Something that has always confused me in online discussions of LDS doctrine is the term “folk doctrine.” Apparently there are saints that think in terms of folk doctrine vs. “official” Church doctrine. On the other hand, I think in terms of true doctrine vs. false doctrine. How often do we hear our prophet-leaders talking about so-called folk doctrine? For that matter, how often do we here them making a distinction between “official” and any other kind of doctrine? Not very often, I don’t believe.
Recently I read something something by Elder Gerald N. Lund in the February 1982 issue of the Ensign. He wrote in answer to a question about President Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet about God having once been a man:
To my knowledge there has been no “official” pronouncement by the First Presidency declaring that President Snow’s couplet is to be accepted as doctrine. But that is not a valid criteria for determining whether or not it is doctrine.Generally, the First Presidency issues official doctrinal declarations when there is a general misunderstanding of the doctrine on the part of many people. Therefore, the Church teaches many principles which are accepted as doctrines but which the First Presidency has seen no need to declare in an official pronouncement. This particular doctrine has been taught not only by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, but also by others of the Brethren before and since that time.
That pretty much sums up my feelings about folk doctrine. A doctrine or teaching is not false just because there is no “official” pronouncement on the matter. And there are undoubtedly many folk doctrines that are also true doctrines. False doctrine, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. False doctrine needs to be proclaimed against. Those who promulgate false doctrine need to be lovingly corrected. Our living prophets do, in fact, frequently proclaim against false doctrine and false teachers. Elder Ballard spoke on this interesting topic in a recent General Conference.
Perhaps the most important sermon ever given to the Church in this dispensation, The King Follett Discourse, was Joseph Smith himself proclaiming against false doctrine and false teachers. Yet this sermon has never been canonized. It is not in our standard works. Does that make it folk doctrine or false doctrine? I don’t think so.
So whenever I hear a person ridiculing folk doctrine, I just assume he means a doctrine he doesn’t agree with. If it was a false doctrine, he would call it that. At lease that is my assumption.