Starting from this question, I'm curious how the LDS church handles the doctrine changes.

I saw a similar question (What is the LDS position on changing doctrine), but what I'm wondering is how this works in practice:

  • Let's assume a new idea comes. Who validates that the new idea is right or wrong? Is there a vote?
  • Where are these changes published?
  • What are some examples of doctrine changes? I expect to see them reflected in the archives of the conferences (or other official archives).
  • Interestingly, the Scriptural use of the term "doctrine" and prevalent scholarly notions of the word are very different. The latter have no reliable definition and can easily be stretched to mean anything and everything that is said by anyone, right down to the individual letters on a page. The former only has two meanings: The Doctrine of Christ, and false doctrine. These are the only two senses in which the term is used in all Scripture. What say we refine the question to "Scriptural doctrine" (which is well-defined), rather than the constantly moving goalposts of scholarly "doctrine"?
    – pygosceles
    Jul 11, 2021 at 8:58

3 Answers 3


Let's assume a new idea comes. Who validates that the new idea is right or wrong? Is there a vote?

Doctrine comes today as it did anciently-through divine revelations to prophets.1

Revelation may come by:

  • His own person
  • His own voice
  • The voice of the Holy Ghost
  • Messenger (Moses, Elias, and Elijah)

Revelation [for the church] may come to:

  • The President of the Church individually
  • Prophets acting in Council

Where are these changes published?

Modern doctrine can be found:

...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 proclamations2,3, and the Articles of Faith.4 cite-not AoF

Mormonnewsroom will publish any official statements the LDS church makes. These statements are also commonly read in ward (local congregations) meetings. These are not doctrine changes but: official church stances, policies, practices, and/or warnings about certain matters that arise in modern times.

What are some examples of doctrine changes? I expect to see them reflected in the archives of the conferences (or other official archives).

  • Word of Wisdom(1833) -the Lord revealed which foods are good for us to eat and which substances are not good for the human body.
  • Official Declaration 1(1890) -led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
  • Official Declaration 2(1978) -removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.

Joseph Smith said:

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.

(Some doctrine is more important than others...there has not been many major doctrine changes within the LDS church since it has been restored.)4

1 https://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/09/how-is-doctrine-established?lang=eng

2 http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Proclamations_of_the_First_Presidency_and_the_Quorum_of_the_Twelve_Apostles the 4th one is available to watch https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1980/04/media/session_4_talk_2/2819783447001?lang=eng the first 3 are before the invention of TV

3 https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true

4 https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/approaching-mormon-doctrine

  • Interesting! I'm missing something here. The Official Declaration 2 mentions that the GC took place in September 1978. In the archives, it appears as October, 1978, but I'm still having trouble finding the subject of race in that set of talks. Also, why are there only two Official Declarations? To make my initial question(s) clearer: where can I find an archive of all the changes across the years (e.g. read the doctrine which was presented in 1977 vs 1979)? Thanks! Feb 15, 2018 at 18:00
  • GC are held bi-annually on the first Sat/Sun of April and October. In 1978 the Sat was Sept 30 (the Sun was Oct 1) but it was for the Oct GC. As mentioned in April '11 GC Elder Holland said no man or woman who speaks here is assigned a topic. so you are right that there was no overall topic of race.
    – depperm
    Feb 15, 2018 at 18:14
  • The Official Declarations are part of the LDS canon of scripture. Changes to our canon are a rare occurrence. They have to be if we are to use them as a measuring stick. ...Only 3 sections and two official declarations have been added to our canon since the death of Joseph Smith. In each case, there was either new doctrine to be declared or a major change in direction for the Church beliefs and practices.(better words then what I could come up with but not from an official LDS source)
    – depperm
    Feb 15, 2018 at 18:14
  • Besides the Official declarations, there have not been any major doctrine changes over the years so there is nothing to compare-see the quote by Joseph Smith in my answer. There may be different policies but I don't know of a site where you can find all of them by year (and they aren't too relevant to this year).
    – depperm
    Feb 15, 2018 at 18:16
  • So, if I get it correctly: it is not required that changes in doctrine would be passed through the General Conference, but whenever they come from the prophets, they are shared ASAP world-wide in the churches. Am I right? If it is so, is there an archive of these kind of announcements which happened in the past? Feb 15, 2018 at 19:31

Let's explore the process by looking at one notable example of a doctrine that has changed over time.

