Teaching on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, Part 2

So, you can see that I’ve got far too many questions about D&C 84 to make teaching on it very easy. :) I decided it was probably best if I focused on how Joseph Fielding Smith talked about it instead:

1) His summary of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood: We solemnly promise to receive the priesthood, to magnify our callings in it, and to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. The Lord on his part promises us that if we keep the covenant, we shall receive all that the Father hath, which is life eternal. Can any of us conceive of a greater or more glorious agreement than this?

I thought it was a nice summary myself.

(Brief tangent: He also helped me see that “covenant” isn’t just a list of things people/God promise, but it can refer to the document or decree that sort of sits between them, to which both parties are bound. He said, “the gospel itself is the new and everlasting covenant and embraces all of the agreements, promises, and rewards which the Lord offers to his people.” It helped me understand verse 57 later on in D&C 84: “repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—” )

2) As he went on, the point he really wanted to emphasize was:

Sometimes we speak loosely of magnifying our priesthood, but what the revelations speak of is magnifying our callings in the priesthood, as elders, seventies, high priests, patriarchs, and apostles.

In fact, here are some places where he repeats that idea:

Priesthood offices or callings are ministerial assignments to perform specially assigned service in the priesthood. And the way to magnify these callings is to do the work designed to be performed by those who hold the particular office involved.

This is one of the great goals toward which we are working in the priesthood program of the Church, to have elders do the work of elders, seventies the work of seventies, high priests the work of high priests, and so on, so that all priesthood holders may magnify their own callings and reap the rich blessings promised from such a course.

We are called upon to magnify our callings in the priesthood and to do the work which goes with the office we receive. And so the Lord says, in the revelation on priesthood: “Therefore let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; … that the system may be kept perfect.” (D&C 84:109–10.)

I thought it was interesting that this was “one of the great goals” — apparently this isn’t something that happens naturally. Why? And does it really not happen that often? And what is it that isn’t quite right in the Church organization because of that?

3) President Smith also emphasized equality among the different offices:

It does not matter what office we hold as long as we are true and faithful to our obligations. One office is not greater than another, although for administrative reasons one priesthood holder may be called to preside over and direct the labors of another.

Of ourselves we have no message of salvation, no doctrine that must be accepted, no power to baptize or ordain or marry for eternity. All these things come from the Lord, and anything we do with reference to them is the result of delegated authority.

I liked the bluntness of this statement: “for administrative reasons one priesthood holder may be called to preside.” I appreciated that a lot, because often Church members do see the hierarchy as more than just a practical tool. We see missionaries hoping to “climb” up in the mission field callings, because it will reassure them of their spiritual growth. Or we think that stake presidents are just better people than average members, and that’s why they got that calling. It’s hard not to see things that way, frankly. But I think he is right, and we should see the various callings as Paul saw each person as a member of the body of Christ, all necessary to the work generally.

I thought it was also effective to remind us that no priesthood holder has an ounce of power in themselves, even with the priesthood authority. It’s just delegated work from Christ himself! Afterall, only he could provide the atonement and save anybody. In that sense, we are all equal, because we are all equally unable to save anyone with our own efforts or power.

4) The manual spent a whole section on the “oath” part of the Oath and Covenant, which mostly seemed to mean that this promise of working together with God in the priesthood would continue eternally. (I thought it was funny that after I taught, I realized I had come up with that reading about a year ago on this blog – ha! Good thing I write things down so I don’t forget everything I learn!)

5) So, finally, I noticed that all the questions at the end of the lesson try to generalize this lesson to include women. They ask about how men and women receive the same blessings, how it’s easier to live the gospel when we understand our covenants, about how we are blessed when everyone magnifies any calling in the Church, how we follow Christ’s example when we serve others, and then how can we teach about the temple to our children. In retrospect it would have been nice to focus just on that last one. But, I instead caught the general theme here that the questions were trying to get away from his specific information about the priesthood and talk more generally about magnifying the work we can all do. I get it, but I thought it was interesting. (The one that really caught my attention was using President Smith’s wording that Christ was our “prototype,” when talking about being a priest forever, and using that to explain how we should serve like Christ does. That was taking his words a bit too out of context, it seemed!)

