Wednesday, October 7, 2009

“And no man taketh this honour unto himself…”

I had the opportunity this year of attending Easter services in a Lutheran cathedral in the small German town of Nordlingen. The town itself is really kind of neat; it’s one of the few towns in Germany with a city wall still surrounding the entire town. If you’ve ever seen the old Willy Wonka movie, the town over which Charlie, Wonka, and the grandfather fly in the glass elevator at the end of the movie is actually Nordlingen. The chapel in this town is a huge stone building, probably four or five stories tall before the spire yet it’s all one floor it completely redefines the term “vaulted ceiling.” And the chapel is older than any building in America. The Easter services were, of course, carried out completely in German so I didn’t understand a single thing since my German vocabulary consists of the numbers one through ten, “pineapple,” and a few things that I hear repeated at jump rope such as “again,” or “drink break,” but it was a good experience all the same. We sang hymns—they have a very impressive pipe organ, the preacher or priest taught, and he administered the sacrament or communion.

He that is called of God
Throughout the entire hour and a half service, the words from the fifth chapter of Hebrews, fourth verse kept running through my head. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” I’m sure the priest or preacher or whatever his position is in that chapel has good intentions. I’m sure that his sermon that Easter morn was all about Christ and His resurrection and how it applies to us. And I’m sure that the people in the congregation learned something or thought that the service was worthwhile and will return again. However, no matter his intentions or desires to help the church-goers in Nordlingen, he does not have the authority or power from God to officiate in ordinances such as the sacrament. The papers, classes, certificates, or diplomas the preacher may have also do not matter; God calls His prophets, priests, and teachers independent of any seminary or institute established by man.

Recall the words of Isaiah, “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee” (Isaiah 50:4; see also 2 Nephi 7:4). The Lord qualifies whom He calls. The only accreditation a man needs to be apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist, priest, or deacon is the accreditation that God gives.

The prophet does not have to pass a class or graduate from a seminary that gives him a certificate approving his knowledge and study of ancient scripture. He does not need a degree or a knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. Indeed, he does not need the approval or nomination of any earthy tribunal created by man. The prophet is called of God, as was Aaron. He has the priesthood through the laying on of hands, as did Aaron. He has the authority to exercise all the keys of the holy priesthood because God gave him the authority, not man.

Moses was called of God despite his weakness for public speaking. The Lord comforted Moses, “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Moses never underwent any formal schooling or training to be a prophet, instead God blessed Moses and gave Moses a brother who could speak well in order to help him fulfill his calling (see Exodus 4:10-16).

The original twelve apostles all came from varied backgrounds, and none were rabbis or priests or had religious professions. For example, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen (see Matt 4:18-22) and Matthew was a tax collector (see Matt 9:9). The Lord looketh not upon the outward appearance, but on the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:7). The Lord often times calls the humble and the unlearned because they are teachable and will not take honour unto themselves.

How God chooses His prophets, apostles, and other leaders
The process of choosing apostles, teachers, and other church leaders is described in the first chapter of Acts. When Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ, he obviously lost his calling as an apostle. The remaining eleven apostles gathered together to find out the will of the Lord concerning who should become the newest member of the quorum of the twelve. They knew that “one must be ordained to be a witness with [them] of [Christ’s] resurrection,” (v. 22) and so they sought the will of the Lord concerning whom they should choose. The scriptural account continues:

23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
The apostles found a few saints that they thought would be good candidates and they inquired of the Lord to know His will concerning the future of the twelve. Through revelation, the eleven apostles knew that Matthias was to be the twelfth apostle.

The same process works for us in our lives. When we seek revelation concerning a decision in our lives, we must do the research and the work to find what we believe to be the best decision or decisions. Then we go to the Lord and ask to know His will, since our thoughts are not His thoughts. When we are prepared and have done all that we can do, we receive the revelation and can then move forward with faith.

A need for the restoration of the priesthood
As people persecuted and killed the apostles and other church leaders after Christ’s death, Christ ceased calling new apostles and prophets to lead His Church. The priesthood keys to officiate in ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament, give blessings, and otherwise act in the name of God were lost to the earth leading to a widespread apostasy. No one had the authority to pass on the priesthood or ordain others to priesthood offices.

When God the Father and Jesus Christ restored the gospel and organized their church in our day, ending the long night of apostasy, They called Joseph Smith to be a prophet and through him restored the keys of the priesthood to the earth. They called twelve apostles who received the priesthood keys. And They, through the living apostles and prophets, continue to call new apostles and prophets each time an apostle or prophet dies. Each new apostle receives priesthood keys from the remaining apostles and prophet. The same process is true for other general authorities and church leaders. When someone is released from a calling as a teacher or bishop or seventy or any other calling, the Lord reveals to His leaders who should fill the position.

The priesthood is given to every worthy male member of the Church and when he is called to a position that requires the use of priesthood keys, a higher authority ordains him and authorizes him to use those keys in his calling. The priesthood holders officiate in ordinances such as baptism, bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the sacrament. Families are sealed together and gain the ability to live together forever through priesthood ordinances in the temple.

Implications for Us
Ordinances of the gospel require the authorization of the Lord and that authorization comes through the priesthood. If one does not hold the priesthood, then the ordinances are not ordinances but merely words and a ceremony with no eternal consequences. Those who were in attendance at the Easter services in Nordlingen partook of the bread and wine but that’s all they did was partake of bread and wine, the same as the bread in their cupboards and the wine in their cellars at home.

As I stated before, I’m sure the people and the preacher in Nordlingen have good intentions. I have met religious and non-religious people all over the world who are good people with only the best intentions and desires to be good and do good unto their fellowmen. That’s one of the reasons I love the sport of jump rope so much; jump rope attracts great people and I am who I am today in part because of their influence on me. However, even the best of intentions can only get us so far. The Savior atoned for the sins of all who would ever live upon the earth and He asks us to do certain things in return. He asks us to live His Gospel: to exercise faith in Him and His Atonement through repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then enduring to the end by striving to live by the covenants we made through baptism (see Mosiah 18:8-10). And as we discussed, the making and renewing of these commitments requires the power and authority from God—the priesthood.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and desires that we return home to live with Him and our families forever. He has designed a plan that enables us to attain this goal. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to this plan. In order for us to fully take advantage of this plan, Heavenly Father has given us His power and authority to perform saving ordinances such as baptism the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the sacrament, and those found in the temple. God calls prophets in our day and gives them priesthood authority that we may know to what source to look for a remission of our sins (see 2 Ne 25:26.) I am grateful for the Atonement and that Christ is merciful enough to allow us to come unto Him, be forgiven as we do the things He asks, and feel His Spirit. I am grateful the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and restored the priesthood and authority to perform saving ordinances in our day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that contains the fullness of the gospel and the authority to perform priesthood ordinances. This is my testimony.


For further reading:

Henry B. Eyring, “The True and Living Church,” Ensign, May 2008, 20–24