For my BYU-Idaho Pathway class we take turns teaching. One of the things we teach in the religion class is a Study Skill. This week it was my turn to teach. I taught about searching the Scriptures for Doctrine and Principles.
Here is a VERY limited outline of some of the things we talked about: (These notes are compiled from teachings by Elder Bednar. You can find references both in conference talks and in his books, beginning with Increase in Learning.)
Doctrine WHY (Why we do the things we do, why we believe the things we believe)
ETERNAL…does this still apply when we live with God?
9 Basic Doctrines (for more information on the 9 Basic Doctrines see https://www.lds.org/manual/basic-doctrines/basic-doctrines?lang=eng )
Plan of Salvation
Atonement of Jesus Christ
Dispensation, Apostasy, Restoration
Prophets and Revelation
Priesthood and Priesthood keys
Ordinances and Covenants
Marriage and Family
Principles WHAT (What we believe, What is important, What is truth)
Doctrinal based guidelines for the exercise of agency
Truth that can be applied to anything/any circumstance (portable)
Application HOW (How I live the gospel, How I use my agency)
Righteous applications are based on principles
Righteous applications are based on doctrines
Righteous applications can vary according to needs and circumstances
After I shared these thoughts, I gave them the big wammy: Is Thou Shalt Not Kill a doctrine? Always leads to a good discussion :)
Take a minute and think about it, in regards to what is taught above.
If you are like me you might think: Well it is a commandment, and commandments are doctrine so it must be a doctrine. But then I always think...but in eternity we will not be able to kill, so it is not an eternal commandment, it is a commandment for right now, so perhaps it is not a doctrine.
It must be a principle then. I definitely believe that I should not kill and that this is important and a truth, so it must be a principle. It is based on a doctrine(commandment) but then I think...has it been applied in every circumstance? Obvious the answer is No, just read the Old Testament, or First Nephi. There are times and places the Lord has commanded people to kill. So perhaps it is not a principle.
It must be an application. It is how I live my life. It is how I use my agency. However when I think about the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill, being something that varies according to needs and circumstances I really don't feel comfortable saying that! (Although we do often make the ten commandments seem like applications-- I don't have to keep the Sabbath day holy this week, I am on vacation. Or I don't need to honor my parents, I am a teenager. etc.)
I used to skip over the story of Nephi killing Laban when my kids were little because I didn't know how to deal with the contradiction. How do I teach them the ten commandments and then tell them...well some people don't have to obey these commandments all the time.
And this is the cool thing about studying and seeking to understand doctrines instead of applications. We can know Why.
Here is my personal answer: I do believe that Thou Shalt Not Kill is doctrine. And this is why. God has commanded me to not kill anyone. God's commands must be obeyed in order for me to have salvation. God's commands will also be obeyed in Heaven. God's commands are a doctrine. We are to obey whatever God commands.
Sometimes in our limited mortal thinking we think "these are the 10 commandments I must keep" If we pick the ten commandments apart we may say they are applications, since some of them seem to be laws that only apply to earth life. But the doctrine is to obey God's commandments--whatever they are (10 or 10,000). God may give us continual commands or personal commands. The doctrine is to obey God's commands.
Sometimes, and in some instances and to some people, God has given commandments that are contrary (or more) to previous commandments. Christ gave one that applies to Thou Shalt Not Kill in His sermon on the mount and in 3rd Nephi. Christ commanded us that we not even be angry with our brother. This commandment does not take away the fact that we should not kill, but adds that we should not even be angry...Yikes! Still working on that one.
In First Nephi, Nephi was given a command from God to kill Laban. This commandment clearly violated a commandment that Nephi already knew. What a faith testing experience for Nephi! However, let us ponder on some things that are not specifically shared in the scriptures. Murder was NOT something that Nephi desired or sought. He certainly had just cause...Laban had already thrown him out, stolen his property and tried to kill Nephi and his brothers. I think many would cry self defense and justified. But Nephi did not seek to kill out of his own feelings and thinking regarding Laban. It was not a solution he came up with and then asked God for permission. It was a foreign idea to him. His idea was always to keep God's commands--including Thou Shalt Not Kill. When the spirit constrained him to kill Laban, Nephi shrunk back from the task. It was only after gaining further understanding that Nephi was willing to obey this new commandment.
Another thing to ponder, not specifically shared in the scriptures, Nephi went right back to obeying the commandment, thou shalt not kill, after obeying the single command to kill Laban. Certainly Nephi could have justified killing Laman and Lemuel. They abused him physically, they sought his life, they tied him up, they mocked him on every hand. He could have even used the same reason that the Lord gave for killing Laban--that Laman and Lemuel might cause a nation to dwindle in unbelief. In fact he had seen visions of that very thing happening! But he did not. He did not justify that because God had commanded him to kill one time, that he was now at liberty to take any life he wanted. In fact Nephi laments at one point during his writings that he is wicked..and what does his wickedness stem from? Being Angry with his brothers! Nephi already understands (600 years before Christ gave the command) to not be angry with his brothers.
A person in our class also asked about the Word of Wisdom. If it was just an application that could vary on personal circumstances. Another tricky one. The Word of Wisdom has not always been around. The age old argument: Jesus drank wine, so why don't we, etc. The Word of Wisdom is a command. God has often given his people laws regarding diet, even from the beginning with Adam and Eve being commanded to not eat of the fruit of the tree. The Israelites had an extensive law of health for their time. We have a law of health for our time. While the law of health may change from time to time I do believe that it is a doctrine--not because we will only be able to eat certain food in heaven, but because in heaven we will be required to keep all of God's commands. It is a command from God, and therefore it is a commandment until God rescinds the commands, issues a new command, issues a further command, or gives you a personal command. He is God and may do any and all of the above. (BUT...a caution, my own feelings are that He does not change commandments for our own personal gain. He did not change Nephi's command because Nephi asked him to. He did not change Nephi's command because that would make Nephi's life so much easier if he didn't have to deal with Laban. We must always be mindful and not justify our own desires.)
I used to get scared to teach my kids the Nephi killed Laban story because I worried that the contradiction would shake their testimonies. But the world around us is full of contradictions. We must teach ourselves and our families how to find the answers to the seeming contradictions. We must seek to understand the Lord. Once I gained this small understanding about the doctrine of commandments, I was able to change my thinking from "The commandments" to "God's commands". It opened up a whole new understanding for me about that doctrine. It brought peace, comfort and even joy.
I believe that as meaningful as the Proclamation on the Family is for us today. That is how meaningful an understanding of these nine doctrines will be for the youth of the church in 20 years. I hope that as you study that you are able to find His doctrines and His why's and find peace and joy in His gracious plan for each of us.