Priesthood in “Exploring the Faith”

Over the years there was a book called “Exploring the Faith”, which talked about the beliefs of the church. It was given the seal of approval by the folks who write the church’s curriculum and the First Presidency. The 1970 edition can be read here.

I have been very interested in the purpose of the hierarchical structure of the priesthood and the nature of ordination. The church’s modern statements on Priesthood and Ordination are short and lacking of depth and meaning. I decided to do some historical research on the nature of these, and found that this was talked about at length in Exploring The Faith. I would like to recount the 13th chapter of this book, which speaks on priesthood:

Chapter 13

We believe that all are called according to the gifts of God unto them to accept the commission and cost of discipleship. Some are chosen through the spirit of wisdom and revelation and ordained by those who are in authority in the church to serve in specialized ministries. These include ministry to persons, families, and community, as well as preaching, teaching, administering the ordinances, and directing the affairs of the church. The authority of every member of the body in his respective calling emerges out of divine endowment to him and his faithfulness in servanthood with Christ.

We believe that all are called …

Apparently every form of life save man responds to whatever purpose is written into its being, unaware of its Creator or the obligations of moral law. It is left to man by his uniqueness of perception and volition to discern and to accept or reject the call to fulfill the purpose of his creation. Frequently he seems bent on being Creation’s canker, but on countless occasions man responds to the call and rises to fulfillment that is creative and sublime.

Every person is called. 1 One’s role will vary according to the nature and extent of his endowment and may be conditioned by circumstance, but each has his place and is to be held accountable to the measure of his capacity. The calling of God is not to a few who might constitute the elite, although this is a temptation to those who sense their gifts. Many, presuming superiority, may look askance at others who are less gifted or perhaps unaware. We need to sense that each is called by the nature and extent of his endowment. When we read of those whose calling is legendary in the scriptures or elsewhere, we see cases in point of our own calling. The calling of prophets, apostles, and other men and women from a broad range of circumstances and qualifications is the means by which we are reminded that we, too, by the fact of sharing breath and intelligence are called to achieve and contribute. That all are called places in perspective the worth and contribution of each, whether rich or poor, bond or free, black, white, or other.

according to the gifts of God unto them…

To be called according to the gifts of God suggests a variety of callings as wide as the dispersion of gifts. It also suggests an essential humility involving recognition of whose we are and from whence our capacities come. The profusion of gifts bespeaks a lavish generosity. Their diversity proclaims wide variation in skills and abilities. Yet, each is to magnify the gifts which are entrusted to him. None is called according to the gift of others, though each may learn from others. Each has his own stewardship resting squarely on the dimensions and potential of his own gifts. One is not to expect in others the skills and competencies of himself, nor is he to be envious of others. Accurate appraisal is appropriate to one’s own self-respect, to one’s appreciation of others, and to one’s responsibility to the Source of his endowment. It is also appropriate to understand how divine endowment is frequently given short shrift by indolence, environmental discouragement, deficiencies of diet, and even by unwise mating. Sometimes the gifts are commandeered for personal gain, with little regard to the welfare of others or to the purposes of God. The gifts of God are to be considered a sacred trust held individually for the good of all. This is the basis of all stewardship. Failure to magnify one’s gifts is not only an affront to God but a loss to society and a self-condemnation.

to accept the commission and cost of discipleship.

Discipleship frequently remains indecisive and nebulous unless awareness of calling is objectified in commission. The sense of commission may be felt, of course, by alert souls who discern their gifts and with perceptive conscience match them against the needs of their time. It is just here, however, that baptism is perceived as more than cleansing and enlistment. It is commission – the wedding of divine imperative to divine endowment, issuing in life disciplined to achieve the purposes of that divine imperative.

Discipleship is essentially a matter of discipline – thorough and even severe – voluntarily submitted to which results in the adjustment and integrating of one’s life to the divine intent. This is costly, but who regrets paying the price for desirable ends? Sacrifice is not really sacrifice to the one involved. Fasting is seldom noticed by the one who is completely absorbed in his Lord’s will.

Sacrifice is considered loss because we move reluctantly from bad to good to better to best. We are not free from the love of sin, and like the Israelites cast lingering glances backward to captivity. But when we are converted to the values of Christ and are intent on learning to do well, ceasing to do evil no longer seems an exorbitant price.

Discipline appropriate to involvement- this is the meaning of discipleship, and it raises a much higher standard than the customary calisthenics of membership.

