Response to Ordain Women

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published a letter they sent to the leaders of a  group calling themselves Ordain Women.

I’ll reprint the text of the letter here since it has been released to the public. Copyright belongs to the LDS Church. Here is the link to the press release: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans

Dear Sisters,
Thank you for your letter and email.

Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make. The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.

Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instruction about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets. You are certainly welcome to view the live broadcast of the priesthood session on lds.org, the Mormon Channel or BYUtv. We invite you, as our sisters, to participate with women everywhere in the parallel meeting for women and girls on March 29, and hope you will join us in a spirit of love and harmony. The women’s meeting is a remarkable gathering of worldwide sisterhood, and was proposed and planned by the presidencies and boards of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society as a time to focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.

Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider.

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map.

As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.

Again, we hope you will join us for the General Women’s Meeting on March 29 and contribute to the strength of sisterhood in our communities.

Kindest regards,

Jessica Moody
Public Affairs,
On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There does not seem like there is more to say after that kind letter from Jessica Moody (a woman releasing an official statement from the Church) but as there is still some discussion concerning the matter I will add a few of my opinions. My discussion is by no means complete but I hope it is respectful. I will likely update this post over time but will make any changes clear.

Ordain Women

Ordain Women is making clear their motives regarding the issue of women and the Priesthood. I do not like to make assumptions about people’s motives. Most of the time we do not know why people do what they do (I’m saying this as a psychologist by training) unless they explicitly tell us. Even then, what is told as a motive is not necessarily true because people do not always understand their own motives for doing things. Looking at actions, even repeated actions, does not always elucidate motives because motivation is psychologically complex and changeable. So let’s look at what the group Ordain Women says about their motives:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Equality

Two thirds of this statement are about “gender equality.” One of the major problems in pressing for equality is that equality is an opinion – it’s relative. What some people view as equal will be shocking to others as grossly unequal. This is clear in politics and in much of life. One of the few places where equality is clear is in mathematics (even then, there might be room for discussion on the matter). The word equal comes from words meaning anything from uniform, identical, level, even, to just. Is Ordain Women wanting identical equality, level equality, or equality that is just?

Equality outside mathematics is complex and relative. As one example, let’s turn to statistics. There is an area within statistics called equivalence testing. Part of the use of equivalence testing is determine if groups/drugs/treatments/etc. showing no statistical difference are equivalent. In other words, just because there are no differences does not mean the things being compared are equivalent. There is considerable discussion on this matter by researchers and statisticians. So in statistics the concept of equivalence is neither clear nor straightforward. In life it is a much more nebulous concept. Does this make discussions of equality pointless? No, but without complete, ‘equal’ agreement to the definition and expression/implementation of equality there will never be satisfactory answers for the parties in discussion.

Now, add in the layers of hierarchy and authority (not just priesthood) and equality becomes even more complex. Hierarchy itself can be viewed as inherently unequal, so do we need to abolish all hierarchy (that’s essentially anarchy)? If not, then it stands to reason that someone at the top of a hierarchy gets to make a final decision. Turning back to the issue of women and the priesthood – who gets to decide what is equal? Who has the final word? Ordain Women? Is the matter closed only when they say it is? These are all difficulties with basing a platform on equality. We can’t decide what equal is so how are we going to decide what constitutes gender equality? I’m all for civil discussion but dialogue is different from policy and doctrine.

Motivation

The final paragraph of the Ordain Women statement starts to get at the motives of the group: “As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.”

The motivation is to “put [themselves] in the public eye [to] call attention”. That means that unless the LDS Church tells Ordain Women that the full authority of the priesthood (meaning ordination to priesthood offices) will be extended to women just as it is to men, the group will continue to seek public attention. Hence, even though Church leaders have answered their questions respectfully and definitively, Ordain Women continues their call for protests (they might be respectful and peaceful protests but that’s what they are) at the priesthood session of General Conference because they are not satisfied with the answers given. Now I’m not saying that individuals who are part of Ordain Women protest and petition as a means of receiving personal attention, they say it is about the issue of women and the priesthood and until evidence points otherwise we should take Ordain Women at their word, but they at least do it for public attention; thus, public attention is a motivation nonetheless. Public attention is not inherently good or bad but what can be good or bad is the motivation behind the seeking of public attention and the reasons for the advocacy.

