Ordination vs. Setting Apart

(this is one of those blogs that is probably of interest only to me 😉 )

seventytopresidentofseventyFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with all of the logistical considerations of the priesthood.  Consequently, I’ve explored in the past which positions in the priesthood require ordination, and which require a prayer of “setting apart” (both of which involve the laying-on-of-hands).  The former results in a particular priesthood office being conferred upon someone, while the latter results in a person assuming a new role.

What has always struck me as odd is that there seems to be some inconsistencies regarding which positions are viewed as offices, requiring ordination, and which are viewed as roles that only require setting apart.  It seems that there has been confusion on this point, which was acknowledged in Guidelines for the Priesthood: Ordination Preparation Continuing Commitment (© 1985 Herald Publishing House).  That resource states on page 63:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to membership in the various offices, quorums, and orders of the priesthood…Setting apart by the laying on of hands is to presiding roles within quorums, councils, orders and field jurisdictions of the church, including districts and congregations…This modified definition constitutes a new application of setting apart as interpreted by the First Presidency.”

A modified version of the above appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual:

“Some semantic confusion exists concerning the differences between ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands.  Therefore, we define these terms as follows:

Ordination is to ministry-specific priesthood offices …Setting apart by laying on of hands is to specific leadership roles within quorums, councils, orders, mission centers and congregations.”

There are several positions that are, beyond doubt, offices of the priesthood, requiring ordination.  These positions include: apostle, bishop, deacon, elder, evangelist (formerly known as evangelist-patriarch), high priest, priest, seventy, and teacher.

Less common positions that are also understood as being offices of priesthood requiring ordination are: president, presiding bishop, presiding bishop’s counselor, presiding evangelist, and prophet.

Positions such as pastor, president of the Council of Twelve, and presidents of the Quorum of High Priests are set apart.

However, there are other positions that seem to be treated inconsistently.  For example:

Presidents of Seventy

There are some references to the position of President of Seventy being conferred via ordination (thereby being viewed as an office of priesthood), and other references to it being granted via setting apart (thereby being viewed as a priesthood role).

Consider the following: In both Guidelines for Priesthood (page 63) and the Priesthood Manual (page 23), presidents of seventy are listed as examples of priesthood offices requiring ordination.

Note that Guidelines for Priesthood, as quoted above, states that the First Presidency has defined the terms ordination and setting apart, and president of seventy is stated as falling under ordination.

However, page 35 of the 2004 Priesthood Manual contradicts page 23, stating that presidents of seventy are to be set apart.

How has the church actually handled presidents of seventy in recent years?  A review of the minutes of World Conferences 2000 to 2013 show that all new president of seventy became such via setting apart, *not* via ordination.  This is in violation of page 23 of the Priesthood Manual and with Guidelines to the Priesthood (though it is in  harmony with page 35 of the Priesthood Manual).

The fact that this type of inconsistency exists utterly baffles me.  Is the position of president of seventy an office of priesthood, requiring ordination, or, is it a role that does not require ordination, warranting only a prayer of setting apart?  That should be a very easy question to answer, but based on our history, it’s not.

On page 23 of The Ministry of the Elder, by Dwight DW Davis (Herald Publishing House, 1953) we are told that president of seventy is a priesthood office.

The book Priesthood Orientation Studies (Herald Publishing House, 1964) makes reference to presidents of seventy, but is not clear on whether this position is an office of priesthood, or a leadership role.

Looking at an older copy of the Priesthood Manual (1985), it states on page 48 that presidents of seventy are set apart.

So, what is the proper understanding of the position of seventy?

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to the World Church Secretary, asking for clarification on these type of questions.  He sent me a reply, which included:

“Your questions are a little complicated, but I’ll try to answer as clearly as possible. There are certain gray areas in this consideration, but ordinations are usually to a priesthood office, while a setting apart is to a responsibility within a priesthood office…

…There may be some inconsistency in World Church quorums and orders…If I may hazard an observation, it would appear to me that leadership positions in World Church quorums are termed ordinations when the role includes a significant function independent of the leadership or the quorum or order. Thus, the Presiding Bishopric carries certain responsibilities as trustees and as leaders of the Aaronic Priesthood, and its members are ordained. The President and Secretary of the Council of Twelve primarily give leadership to the Twelve and are set apart. The Council of Presidents of Seventy call new Seventy and new Presidents of Seventy in addition to their leadership of the seven quorums, and their members are ordained. The President of the Quorum of High Priests primarily gives leadership to the quorum and is set apart.”

So, according to this letter, presidents of seventy are ordained.  The rationalization he gave me made sense to me.  In the letter I sent him, I opened by acknowledging that I was perplexed that the president of the Quorum of High Priests was set apart, but a counselor to the Presiding Bishop was ordained.  I thought it was very odd that a counselor was being ordained, thus having a new priesthood office conferred upon him, but the High Priest quorum president was simply set apart.

As I mentioned above, the explanation he provided made a lot of sense.  The apostles have a lot of responsibility, but the role of president of the Twelve does not have responsibilities beyond directing the Twelve. What apostles do, they do by virtue of their office of apostle.  However, the presiding bishop, *and* his counselors, do not merely hold presidency of the order of bishops, but also  function as a judicial council, hold presidency of the Aaronic priesthood, and have the tremendous responsibility of managing the global finances of the church.  So, based on the insight I received, it makes perfect sense that they would be ordained.

Likewise, the President of the Quorum of High Priests has administrative functions only, but the presidents of seventy, in addition to having that role, are also responsible for calling new seventies and even other presidents of seventy (when a vacancy exists).

So, from the various sources referenced above, there are various different opinions, and clearly, differences between what is stated, and what is actually done.  The letter I received stated that presidents of seventy are ordained, but in the 21st century, they have always been set apart.

