A primary president, a high councilor, and a bishop sat on the front row of an airplane during a flight that was hijacked. When the hijackers' demands were refused, they threatened to shoot the passengers, starting with the first row.
The primary president asked for one last wish: to sing her favorite primary song. The hijacker said that would be fine.
The high councilor requested that after the song he be allowed to stand and give the talk he had prepared to give in sacrament meeting that next Sunday.
The hijacker agreed, then turned to the bishop. The bishop motioned for the hijacker to come closer and whispered in his ear, "Please shoot me after the song."
"Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood."
On the day Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ, he received these words:
[Joseph] Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof [the church], and to build it up unto the most holy faith.
What is the difference between the church being built up into "the most holy faith" as opposed to the church being built up "untothe most holy faith?" And speaking of TheMost Holy Faith . . . which "faith" is that?
Which church [Church of Christ] was organized and established in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.
Wow! That is specific. We could set our watches to it.
Why make such a big deal about the date of inception of the church? This reminds me of something Joseph said, "This is good logic. . . . As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end." (Joseph Smith, "King Follett Discourse", April 7, 1844.)
Contrast the beginning of the church with something else:
This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity.
So we can make some logical conclusions here:
1. Priesthood existed before the organization of the church; in fact, it existed before the foundation of this world.
2: Priesthood will survive after the organization the church has been dissolved, into all eternity.
3. Therefore, Priesthood may exist in the church but it is separate from, and does not depend upon, the church for its existence.
As an example: the Three Nephites have priesthood authority but they do not hold an office or keys in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that I know of, at least).
So one way we could interpret this scripture is that the church (beginning = temporal) is built up to bring us "unto" something that is "most holy," meaning the holy order of the priesthood after the order of the Son of God (no beginning = eternal).
The Whole Enchilada
Where do we obtain, or from whom do we obtain, the priesthood belonging to "the most holy faith?"
As opposed to some other, or lesser, priesthood? Like the "priesthood" belonging to Satan. I mean, does the devil actually have any authority now that he has been cast down to earth?
Well, he has a kingdom, doesn't he?
It is the kingdom of the devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh --
For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil . . .
(1 Nephi 22:22-23)
If the kingdom (or church) of the devil is about getting "gain" and "power" and "popularity", then we can safely assume that the kingdom (and church) of God is about the opposite.
What is the opposite of "gain"? (POOR)
What is the opposite of "power"? (MEEK)
What is the opposite of "popularity"? (PERSECUTED)
You know, this church is starting to sound a lot like the one Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount ("Blessed are..."). But who would want to belong to that church?!
Anyone brave enough to belong to a poor, meek and persecuted people, here's a priesthood for you:
The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, 323)
Surprise! The high priesthood does not come "by descent from father and mother"; meaning it is not passed down along earthly lines, like the Aaronic or lesser priesthood, which is lineal. The Aaronic Priesthood can be passed down, but the priesthood of the most holy faith is not fungible.
According to Joseph, the high priesthood comes from "God Himself." What? How does that work? How do we get a priesthood from God?
No worries! I am sure there's an internet site we can download a certificate from. But if not: "The Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant." (Joseph Smith, TPJS, 323.)
Let's see how this worked for Melchizedek, a terrific guy whose name has become synonymous with the high priesthood (kind of like how Kleenex has become synonymous with tissues: can't trademark either):
[Melchizedek] was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; 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. For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself...
(JST Genesis 14:27-30)
It says that Melchizedek was "ordained an high priest." But who ordained him?
All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, 181)
Waaaait a minute. How do we get "ordained by God himself"?
Through the "Oath and Covenant" of the priesthood.
The Powers of Heaven
Before we look at the Oath and Covenant, let's look at a few scriptures that talk about the "powers of heaven."
What are the "powers of heaven?" That seems a crucial question since "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled" (D&C 121:36).
What if the "powers of heaven" referred not to some abstraction, but referred instead (hear me out here) to actual, breathing, heavenly beings?
Curious: the Lord referred to these "powers of heaven" three times (!) in his speech to the Nephites.
[This land] shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you.
(3 Nephi 20:22)
Hmmm. In case we missed it, the Lord repeats this idea in the following chapter:
Then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
(3 Nephi 21:24-25)
Is Jesus referring to himself as the "power of heaven?" Is he saying he will "come down" and be "in the midst" of his people?
