During an inspection of an aircraft carrier, a visiting admiral had all of the Navy and Marine personnel line up in formation.
While walking down the line, the admiral asked sailors questions and received appropriate responses until he stopped in front of a Marine and asked, “What’s the first thing you do after hearing “Man Overboard?”
Without hesitation, the Marine asked, “Officer or Enlisted, Sir?”
My grandfather served in the US Navy and fought on a Destroyer in WWII and the Korean war.
I remember him joking about differences between enlisted members and commissioned officers.
Now he has passed on to the Big Ship in the Sky, but this past weekend I thought of him as I watched the new Top Gun movie.
It made me wonder: are "we all enlisted" in the Lord's army (as the hymn says), or are we commissioned?
Either way, today I want to give the simplest explanation I possibly can about the way priesthood authority and power work.
No prior military experience required.
Priesthood Power and Authority For Dummies
I don't want to get lost in the legalese of priesthood mumbo-jumbo. We can worry about the small print later.
For now, I want to focus on how simple this is. In fact, once you spot it, you won't be able to un-see it. You'll wonder why we've complicated it for so long.
There is no mystery about it. You don't need to be hazed at West Point or inducted into a secret hand-shaking society to comprehend it.
Ready? Here's how it works:
Step 1. God gives you a task to do.
Okay, anyone lost so far? Good.
Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us this:
Any commission God bestows is always accompanied by:
a. authority (divine permission to do the thing God asked you to do); AND
b. power (divine grace to accomplish the thing he’s asked you to do).
This was summed up beautifully in one sentence by Nephi (and gives a new perspective on this scripture):
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded . . .
When the Lord gives you a job, you have all the authority there is, or that you will ever need, because you have divine permission. Period.
for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
(1 Nephi 3:7)
Here we see that the Lord gives us the power to accomplish whatever mission he has sent us on.
Now are you ready for the last part? (You're probably thinking, "Already?") See, I told you this was elementary.
Step 2. You do it, or you don't. That's it.
Alas, many are called (Step 1) but few are chosen (Step 2).
Step 1: The Call If divine authority and power are given by the Lord Himself, by his own voice, it creates some tricky issues (especially for those of you who are military-minded, who will be driven crazy by what follows).
1. The first problem we face is figuring out if God is actually speaking to us, or if we're being deceived.
That's what we're all worried about, isn't it? None of us wants to think we're on the Lord's errand while in reality we're being duped into following the devil.
We're told to judge whether we're on the right path by seeing if we're in line with what the current leaders are doing and saying.
As we will see in this post and the next one, trusting in our leaders is probably not a great way to discern if we're on the right path.
For example, Satan had greater priesthood authority than we did in the premortal world, but nobody believes we should have sustained and followed him (well, I guess 1/3 part of the hosts of heaven actually thought we should).
So we intuitively understand that any authority a person has is subordinate to God's.
2. Since God does not respect the chain-of-command (yes, I know we've all been taught to believe He does, but we will see that notion is a bunch of poppycock), how does this work on an institutional level?
EXAMPLE 1: The Call of Samuel
Is there a prophetic pattern in the scriptures regarding how the Lord calls us?
How does God bestow power and authority upon his servants?
Simple: by his own voice, like he did the boy Samuel.
Now remember, Samuel was not the presiding priesthood authority (that honor fell upon Eli and his sons, who really deserve a blogpost of their own).
So how exactly did God "call" Samuel? Did he place an ad in the Jerusalem Gazette? Did he send him a notarized letter by Pony Express? Did he have an owl named Hedwig from Hogwarts deliver his instructions to this boy-who-listened?
And Samuel was laid down to sleep; and the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
(1 Sam. 3:3-4)
That was it. Does it sound familiar? After Samuel heard the voice three times, he finally understood that the Lord was speaking to him.
Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
(1 Sam. 3:10)
Notice how the Lord called Samuel by name? ("Joseph, my son.")
One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other-- This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
After getting Samuel's attention, the Lord explained that he wanted him to do probably the hardest thing Samuel could have imagined, because it meant the overthrow of Eli's house, whom he loved.
But the reason the example of Samuel stands out as such a great example is because:
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.
(1 Sam. 3:19)
How many of the Lord's words do we let "fall to the ground?"
EXAMPLE 2: The Call of Amos
Okay, next up is Amos. Like Samuel, Amos was a nobody.
Amos did not hold ecclesiastic office (in fact, all of these people we're going to see were not called from leadership, but were actually called to overthrow the priesthood hierarchies of their days. Interesting.)
Amos was minding his own business when the Lord called him. He explained to his priesthood leader at a quasi-disciplinary council:
Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah . . .
Amaziah, by the way, was the high priest. Why wasn't Amos sustaining the Brethren?
I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son . . .
Pause. I love that Amos is pointing out the nepotism that exists in hierarchies (I mean, we have three Joseph Smiths that require us to use middle initials and names to keep them straight).
Amos had absolutely no priesthood pedigree. And yet.
I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit
See, Amos supported himself financially (so I guess it was self-evident he wasn't part of the leadership, right?). He refused to practice priestcraft.
And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.
Amos didn't need to be called by man, or have an ordination by men.
He just needed to be called by the Lord's own voice.