|The Bible and Authority||WhyProphets.com|
|Very simple||Why Mormonism||Why the Bible?||What is authority|
|Who has authority||ONLY the Bible?||The Word of God||Which Bible?|
|Summary||See also: Race and priesthood|
Authority does not carry power. Authority refers simply to organization.
Organization, if it means anything, implies a single leader on earth. Not because (for example) the Mormon prophet is the most righteous man on earth, but because Christians will want to work together.
The decision regarding who is given authority must be clear (or we would have rival claims), and it must be arbitrary (or else it would lead to pride). That is why only some groups are called to have authority. Yes, it is discrimination, just as when a schoolteacher chooses football teams according to surname. But it is does not imply that one group is superior to the other.
If some people treat non-priesthood holders as inferior, that is wrong, and they automatically forfeit any power or influence in the eyes of God and of man.
|Keys to understanding:
Priesthood power is from Faith
Priesthood authority is Organization
This page represents my own understanding, and I am responsible for any errors. Judge for yourself.
What kind of power does the church have?
"Power" does not have a special secret church meaning. Power means the same as it means everywhere else - the ability to get things done. I like one of the definitions used in physics:
Power = the rate at which useful work is done
There is nothing magical about power in the church as opposed to elsewhere. The church does not have any power other than what we choose to give it. The power of the church consists in the work of the individual members.
If only disgruntled members would remember this. I am sometimes contacted by ex-members who see the church as some kind of big, external force that demands blind obedience. It is so sad that they feel this way! In fact, the church is just the sum total of the work we choose to put in.
- If we are happy it is because we have done what is necessary to be happy.
- If we get to heaven it is because we have done what is necessary.
- If we obey a church leader it is because we choose to do so.
The church offers us tools and information that will help us on our way, but it only has power over the individual insofar as the individual, with eyes open, and because he wants to, chooses to work (or think) for it.
This topic ('what is the church?') is explored more fully on the page about ex-Mormon attitudes to the church.
Power is from Faith
Faith means exercising hope based on evidence. It is a rational thing, and the basis for all action. Without faith, nothing gets done. It does not matter what your church position is, unless you have the power to act, and to inspire others to act, you are useless.
Imagine two people isolated on remote islands. One has a 'higher' church position. The other has more faith. Who could achieve the most?
The answer is the one with the most faith of course. Anything else would be unjust.
People without authority have just as much power as people with authority, because they have just as much ability to do good.
But in order to work effectively, we need to be organized, and that is where authority comes in. Thus, a person with more faith (and thus more power) will want to respect positions of authority. But the only power comes from faith.
The key text: Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-42
"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson--
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled [except] upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile."
Did you catch that part about power and authority? Authority carries no power. Only faith (that is, providing evidence for individuals to want to follow you) has power.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41
"No power or influence can
or ought to
be maintained by virtue of the priesthood,
only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned"
When a person with authority asks someone to do something, he can only be obeyed if he has power that comes from his faith, just like anyone else.
Organization has no power, except through faith. We only allow ourselves to be organized because we believe in organization for is own sake.
But doesn't the leader have power because he represents God?
No! He has power because he we choose to give it to him. Either he earns it, or someone who placed him there earned it, and we wish to respect that other person (e.g. Bad Bishop, Good Stake President). If our hypothetical bishop does not deserve that respect, it is up the Stake President to consider whether to keep him there and risk losing the respect (and hence the work) of the other members.
In other words, even in this scenario, power comes from faith and not from position (authority).
But aren't we told to obey as good church members?
- Whatever we are told, we are each responsible for our own choices. Nothing the church says can change the fact that we are each independent souls. We make our own decisions and take responsibility for them. For more about freedom to choose - even when words like "obedience" are used - see quotations about obedience.
- Although a bishop has authority over a ward (congregation) as a whole, we each have final authority over ourselves.
- If we choose to obey because the bishop represents the church, we are lending our support only because of the faithfulness of Christ, who established this whole structure in the first place.
- When there is any risk, we only obey insofar as the person does indeed represent Christ (e.g. by their actions). A similar relationship also applies regarding authority within families, and has recently been made explicit in the temples - those who have attended for a while will know what I mean.
- When the church says "obey your local leaders" it is a blanket rule. And like all blanket rules, we may need to interpret it at the edges:
- if the bishop makes a serious mistake (unlikely)
- if there is more than one way to obey
- if obeying one rule means disobeying another.
- In practice of course, it is very unusual for a bishop to give bad advice, and there are checks and balances if he does (sustaining, a quiet word with his counselors, a quiet word with the Stake President, our freedom to ignore or interpret him).
