Discerning Priesthood and Priestcraft

As someone ordained into the priesthood I have pondered much about the meaning of priesthood and my own propensity towards priestcraft. The temptation to exercise priestcraft is strong, particularly when it becomes clear how priestcraft can mimic and counterfeit priesthood.

Alma chapter 1 introduces the concept of priestcraft as it was introduced to the covenant body of the church.  It also draws clarity into the intention of priestcraft when Alma identifies the following:

“…there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.”

Preaching the gospel by holding yourself up as a light for anything other than the glory of Christ is a form of priestcraft. Someone practicing priestcraft may not receive their payment in money, but they may seek a different type of currency.

The scripture is careful to point out that priestcraft may be practiced for the sake of honor. Seeking the honors of men is a type of currency, just like money. It includes praise, adulation, celebration, and recognition.

What currency do I seek when teaching the Gospel?

All who hold the priesthood should be careful to ask the question, do I seek to be celebrated? Honored? Praised? Recognized for my contributions to the Lord’s work? As a priesthood holder, am I tempted to draw attention to myself or to seek celebration in my honor? We learn from Joseph Smith that it is the disposition of almost all men, that when they get a little authority (as they suppose) that they will exercise unrighteous dominion by calling attention to themselves and seeking the honors of men, gratifying their pride and their vain ambition – and if they do so in any degree the heavens withdraw themselves, and amen to their power and authority (D&C 121).

This is why many are called but few are chosen. One of those that were chosen was John, the disciple whom Christ loved. I believe he was chosen because he exemplified the spirit of condescension as a servant of God. He said of the Savior:

“He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30)

This is the type that we should hearken to in the priesthood – those who seek to decrease so that the Lord may increase. This is the type of priesthood we should seek to become. I have to always ask myself, do I seek to decrease so that the Lord can increase? The answer is often personally convicting.

True priesthood is to be of the order of those that seek not their own glory or recognition, but lower themselves on the path of sacrifice for others. They seek transparency between their fellow men and God. They seek not to commemorate their works, but to seek the welfare of Zion.

Priesthood will seek the honor of God and great risk of their popularity and acceptance before man (Alma 5: 58).

Priestcraft will seek the honor of men. (D&C 121: 35)

Priesthood will celebrate the works of God. (Moses 1)

Priestcraft will celebrate the works of their own hands. (2 Nephi 12: 8)

Priesthood  “seek(s) not for power, but to pull it down. Not for honor of the world, but for the glory of God” (Alma 60: 36).

Priestcraft will seek pride and will celebrate its own vain ambition. (D&C 121: 37)

Priesthood will teach the consequences of sin and risk being beloved by the people. (2 Nephi 9:48)

Priestcraft will tell the people they should rejoice and not fear and tremble. (Alma 1: 4)

Priesthood will preach Christ and repentance. (Mosiah 18: 20)

“Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29).

Being guilty of priestcraft is an ever present risk. It is the disposition of almost all who are called to the priesthood to practice priestcraft. This is mostly true with myself. I know the temptation within myself is ever present. We must be careful to discern when these things rise up in our own hearts and amidst the covenant people.

Vigilance. Discernment. Repentance. This the order of the day.

Faith and Chaos

Faith is standing on the edge between order and chaos — and then pushing into the chaos. When we act in faith in the face of chaos, we increase the boundary of order. And because it becomes ordered, knowledge is produced.

Knowledge is always the fruit of true faith. It is not comfort in not knowing. It is the power of increasing in knowledge; and it’s the knowledge of chaos that has been ordered.

It’s easy to confuse willfully remaining naive as an act of faith. We may call it faith to say that we are comfortable where we are and our current state of knowledge is sufficient. We may think that the surety of our beliefs no longer require investigation and that this is having faith.  But it is no such thing. Faith occurs on the outer-boundary of our comfort, and it brings us to stare into dark places. It brings us to into the presence of our fears.