But with that direction, I decided to sort of combine the two and talk about his ideas and generalize them. I’ll talk about that in the next post.

Teaching on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, Part 1

Hello Helena! :)

The term “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood” is something that has perplexed me for years and years and I’m starting to wonder if it will perplex me for my lifetime! Perhaps that’s a good thing for me though: it’s nice to have something to come back to over and over that is so infinitely fruitful.

I get the basic idea of course, and I get how it functions generally in the Church. I think sometimes I bring up things that perplex me to a friend and they assume I’m missing the general idea, but I get that. There’s something I love about getting back behind our everyday readings of scripture or doctrinal ideas. Usually within a few weeks of study I feel like I can get a deeper reading that I’m satisfied with (for the time being). But there are several topics that I’ve never, ever been able to feel like I’ve gotten to the bottom of, even though every several-week study has been fascinating, illuminating, and faith-fulfilling. And most of those topics are related to Priesthood.

So, here are several questions I have, all coming from D&C 84:

1) Why does D&C 84: 39 say that what’s been talked about is “according to” the Oath and Covenant which belongeth to the priesthood? The word “belongeth” opens up some questions too, but the huge one for me is why is this “according to” instead of “is”? Most explanations I’ve heard or read suggest that God is providing a definition of that oath and covenant in D&C 84, but verse 39 seems to defer that definition to someplace else (but where??).

2) Does “receive” in verse 35 refer to the men just talked about in verses 33-34 (i.e., those men who obtain the two priesthoods), or does it refer to people who listen to those men? Verses 35-37 go on to talk about those who receive God’s servants, which seems to me to be describing people who listen to the men with the priesthood. After all, the point of having the priesthood is to preach the gospel and perform ordinances, right?

3)  The reason this question seems crucial to me is because of verse 38, and how it rolls into verse 39. Verse 38 says, “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Is this promise given to priesthood holders, or to people who accept priesthood holders?

At this point, Joe would ask: but of course we know that everyone can receive eternal life, etc., so why does it matter? :) Well, I don’t know exactly why it matters, but I really want to figure it out! :) I’m very curious if God is primarily promising all the Father has to His priesthood servants, or to the people who receive the priesthood servants. (Note: that applies to those with the priesthood too – those men with the priesthood also need to receive other priesthood servants to receive ordinances themselves.)

I also want to figure it out because the very next verse is where we get the term “Oath and Covenant.” Whatever verse 38 is talking about, it has something to do with what verse 39 is talking about, so I’ve gotta figure it out. :)

3) I’ve already mentioned my questions about “according to” and “belongeth.” I really need to figure out more about why those words are there, but I do have a few thoughts at least. If the promise is to the priesthood servants, that they can receive all the Father has, then that promise seems to be in accord with, or contained in, or implied by, the actual Oath and Covenant of the priesthood. If the promise is to those who receive priesthood servants, then perhaps the Covenant God made with His priesthood servants is that whoever they taught could receive all that the Father has. That would be an awesome covenant, I think. It would seem to have its origins in a moment where a person (man?) was worried about the salvation of those people he(?)cared about, and God covenanted that if those people would listen to him(?), God would grant those people salvation and all He has. If that is the origin of priesthood, then that’s pretty awesome.

And there are many moments in scripture were a righteous person is worried about the salvation of others. I’m thinking of Enoch weeping and watching God weep, of Enos praying in the woods for the Lamanites, of Nephi upon his garden tower, of Moses offering himself to be struck out of the book of life if God would give the Israelites another chance. I love the Book of Moses and all it says about Adam and Eve. I realize that there are multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s JST project but I usually just work with the canonized version for simplicity. In chapter 6 it seems that priesthood came about when 99% of Adam and Eve’s kids were rejecting the light & knowledge Adam and Eve were teaching them. It was only after a son and a grandson were righteous that we get these verse: “And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them … Now this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also.” I’ve wondered before if Adam and Eve originally performed most of what we call “priesthood,” but as the generations progressed God saw that there needed to be an organization that carried the light and knowledge out to other people and into the future in a way that a married couple couldn’t do. So priesthood came to be when 3 generations could unite and plan a way for that knowledge to be passed on into the future. Anyway, speculations, but fun speculations at that. :) (More on those speculations here and here if you’re in the mood to read more Karen-speculations.)