Some are chosen through the spirit of wisdom and revelation …

All are called; few are chose. Why? Leadership is the key to understanding, and the best insight is to be gained from looking at Jesus Christ who was himself chosen. The purpose of his choosing was that “the world through him might be saved.” 2 Every other calling gains in significance and is ultimately defined and measured by sharing in this same purpose.

Jesus became “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” That is, he was in himself the way men are to act. He was the ultimate reality that purges every falsehood, the living that is truly humane. He was the word made flesh to dwell among men that they might see. He was better than all known paths. He was better than all previous heroes. He was, in short, the embodiment of God’s wish for men.

For such divine purpose persons are still chosen. They are chosen for the sake of those who follow. It is only in embodiment, in leading out in the actualization of truth, and in the concretion of the way, that significant leadership can be given. Seeing is still believing. As Jesus said, “What ye have seen in me, do.” 3 Of course, unless the demonstration is kin to the truth it is to depict, it is a share and a delusion.

Those who are deeply involved in prophetic ministry are in position to discern the intent of Deity, the potential of their fellow men, and the developing relationship between their fellowmen and God. Observation is heightened by discernment. Discernment is intensified by prayer, with resulting perception of potential roles to be played, and the matching of gifts to the needs of men and purposes of God. It is a risky business and may border on presumption, but it is a necessary task – this calling of men to perform the ministries of Christ.

If the church is to be the body of Christ, its organs and nerve and tissue need defining and ordering. While there are some who conceive of the church as amorphous, Jesus himself and the disciples who followed him conceived it as an organism, intent on achieving divine purpose and formed for the achievement of functions appropriate to the Spirit which was to dwell within it and call it forth to minister. 4 It was to be apostolic and had apostles. It was to be prophetic, and there were men who continued the prophetic role into the New Testament era. It was to teach and shepherd, and there were those ordained to formalize and implement that function. 5

and ordained by those who are in authority in the church…

To bring order to the body, to regulate and direct its functioning, at its nerve centers there must be those who, discerning divine intent, designate and coordinate organic functions. The church needs to have an essential integrity or wholeness. After all, it is to be the “body of Christ.” This description suggests the nature of its life, its subordination to divine purpose, and its unity of action in light of that purpose. 6 There may be diversities of gifts, and the variety of functions within the body may be legion, but they are to be tied together in common function and destiny, bringing into the midst of men the instrumentality of God, in the spirit and after the likeness of Christ. 7 To such body the sense of ordered purpose is imperative. Such ordering and coordination is appropriately done by specialized centers of control.

In the church this is achieved by men, themselves ordained, who have been accorded authority to act for the body in selecting other men to serve in the various priesthood callings. Acting in wisdom intensified by communion with the Holy Spirit, men are designated and, on their own willingness and acceptance by the church, are ordained in worship experiences appropriate to the significance of God’s call to serve.

to serve in specialized ministries.

None of us can approximate the total ministry of Jesus Christ. However, the potential is given to most of us to perform some portion of his ministry. Thus “to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit: to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles: to another prophecy: to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues: to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” 8

To some it is given to serve at tables or to assist in other unsung! but nevertheless essential tasks. Each has his own ministry to perform for the sake of others, and their lives are never quite complete if that ministry is withheld or is in some way distorted. Moreover, the minister himself is never complete except in the fulfillment of his ministry to others. People need each other and need to be inte grated into the body for their own health as well as to make the body of Christ healthy and capable of performing its mission. 9

These include ministry to persons, families, and community, as well as preaching, teaching, administering the ordinances, and directing the affairs of the church.

There are diversities of administration. That ministry which is designated Aaronic has to do with articulating the will of God to the people. Aaronic priests, teachers, and deacons encourage the fundamentals of discipleship, the basic habits of righteousness so necessary if more complete personal and community expression is to be attained.

Imagine a skilled pianist who has not first of all achieved the habitual and hard-won skill of finger placement and the ability to read a musical score. There is no freedom to interpret the masters or to improvise from the music of his own heart until bone and sinew can respond to the unseen signals of the mind.

Expression of the kingdom of God in tangible life-style awaits the mastery of fundamentals of righteous personality and human relationships. Without these disciplines freedom to develop Zionic community life is impossible.

