A Roman legion was comprised of 6,000 men. How in the world do you keep them all organized on the battlefield?
The solution was a military formation called "Rank and File." The "rank" describes the the row you stand in. Your "file" refers to the column you're assigned to. (B4, you sunk my battleship.)
"Rank and file" has a lot of benefits in a military context. Imagine you're a soldier, feeling squeamish at the sight of all those barbarians charging at you. You want to flee? Sorry, you're stuck. You have literally nowhere to go. Fight or die. Strength in numbers!
Chain of Command
The reason we need "ranks" in the military is to keep track of who's in charge. We call that the "chain of command." In fact, the whole army is structured around the principle of authority. The chain of command helps them maintain order.
This "chain" determines your place in the line of authority: someone who holds a "higher" rank than you can issue orders you must obey. But the good news is, if you can climb high enough up the chain, you get to be the one giving orders to those of lesser rank.
So far so good. But what if your commanding officer gave you an order that you felt was wrong? Well, you do it anyway -- or you commit insubordination, refusing to obey orders.
The notion of insubordination fascinates me because it places an officer's duty not in the "rightness" or "wrongness" of the order, but in the person who issues it. "Right or wrong be damned, General Obedience, Sir."
I can't think of a prophet who has not been insubordinate to man's authority.
Two of my favorite examples:
Then the king sent unto [Elijah] a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down.
And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume thee and they fifty.
And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
(2 Kings 1:9-10)
Peter and John
[The rulers of the people] commanded them not to speak at all nor teach the name of Jesus.
But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
A good soldier, though, does not have the luxury of second-guessing an order issued by the chain of command.
You're going to love this: if a member of the military gets in trouble for doing something bad, and is prosecuted for it, they can assert the Nuremberg defense. What is that? It's where you can be found not guilty if you were just following the orders of a superior officer.
A Royal Army
We're soldiers in Christ's army, and His house is a house of order, and so of course we want to be organized by rank and offices, right? We've all heard someone refer to "the rank and file of the priesthood."
A friend told me recently, "I've always been told if my bishop tells me to do something, even if it is wrong, and I do it, I will be blessed."
The Problem with Rank
The notions of "rank and file" are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and detrimental to our spiritual well being -- as well as to the cause of Zion, where we will be of "one heart, and one mind."
The dichotomy between "leaders and laity", "clergy and congregation", "priest and parishioner" creates rank in the church and leads to spiritual abuse.
Not convinced? Let's look at a few examples:
1. Rank and File Mentality Diminishes Personal Initiative.
Here's the Lord's standard for organizational behavior:
He that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant.
Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.
But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded . . . and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
The Lord has endowed us with (1) the light of Christ, (2) the Holy Ghost, (3) a brain, (4) agency, (5) the gifts of the Spirit, and (6) the scriptures. He has loaded us up with inspiration.
What happens to our spirituality when we look to others to tell us what to do, how to serve, who to serve, when to serve . . .?
In most religious traditions there's a glass ceiling placed on our ability to freely exercise our gifts or initiative. There are powerful socio-cultural forces that pull us towards orthodoxy and hegemony.
We Interrupt This Post for a Message from A Wrinkle In Time
"The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers, there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses, children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin and saw that he too was puzzled.
“Look!” Charles Wallace said suddenly. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”
"This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers."
Martin Luther gave this wonderful example that shows what a "chain of command" does to individual initiative:
"Would it not be an unnatural thing, if a fire broke out in a city, and everybody were to stand by and it burn on and on and consume everything that could burn, for the sole reason that nobody had the authority to put it out?"
(Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1520), accessed at https://web.stanford.edu/~jsabol/certainty/readings/Luther-ChristianNobility.pdf)
Have you ever wondered, "I feel like I should [fill in the blank]. Can I do that? Would it be okay with [so-and-so]? I better ask. After all, I want to 'stay in my lane.'"
Is that an example of "quenching the Spirit"?
Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
2. Rank and File Mentality Cripples Spiritual Self-Reliance
Joseph Smith knew a thing or two about organizing a body of believers. This is what he said:
Prest. J. Smith & wife then entered. Prest. J. Smith rose, read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel -- said the Lord had declar'd by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church -- that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls --
applied it to the present state of the church of Latter-Day Saints -- said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall -- that they were depending on the prophet, hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselves.
"Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book," p. 51, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book/48
What does it mean to be spiritually self-reliant?
Here's a hypothetical: you live in Jerusalem circa 600 B.C. and have forewarning that Babylon will destroy the city. Do you follow Jeremiah into exile? Do you accompany Lehi? Do you chart a third path? What do you do?
And at that day . . . shall the parable be fulfilled that I spake concerning the ten virgins.
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived-- verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
Who do we follow? Who leads us? The Holy Spirit.
I think what Joseph was worried about is people relying on him too much and missing out on the chance to develop their own spiritual discernment.
When we go hiking in the wilderness, we are told not to "drink downstream." It's better to get water from its source, where it is pure -- before it has traveled through mud and leeches and deer poop and gathered giardia.
Joseph Smith's teaching reminds me of what Nephi warned against. In fact, Nephi pronounced a formal curse.
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or hearkeneth unto the precepts of men save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
(2 Nephi 28:31)
Would Nephi be "for" or "against" a chain of command?
Somebody might say, "But Tim, when I follow the Lord's servants, I am following the Lord himself. What's the difference?"
That's a valid point. There is NO difference. When someone speaks by "the power of the Holy Ghost" it is like God himself speaking.
But that proves my point: there cannot be a "rank and file" in the Kingdom of God because God can speak through anyone. Out of the mouths of babes.
They shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
This promise applies to all of us. "What I have spoken to one, I have spoken to all." This is an "ensample" of how God operates.
It doesn't matter who is talking, or what rank they hold -- it only matters whether they speak by the Spirit (which can come from anywhere, or anyone -- including those we view as "beneath" us).
I have learned it is not the messenger that matters: it is the message; and in fact, the message proves whether or not the messenger is of God, not the other way around.
3. The "Rank and File" Mentality Promotes Pride
The messenger, in fact, is usually a nobody. How ironic -- it is almost like the Lord is testing us. Will we discern his voice from the most unlikely of sources?
Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness-- in the wilderness, because you cannot see him-- my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.
I don't own a trumpet anymore, but I did play the trumpet in the 4th Grade. I wish I still had one so I could proclaim as Joseph did:
It is a love of liberty which inspires my Soul, civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.
The enquiry is frequently made of me, "Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?" In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views but we could all drink into one principle of love.
One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
Joseph Smith, "History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 [1 July 1843–30 April 1844]," p. 1666, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 23, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-e-1-1-july-1843-30-april-1844/36
Would we have listened to Samuel the Lamanite, or shot at him?
Because I am a Lamanite, and have spoken unto you the words which the Lord hath commanded me, and because it was hard against you, ye are angry with me and do seek to destroy me, and have cast me out from among you.
When we're prideful, we ignore people we don't think are "proper" sources.
That's a problem because the Lord intends:
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
The "weak and simple" servants of the Lord are easily overlooked.
I want you to imagine a library with millions of books. But I am going to remove all of the book jackets, covers, and title pages, so that we don't know the names of the books or who the authors are that wrote the words.
Now, you've got to figure out who said the following (oh, and there's no Google):
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.
Don't wrestle pigs. You both get dirty but the pig likes it.
[Answer: Mark Twain]
He was wounded or our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him.
I'll bet you guessed them all correctly. How did you do that? Because you've become familiar with the author's voice. Everyone has a unique "tone."
Could we find the book written by Jesus from the words alone? The humble followers of Christ listen for his voice everywhere.