The point I am making is just that all power derives from our free exercise of faith. Position or authority on their own have no power.
Who are the powerful leaders?
The golden rule is humility. Power comes from humility, because only that will make people want to work with you. Read the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-15) - they - the beatitudes are all about humility! They can be summed up as Matthew 5:5 - "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
These things are not a mystical formula for piety. God is teaching us basic truths about how the world works. If you want real power, you have to earn it by making people respect you.
"They had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all."
"But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all."
In the church, if anyone in authority wants power, they have to earn it by earning respect. There is nothing more pathetic than someone with authority but no power, because no-one respects or loves them. And there is nothing more powerful than someone who has authority, and has earned the love and respect of those he works with.
Sometimes we forget this - position without power
Sometimes we think that position matters - that in itself it brings power. If someone thinks this, they tend to lose power (because they lose respect) but in the meantime they mis-use the power that others have earned. If we teach that power comes from position, we become apostate, like the creeds in Joseph Smith's day:
"they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness [the words, and the organization] but they deny the power thereof." (Joseph Smith History 1:19)
In my opinion, if we are not exercising the power of God as we wish to, it is because we have begun to confuse power and authority. Power must be earned, and everyone has an equal right to earn it. There are no shortcuts.
Authority = organization
For power to be effective, we need to be organized. That is all that authority is about. Authority does not give power.
When we see what authority is, we see it is obvious that:
- There can only be one church (for organizational purposes)
- "Speaking with authority" means saying speaking in tune with he organization. Everyone who accept the organization agrees with you, either because your words have ben approved through the organization, or because God has told you directly.
Authority can appear to carry its own power, only because individuals (of their own free will and choice) give their power to the cause.
The key is to have leaders with humility. But how do you get a church with leaders who have humility?
Who should be given the priesthood?
Male and female, black and white, all are alike to God:
Imagine that you are an angel, sent by God to organize the priesthood on earth. Who will you give it to?
There is no fundamental reason why one person would make a better priest than another - it is simply an organizational thing. So, for example, there are parts of the church where women officiate in the priesthood (long time members will know where). How does the angel decide who should have the priesthood?
- the priesthood must be restricted
- the restrictions must not imply superiority
For an illustration of this, see the page on race and the priesthood.
Women and the priesthood
In recent years, the church has said more about how men should treat women better, and women are not slaves to their husbands. Some critics see this as a change of position. They especially view the practice of polygamy (in the nineteenth century) as a way to oppress women. These critics obviously do not read what Brigham Young said, back in 1853:
JD, Vol.1, p.118 - 119
"Brethren, what is it that you love the truth for? Is it because it gives you the power, the authority of the Priesthood? Is it because it makes you rulers, kings, and priests unto our God, and gives you great power? There are men professing to be Saints, even in this congregation, within the sound of my voice, who feel how almighty they have become. They will curse you, if you do not see proper to comply with their wishes. Many men have feelings in their hearts towards their wives, that if they will not do precisely as they wish to perform this or that, they will curse them. What wonderful things they are going to do! "If you do not obey my voice, my counsel, I will send you to hell, and turn the keys upon you, that you may never! no NEVER! be released." Sisters, you might as well heed the crackling of thorns under the pot, the passing idle bird, or the croaking of a crane, so far as their Priesthood is concerned. You are safe, if they will only keep their hands off from you; let them curse. It reminds me of a proverb which the Arabs have, that 'cursings are like young chickens, they will still come home to roost.'...
"Men should act upon the principle of righteousness, because it is right, and is a principle which they love to cherish and see practised by all men. They should love mercy, because of its benevolence, charity, love, clemency, and of all of its lovely attributes, and be inspired thereby to deal justly, fairly, honorably, meting out to others their just deservings. ...
"[On the subject of polygamy:] I tell you here, now, in the presence of the Almighty God, it is not the privilege of any Elder to have even ONE wife, before he has honored his Priesthood, before he has magnified his calling. If you obtain one, it is by mere permission, to see what you will do, how you will act, whether you will conduct yourself in righteousness in that holy estate. TAKE CARE! Elders of Israel, be cautious! or you will lose your wives and your children. If you abuse your wives, turn them out of doors, and treat them in a harsh and cruel manner, you will be left wifeless and childless ; you will have no increase in eternity. You will have bartered this blessing, this privilege, away; you will have sold your birthright, as Esau did his blessing, and it can never come to you again, never, NO NEVER!"
The bottom lines
- Power comes from faith, and is available to all people equally.
- Authority is just a neutral, organizational issue, and carries no power or implied importance.
- The whole structure of priesthood is based on humility and service.
- Without humility and service, the priesthood has no power.