Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks

The topic this month is "Priesthood and Priesthood Keys".

I explained to the students that the lesson outlines had been written before Elder Oaks gave his talk in the April General Conference about the authority and power of the Priesthood, and we were going to go through his talk sentence-by-sentence and discuss what he said and how it changes the way we should talk about priesthood, keys, authority, power, offices and ordination from how we did so when I was their age.

For the purposes of this summary, I will quote the sentences we discussed and give a synopsis of the discussions. We only managed to discuss the first six paragraphs, so we will continue next week - and the following week, if necessary.

1) "We do not “step down” when we are released, and we do not “step up” when we are called. There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward,”

I asked them if we really believe this, since it goes against everything about our natural person view of "positions and responsibilities". We talked about a corporate or college President being asked to become a secretary and how many would accept that change. We talked about members of the Church going from Bishop or Stake President to Nursery Leader.

2) While addressing a women’s conference, Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton said, “We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood.” [Said Elder Oaks,] That need applies to all of us

The direct implication is that "all of us" don't understand the Priesthood well enough - that we all need to accept that our understanding needs to change and grow - that what we have believed in the past wasn't full and isn't good enough / adequate anymore. Thus, what Elder Oaks said after this point constitutes "new understanding" that needs to replace our old understanding.

priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men.

I asked them how many of them had heard someone say in the past that priesthood authority pertains to women. None of them had heard that. I told them that Elder Oaks explained that change in the next few paragraphs, and that it is important to start thinking about women using Priesthood authority from now on.

President Joseph F. Smith described the priesthood as “the power of God" [to do lots of things].

So, at heart, "priesthood" can be defined as "power" - most specifically "power to do God's work" (to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man[kind]). Jesus is taught to have accomplished the immortality part (living forever as resurrected beings), so our work falls within the eternal life part (being / becoming like God).

“Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.”

We discussed the concept that, given this wording, changes to how priesthood authority and power are used is up to people who have keys to direct, control and govern - and, as we will read further on in the talk, ultimately we teach that Jesus has the final word. So, what happens in a ward is up to the Bishop, within some limitations directed by those who hold more keys (like the Stake Presidents and Apostles) and "confer" Bishop-specific keys on the Bishop (give them to him and authorize him to use them). Thus, at the local level, leaders with keys can do things differently in many ways than others at that same level but in different locations, subject to restrictions put in place by those with more keys.

As Elder M. Russell Ballard has explained, “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.”

We spent more time on this statement than any other one. I asked the students who, according to this sentence, can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power. It took a little time, but they came to see that ALL means all - so all who are set apart in any calling or who accept any assignment from someone having keys can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power. Focusing on the ward, that means it's not just men and young men who can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power, but it also is the YW class presidencies, the Primary and Relief Society Presidency, the Ward Chorister, the Librarians, the Primary and Sunday School teachers, etc. I asked them how often they had heard about any of those people exercising priesthood authority and accessing priesthood power - and none of them had heard that previously. I reiterated that this is something that they are going to have to accept and understand, even if older people like me struggle to do so from decades of hearing it explained differently.

In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits. It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred. For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another unless authorized by one who holds the keys. Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid. This explains why a priesthood holder - regardless of office - cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.

We talked about two things from this paragraph:

1) The limits on who will be given authority, hold office and receive rights and powers are set by the people who hold the keys - at whatever level they are. Thus, the enlarging also is in their hands - subject, of course, to what they perceive to be the will of the Lord. That can change, as was the case with OD2 and the lifting of the race-based Priesthood ban. People who previously had been unable to hold Priesthood office, perform Priesthood ordinances, attend the temple, etc. were authorized to do so from that point forward - because those holding the keys to direct, control and govern those things "enlarged" the former boundaries to include people who had been "limited" previously.

2) Even an apostle can't baptize his own grandchildren without the authorization of the Bishop, since that key (directing, controlling and governing right) is given to the Bishop to use.

With the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple under the keys held by the temple president, which I will describe hereafter, only one who holds a priesthood office can officiate in a priesthood ordinance.

I asked if women can perform Priesthood ordinances in the Church, and their initial reaction was, "No." When I told them to re-read that sentence and then asked them the same question again, they all said, "Yes, but only in the temple." I asked them WHY women can perform Priesthood ordinances in the temple, and they saw that it is because Temple Presidents have been authorized to use their keys (that allow them to direct, control and govern what happens in the temple) to allow women to perform those ordinances there - even without "holding a priesthood office". (We will talk more about what Priesthood "offices" mean next week.) So, looking at that sentence, outside the temple, the distinction is that women currently can't hold priesthood offices. That "limitation" hasn't been removed, so an "enlargement" hasn't occurred like it did with OD2. I asked them if there was anything in the talk so far that said women never will be able perform priesthood ordinances outside the temple, and they saw that there isn't.  (I told them that we would talk about that topic next week as we continued to read more from the talk.) 

We ran out of time at that point, so we will pick up with the next paragraph next week.

1 comment:

Mary B. said...

Thanks. Looking forward to next week.