One of the strangest lawsuits ever filed was in 1971 when Gerald Mayo sued Satan in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Really.
The basis of Mr. Mayo's legal claim was that Satan had "deprived him of his constitutional rights."
Unfortunately, the case was dismissed by the Court because Mr. Mayo failed to include instructions on how the U.S. Marshal could serve process on Satan.
Tim(e) To Play Devil's Advocate
Today I am going to be a Devil's Advocate and ARGUE FOR A HIERARCHY.
Exhibit A: The Angelic Choir
Heaven has a hierarchy, as we see illustrated by the angelic choirs. As we climb Jacob's Ladder, we pass through different levels, or ranks, of heavenly beings. There are 8 or 9 steps on the ladder, as follows:
Cherubim (literally: "one who blesses") guard the tree of life and the throne of God. These are the "heavies" in heaven.
Seraphim (literally: "burning ones") are angels who dwell in everlasting burnings and serve before God's throne. Try the Spirits
We know that men can give uninspired counsel, but can angels? We'd like our angels to be fool-proof; after all, they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. Or do they?
Is it possible for an angel to not speak by the power of the Holy Ghost? Can they opine on their favorite pro football team or whether socks should be worn with sandals? Does every word they speak come from God, or do angels have their own minds and feelings and opinions?
Well, look at Satan. Angels have agency! Even an angel "in authority" like Lucifer was free to deceive us. How else could there have been a "war" in heaven unless everybody was able to speak their mind freely?
Isn't that why we are told to "try the spirits"?
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.
(1 John 4:1)
Isn't this why Paul said:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Okay. Now I'm worried. Who can we trust?
And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones [think angels], or principalities [ditto], or powers [ditto] or things of name [nice catchall], whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.
If all authority singularly flows from God, why do we have different stations?
Heaven is a Choir
Is the heavenly choir like our church choirs? (Let's hope not.) You know what I mean: a handful of members (usually more women than men) performing on Sunday as the congregation sits back and listens. And there is usually that one soprano who sings like she's on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
Maybe there is not a choir in heaven so much as heaven itself is the choir. Everybody enrolls; everybody wants to sing God's praises. Hallelujah!
John saw a vision of all of creation singing the song of redeeming love:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying,
Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
My neighbor Rick is a bass. I sing Baritone. My friend Rob has a lovely Tenor voice. And then we have Altos, Sopranos, Mezzo-Sopranos, and so on.
Question: Do the Sopranos get to boss the Altos around? Are Tenors better than Baritones?
Of course not. In a choir all of the voices are equal even though they are not the same. All voices are kept in unison and harmony.
There is One who directs the music, who has composed a song of such beauty and wonder that it amazes me that he has chosen us to give voice to His creation, His brilliance, His incomprehensible glory.
We take our cues from him. We watch, our eyes fixed on His hands that bear the tokens of our salvation, gesturing and giving birth to the most glorious chords that resound with pure joy in our souls.
His music is love.
Exhibit B: A New Testament Church
The Devil's Advocate Continues:
Just as there is a hierarchy in heaven, Christ created a church composed of apostles and seventies here on earth.
The priesthood requires each man, or woman, to know their place and rank in order to maintain "order" in God's house. There are "greater" and "lesser" priesthoods, and we do not want the Deacons to be running the show, do we?
What if "order" was not a function of an organizational structure? Could "order" refer to something else?
Could it refer to a taxonomy?
To a temporal sequence or pattern in an eternal round?
To a group of sons of God who follow after the Holy Order of the Son of God?
Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
Question: What is a "presiding officer"?
George Washington was unanimously elected the President, or presiding officer, of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Did George Washington use his role as President to dictate the terms of the new Constitution? Not at all. He remained relatively quiet. He presided over the delegates as they debated and decided for themselves. He helped shape their vision and inspired them. He built consensus and held the fragile dream together against all odds. And he succeeded because the delegates respected and loved him.
What if priesthood offices were not about who gets to sit in the high seats? Here's a thought: what if priesthood was not even really about "us", but about Christ?
The priesthood hath continued [with you] through the lineage of your fathers--
For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God--
Therefore, your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.
What is an heir? It is someone who stands in line to inherit once the testator is dead. What do we have to do to "inherit"? Become an heir. Well, now we've come full circle.
Joseph Smith's attempt at creating unity or equality in the organization of the priesthood was unsuccessful. Instead of heirs we've created hierarchy. How did that happen?
The problems the saints faced in 1833 have only deepened since:
I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
How do we "pollute" the inheritance of the priesthood? Could "lustful and covetous desires" apply to priesthood authority and status?