Doctrine & Covenants section 89, commonly referred to as "the Word of Wisdom" among Latter-Day Saints, was a revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith in 1833 concerning the health of church members. It was explicitly given

2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom

The reason that it was "not by commandment or constraint" becomes apparent when you understand the content of the revelation: Among other things, Section 89 is the source of the well-known Mormon prohibition on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Requiring the established members of the church, many of whom used such things heavily at the time, to quit cold-turkey would likely have led to chaos, for medical reasons that are much better-understood today than in the 1830s.

However, by 1851, nearly 2 decades had passed. During the General Conference of the church held in September, Brigham Young (Smith's successor as President of the Church) proposed to all Church members that the Word of Wisdom should be recognized by that point as a binding commandment and that the failure to follow its principles should be regarded as a sin and an act of disobedience.

President Young amongst other things said he knew the goodness of the people, and the Lord bears with our weakness; we must serve the Lord, and those who go with me will keep the Word of Wisdom, and if the High Priests, the Seventies, the Elders, and others will not serve the Lord, we will sever them from the Church. I will draw the line, and know who is for the Lord and who is not, and those who will not keep the Word of Wisdom, I will cut off from the Church; I throw out a challenge to all men and women.

-- Minutes of the General Conference

His proposal was put before the body of the Church for a sustaining vote, per the principle of Common Consent, and was accepted unanimously.

Today, a person who does not follow the Word of Wisdom, who partakes of addictive drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, is not able to be baptized and join the Church, and one who is already a member who breaks these principles is considered to be in need of repentance, and is not worthy to enter the Temple, a standard that everyone is taught that they should meet.

  • 2
    I'd just like to note that on sustaining or Common Consent from the other answer these sustaining votes are not a democratic election, but rather an opportunity for members of the church to show their agreement or opposition to the choices that have been made with regard to leadership positions. Even if a calling or proposal wasn't unanimous it could go forward, see: lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/…
    – depperm
    Feb 15, 2018 at 16:42
  • @depperm, the handbook reference is for dealing with occasional complaints. If half the congregation voted against a call, that call would not go forward. This was the case with the Provo Academy, where the vote to dispose of it was "no." The church remodeled it instead. Common Consent is taken seriously, but it refers to a majority. 51% of the Church (an unbelievable number) can vote the president of the church out of his presidency.
    – JBH
    Mar 28, 2018 at 16:42

There have been no changes at all to the Doctrine of Christ since the very beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ, which was first established on this Earth through Adam, the first man, and the first prophet also on the face of it. However, there have been numerous periods of apostasy, when the understanding of that doctrine was not had by any mortal on the face of the Earth. The same pattern applies today: We learn about the same doctrine of Christ as was preached in the Old and New Testaments, as well as through the newer and additional testaments (A better translation for the word "Testament" here is Covenant), yet the variability of our understanding does not modify the Lord's doctrine, which is eternal. The Lord reveals the things of His kingdom both to the church generally, and to His children individually, incrementally. Therefore the pattern we are perceiving is not one of "changes" to the doctrine, but rather, changes in the extent to which we perceive His doctrine and His plan. In a word, revelation.

I know of no exact metric for determining whether or not a given revelation ought to be canonized except that the Prophets and Apostles propose additions to the canon by revelation from Jesus Christ (just as Peter and Paul received revelations which were later canonized) and they are accepted as such by the law of common consent by the members of the church. In truth we are to "live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God", whether by the Prophet (with a capital P) or by the gift of prophecy among the body of Christ more proximally (lowercase p). All that is inspired of the Holy Ghost is of God, and we will be judged accordingly.

