D&C 107. Part 11. Ordination Practices.

[Part 10 is here.]
For the first 90 years or so of LDS church organization, priesthood ordination took place in more or less the following pattern:

By authority of the Holy Priesthood and by the laying on of hands, I ordain you an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and confer upon you all the rights, powers keys and authority pertaining to this office and calling in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


This was modeled again more or less on Book of Mormon text:

In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest, (or, if he be a teacher) I ordain you to be a teacher, to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen.

This was turned on its head in 1919 with the wide distribution of a collection of Joseph F. Smith’s sermons and writings. We quote the following passage from the book:

The revelation in section 107, Doctrine and Covenants, verses 1, 5, 6, 7, 21, clearly points out that the Priesthood is a general authority or qualification, with certain offices or authorities appended thereto. Consequently the conferring of the Priesthood should precede and accompany ordination to office, unless it be possessed by previous bestowal and ordination. Surely a man cannot possess an appendage to the Priesthood without possessing the Priesthood itself, which he cannot obtain unless it be authoritatively conferred upon him.

Take, for instance, the office of a deacon: the person ordained should have the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon him in connection with his ordination. He cannot receive a portion or fragment of the Aaronic Priesthood, because that would be acting on the idea that either or both of the (Melchizedek and Aaronic) Priesthoods were subject to subdivision, which is contrary to the revelation.

In ordaining those who have not yet received the Aaronic Priesthood, to any office therein, the words of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith, Jr., and Oliver Cowdery, would be appropriate to immediately precede the act of ordination. They are:
“Upon you my fellow servants [servant], in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron.”
Of course, it would not necessarily follow that these exact words should be used, but the language should be consistent with the act of conferring the Aaronic Priesthood. [Gospel Doctrine, chapter 9.]

The procedure advocated by President Smith was upsetting to many and after President Smith’s death, the new First Presidency issued a statement to the effect that the “old” way was quite as effective and acceptable as the JFS process. Of course, JFS’s argument is partly without basis regarding the ordination by John the Baptist. Whether the rest of his argument is forceful was a matter of relatives.

President Smith’s view of the priesthood was colored by the natural misunderstanding derived from the joining of the March 28 revelation with the November 11 revelation. Consider this remark from the same chapter:

Further in the same revelation (D&C 107 !) verses 65 and 66, we are told:
“Wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood
to preside over the Priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High
Priesthood of the Church:
“Or in other words, the presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.”
It is well to remember that the term “High Priesthood,” as frequently used, has reference to the Melchizedek Priesthood, in contradistinction to the “lesser,” or Aaronic Priesthood.

JFS correctly identified the (shifted) meaning of “lesser priesthood” in D&C107. But high priesthood was never shifted in meaning, in fact Joseph Smith and everyone else was using the term to refer to high priests up until he died. His successors in Utah used it the same way. JFS used it the same way: witness the John Pack letter in the last series of posts here. (Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

In spite of the Heber J. Grant First Presidency letter regarding ordinations, later church leaders evidently found President Smith’s position compelling and it eventually became policy. This is an interesting pattern that has been repeated in several ways in church doctrine and practice. From a recent edition of the LDS Church handbook of instruction:

To perform a priesthood ordination, one or more authorized priesthood holders place their hands lightly on the person’s head. Then the priesthood holder who performs the ordination:

1. Calls the person by his full name.

2. States the authority by which the ordination is performed (Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood).

3. Confers the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood unless it has already been conferred.

4. Ordains the person to an office in the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood and bestows the rights, powers and authority of that office. (Priesthood keys are not bestowed in conferring the priesthood or ordaining to one of these offices.)

5. Gives a priesthood blessing as the Spirit directs.

6. Closes in the name of Jesus Christ.

No more variations, please. <grin>

One more post to go!

[Part 12 is here.]

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17 Responses to D&C 107. Part 11. Ordination Practices.

  1. J. Stapley says:

    I seemed to remember that, at leas for the first few years, people didn’t explicitly state by which authority they were performing the ordination. Also, Ardis just recently highlighted the commentary of GQC in 1896 stating that the Book of Mormon method of ordination was acceptable. Ordination liturgy is on my docket to explore.

    • WVS says:

      Yeah, I was just quoting from the HJG letter more or less. I think the Book of Mormon pattern was followed in early ordinations and probably much later as you note. Hence the words “more or less.” (g) And I’ll be interested in what you find out about that. Apparently Lyman Wight had to try 3 times to get Joseph’s high priest ordination right. I’d like to get a recording.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    I just did a quick check of my collection of liturgical instructions from 1920-1960 and they all use the older form. Without checking, I’d guess that the new method was instituted with the correlated 1968 handbook.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Actually, just found 1964.

    • WVS says:

      And J, any idea why the present method was privileged? I assumed it was JFSII/HBL looking at Joseph F. But maybe it was an independent thing. Interesting.

  4. WVS says:

    So, correlation. Cool.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    MoDoc champions the new way and Elder McConkie was on the Priesthood Correlation Committee that created the manuals, so that might be it.

    • WVS says:

      Well, at least that suggests a genealogy.

    • WVS says:

      Does the 1958 modoc have that? If yes, then I wonder about JFSII.

      • J. Stapley says:

        I don’t have a copy (though my dad does). I’ll have to check. I also found some references to the new practice in the late 50s Melchizadek Priesthood handbooks (it appears in 57 and is repeated in 59), though example ordination texts were still a this time generally proscribed (along with other rituals). I would suspect with JFSII’s appreciation of Gospel Doctrine he would have favored the new method. I check Doctrines of Salvation and Answers to Gospel Questions and there are only hints of the new practice. E.g., a discussion of the conferral of the aaronic priesthood by the Baptist.

  6. Michael Towns says:

    Here is what I’d like to know: what are the implications of this? How can there be two fundamentally different ways of verbalizing ordinations and the ordinances still maintain their salvific validity?

    • WVS says:

      The salvific implications are nada, if you believe the 1919 First Presidency. We change the temple ceremonies with some regularity. Apparently, this does not invalidate either the old versions or the new one. Unless of course, you’re a fundamentalist.

  7. Michael Towns says:

    Well, I’m left to conclude that the only really important thing is the laying on of hands portion of the ordination. And, of course, the person with the hands actually having authority.

  8. Jared* says:

    I’m almost starting to think that we are really the Church of Joseph F. Smith. It seems like the more I learn about Church history, the more pervasive his influence appears. Just off the top of my head, I can think of about ten elements of doctrine, organization, or practice in the current Church that trace back to him.

  9. WVS says:

    I was just looking at the Kirtland minutes and saw ordination records for some high priests. They are very spare, “Brother ______ we ordain thee a high priest ……… and also ordain thee a high councilor at that Kirtland Stake.”

    “We lay our hands upon thee and ordain thee …….. ”

    Hard to say how complete the record is of course.

  10. Pingback: D&C 10. Part 1. External Characteristics. « Boap.org's Blog

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