My pathetic first words to our Uber driver on Saturday.
I like to think I speak enough Spanish to get what I need and get where I’m going. I can say, “Hello, how are you?” and provide an adequate response when someone says that to me.
But my first words to that poor Uber driver demonstrated just how confused the Spanish language makes me.
About an hour after my embarrassing exchange, I learned just how unique language really is.
We were on our way to the San Jose temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Temples are sacred places where members of the church can go to feel closer to God and perform sacred ordinances, like baptism, for their deceased ancestors. For more information on temples go to lds.org/temples.
Fortunately, there were a few people who spoke English and helped me find my way around, but the ordinances were performed in Spanish. I was given a little card with the words of the ordinance typed up in English so I could follow along.
As I listened I realized there were parts of the ordinance there is no English translation for. In other words, they use different words in Costa Rica than they do in The United States, but the meaning or the purpose of the ordinance remained the same.
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints delivered an address during BYU education week in June of 1998.
He was speaking about how parents can help their children understand the Gospel. He said:
“If they know the why, they will quickly learn the how. Am I suggesting that we never discuss the how? Not at all. I am suggesting that perhaps we do not spend as much time with the why as we need to.
In additional addresses Elder Bednar clarifies the difference between doctrines, principles, and applications. He explains:
Doctrines are why we do something.
Principles are what we do.
Applications are how we do it.
For example, recently a change was made with how missionaries communicate with their families.
The significance of family relationships is the doctrine.
It’s why missionaries communicate with their families, which is the principle.
But how missionaries communicate is an application.
Applications, Elder Bednar explains, are constantly changing based on a million different factors. The length of church services, the missionary age, even the language used in temple ordinances are all subject to change.
Doctrines however, are very different. Elder Bednar explains:
Doctrine refers to the eternal, unchanging, and simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are several key words in that definition: eternal, unchanging, simple, and truth. Doctrines are never altered. They never vary. They will always be the same.
Language, I realized, is an application. It changes from person to person, country to country, and generation to generation. How we use language changes over, and over, and over again even when it comes to The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the doctrine never changes. The doctrine of Christ has not changed since it was first taught to Adam and Eve and it will not change because it is eternal.
Many changes have come to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the past year, but they have not changed The Gospel.
They have not changed God.
God, as we know from scriptures, is unchangeable, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t treat each generation differently. Like any parent, I believe God treats all his children differently because they’re all different.
The applications and principles He gives to His children vary from generation to generation, but the doctrine is always the same.
In other words, the language will change, but the meaning never will.
At least, that’s what I believe.