The Necessity of Priesthood Authority

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As Paul – a tentmaker turned persecutor of Christians turned disciple of Christ – traveled and taught on his way from Greece to Jerusalem, he stopped in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was part of Greece at the time and was located near present-day Selçuk, Turkey. He spent two years in this area teaching the people about Jesus and performing miracles.

During this time there was a chief priest among the Jews in Ephesus named Sceva. Seven sons of his worked as exorcists, trying to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m sure they tried casting out spirits in whatever way they could think of but they knew the success Paul and other believers had so they thought they would try to cast out spirits in the name of Christ. It’s also possible that they were charging for their priestcrafts. With that context, here’s the short story of the sons of Sceva.

“Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts 19:13-17; emphasis added).

Not that priestcraft or violence are humorous but the story is almost funny. One man injures seven who were trying to cure him and they end up fleeing from him naked and hurt. Ignoring the possible motives of the sons of Sceva (they were likely “curing” people through trickery to try and make money and now had a new, popular, and actually effective method to try – doing so in the name of Christ), what this story shows is the importance of authority.

Many of the evil spirits that were cast out of individuals in the scriptures were not necessarily spirits; they were, rather, unknown medical conditions at the time. However, there are clearly instances when individuals were possessed by evil spirits and had the spirits cast out through the power of God. Some of these are relevant here because the evil spirits or those possessed by them testified of Christ and His power (see Matthew 8:28-33; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11-12). Jesus always commanded those possessed to remain silent because what good comes from the testimony of an evil spirit?

The sons of Sceva were faced by a similar testimony but one that ridiculed their ineffectiveness. The spirit said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” These men did not perform the act with real faith in Christ; they also lacked authority (i.e., priesthood). Now if they had been acting in good faith (but still without authority) and honest faith in Christ, they might have been successful or at least commended for their efforts by Paul as another was under similar circumstances by the Savior (see Luke 9:49-50). However, the sons of Sceva were not only ineffectual without faith and priesthood authority, they were humiliated. Much good did come from their actions though. Many saw the power and authority Paul had in contrast with these sons of Sceva and believed his teachings: “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.” (Acts 19:18).

Thus, authority is important. This authority to cast out devils in the name of Christ is called the priesthood. It is conferred by the laying on of hands by those in authority, those who have been given authority to do so by Christ. Jesus had this authority, He gave it to His apostles. They gave it to certain other men, Paul included (Paul was called as one of the apostles). This authority was no longer found on the earth after the death of the apostles due to general apostasy throughout the church. This authority and power was restored to the earth to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see for example, Joseph Smith – History 1:66-75) and is directed today by the Prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

The Christianity of Mormons

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With two Mormons currently vying for a nomination as candidate for president of the United States of America and with a large public relations campaign by the LDS Church, there has been considerable focus on the church. Much of it has been informative (and largely neutral), some has been positive, but some has been negative. One particular charge made against Mormons by some (usually of a particular Protestant vein) is that Mormons are not Christian. We find this charge odd considering the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – as well as of our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That is not enough for some people but I’ll not get into a discussion of why some people do not believe Mormons are Christian.

Regardless of what others claim about our Christianity (which in the end, is really a personal thing), we Mormons make a claim to historical Christianity that other Christians do not. Catholics make a claim of continuity from Peter. However, Mormons go beyond that. Our claim is one that others do not even think to make because it’s based on LDS theology that is unique. We do not just claim Christianity back to Christ but to a time long before then. We claim our religion, our Christianity, is a continuation from our life before we came to earth. Some of the specific practices in the LDS Church might not be a continuation of pre-mortal life but the priesthood authority is. Further, the doctrines are continuations of what was taught before we came to earth. In essence, much of our current Church organization and our doctrines are mirrors of what was and is done and taught in Heaven.

The fact that we lived with Heavenly Father before we came to earth might seem strange to many people but it is central to the gospel of Christ and LDS theology (which really are the same). Many do not think it strange to think that they will live forever more after this life but to think that we lived before this life is foreign to most people. Why is this? It stems in part from the creation story as found in the Bible. Over the years the understanding of the process of the creation was lost as was the understanding of our relationship to God. People started viewing humankind as creations of God rather than as sons and daughters. This means that many view people as no more than clay in God’s hands, rather than as His progeny. While it is true that we are God’s creations, our physical bodies are imbued with the bodies of our spirits. Together – body and spirit – we are in the likeness and image of God. We are more than just creations, we are His children with the potential to grow to become like Him. What a beautiful promise – the son, the daughter, can grow up to be like the father and mother!

