We had three students in class today who weren't in attendance last week, so I took about ten minutes for a quick review of last week's lesson (the first six paragraphs of Elder Oaks' talk). It was good for the others to hear it again. (If anyone wants to review that lesson before reading this one, it is the post from last Saturday.)
Today, we covered the next six paragraphs. Like I did with last week's summary, I am going to quote the parts we discussed and provide a summary of the discussions:
Ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used. We are accustomed to thinking that all keys of the priesthood were conferred on Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple, but the scripture states that all that was conferred there were “the keys of this dispensation” (D&C 110:16). At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection.
We talked about what this means about possible changes in the future - that it is another reminder that the way we do things currently is not necessarily unchangeable, eternal doctrine - and that we have to be open to radical changes if they occur.
The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures - matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.
We discussed the difference between "administration" and "the priesthood". We defined "administer" as "oversee; supervise; direct". We discussed what that means in terms of the sacrament. We talked about why it is incorrect to say, "The sacrament will be administered and passed by the Priesthood." First, I simply pointed out that the Priesthood is different than the people who do things with Priesthood authority and power - as has been stated numerous times by apostles recently. I asked who administers the sacrament and who passes it. Their first responses were the Priests, Teachers and Deacons, so we dug further into what happens with that ordinance.
The Bishop (or Branch President or presiding key holder), as the presiding Priest, administers the sacrament, as do the Priests. The other offices in the Aaronic Priesthood (the Deacons and the Teachers) have been authorized to "help" the Bishop and the Priests - not actually to administer but to assist in an official way - and every single person in the congregation passes the sacrament among themselves. (As pointed out by a commenter on this post, D&C 20:58 explicitly says that Teachers and Deacons are NOT authorized to administer the sacrament.) This means that "administer" and "prepare and pass" MUST be different things, while "bless" (pronounce the prayer) is part of the administration. Administering (including blessing) is a responsibility specific to a Priesthood office (Priest), while the others are assignments made by the presiding Priest to help / assist - NOT to administer.
We talked about how the exact method or pattern of distributing the sacrament is different from congregation to congregation, based on the size and demographics of the congregation. We mentioned various ways the sacrament could be "passed" - from a tiny unit where everyone goes up to the sacrament table and takes it directly from the person who blesses it (with nobody "passing" it) to a larger branch in another part of the world where there are dozens of members but only one man who is ordained to an office in the priesthood and the women (young and old) pass the sacrament throughout the congregation completely on their own - including practical applications that look much like what we see regularly with AP young men. [I know of situations where that happens in some countries.] We talked about the fact that HOW it happens is determined by the person who holds the keys to "direct, control and govern" it - and how nearly every aspect about it is "cultural", when it comes right down to it, since nearly every aspect can change depending on the unique congregational situations. (Outside of the prayer wording and the current restriction on who can voice the prayer [since voicing the prayer is part of the administering], there might be nothing else that couldn't be adapted by a Bishop, Branch President or Area Authority.)
We re-read the last sentence in that paragraph, and I simply pointed out that, as far as we know, women have not been ordained to offices in the priesthood at any point in our scriptural history - so our current leadership does not see that as a matter of practice or policy. Rather, they see it as a "pattern". Therefore, just as was the case prior to OD2 and the lifting of the race-based ban, they don't feel "authorized" to change it without direct revelation from God. I told the students that I hope such a revelation will be received at some point, but I understand why it can't change without revelation to the church leadership. I told them that, lacking such revelation, we need to work on everything else laid out in this talk - that, maybe, this is a case of learning and changing line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept.
I come now to the subject of priesthood authority. I begin with the three principles just discussed: (1) priesthood is the power of God delegated to man to act for the salvation of the human family, (2) priesthood authority is governed by priesthood holders who hold priesthood keys, and (3) since the scriptures state that “all other authorities [and] offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood” (D&C 107:5), all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.
I pointed out that Elder Oaks' use of "man" in the first point MUST mean the generic "mankind" or "humanity", given everything he had said up to that point in the talk. We talked about how often we fall back on the language with which we are familiar, even when we are teaching new understandings. I told them that we can accept that and be charitable, or we can get upset and take offense - but that we ought not "make a (person) an offender for a word" and not focus on one word and let it negate everything else the person has said.
