Earlier this year I read Increase in Learning by Elder David A. Bednar (my review). In one section he talks about the difference between doctrine, principle, and application. As I read the book I was struck at how often those three terms are interchanged and confused and yet how different they all are. I must admit that even I’ve mistaken principles for doctrine at times.
Elder Bednar defines doctrine as an eternal truth. Doctrine answers “why?” A principle answers the “what?” questions and is a doctrinally based guideline for life. They provide directions. Both doctrine and principles are unchanging. From a single doctrine you can have multiple principles. When you really get right down to it there aren’t that many doctrines either.
That leaves applications, the “how?” of the Gospel. Behaviors, steps, practices, procedures, those can, and do, change as individual needs and circumstances arise. Multiple applications can be associated with a single principle.
I have thought a lot about those definitions over the past several months. I realized that a lot of the time we are talking about applications. Teaching applications will not change behavior in the long run. It will not change a person’s heart. But a true understanding of doctrine allows everything else to naturally fall into place. Truly understanding the doctrine of the family makes the application of the law of chastity a simple matter.
I’ve heard in the news of groups asking for a “change of doctrine” with regards to the priesthood lately. They cite previous “changes” to the doctrine. But doctrines do not change. There have been changes in the application throughout history. But the doctrine of the power of God has not changed. Nor have the principles associated with it. Hanging on to applications as if they were doctrine is a very shaky foundation, one that’s sure to fall.
So I have sought to truly understand the doctrine. Because if I have that then I will know exactly how it is to be applied in my individual circumstances. I’ve sought to teach doctrine when I’m teaching classes at church. I want to base my learning, study, and life in the doctrine, the eternal, unshakable, sure foundation that will make everything else make sense.
It’s a different way to talk about things, and I’m still working on grasping the definitions. But I think it’s definitely worth it for me. Elder Bednar’s second book is called “Act in Doctrine,” which is helping me even further with this idea.
I love books that can motivate me to change internally like that.