines and principles are enacted”. Unlike doctrines or principles, applications can change according to the time and circumstance. For example, on a church wide scale, we have seen many applications or policies change over the last few years. It is important to understand that when there is a change in church procedure or policy, that does not mean that the doctrine or principle has changed as well. Many times, it is difficult for those out of the church and in the church to understand that just because a policy has changed, doesn’t mean that a doctrine has changed with it.
We must be very carful about mixing and matching applications with doctrines.
On a personal level applications or behaviors are how we guide our lives and actions on a day-to-day basis. Doctrines teach us the “why”, such as:
- 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
Principles teach us the “what.”
Faith and repentance, for example, tell us what process we go through to access the Atonement of Jesus Christ,
Applications teach more of the “How”. For example, how do I exercise faith?
In nutshell, applications are ways that we conduct ourselves on a day-to-day basis. Examples would be how I treat my family, how I provide service, daily prayer, or scripture study, keeping the sabbath day holy and so forth.
Applications Are Personal
It is important to understand that applications are personal and self-driven. In the church we have cultures and behaviors that are based on traditions or the way the last bishop or stake president did things. Church and family traditions can be wonderful things. However, we must be careful that we don’t set the expectation of application or behavior as a perceived doctrine or principle. We can’t be so culturally ingrained in old school expectations that we inadvertently offend those around us. I can create my own personal application or behavior that I want to use to govern my life, but I can’t enforce that application on others, nor should I even hold them to that standard.
For example, I can say that on Sunday, our family wakes up each Sunday morning at 6am, gets dressed in our Sunday clothes, we have a three-hour family scripture study, no TV, phones or electronics. But what I can’t do is impose that family application on your family. This is a personal application that may be great for our family, but it is only for our family. The true principle is to keep the sabbath day holy. There’s a lot of wiggle room there and what keeping the sabbath day holy looks like for your family, may look different than what it does for my family. And that’s ok.
Those Who Are Lost
I realize this is an extreme example but so often I see this happening. Cultural norms run thick and deep in the church. Too often members and especially youth can be viewed as not having a strong testimony or commitment to the church because they don’t act or do things a certain way. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught,
“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed. Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”
The Gift of Personal Revelation
Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. We have a church handbook that outlines a lot of our activities and procedures, and that is needed. But we also have a lot of area that is left to the individual and their personal feeling and revelation on how to raise their family. One of the greatest blessings our Heavenly Father has given us is the gift of personal revelation.
Another dangerous area to be in with personal applications is treating them like a formula or mathematical equation when it comes to the gospel. So often we think, well if I just do this, or don’t do that, then this blessing will happen.
For example, maybe if I went to the temple once a week, I would earn more money or get better grades in school. Or if bad things happen to us or trials come, we think, I must not be living the right way. I need to do better. This thought process can be a very slippery slope and is false. This line of thinking only leads to guilt and shame. Satan loves to teach us that we are not good enough or not doing enough to receive the blessings we need.
Keep in mind that this pattern flows forwards and backwards. President Boyd K. Packer taught that,
“ True doctrine understood changes behavior.”
Acting in faith implies that we are acting (or our children are acting) in accordance with true doctrine and correct principles. If you have a child that is struggling with a particular behavior, a good practice would be to go back to the principle or doctrine. The rest of President Packer’s quote that seldomly is said with the beginning of his quote is,
“Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.”
Meaning, if all I do as a parent is focus on the negative behaviors, all it will lead to is more negative behavior.
In conclusion, I would like to speak on a keyholder application. A keyholder is a priesthood holder that has been given priesthood keys to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction, such as a ward, stake or mission.
Unlike a personal application, a keyholder can suggest an application with a promise to help bless our lives. For example, President Nelson has provided a keyholder application to read the Book of Mormon. He has also invited the women of the church to study Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants about priesthood. He also invited us to study the restoration of the Church. Each of these applications he invited us to incorporate into our lives came with a blessing for doing so.
Keyholder applications apply the same way priesthood stewardship is applied. Invitations can come from those that have stewardship over a ward or family. However, once that bishop or stake president is released, that keyholder promise is released as well.
Keyholder applications hold true only to those within their stewardship. They do not extend beyond that. For example, a bishop can give a promise to the youth that if they attend seminary every morning, they will be blessed to do better in school. And God will honor that promise. But if the Bishop is released or that young man or young woman move out of the ward, that promise is no longer valid.
They can keep it as a personal application, but then it’s personal. They can’t impose that on the youth of their next ward.
After sharing some of these thoughts with my friend that was struggling with how he should act, my final advice to him was to council with his wife, seek personal revelation on what was the best course of action for their family, and then to move forward in faith. We have been blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost to receive personal revelation and direct our families. As we come to further understand the doctrine and principles of the gospel, we will be able to have better understanding on how to act in faith.