One-Minute Answers by Stephen R. Gibson

Contents of One-Minute Answers

Are Church Publications the Source of Doctrine?

Question: Orson Pratt wrote in The Seer that Jesus was married. Doesn't that make it church doctrine since The Seer was an official publication?

Whether Jesus was married or not is discussed in another answer chapter. However, the question about whether something published in "an official publication," such as The Seer, makes it "official doctrine" deserves a response.

During September of 1852, shortly after the public announcement of the practice of plural marriage among the Saints, Brigham Young appointed Orson Pratt "to write and publish periodicals, pamphlets, books . . . illustrative of the principles and doctrines of the Church" (Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 2, p. 100).

It didn't take Orson Pratt long to give Brigham Young cause for concern over some of his articles in The Seer. In April 1855, Brigham Young wrote to the editor of Great Britain's official LDS Church Publication, The Millennial Star, and asked him to cease republishing The Seer in England. Brigham Young stated that while there were many beautifully written articles in it, there were also "many items of erroneous doctrines" (Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 2, p. 214). For that reason the Saints were cautioned against accepting the magazine.

Orson Pratt continued to publish his personal views in The Seer, ideas that had neither the blessing of the brethren nor the sustaining vote of the members. In 1860, Orson Pratt, after being reprimanded, spoke in the Tabernacle and repented of some of the views that he had advanced in The Seer:

At that time I expressed those views, I did most sincerely believe that they were in accordance with the word of God . . . But I have since learned from my brethren that some of the doctrines I had advanced in The Seer, at Washington, were incorrect. So far as revelation from the heavens is concerned, I have had none in relation to those points of doctrine (Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 2, pp. 218,219). The First Presidency attached the following statement when Pratt's remarks were printed in the Deseret News: "This should be a lasting lesson to the Elders of Israel not to undertake to teach doctrines they do not understand (Ibid, p. 233).
In the Deseret News in 1865, the First Presidency wrote again against some of the doctrine published by Orson Pratt in The Seer.
We consider it our duty, however, and advisable for us to incorporate with this which we have already written, our views upon other doctrines which have been extensively published and widely received as the standard and authoritative doctrines of the Church, but which are unsound. The views we allude to, and which we deem objectionable, have been published by Elder Orson Pratt (Ibid, p. 231).
Then in an almost prophetic manner, perhaps seeing the contention some of these quotes would cause in our day, Brigham Young stated:
We do not wish incorrect and unsound doctrines to be handed down to posterity under the sanction of great names, to be received and valued by future generations as authentic and reliable, creating labor and difficulties for our successors to perform and contend with, which we ought not to transmit to them .... We know what sanctity there is always attached to the writing of men who have passed away, especially to the writing of an Apostle . . . therefore we feel the necessity of being watchful upon these points (Ibid, p. 232).
Only two months after this statement, the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve again spoke out against some of the doctrines published in The Seer and The Star, as well as several other tracts. They "contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed" (Ibid, p. 239).

What the presiding brethren said hardly could have been any plainer, yet many detractors quote liberally and hang onto every unsanctioned and speculative word of Orson Pratt and others published in The Seer, the Journal of Discourses, and other works which have not been accepted as Standard Works of the Church.

It should be plain to all who have read the above quotes that just because an Apostle stated a view or opinion, his idea is in no wise binding on the Church, nor can it be quoted by enemies or friends of the Church as doctrine. There is a canonization process by which latter-day Saints adopt new doctrine and scripture. Items which have not undergone this process are not regarded by Latter-day Saints as doctrine, irregardless of when they are published.