This counsel, published by Joseph F. Smith as “Accuracy Demanded,” Juvenile Instructor, 1 February 1906, 80-81, touches on so many themes that are frequently discussed (or present!) in the Bloggernacle in such a simple, direct way that I thought it might help someone besides me to clarify ideas or understand our personal reactions to some of what is discussed. — Ardis)
On many occasions heretofore, through these columns and through the medium of other Church publications, attention has been directed to the scrupulous care required of our teachers and preachers in the matter of presenting only authentic and authorized doctrines as tenets of the church. While every person has a right to his own opinion in matters theological as in all else, and while he is at liberty to proclaim and defend that opinion in a proper way and at appropriate times and places, no one can justly claim the right to promulgate his individual belief and personal conceptions as doctrines of the Church unless the same be in strict accord with the authorized standards.
Sunday School classes, Improvement Associations, ward meetings and such gatherings as are appointed for instruction and worship, are certainly not appropriate in purpose, time or place, for the promulgation of unproved theory or the preaching of unaccepted and debatable doctrine. The regularly appointed meetings under Church auspices are not to be devoted to polemic discussion; Sunday School classes, Improvement Associations, quorums or other organizations of the kind are in no sense to be regarded or operated as debating societies.
Debate strives for triumph, true investigation seeks for truth. However strong a man’s conviction may be that his view on any subject is the correct one, he must ever remember that the teachings and tenets of the Church are set forth in the duly accepted standard works, and by these standards his opinions may be tested as to agreement with or dissent from the authorized precepts. Friendly discussion having for its purpose the search for truth, is distinct from hurtful debate, though transition from one to the other is easy. Honest competition is essentially distinct from hateful rivalry. But in an inquiry as to what are the teachings of the Church concerning any specific subject, there is no occasion or excuse for dissension; the standard works have been adopted as our guides in matters of doctrine and practice.
The ill effects of confusing individual opinions with authenticated teachings are often far-reaching and lasting. Error may thus be planted in many an immature mind, and the seeds of skepticism and doubt find a rich soil for their rank growth.
But the desire to uphold some favorite belief or to sustain a pet theory is not the incentive to the teaching of error and the inculcation of false doctrine. Ignorance, in many cases inexcusable, is not infrequently exhibited by those who undertake to teach others. Sunday School teachers and instructors in general must learn to be accurate in their statements, or to remain silent respecting subjects unstudied and problems unsolved by them. Not only in doctrinal matters is this defect among our instructors demonstrated; in the teaching of Church history, for example, too little attention is given to details of dates, places and persons, and thus is error spread.
It is decidedly better for the teacher to be silent on subjects unknown to him, or to frankly acknowledge his ignorance if the topic is brought up in class, than to give incorrect answers or otherwise mislead. The instructor, unprepared through neglect of previous study, may not himself be aware of the mistakes he makes, this however goes to prove his incompetency. The preparation required of our teachers today involves effort and imposes labor; the slothful have no place among us.
Teachers, go before your classes with the consciousness that you have at least tried to prepare yourself for the duty of the hour, then with confidence may you expect the aid of inspiration from the divine source.
– Joseph F. Smith