If you asked me to put my finger on the doctrine I think causes the most mischief in the Church, I wouldn’t even blink.
And no, it is not "follow the prophet who won't lead us astray" ― that idea is merely a symptom of a larger doctrinal problem.
The real culprit is the belief that we have a monopoly on priesthood authority in the Church; and that we're the only ones who can act as God's officiators ― all others are illegitimate and pretenders ― and, worst of all, our authority endures in perpetuity regardless of whether we are righteous or not, because divine authority, once bestowed upon an instituiton, transcends all other considerations for all time and space.
Sorry, Charlie. Just the way it is.
And so old-timers like me used to carry around in our wallets our "priesthood line of authority," showing the generational ordinations we descend from, as if that's what's really important to God who can raise children unto Abraham from common stones.
Believing we're the "only-true-and-living" priesthood with divine authority in 2023 places spiritual landmines around the body of Christ; not to keep others out, mind you ("By all means, join our church; come to us because we're the only ones who can save you,") but to create an explosive periphery with which to keep those inside the Church from leaving.
It's like we see God across the street, working through other means, and we pull our handgun. "This is a hold-up; stick-em-up! Hand over all Your covenants with the House of Israel. You can only fulfill those promises through, and under the supervision of, the General Authorities of the Church. Do not pass Go. Don't try anything cute, you hear?"
Will a man rob God? Wherein have we robbed thee, Lord? In claiming my authority to confiscate tithes and offerings like punks collecting spritual protection money from the single mother at the 7-11.
This all boils down to one question: Is God required to perform his marvelous work and wonder only through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Or are we just one piece of a larger picture?
"But Tim!" someone says, "Are you advocating for a priesthood of all believers?'
No, I am not. I am suggesting, though, that priesthood authority does NOT arise from, or inhere, to particular prietshood offices or ordination (see Joseph Smith's magnum opus on this point in D&C 121). Many are called, but few are chosen.
I have had several conversations lately with close family members and friends who end the discussion with, "What does it matter? The Church has the authority." Full stop; pull the plug and take the patient off life support.
It's sorta like saying, "Yes, Tim, it is regrettable we have to put up with a bit of priestcraft and idolatry. But we've got to suck it up, because the Church has the only God-endorsed priesthood; so what're we gonna do? So what if Eli's sons sit at the table; I'm sure God'll straighten it out eventually. Until then, follow the Brethren. Beyond our pay grade."
The cost? I'm afraid we pay a hefty price to maintain our prideful illusions: blindness of mind and heart.
The Ultimate Clic
Nephi faced this obstinate way of thinking when he wrote 2 Nephi 29, addressing those who believe they can set up stakes around God's word (authority) and pin Him down.
A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible and there cannot be any more Bible!
(2 Nephi 29:3)
There are only 783,137 words in the King James Bible. Do we really think that is sufficient for God, who said, "My works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease" (Moses 1:4)?
Have you ever tried to reason with a Baptist from the Bible Belt who is convinced the Book of Mormon is the greatest heresy of all time because it purports to add to the Bible? Good luck trying to persuade them there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the Bible.
But before we pat ourselves on the back, remember, blindness of mind can also creep into the LDS Church. I would even say we're experts at this type of reductionist thinking. How? Instead of placing the Bible on a pedastal, we point to the Prophet in all of his glorified keys-ship.
A Prophet! A Prophet! We have got a Prophet and there cannot be any other Prophets!
Those who think this are described in scripture as (not my words, so please don't shoot the messenger) "fools" (2 Nephi 29:6). Why are they fools? Because they're trying to box God in, and tape the box shut with loads of duct tape so none of His power can leak out to anyone else, marking the cardboard box on the outside with permanent marker, "Mine; all mine! Do Not Open."
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them.
(2 Nephi 29:11)
You see, it's too late: God's authority has been let out of the bag. He is working among all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues.
When we reject the word of the Lord because it doesn't come from a recognized, "authorized" source, that is perhaps the best evidence of our "blindness."
Seeing Eye Dogs for the Spiritually Blind
Jesus had a thing or two to say about "blind guides" (Matt. 23:24). But the reason I am interested in "blindness" is because it is the primary tool used by the Great and Abominable Church to bring us into captivity. And don't you sense that we are, in fact, captives of false creeds?
Wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God . . . [for] I will work a great and marvelous work . . . unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporarly and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil.
(1 Nephi 14:7)
Ummm. That's the worst deliverance I have ever heard of. Normally we'd expect God's "deliverance" to be a good thing, right? Well, not here!
God is not delivering us from the devil but delivering "the blind" to the devil. Wait, what?
How better to describe spiritual captivity than the contentment we feel in having God's authority, so that we no longer seek for greater light and truth and blessings from God?
