"And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, according to the gifts and callings of God unto men; and they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them" (Moro. 3:3-4).
Anciently, the offices of priest and teacher were given to men, not according to age or duration of church activity, but according to the gifts and callings of God unto men. What if this is how ordinations were performed in the Church today? Would it diminish our ability to preserve order in the Church? Did the Lord intend things to be done differently in our day?
"Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him" (D&C 20:60).
In instructions to the Church in our day, we are taught to ordain men "according to the gifts and callings of God," just as Moroni recorded was done anciently (Moro. 3:4). Our ordinations are to be performed by "the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains," just as Moroni recorded was done anciently (ibid.). What do these things mean?
When man elects to alter the manner of operation prescribed by the Lord in the scriptures he runs the risk of falling into error. This is how, so often in history, the commandments of men replace the word of God. Traditions are eventually established in place of the revealed word of the Lord.
For example, when you insist that a teacher be between the ages of 14-15, you run into the problem of teachers not being mature enough to grasp (let alone fulfill) their duties as outlined in scripture (Moro. 3:3; D&C 20:53-56). A young man of 14 is commissioned to "see that there is no iniquity in the church" (ibid.)? Since they are unable to perform the tasks spelled out for them by the Lord, they are given other duties so they can "practice using the priesthood." We therefore employ our teachers and deacons to do a work they are not authorized in the scriptures (D&C 20:58). If adult men, however, were ordained to such offices, according to the gifts and callings of God unto them, they may be successful in comprehending and performing in faithfulness the responsibilities devolving upon them. This of course has been the tradition for many years, and we don't pay attention to what it says in D&C 20.
If we understood and taught "the duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ," we wouldn't need to make up callings to help folks feel useful (D&C 20:38). There are specific responsibilities tied to each of these offices in the church of Christ. We've all but discarded them and replaced them with programs, auxiliaries, callings, and sub-callings. Instead of being busy doing what is required of us by the Lord, we tend to be persuaded to get busy doing what is required of us by men.
We insist upon a progressive structure, through which each man is able to climb a ladder of leadership, responsibility, keys, office, and power. Today, a 45 year old priest would either be inactive, or a recent convert. It would be embarrassing to allow him to remain a priest for any longer than was absolutely necessary; that would imply he wasn't worthy of being an elder. In the present system there are many opportunities for priestcrafts, envyings, and strifes (3 Ne. 30:2). These all result from pride.
There are other similarities between the record Moroni left for us and what is revealed in D&C 20.
- It is clear that it was elders and priests who administered the sacrament anciently, "according to the commandments of Christ" (Moro. 4:1). This is consistent with the instructions that have been given to us in our day (D&C 20:38-50).
- "And they did kneel down with the church" during the blessing of the sacrament. This is consistent with the commandment in our own day (Moro. 4:2; D&C 20:76).
- They administered wine anciently, as has been commanded in our day (Moro. 5:1-2; D&C 20:78-79).
For those that don't know, this is how things were done in our church for many years - even long after the death of the Prophet. While still resembling the ancient practices, we've since veered from the instructions the Lord has given us.
These are small details. Yet, it's amazing how small details and small changes can effect a culture. I wonder, for instance, if we ever would have become lazy enough to decide it was no longer necessary to stand when making covenants before God and angels in our temples, had we continued kneeling as a church during the blessing of the sacrament as instructed by the Lord, and maintained greater reverence for that sacred ordinance. Then again, I may be missing something. Perhaps all these changes were not merely about convenience, as I suppose.
If we would like to understand how things were done anciently, we should trust the text of the Book of Mormon as it stands and not read interpretations into the text that are based upon our own experiences. Likewise, if we are to properly interpret the Lord's intent in "restoration," we should consider what he has given us in this ancient record. He intended to restore an ancient religion. The Book of Mormon should be a revelatory lens through which we can understand the revelations of the prophet Joseph.