Belief in priesthood includes the concept of the calling of sufficient persons to provide proximity of ministry to all who may participate in the mission of God’s people. Those ordained to be teachers and deacons have their primary ministry to persons. 10 Priests have their ministry primarily to family units, bringing the influence of for giving and reconciling love as well as help with fundamentals of homelife. 11 Is it necessary to mention that such ministry cannot be expressed unless there is involvement with people where they live? Ministry given in the stead of Christ is never remote. It is substantive and proximate. It is here and now and wins confidence in association, not in aloofness. Priesthood functioning that is limited to formal services in church buildings begs the issue and distorts understanding of the pastoral role.

Elders have a ministry to persons, too, although by long custom this ministry has become obscured. They are to help persons establish a covenant relationship with the Creator. They are to baptize, and this must not be construed as the simple “right” to perform an ordinance. Elders are to be the expression of the concern of Christ that the world is to be saved. Thus they are to go into all the world-living the witness into the communities of men in order that those communities shall be won to Christ.

Priesthood share responsibility to lead out in ministries such as preaching and teaching. Their efforts are pointed toward nurturing persons in Christian life in order that the purposes of the body of Christ may be realized. Priesthood are called to a ordinances in such manner that persons of diverse backgrounds may experience the essential oneness that characterized the Father and the Son and which is to be revealed by the church. In all these priestly activities men of ministry are to lead others into surrender to God.

From its inception the Church of Jesus Christ has been under the leadership of men called of God to direct the affairs of the church. Beyond custom and precedent, however, is the sheer necessity of a body to have a head. Thus there is provision for presidency, expressed at general and local levels, and at each provided in such way as to guarantee the right of the people of the church to accept or reject that leadership

Presidency inheres in the Melchisedec priesthood, with particular reference to the high priesthood. Though the analogy may be poor, this priesthood of presidency functions through the body in a way not unlike the nervous system, alert to direction while sensitive to all that influences the body for good or ill. In a companion analogy, the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood is not unlike the circulatory system, nourishing and keeping every part alive, healthy. ready for action, and acting.

In every place they occupy, priesthood are to nurture the kind of life which will make possible the infusion of an embodied testimony of Christ into every sector of society, and the making of every crucial decision in a Christian context.

The authority of every member of the body in his respective calling emerges out of divine endowment to him and his faithfulness in servanthood with Christ.

The responsibility of Christian life and testimony is not limited to priesthood. It is the mission of every believer. All are called, and every member is set in his place by the nature of his gifts and his recognition of the lordship of Christ. In a sense, confirmation is his ordination. His authority is in the measure of his embodiment of the life of Christ. Each person is expected to embody as much of the will of God as he can perceive and to express it by means of those gifts with which his life has been endowed.

The source of authority, then, is God himself who has endowed, called, and ordained us. He is the Source of life and of the capacities by which we may achieve. The authority we have because of his endowment may be enhanced by the sharpening of skills and the enlargement of our store of knowledge, but each of us must trace back to his Creator the origin and authenticity of his gifts. Com petence ought always to be graced by humility, cherished in accountability, and guaranteed in faithfulness. The work of God among men has been too frequently devastated by fitful loyalty. Perseverance and growth in discipleship is the need in every age and especially in this one.

  1. Doctrine and Covenants 119: 8.
  2. John 3: 17.
  3. John 13: 15, 17.
  4. 1 Corinthians 12: 12
  5. 1 Corinthians 12.
  6. 1 Corinthians 12: 27.
  7. 1 Corinthians 12: 14-31.
  8. 1 Corinthians 12: 8-12.
  9. Ephesians 4: 11-16.
  10. Doctrine and Covenants 17: 11.
  11. Doctrine and Covenants 17: 10

One thing that I found remarkable from this is how much emphasis is put on personal calling and gifts. The bureaucratic recognition of these gifts seems to essentially be an afterthought. I think this is incredible, because it places the emphasis more on individuals – its a bottom-up leadership model instead of top-down.

In practice, however, this is not the case. I have seen many whose gifts are squandered and they aren’t ordained when they should be. An individual could feel a calling, but their congregation may choose to ignore it. An individual and a congregation could sense the individual has a calling, but the Mission Center may choose to ignore it. An individual, congregation, and Mission Center may sense the individual has a calling, but World Church may choose to ignore it. In this way, how our priesthood is currently structured is rather autocratic and often lets leaders slip through the cracks and possibly out of the church to somewhere else where their talents are recognized.

I can’t help but think that the church has often been the servant in Matthew 25 who hides their talents and is chastised as a result.

What would is look like if we turned this autocratic structure on its head, and we didn’t need the bureaucratic seal of approval from so many people for individuals to be ordained and actualize their Divine calling?