Faith is redemptive. It subdues darkness. It subjects our fears. It brings Christ into being.

Faith takes us to a place where we bring into being creation on earth. It is the mode through which the earth is transformed.

Acting in faith is always an act of dying. Over and over. It requires us to allow some perception, some view, some paradigm to die. It requires the self of a moment ago to be let go and to step into new being. It requires a death of our current bearings with the hope that place we are going will be more solid. We die as to the thing that once gave us comfort. And comfort is always the enemy of faith.

Dying is a fearful thing. But we can make acts of faith the dominant impulse of our nature. By acting in faith everyday we will die as to the things of the flesh, and live in the spirit – in other words, we will order chaos.

 

Confronting the Dread of the Holy

As a follow up to yesterday’s Putting Our Houses in Order post so many thoughts and conversations are producing insight into this principle. The first thing to point out is that so much of our personal house is in the basement. In other words, most of what you feel, experience, believe, fear, resides deep in your subconscious. It is an auto-pilot. So much of what makes up who you are is a DNA inheritance, biological dispositions, experiences from your childhood, the accumulation of your sins and fallen nature, your thought patterns and all of the inputs that contribute to this fallen environment. Almost all of our conscious action through out the day is us being acted upon by the habits and dispositions of our fallen selves. Most of these are hidden from our awareness.

I wonder how much of this we take seriously. How much of your unbelief is driven by your deep connection to the almost unknown world of your sub-conscious.

Untangling yourself requires great meditation, brutal honesty, and total willingness to sacrifice whatever is in you that is untrue. We have to be willing to walk into the darkness of our self in order for the light of Christ to redeem us completely.

You have to become wholly truthful if you want to be holy and of the truth. There may be much pain, abuse, patterns of thought, addictions, and fundamental unbelief that weighs you down. Most people are possessed by fear to one degree or another. What would it be like to become completely divested of all fear? How fast would your world radically transform?

How do you know you are possessed by unbelief? Because Moroni teaches us that it is our unbelief that keeps us from piercing the veil in this life and receiving the revelations that the Brother of Jared received (Ether 4: 13-15). It is the veil of unbelief that keeps us in a state of wickedness. I believe that we are unaware of much of this unbelief.

Facing the darkness within is to confront our wickedness. The Lord requires us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This requires us to stare into the darkness of our own souls. We have to contend with the vast underlying current of our fears and sort out the falsehood we have acquired over a lifetime. We have to confront the dread of the holy. The dread of what we have to confront in order for the Lord to fashion us in to a holy and truthful being.

The Lord has power to lead you through this. The Holy Ghost can lead you into the truth of all things if you are willing to allow him into your being and sort things out. He can lead you deep into your consciousness. He can reveal hidden things. And he can heal and transform your flesh. He can transform your past. He can transform and heal your entire being. If we have the courage to face the truth about ourselves he can save us. But this takes great courage. And faith.

We have to face the darkness within. Our families depend on us doing so. The Lord is depending on us to do so. We have to repent deeper and more fundamentally than any previous generation in these Latter-Days.

 

Putting Our Houses in Order

I received a chastisement through impressions of the spirit that I have not put my house in order. In the spirit I also felt a clarification that the first house that you must put in order is the house of your body. Yes, this includes being healthy, but it is not the primary meaning of this commandment.

I take the commandment to put my house/flesh in order to be something like this: I carry with me DNA, generational sins, habits, weakness, and spirits that are inherited by from my family lines. I also contribute to those weaknesses and problems through my own sins. I also include in this the depression, anxiety, fears, propensities, unbelief, and compulsions. To put things in order means to bring all of my flesh to the Lord to have it sanctified out of me, so that the generational lines can become clean and purified. I must become clean from the blood and sins of my own personal generation.

