A Question About What the LDS Church Officially Teaches About Priesthood

I had a long conversation with a Mormon friend on the internet in which he said something that got me curious how members of the LDS church would answer or react to certain question or questions. I am going to ask the questions using language as clear as I can, which requires the language to be a bit more blunt than you might normally want. But I do not feel it’s an unfair or unclear question as worded:

Does the LDS Church’s magisterium (i.e. what LDS members call “The Brethren”) teach that the collection of all religious or priesthood authorities (or equivalent) of all religions in the world can be split into two broad categories?:

  1. A single priesthood authority that is Divine, namely that of the LDS Church.
  2. All other religious authorities of all other religions, which are man-made.

If you answer ‘YES’ to the first question (i.e. CAN be split into those two broad caregories), here is the follow-on question: Does this mean that the LDS Church’s magisterium teaches that there is a sense in which the President of the LDS Church (i.e. what they call “The Prophet”) is not only the prophet over all LDS church members in the world, but even non-LDS members?

If you answer ‘NO’ to the first question (i.e. can NOT be split into those two broad categories), here is a follow-on question: Has the LDS Church (or rather the magisterium of the LDS Church, or “The Brethren”) ever in its history taught that their Prophets are infallible?

Important Note: It’s well known that Mormons believe other religions have truth in them, God inspires their leaders at times, and God respects or even accepts their authority in some senses or areas. The questions have been carefully worded to not imply that the leaders of the church teach that “all other churches are fully man made and non-divine in any sense” or anything long those lines. The questions are carefully worded as best as was possible to ask about if you understand the LDS Church Leaders as teach there is a qualitative difference about how they view their priesthood vs that of other religions and if that difference is or isn’t split solely by the boundary lines of the LDS Church.

Note: Please read the whole rest of the post so you won’t mistakenly break the experiment by not following the rules. It is VERY hard to ask or answer questions like this with minimal ambiguity and the explanations below should help you understand the intent of the questions and what the rules are for how to give an answer.

Points of clarification:

  1. This is not intended to be a trick question. It is supposed to be as straightforward and obvious as it seems. So don’t over think it or attempt to read anything into it beyond the most obvious reading/meaning or you will likely be perceived as answering differently than you intend
  2. There is no doubt that with some clever thought and careful interpretation, you can answer these questions any way you wish. (As can be done with literally any question and answer.) That isn’t the point of the test and directly violates #1. Simply answer which ever way is ‘best’ or ‘most accurate’ or given the two options of Yes or No.
  3. Because Yes / No answers are always a little uncomfortable due to the loss of nuance, you are free (and in fact encouraged) to then go on and nuance your answer however you see fit so as to not be misunderstood.
  4. But please do not insist on rewriting the questions first before answering or refusing to answer the questions at all and instead start commenting. The Yes / No response is imperative to reducing certain kinds of ambiguity or misunderstanding. If you do not do that, you will likely be perceived as answering differently than you intend.
  5. If you really and truly cannot see that either Yes or No is a better answer, then you may then answer ‘I cannot answer the questions as currently worded’ and then go on to explain why. However, I want to emphasize again that this is not a trick or trap question and even an answer of ‘I can’t…’ — no matter how much nuance you put into it — is likely to be perceived differently than you intend because of your refusal to pick a best answer. You are far more likely to be correctly understood if you follow the rules I am laying out. Still, ‘I can’t’ is an answer open to you if you really don’t see a ‘best’ answer of Yes or No.
  6. Some have commented that the questions, to them, have a bit of a bite because they are put more straightforwardly than some would want for fear that it would be misunderstood by a non-LDS person. That is why I’m offering you a chance to give nuance afterwards. But there honestly was no better way to word the question that wouldn’t have led to ambiguities that would ruing the whole experiment.
  7. This is also why I can’t allow you to rewrite the questions first or not give a Yes / No (or Can’t) answer first.
  8. This question is solely about those alive and mortal today. So it was not intended to ask anything about, say, the modern church vs the primitive church.
  9. I am not asking what you personally believe about the LDS Church and its authority. Nor is it a question about what you think members as a whole believe in comparison to what the magisterium teaches. It is not even a question about what LDS scripture teaches on the subject except in so far as it might relate to the modern teachings of the LDS Church. This is specifically a question about what the leaders of the Church teach today.
  10. Because of the above point, this question is open to non-LDS people to answer as well, though in that case you need to state in your answer that you are non-LDS. I will be assuming you are LDS if you don’t state one way or the other. However, if you are non-LDS and don’t know the answer, please don’t answer at all.
  11. Given the above explanations, you should answer preferably either ‘yes’, ‘no’ based on which is the ‘best’ or ‘most accurate’ answer. The ‘I can’t answer as currently worded’ option is for if you really just can’t figure out how to answer it ‘best’ as currently worded. The option to add nuance after the answer is meant to allow you to feel comfortable that you aren’t being held solely to only the Yes/No.
  12. However, the experiment will not work if it isn’t obvious that you primarily intended a Yes or No and I have to guess which you are closest to after the fact. If I have to do that, I will just remove the answer and not count it. That is why I will remove comments that don’t take a definitive stance as Yes/No or ‘I cannot answer as currently worded and here is why…’
  13. You must answer both questions. (Some leniency on this if you just seem to have forgotten. I’ll then ask you to give the second answer.
  14. This is not a trap question. A trap question is one that doesn’t allow you to fully nuance your answer. You are being encouraged to do so once you’ve given your best answer first.

