Recently, I have seen the following quote presented in multiple Mormon discussion groups:
“The Church has confined the sources of doctrine by which it is willing to be bound before the world to the things that God has revealed, and which the Church has officially accepted, and those alone. These would include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price; these have been repeatedly accepted and endorsed by the Church in general conference assembled, and are the only sources of absolute appeal for our doctrine.”
– B. H. Roberts, sermon of 10 July 1921, delivered in Salt Lake Tabernacle, printed in Deseret News, 23 July 1921, sec. 4, p. 7
This quote seemed to be being passed around by Mormons in an attempt to silence any critic who would quote anyone or anything other than Mormon scripture as a source of Mormon Doctrine. In other words, it doesn’t matter what anyone says, even the Prophets and Apostles of the Church, nothing but what can be found in the scriptures is “Official Church Doctrine”.
That’s quite a statement coming from member of a church which claims to be “the only true church” and which points out not only the importance of but the need for modern-day prophets and apostles. We need them, but it doesn’t matter what they say because they might be mistaken? In fact, when I recently pressed a member for an answer on this, I pointed out that what they were saying was that the Mormon Church’s only real claim has nothing at all to do with “truth”, then, but with “power and authority”. They agreed.
Anyway, I found a more recent reference to “Approaching Mormon Doctrine”, which states:
“Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.”
– The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon Newsroom, Approaching Mormon Doctrine, 4 May 2007
Though this more recent reference does reiterate that official church doctrine resides in the four standard works, it clearly includes official declarations and proclamations. In fact, it seems to also include any official church publication, as it is clearly stated that this is where “established doctrine” is “consistently proclaimed”. That those doctrines are derived from and supported by the four standard works, etc, doesn’t preclude those doctrines from being found in other places, in official church publications in particular. Therefore, it doesn’t preclude those looking for official church doctrine from consulting such publications and not being limited to just the four standard works of the church. And, of course, this should make perfect sense to any reasonable person. Members of this Church subscribe to and refer to these publications for a reason. They are valuable resources and one of the means by which Church Leaders reach the membership and reiterate/reinforce Church Doctrine.
It’s not “every idle word” that we are interested in. But those things a Prophet or Apostle of the Lord speaks from behind the pulpit in his church or that he publishes in writing aught not be considered “idle words” or “mere speculation”, as this is not the place to share such things, in my opinion.