Priesthood

From the LDS Church Handbook:

“The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.”

As is clear from this quote, there are two components of the priesthood – 1) power and authority of God and 2) power and authority of God given to man here on earth to act in His name.

I’ll address the second part first.

There is priesthood power and priesthood authority. On earth boys and men are given priesthood offices and act under direction of someone holding priesthood keys (ultimately the President of the Church, who is the presiding authority). Priesthood power [and authority] comes from faithfulness to covenants and righteous living. Priesthood power is available to all who are worthy. What does that mean? Does that mean that women can have the power of the priesthood? Yes, it means exactly that. Priesthood is not men (that’s why it’s not accurate to say something like, “I’d like to thank the Priesthood for their service…”); priesthood is God’s power and authority. On earth God has given men the authority of the priesthood through priesthood offices and both men and women access to the power of the priesthood [and the authority to act in priesthood callings and appendages]. Both men and women partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Men who are given the priesthood can never bless themselves. Priesthood authority is a call to service, a call with responsibility. Women on this earth have been given alternate but complementary responsibilities, responsibilities that might just be weightier than what men have been given. A man needs a wife in order to have access to the full blessings of the priesthood. A woman needs a husband for the same reason. That blessing of a spouse might not occur in this life but it will occur in order for full priesthood blessings to be granted. What this tells us is that full blessings of the priesthood are not realized in this life, they are only realized in the life to come as we remain worthy of what we have received from the Lord.

There is much that we do not know about the organization of authority in the life to come (other than it’s largely around families) but priesthood authority here on earth is given to worthy males as they are ordained to priesthood offices. Women and girls have complementary and certainly no less important roles. To argue that such an arrangement represents inequality is opinion and frankly, short-sighted. If people search for inequalities they will find them or create them.

Now for the first part – priesthood as the power and authority of God. God’s power comes in part from His priesthood and His faith. He uses the Priesthood to create and administer. His Priesthood is power and authority much greater than priesthood delegated to those in this life. [There are keys to priesthood ordinances not yet given to men here on earth.] This complete power and authority only comes to those who are like God and then only as He grants this power unto them. Little has been revealed about this so any further discussion would be speculation. What we do know is that this full power and authority is not given [and I’d argue cannot be given] to individuals on earth for it requires someone to have overcome the world through the efficacy of the Savior’s Atonement.

What has been revealed about the priesthood is not complete but seeking to change doctrine by protest is not the method God endorses.

Questions

There is a parable told by Christ of an unjust judge (and a very persistent widow).

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

We should weary the Lord in prayer. But that does not mean we will be granted what we ask. It also does not mean that what we ask for is right. Wisdom is knowing what we should not ask for. However, sometimes persistence pays off, although not always in a positive manner.

Martin Harris was spending a lot of time and money supporting Joseph Smith through the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris’s wife complained and Martin felt that he should be able to show her the fruits of his labors and money. He asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript and show his wife – after all, wasn’t that the purpose of the Book of Mormon – to share it with the world? Joseph said he would ask God. The answer was “No.” Again Martin begged and again the answer was “No.” Finally, after much wearying of Joseph, Joseph agreed to ask the Lord again. This time the answer was “Yes, but if anything happens to the manuscript, both of you will be under condemnation until you repent.” On those conditions, the manuscript pages left the possession of Joseph Smith and traveled home with Martin Harris. He showed his wife. Then, unscrupulous hands acquired the manuscript, stealing it away from Joseph Smith. Work on the Book of Mormon halted until Joseph had repented sufficiently. The lost pages of the Book of Mormon were not re-translated and are lost to us for now.

