One of the things that have been discussed repeatedly on this blog has been the question of what are considered authoritative sources for current Mormon teaching. Whenever this topic is raised, quite a bit of disagreement has been expressed. One area of contention has been over what weight should be assigned to official church manuals. How authoritative are they?
That is why I was interested to see an article in the January 2010 Ensign carrying the same title as the title of this post. I became even more interested when I saw that it was written by one of the LDS apostles, Russell M. Nelson. That itself lends quite a bit of credibility to the article.
Following are a couple of things that I found interesting. In answer to the question of why the change in curriculum, Nelson writes: “Since we first began using Teachings, millions of people have joined the Church. Many of them have tender testimonies and with relatively limited experience in the Church, will benefit greatly by a focus on the fundamentals of the gospel. In addition, all Church members will benefit b a return to the basics. A careful study of core doctrines as presented in the new and improved Gospel Principles manual will help members strengthen their understanding of the fundamental teachings of the gospel.”
And then under the conclusion entitled “A Timeless Book” he writes, “It is our hope that the new Gospel Principles manual will take a prominent place in the homes and lives of all Latter-day Saints.”
As the word Principles in the title implies, as Nelson states, this is a manual about core and fundamental LDS teachings. LDS teaching involves more than what is presented in Gospel Principles. But wouldn’t you agree that Nelson, in his role as an apostle, presents this manual as a true and authoritative source of the fundamentals of LDS teaching? And that it is only right and proper for non-Mormons to look to it to see what Mormonism teaches? And that such non-Mormon observers of Mormonism have, at the very least, a good reason to become befuddled when individual Mormons disavow or dismiss quotations from Gospel Principles as not authoritative of Mormonism? And isn’t it legitimate to ask why changes are made in each edition of Gospel Principles – changes that are not just cosmetic or made for easier readability – but changes that affect the sense of what is being presented?