I digressed in order to provide a foundation for the LDS claim to historical Christianity. We claim that our Christianity is pre-creedal. It pre-dates Christ’s mortal ministry. In the pre-earth life Heavenly Father presented a plan to all His children. It provided an opportunity for us to gain physical bodies and learn and grow to become more like Him. However, knowing that we would all fall short, God provided a means for us to return – through His Son Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was to be eternal and infinite so that it would help us overcome death and sin. All the prophets from the beginning of time taught this – the centrality of Christ. Even the Mosaic law pointed toward Christ but over time, the understanding of the role of Christ was lost. Jewish leaders changed the law. The Mosaic Law became an end to itself, rather than a means to Christ.

Christ came to earth to restore that which was lost – authority and organization and ordinances. However, following His death it did not take long for His authority and the truths of His gospel to be lost and changed. In the darkness of apostasy, committee replaced prophecy and revelation. Creeds and consensus counterfeited canon and calling. The scriptural canon was declared closed instead of continually expanding; it was closed for a time because God’s authority was lost but scripture was never meant to be God’s final word. God has always used prophets to declare His word. There have been times without prophets because of apostasy but we are no longer without living prophets. With the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, the canon burst open with radiant rays of truth. Once again there was authority on the earth. The truths of the gospel that had been lost or taken away were once again on the earth. The organization of the church was restored to what existed in the primitive church. The gospel was restored in fulness, including the ordinances and blessings of the temple:

“And verily I say unto you, let this house [the temple] be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine & Covenants 124: 40-41).

We are living in a time when things that have been hidden (not generally available to the world) from before the creation of the earth are now on earth. We Mormons claim a heritage that extends back an eternity and will continue for an eternity. Our Christianity dates from that established by our Heavenly Father in a life before this one. We have a heritage directly from God. This heritage is tied to the priesthood authority that God restored to Joseph Smith.

Anyone For Tennis?

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Image from and available for use under the CC license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tennis_Racket_and_Balls.jpg

One time I went with a friend to play tennis. While we were playing the tennis balls we brought with us all either went flat or broke or were lost. So we were stuck with a conundrum, do we stick around and try to find another ball or do we just go home, or do we stay there and try to play tennis without a ball? Being the creative people we were, we decided to try and play tennis without a ball. My friend and I grabbed out racquets and started playing the game. We just imagined we had a ball. It was great fun and we’ve never played better tennis since – aces every serve. It did get boring after a while though.

Anyone think that that our game of “tennis” probably was not very effective? Maybe we could have been more creative and made up a new game that didn’t need a ball. The problem is that that wouldn’t quite be tennis any more. Maybe we could have tried to make a ball out of something else; but again, it wouldn’t quite be correct. Or, maybe we could do like we did and just pretend that we had a ball. There are a number of possibilities. Maybe we could have borrowed a ball or gone and purchased some new balls. Well, since I’m being hypothetical, what if all tennis balls (and anything like a tennis ball, such as a racquetball ball) in the world and all ways of manufacturing them were destroyed? There would be no way to play the game of tennis (other than virtually, but that’s not the same). None of these scenarios for playing tennis make a lot of sense and none of them are quite tennis anymore.

OK, I admit that my story was made up, it didn’t happen (but it could have). It is an allegory for something that happened a long time ago.

Following the death of Christ’s original Apostles, there was a loss of God’s authority on the earth (at least to those in Israel and that part of the world; His authority lasted for a few hundred years in the Americas). This was like losing the ball in a game of tennis. So what happened then? What did members of the church and church leaders do? Well, the “players” started improvising. Some of them made up a new but similar game. Others tried to make their own ball. It wasn’t the original, only a copy of it. Still others just carried on and pretended they had a ball. What else could they do?

The trouble is that this loss of the proverbial tennis balls happened a long time ago. Now most people have forgotten how tennis is supposed to be played. Most don’t realize that there should even be a ball. Others know that there should be a ball but believe that they can make it themselves – that it really doesn’t matter where the ball comes from. A crumpled up paper one is just fine. Others deny there ever was a ball. Still others state that the balls were only necessary a long time ago and that they are unnecessary now.

But the fact still remains that tennis ceased being tennis a long time ago (again, referring to the allegorical tennis here). Then one day a young man was visited by someone really old who had been around when tennis was still tennis. This young man received a new tennis ball and was told how tennis really was supposed to be played because by then a lot of the rules had changed. He was ridiculed because everyone knew that tennis really didn’t need to be played with a ball, or you could make your own ball if you really wanted one. You certainly didn’t need a fuzzy green ball to play. A lot of people told him and those who accepted that version of tennis that their tennis was not the real tennis.

This does not mean that the other games that were created once all the tennis balls were lost were bad games, they just were not quite right and thus not tennis. Just as it is pretty ridiculous to try and play tennis without a ball, so is it to try and maintain Christ’s church without the priesthood authority to do so. Thankfully, God has restored His priesthood to the earth so we can once again play “tennis”.