In this case, persistence paid off for Martin but the consequence was not what expected. Things might have turned out well with no pages lost but because of the wickedness of men, precious pages of the Book of Mormon were lost to us. The take home message is that yes, we can be persistent in asking the Lord, but we should be ready to accept the consequences should things not turn out as we desire. The Lord allowed Martin to take the manuscript pages but it would have been better for him, Joseph Smith, and for us had the first and second “No” answers been heeded.

Ordain Women asks “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” Our leaders have done so and will continue to do so. There is no significant or insignificant issue facing the Church that our leaders do not pray about.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a liberal religion. I do not mean liberal in the modern political usage in the United States. There is room for and encouragement of differing viewpoints and beliefs. The tent of our church is blessed to have members from all over the world with different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. What keeps the Church strong though is not our diversity but the centrality of the Savior. He guides and directs us through His chosen prophets and apostles, who encourage us to remain rooted when we extend ourselves by thinking our knowledge is greater than that of the Lord.

Questions are encouraged. After all, it is through the questions of a 14 year old boy that we received this great restoration of the gospel. Keep questioning but hold on to the truth you know. Questions are great but if they diminish our faith or if they diminish the faith of others, the questions need to be set aside until the firm foundation is restored. This does not mean do not question, it just means that our questioning should be in the context of faith. [It also means that questioning should be kept within the bounds of the sustaining of church leaders].

That comes down to my final point. What is the result of Ordain Women’s protesting? Does it strengthen the faith of others? I don’t believe it does so if not, maybe the actions need to be reconsidered. We are not responsible for the actions of others but whatever we do should be edifying and helping us remain firmly clasped to the Iron Rod and in the arms of Jesus.

Hastening the Work of Salvation: High Council

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Members of the High Council have the responsibility to help strengthen and train leaders and members of the Elders quorum and High Priest group in the ward or branch in which they are assigned. Part of this responsibility lies in helping hasten the work of salvation by encouraging those who bear the priesthood to strengthen their brethren, particularly those who have left the gospel fold or become casual in their attendance and testimonies. The Church has a series of videos focused on how various church leaders play a role in hastening the work of salvation. Here is a brief video about the role that high councilors play.

Here’s the link to the video (I’d embed it but it kept auto-playing and until that is fixed, I’ll just link to the video).

The Church also has a short document describing the responsibilities high councilors over missionary work in a stake have regarding hastening the work of salvation. This is found here (as a PDF): http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/english/wwlt/hasten/hastening-the-work-high-councilor-eng.pdf?lang=eng

Church Organization: High Council

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This post is in a series about the structure and organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In each stake of the LDS Church (a stake is a collection of 8-12 congregations) there is a High Council composed of 12 men who have been ordained as high priests. In modern times the first high council was organized on February 17, 1834 in Kirtland, Ohio.

“This day a general council of twenty-four high priests assembled at the house of Joseph Smith, Jun., by revelation, and proceeded to organize the high council of the church of Christ, which was to consist of twelve high priests, and one or three presidents as the case might require. The high council was appointed by revelation for the purpose of settling important difficulties which might arise in the church, which could not be settled by the church or the bishop’s council to the satisfaction of the parties.” (D&C 102:1-2).

In part, the high council is patterned after the organization of the children of Israel by Moses as suggested by his father in law Jethro (see Exodus 18). Members of the high council are called to assist others (stake presidency) in directing the work of the Lord’s church at a local (stake, ward, and branch) level. Members of a high council have no authority except that given them by a stake president – all responsibilities are supportive and administrative. High councilors never preside (except maybe in very rare circumstances where there is not a more senior person to preside). An overview of the core responsibilities of a member of a high council are found in the LDS Church’s administrative handbook in section 15.3.

