“I wish we all had a better understanding of the loving doctrine and policies that our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have established in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” So states President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor of The First Presidency in “Divine Love in the Father’s Plan” (April 2022 General Conference).
Before jumping into the doctrines President Oaks discusses, I want to point out that Articles of Faith 1:11 states:
We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.Articles of Faith 1:11
Why do I put this in here? I recently had an interesting experience. A letter came for Cheryl and me from another church. In it, the author tried to prove the doctrine of the LDS Church was wrong. The author brought up the usual argument about John’s words in Revelations about adding on to the book. He/she didn’t stay on that track very long. Instead, he/she went to Galatians 1:6-9. This is Paul talking to the Galatians about people apostatizing from the church and teaching doctrine contrary to the Gospel of Christ. The author was trying to state that there couldn’t be any more revelation and that the Restoration couldn’t have happened because it would be contrary to the gospel of Christ. The question then becomes, is the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contrary to the gospel Christ preached on the earth? Let’s look at the three pieces of doctrine President Oaks discussed and see.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John records these words of the Savior. In the doctrine of the LDS church, it has been revealed that after judgment each of us will receive a degree of glory. This matches what Jesus said. There isn’t a binary choice between Heaven and Hell. There are degrees. If you think about it, that makes sense. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us lives a different life. The rewards we receive will be based on the life we lead. In God’s mercy and judgment, the proper reward will be given to each of us so that we may live in a place we can abide.
God has “revealed doctrine and established commandments based on eternal law” that allow us to carve our own path. We can choose what we will follow and what we will not. However, in order to gain the highest degree of glory, we must do our best to live by all the doctrines and obey all the commandments. “The purpose of the doctrine and policies of this restored Church is to prepare God’s children for salvation in the celestial glory and, more particularly, for exaltation in the highest degree.”
God doesn’t only give us doctrine and commandments. He gives us ordinances and covenants. In the temple, these ordinances and covenants lead us to the exaltation President Oaks speaks of. We also get a glimpse into what the various degrees of glory feel like. The temple shows us what rewards await us if we can endure to the end and live a life that strives toward perfection.
In order to have justice and mercy, we must have individual agency. This doctrine was taught by Jesus many times. The one that stands out to me most is the story of His encounter with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26. The young man asked an honest question of the Master and was praised for his goodness. When he asked, “what lack I yet?”, Jesus answered that he was to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Christ. Note that Jesus did not command him to do this. The choice was left up to him. The young man had many riches and this was a hard thing for him. He went away and as far as we have record did not come back to follow Christ.
In the same way as the young man in this episode of Christ’s life, we each have the agency to follow Him. We choose to live the doctrines, the commandments, receive the ordinances, and make covenants with God. Our lives are our own and we are not forced to do anything against our will. Without our individual agency, we would feel like slaves, forced to do the will of our slave master. That is NOT God’s plan nor his doctrine.
The final doctrine President Oaks discusses centers around the family. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is properly known as a family-centered Church.” Being family-centered is not an earth-life concept. The family has been a part of God’s plan since our pre-mortal existence. He is our Father and that alone should be enough to explain why the family is so important.
President Nelson has stated that “exaltation is a family matter.” This means that we cannot achieve the highest degree of glory alone. It is to be accomplished as part of a family sealed in an eternal relationship in the temple by one having authority to perform such an ordinance. The definition of this sealing is to be between a man and a woman. In today’s world, not everyone believes this or sees things in the same way. This is why the article of faith I quoted above is so important. We claim the privilege of believing that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Others claim the privilege of believing differently. THAT IS OK! What’s not ok is when we try to force others to believe or see things our way.
We read in Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-46 about how members of the church should act towards others. Look at the words used, persuasion, long-suffering, love unfeigned, kindness, gentleness, meekness. We should not be arguing with anger. We should explain our beliefs and let others explain theirs. If others don’t believe the same as we do, we don’t give in to their views, but we continue in ours showing love to all mankind.
I admit that this part of President Oaks’ address has caused some angst. He does state that the doctrine of eternal marriage “is why we teach that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’”
There is an “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Satan tries to persuade men to believe in things that are not part of the gospel of Christ. He likes to blur the lines and have us reason out for ourselves what things should be true. The very agency we have been granted is used against us in order to have us veer off the path to exaltation. However, we can use our agency to know what is right. We have the right to reach out to God and find out for ourselves what the doctrine is.
The other part of this that is reassuring is that I don’t need to make a judgment about others’ beliefs. As quoted above, I let all men have the same privilege to worship how, where, or what they may. What I do know is that God will judge each of us individually. He will take into account everything about our lives. He will know what trials we have had, what weaknesses we endured, and what light and knowledge we have been given. Then in mercy and love He will judge us and determine the degree of glory best suited for us individually.
“As followers of Christ who should love our fellow men, we should live peacefully with those who do not believe as we do.” This statement is an echo of the article of faith above. It should guide us in our interactions with others. It also reinforces the Savior’s command to “love thy neighbor”. The doctrines in President Oaks’ address do NOT, in my opinion, contradict the gospel of Christ. I thought about responding to the letter I received and the ways I could counter the arguments made about the Church. However, I decided to use that letter to help reinforce my testimony and to be true to Article of Faith 1:11. The author has the privilege of worshipping how, where, or what he may as do we all.