The Doctrine of Christ is the only doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; we have no other doctrine. All Scripture attests to this fact. It has not changed a jot or a tittle since before this world was made, through all the prophetic dispensations. (I speak for myself only, with my own views and testimony, I am not a spokesman for the church).

The Doctrine of Christ

And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do. [Have] faith in [Christ] ... This is the doctrine of Christ. (2 Nephi 31:11-12,19,21)

The degree to which a person understands the Doctrine of Christ is a variable. God's plan of salvation is deeply nuanced, and it is impossible to for mortal man to find out all his ways, yet God gives revelations to man through His prophets and personal revelations by the power of the Holy Ghost precisely for the purpose of bringing His children back into His presence, by redeeming and sanctifying them to the extent they are willing and do His will. God reveals commandments to His children line upon line. Because He has given us commandments, taught principles, or even expounded doctrine in the past, does not mean that He cannot now or in the future give us more commandments, teach us more refined principles, or expound the doctrine further. It is the same doctrine all in all, though our understandings change, His doctrine has never changed, and is the same from all eternity to all eternity.

Policy changes, commandments, revelations

All else, that is, the opinions about why a given policy began or ended, or those policies themselves, or the institution of a new commandment by the Savior to His church, does nothing to change doctrine.

There have been policy changes, which follow what I call "The bathtub principle" of revelation. A mother asks her son to go and fill the bathtub. This requires stopping the drain and turning the faucet to let water in. Later, the same parent asks her son to stop filling the bathtub (because it is full!). A short-sighted person will say the mother is being inconsistent. In reality the policies and practices of the Living Church of the Living Christ must change depending on the conditions of man and are calculated for his salvation and exaltation, yet the doctrine is eternal.

The law that the Lord gave to Moses followed this pattern. There was a time and a place for it, and the Lord was indeed the Giver of it, but the more important loyalty is to the Lord Himself, not to the temporal, that is, the temporary precepts and practices. Nonetheless the Lord requires a willing heart and mind, and our choice to obey Him regardless of the task brings us unto His power of Atonement.

This is the doctrine of Christ: that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are, first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second, repentance, third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, fourth, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. It has always been so. How far those laws and principles are revealed in a given dispensation, or the degree of an individual's understanding of the infinite scope of His vast plan for our happiness, changes nothing in terms of the doctrine. It has never changed; it was made by the unalterable decree of God since before this world was. The dishonest will claim that this is some "new doctrine", but they err, having not understood the doctrine of Christ which was before made known to them by the Scriptures. It is the same doctrine as has always been preached by Prophets and Apostles of Jesus Christ, and by the Lord Himself.

In summary, there has never been a change of doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ, from Adam to Enoch to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus in the meridian of time, to Joseph Smith, to the present-day prophet President Russell M. Nelson. Temporal commandments have come and gone, and policies and procedures have been swapped out and amended by revelation from Jesus Christ, just as circumcision was at first installed and later revoked by the Lord Himself. The laws are eternal, the principles are sure, and the doctrine is forever. "Though the heavens and the Earth shall pass away, [His] word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled." He guides the Church today as He has in the past. This is the doctrine for which all men who ever lived or who ever will live will be held to account before the Judgment Bar of the Almighty God. All the Prophets bear witness of this doctrine, that is, the Doctrine of Christ, that a man must repent and come unto Christ, or he cannot be saved.

  • 2
    The question doesn't ask about the "Doctrine of Christ" but about the doctrine of LDS churches. For example the change to prohibit polygamy. Jul 9, 2021 at 19:05
  • @DJClayworth The doctrine of Christ is the only doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ. The prohibition of polygamy was a policy change. The doctrine remains completely unchanged. I already detailed this at length.
    – pygosceles
    Jul 9, 2021 at 19:24

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