Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Deeper Examination of Priesthood and lines of Authority - Ecclesiology

Ecclesiology (priesthood offices) relative to God is far more than ecclesiology within the church structure itself. This also looks at personal ecclesiology with God.

Relative to members, the church is an organisation where people can be certain of having the correct ordinances done as God would have them. This is important so that the true meaning of symbols can be found (as the symbol is done correctly and with the right words). Also it ensures that all necessary ordinances are performed. For new members the church provides a doctrinal beginning. For weak members it provides a continual source of basic instruction. Also it gives opportunities for service to others. It provides a forum for religious education for families and individuals. Along with this it provides a system of emotional and physical support. Then there are social and sporting activities.

However the church is only where we start our trip to God. And this must be remembered in this examination. Each person must create their own personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. That becomes the “church” that is going to matter to each person. Each member must make themselves a prophet of God in their church (whether male or female). They must seek to walk and talk with God face to face. And be in tune with the Holy Ghost to obtain direction as required. Then secondly men must create a church of their family and become the prophet of that also. THEN we get to the LDS church.

To explain this point more clearly - some may question why it is that I believe in the church and yet this or that person in authority made this or that mistake? But my belief ISN’T in church people. My belief is in the Godhead. I have failed them, they have never failed me. I have been wrong, but they are ALWAYS right. Yet church leaders will fail. They will get things wrong. D&C 121 makes that extremely clear. But God never will. Christ set up the church as his church for us. So I fully support it and those in positions of responsibility (within the realms of their authority), regardless of their faults.

My doctrine is built on revelation and guidance that I have received while I read the Scriptures, hear talks at church and talk with Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. So the ecclesiology that is most important to me as an LDS is my priestly position in my personal church to God. God could send me out into the desert for the rest of my life, never to see the church again, and my spirituality wouldn’t be affected in the slightest, because God is there too.

Having made that clear (hopefully) I turn to ecclesiology in the church.

The church itself isn’t a monarchy with a leader that tells everyone what they will believe about everything in their own personal church. Nor are the local leaders to establish what members will believe. While some local leaders may tend to see themselves this way due to worldly influences (D&C 121:39), it isn’t the way it is intended (D&C 121:37). The church is a theocratic democracy. Thus it is called the Church of Jesus Christ (theocratic) of Latter-Day Saints (democracy).

Yet there is a responsibility placed upon local leaders to ensure that things stated from the pulpit and by teachers don’t seriously conflict with Scripture (our standards for belief).

This situation was also demonstrated by the early Apostles, who had varying opinions about doctrine and what commandments to obey. Circumcision and food offered to idols were two of these subjects. While decisions were reached on some subjects, disputes still went on. So there is some degree of flexibility of doctrine and personal feelings on what level of commandments to follow and how. In other words, while it is necessary to obey basic commandments to maintain church membership, there is no actual doctrinal domination beyond extreme basics. This is in harmony with the principle that we are to learn the truth line upon line and precept upon precept, individually.

The crux is that Christ can only give, the church generally, doctrinal understanding and commandments according to the ability of the Saints to accept and obey those concepts and commandments (1 Cor 3:1-3, D&C 89:3, D&C 119 Heading, Heb 4:2). These general concepts and commandments given to the Saints come through revelation to the President of the Melchizedek Priesthood for the church (termed “The Prophet”). In reality the church should be full of prophets. And there certainly are many in the church. Prophecy is one gift of the Spirit.

So as far as doctrine goes, while an individual may be able to speak on behalf of God relative to revelation he/she has received on a particular subject, no one can authoritatively speak on behalf of over 13 million people, in regard anything but extremely basic concepts. Beside this point the amount of subjects to cover and knowledge in each required by any one person to be able to do so proficiently, would be beyond comprehension. i.e. the enormous web of interlocked concepts within the church’s theology and the depth you could go to on so many is virtually endless. Then there would be the problem of passing many immensely deep concepts onto the general membership and having them be able to understand them. It would be as ridiculous as taking a five year old starting school and getting them to do a doctorate.

However God has chosen some great individuals to fill the office of “The Prophet” in these latter days. Though it has to be remembered also that if God has an Elijah (similar type person) living today he obviously wouldn’t make him “The Prophet”, as it would be hard to explain a man not dying (for starters). Different people grow by different challenges. So I don’t believe God always chooses the most righteous and knowledgeable person on earth in choosing “The Prophet”. But chooses the most appropriate person available, that wouldn’t be held back by such position.

There is a quorum of 12 Apostles, who are called to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ. “The Prophet” usually has 2 councillors, who are also Apostles. “The Prophet” is also an Apostle. The church works opposite from the world in that “The Prophet” is at the bottom serving all. Then the 12 Apostles are next up the line, and so on until the general membership, who are at the top, being served the most. The membership all sustain these servants, by raised hand, twice yearly.

There are 2 priesthoods available at this time. That is the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. Present offices within the Aaronic Priesthood are deacon, teacher and priest. Present offices within the Melchizedek Priesthood are elder and high priest. As impressive as the latter may sound it is extremely common in the church. Offices generally come by age provided the recipient is worthy.

The Aaronic Priesthood is organised by the bishop of each “ward” (collection of Saints in a prescribed area). Whereas the Melchizedek Priesthood is organised by the Stake President. A “stake” contains several wards.

Women don’t receive these priesthoods, as their callings are in a different direction. God has never had any desire to turn women into pseudo men or visa-versa.

The priesthood is a line of authority to act in the name of Jesus Christ. There are “keys” (automatic right to revelation for an office) associated with callings within the priesthood. That is all that priesthood is. Yet these 2 things are extremely important to running the church.

There is a power within us that can be used while using the priesthood for healing etc: Sort of like the power in a power cord situation - the cord (priesthood) isn’t the power (electricity) but the power is IN the cord when the power is switched on through personal righteousness and faith.

Mostly independent of priesthood office there are callings within the church. These are positions of service within the church which I would have to include in a discussion on ecclesiology, as they are part of the administrative structure. There are so many I will just describe each general area.

There is Relief Society and Young Women’s for women, Primary for children, Sunday School for all and Priesthood Quorums for men. Sporting, social and education also have administrative structures, usually reporting to the Stake leader. Then there are missions, administered through a different structure from the wards and stake. Also the Church Education System is separate, yet the bishop chooses the actual ward seminary teacher. But all these eventually report to the Apostles, and from there to “The Prophet”. So it is a branched out organisation, not a single line.

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