Here are selections about the high council role of supporting the stake president because the stake presidency cannot be everywhere they could or need to be: “High councilors counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to ordain brethren to the offices of elder and high priest. The stake president may authorize high councilors to represent him when men are ordained to the offices of elder and high priest.

“High councilors also counsel about and sustain the stake presidency’s decisions to issue callings to members. For some callings, the stake presidency may authorize high councilors to represent them in issuing the callings, presenting members to be sustained, and setting members apart as indicated in chapter 19.”

Each high councilor is also assigned to oversee a unit within a stake: “To assist them in overseeing the Melchizedek Priesthood, the stake presidency assigns a high councilor to represent them in each elders quorum, high priests group, ward, and branch in the stake.”

For this responsibility, high councilors typically visit their assigned unit at least monthly, attending as many general and leadership meetings within the unit as necessary.

High councilors also are assigned to speak regularly in units throughout the stake: “The stake presidency may assign high councilors to represent them by speaking in sacrament meetings and other settings.” These talks often occur monthly but there is leniency for talks to be given less often. There is a well-worn (and outdated) running joke in the church about how boring high councilors are as speakers. In listening to hundreds of high councilor talks over the years, I’ve found the majority of them quite enjoyable. In fact, the quality of the average high councilor talk has been higher than the quality of the average ward member talk (although I’ve had the opportunity to live in wards where church members generally give excellent talks). The joke or belief about boring high councilors might have had some truth in the past but has not been generally true for the various stakes I’ve lived in over the years.

Another responsibility members of a high council have is in church disciplinary councils. I’ve written about them in the past and will not expand more  at this point other than to state that those councils are meant to be as supportive to the member under disciplinary action as possible.

Members of high councils have other responsibilities too – service, meetings, committees. In the past, high council callings tended to be cushier – not particularly busy – but recently high councilors are being used more as the church expands. In order to reduce the load on individuals (e.g., stake presidencies) more tasks are delegated to help spread the work and reduce time away from families. At its core the high council is structured to support and edify families – for families are the core unit of the Church.

Church Organization: Overview

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized after the same manner as the church Christ organized during His mortal ministry. The head – or leader – of the LDS Church is the Savior, Jesus Christ. The core unit of the LDS Church is the family and all structures and organizations of the church are established to support and edify families. Watch this brief introduction to the organization of the LDS Church.

Stakes and Wards – An Infographic

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The LDS Church’s Newsroom released an infographic recently that covers LDS Church structure and organization at the stake and ward level (groups of 1000 to 5000 and 150-500 church members, respectively). Their post covers the lay ministry of the Church well. I’ve always been interested in the organization of the Church, posting about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (that last one is about why Mormons are busy with church callings but it explains church organization from an “on the ground perspective”). Many of my discussions of church organization relate to its central organization, which is why this infographic by the LDS Church’s newsroom is a great complement to my posts.

Church Organization in The Book of Mormon

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In Mosiah 18 and Mosiah 25 we learn much about the proper organization and role of Christ’s church. Let’s set the context. An off-shoot of the Nephites were under the reign of a wicked man named Noah. The king ordained priests who shared his love of wickedness. A righteous man, a prophet, Abinadi came among the people and testified of their wickedness. He fled for his life and then later came back in disguise to preach more. Abinadi was taken before King Noah and his priests. He testified against their wickedness boldly. He also taught the gospel of Christ in power and purity. Abinadi was killed for his beliefs but one of the wicked priests believed his teachings. This priest – Alma – fled for his life but began to teach the people in secret after he repented of his sins. So the setting for Mosiah 18 is a wooded area where there is a fountain of pure water (how very appropriate for a setting for Alma’s teachings about the Source of Living Water, even Jesus Christ).

What did Alma teach and what do we learn about the organization of Christ’s church? Alma started teaching “repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7). Those are the foundational principles of the gospel – faith in Christ and repentance (which is made efficacious through the reception of the Savior). In verses 8-10 we read about baptism and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?”