The third and final time we find "the powers" in 3 Nephi is when Jesus ministers to the Three Nephites (who, from what I have heard, spend an inordinate amount of time loitering around Interstate 15 and telling strangers to get their food storage in order):
Ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
(3 Nephi 28:7)
Here it sounds like the "powers of heaven" are actual people who accompany the Lord at his Second Coming. Could this have something to do with Enoch's Zion?
And Enoch beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and the Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.
Are we seeing a connection between the powers of heaven and the New Jerusalem-slash-Zion? Are we thinking there may be something going on that involves the covenants and oaths God made to Enoch (and the other patriarchal Fathers)?
Are we thinking that authority, or power in the priesthood, comes when we connect with the "powers of heaven"?
Blessings and More Blessings
"But didn't Abraham receive the priesthood from Melchizedek?" someone may ask. "Didn't Melchizedek use the laying on of hands to ordain Abraham?" I am so glad you asked!
Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.
(JST Genesis 14:25)
And he [Melchizedek] lifted up his voice and he blessed Abram, being the high priest.
(JST Genesis 14:37)
And he [Melchizedek] blessedhim, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.
Okay, I think we get the message. Melchizedek did not "ordain" Abram; he blessed him. That's the whole point: the high priesthood is meant to impart blessings.
This gives a whole new light to Abraham's own account:
I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same.
The ordination (from God) is meant to give those who are high priests of the holy order the ability to administer "the blessings" unto others. And remember, Jesus is our Great High Priest.
Now we need to dissect the following language:
It [the right belonging to the the fathers] was conferred upon me from the fathers.
Hold on. We know that someone "conferred" the right on Abraham. D&C 84:14 says "Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek." It does not say, though, "conferred upon me [by] the fathers." It was conferred "from" the fathers. What's the difference?
It [the right] came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth.
Hmmm. What did Alma say "before the foundation of the earth" meant? He said it meant "being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity" (Alma 13:7). And what is this "right" Abraham is talking about?
Even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
So it appears the right Abraham sought was something that passed "from" or "through" the fathers, and thus through Melchizedek to Abraham. I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.
How did Abraham receive the holy priesthood and receive the right of the firstborn? Who is "the seed" who receives the right of the fathers?
And the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise. . . My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning. . . And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure . . . and though shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations.
And I will bless them through thy name... And I will bless them that bless thee.
From Abraham's example, we find that he received his "appointment" from the Lord himself, who blessed him by an oath and a covenant.
So it was from the beginning, or with the first man Adam:
So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.
And the Gods said: We will bless them.
This holy priesthood holds the "blessings" of the family of God.
So we've looked at both Melchizedek and Abraham, and how Abraham received his "appointment unto the Priesthood" (Abraham 1:4). Just to drive home the point:
Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord.
How about Joseph Smith? How did he receive his "appointment" unto the high priesthood?
For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days.
Will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed? And will I appointunto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things.
(D&C 132:5, 7, 10, 11, 40)
The pattern is remarkable. God's oath and covenant is delivered by his "word," at his "hands"; even the appointment of the right belonging to the fathers, which is the "right of the firstborn", which Joseph received from God.
The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood.
Whoa, slow down. What does it mean for these powers of heaven to "declare" their rights and keys and honors? Does their declaration confer authority, or power, upon us?
Laying on of hands
Isn't it interesting that the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood was accompanied by the laying on of hands (see JS-H 1:68), but we have no account of the laying on of hands being used by Peter, James and John? Instead, we have "the voice" being referenced.
In fact, a big deal is made about the manner of ordination to the Aaronic priesthood, but we know next to nothing about the manner of ordination to the higher priesthood.
Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron.
Well, that makes me wonder, "How was Aaron ordained?"
And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him... and he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. And he put the mitre upon his head...
And Moses took the anointing oil... and he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him, to sanctify him.
Whoa. If that is how Aaron was ordained, and if John ordained Joseph and Oliver "even as Aaron", then I must have missed something in the Cliff Notes.
An Important Principle
Joseph Smith said, "There are three grand orders of priesthood." (TPJS, 322.) He mentioned 1) Melchizedek, 2) Patriarchal, and 3) Levitical.