Furthermore, the church has issued clarifying statements about the difference between ordination and setting apart, and, in that section, as it appears in the 2004 Priesthood Manual, they are to be ordained, yet, again, that is not what has actually happened in any of our 21st century World Conferences *and* the Priesthood Manual contradicts itself further on.

So, what really is the proper understanding?  Well, I can only offer my own personal opinion, but it would seem to me that it is proper to view the position of President of Seventy as a true and distinct office of priesthood, requiring ordination.

While we have not done so in the 21st century, our most recent Priesthood Manual, on the subject of setting apart vs. ordination, clearly states that presidents of seventy are to be ordained, and senior presidents are to be set apart.

While it is true that later on in the book, it is stated that presidents of seventy are set apart, I feel that this position, and not the former, must be viewed as erroneous, or perhaps out-of-date (the book, in being prepared, may have had the latter chapter written first, and as the clarity on ordination vs. setting apart was incorporated from Guidelines for Priesthood, it may have  been intended that this new view would supersede the other, and the former statement removed, then being overlooked for such removal by accident).

Another indication that the latter view is in error is because it appears in an overview of the office of high priest, which of course, seventies are not.

Finally, the Seventy have a presiding role in the church, as noted in various sections of the Doctrine & Covenants, and as confirmed in Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

While such references speak of this presidency being vested in the Seventy, it would be impractical (in my view), in our modern era, for the Seventy as a whole to so function, given that there could be, in theory (presuming ten quorums), 700 seventies.  Therefore, it would seem reasonable to conclude that should the Seventy ever need to function as a third presidency, the Council of Presidents of Seventy would do so on their behalf.  This additional responsibility would seem to warrant ordination.

So, my vote is: presidents of seventy are ordained as such.  The president of seventy who becomes senior president is set apart as such, as that role does not seem to have responsibilities beyond presiding over the Council of Presidents of Seventy.

High Councilors

As another example of inconsistencies regarding a role being ordained or set apart, members of the Standing High Council are high priests and become members of the Standing High Council by being set apart.  However, according to Section 129, it is noted, in a passage concerning evangelists (patriarchs), that they are an office of priesthood:

129:7a Those who are holding the office of patriarchs are to be enrolled with the high priests, the same as the bishops, who are acting in their office by virtue of their being high priests.
129:7b These men in their office are an order in the priesthood, the same as the high councils of the church and the stakes and as the bishops who hold as high priests, as the quorum of the twelve, and as the presidency are but orders in the priesthood, there being but two priesthoods; and these are orders in the Melchisedec priesthood.

Section 17:17 also refers to the office by name (high councilor), and states that they are ordained:

“Every president of the high priesthood (or presiding elder), bishop, high councilor, and high priest, is to be ordained by the direction of a high council, or General Conference.”

Furthermore, like the Seventy, the High Council is an additional presidency of the church, again as noted in both the Doctrine & Covenants, and Joseph Smith III’s Letter of Instruction.

Therefore, while we seem to currently view them as a role to which one is set apart, it would seem proper to ordain them.  An additional reason to do so is that the Council of Twelve is the “traveling high council”.  Both are “high councils”, one travels, one does not.  As apostles are ordained, it is only logical that high councilors would also be ordained.

It just does not make much sense, when both bodies are regarded as high councils of the church, to ordain members of one, but not of the other.  Nor does it make any sense to not view the role as an office, when the Doctrine and Covenants, which forms the law of the church and is part of the Standard of Authority, clearly states that it is an office, requiring ordination.

Another thought: The church has recognized for some time now that Apostles are not as free as the should be to preside over the missionary efforts of the church, as they have a great deal of administrative responsibilities.  The Standing High Council was originally created to support the First Presidency in governing the church.  While I understand that both high councils have changed over the years in purpose and responsibility, perhaps the Standing High Council could in some way, support the Traveling High Council, so that the latter is more free to focus on missionary work.  I realize that the members of the Standing High Council are not full time ministers, and that funding is not currently available to make them such, but if each was assigned, just as the Seventy now are, to work with a specific apostle, regardless of location, there may be some tasks that they could do to help free the apostles.

Advertisements

What Did We Gain from National Conference?

desertIn August 2015 I attended Northern Ontario Reunion at Camp Noronto, and I had the pleasure of teaching a class on God’s Changes.

The participants of this session were a very diverse group, representing a variety of theological viewpoints.  Towards the end of our session, the conversation meandered a bit, and one person began to question the wisdom of the changes made by our church in some nations resulting from the American, Australian, British & Canadian National Conferences.

This person felt that as a result of our changes, we’ve continued to lose members, our tithing contributions have continued to drop, we’re selling property, we’re not converting anyone, and we’ve put the church in jeopardy.  I was then directly asked “what did we gain from accepting homosexuals?”

In response to this question, I replied: “We gained redemption”.

Another person then asked me “What do you mean by that?” Fair question.  I offered a short explanation, which I can’t at all recall, and the conversation moved on.

But, while I don’t actually remember what I said, I do know exactly what I meant, what I was trying to say; and I feel its worth exploring in this format.

So let me begin by repeating my initial response.  By permitting people in same-sex relationships to be married by our priesthood, and to be ordained, we gained redemption.

I don’t actually mean that we the church gained redemption.  We gained the means to increase our capacity to help people around the world gain redemption.  People who might otherwise never obtain any.

When I speak of redemption, I’m not speaking of redemption in the sense of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ.  That type of redemption, which is very real, and very important, is granted by God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

The type of redemption I’m speaking of is personal redemption that occurs when people who are wrongfully marginalized or victimized or persecuted, to such an extent that they are dying inside, are empowered to feel alive once again.

There have been numerous gay people over the years, some of them young, who have been traumatized to such an extent by the experiences they have endured, as gay people, at the hands of church, state and society, that they have committed suicide.  This tragic trend has sadly not stopped.  But it cannot be ignored.