What’s important is in these verse we learn the covenant that those who are baptized make. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ (or at least are willing to and Christ puts His name upon them in their worthiness). Then we read of the responsibilities of the baptized members of Christ’s church:

  1. Bear one another’s burdens
  2. Mourn with those who mourn
  3. Comfort those who need comfort
  4. Testify of God in all things and times (particularly through the example of their lives)

Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35).

As we continue through Mosiah 18 we understand more about the true nature of Christ’s church. Before Alma performed an ordinance (baptism), he prayed for the Lord’s Spirit to be with him (verse 12). Then Alma baptized a man – Helam – “having authority from the Almighty God.” (verse 13). He did not receive authority of himself, it was given to him by God (either his ordination to the priesthood under the direction of Noah was valid or he was ordained and given authority by a heavenly messenger after that time {I believe that the former is true though, which could lead to an interesting discussion about the priesthood}). The priesthood authority is something you cannot receive but from God (“And no man taketh this honor [ordination to the priesthood] unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews 5:4).

Then Alma baptized Helam who was then filled with the Spirit (Alma also baptized himself, which is done only in this special circumstance; normally, it is not possible to baptize oneself; UPDATE: a statement by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith was brought to my attention; Pres. Smith stated that the self-baptism was merely symbolic {http://seminary.lds.org/manuals/book-of-mormon-seminary-student-study-guide/bm-ssg-05-mos-8-12.asp}. This brings up a whole point I did not initially bring up about where Alma’s priethood authority came from. Was his ordination as one of Noah’s priests valid (my guess is yes, it was)? Was he ordained secretly under the hands of Abinadi before Abinadi’s death? Did he already have the priesthood before being raised to the level of one of King Noah’s priests? Was he ordained by an angel? These are all unanswered questions and not entirely pertinent to this post, which is why I did not bring them up initially. However, if Alma’s baptism was symbolic, it means he was previously baptized by the proper authority). As Alma baptized more people, he did not go under the water again – one baptism is enough. These verses show that entrance to Christ’s church is dependent upon baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit: “And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.” (Mosiah 18:17).

Next, to get the church set up further, Alma ordained priests over the people (initially about 4 – one for every 50 church members; there were 204 individuals baptized at that time). What did these priests do? Teach the people “nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets. Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.” (Mosiah 18:19-20). They were commanded to teach only the basics of the gospel as taught by the prophets.

The people of the Lord were then commanded to be unified and without contention (verse 21). The church members were also commanded to preach (to one another and to others) – they were to be missionaries (verse 22). They were also commanded to keep the sabbath day holy and thank the Lord in all things (verse 23). Related to this, the church members were to meet together one day a week for church services but also meet together as often as they could.

Next we get to something important – Christ’s church had a lay ministry (“he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support” – verse 24). This was also important in the context of King Noah and his priests who were supported by taxes of their people. Alma did command church members to be free with their substance, to give freely to support those in need; the needy could be the priesthood leaders but they were not otherwise supported: “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.” (verse 28). The lack of coercion is important – the giving needs to be freely done. This support was both temporal and spiritual (verse 29).

Doesn’t this sound like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today? I think there are great reminders for us in Mosiah 18 about our responsibilities and duties as members of Christ’s church.

In Mosiah 25 we learn a little more about the nature of Christ’s church. It was divided into multiple congregations (we call these wards today):

“And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto the people repentance and faith on the Lord…And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma. And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” (Mosiah 25:15,19-22).

Alma was given authority by King Mosiah (who was also the prophet). Mosiah held the priesthood keys, he authorized Alma to direct and organize the different congregations. Alma essentially acted as an apostle under the keys of Mosiah. He traveled to the different conjugations to teach them the gospel. Even though there were different congregations, they were all one church. This is just like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wherever you go in the world, there is likely to be a congregation (there are many places the LDS Church is not but it is spreading). All of these different congregations are part of Christ’s church. They are different bodies of people but all are one.

