Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 5: “The Holy Priesthood—for the Blessing of God’s Children” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on March 9, 2012

Sorry to get these notes up late. I’m going to start with John 15:16 from the Related Scriptures portion of the lesson since I think that frames the whole lesson in a rich and interesting way. I’ll make some interspersed comments about several of the quotes in the lesson, but I’ll key off the underlying principles given in John 15, as a backdrop which I think anchors all of Pres. Smith’s comments in this lesson.

John 15:16 reads:

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

In discussing the Priesthood, this idea of chosenness is key. In modern American culture, we are apt to think in terms of equal opportunity, and merit-based rewards being given to the most deserving. There is, of course, a strong sense in which this is true: God is not a respecter of persons. Nephi teaches that “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one,” and adds, “he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Ne 17:35). But there is a danger in taking this idea of merit-based blessings too for, thinking we are entitled to blessings and favors. A sense of entitlement is contrary to the spirit of the Priesthood.

Pres. Smith teaches:

When He began His ministry, He did not call to His aid the kings and rulers and priests and those who were high in authority, but He called the humble fishermen, and the result was that He gathered around Him men who could be taught, and not men who would not believe Him. He organized a Church under the direction of our Heavenly Father. He conferred divine authority upon His associates and directed them as to what they should do.

If there is a qualification that makes one worthy of being a chosen, it is humility. Feeling entitled to particular blessings is the very opposite of humility—rather than waiting on the Lord, responding to whatever He calls us to do, we are wont to call on God, demanding that He respond to our call. Of course He does promise to respond to our call, but we should remember who the parent is in this relationship, and ask ourselves whether we aren’t acting like a spoiled child. It is one thing when my son asks nicely if he might have a toy or a special treat, but it is quite another when he starts demanding these favors. The Priesthood is not something that can be demanded. It is not an entitlement. It is a calling, and like any calling it is something that we are to respond to, not something we can force to comply to our own will. Just as aspiring to callings is wrong, so too is an attitude that treats the Priesthood similarly.

Understanding the larger context of John 15:16 is also helpful for understanding the meaning and significance of chosenness and its relation to the Priesthood. John 15 begins with a metaphor where Christ is the vine, the Father is the husbandmen, and the disciples are the branches. There is an interesting tension throughout this chapter between the subservient, dependent nature of the disciples relation to Christ (e.g., “without me ye can do nothing” in v. 5), and a kind of coequality between Christ and the servants (e.g., “I call you not servants . . . but I have called you friends” in v. 15). But, it seems to me, this coequal friendship is granted only to those who properly respond to the call: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (v. 14). A proper, humble response to the call, as a display of obedient willingness, is a precursor to this additional favor (not an entitlement!) of being called “friends.”

This, then, seems to be the nature of the Priesthood: not an entitlement to wield God’s power, but a favor that is granted for the benefit of others, given on the condition of a humble and obedient attitude, to act in God’s name. The Father is the gardener, after all, and Jesus himself says “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). Jesus exemplifies what our attitude must be toward the Priesthood when He says, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30, again).

Consider, now, Pres. Smith’s words (emphasis added):

In the days of the Savior, He was the presiding authority. Next to Him came a quorum of twelve men, chosen by Him. When He passed away, the Quorum of Twelve, not a number of ordinary men who called themselves disciples, but a quorum of twelve men who possessed divine authority and had received it from Jesus Christ, became the leadership of the Church.

Also:

You did not obtain your right to preach and teach the gospel and officiate in its ordinances as a result of training in a college or university. You received your authority from men divinely commissioned to act as servants of the Lord, and it was conferred upon you by those who received it direct from Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Priesthood is not something gained by training. It is conferred only upon those whom the Lord calls.

More from Pres. Smith:

I personally do not desire to be understood to be finding fault and criticizing the people who belong to the various denominations of the world. I am thankful that there are in so many of them good men and good women who believe in him and with the light that they have serve God; but the fact remains that our Father has established in this world, his Church. He has conferred upon men in this day his authority, and there is no other authority in the world that he will recognize but that which he himself has instituted.

Being good, and faithful to the light that has been given is exactly in accordance with the responsive, faithful, and obedient spirit by which the Priesthood functions. But this attitude does not mean one is entitled to claim Priesthood authority. Rather, the Priesthood is a gift that is conferred upon those who they are called, when they are called.

One more quote from Pres. Smith (with my emphasis):

The authority of our Heavenly Father is upon the earth for the blessing of mankind, not to make those who receive that authority arrogant, but to make them humble; not to make those who have received special privileges feel that they are greater than others, but to make us humble in our souls, prayerful in our hearts, and considerate of all men in all that we do, and thus exemplify by upright lives that which our Heavenly Father desires us to teach.

Humility is paramount.

I will add, before signing off, that I’ve been reading in the Bloggernacle a bit about the Priesthood ban, in response to a Washington Post article based on an interview of a BYU religion professor. Some of this discussion is quite interesting, productive and helpful. However, I think much of the discussion runs the risk of taking an attitude toward the Priesthood that is contrary to the spirit(/Spirit) by which the Priesthood must function. Regardless of who holds the Priesthood currently, who has held the Priesthood in the past, and who might hold the Priesthood in the future, the spirit of the Priesthood has always remained constant: it works kenotically, not according the will of those who are called to bear it, but according to the will of the Father, whose will we all must give place to, becoming “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict” (Mosiah 3:19).

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