[Spoiler alert: The Parable of the Babysitter is at the end of this post]
After reading a recent post, a friend asked me point-blank, "Are body piercings and tattoos really against God's will?"
Now, they weren't actually asking for my opinion on tattoos and nipple rings. They were asking, "Is it possible for the Prophet to be wrong?"
Here's my answer:
1. A servant can only have one Master (Matt. 23:8). The authority of a master over their servant is singular (so let's hope we get a good one).
2. No one (that's right, no one) can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). So if we had a master but wanted to moonlight-on-the-side, it would not end well.
3. The answer to my friend's question ― and the answer to 99% of all our questions, every time (!) ― is asking ourself, "Who is my master?"
Who Is My Master?
This question is a LOT harder than it appears.
Is my wife "my master" when she forces me to fold the laundry?
Am I "the master" of my children when I make them read Oscar Wilde?
What does it mean, in a spiritual context, to be a master? A servant?
Looking at our Savior's example, we can ask, "Who was Christ's master?"
And the follow-up question, "What sort of Servant was Christ?"
Of Masters and Vineyards
It's pretty interesting that the Lord is compared in the scriptures to a "master" of . . . a vineyard. So I guess it is safe to say the Lord knows a thing or two about fine vintages.
(It'll be worth attending the Wedding Supper just to sample the wine.)
A feast of fat things, of wine on the lees well refined.
One of the things I love in the allegory of the Olive Tree found in Jacob 5 is the servant saying to the master:
How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
To paraphrase, the servant is saying, "Are you crazy? This is the worst possible place to plant a tree, don't you know?!"
And the master responds, "Counsel me not" (Jacob 5:22).
Like when Lucifer tried to counsel the Father, telling Him he had a better plan; while Christ was willing to become a Son.
Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.
Taking counsel is NOT a one-way street. We're not talking about marching orders. It involves dialoguing with the Lord, raising questions and honestly considering alternatives and seeking greater light and understanding.
People whose faith and beliefs have not matured beyond what they held in their teens and 20s and 30s probably do not spend much time counseling with the Lord.
Why? Because it is impossible to counsel with Him and not be transformed.
He changes our hearts and renews our minds.
Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.
What does counseling have to do with masters and servants, you ask?
Ask yourself, "Whose counsel are we obeying?"
1. If we're doing what the devil says, then he is our master (Mosiah 4:14).
2. If we're doing what the Prophet says, then he is our master (D&C 76:98-100).
3. If we're doing what Christ says, then He is our Master (Matt. 23:10).
Choose Your Master
The irony of the whole situation is we get to choose our master (Joshua 24:15). If you don't like the one you've got, then choose a better one.
This isn't the Hunger Games. We're not conscripted into serving against our will; we have agency. We get to volunteer for whatever team we want to be part of.
1. Those that serve the Prophet will receive a Prophet's reward (Matt. 10:41).
2. Those that serve the devil will reap the devil's reward (Romans 6:23).
3. And those that serve Christ shall receive a commensurate reward (John 17:2).
Which master will we choose?
A Prophet Is Only a Prophet
Sometimes I drive people crazy when I distinguish between Christ and the prophets, probably because we teach that "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38).
I get confused how this tradition ever sprang up ― that whenever a prophet speaks his words are God's will ― when Joseph taught "a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such" (History of the Church, 5:265).
I would alter that quote to say, "A prophet is only a prophet when he is [speaking the words of Christ, by which we may know he is] acting as such" (History of Tim, 8:22:22).
I do not see any benefit in treating the Lord and the prophets interchangeably; and in fact, I have seen a lot of mischief come from doing so.
The Prophet is Not our Master
By way of analogy, my father is a wonderful, wise man. Not perfect, but who is?
Yet my dad has no "authority" or power over me because, as a father myself, he no longer gets to be in charge of my life. He can't dictate my bedtime or make me turn off the TV and clean my room.
As a 40-something adult, I've come to trust my dad and I appreciate his counsel. We converse on all kinds of issues and problems, and if what he says connects with me, either through reason or revelation, I take it to heart.
On the other hand, if my dad ever gives me dodgy advice, I am free to ignore it.
At the end of the day, when I go home and counsel with my wife, she and I get to decide how to raise our children and what sort of adults we want to be.
So while we honor and love our parents, we don't have to believe as they do, nor are we required to live our lives according to their values.
Why? Because we are not the servants of our parents; we are servants of the Living Prophet, Jesus Christ.
The Parable of the Babysitter
Now we're to the part I've been building up to. Let's apply this to prophets.
Do prophets babysit us? Are they our nanny? Do they get to dictate our bedtimes and how many earrings we have?
"Well, yes, Tim, they do!" someone says. "God gave them priesthood keys, so they're in charge; we have to obey them as if they were God because He gave them His authority," they tell me as if I am a few beans short of a burrito, like their claims should be obvious and self-evident to anyone who has graduated nursery.
Parable: Even though we're not kids who need babysitting, arguendo, let's pretend our parents left us with a babysitter.
It's 6:00 o'clock and our parents kiss us goodnight. "Now be good. Do whatever the babysitter says," they say as they jet off, leaving us alone with our babysitter.
(This scenario is something Nephi warned us about. In the latter-days, he saw people making the claim that God had given them his authority. Even though Nephi throws all kinds of red flags on this play, it still has somehow become LDS doctrine. Go figure!)
They say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; Behold, hearken ye unto my precept.
(2 Nephi 28:5-6)
So back to the Babysitter. She makes some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese for dinner. She puts us in pajamas and starts Bambi on the television. When we're settled, she calls her boyfriend on the phone and invites him to hang.
The boyfriend arrives and seems nice enough. As they sit on the couch with us smoking weed, the Babysitter offers us a marijuana joint.
"Go ahead," she says, "I'm in charge; take a good drag. It'll relax you before bed."
"Sorry," we say. "Our parents taught us not to do drugs."
"Hey, calm down little fella!" she says. "It's okay. Really. Your parents trust me. They left me in charge and so you have to do as I say while they're gone!"
"No we don't," we answer matter-of-factly. "You were left with representative authority, and not independent authority, and you are to be obeyed only insofar as your commands are consistent with and not repugnant to the standards of this home. While our parents are not physically present, their values still preside within these walls. You have violated that implied covenant and have shown yourself to be untrustworthy of the position my parents gave you. Not only will we refuse your drugs, but we will also be telling Mother you should not babysit anymore. In fact, I believe we would all be better off if you and your boyfriend left. Good night."
The Moral of the Parable
The moral of the story is we do not serve babysitters. We serve Christ alone.
The only authority prophets have is by virtue of speaking the words of Christ, by persuasion, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.
When a prophet gives us the drugs of carnal security, telling us "all is well," while prescribing the precepts of men mingled with scripture, we may show them the door.