Monday, April 4, 2011

The Difference Between Organizational Priesthood Authority and the Authority of God


I was really glad to hear Elder Bednar's discussion of light and revelation in General Conference yesterday.  I've thought a lot over the years about the Priesthood power and authority - and revelation - and how it is available to so many people outside of our modern Priesthood structure, and I loved the way Elder Bednar addressed that issue - even though it wasn't direct but more tangential.  


Let me try to explain what I mean:

For as long as I can remember I have agreed with the classic definitions of the Priesthood as "the power and authority of God" and "the authority to act in the name of God" - but I have disagreed that such a definition is limited to men who have been ordained to offices within the administrative Priesthood structure. I have believed that there is a huge difference between "the comprehensive power and authority of God" and the implementation of organizational Priesthood authority. 

I believe ALL who covenant to take the name of God upon them (inside or outside the Church, irrespective of sex or age and no matter what specific name they use) have the authority to act in His name in some way and to some degree (unless they lose it through the type of abuse described in Doctrine & Covenants 121) and all who have access to the Holy Ghost can exercise His power (to some degree). In fact, I believe that is inherent in the very words of the sacramental prayer, the way that the Priesthood is exercised in the temple and our beliefs concerning revelation that can be received by all.

Given this fundamental belief, I define "the formal, organizational Priesthood" as it currently is implemented in the LDS Church in administrative terms - since that is how our own Article of Faith presents it. Therefore, I would tweak the definition of that Priesthood as follows:

"the authority to administer (oversee the performance of) eternal ordinances and to administer (oversee the performance of) the activities related to those ordinances, including preaching the Gospel"


I'm not arguing against the current structure of the organizational Priesthood responsibilities; not at all.  I'm just saying that there is a difference between the fullest definition of the power and authority of God and how the Priesthood is exercised currently within the Church - and I'm OK with that. 

Also, I'm not sure that everyone will understand what I am saying in this post (and I am concerned a bit that some will misunderstand), but I really don't think what I'm saying is controversial in any real way. 
The definition above allows for MANY actions to be performed without organizational Priesthood authority but still through the more general authority of God - and, I believe, it is much truer to the actual way the Priesthood is used in the Church than the more common definition. I believe this is part of what Elder Bednar was saying in his talk about light and revelation, even though he didn't address the specific application I am making in this post.  

[Also, in the interest of full disclosure, my belief that women who have been endowed in the temple by the administrative Priesthood leave the temple with real power and authority as a result of that endowment also influences how I have tweaked the organizational, formal definition to focus more narrowly on "administrative rights" (as assigned responsibilities) rather than the more comprehensive "power and authority of God".] 

8 comments:

Rich Alger said...

This is an interesting distinction. I am not sure I disagree. Perhaps I do not understand fully what you mean. What do you believe others outside the "organizational priesthood authority" have authority to do?

Papa D said...

Pretty much whatever God inspires them to do - and pretty much anything that is asked of all believers. Obviously, determining what is inspiration / revelation and what is not always will be an issue, but that's true of all of us - even within the administrative structure of the organizational Priesthood.

Rich Alger said...

Do you believe that a person must be baptized by one who has authority from God? Does a declaration of faith or baptism of a faith other than LDS have the same results or validity? Do the LDS have access to a greater portion of Holy Ghost if they receive it after having the laying on of hands of a confirmation?

These are questions I have thought about for the last several years. There are those that claim as much of the Spirit as we have. Many seem to be very inspired and to do much good and bear much good fruit.

I agree there is much difference in having authority from God and having power from God. The latter is much more from obedience to His will (and the covenant entered into) than any ordinance.

I look forward to your response.

Papa D said...

"Do you believe that a person must be baptized by one who has authority from God?"

I believe in that principle (especially with the addition of temple ordinances that make it possible for ALL), yes, since I believe it is the designated symbolism Jesus chose to signify one's acceptance of His Father and the Gospel Jesus taught. If baptism had not been designated - if, for example, Jesus had continued the emphasis on circumcision as the symbolic action of acceptance - then I would see circumcision as I see baptism.

