The Relative Merits of Distinguishing the ‘Church’ from the ‘Gospel’

It is somewhat common for members of the church to distinguish between the ‘church’ and the ‘gospel’.  What is usually meant by ‘church’ are things like culture, tradition, administrative policies, etc.  In many ways this can be a healthy way to look at the traditions and culture of the church.  When we do, we can separate these things from the ‘gospel’.

What is usually meant by ‘gospel’ is the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed by God.  This would be the more pure core principles of the gospel, free from the culture and traditions of mankind.  When this gospel is separated from the ‘church’ we could have a disagreement or bad experience with the ‘church’ without it compromising our good feelings and commitment to the ‘gospel’.

Yet I think I see another application of this separating which I would consider to be not as healthy.  It is possible for someone to have personal opinions about certain teachings or practices of the church that are in conflict with the teachings of the prophets and apostles of the church.  In such a case it would be very tempting and convenient to label what this individual prefers as ‘gospel’ and what church leaders teach as ‘church’.  Such a stance proposes to place the opinions of the individual above the teachings of the prophets and apostles.  This does not seem as healthy to me.

The trick of course is to ultimately distinguish when something is a culture/tradition and when something is a core part of the gospel.

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7 Responses to “The Relative Merits of Distinguishing the ‘Church’ from the ‘Gospel’”


  1. 1 jc June 13, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I wish Elder Poelman’s talk was left intact on this subject.

  2. 2 Sean June 14, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Simple solution is for the prophet or apostle who is speaking to clearly, definitely, and in clear language state whether the talk or words they about to give is something that is a firm doctrine of the Lord’s Gospel or whether it is merely a church practice, a personal opinion, or an administrative policy of the Corporation of the President.

    I never understood this cultural practice of placing the responsibility upon the hearer instead of the speaker. If somebody is speaking in the Lord’s name they should authoritatively state it as such. Why wouldn’t the speaker be held accountable to define their words?

  3. 3 Eric Nielson June 14, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Interesting take Sean. My feeling is that there is accountability on both sides. Also, I think the FP and Q12 are always trying their best to represent the doctrines of the church whenever they represent.

  4. 4 Sean June 14, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Eric, while I have great respect for them it is not hard for them to make sure the listener is clear on what is being spoken. All it takes is for them to clarify up front. Why is that hard for them to do? They know when they are speaking for the Lord in articulating true Gospel doctrine instead of opinions, traditions and culture.

    Can you tell me with all the blog posts you have done that you have never had anyone bring up the suggestion I brought up about speaker accountability?

  5. 5 Sean June 14, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Let me give one example – President Hinckley’s counsel about earrings and tattoos; was that a doctrine of the Lord’s Gospel or was that an opinion? If it was a doctrine why would the Lord counsel women to mutilate their ears with an earring in each. Why wouldn’t it just be no tattoos and no earrings at all? If it was an opinion why is it treated as a commandment at EFY and church youth social activities?

  6. 6 Eric Nielson June 15, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Well, I cannot speak for them, I can only speculate. And as far as I know, this is the first time someone has had these questions here.

    We had lesson 11 in the Ezra Taft Benson manual yesterday, and it had a quote from him saying that the prophet does not need to say ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ for his words to have authority. So I go back to what I said before – every time they are representing the church they are doing their best to express the actual gospel. Saying so explicitly is likely thought as unnecessary.

    As far as the earring example, again I can only guess. God sometimes gives us counsel we can keep. Ne earrings at all may have caused massive rebellion, yet not saying anything may have had negative consequences as well. When I see the level of stuff people are doing to their bodies sometimes, I can see the wisdom in giving some counsel, even if it is not absolute. So a level of moderation was given.


  1. 1 Mormonism’s Truth Claims and The Claims of ‘Truth’ Seekers | Small and Simple Trackback on June 24, 2015 at 8:13 am

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