I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is to have a firm testimony of basic key doctrines. It seems like we take key doctrines for granted – we learn them when we’re young or new to the gospel, and then, as we start to focus on deeper doctrines, we stop paying as much attention to the basic doctrines.
Here’s the thing – we never outgrow basic doctrines. They aren’t like training wheels on a bike so much as foundational building blocks. As we get older, we just learn to see them differently and can gain more from them.
But does that make the doctrines essential? Why do we need to focus so much on key doctrines in the gospel?
Corianton and Alma
One of my favorite prophets in the Book of Mormon is Alma, which probably won’t shock anyone considering that I mention him fairly often. I especially like the chapters when he’s teaching his son, Corianton.
Alma knew that Corianton had committed some sins and was struggling with his testimony, so Alma sat down with him and talked it out. I think one of the best things he does with Corianton is that he focuses more on building Corianton’s testimony of basic key doctrines than he does on telling him what he needs to do to repent.
Corianton had been raised to believe in Christ and he had even served as a missionary with Alma among the Zoramites. But that didn’t mean that his testimony was perfect or infallible. He had questions. And when some of the people (like Korihor, an anti-Christ) began teaching and adopting beliefs that were incorrect but that sounded more pleasant or easy, Corianton began to wonder which beliefs were right.
To Corianton’s credit, he listened to his father when Alma took the time to talk with him. He was willing to trust that Alma might be able to help him sort through everything. And that willingness to listen to true doctrine helped him to also accept it.
Corianton’s main questions centered around key doctrines – the plan of salvation, consequences of sin, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And as Alma took the time to make sure Corianton clearly understood these doctrines, Corianton was able to desire change and make changes in his own life.
Why is a Testimony of Key Doctrines Essential?
After we’ve learned basic key doctrines, we sometimes wonder why we have to revisit those doctrines over and over. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we do repetitiously teach and learn these doctrines, but that doesn’t mean we individually understand them or have strong testimonies of them.
If we look at Corianton as a case study of sorts, we’ll see that when he didn’t understand key doctrines or preferred to believe false versions of the doctrines, that his choices and behavior changed towards sin. But when Alma reinforced the true doctrines to Corianton and made sure that he fully understood the doctrines, Corianton shifted his behavior and choices toward repentance and obedience to God’s laws.
President Packer taught,
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.President Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” 1986
In the world today, there are a lot of voices saying different things. Some of those voices are good, inspirational voices, while others are attacking various truths and doctrines of God. It can be difficult to sort through these voices, and some of the perspectives and beliefs that are widely held by the world do not match with God’s doctrines. When this happens, it’s easy to let those wider held beliefs slip in and confuse your beliefs about God’s doctrines.
However, with guidance from the Spirit and continual efforts to learn and understand God’s doctrines, it is possible to sort through it all and figure out what is true.
Assess Your Testimony of Key Doctrines
Lately, I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to assess my understanding of basic key doctrines. It can be really helpful to find out what you believe and what questions or gaps we might have in our beliefs. To help with this, I put together a list of questions to help us all assess our understanding of basic key doctrines in the gospel.
In these questions, place the specific doctrine you’re assessing in the place of (key doctrines).
- What do I believe about (key doctrine)?
- Are these beliefs based in the scriptures or in prophetic teachings?
- Are any of these beliefs actually assumptions that might not be correct?
- Do I have any questions about (key doctrine)?
- What do I still need to understand about (key doctrine)?
- Who can I talk to so I can better understand (key doctrine)?
- What resources can help me better understand (key doctrine)?
Hopefully these questions can help us all find out how to strengthen our beliefs in the key doctrines of Christ’s gospel. Time is growing short for us to procrastinate making sure we understand these doctrines and have a solid testimony of them. Our beliefs will be tested, so preparing for those times now will help us stay strong in the future.