There are, now, everywhere, uncounted gay people who have been made to feel, by Christian churches, sinful, evil, unworthy, inferior, diseased, broken, defective, unaccepted, unwanted, unloved.  This cannot be ignored.

Not only have they felt unworthy of enjoying some of the same things that straight people do, but through regretful and undesirable circumstances, they have been made to feel that they are unworthy of God’s love.

Imagine feeling that you do not deserve to be loved by God.  We are told all the time that God loves everyone.  Imagine being forced, by the message that you are continually receiving from everyone around you (family, church, friends, government, etc.) that you, somehow, are the exception.  That in your case, God does not love *you*.  He loves everyone. Except for you.  How lonely would that feel?  Imagine being made to feel that not only does God not love you, but God cannot love you.  Because of “what you are”.

Imagine being made to feel that somehow you are being punished by God for your sins, or the sins of your parents.  Imagine being made to feel that you may be denied God’s grace, that you may not be permitted to be reunited with your friends, family and loved ones in the afterlife. Imagine being told that you’ll be in a lower glory, or, denied salvation entirely.  Imagine being conditioned to believe, by all that has happened to you, after suffering through this wearisome life, full of unrelenting tribulations, that your ultimate fate will be to be cast into Hell, where you will suffer and burn in incomprehensible agony for eternity.  Because you were born, through chance, gay.

And we wonder why Christian churches are losing members.  We wonder why churches are becoming less and less relevant, why they fail to resonate.  Where do I sign up for all of that?  Never mind.  Nobody wants to sign up for that.

But, we are signing up people for that all the time, by either directly causing gay people to feel this way, or be ignoring the fact that this happens.

It’s easy to say that “well, whoever told them that God does not love them was wrong”.  It’s easy to say “we love the person and hate the sin”.  It’s easy to say “we don’t actually teach that gay people are automatically condemned to Hell, and we don’t teach that Hell is an eternal pit of torment”, or whatever.

However, I’m not talking only about how gay people have been marginalized by the church, but by other denominations, by other religions, by society, by government policies around the world.  What should or should not have been done in the past is not the issue.  The reality is, there are plenty of people (far too many of them) out there right now who are undermining the humanness and sense of self-worth of gay people all the time.

Our call as a church is not simply to ensure that our own members are behaving appropriately, but to also do what we can to help reduce or eliminate the suffering of people everywhere, most of whom have never even heard of the church, and never will.

By making the changes that we have, Community of Christ is providing some people with a small measure of peace, healing of the spirit, reconciliation, and justice.   Combined, these result in the person experiencing, to some degree, personal redemption.

We can become, and already are, a refuge, a safe haven for many people who have felt spiritually wounded.  Some have been so spiritually wounded that they had given up all hope of ever finding what they need.

Community of Christ is striving to be this safe haven.  This ties directly into our call to make Christ’s mission our mission.  In his 2011 address to the church (The Mission Matters Most!), President Veazey talked about the mission of Jesus Christ, as stated in Luke 4:18-19.

Regarding the words “let the oppressed go free” President Veazey noted that the Greek text more directly translates into English as:

“to send away in freedom those who have been crushed.”

The power of this interpretation really hit me when he said it.

The word “crushed” in this usage is NOT in the sense of “I was so crushed that we couldn’t get into the movie theater”. This is not “we were absolutely crushed to hear about your divorce”.  This is not “I was crushed when I found out that my vacation plans fell through”.  This is in reference to people who have been personally persecuted and oppressed to such a degree that they enter into a spiritual crisis.  They are they who feel isolated from God, who feel alone, who feel desperate.  They are they who are made by external forces to hate themselves.   They are they who resent ever having been born.

There are many reasons why people would feel spiritually crushed.  But in the 21st century, in first world nations, I think that gay people are probably among the most numerous people who have been spiritually crushed under the religious, societal and state oppression and judgment that for many of them has been unrelenting.

This is inexcusable.

However, fortunately, some of these individuals who have been oppressively crushed by church, state, and society, have learned that there is a church out there that will love them for who they are, and accept them for who they are, but not in some limited or third class manner, but as equal to everyone else, fully able to participate in the life of the church.

In Community of Christ, they are no longer told “you’re an abomination”, or “your sex life is sinful”.  Instead, they are able to respond to God’s call; they are able to receive the sacrament of marriage, and their hearts are able to sing again; they can feel worthy of God’s love, and feel that they are acceptable to God (including their relationships with their partners).

They can feel loved again.  They can, as they recognize that God loves them, and always has, start to love themselves again, or perhaps for the very first time.  They will come to know that they are not rejected (by anyone that matters), and that they are not unworthy, wrong, defective, etc.

Human beings need to eat, and we need to drink.  We need food and beverages to sustain our physical bodies.  But we also need to drink of the living waters of Christ’s grace to be spiritually nourished.  For far too long, Christianity has forced gay people to wander in the desert, in the wilderness, in the wastelands, denied of provisions.  Parched, dehydrated, in some cases, reduced spiritually to dry husks, (for what can you be without hope), they have toiled under the lash of society and the scourge of the church.

Now, they can drink fully of the rivers of living water, and be rejuvenated, and made to feel alive once again.

This is what I mean by redemption.  This is what we’re bringing to people who suffer as described above.  This is why the church made the changes that it did.

Are we a small church?  Yes.  Are we struggling financially?  Yes.  Are we growing quickly?  No.  Are the results of National Conference to blame? Not at all.

And while we might not be growing quickly, we *are* growing, and we have been told:

“Do not be unduly concerned with numbers. Be fervent in your witness, passionate in your
discipleship, and vigorous in your labor on behalf of peace and justice. Where two or three such
disciples form community, there will the Spirit be. Many will come to see.” –Doctrine & Covenants 162:8b

And they are.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve never written a Thanksgiving blog, but as it’s the Thanksgiving Long Weekend, I thought why not (for those of you reading this who are confused, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October).