Is there anything inherent in the "mechanical" ordinance of baptism that makes it the ONLY symbolic action acceptable to God as a sign of our acceptance? I don't think so - but I don't think it matters if there isn't, since it's what I believe God chose.

"Does a declaration of faith or baptism of a faith other than LDS have the same results or validity?"

Yes and no, and I don't meant to fence-sit with that answer. To me, it's MUCH more the intent of the heart than the action of the body in this regard - and I think our own orthodox statements about those who are baptized without ever experiencing true conversion back up this belief. Conversely, I believe there are MANY who are not baptized but who are converted in a very real way - and still others who are baptized outside the LDS Church of whom the same can be said.

I believe in the concept of proper authority, and I believe it brings blessings when accompanied by a change of heart and true dedication, but I don't believe such heart-change and dedication are limited ONLY to those who are baptized in the LDS Church. To say so honestly is a bit . . . silly . . . to me.

"Do the LDS have access to a greater portion of Holy Ghost if they receive it after having the laying on of hands of a confirmation?"

Absolutely, they CAN, imo - but it's not automatic. I also believe it is manifested in those ways that are unique to the LDS Church - VERY important ways that involve Priesthood ordinances, especially. The temple and blessings of healing and comfort are prime examples. It's not that others don't have that access; it's that faithful, confirmed LDS have acces to more ways for it to be manifested, imo.

Rich Alger said...

Thanks for your reply, I really do appreciate understanding what you believe more.

So you think that those outside of our faith have the same access to the Holy Ghost that we do? Do they have the same right to be guided, comforted, inspired and all other gifts of the Spirit?

Or do you think the frequency or manner or number of our rituals give members more opportunity to have communion with the Holy Ghost?

In what ways is the Holy Ghost manifested uniquely in the LDS church?

All other things being equal, does an LDS person have more right to the influences of the Holy Ghost than those that are not members?

I do agree that it is the state of the heart that matters so much more. The Be as said in GC as a qualification and stimulus for the Do.

I just recognized that I seem to have gone from the topic of authority to revelation. They are not necessarily the same.

Papa D said...

"So you think that those outside of our faith have the same access to the Holy Ghost that we do?"

Not necessarily. I really do believe deeply in the unique Gift of the Holy Ghost - but the very words of the prayer are to "receive the HG", NOT "we give you the HG". That means it is not automatic for baptized and confirmed members - that they have to be in a condition to be able to receive.

I believe there is, however, both a symbolic and literal element of power in the administration of the ordinance that can unlock access to the HG in ways that not having it performed cannot do. The difficulty lies, I believe, when members start drawing too broad a distinction between the influence of the HG and the gift of the HG - especially when they start denying the real influence of the HG without baptism and confirmation.

"Do they have the same right to be guided, comforted, inspired and all other gifts of the Spirit?"

Absolutely, as they all are children of God and as all are given gifts, according to our scriptures.

Papa D said...

"Or do you think the frequency or manner or number of our rituals give members more opportunity to have communion with the Holy Ghost?"

Yes - more opportunity, speaking collectively and not individually.

"In what ways is the Holy Ghost manifested uniquely in the LDS church?"

I think the main difference is in WHAT the HG is able to communicate, rather than HOW the HG communicates - and I think our recognition of experiences outside of the Church make that pretty clear. For example:

William Tindell has been mentioned twice in the last few General Conferences. In the one that just ended, one of his statements was called "prophecy" - which we define as the word of God given through the ministration of the Holy Ghost. We also teach that the purest form of testimony that can come to an investigator is the prompting of the HG when the missionaries or other members are not around to be an influence of some kind. There really is no difference in "form" between that and what a member can experience; the main difference generally is more of "content" - and even that is subject to the will of God.

We don't teach that Lehi and Nephi received "the Priesthood" when they first had their amazing experiences with the Spirit of God - and, yet, we don't deny the validity of their expriences just because they weren't baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. We can debate about whether or not they experienced the Holy Ghost, and we can debate about their status as part of God's chosen people at that time, and we can say that those issues might account for their experiences in that they might have been "like" the baptized members of our time --- but there are too many other examples throughout time for me to believe in hard limitations of God's influence and "authority" to speak his words based simply on denominational affiliation.

Rich Alger said...

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Its seems that I agree completely.