We’ve all been there— you’re sitting in a class at church or having a gospel-related conversation with some friends when the topic suddenly drifts into “uncharted territory” in terms of how to live the gospel. By “uncharted territory” I mean lifestyle choices that are up to the individual rather than encouraged by the Church. Topics like, “are Disney movies OK to watch on Sunday?” or “should tithing be paid based on gross income or net income?” Now before you start defending your opinion and get all “in 1943, a general authority taught…” on me, just remember that Elder Neil L. Anderson said that “true principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.” It’s just that! Many times in the Church we are taught principles rather than commandments.
A principle, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is “a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions”. Phrases like “helps you know” and “influences your actions” should be dead giveaways that principles are guidelines. The Church hasn’t come out with an official statement as to whether or not families should watch Disney movies together on Sunday and it is likely that they never will. Rather, they will teach us the principle of keeping the Sabbath day holy and leave it up to us to decide what is and is not appropriate.
Too many times we try to prescribe how others should live the gospel rather than focusing on how we should live the gospel. Principles are founded in truth, but that truth is interpreted differently by each of us. It’s like driving on a multi-lane highway: the rule is to stay on your side of the road however, for the most part, it does not matter which lane you drive in. You can drive in the middle lane, the right lane if you prefer going slower, or the left lane if you need to pass. They’re all in different lanes, but they are all following the same general principle.
This concept is one that members have struggled with throughout all the ages: telling others how they think the gospel should be lived. One of the best examples is in the New Testament with the apostles and the woman with the alabaster box. Wanting to show her love and dedication to the Lord, this unnamed disciple of Christ anointed the Savior’s feet with this precious ointment. She was showing her commitment and gratitude and yet all the apostles could say were words of indignation, condemning her actions and pointing out what she could have done differently. In a sense, the apostles were in the middle lane, criticizing this woman for driving in the right lane.
Don’t misunderstand me, often times the Church and the gospel have very distinct lines as to what we should and should not do. These lines are absolutely essential and undeniably helpful when it comes to living a righteous life in these days. These commandments give us guidance and direction in a world where it is so easy to be led astray. There are many commandments that spell out exactly what is and is not appropriate gospel worship however, when it comes to the principles that are taught we should learn that the alabaster box we give the Savior is no better nor worse than the box our neighbors give.