The Inevitable Apostasy
Dalek: Exterminate! Cyberman: Delete! Delete! Dalek: Exterminate! Exterminate! The Doctor: What are you guys fighting about?
All churches, all organized religions, drift into apostasy over time. It is rarely a cataclysmic plunge; it usually is a gentle sliding downward, line upon line, precept upon precept, taking away here a little, and there a little.
If any church got off on the right foot, it was the Nephite Church that Christ personally organized in 3rd Nephi 11 - 27. What were the trademark qualities of the Nephite Zion?
1. There were no contentions (4 Ne. 1:2) 2. All men dealt justly with one another 3. They had all things in common (4 Ne. 1:3) 4. There were not rich or poor 5. They performed mighty miracles (4 Ne. 1:5) 6. They no longer followed the law of Moses (4 Ne. 1:12) 7. The love of God dwelt in the hearts of the people (4 Ne. 1:15)
Having "all things in common" does not just refer to money. What else can we share? What are the most important things to have "in common"?
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
(4 Nephi 1:3)
Whatever this "heavenly gift" was, it was bestowed upon the people because they "were all made free."
After a few generations the Church broke up ("it's not you, it's me"). Why? How could they apostatize from the love of God and heavenly gift?
There began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride.
They began to be divided in classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain.
Yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel.
(4 Nephi 1:27)
So how do hierarchies contribute towards apostasy? How do they enable pride, class division, the accumulation of wealth, and the dilution of the pure gospel?
Excuse Me, Mr. Webster
I am going to try to define "apostasy."
I suggest the most common form of apostasy is the the gradual creep towards legalism as those "in charge" solidify their brand of orthodoxy and reject those who are heterodox. In order to maintain their status, they embellish some things and erase other things to shape a desired narrative.
Think of the Pharisees. They were Moses's star pupils! Or were they? They viewed themselves as law-abiding Jews, but in reality they twisted Moses's law to serve their needs and were filled with envy (see Matt. 27:18).
Pure religion sinks under the weight of the traditions of men.
Brother Rohr, Glad You Could Join Us
Franciscan friar Richard Rohr is a remarkable teacher. He started the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1980s, with the vision that we could stand in "a middle place, at the center of the cross, where opposites are held together."
Without Jesus I would have no authoritative place to stand either in reference to church or culture.
This discernment is made harder by the fact that the actual Jesus agenda does not tend to be the same agenda that is emphasized in the Christian churches.
Zealots want to change, fix, control and reform other people and events. The zealot is always looking for evil, the political sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person over there.
But their tactics and motives are often filled with self, power, control and the same righteousness they hate in [others].
I have come to mistrust almost all righteous indignation and moral outrage. In my experience, it is hardly ever from God.
(Richard Rohr, 1st and 3rd Core Principles of CAC)
Checks and Balances
Originally the priesthood was designed with checks and balances, not unlike those developed by the Framers of the United States Constitution who created an executive, legislative and judicial branch that shared power. No branch was to exercise power independently. For example, judges have to uphold the laws passed by the legislature; the executive can veto congress; but congress can override a veto.
The principle behind checks and balances was to ensure that power is never vested in only a few people. The idea was to spread power out as wide as possible and require the separate branches to keep each other in line. Checks and balances are essential for maintaining equality and freedom.
What were the checks and balances in the priesthood organization?
1. The Twelve Apostles were to be "equal in authority and power to the three presidents" (D&C 107:24); 2. The Seventy were to be "equal in authority to that of the Twelve" (D&C 107:26); 3. The Standing High Councils were to be "equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or the [Twelve]" (D&C 107:36); 4. The high council in Zion was to be "equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the council of the Twelve" (D&C 107:37). 5. The various quorums were to make decisions "by the unanimous voice of the same" (D&C 107:27). 6. All things were to be done "by common consent in the church" (D&C 26:2).
In the United States we have three separate branches; the priesthood was intended to have six separate coequal bodies. That's right, six.
How many are left?
Exhibit C: Efficiency and Productivity
The Devil's Advocate Continues:
A status system maximizes labor and efficiency.
Devil's Advocate: Don't you have anything to say?
Tim: No. I agree.
Devil's Advocate: About time.
Was the purpose of Christ's gospel to make us higher-achievers, better producers, or more efficient?
Devil's Advocate: Hey! You said . . .
Tim: Tricked you, didn't I? Okay, tell you what Devil, sir. I'll save this for next time.