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.