More Yet. D&C 107. Part 11. Ordination Practices.

[Part 10 is here.]
For the first 90 years or so of LDS church organization, priesthood ordination gradually developed into 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.

It seems the closer we get to 1830, the simpler the form becomes. Ordinations in Ohio were quite simple: “Brother – – – we lay our hands upon thee and ordain thee an elder . . .” for example. There were some variations on this.

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 (see the first block quote above) 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 April 1835 revelation with the November 1831 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 letter in the series of posts on John Pack. (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 (officially in the 1960s). 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.

Hence we see that the joining of the two revelations and the eventual fading of meanings influenced liturgical practice in the 20th century. Cool, no?

One more post to go! (And maybe an addendum.)

[Part 12 is here.]


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