The other night my son came into my study as I was working. He handed me a crayon. "Daddy, can you write your signature?"
"My signature?" I said, confused. "On what?"
"Nothing; just write it on this piece of paper," he said.
"Umm. It's blank. Why do you need my signature?" I said suspiciously.
"Okay," I said, playing along. I wrote my name and handed the paper back to him.
"Thanks!" he said and ran off.
Not long after he returned holding my cut-out signature that he had taped to another piece of paper upon which was written:
"DO WHATEVER I SAY AND ALWAYS AGREE WITH ME. /s/ Tim Merrill."
He looked triumphant. "Now you have to do whatever I say!" he said gleefully, doing a happy dance. He really thought he had me; and I really hated to burst his sweet, innocent bubble.
(Chances were he wanted me to agree to more video-game-time.)
"Well, peculiar thing about this document," I said, stealing a line from Lucy. "It wasn't ever notarized."
"God, Can You Write Your Signature on This Blank Piece of Paper?"
When I started this Series about the Wheat and Tares I was not expecting there to be so much to say; it was just a simple Parable, after all.
Yet to my surprise the more we dig, the more we uncover; and if we keep digging at this rate we may end up all the way to China (by which I mean, the Wheat in the Far East; that will be a harvest unlike any we've yet seen).
Because this post talks about priesthood principles, I started with the anecdote about my son: he acted like we do, believing we can somehow trap God; bind God into a contractual arrangement in which He has to do what we want because, well, He must be a kind of djinn and we have a signed document or something! (What Latter-day Saints call "covenants" or "the priesthood.")
At least, that is the sense I get from quotes like these:
"Every man and every woman who participates in priesthood ordinances and who makes and keeps covenants with God has direct access to the power of God. ... All those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy. ... In the Church we travel the Covenant Path ... that creates a special love."
Well, aren't we special! Considering this, is it any wonder we have no need for Catholic relics and shrouds and bits of bone stuffed in the apse from a dead saint's femur when we have such mighty powers with which to control God?
But our unique brand of witchcraft doesn't use salt circles and pentagrams and butchered chicken blood; instead, we use stained glass and earth tones and plush fabric and soft voices dressed in robes and aprons with new names and handsigns and tokens . . . which are a much more refined way to harness God to our bidding.
Unfortunately it doesn't work like that. President Nelson is carving out a new form of Carnal Security. It is not new, really: it bears a striking resemblance to the Calvinist doctrine of Irrestible Grace which teaches God saves a "special" group He chosen.
In our case, the conditions of salvation are being adjusted to conform to our status and not our repentance.
And before someone quotes D&C 82:10, let's look at what the verse actually says:
I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
See, the only person who can "bind" God is God Himself. Let me render the verse as it is taught in our meetings:
I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what ye say; and when ye do not what I say, ye shall still have the promise, apparantely, because ye are so special.
(D&C 82:10, 2023 ed.)
Despite our best efforts to rein in God as if He were a Clydesdale horse pulling our precepts behind Him, God is untamable; He is wild and unbroken, as a lion roareth (Joel 3:16).
And while He always keeps His word, God cannot be put into the service of the creeds of men.
Sifting Wheat in the Backseat
In Part 7 we learned we shouldn't be too hasty in casting the "Tares" out of our congregations because we may very well be losing the Church's Wheat.
(We should ask ourselves whether the declining membership numbers are a result of the Church "cleansing the inner vessel" by cracking down, or are a sign the branch is hanging precariously on the vine, withering from malnourishment.)
I wrote in Part 7, "Because the Wheat is gathered first (before the destruction of the wicked), we need to identify the mechanism by which the Wheat finds its way to the barn.
"Do the faithful call an Uber and wait for the angels to show up, curbside, in a black limousine? Do we ride horses aflame with heaven's fire bareback to Kolob? Do we build an Ark out of gopherwood and watch the forecast?
"As complex as it may appear at first, it is not rocket science; because in the end, the righteous are always gathered in only two ways:
1. The righteous are cast out; and/or
2. The righteous are led away." __________
Now the time has come to look at a particular verse in the Doctrine and Covenants that sheds a lot of knowledge on this process.
So before we start cracking a few eschatological eggs in discussing the "destruction" of the Tares at the end of the world (I know, I am excited to get scrambling, too), we first need to answer the question:
"What is the mechanism by which the Wheat find their way to the barn?"
Wanted: 144,000 High Priests; Must Travel
Sometimes a verse of scripture jumps off the page and gives you goosebumps.
The verse quoted below was the kernel from which this Series sprang; I've been waiting to dissect it with you. It encapsulates, I think, Joseph Smith's vision for how the gathering would take place.
Here it is:
Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel—twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.
Ooookay; there's a lot to unpack here. This is gonna be fun.
Sealed? Ordained? Angels Who?
First let's look at the qualifications of the 144,000:
1. "Those who are sealed"
Is there a difference between being sealed and being ordained? The scriptures say Jesus was "sealed" by God the Father (even though He wasn't ordained in the Jewish levitical priesthood).
The Son of man shall give unto you [the meat which endureth unto everlasting life]: for him hath God the Father sealed.
Who sealed the Son of man? Who seals us? And what does it even mean to be "sealed" to God?
Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us.
(2 Cor. 1:21-22)
What does it mean to be "anointed" by God? And how does this relate to the "Holy Spirit of Promise?"
In whom ye also trusted [Christ], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.
Now, just when my head is about to explode like a Garbage Pail Kid ("Mushroom Cloud Tim"), we find this fascinating statement by King Benjamin, at the very end of his magnum opus in which he gave his people a new name and a new covenant, making them sons and daughters of Christ, where he said:
Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all.
