One weekend while I was in college, my wife and I hosted our good friends Greg and Melissa. Like us, they’re from California, so we decided to take them to see Utah’s “big city”. Because of it’s history Salt Lake City has a lot of attractions having to do with the LDS Church, and invariably we ended up doing a thing or two around Temple Square.
As we walked through the grounds, the subject of temples came up. I explained that Alexa and I could be together forever because our marriage had been performed in the temple by someone holding proper priesthood authority. As long as we kept our covenants and lived righteously, we could have an eternal family through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Greg and Melissa’s marriage, on the other hand, was different. It had been performed in a normal church by his grandfather, a pastor at his local congregation. Having attended the wedding, I remember distinctly that their marriage was designated to last as long as they both would live, and till death do they part. Their marriage, by their own admission, was finite, not eternal.
After death, they will be separated. What a devastating thought!
The Encounter with the Ice Cream Man
Imagine you are late for work. You have barely have left your driveway and already you are speeding through the residential area between your home and the highway. Suddenly, you hear a strange sound behind you. It sounds like ice cream van music, but loader than usual and punctuated with a bleeping horn. Glancing in your rear view mirror, you see the ice cream man following you, honking furiously and flashing his brights. Confused, you slow down and pull over. Instead of speeding past, he pulls over behind you, flips on his hazard lights, exits his van, and walks towards your window. Still somewhat bewildered, you roll the window down so you two can talk.
Hesitantly you ask, “Is there something I can do for you?”
“I was just wondering if you knew how fast you were going?”
You start to giggle, but stifle it when the ice cream man remains stoic. Is this some kind of joke? Who is this guy?
“I actually have no idea, but I don’t see wha-”
“You were going between 34 and 37 mph. This is a residential area, you know. That means a 25 mph speed limit.”
You’re still confused, perhaps more now than ever. “I’m sorry,” you say politely, “but I fail to see the problem. And I’m late for work, so I really don’t have time for this.”
The ice cream man nods. “I’m more than happy to set you on your way. Let me give you this before you go. I’ll meet you about this time tomorrow to collect the fine.”
Fine? You stare in a blank stupor as the ice cream man tears off a piece of receipt paper with a dollar amount scribbled onto it. He gives one last smile as he walks back to his van, flips off his hazard lights, and drives away. You shrug, pull back into traffic, and continue on to work with no intention whatsoever of paying the ice cream man’s fine.
A Matter of Authority
Why would you not pay the ice cream man? You were, after all, technically breaking the law. You were driving much faster than the speed limit allowed. Every time you’re caught by a police officer you have to pay his fine. So why not now?
It’s a matter of authority. The police officer has it and the ice cream man doesn’t.
Authority plays a major part in our everyday lives and so it’s not a concept that is difficult to understand. We obey the authority of parents, teachers, employers, superiors, creditors, government officials, and a host of others in addition to law enforcement officers. And in the cases where we are in charge, we expect other people to obey us.
Why would the government of God be any different? The truth of the matter is that it is not. His church functions based on these same principles of authority and obedience, and for exactly the same reasons. Even though someone may be technically correct in the manner in which they minister or officiate, if they are lacking in authority that ministry will not be valid.
Yet this is a truth lost in many of today’s congregations, including Greg and Melissa’s. To make this easier to understand, perhaps we can look at where we don’t get priesthood authority, and how this fits into our “speeding” parable.
When the Savior finished his sermon on the mount, the people were amazed. The scriptures tell us that “the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Savior and the scribes is that the Savior was untrained and unlearned in the ways that scribes were. They were lawyers; Jesus was the son of a carpenter. If Jesus had authority in a way that the scribes did not, certainly authority does not come from great learning.
There are many other biblical examples of this principle. John the Baptist was similar in both his recognized authority and lack of formal training. The apostles were ordinary fishermen and tax collectors, and yet the Savior gave them authority despite their scant education in spiritual matters. The prophets throughout the Old Testament were always ordinary men.
