I'd like to perform an autopsy on the priesthood authority of the Roman Catholic Church. If we dig into the Coroner's Report, perhaps we will discover what went wrong.
Most importantly, can the Medical Examiner explain the cause of death and the time of death? When precisely, during the Great Apostasy, did the patient succomb? And why?
Because if the Catholic Church could lose its divine authority, can the LDS Church?
Does it surprise anyone that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a unique blend of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? You know what I mean ― fewer crusades and witch trials, but with more polygamy.
We believe in ordinances ("sacraments") and have a Pope-like leader. On the other hand, we condemn infant baptism and have a theology that draws heavily upon the teachings of the Protestant Reformation (while I have never heard of any Popes being celebrated in Sacrament Meeting, I have heard praises for John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and "courageous" William Tyndale).
Despite our religious mancrush on the Reformers, when it comes to priesthood authority and "keys," we fall squarely in line with the Catholic-camp.
What's funny (here's a bit of bait-and-switch) is that even though we reject papal authority, we've inhaled the fumes of it; we've gotten high off the doctrine of One Man ― just substituting the President of the Church in place of the Pope.
In other words, we've adopted the Catholic framework for divine authority with different names and faces. You know what I mean ― fewer palliums and pointy hats, but more aprons and designer suits.
(And don't get me started on the ways we've appropriated Jewish traditions into the LDS Church. Watch out Buddha, we're coming for you next.)
Same but Different?
In Part 7, I gave my opinion that there's one LDS creed that is wreaking havoc today, weighing the Church down unnecessarily:
"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."
But couldn't the exact same thing be said by our Catholic friends?
Re-read it in the context of Roman Catholicism:
(a)The Church has a monopoly of priesthood authority.
Catholics believe that Jesus Christ founded their Church and is the Head of it (sound familiar?) and they alone possess the authority to administer the saving sacraments of the gospel.
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"Just as Jesus Christ led His Apostles through revelation after His Resurrection, He continues to direct the Church today through living prophets and apostles. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the chosen prophet of God today."
(b)The Church is the only one who can act as God's officiators.
Papal supremacy (what LDS folks describe as the President holding all priesthood keys on earth) regulates and governs who may act in God's name. "Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"A prophet is a man called by God to be His representative on earth. When a prophet speaks for God, it is as if God were speaking ... He has the right to revelation for the entire Church. He holds “the keys of the kingdom,” meaning that he has the authority to direct the entire Church and kingdom of God on earth."
(c)The Church's divine authority endures in perpetuity.
Catholics are taught that Christ promised that His (Catholic) church would always continue. There would never come a time when they would cease to exist. Because the Church is the custodian of God's truth, it is incapable of error and the Pope's pronoucements as God's mouthpiece are inerrant.
Contrast that with LDS doctrine:
"The Church will never again be taken from the earth. Thousands of years ago, the Lord said He would 'set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people … and it shall stand for ever' (Daniel 2:44)."
Hmmm. This all reminds me of something Joseph Smith taught at the end of his life:
"The old Catholic church traditions are worth more than all you have said. Here is a principle of logic that most men have no more sense than to adopt. I will illustrate it by an old apple tree. Here jumps off a branch and says, I am the true tree, and you are corrupt. If the whole tree is corrupt, are not its branches corrupt? If the Catholic religion is a false religion, how can any true religion come out of it? If the Catholic church is bad, how can any good thing come out of it?"
Odd, then, to see the LDS Church returning to its Catholic-lite roots.
Point 1: No Non-Competes
Let's first address the idea that the Church has a monopoly on priesthood authority.
This presupposes that divine authority belongs to an institution and its offices, transmitted through ordination (overseen by the clergy) over generations.
But remember when Jesus's disciples complained that an unaffiliated, random guy was performing miracles without their express authorization?
Who was this rogue fellow?
Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
Seems perfectly reasonable. Some guy is invoking God's name without permission, and the disciples crack down on their supposed-monopoly. "We forbad him."
How curious that the first thing those with authority want to do is control the entrance and exits; to barracade the doors against unlicensed use of God's name.
Was he taking the name of the Lord in vain (the devils skeddadled, didn't they)? Surely the Lord would approve of his disciples' zeal, right? Did they collect the man's name and phone number to contact his Stake President and have him put in his place, and be instructed in the unwritten order of things?
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Ummm. That didn't go as expected.
Moral of the Story: Jesus's disciples wanted to treat Christ's name (His authority) as a belonging. Something they could regulate and patrol, like a police officer on the freeway watching for illegal lane changers. "Whoa, buddy, you need to stay in your lane. You don't get to cross over the line without flashing lights and sirens, like I have."