We talked about what "appendages" means: "a subordinate part attached to something; an auxiliary part; addition". I pointed out that Elder Oaks said that "ALL authorities and offices in the church" are auxiliary to the priesthood itself - which means that even the "office" of apostle is an appendage, governed by keys just like any other calling or office. We talked about the concept that Paul taught about all parts of the body being necessary and no more important than any other body part - that "appendages" are of equal importance when, as Elder Oaks said in the first paragraph of the talk, there is no "up and down" in the Church structure. We talked about the idea that, if ALL is subordinate to the priesthood itself and ALL is done with priesthood authority (and priesthood power), then appendages are complementary - especially when at the same organizational level within the Church. Thus, the Young Men quorums are the male equivalent of the Young Women classes (as complementary appendages), and the Relief Society is the female equivalent of the MP quorums. All of them are, based on Elder Oaks' reframing, "priesthood" groups - meaning they can act with priesthood authority and exercise priesthood power. He addresses this further in the following paragraph.
We also talked about what Priesthood "offices" means. I asked them what the word "office" means outside a discussion of the Priesthood. We agreed that offices are rooms (or spaces) where people do certain things that are assigned to them or that are their responsibilities. That basic definition works for Priesthood offices, as well - figurative locations that are "unlocked" (by keys) to allow people to do certain things therein. Using the AP offices, the Deacons are given access to one room where certain things are authorized to be done - and Teachers are given access to that room and one more, where other things are authorized to be done - and Priests are given access to those rooms and one more - etc. The "office" is nothing more than the authorization to do specific things - to be allowed into that room of the overall Priesthood house, per se.
How does this apply to women? In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.”
I pointed out that, linguistically, President Smith had modified the first phrase ("While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood') to clarify what he meant ("it has not been conferred upon them [through ordination to an office])" - and how that is an important distinction, since it supports the concept that women DO have priesthood authority and can exercise priesthood power. He then said that women can do things that are "binding" AND "necessary for salvation" - that are just as "binding" as what men who have been ordained to offices in the Priesthood do. We talked about how the priesthood itself is the same no matter who uses it, which also means the admonitions in D&C 121 about unrighteous dominion apply equally to men and women. We talked about how "binding" and "sealing" mean, in practical terms, the exact same thing - and how women perform "sealing" ordinances in the temple, just like men. Again, the only restrictions in place right now are ordinance-specific - meaning men are authorized to do some things women currently can't do.
In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, “You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.”
We talked about how women have authority within themselves - that Priesthood keys don't let women use a man's priesthood but rather allow women to use the priesthood authority and power that the Lord has placed upon them (particularly in the temple, when they are endowed). Thus, the young women in the class don't use the Bishop's authority and power in their callings; they use their own.
He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.” And, of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. Thus, speaking of the Relief Society, President Smith explained, “[The Lord] has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the directions of the bishops of the wards … , looking after the interest of our people both spiritually and temporally.”
Thus, it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood.
We finished with me explaining a "soapbox" issue - a pet peeve - of mine. I told them that I hope as they perform their callings in leadership positions, they never let their organizations be just classes and social clubs - that they treat them like Priesthood groups who have responsibilities to serve and bless people - that they never defer to others to tell them what to do but rather embrace their own authority and power to make decisions and receive personal revelation. I mentioned specifically Relief Society and Young Women, but I told the young men what I was saying applied to them, as well. I stressed that the adults in the youth organizations are not supposed to be the "leaders" or "decision makers" - that those roles are supposed to belong to the youth presidencies. I begged the young women to remember that when they move into Relief Society - that they are supposed to run that organization and report to the Bishop, not ask for permission in everything they do, and, particularly, not let it become just a class and a social club. I told them that there is tremendous potential for life-changing service in the Relief Society and that they need to lead the necessary change to make it what it can be.
I ended with the concept of new wine and old bottles, and I told them that a lot of members my age and older simply can't understand and accept the changes outlined in Elder Oaks' talk very easily, if at all - that the youth are the new bottles that can handle the new wine without bursting and that I hope they step up and help lead the older folks to where we need to go.