There are many sincere men and women serving today in pastoral positions in congregations throughout the country. Yet while they may be sincere, they do not receive authority from a degree from a university or theological seminary.
Such people are like an attorney or retired police officer pulling you over and giving you a ticket – they may know their stuff, but they have no authority. It matters not how well they can recite the law (i.e., scripture or the creeds of Church Fathers).
In the book of Acts, we have the account of Simon the Magician. He was skilled enough to make people think that he had the priesthood, but he did not, and he knew this. He approached Peter and asked to buy the priesthood. Peter rebuked him, saying, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (see Acts 8:9-20). Certainly, authority can not be bought.
Simon lives in infamy even today. We call the practice of purchasing positions in a church simony. Hopefully, this practice is much less common than it has been in the past, for no one who buys their position holds true authority from God.
Such people are like a wealthy person pulling you over in his Mercedes and giving you a ticket – he may have power and influence elsewhere, but he has no authority. It matters not how well he manages a portfolio or hedge fund (i.e., or buy his way into a favorable position).
In each of the accounts of the Savior choosing his apostles, he always mentions an ordination in connection to their call.
- “Then [Jesus] called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2)
- “And [Jesus] goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:13-15).
“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16).
Some feel a great desire or call to enter the ministry. They want to serve others, and they see a life as an ecclesiastic leader as their way to fulfill this desire. Yet while great desires to serve may lead to callings (Doctrine & Covenants 4:3), they do not, in and of themselves, lead to an authoritative ordination. A calling is only a step in that direction, but more is needed, for “no man taketh this honour unto himself” (Hebrews 5:4).
Such are people ke a concerned citizen pulling you over for speeding in their neighborhood and giving you a ticket – they may be looking out for the interest of the blind child down the street, but they have no authority. It matters not how much they love their children or neighbors.
Watching his brother John ordain priests and ministers according to the dictates of his own whims, Charles Wesley wrote the now famous lines:
In the scripture I mentioned above, from Hebrews, we are told that we can take as an example the ordination of Aaron (see Hebrews 5:4). Aaron was ordained by Moses, the authorized priesthood leader, after that calling was made known unto him by God (see Exodus 4:10-16 and Exodus 28:1). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follows this model. In order to have authority, “we believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (Article of Faith 5, emphasis added). Wesley had no authority to ordain Coke, and therefore Coke had no authority.
There are many who recognize that authority does not come from learning, or wealth, or desire. They also recognize the pattern of ordinations in the Bible, and instances where those in authority laid hands on others to give them priesthood power. Wanting to emulate the Savior, they adopt this practice.
Yet they inherited a state of apostasy. When the apostles, the presiding officials in the early church, died, the authority to govern the church died with them. Thus, Christians who perform ordinations do so in vain, for they hold no authority to begin with. They may be recognized by their congregation, but God recognizes no such authority.
Such people are like a Canadian Mountie pulling you over on his horse and giving you a ticket – he may be authorized by Canada to enforce the law, but in the United States he has no authority. It matters not where else he is certified if he is not authorized here in this country (i.e., it matters not if his congregation has authorized him if God does not likewise authorize him).
A Divine Caution
Can we know what God thinks of instances where people try and use authority that they don’t have? For example, what of the people who have great learning, or great wealth, or great desires, or who can trace their authority back to an ordination that may not have been legitimate? What does God think of them acting in his name?
The Savior spoke of such during his Sermon on the Mount. He warned, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven… Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis added).
Clearly, the Savior takes the subject of authority very seriously. Why wouldn’t he? Those claiming false authority lead his children away from his true gospel. We should be mindful that we are not exercising authority that we do not have – the scripture is quite clear about that.
Continuing the Series
- Part 1 – Where does priesthood authority not come from?
- Part 2 – The restoration of the priesthood, and why that restoration is so important.
- Part 3 – Exercising priesthood power and authority with style – Men in Black style, that is.