In other words, what better way to "destroy" a people (I hope the demons are shutting their ears) than to make us believe we "have enough?" We sit back in our soft chairs with our stomachs full, wiping the corners of our mouths with a linen napkin in the upper room, thinking we can pass priesthood keys around the dinner table as if they were a side dish of glazed carrots.
We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
(2 Nephi 28:29)
Isn't this how the Lamanites and Nephites "dwindled in unbelief" (1 Nephi 15:13)? They hardened their beliefs, and hearts, around the traditions of their fathers? (Forget about the Pride Cycle; I want to hear more about the Unbelief Cycle!)
What does this have to do with the priesthood? Well, I think it explains pretty well why we talk-a-big-talk, but have such a limited, errant, infantile understanding of the priesthood and divine authority.
The danger of thinking we've got what everybody needs under lock, stock and barrel (and worse, we're not just stewards and servants but are in charge of the whole shebang), is that:
From them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
(2 Nephi 28:30)
Isn't this the point Jesus was making to the Jews, when He said, "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13)?
I would paraphrase this for our day: "Church, you might as well build a fence around the Sacred Grove and post No Trespassing signs, since you only allow the word of God to come from 47 E. North Temple St., Salt Lake City."
Like a balloon losing its helium, our fates are plummeting, the sign of which is the famine of the word of God in our midst, now almost as rare as a mule giving birth.
But we still believe in miracles, right?
I want to discuss this frighening notion that God "delivers" us into destruction and captivity. Why would a loving Father do that?
I think a better way to say this is that God delivers us up to the desires of our hearts. Whatever we really, really want, in the end we really, really get. That is God's deliverance (or what the scriptures call God's "justice").
So what do we want? To dance at the Ball with the Prince in a beautiful gown and glass slippers, hoping to become Mrs. Prince; or to be a scullery maid who serves among rodents and cleans the scraps from the Master's table? As I've said before, Christ's condescension flips the fairytale upside down: we are not here, Cinderella, to become a princess; we are princes who are to become the servants of all.
Being selfish with God's gifts and authority does not reflect well on our desires. It sounds, to me, like "gratifying our pride" and seeking the praise of men with vain ambition (which is why General Authorities do not keep their day jobs and do not renounce the high seats and perks of office).
I know that God allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto (1) salvation or unto (2) destruction.
Seal Up the Law
Consider what these words mean: Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.
Let's situate these cryptic words, this commandment given by God to Isaiah, between the verses that come immediately before and after it, and see what our spiritual harpoon hits.
And many among them shall stumble [why do we stumble?] and fall [what causes us to fall?] and be broken [who breaks us?] and be snared [how are we snared?] and be taken [yikes!].
This sounds dire. I am distressed just reading these verbs. So let's back up one more verse:
And [the Lord] shall be for a sanctuary [where is safety found?] but for a stone of stumbling [why do people stumble on Him?] and for a rock of offence [what do we find offensive?] to both the houses of Israel [who are we talking about?] for a snare [who is the snare? The Lord?] to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Is God for us, or against us? Is God our deliverer or captor? Like the Continental Divide that splits rain across the hemisphere, down one side (flowing to the Pacific Ocean) or the other (to the Atlantic), Christ's word divides.
Christ is our Continental Divide.
This may make sense if we consider the context of Isaiah's warning:
- Don't make alliances (Isaiah 8:9)
- Don't divide into factions (Isaiah 8:9)
- Don't trust the words of men (Isaiah 8:10)
- Don't trust in "a confederacy" or treaties (or tanks or nuclear arms or anything but God) (Isaiah 8:12).
So what comes after the verse about binding up the testimony and sealing the law?
And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob [wait; who is He hiding from? Why?] and I will look for him.
My friends, God is faithful; but that's the problem. He has promised that if we follow anyone but Christ, we are blind; and those who follow blind guides shall fall into the pit.
And they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and . . . tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.
(1 Nephi 22:14)
You see, we need to "bind up the testimony and seal the law" because we're entering a time when destruction will tear down everything that is not of God or by His word. If God's word is not found in us, we'll have a hard time finding it when oil is in scarce supply.
So let's follow Christ, who is our only Sanctuary.
We drove through Yellowstone watching Old Faithful in ponchos, welcoming the geyser’s predictability. Blood (we knew) is half water. We drove with the radio low listening to unfamiliar stations, staring at bison herds dotting the prairie like raisin clumps. The rain stopped. We crossed over the Continental Divide splitting watershed without consensus between Pacific and Atlantic― the indifference of geology we call nature.
Natural? a great caldera of pressure built by earthquake and fire and salt― not loss alone but loss of self.
The rain resumed. Lines on the wet pavement blurred as we drove in the dead of night feeling the asphalt murmur, miles melting our wafer-hope. We drove on searching ourselves for second opinions, for absolution, reaching home― finding home was not what we had thought. A raisin is just a shriveled grape missing its water. Yet small things form a wedge as sure as any mountain peak parting rainfall flowing toward different seas.