As we all know, the real point of Thanksgiving is of course to give thanks.  Its not just a reminder of pilgrims celebrating the harvest or of Frobisher making a safe sea voyage.  It’s not just an opportunity to spend time with family and eat a set list of dishes that we dare not ever deviate from (tangent: I’ve still not recovered from that time, about 25 years ago that the cook at a Thanksgiving Youth Retreat I attended decided to serve pumpkin cake instead of pumpkin pie – you don’t mess with the Thanksgiving menu people!)

Thanksgiving is about taking time, in a very deliberate way, to express gratitude.

Yet I think the purpose or point of Thanksgiving is to go a little deeper.  I think it’s meant to help encourage us to be thankful all the time, not just once a year.  If we only give thanks once a year, it becomes simply a shallow routine, something we do out of some sense of obligation, or perhaps even a fear of bad karma if we don’t do it.  And if that is the only reason we have to give thanks, we’ve learned nothing, and we are not truly appreciating all that we have, all the blessings that we benefit from every day.

The concept of giving thanks, or of expressing gratitude, is something I run into from time to time at church.  My father has told me on more than one occasion that we don’t do a very good job of thanking people for all that they do, which is rather sad, since the vast majority of people who do things for the church are volunteers.

As pastor of my congregation, I have often failed to do a good job of expressing appreciation and gratitude for what people do.  So I’ve been trying to be more deliberate with expressing gratitude, and for just appreciating what everyone does, *and* who everyone is.  Not just at church, but in general.

Being thankful also helps to counter taking people for granted.  This behavior is something we all do, and its been on my mind a lot for about two years or so now.  I’ve been very slowly working on a blog on that topic, but it’s been a bit tricky to figure out what I want to say about it.

But it does really concern me that it seems to the normal, default conduct of humans to take people for granted – ironically, the people they care about the most might be the people they take for granted the most.

However, I like to hope that if we can make being thankful, or expressing gratitude, showing appreciation, etc., second nature, we might be able to minimize how often we take people for granted.  And we need to ensure that it’s not just people that we avoid taking for granted.  Every aspect of our lives is something that we potentially take for granted, and therefore, we need to be deliberate in our appreciation for everything that we have that we benefit from.  Like heat in the winter time.  When the freezing rain storm hit in 2013, a lot of things that we took for granted were gone: refrigeration, light, heat, entertainment, etc.  Then it call came back.  But did we learn anything from that experience? Did we learn anything from the grid failure in 2003?

Expressing gratitude can also be done in a variety of ways. It does not have to be about always saying “thanks”, though that is important, and I believe that people really appreciate being thanked. But showing appreciation can include treating someone to lunch, being available for others, giving recognition for countless hours of volunteer work, or any number of other ways of showing people that you love and care about them.

We can also express gratitude by being compassionate and by being charitable.   If we support worthy causes, we acknowledge that we are fortunate, and want to do something to help others.

Being thankful, or expressing gratitude, or showing appreciation, or whatever you want to call it, is probably something that needs to become a spiritual discipline that we each practice, daily.  If we can do this, I think it will help us to simply be more aware of what matters most.   And perhaps the best way we can get in the habit of doing this daily, or weekly, or whatever works best, is to list the things we are thankful for.  And perhaps to ensure that we keep that list in the forefront of our minds, we need to have the courage to share that list with other people.

So what I am I thankful for?  There is so much.  To begin with…

I’m thankful for the gift of life itself.   I’m grateful that I exist.
I’m thankful for the life of my wife, for her willingness to share her life with mine.  I love you.
I’m grateful for my parents, my in-laws, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, and my nieces & nephews.  I love you all.
I’m thankful for all my friends from camp, reunions, and all the formative experiences of my youth.  The years do not dim what you mean to me.  You’re always in my heart, and I will love you always.
I’m grateful for having been born and raised in my church, and for all the friends I’ve made in the church throughout Ontario, Canada, the United States, and around the world.
I’m thankful for the technology that exists that has enabled me to make friends with some of the people who live in Africa, Europe, and elsewhere, as I would not know them otherwise.
I’m grateful for the friends I grew up with, the “gang”, the friends I still keep in touch with.  Hate to say, it but I love you guys.  Distance and time do not diminish these foundational friendships.
I’m thankful for visionaries, who are trying to push the church forward.
I’m grateful for unity in diversity.
I’m thankful for Community Place+ which is making a real difference, and I’m grateful that it’s foundational members have persevered through turmoil after turmoil, never losing their passion or sense of assurance that what they are building is right.  Things will get better. This is your time.
I’m grateful for Community Plus+ which had the willingness and courage to create it’s own interpretation of the model built by Community Place+
I’m thankful for my job, which though it frustrates me from time to time, provides me with my income.
I’m grateful for all my friends at work, many of whom I’ve truly come to love and value, as they help me get through those hard days that we all have.
I’m thankful for my vacations.
I’m grateful for relaxing days because in my own weakness, I still hate the hard days.
I’m thankful to be Canadian because we see the world diferently.
I’m grateful for different ideas, opinions, viewpoints, convictions, as they help push me to be more honest with myself.
I’m thankful for all the people in the church Facebook groups who put up with my never-ending meandering back-and-forth debates.
I’m grateful for my childhood, for Rockfern & Robert’s Island
I’m thankful for Noronto, Ziontario, Erie Beach.
I’m grateful for the leaders of my church.  I can’t imagine the pressure, stress, and crap they have to deal with.
I’m thankful for my health & for free healthcare.
I’m grateful for all that I own, for having a warm house to live in, a car to drive (when my wife lets me) and even for all the frivolous things that we all purchase (do I really need video games at my age?  Yes).
I’m thankful for my favorite band and for having multiple opportunities to see Rush in concert.
I’m grateful for the courage and sacrifice of all those who fought in wars to defend freedom.
I’m thankful I’ve never had to fight in a war.
I’m grateful for my dog and for all my other pets.
I’m thankful for my LDS friends who are willing to explore in perpetuity, just as I do.
I’m grateful for the Seekers community, for their courage to explore something new.
I’m thankful for everyone who has been a mentor to me, or who I’ve learned something from. You’d be surprised who this would include.
I’m grateful for my wife’s love and for supporting me in all that I do.
I’m thankful for everything I’ve overlooked but should acknowledge.