4) Why the strict penalty for breaking the covenant? I take that seriousness more as a clue to what the covenant is, rather than actually wondering why there’s a strict penalty. I don’t really have much to say about this yet, though.

5) Verses 46-48 seem to suggest that any person in this world has the capacity to learn of this covenant (whatever it is, exactly), without ever meeting a priesthood servant. Why can this covenant also be taught straight from God? Or is that a valid reading? (Note that the covenant isn’t given in verses 46-48, but a person can be taught about that covenant. Also interesting.)

6) Verse 48 sounds so much like Abraham’s covenant, where he is told his seed will have the priesthood so that others can receive the blessings of the Gospel (see Abraham 9-11). What does the Oath and Covenant have to do with Abraham’s covenant? Or other covenants in the Old Testament? If this is renewed, then it seems that we ought to be looking there to really see what’s going on.

7) Finally, what relationship does all of his have, if any, to Alma 13:12-13? Alma 13 is the longest discourse in the Book of Mormon on priesthood as such. Verse 12 talks about priests entering into God’s rest, and then verse 13 invites the people to enter into God’s rest. I’ve found it interesting that the priests seem to achieve eternal life through their ministry as priesthood servants, but the people achieve this through listening to priesthood servants. Their paths are different, but in the end, they both get the same thing. I don’t know how helpful that may or may not be to interpreting the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood, but I’ve had those verses in the back of my mind as I’ve tried to decide who D&C 84:38 is talking about, and also as I read D&C 84:48.

So, there are my various questions as I try to nail down what exactly verse 39 is referring to. I have other thoughts about the verses that come earlier in the section too, and I assume that the more I understand those verses the better prepared I’ll be to tackle verse 39 in the originally intended context. Or at least I’m hoping that’s true. :) (If you’re interested in some of my previous thoughts on D&C 84 — with the fair-warning that some of those posts are pretty rambly — you can click this link to all posts tagged with “Oath and Covenant.”)

I’m going to post this as “Part 1″ and talk about Joseph Fielding Smith’s interpretations in another post. After that, I’ll talk about some of the ways in which I applied his reading to Relief Society.

An interpretation of D&C 84:31-34

31 Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses—for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed—

32 And the sons of Moses and of Aaron shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house, whose sons are ye; and also many whom I have called and sent forth to build up my church.

33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

I think the best way to understand this is in light of the language of the sealing to parents ordinance in the temple. The language there suggests that the effect of the sealing ordinance is to change the past, that it is “as if” the child were born within the covenant made to Abraham. This is in line with Abraham 2:10, in which God promises Abraham that: “as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father.” Adoption, is, in essence, a rewriting of one’s birth, by changing who one calls mother and father, brother and sister. I don’t know that we are inclined to think of it as changing the past, but inasmuch as the titles mother, father, brother, sister all take their meaning from the moment of birth, to change who we call our family is in some sense to rewrite our past.

In light of this, I think D&C 33-34 are suggesting that as men come into the priesthood and magnify it, they become adopted sons of Aaron and Moses. Their bodies are “renewed;” it is “as if” their human familial relationships are rewritten. We use language similar to this when we say we are “reborn” at baptism and become the children of Christ.

In both cases, the change in family allows for greater opportunities and blessings. In the case of baptism, we can inherit all the Father has because we become the children of Christ, and therefore joint-heirs. In the case of priesthood, only those of Abraham’s family, or Aaron’s family, or Moses’s family, or of  the chosen seed, have any right to the priesthood. By being adopted, we can thereby become eligible to perform the work associated with that family.


Some of my favorite talks from April 2014 Conference

I’m visiting teaching today so I went through some of the conference talks I remembered most and found the parts that made such a strong impression on me. I’m recording those here, for my own future reference. (And as I often do, I’ll be adding to this over the next few weeks.)

Elder Scott’s talk, “I Have Given You An Example”:

How can each of us become such a significant influence? We must be sure to sincerely love those we want to help in righteousness so they can begin to develop confidence in God’s love. For so many in the world, the first challenge in accepting the gospel is to develop faith in a Father in Heaven, who loves them perfectly. It is easier to develop that faith when they have friends or family members who love them in a similar way.

