What is the next step to learning how to feast upon the words of Christ? Now that we have learned how to identify, we need to know how to understand doctrine and principles! The best description of what it means to understand the doctrine and principles I have find is from the Seminary Bible. OK, it’s real name is the Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook. But on the topic, it reads as follows:
To understand a gospel doctrine or principle means that students comprehend the identified truths, their relationship with other principles and doctrines in the Lord’s plan, and in what circumstances the principle might be applied in their lives. (Understand Doctrines and Principles 2.5.2 Gospel Teaching and Learning)
This can be a real challenge. Sometimes a doctrine stands up on the page and slaps you around a bit and you instantly know “that’s a doctrine”. Just because you know what it is, however, doesn’t mean you recognize how it fits into the gospel, or into someone’s life. You may be sensing a theme, but the answer lays in questions.
Questions to Understand Doctrine and Principles
Questions, questions, questions, always questions. A good question I should spend some time on, myself, might be why does Heavenly Father want us to ask so many questions? Putting that aside for another time, however, questions that lead to understanding are primarily “what” and “how” questions. For instance, in Acts 26 I identified a principle of “Part of repentance is doing works fit for that repentance“. Some of my questions for understanding this principle might include:
- What works are fit for repentance?
- How does doing works fit into the doctrine of repentance?
- What works might I need to do to repent of the things I have done?
And a bunch of other options. The handbook gives a lot of great example questions if you want to take a look, the point of this guide is not to replace the Gospel Teaching and Learning book, but to simplify the process. Ask yourself detailed questions about what the nugget you have extracted means. About how it fits into the overall plan, or into the specific principle that it is attached to. Define for yourself where the doctrine or principle applies and you will understand it.
How else can I understand?
One of the suggestions is to look for the relationship between the doctrine or principle you have found and others in the gospel. Again, this is one of those things that people have been telling me since I joined the church, without ever actually explaining HOW to do that. To be honest, it’s still something I am working on! I have my “old method” which still works for me often, and I’m developing habits towards a “new” method. Neither of these are earth shatteringly revelatory, but they’re important steps along the path to understand doctrine and principles.
The “Old” Method
My old method is thinking about other principles and doctrine that I have previously learned. I know, crazy right. Sit still for a little while, and think about how what you just found fits into your old way of thinking. Does it match what you already knew? Or does it shed new light? Does it contradict something you thought? Maybe it argues against something you have a strong testimony of, or have been taught by a higher authority? Be aware, that if those last two questions pop up, it’s not the end of the world. Contradictions are out there, and have to be studied. If we shy away from any question that raises questions, we’re just going to have to follow blindly, which is not what the gospel is about.
A word to the wise. Don’t be afraid to not understand something. It’s OK to be left with questions. In fact, if you aren’t left with a few questions about how things work, you might want to expect a sudden departure from life, because you’ve just worked it all out, and Heavenly Father will want to get you to heaven before you mess up. Questions are good, when they’re kept in the light of faith. Don’t depart from faith because you don’t understand everything, the whole point of faith is that you believe in something you know to be true, without being able to see all the details.
So ask questions. Figure out how this principle fits in with what you already know, then move on to finding out how it fits with what you don’t know.
The “New” Method
Google it. No seriously, I know that seems like a crazy idea when scripture studying, but just write out your complete statement of doctrine, or complete principle, tack on the words LDS (or don’t) and see what pops up. Look for authorized sources that can truly shed light on the relationship between your principle and the gospel. If you find some, give them a read and consider what is said. If you don’t, close Google down and go back to the scriptures.
Once you’re back in the scriptures, check the footnotes, and actually follow them. Check the bible dictionary and topical guide on the primary words of your doctrine or principle. In other words, spend some time doing the research. You’ll be glad you did.
Preparing for the next step
The last step to understand doctrine and principles is to look for situations in your life, or in the lives of others, where the principle might apply. Ask how the principle can be applied to your life. Then ask how you have seen it applied in the lives of others. A good question can often be “what would it look like, if someone applied this principle”. Or even, “what would I need to change, to apply this principle”. This really starts into the next topic, “Feeling the Truth of Doctrine and Principles“, which is why it is an essential last step to understanding.
As you run through the bulk of these steps with each principle you identify, you will come to understand doctrine and principles.