What are you thankful for?  This is not meant to be some sort of lets-all-just-shower-each-other-with-mutual-appreciation.  Go deeper. What do you need to be thankful for?

God’s Changes

This blog is based on a couple of my prior blogs, and some notes I prepared for a session I did during Noronto Reunion 2015.  I felt the content, as delivered in that session, was somewhat hard to follow, so I’ve created this blog, which I hope helps organize and present my ideas better.  The original blogs are Can God Change? (part 3) and Why Does the Church Have to Change?

I’m still trying to fine-tune this material, as its a topic that is deeply important to me, and I feel very important to the church, so if anyone has any suggestions on how to present the content in a way that is more clear, please let me know.  I want people to share this material and be comfortable doing so, so I’m definitely open to suggestions for making it easier to follow.

templesOur church has a long history of fragmenting. In recent decades the core reason for this fragmentation is the belief that God never makes changes to what God has previously established. Over and over again I have been told by numerous members of the church who reject church changes (along with numerous members of the dissident groups) that none of the major changes made by the church can be valid because God simply does not make such changes, he never changes the church or his priesthood.

It is time to challenge that view. As someone who believes in the great apostasy, the need for priesthood restoration, the revelations of Joseph Smith Jr., the divine origin of the Inspired Version, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the cause of Zion, the special calling of our church to be a people set apart, and the ultimate authority of our standard of authority (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Inspired Version), I will do so from within a Restoration context (of framework), meaning, I will do so only by reviewing our sacred canon and church history. For me, these are the only elements worth considering.

Who am I writing this for? Anyone who claims to accept the authority of the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, and the Doctrine & Covenants. Anyone who wants to see scriptural evidence that God has made changes to his church and priesthood. Anyone who wants to better understand God. Anyone who is open minded. Anyone who wants to help his or her fellow church members move out of spiritual turmoil. Anyone who is not a hypocrite.

But in particular, I’m writing this for people who share my love and passion for our Restoration heritage and who believe in and view, our Restoration scriptures as divine revelation and authoritative.

It has been my observation that people who question the authenticity of some of our Restoration heritage beliefs, and who do not regard the Book of Mormon and Inspired Version as authentic expressions of God’s revelation to the world, tend to be more accepting of church change.

Or, to say it the other way, people who believe as I do, who believe in the authority and historicity of the Book of Mormon and the revelatory origin of the Inspired Version tend to be far more likely to object to changes being made in the church. For the most, part, this derives from the conviction that God does not make changes to his church or the priesthood.

This conviction is based on the fact that our scriptures, including the Book of Mormon do include verses that imply that God does not change. But the great irony with all of this is that the more you claim to truly accept the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version and the revelations of Joseph Smith, the more committed you are to acknowledge that in fact God has made changes, as revealed in our unique Restoration scriptures. Though you may not realize that. God may not change, but God brings about change, including to what God has himself previously established.

This is the testimony of our Restoration scriptures, but it has been hidden from the world until now, because no one before me has gone looking for it. But we must do as Nephi counsels us, and ponder the scriptures:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them” -Second Nephi 3:29

Baptismal Words Established – and then Changed

Consider an example of God changing a sacrament. First, we read in Alma 9:

43 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
44 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
45 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.

Pay particular note to the words Alma used in verse 44 when he baptized Helam, keeping in mind that the above passage clearly indicates that Alma was filled with the Holy Spirit. This strongly suggests that what Alma did, and said, was done by the prompting of God. Now compare to:

“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” -Third Nephi 5:25

The baptism of Helam took place long before the words given in Third Nephi. Alma, empowered by the Holy Spirit spoke words to Helam and baptized him. And other people were baptized, and they were called from that time the Church of Christ. Clearly, this passage was recorded in the history of the Nephites to reveal, in part, when the church was firs established in the New World. It was a significant moment in the history of the eternal church on Earth.

The fact that Alma was filled with the Spirit before he baptized Helam, and the fact that both he and Helam were filled by the Spirit after they arose from the water, and baptized others, who were then called the church of Christ, and the fact that all of this was recorded, clearly indicates that these baptisms were of course acceptable to God. This cannot be plausibly disputed.

Nor can it be plausibly denied that the baptisms of future generations of this iteration of the church were acceptable to God (excluding reasons other than the wording used).

So, from the time of Alma to Third Nephi, which was a period of several centuries, either the words above were used by all people performing baptisms, or people were free to use other words. The Book of Mormon does not tell us if what Alma said was used by others, or if the officiants were able to use other words. Perhaps each officiant received words imparted by the Spirit. We simply don’t know.

What we do know is that in Third Nephi, the church received a specific baptismal statement. Therefore, the Lord made a change. In truth, we cannot say exactly what that change was. Either the Lord changed words that He gave before (if the words used by Alma were given by the Spirit), or he changed what was required during baptism, despite the fact that what was done before was acceptable to Him, and confirmed by his Spirit.