While this church structure as found in the Book of Mormon is not novel to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. It served as an important guideline in conjunction with revelation for Joseph Smith to use to set up Christ’s restored church.

Nephi’s Commentary on Church Organization

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Anyone who doubts the centrality of Jesus Christ to Mormonism (if we ignore the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) needs only to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi 1:9 we read: “And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.”

It took just a few verses to reference the Savior. The context is Lehi, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, had a vision where he saw God sitting on His throne, surrounded by many angels. Then he saw “One descending out of the midst of heaven” who was followed by “twelve others” (1 Ne. 1:10). These twelve had similarly bright radiances. So here we are with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and His twelve Apostles. Who were these Apostles? The twelve He called while on earth.

Now we continue to see the organization of God’s kingdom. “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.” (1 Nephi 1:11). The first in the verse might refer to the Savior but that does not make as much sense as it referring to the first of the Apostles; in other words, the chief apostle. Who is this? Peter.

Here we have the Father sitting on His throne, His Son descending to earth, and Peter (and the rest of the apostles) doing some of the specific work. That is the order of God’s kingdom, His authority and His priesthood. Heavenly Father sends His Son to act in His stead in some situations (actually, in most circumstances of which we have record). Jesus then delegates some of the work to His apostles, namely to Peter (and James and John). This is what we read in the first part of the Book of Mormon. It’s quite a rich commentary on the nature of God’s work, including how He accomplishes some of the work – through Priesthood delegation.

So there we have not only Christ taking an early and central role in the Book of Mormon, we have reference to the Father as well as Christ’s Twelve Apostles; there are other Apostles, including 15 alive at present – the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plus the 12 Apostles – but the original Apostles had and have (although I can probably safely say that Judas Iscariot is not currently acting in the role of Apostle) a special calling. They have been involved in directing and teaching the work of the Lord since the beginning of the earth and since Adam’s time upon the earth.

It did not take long in the Book of Mormon to reveal the centrality of Christ and the centrality of the organization of the Church. This is one of the reasons that I really enjoy the writings of Nephi. He teaches so much in such a compact space. The 1st chapter of 1 Nephi is rich with doctrine.

The Twelve and the Seventy – Part Two

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer, Part 1Organization of LDS Church, Part 2Chart of LDS General AuthoritiesHow Many Children do the Seventy Have?

The LDS Church posted the second part of a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of the Seventies. This is from an interview with Pres. Packer (video embedded at the end of the post).

The interview is interesting but I think that what is equally interesting is the timeline of the Seventy. I’ll highlight a few dates and points that I found particularly interesting.

1835 – First Quorum of the Seventy organized

1846 – At the time of the exodus from Nauvoo, the number of seventies quorums had increased to about 35.

1904 – Number of seventies quorums reaches 146.

1953 – Seventies quorums or units are organized in each stake.

1961 – First Council of Seventy ordained high priests.

1961 – Members of the First Council of the Seventy authorized to organize or reorganize stake presidencies and to call stake presidents on assignment. [This step is particularly important because it allowed members of the First Council of Seventy to bestow keys to Stake Presidents. Seventies were given authority to use the keys of the Apostles (which is still the case) as needed].

1974 – Stake presidents authorized to ordain seventies in stakes.

1984 – Tenure of appointment to be fewer years for some Seventy (3–5 years): “However, tenure of appointment is not important insofar as the work is concerned. … After much prayerful consideration, we have called six men, mature and tested through long years of service, to become members of the First Quorum of the Seventy, to serve for periods of three to five years. … They will be General Authorities with every right, power, and authority necessary to function” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 4).

1986 – Seventies quorums in stakes discontinued.

1989 – Organization of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

1995 – Area Authorities called.

