Authority and the Spirit


I am constantly trying to understand verse 14 of D&C 42, where the Lord says, “if he receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach.” I obviously understand the importance of the Spirit in teaching, and why it is so much better with the Spirit. But this verse doesn’t say “things will go better” or “you can accomplish more” – it says, “don’t teach!” without the Spirit.

Why this strong injunction? And how many people actually have enough confidence that they do or do not have the Spirit to be able to then follow this direction?

A book by Mark Lyman Staker called “Hearken O Ye People” sets up the context for what was going on in Ohio during the time the Saints were setting up the church in Kirtland. There was a lot of “spiritual manifestation” that went on there, and of course much of it was not approved and got shut down when Joseph got there. But one of the things that was going on was that people were taking what they assumed was a spiritual prompting to go and teach. There were many who felt they had received a personal revelation that it was God’s will that they dedicate themselves to go teach. There were other issues of who could receive revelation for the group of Saints, but this was something more personal: a call to go and preach.

D&C 42 addresses this issue in two ways.

First, in verse 11, the Lord explains that

Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.

This answered who should be a teacher, and when they were authorized to teach. Verse 12 explained what they should teach: not their own revelations, but the principles found in scripture themselves. Verse 13 reminded them of the order set out in D&C 20, and then explained that their teaching should be done “as they shall be directed by the Spirit.” Finally now in verse 14 we read:

And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.

What I wonder here is if those who said the Spirit gave them their authorization to teach were actually on to something. Perhaps they had part of the truth. It appears to me from D&C 42 that there are two steps to this authorization to teach. First, an ordination or call through a proper channel. Second, the Spirit. If you do not have both of these, then ye shall not teach.

This sounds like D&C 121:36-37, where we read:

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Here, a person might be ordained to a priesthood office, but if he takes that to mean anything that would give him to brag or control, he has missed the point and in essence, has no priesthood office. Note especially this one line: “the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

Could we compare this directly to D&C 42? “If ye receive not the Spirit, or if it is withdrawn, ye shall not teach because at that moment ye have no authority.”

It does seem that while D&C 121 accuses priesthood holders as causing the Spirit to grieve and withdraw, there is no such accusation in D&C 42. It could be read that if a person refuses to receive the Spirit they shouldn’t teach, but that is probably stretching the text too far. I have elsewhere argued that this language of receive is probably better illuminated by D&C 50. In that section, Joseph is taught how to tell if a spiritual manifestation is from God. See verses 30-32 especially:

ye are appointed to the head, the spirits shall be subject unto you.

Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.

And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—

So mixing this section with D&C 42, we would get: “The Spirit shall be given you by the prayer of faith. And if you pray in faith, and ye receive not this Spirit, then it not God’s will that you teach right now, and to teach would not be of God. He is not authorizing this particular teaching situation.”

So again I see two levels of authorization: first, ordination, and second, the Spirit.

This also reminds me of Elder Oaks’ talk Two Lines of Communication. There are two kinds of authority he is addressing there: through the church, and through the family.

Second, like the personal line, the priesthood line cannot function fully and properly in our behalf unless we are worthy and obedient. Many scriptures teach that if we persist in serious violations of the commandments of God, we are “cut off from his presence” (Alma 38:1). When that happens, the Lord and His servants are seriously inhibited in giving us spiritual help and we cannot obtain it for ourselves.

In the priesthood line, we need to both be ordained and be worthy.

While at first it may seem that the personal line functions only through the Spirit, without ordination/setting apart, look more closely at Elder Oaks’ talk. There are several passages that address this directly, but it is the more indirect paragraph that I find most compelling.

First, in its fulness the personal line does not function independent of the priesthood line. The gift of the Holy Ghost—the means of communication from God to man—is conferred by priesthood authority as authorized by those holding priesthood keys. It does not come merely by desire or belief

and here is the less direct one:

A final example applies these principles to the subject of priesthood authority in the family and the Church. All priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys. This is the priesthood line. But the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys. That is like the personal line.

Notice he says this is like the personal line. But it has a crucial difference. This authority belongs to a parent because they are the “authority that presides in the family.” There is first a position of authority, of presiding, and then the Spirit works within that. By becoming a parent, married or not, you have the rights to revelation for your family. Motherhood and fatherhood are a setting apart, a sort of “ordination” to preside over a family.

So, there is at least one way to read D&C 42:14.

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