Teachers Can Baptize – And then Cannot

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.”
-Alma 10:103

Compare the above passage with Doctrine & Covenants Section 17:11e:

“but neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands”

So, we see that in the ancient church, according to the Book of Mormon, teachers could baptize. Yet, in the restored church, as indicated by the Doctrine and Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do. This represents a change made by God to the priesthood.

Slavery Endorsed, Commanded, and then Condemned

Another very important change pertains to slavery. In the Old Testament, slavery was tolerated and even commanded by God:

44 Both thy bond-men, and thy bond-maids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids.
45 Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession.
46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bond-men for ever; but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor. -Leviticus 25 (Inspired Version)

However, we read the following in Section 98:10g:

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.”

This demonstrates God reversing a prior divine position. This would be, in my own opinion, an example of something that was not previously viewed by God as a sin, becoming so.

Regardless of that question, the point here is that God, for whatever reason, openly tolerated, and seemed to even command, or at least encourage slavery – the treatment of some people being regarded as property by other people; only to then reverse that position in 1833 – several centuries after the Torah was recorded.

Who Can Ordain? Just elders?

In 1993 Herald Publishing House printed a book called “Having Authority”, by Gregory A. Prince, which informs us on page 43 that in the early days of the Restoration, only elders could ordain. However, in 1831, this authority was extended to priests.

Bishops – Which Order?

Likewise, this same book informs us on page 54 that bishops were originally part of the Melchisedec priesthood, but eventually became part of the Aaronic priesthood (this may be an unfamiliar concept for many readers, however, strictly speaking the office of bishop belongs to the Aaronic priesthood, and is properly filled by descendants of Aaron. However, since proving such descent is problematic, the lord has indicated that high priests can serve in the office of bishop).

An Eye for An Eye – Or Not!

In Leviticus 24:20 we see a reference to God’s Old Testament version of justice: “eye for eye”. The verse states:

“Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”

According to verse 13, this was the word of God spoken to Moses. So, this custom was God’s will.  However, this policy was reversed in the Gospel of Matthew:

40 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
41 But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. -chapter 5

Divorce – Forbidden. Then sanctioned.

We are told by Christ that divorce was not permitted in the days prior to Moses. However, at that point, because of the hardness of their hearts, divorce was sanctioned.

This change is significant. I’ve often had people tell me that God does not make changes to suit humanity. This clearly teaches us that such is not the case.

Aaronic Priesthood – Nothing Stays the Same!

Fully appreciating the various changes related to the Aaronic priesthood will be easier if some background is provided.

According to scripture, God established two different orders of priesthood. The first, and senior of the two, was the Melchisedec priesthood, named after one of it’s most prominent members, Melchisedec, King of Salem. According to Section 83:4c, this priesthood was removed from the world when Moses died, because the people no longer warranted it. However, before this occurred, God had conferred a second priesthood upon Aaron, the brother of Moses, which became known as the Aaroinc priesthood, and which became the only priesthood of the Israelites after Moses died.

According to the Book of Mormon, a group of Israelites, known as the Nephites, fled Jerusalem (in the Old World) in 600 BC, and traveled, under the direction of God, to the Americas (in the New World). The Aaronic priesthood also existed in their civilization. It is implied that it became dormant, and was therefore established a second time, therefore there are two iterations of the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites.

The New Testament informs us that the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World survived to the time of Christ, and, we see references to priests and deacons and teachers in the New Testament church, so, it was incorporated into the body of the Christian faithful.

In the modern church, the Aaronic priesthood continues, having been conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (after a centuries long period of dormancy) on May 15th, 1929.

So, we have five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. It can be confusing to keep them straight, so here is a cheat sheet:

Aaronic Priesthood Iterations

AaronicIterations
It might also be helpful to have a quick refresh on just who the Israelites are.  In the Bible, in the Old Testament, God promises a man named Abraham that he will be the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham’s son is Isaac, and Isaac becomes the father of Jacob.  Jacob has 12 sons.  Jacob is renamed (by God), Israel (though he never seems to be called this, continuing to be called Jacob).  His sons each become the patriarch of a tribe, thus, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Ok, so, in ancient scripture, as revealed in the Old Testament, God decided to bless the Twelve Tribes of Israel with a priesthood.  He selected a member of the Tribe of Levi to be the first high priest, and that man was Aaron, the brother of Moses.  Aaron’s sons became the first priests.  The rest of the Levites, who were not descended from Aaron, were also given religious duties, but the priesthood itself was restricted to Aaron and his descendants only.  Therefore, while other Levites had religious responsibilities, only the Aaronites were part of the priesthood.

It is important to keep in mind here that to be a Levite, you had to be descended from Levi, and to be part of the priesthood, you had to also be a descendant of Aaron.

The entire Aaronic priesthood would eventually become dormant.  However, we know from our history that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic priesthood to the world when he conferred it upon Oliver Cowdery & Joseph Smith Jr.

But what of those ancestry requirements?  Clearly, in the Restored church, they have been abolished.  Any member of the church in good standing, who is called of God, can be, according to the laws of the church, ordained to any office of the Aaronic priesthood, regardless of heritage.  One does not need to be descended from Aaron.

We should also look at the composition of the Aaronic priesthood.  In ancient scripture it consisted of priests and a high priest (to avoid confusion with the Melchisedec high priest, I’ll term this role as “chief priest”).

The chief priest was not simply an exalted role, but an office of priesthood, because he was consecrated to his position, with scripturally defined duties.

It is important to note that in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, no such office exists.  There are high priests mentioned in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, but they are “after the Order of the Son of God” i.e., they are of the Melchisedec priesthood.

Now, we could argue that bishops, first introduced in the New Testament church, are simply chief priests of the Aaronic priesthood with a new designation.  Yet, in the entire nation of ancient Israel, all through it’s history, including when it was a kingdom, there was only one chief priest at a time.  However, in the early years of the church, which had a vastly smaller population, there were multiple bishops.  So, either bishops are a new office, with chief priests being discarded, or they are the same office, re-named, & reflective of a further change (many vs. one).

