Breakthrough on D&C 84!

I have been trying to wrestle with D&C 84 for years now; especially with the words “this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.” It seemed so clear that the actual oath and covenant was elsewhere, but I couldn’t figure out where! Well yesterday morning Joe and I studied D&C 84 for several hours, and we had a break through. It’s pretty clear to us now that it is referring to Hebrews 4-7. I have a lot more work ahead of me but that’s a great start! Joe put together a handout on the oath and covenant of the priesthood for the lesson he was teaching. I’ll have to get him to email it to me so I can copy & paste it here. We looked at textual variants, at the history of interpretation, the historical context, as well as some of Joseph Smith’s work on the book of Hebrews (like I said, we’ve got a long way to go still!). What a great morning! :D

Interesting: Smoot hearing minutes

I had heard of the Smoot hearings, but I had never thought to search a pdf of them until this morning! Here are a few interesting moments I’ve found so far:

pg 193-196 or so: if a leader of a Church says he believes something, does that imply that he taught it as true and binding on the Church?

pg 187-190: in what way exactly do women have authority in the Church?

Dews From Heaven

Sis. Burton:

We rejoice that we are privileged to live in this season of the history of the Church when questions are being asked about the priesthood. There is great interest and desire to know and understand more about the authority, power, and blessings associated with the priesthood of God. It is our hope for this next sacred hour together that “the doctrine of the priesthood…[may] distil upon [our] soul[s] as the dews from heaven.” 

We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood. I testify that the Lord is hastening His work, and it is imperative for us to understand how the Lord accomplishes His work so that we may receive the power that comes from be aligned with His plan and purposes.

That perfectly describes why Jenny, Kim, and I started Dews from Heaven to study sections and chapters on the priesthood!

Helping those who don’t understand the Holy Ghost (Joseph Fielding Smith manual, Lesson 14)

I get to teach the lesson on the Holy Ghost this Sunday in our ward Relief Society. I’m really looking forward to this chance to teach. I learned from last month to narrow in on a specific part of the lesson early on, and also that handouts with the quotations really help to keep everyone involved. So my plan is to focus on just sections 4 and 5, with a little of 6 put in between.

The focus of these parts is how to receive light and truth from the Holy Ghost, and why it is that many, many members do not receive light and truth. And, from what I gather, he sees many members not realizing that they are not receiving understanding from the Spirit. And, further, these members are the ones who become weak and easily deceived out of the Church. What he describes is what I think we see going on right now in the Church: there are many people who are leaving not because they have committed great sin, but because they don’t have the understanding they should have. I am hoping we can have a very nice discussion about that and what we can do to help others see the potential they have and are missing out on to receive light and truth.

Here is an example:

It is my judgment that there are many members of this Church who have been baptized for the remission of their sins, and who have had hands laid upon their heads for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but who have never received that gift—that is, the manifestations of it. Why? Because they have never put themselves in order to receive these manifestations. They have never humbled themselves. They have never taken the steps that would prepare them for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, they go through life without that knowledge; they are lacking in understanding. When those who are cunning and crafty in their deceit come to them criticizing the authorities of the Church and the doctrines of the Church, these weak members do not have understanding enough, information enough, and enough of the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord to resist false doctrines and teachings. They listen and think that perhaps they have made a mistake, and the first thing you know they find their way out of the Church, because they do not have understanding.

What I’m gathering is that it’s almost not their fault that they leave the Church. They do not have understanding to realize what they are doing. And that’s what I’m seeing often around me. There are many who can’t seem to see what they are doing. They have reasons and seem to think they are following a moral, ethical path, but they seem to missing so much understanding of the gospel, scriptures, the Church, etc. It’s hard to know how to help them because there is so much that they are missing. But if I were to say that, I would just offend them. The problem and the solution are not coming here at the moment of leaving the Church, but they began way back at the beginning, when this person was baptized.

So, the question: how do we receive spiritual wisdom, understanding, light and truth? And how do we encourage others to want to receive it, too?

Teaching on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, Part 3

Sorry about the delay. We just had the marvelous opportunity to travel to Oregon and spend time with my family. We spent a whole week at the Oregon Coast (think 60 degree weather, wading in the ocean, sand castles, tide pools, and sunsets). My kids were too little to remember the beach so it was a very exciting trip!

I’m going to wrap the rest of this up too quickly, but I’m getting ready to teach again so I’ll be spending most of my time this week on that lesson. But, here’s the idea:

Joseph Fielding Smith focused a great deal on the equality among the different offices of the priesthood. With all the talk lately of whether or not women and men are equal in the Church, and the constant reminder that all members are given access to eternal life, which is what we’re really after anyway, it was curious to me to see him making that same argument to just the men. He was making sure that each priesthood holder saw himself equal to any other priesthood holder, and also, that every priesthood holder and member had equal access to eternal life.

I drew that out for a while and tried to get some conversation going about that, and why it is that we naturally, as human beings, want to create hierarchies where those governing are somehow more important than those being led. We focused on why it is important for each priesthood holder to fulfill his own assignments, and how it all works together for the same aim: to bring eternal life to others.

Then I tried to transition to talking about women. I didn’t want to tackle women & priesthood issues head on because I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do there. Instead, I transitioned by pointing to the questions at the end that all try to generalize what President Smith was saying. So, I generalized it by asking the women what our role was as the Relief Society, and why it would be important for us to do our assignments. We went to the RS History for a few quotations and also the list of purposes of Relief Society. I also used Elder Oaks’s recent talk to explain that we really, really have the same goal as the priesthood (to bring salvation to others), since everything we do in RS is also infused with priesthood power.

It seemed a jumbled up lesson — mostly because I was hoping the Spirit would be with me more strongly and guide me in which quotations to use, or which to use when, but I barely felt any guidance at all. I don’t know if that was because I should have just picked my path more narrowly and gone from there, or if I was trying to teach what I wanted instead of whatever the sisters needed more that week, or if I was mostly just distracted since Joe had left for a trip only a half hour earlier, and I had one of those “panic” moments where I realize anything could happen and I might never see him again… (I don’t really panic, I just mean those things cross my mind sometimes, and it happened to cross it 10 minutes before I taught, when I was already very nervous about this lesson!). Anyway, I was discouraged by my experience. The lesson material was fine, but I was discouraged by the way I did or didn’t follow the Spirit. But, that’s okay, more to learn for my next lesson! Which is what I’m on to now. :)

Thanks for reading, and if you have questions or want more details, please please ask!

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.


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