Thursday, July 12, 2012

Untangling the Priesthood

A couple of people have asked that I explain what I meant when I said our use of the term “high priest” in the Church doesn’t help us to understand Alma 13.

I’d like to do that.  I don’t have the time to write as much about it as I’d like.  So we can only consider some ideas.  When we don’t understand these things we unintentionally take them lightly.  When we don’t understand the words in the Book of Mormon, we tend to take it lightly (D&C84). 

The problem goes deeper than just the issue of high priests, however.  Our understanding of priesthood in general has been bent.  At the root of it all is that when men receive a little authority “as they suppose” they begin to abuse it, and misunderstand it (D&C 121:39).  We looked at this in the Noah and Abinadi posts.  We seem to view ordination to offices in the Church as a right of passage.  We view these ordinations as stages or levels of advancement indicating our personal progression in gospel maturity. 

The system, as it is currently established, is an age-based progression through offices.  I’m not being critical of that system, but want you to keep that fact in mind as you try to piece together how that may influence your understanding of priesthood.  To be sure, order is a good thing.  We need it.  God’s house is a house of order (D&C 132:18).  But don’t let today’s order or practices undermine your ability to perceive the truth of any matter.  For instance, if all we understand about the Aaronic Priesthood is that priests are ordained at age 16, teachers at 14, and deacons at 12, we really don’t understand anything about the priesthood.  Those ages tell us nothing about priesthood, but they are a part of the church structure.  Those ages were different in the early 20th century, and didn’t even exist in the early part of church history.  We have to separate church policies and cultural practices from our understanding of what priesthood is if we will begin to make any headway.  

In another significant way, a part of the problem is our vocabulary.  We use words that we think have a certain meaning, or that have culturally assumed a certain meaning, that distract us from obtaining a proper understanding.  Some common phrases or expressions that we hear in Church help illustrate our dilemma: 

-We’d like to thank the priesthood for blessing the sacrament. 
-How was High Priests today? 
-I’m so grateful for the priesthood, without them I don’t know how we could’ve gotten those girls all back from girls’ camp.
-Home teaching is a responsibility of the priesthood.
-As priesthood holders you are under obligation to serve others.

These statements turn the priesthood into a body of men instead of the power of God.  They also assign obligations to “the priesthood” (the body of men holding the priesthood) that are simply obligations devolving upon all of god’s children, men and women alike, irrespective of priesthood.  Without any malicious intent whatever, statements like these have the potential to pollute our minds and cloud our eyes.  We become capacitated, by and by, to thereafter hear the scriptures read to us, or to hear quotes from church leaders who correctly expound certain principles, but then so easily revert to the understanding that has been presented to us and engrained through our everyday cultural exposure to the words.

So, in response to the requests for clarification about high priests I’d like to point out a few things from church history and ask you to consider some questions about the scriptures.  If we ask the right questions we are bound to begin discovering the right answers.  Sometimes we can’t understand because we haven’t figured out what the right questions are.  Perhaps we aren’t asking any questions.  If what follows does not persuade you to come to Christ then you are free to discard it.  What will follow in the next couple of days is my understanding of things.    

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