Who, in the end, was taking the Lord's name in vain? Him who acted to cast out devils, or those who would restrict him?
But Christ rebukes them and teaches us that His name is not something we can own, or control.
Authority comes from the word of God, not from our offices. Let me repeat: the word of God is the ultimate authority.
If God taps you on the shoulder and says, "Bob, would you please cast that mountain into the sea?" ― that's all the permission Bob needs. You don't need to appear before a Mountain Moving Committee presided over by one who holds "keys" and get their notarized authorization.
Point 2: [Over]throwing a Party
The question that should preoccupy the Church is: How does a people lose their divine investiture of authority? Because it seems to happen a lot (every dispensation or so).
The law of carnal commandments [we're talking about the lesser law, or Law of Moses; the Levitical-level of authority] which the Lord in his wrath [see, the Lord was not a fan; the lesser, Levitical way of doing things was a curse; the people were denied the liberty of Christ's law that comes with the higher priesthood, because of the hardness of their hearts] caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John [the Baptist], whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb [no laying on of hands necessary].
For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained [who does the ordaining? The Three Witnesses?] by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power: to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews.
So how did John "overthrow" the Jewish kingdom? What armies did he use?
What does it take for God to send someone to "overthrow" our current regime?
And what precipitates it?
The absurdity of the idea that God's authority persists among a people who turn away from Him is illustrated in the following example.
Let me say upfront that the point of this story is to show divine authority is always conditioned on obedience to God's word.
Let me repeat: divine authority is always conditioned on obedience to God's word.
"What, are you okay, Tim?" someone says. "You're advocating for obedience?! I can't believe it."
Well, wait until you see what I mean.
The Son Who Shoveled
Say I pay my son an allowance to shovel the snow on the driveway each time it snows.
It’s important to shovel the driveway and walk because the UPS man (angels) have a lot of packages to deliver and we can’t have them slipping on ice.
One day it snows and snows, three feet high. My son ignores my requests to shovel the walk, playing video games in the basement.
He knows it’s his job, but maybe he's tired; I've seen him sniffling and perhaps he’s caught a cold from being out in the snow so much.
And to be honest, maybe I paid him too well, enough that he's saved up a lot of money and, at the moment, doesn't really feel the need to get more. No urgency.
(That's the set up: but here's where the story is going to make my point.)
So I go to my daughter, Sparrow, and ask her to do his chore. "Can you shovel the walk for me, Sweetie? Your brother is busy."
She happily complies; in her case she's saving up for Barbie's Dream Mansion (and that ain't cheap).
As she begins shoveling the heavy snow, my son sees her out the window.
Whereas before he couldn't be bothered, now he’s all action! He storms out and demands my daughter stops. "This is MY job. Dad gave it to me. Stop this minute. And I won't be splitting my allowance with you."
Instead, my daughter shrugs. "Sorry. Too late. Dad asked me to do it, and I’m going to."
Moral of the Story: Only those who actually DO the will of the Father have authority. When we fail to act, He calls another in our stead.
Thus saith the Lord, that inasmuch as there are those among you who deny my name, others shall be planted in their stead.
Isn't that interesting? That says others "shall be planted." You see, the Lord doesn't need to cut down the rotten tree. He often leaves it be. Instead, the Gardner goes to another spot in His vineyard and plants something new.
This is why we see the relics of previous religions going full-steam-ahead today: they did not realize as they busily sought for riches, that God had left the building and started over.
Lesson: The easiest way to lose our priesthood commission as a people is to ignore the Lords words.
Parable of the Two Sons
Now, I didn't come up with that story about Sparrow shoveling snow. It's a modern take on Jesus's parable of the two sons.
What's important to understand is that Jesus's parable was in response to the Pharisees challenging His authority (yup, there it is again: authority; we can't spin an armadillo by the tail without rubbing up against the Pharisees' sensitivity over authority).
The chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?
Jesus puzzled them by asking about John the Baptist's authority. And then He gave them this parable:
"A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
"He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
"And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
"Whether of them twain did the will of his father?
"They say unto him, The first.
"Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
See, in the end, it doesn't matter who was "called" (given an ordination or received the priesthood). It doesn't matter who gives lip service to the Lord, and claims to be His people.
(As I drove into work today, I saw a billboard from a local beauty parlor that said: "Life is short. Buy the lips.")
Ignore the lips of those who say, "Lord, Lord," but do not labor for Zion.
A lot of people today claim divine authority.The only ones who actually have it are those doing the will of their Father.