This is also what I now believe to be the “baptism of blood”. A baptism of fire purifies your spirit in preparation to bring your flesh into a sanctified state. This is why there are three baptisms – The water, the spirit, and the blood. The water is a sign we make that we’ve received a remission, the spirit is the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (born again), and the blood is the sanctification of our flesh so that we may be resurrected into a Celestial glory because of the work we’ve done for our family lines. (As a side-note, I believe this is also the purpose of vicarious ordinances. We sanctify ourselves and then perform an ordinance for our ancestors so that they may be redeemed through our repentance.)

After we bring our own bodies into sanctification, we can then get our house in order in terms of our marriages and our immediate families. We go through a greater sanctification process. And then we can move outward to extended family and community.

But first, we must bring our flesh into a sanctified state. We must become clean from the blood and sins of this generation. There is so much power in this. And I have so far to go.

Priesthood by Hugh Nibley

THE PRIESTHOOD CEASES to be effective when exercised “in any degree of unrighteousness” (D&C 131:37), but it operates by the spirit, and the spirit is not deceived but is exquisitely sensitive to the slightest color of fraud, pretention, self-will, ambition, cruelty, etc. “When we undertake.., to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold the heavens withdraw themselves; and the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man” (D&C 121:37). But what about the righteous dominion of the priesthood? That can be easily recognized, for it operates “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the souls without hypocrisy, and without guile. ̄ . with “bowels full of charity towards all men…” (121:41ff). Even in the eternities the power of the priesthood flows “without compulsory means.., forever and ever” (121:46).

Who can deny such a power to another? No man. Who can bestow it on another? No man. We like to think that the Church is divided into those who have it and those who don’t have it; but it is the purest folly to assume that we can tell who has it and who does not. God alone knows who is righteous and how righteous; yet “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven,” and those “cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principle of righteousness” (D&C 121:35). The result is, that if there is anyone who really holds the priesthood, no one is in a position to say who it is–only by the power to command the spirits and the elements is such a gift apparent. But as far as commanding or directing other people, there every man must decide for himself.

One valuable hint the Lord has given us, however, namely the assurance that of all those who “hold” the priesthood almost none really possess it. “That the rights of the priesthood.., may be conferred upon us, it is true,”making us formally priesthood-holders, “but when we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” the priesthood is void. And this is how it is in “almost all” cases in the Church: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as, they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called but few are chosen” (D&C 121:39-40).

What does one have to do to be chosen?

First, one may not set one’s heart upon the things of this world (121:35)–so much for the priesthood as something to show off; then, one may not aspire to the honors of men–so much for the priesthood as some- thing for prestige. One cannot exercise any power of the priesthood in any degree of unrighteousness–this in full recognition of the fact that “it is the nature of almost all men” to do that very thing as soon as they think they have power and authority.

This leaves a few humble, unpretentious, and unworldly people as the sole holders of a valid priesthood. It is the “few humble followers of Christ” who are the strength of the Church throughout much of the Book of Mormon history.

What irony. As far as the ’whole world is concerned, the priesthood is a thing of value which is cruel to withhold from anyone, because it enhances one’s status and dignity among his fellows, whether inside the Church or outside. And yet the one thing that renders that priesthood completely null and void is to treat it as something to aspire to among one’s fellows. Priesthood is strictly an arrangement between the individual priesthood holder and his brethren in the eternal worlds, as personal and private as anything can be.

We might as well recognize the fact that whatever we say and do in righteousness is going to be misinterpreted. The only way we can make things easier for ourselves in the world is to go the way of the world. It would be hard to deny that the peace and prosperity of the Church in the past years has been largely the fruit of willingness; to go the way the world goes.

Where all truth is encompassed in one great whole to raise one question is to raise many others, and any issue relevant to the gospel inevitably leads to a discussion of the whole thing.

Is not the priesthood everything? Not on this earth. On this earth it is nothing, and as soon as we try to use it for any kind of status, power, rule, or authority, it automatically cancels out.