1997 – First and Second Quorum of Seventy are General Authorities.

1997 – Area Authorities are ordained Seventies; Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2005 – Area Authority Seventy title changed to Area Seventy.

2005 – Seventh and Eighth Quorums of the Seventy organized.

2009 – Area Seventies replaced by General Authorities in all Area Presidencies.

It is interesting to watch how the organization of the Seventies has changed to provide the authority and training and overview necessary to meet the needs of a growing church.

The Twelve and Seventy: An Interview With Pres. Packer

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I’ve written about the LDS Church’s quorums of seventy before: Organization of LDS Church, Part 2; Chart of LDS General Authorities; How Many Children do the Seventy Have?
I’ve been fascinated by the leadership and organization of the Church for many years. I enjoy watching the Church grow and seeing how the structure of the general church leadership changes to meet the needs of a growing church. What is interesting is how the changes made always fit within the pattern Christ established when on the earth as well as the pattern revealed to Joseph Smith. In other words, the pattern of church leadership established in ancient and modern scripture is sufficient for meeting the needs of any size church. I was thus pleased to see that the Church posted an interview between Elder Ronald Rasband (Senior President of the Seventy) and Pres. Boyd K. Packer.

At one point in the interview Pres. Packer commented about the foresight of Joseph Smith (the foresight was not his own but rather was from God). “President Packer said it is marvelous that Joseph Smith could have anticipated an organization that would expand to meet the needs of the Church worldwide. ‘The revelations came when he was a very young man,’ President Packer said. ‘How he knew what he knew, I was going to say it was incredible. It is not, because he did not have to know much. All he had to do is follow the patterns of revelation.'”

Here’s the video of the interview with Pres. Packer. It’s a nice video that shows the hand of the Lord as He directs the work of His church.

Worldwide Leadership Training

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As someone who works with the young men, I thought the recent Worldwide Leadership Training meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was great (I’ll come back to that point). One thing the Church has been trying to work toward is a reduction in meetings and work load while increasing the efficacy and purpose of the meetings that are left. I liked Elder Bednar’s point that meetings should be opportunities for revelation. I’d add that if you are not receiving revelation during a church meeting, whether it is a Sacrament Meeting or a Ward Council, then either the meeting is not being run entirely appropriately or you are not completely prepared for the meeting. When we are engaged in the work of the Lord, we are entitled to receive revelation for ourselves, our family, and for our stewardships within the Church.

So why training meeting great for someone like me who works with the young men? Part of the changes to how wards function is to reduce the load on Bishops and their counselors. This means that they will be able to spend more time with the young men and the young single adults. A bishop is the president of the Priest quorum in the ward. He is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward as well. This means that if the Bishop is not in the quorum meeting with the Priests on Sunday, he is not where he is supposed to be. Bishops should be with their quorums. I know there are extenuating circumstances and other things that need to get done but the bishoprics are the primary leaders for the young men. When I was growing up my bishops were good about spending a lot of time with the young men. They came to our classes as often as possible and came on as many campouts as possible. They were great role models who led us as Christ would lead us, in love and righteousness.

But now, the Church is putting more emphasis on simplifying handbooks (when Elder Oaks stated that they had cut about 12% from the Stake Presidents’ and Bishops’ manual, I thought of Steve Jobs introducing a new Apple product that is now “thinner and lighter”). When you can simplify the bureaucracy by cutting administrative overhead, you have more time for ministrative service. This comes when all fulfill their responsibilities and help each other. Alma taught: “And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8). Part of being members of the Church is being willing to bear one another’s burdens. This is specifically the role of the Ward Council – to lighten the load on the Bishop by diffusing the weight. The old adage that many hands might light work is true.

As the Church procedures are simplified and streamlined, there is more time for the individual. This has been repeated many times but I can never state it enough – the people, not the programs of the Church are what are important. This is what the Apostles are reemphasizing with the changes to the leadership handbooks for the Church.