Giving them confidence in your love can help them develop faith in God’s love. Then through your loving, thoughtful communication, their lives will be blessed by your sharing lessons you have learned, experiences you have had, and principles you have followed to find solutions to your own struggles. Show your sincere interest in their well-being; then share your testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You can help in ways that are grounded in principle and doctrine. Encourage those you love to seek to understand what the Lord would have them do. One way to do this is to ask them questions that make them think and then allow them sufficient time—whether hours, days, months, or more—to ponder and seek to work out the answers for themselves. You may need to help them know how to pray and how to recognize answers to their prayers. Help them to know that the scriptures are a vital source of receiving and recognizing answers. In that way you will help them prepare for future opportunities and challenges.

God’s purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”2 That is fundamental to all we do. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in things that we find fascinating or become so consumed by mundane responsibilities that we lose sight of God’s objectives. As you consistently focus your life on the most basic principles, you will gain an understanding of what you are to do, and you will produce more fruit for the Lord and more happiness for yourself.

When you focus your life on the basic principles of the plan of salvation, you will better concentrate on sharing what you know because you understand the eternal importance of the ordinances of the gospel. You will share what you know in a way that encourages your friends to want to be strengthened spiritually. You will help your loved ones want to commit to obey all of His commandments and take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ.

Remember that the conversion of individuals is only part of the work. Always seek to strengthen families. Teach with a vision of the importance of families being sealed in the temple. With some families it may take years. This was the case with my parents. Many years after I was baptized, my father was baptized, and later my family was sealed in the temple. My father served as a sealer in the temple, and my mother served there with him. When you have the vision of the sealing ordinances of the temple, you will help build the kingdom of God on earth.

Remember, loving them is the powerful foundation for influencing those you want to help. The influence of my Grandmother Whittle and my wife, Jeanene, would have been negligible had I not first known that they loved me and wanted me to have the best in life.

As a companion to that love, trust them. In some cases it may seem difficult to trust, but find some way to trust them. The children of Father in Heaven can do amazing things when they feel trusted. Every child of God in mortality chose the Savior’s plan. Trust that given the opportunity, they will do so again.

From Sister Reeves’s talk “Protection from Pornography — A Christ Centered Home“:

Brothers and sisters, how do we protect our children and youth? Filters are useful tools, but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us.

How do we lead our children to deep conversion and to access our Savior’s Atonement? I love the prophet Nephi’s declaration of what his people did to fortify the youth of his day: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, [and] we prophesy of Christ … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”4

How can we do this in our homes? Some of you have heard me tell how overwhelmed my husband, Mel, and I felt as the parents of four young children. As we faced the challenges of parenting and keeping up with the demands of life, we were desperate for help. We prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer that came was clear: “It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”

We were trying to do these things, but they were not always the priority and, amidst the chaos, were sometimes neglected. We changed our focus and tried not to worry about the less-important things. Our focus became to talk, rejoice, preach, and testify of Christ by striving to daily pray and study the scriptures and have weekly family home evening.

A friend recently cautioned, “When you ask the sisters to read the scriptures and pray more, it stresses them out. They already feel like they have too much to do.”

Brothers and sisters, because I know from my own experiences, and those of my husband, I must testify of the blessings of daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening. These are the very practices that help take away stress, give direction to our lives, and add protection to our homes. 

Another talk I enjoyed was Elder Christofferson’s talk on the Resurrection. The whole talk was just a nice summary and a testimony of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection. I don’t have one part to share, but here is the link to

Elder Christofferson’s “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ”

From Pres. Uchtdorf’s “Are you Sleeping through the Restoration?”:

This is one of the most remarkable periods of the world’s history! Ancient prophets yearned to see our day.

Past generations had their struggle with variations of egotism and narcissism, but I think today we are giving them serious competition.

Those who wholeheartedly turn their lives over to our Savior and serve God and fellowman discover a richness and fulness to life that the selfish or egotistic will never experience.

t saddens our Heavenly Father to see how willingly some of His noble sons extend their wrists to accept the chains of devastating addictions.