To repeat, as we are prone to do for lack of wit, for those who hold the priesthood on this earth, it is, the Prophet Joseph said, “an onerous qarden,” not a prize. One cannot give orders to another by the priesthood. One cannot use it to acquire prestige, fame or wealth. Far from impressing one’s fellow men, it is held in derision by them. The moment one tries to make honor or glory or exercise dominion by the priesthood “amen to the priesthood of that man”–it automatically becomes null and void. What good is it then? Over whom does it exercise dominion? Over the spirits and over the elements–but not over one’s fellow-men, who cannot under any circumstances be deprived of their complete free agency.

Though some may find it hard to believe, I find no cause for boasting in my priesthood nothing is easier than conferring it upon one, but that is only the beginning; for it to be a real power requires a degree of concentration, dedication, and self- discipline which few ever attain to, and for the rest priesthood is not a blessing but a terrible risk. The priesthood is not a badge of office to be worn as; a feather in a cap.

Do we really believe the First Vision? Thousands of Latter-day Saints attest to it every Fast Sunday; but when the earliest, fullest, and best account of the First Vision, dictated by the Prophet at the age of 26 to Frederick G. Williams, was discovered and published in 1968 it caused not the slightest ripple of interest in the Church. It is enough, apparently; to know that God has spoken again from the heavens–never mind what he said.

The most useful lesson is the silence of heaven on this particular issue in the light of our own woeful ignorance. There is a connection between the two. Where the people do not seek for wisdom and knowledge, God will not give it to them, and so they remain in ignorance, and may not ask for help from above.

Nothing pleases God more than to have his children “seek greater light and knowledge”–it was for that that Adam, Abraham, Enoch, Moses, and Joseph Smith were rewarded with the richest blessings. Nothing displeases him more than to have them “seek for power, and authority, and riches” (3 Nephi 6:15). Through the years the Latter-day Saints have consistently sought not for the former but for the latter. It is only right and proper that we should stew in our own juice for a while.

“I sought for the blessings of the fathers. ̄ . desiring also to be one who possessed greater knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess greater knowledge . . .”(Abraham1:2).
Twice he repeats it–he wants knowledge. Up to the last, even after he had learned all the doctrines of salvation, Adam still “seeks for greater light and knowledge” and for such knowledge we should seek eternally But what do we hear? A former president of theBYU pompously announced at a convention of educators that we: at the BYU are not seeking for truth, because we have the truth! This is where we stand today. It is common at the BYU for students to protest against being taught anything they did not know before: “Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? . . . And because that I have spoken one word he need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be unto the end of man . . . (2 Nephi 29:8-9).

The fact is that the Latter-day Saints “will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be” (2 Nephi 32:7). They simply are .just not interested. How little we know about things. How little we want to know. The information is there, far more abundant than we have been willing to realize, if we will only reach out for it. To wait for a revelation on the subject is foolish until we have exhausted all the resources already placed at our disposal.

The strong prejudice has long been extended to the Indians by many Mormons in high position, yet the Mormons alone of all the people in the world believe the Indians to be the true blood of Israel, no less.

Such attitudes are strengthened by the snobbery of American suburbia; the Mormons like to think of themselves as WASPS–yet it was the rural, white, Christian, Protestant Americans upon whom the Lord with his own lips excoriated to the youthful prophet; they are all hypocrites, said he: “They were all wrong . . . all their creeds were an abomination in his sight… those professors were all corrupt: ’They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.’ ” (Joseph Smith- History 1:19).

There are those in the Church who would identify Zion with “Executive Meadows, the Exclusive Condominium for the Right People.”

REPEAT of repeat: Over whom does it exercise power, then? Over the spirits and over the elements–never over one’s fellow men, whose free agency is absolute and inalienable.

Christ commanded the spirits, and they obeyed him; he commanded the elements and they obeyed him, but men he would not command, and rebuked the apostles at Capernaum for suggesting it. “how often would I have gathered you together.., and ye would not!”