Then we have to deal with deacons and teachers.  No such offices exist in the Old Testament.  Teachers are found in the Aaronic priesthood as it existed amongst the Nephites, but deacons are still absent.

We might suggest that deacons and teachers represent the non-Aaronite Levites.  However, the non-Aaronite Levities were classified into three groups: the Gershonites, the Kohathites and the Merarites.  So, if we go with that theory, then we are forced to acknowledge that something is missing today.  Plus, the non-Aaronite Levites were not truly part of the priesthood, but deacons and teachers are.

However, the real meat of this topic pertains to the duties and responsibilities of the Levites and the priesthood (I’m including the non-Aaronite Levites here just to be thorough, in case there is dispute over whether they were, or were not, part of the priesthood).

Each of the three types of non-Aaronite Levites had specific religious duties to perform, as indicated in the following passages from Numbers chapter 3, Inspired Version:

25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
26 And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it, for all the service thereof.

30 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
31 And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.

36 And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto,
37 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

The duties of the Aaronite priests were to perform various sacrifices and burnt offerings, each for a specific purpose.  The chief priest presided over the day of atonement, and had various other unique duties to perform.

However, when we read Section 17 of the Doctrine & Covenants (or any other section), we utterly fail to see any harmony of duties between the modern Aaronic priesthood, and those of the ancient Aaronites and Levites (though there are a few commonalities between the modern priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites).

Quite simply, none of the duties of the Levites or the priests or the chief priests of the Bible exist in the current Aaronic priesthood, and none of the responsibilities of the latter were held by the former.  In fact, the primary duty of the Biblical priests of Aaron was specifically abolished by Christ:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; …your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” –Third Nephi 4:49

Its worth pointing out that not only were the duties of the priests of Aaron changed, the Lord actually stated that he would no longer accept what he previously commanded His people to provide: sacrifices and burnt offerings, the entire tradition having been “done away” with.  The core function of the Aaronic priesthood was abolished.  Again, this demonstrates God changing something that He had previously implemented.

What we see from all of this is that God does indeed alter things to suit his purposes, as circumstances warrant.  God may not change, but the world does, and therefore, the needs of the people, and of the church, change, and thus, God changes the priesthood and the church to better support the needs that they have.

Indeed, a comparison of the Israelite and Nephite Aaronic priesthoods sets a precedent for differences to exist at the same time.

The priesthood of Israel had priests and chief priests, and were assisted by the Levites.  The priesthood of the Nephites had priests and teachers and lacked Levites. Not just Levitical temple workers, but members of the Tribe of Levi.  Of which the Aaronic priesthood had to be part of.  This means that in fact, there were two different divine policies operating on the Earth at the same time.  In the Old World, you had to be an Aaronite to be part of the Aaronic priesthood.  In the New World, you did not.  Two different rules, at the same time, depending where you were.

Here is another example of this:

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.” -Alma 10:103

During this point in time, the Aaronic priesthood in Israel still existed.  Yet, we can be sure that the duties of the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World did not include performing baptisms for the sake of the church of Christ.

We need to remember that from Aaron to Christ, the Aaronic priesthood existed in Israel, with the duties and rules outlined in the Old Testament.  Yet, the Aaronic priesthood in the days of Alma, in the New World, existed at the same time as the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World, and the above verse is a clear indication of the two versions of the priesthood having different rules in operation at the same time, by design of God.

The priesthood of Israel operated directly under God.  The priesthood of the Nephites operated under the direction of the Melchisedec priesthood.

This last fact is itself a change for another reason.  There were no Melchisedec high priests or elders presiding over the Aaronic priesthood of Israel (in Israel).  However, the Nephites (who were also Israelites) had such high priests, and they also had elders, and the priests and teachers were subordinate to them.

In other words, the Israelites living in Israel, between Moses and Christ, did not have the Melchisedec priesthood – but the Israelites who were also Nephites living in the New World did!  Again, this proves that God may change things not only over time, but in different areas – having different rules for the same thing, as circumstances warrant.

Clearly God does, and has changed things over the ages.  This should not really surprise us.  It is important to remember that Christ established His church for the sake of mankind. Therefore, we should not be surprised to see God being willing to modify the church to better meet the needs of mankind.

Church Iterations – Nothing Stays the Same!

We tend to regard the church as having been first established in Palestine, directly by Jesus Christ (or at least, by the original twelve apostles under Christ’s direction).

While Christ did establish the church in Palestine, it was not the first time that the church was established.  Our Restoration scripture reveals that prior iterations of the church existed.

As with the Aaroinc priesthood, there have been five iterations of the church, and they closely align to the five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood.  Though, there are some differences.

They are as follows:

Church Iterations

churchiterations
The church and the Aaronic priesthood both existed in the Old Testament, but not at the same time.  While it is true that the Melchisedec priesthood exited after Noah (the last such priesthood member being Moses), the church seems to have entered into a period of dormancy after the flood.  So, by the time of Moses and his brother Aaron, and the establishment of the priesthood conferred upon the latter, the church seems to have been dormant, and therefore, while both the church and the Aaronic priesthood existed in the Old Testament, they did not exist at the same time.

The fact that the Aaronic priesthood did not exist during the first iteration of the church is significant.  It is the only iteration of the church that lacked it. When the Aaronic priesthood was conferred upon all future iterations of the church, a change occurred.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant.  The second iteration was established by God through his servant Alma, in the New World.  We know this from what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, 9th chapter of Mosiah (RLDS 1908):

46 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
47 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon: and they were in number about two hundred and four souls;
48 Yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God:
49 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward.

The third iteration of the church was what we usually regard as the foundation of the church: Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament.