(FYI: being "brought to heaven" doesn't necessarily mean after we die. Just ask the Three Nephites.)
What's really interesting about all of this is that we haven't seen anything about Church officiators; being "sealed" to God isn't something we find on the Covenant Path being dished up.
If that sounds brash, let me assure you I am not being glib. The alarm bells are ringing 'Fire! Fire!' We must douse the flames before they consume the entire boat, or we must evacuate.
The preaching of carnal security ("teaching for doctrines the commandments of men"), which we find being correlated from top-down in the Church, will prove its utter demise.
Unless we repent.
According to the scriptures above, being sealed to Christ is a function of the Spirit; it is a matter of the sheep knowing their Shepherd and conversing with the Lord through the veil.
I'm not saying the Church doesn't have an important role to play; but in terms of being sealed to Christ among the 144,000, you'll notice the earthly Church hasn't trademarked the conditions of salvation; we won't find "Church of the Firstborn" printed anywhere on the business cards of the Q12; and thankfully Intellectual Reserve, Inc. has no rights to the management of the kingdom of heaven.
So . . .
Christ really, truly, employeth no servant at the gate (2 Nephi 9:41).
2. ". . . are high priests ordained unto the holy order of God"
Ah, now we see the term "ordained." So those who are sealed to God are ordained by God?
"Ordination" has a lot of baggage, I know. But it looks like we're talking here about something quite different than the run-of-the-mill, priesthood-office-ordination-in-the-Church-by-the-laying-on-of-hands business (Article of Faith 5).
I want to suggest that ordination into the Holy Order of God requires heavenly administrators. According to Joseph Smith, the high priesthood comes:
not by man, nor the will of men; neither by father nor mother. . . but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name . . . with an oath by himself.
(JST Genesis 14:27-30)
So when my neighbor is called as a counselor in the bishopric and is ordained by the laying on of hands to be a high priest, the wording of that ordination is limited to a certain space-time: he becomes a high priest "in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." That's an entirely different matter than being ordained by God unto the Holy Order.
As if there could be no doubt about it, Joseph said point-blank:
All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, 181)
Let's put a fine point on this, shall we? I would like to propose that priesthood power and authority are a function of being "connected with the powers of heaven."
This is not an abstraction; it is, in fact, describing having a relationship with those who dwell in everlasting burnings.
3. ". . . to administer the everlasting gospel . . . "
How do the 144,000 "administer the everlasting gospel?"
Let me share something Clark Burt wrote about what it means to "administer" the gospel, since it is the best explanation I have found anywhere:
"In the Book of Abraham we read, 'And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same (what is the same?-- greater happiness and peace and rest); having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers' (Abr 1:2).
"This is the true order of the Priesthood to bless the lives of others through the righteousness of God and by virtue of the knowledge given us by God. These are the only keys of the priesthood.
"It is no wonder that 'this greater priesthood administereth the gospel, and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom even the key of the knowledge of God' (D&C 84:19).
"So priesthood keys are not having authority to administer (as in presiding and organizing and setting policies), but to administer the gospel of Jesus Christ. And anyone with priesthood power (righteousness of God and knowledge from God) can administer the gospel ... through His words. "
So, does administrative shuffling manifest God's power? Does making agendas for Ward Council with pretty fonts and creating organizational efficiencies and quoting the Handbook reveal the glory of God?
I think not. The glory of God, after all, is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth.
To administer the gospel, then, is to impart the word, or Spirit, or light of truth, found in Christ.
4. ". . . they are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth . . ."
A lot could be said about the universality and multi-cultural background of these 144,000. But I want to focus instead on the question, "Who does the ordaining?" Not my father, or neighbor, or Bishop Jones, apparently.
What's this about "by the angels"?
Angels can include, I think, mortals, because Joseph Smith changed "angels" to "messengers sent of heaven" in the JST.
In the Book of Revelation, we read about seven angels who are given power (bowls or vials) over the earth and its peoples, consisting of certain foreordained judgments.
These might be the "seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord of spirits" (Tobit 12:15).
In any event, the important thing to know is that the gathering is going to be orchestrated from on high.
5. ". . . to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn."
Here we are! We made it at last: this was the main reason I wanted to go down this rabbit hole.
What does all of this have to do with the Wheat and the Tares?
Well, this explains something I find quite odd; it introduces a curve-ball to our narrative.
We learn that the angels are NOT gathering the Wheat in order to bring them into the Church (wait . . . what?!).
No, the angels and the 144,000 who gather the Wheat to the barn are in fact bringing the Wheat into . . . the Church of the Firstborn.
Talk about a plot twist!
This means that the Church's current missionary efforts are preparatory; everything that the Church is doing is preliminary.
Why? Because we must all matriculate to the Church of the Firstborn at some point.
To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
You see, a person might have the rank of "apostle" in the Church; but what does that tell us about their standing in the Church of the Firstborn?
The rank of apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has all the prestige of a cafeteria lunch lady; which I mean as a compliment.
The apostles ARE lunch ladies; they are supposed to feed us and nourish us with the good word of God.
And then, after we've filled our bellies, we go back to class and are instructed from on High by our Teacher.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is merely a pass-through; a school master. It is elementary, not secondary school; going to Church is a form of attending Primary for all of us.
This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom; Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son.
I am hoping that this Post will now shed some new light on the familar words, below, to be seen through a new lens, regarding the Citizens of Zion and the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Celestial):
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus . . . [from whom?] and received the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him [whose hands?] who is ordained and sealed unto this power . . . and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father [who?] sheds forth upon all those . . . who are the church of the Firstborn [which church?].
Graduation is set. Time to order your cap and gown and apron.