It's interesting that ordination to the lesser or Aaronic priesthood is a public production. It is on display for all to see. That's the point! It is the priesthood of "outward ordinances."
And gather thou all the congregation together unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And Moses did as the Lord commanded him; and the assembly was gathered together...
And Moses said unto the congregation, This is the thing the Lord commanded to be done. And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water.
In fact, we carry paperwork to describe our ordination to the Aaronic priesthood.
Each priest, teacher, or deacon who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling.
That makes sense: we want to ensure that those who perform the "duties of his calling" are authorized.
The principle is that those things done in the church, by the church, are done by common consent and by the laying on of hands. Article of Faith 5 states that we use the "laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."
Well . . .
Okay, is it possible that Joseph, being a busy guy, asked one of his many friends to respond to John Wentworth and just sort of "rubber stamped" the letter that was sent back to the Chicago Democrat? After all, could he have dreamt that we would adopt a sort of catechism from some things written in a letter sent to a non-member? Because why does Article of Faith 5 mention "pastors" and "evangelists" when we don't use those terms for offices in the church? And isn't Article of Faith 3 weird, too, stating that we are saved "by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel," which is pretty works-based, when the Articles and Covenants state the church's official soteriology as "we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true" (D&C 20:30-31); and I have to throw a flag on Article of Faith 12, which states we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates . . . because that is not the case from my reading of church history at all, and it certainly does not square with Joseph's attempt at creating the Kingdom of God; and we are talking about red-blooded Americans in Jacksonian America for whom the idea of kings . . . you get the idea.
And while we're talking shop, the lack of historical information we have concerning Peter, James and John and the ordination Joseph and Oliver received from them, and when, and where, and how, is a big historical debate and I do not wish to wade into it. One of the issues is that the verses in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants that mention the ordination by Peter, James and John are not found in the original revelation as recorded in Revelation Book1; nor are those verses found in The Evening and Morning Star and Book of Commandments when the revelation was published in 1833, but they appear for the first time in the published 1835 Doctrine and Covenants without explanation of where they came from, or from whom, or why. What further muddies the water is that the added verses also refer to Moroni, when Joseph's own accounts credited Nephi as the angel . . . never mind, that is another historical debate I do not wish to take sides on, but merely to point out that are some interesting things that need to be sorted out.
Anyway . . .
Example of Paul
Yes, Paul traveled to Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion on the Road to Damascus, after he had been preaching the gospel and performing miracles all over the world, and was accepted by the 12 Apostles at that time . . . but the apostles did not "give" Paul his authority.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. [He had no certificate]
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
But there were many people who rejected Paul's authority and his claim to the apostleship. Not Peter, who referred to Paul as a "beloved brother" (2 Pet. 3:15-16), but there was enough opposition to Paul that he had to "defend" his unorthodox apostleship in 2 Corinthians chapters 10 thru 13.
For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
(2 Cor. 12:11-12)
Paul's authority did not come through the Church, although he was acknowledged by the Church; it was given him by God and confirmed by the "signs," "wonders," and "mighty deeds" he performed in the name of the Lord.
A is for Apple
When a child learns to read, they begin by learning their "letters." Then we put those letters together into words. And then we start adding punctuation to create strings of words into sentences. Likewise, Joseph Smith spent a lot of time trying to organize and set in order the priesthood for the church. The structure and offices and roles evolved over his lifetime, but the one thing that seems to have remained the same was Joseph pointing us towards that priesthood which belongs to "the most holy faith," which comes from God himself.
The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood So let's look at the the Oath and Covenant.
All those who receive [this] priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you [think: "powers of heaven"].
For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.
Clearly the Oath and Covenant and receiving the fullness of the priesthood involves knowing the Father.
Example of Alma
How did Alma the Elder receive his authority?
And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number.
Look at the words Alma used when he baptized in the Waters of Mormon:
I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God.
Remember how the high priesthood is to administer blessings? Look at what happened to Alma:
And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinaidi.
And blessed art thou because thou has established a church among this people.
Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name.
Thou art my servant, and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life.
Come unto Christ, come unto God, even the Father. Receive the words of life from his mouth. Enter into his covenant.