The fourth iteration takes us back to the Nephites.  Here, in the Third Book of Nephi, Christ, after appearing to the Nephites, seems to re-establish the church amongst the Nephites.  Its not quite as explicitly explained as previously, but it seems that the church had “broken up” prior to Christ’s manifestation, resulting in the need for it to be organized once again.

Finally, we come to the fifth, and current iteration of the church, established, as always, by our Lord, but this time, through Joseph Smith Jr. This iteration is now over 180 years old, which is still comparatively young compared to the prior iterations.

What do we learn from all of this?  Well, the key question that we need to ask is this: “Do we truly believe that these various iterations of the church were identical to each other?”

The answer is clearly “no”.  Let us consider again the various iterations that have existed:

1st – Established by the Lord through Adam (Old Testament church)
2nd – Established by the Lord through Alma (1st Nephite church)
3rd – Established directly by the Lord (New Testament church)
4th – Established directly by the Lord (2nd Nephite church)
5th – Established by the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. (modern church)

As we consider these various iterations, it becomes clear that many distinctions exist.  It is difficult to say just how many there are, but for the purposes of this discussion, we really don’t need an exhaustive list.  The following suffice:

1) The very purpose of the first iteration seems distinct from all others.  It does not seem to have operated in the open, to publicly proclaim Christ.  This logistically makes sense, as doing such prior to the birth of Christ on the same landmass on which he would eventually be born would likely be problematic.

So, what then was the purpose of the 1st iteration?  We can speculate all we want, but it does not really matter.  The key point here is that the latter iterations were more open and public about proclaiming Jesus Christ than the 1st iteration apparently was.

2) As noted above, the first iteration lacked an Aaronic priesthood.  While some might argue that it may not have been needed in that very early era of human history, the fact remains, all future iterations are different from the first iteration of the church for at least this one reason.  When the Aaronic priesthood was implemented in future iterations, that represented a transformation from the oldest example of the church.

3) The Aaronic priesthood as it existed in the 3rd and 4th iterations of the church, which for a time existed simultaneously, were not structurally the same.  In the New Testament church, there were deacons, priests and bishops.  It is not precisely clear if teachers were regarded as an actual office of priesthood.

In the 2nd Nephite church, there were priests, but no deacons, and no bishops.  Also, there were indeed ordained teachers.   So, different offices operating in the Aaronic priesthood, at the same time, depending in which part of the world you were.

4) According to the Doctrine & Covenants, bishops are properly part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisedec priesthood.  Also, they are to be literal descendants of Aaron.  However, as proving such heritage is problematic, the Lord has provided us, in our modern revelations, an escape clause: high priests can function in all other offices, therefore, a high priest can be ordained and serve in the office of bishop.

The key point here though is that bishops are of the Aaronic priesthood.  Yet, when we review the New Testament, it seems clear that bishops were very senior members of the church, presiding just below the apostles.  Why would members of the Aaronic priesthood be senior to high priests and elders?

Clearly, bishops were operating in the New Testament church with an authority and responsibility distinct from other iterations of the church.  Clearly, they were called by God to serve as the needs of the people required at the time.

5) Looking at the priesthood as a whole, the New Testament seems to have had the following offices and roles:

apostles, bishops, deacons, elders, evangelists, high priests, pastors, priests, seventies & teachers (pastors, and possibly teachers, being a role vs. an office).

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

Elders, priests & teachers (high priests seem absent from the 2nd Nephite church, which fact is itself a distinction from the 1st Nephite church).

An additional role is found in the existence of 12 elders set apart to provide something approximating apostolic ministry without being true apostles.  This seems to have been a one shot arrangement.

When we compare the two versions of the priesthood (in iterations 3 and 4), including pastors and teachers, we see a total of 12 forms of ministerial leadership in the New Testament church, but only four (including the 12 apostolic elders) in the 2nd Nephite church.

6) When we look at the modern church, we continue to see evolutions:
a. Seven (and then ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
e. A First Presidency.
f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
g. A presiding evangelist.
h. A new office, in the form of high councilor****
i. A Standing High Council
j. Bishops function as financial leaders instead of presiding over the church.

*While there have always been prophets, they were not previously an office of priesthood.  This is therefore a new office that exists only in the modern church.

**Prior to the modern church, presidents, as an office of priesthood, did not exist.  This is therefore a new priesthood office.

***There is no priesthood office of patriarch in ancient scripture.  Patriarchs did exist in the Old Testament, but they were not an office of priesthood.  Therefore, it is a new office of priesthood existing only in the modern church.  It was also combined with the office of evangelist.  There can be little doubt that Old Testament patriarchs and New Testament evangelists, if told that one day their roles would be merged into one office would have found that to be a rather strange change.  I suspect many would deem it a very unlikely, implausible and awkward change.

****While the church does not tend to currently use the term high councilor, and inducts people to the standing high council via setting apart instead of ordination, it’s status as an office is based on Doctrine and Covenants 129:7b.

***

What do we learn from all of these examples of how the various iterations of the church were different from some or all of the other iterations? Well, quite simply, we learn that the church has never existed in one static form.  The church has always experienced divinely guided change.

As we have seen here such alterations are not limited to just new additions to the church, but, as we have seen, sometimes something already established by God is changed by God in the future, or changed by God in another part of the world (divinely implemented regional distinctions).

So, can we, especially those of us with foundational church beliefs, truly claim that the church cannot or should not change, given that, based on our three books of scripture, it is clear that the church has always changed?

In fact, it would seem that if we don’t experience change, that would be inconsistent with our own history.

Change is not our enemy.  Change is not counter to God`s will.  However, perpetuating a delusion or clinging to such a falsehood (that the church cannot be changed by God) is clearly in alignment with the designs of the adversary, and in opposition to God`s revelations.

Thus saith the Spirit.