Brethren, we bear the eternal priesthood of Almighty God. We are truly sons of the Most High and are endowed with unspeakable potential. We are designed to soar freely through the heavens. We are not meant to be shackled to the earth, imprisoned in straitjackets of our own making.

It may be a long, difficult path, but the Lord will not give up on you. He loves you. Jesus Christ suffered the Atonement to help you change, to free you from the captivity of sin.

Elder Holland’s talk “The Cost — and Blessings of — Discipleship”:


My personal idol: The “being a responsible human being” idol :)

I did it again – I fell victim to one of those things I fall for over and over again. I again today felt the weight of trying to remember to do every last little thing that I should be doing (sewing cub scout patches, dejunking closets, paying attention to every wish of every kid, I won’t go on and on or else I’ll start feeling guilty again!). I do have a lot to do, I know, with 5 little kids. I know. But there’s such a difference in feeling when I begin to worship it all as an idol. Whenever it all has pull on me, and I feel like God wants me doing things, then I think is when I’ve began idolatry again. Nothing has as much sway as God. Nothing matters but God. With God all things — that is, whatever He wants — is possible. I had a nice prayer and admitted my complete pathetic nature. And then went a step beyond that to tell God that whatever it was that He wants me to do today, that will I do. That will mean leaving out a great many things I could do, and even could say I should do, but what does that matter, really? All that needs to be done will be done. And in the end, when I give myself to doing whatever God wants I always find myself doing more of those “responsible” things done (with a tenth of the stress!). But if those don’t get done that’s ok. It’s okay.

Anyway, just wanted to jot that down before I got on to other things.

It’s that Eliza Snow quotation, all over, once again.


On Sunday I put my finger on something I’ve found odd about political conversations for some time now.

I think that my Mormon Conservative friends feel that they have a strong belief in the principles of the gospel, and when they participate in politics and develop opinions it is because of their strong feelings about those principles. In other words, if it came down to it, they would choose whatever the prophet said over politicians, even if they were confused as to why those two things conflicted.

I think that my Mormon Liberal friends feel that they have a strong belief in the principles of the gospel, and when they participate in politics and develop opinions it is because of their strong feelings about those principles. In other words, if it came down to it, they would also choose whatever the prophet said over politicians, even if they were confused as to why those two things conflicted.

But, from the outside, it is easy for the Conservatives to assume that the Liberals are committed to their political views to such an extent that it has become idolatry, and it is easy for the Liberals to assume that the Conservatives are committed to their political views to such an extent that it has become idolatry for them.

For example, Mormon Liberals who strongly believe that the earth was created by Divine Hands may see taking care of the environment as a way to worship God and act upon their dedication to the principles of the gospel. But a Conservative may too quickly assume that this or that Mormon Liberal has taken Liberal politics as an idol, and left off the principles of the gospel. We are so quick to judge!

For another example, Mormon Conservatives who strongly believe that God is both male and female (a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother) may see defending sexual difference and/or traditional marriage as a way to worship God and act upon their dedication to the principles of the gospel. But a Liberal may too quickly assume that this or that Mormon Conservative has taken Conservative politics as an idol, and left off the principles of the gospel. We are all so quick to judge!

Even though I think most Mormons believe themselves to be entering politics in such a way that it follow from their commitment to God, it is nearly universal to hear Mormons of one political party accusing Mormons of the opposite political party as not doing the same. (Drat, that pesky human nature strikes again! :) )

Of course, there are likely many who do take political positions as an idol but don’t realize that. But if they don’t realize it, then it would take careful work to help them untangle their desires to worship God from their less-than-conscious dedication to their idol. I think it’s a tangle that probably exists for most of our idols. The reason we get sold on worshiping them is because we are flattered into thinking that we really aren’t worshiping idols at all! I imagine most everyone has a few of those.

But that is a question for another post.

Link to a talk by Elder Nelson on “children of the covenant”

Very helpful!


Notice the contrast between his talk and this entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:


Elder Nelson talks about being born into the covenant of Abraham, rather than needing to be adopted into that covenant or that family. The EOM entry talks about being born into the covenant blessings of a particular family.


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