What, then is the priesthood on this earth? It is what Brigham Young and the Twelve wrote in the Times and Seasons in 1839, they called the priesthood an “onerous duty,” a load to be borne. Very few men on earth, including those in the Church are re- ally qualified. In terms of prestige, status, power, influence, pleasure, privilege, “power, and authority, and riches” (3 Nephi 6:37), the priesthood has absolutely nothing to offer. The world laughs at it, the Latter-day Saints abuse or ignore it, those who take it seriously do so in “fear and trembling.”

A Fire Observed

I love to camp, and more than that I love campfires.

There is joy in taking care to build a fire.  Organizing the wood just right, preparing a space for the burn. Then lighting a small source of flame, even a spark. The spark is fragile. It is vulnerable. A burst of wind or a careless movement can quickly extinguish the newly birthed flame.

The weak and vulnerable spark is carefully fed with small pieces of twigs and sticks. And the flame takes hold. It gets warmer. Then it gets hot. When it is hot enough, it can be fed with without limits. Fueling it in full glory with logs and trees – creation used to give comfort, warmth, and light.

And it burns and it is fed. And if the there is no more wood to add, if the fuel runs low, the fire burns down and runs its course.

As the fire burns down and consumes the last bit of dormant energy left in the smoldering logs,  a good stoking can provoke a flare, and a renewed flame.

Rearranging logs that have burned down, allowing oxygen to find new paths to the hottest areas, and adjusting the burnt wood into new arrangements can increase heat and produce warmth for those enjoying the fire. With a renewed flame comes a surge of hope. Even excitement.

But despite stoking our hope is short lived. The fire dims again. We may think that our fires can be stoked and managed and rearranged, and reorganized and the flame will burn on and on.

But unfortunately the new flames are quickly starved of fuel, and they quickly die down, too.  As the logs are almost gone, they continue to be stoked, and prodded, and rearranged. We can hunker close to the burnt wood, blow our air into the char, and hope for the embers to return to their warmth and glory.  But we have to face the reality that the options are diminishing. And so is our comfort, warmth, and most importantly, light.

The wood has run its course, and without a constant source feeding it new logs full of life and potential, the fire dims and the light fades. It even appears to die.

Where can we find hope? Perhaps it is with the remaining embers and dimly glowing remnants of coal that a new fire can be lit and be fueled. That tomorrow holds a hope that the last vestiges of light can ignite a new flame, in a new fire, in a new day.

Thoughts on Christ and Transformation

Some thoughts from a conversation with Mark Kehoe this morning…

  1. We are beings of profound potential – both for evil and for good. Our divine potential for evil, suffering, and darkness is as deep as our potential for good.
  2. We really don’t understand our capacity for evil until it is revealed to us, and this should frighten and disturb us deeply. The depth of the natural man is not just a capacity for indulgence or selfishness, it is a capacity to inflict suffering upon others.
  3. We aren’t redeemed from our fallen potential until we become strictly honest beings. We must be divested of lies, darkness, and deception. Our capacity for deception is as infinite as our capacity to become a divine being in the likeness of our eternal parents.
  4. Encountering Christ is the process of having the light divided from the darkness within us. It is to have the truth in us increased, and to have the falsehood and lies within us transmuted into truth.
  5. Giving ourselves over to Christ can be, and usually must be, a very disruptive and painful experience. It is a death – a death of the falsehood within us. The death of the natural man is a death of the self as we know it. It is a real and painful death.
  6. But the redemption of the truth within us is glorious. And the mercy of Christ is that he will redeem anything truthful within us.
  7. The paradox of Christ is that his love kills us. It kills the natural man. It kills who we think we are. It doesn’t accept us in our self-oriented and deceived state – it requires complete transformation – granting hope that the transformation can be made.
  8. Receiving Christ requires us to go through a death and be resurrected (spiritually and physically). We die before we die as to the things of the world. And we are reborn in this life into a newness of life in the form of Christ.
  9. Submitting our light to Christ will create a magnification. Submitting our darkness will create a transformation.