Please put your answers into the comments below. Feel free to add whatever thoughts you have on the subject or explanation that you feel needs to go with your yes/no answer. Part of what I’m looking for is how people will perceive the questions being asked, so feel free to even just tell me your feelings about the questions being asked. (i.e. are they simple, complicated, tricky, good questions, stupid questions, etc.) However, a simple “1. Yes, 2. No” or whatever is fine too and you don’t need to make any further comments.

Rules for Posting: If you make a comment and it does not follow the rules outlined, and thus it’s unclear how you are answering the question (yes/no/ or i can’t if you really believe there is no best answer), I will delete your comment and explain what you were missing so you can answer again.

For example, if you fail to make it clear if your answer is “yes/no/can’t answer as worded” or if you phrase your answer in terms of what you believe and not what you understand the Church leaders believe, I will need to remove your comment.

However, I will also keep your comment handy if you want me to email it back to you as a new starting point. It might only require a small rewording to just clarify what you meant.

I am okay with discussion about the answers (and even criticism of other people’s answers) if and only if you first answer the questions yourself as per the rules above.

58 thoughts on “A Question About What the LDS Church Officially Teaches About Priesthood

  1. Yes, the LDS Church magisterium possesses the priesthood authority required to validly perform salvific ordinances. The priesthood power of other religions is not sufficient to perform ordinances that would be considered authorized in the sight of God. Their priesthood is somewhat like a battery that has lost its charge. This does not mean that their magisteria aren’t attempting to do good (and often being very effective). And of course LDS Church magisterium priesthood is used to perform ordinances for all mankind, not just living members of the LDS Church. So this exclusivity claim does not equate to saying the rest of mankind is damned.

    No, the LDS Church magisterium has never taught that their Prophets are infallible. They have taught that the prophet is sufficiently correct that believers should give heed to the prophet’s teachings and warnings. The Doctrine and Covenants repeatedly indicates that there is one individual authorized to lead and receive revelation for the Church, which was Joseph Smith. Most agree that Joseph conferred that authority to lead on the apostles collectively. Since the death of Joseph Smith, it has to date always been the apostle who has the longest continuous status as an apostle who has ascended to the role of Church President, but that is a practice rather than a divine mandate.

    LDS canonized scriptures includes multiple instances where God chastizes Joseph Smith relatively severely, so whatever shorthand an individual leader might have uttered that has been misunderstood as implying prophetic infallibility is not canon, no matter how ossified in LDS culture.

  2. Meg, you answered the wrong second question. I will update to make it more clear.

  3. In a word, yes. The Church alone has the Priesthood. While the catholics and orthodox churches can trace succession, sometime along the way authority was lost and now all that is left are the traditions of men.

  4. 1. Yes, it is split into those two categories: 1) The LDS priesthood (which is recognized by God as effective: Matthew 16:19 – Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven); and 2) all others.
    Follow-up, Yes, the LDS President is the responsible for delivering the word of God to all people.
    Non-asked follow-up: “What is the result of the split on the non-LDS folks’ eternal status?” Not as much as might be feared. Every person who ever was, has been, or will be born, may attain the highest degree of celestial glory regardless of whether they hear, and/or accept, the Gospel in this life.

  5. Michael Davidson, please answer the second question too. Since you answered ‘yes’ to the first question, your second question would be: “Does this imply that the LDS Church’s magisterium teaches that there is a sense in which the President of the LDS Church (i.e. what they call “The Prophet”) is not only the prophet over all LDS church members in the world, but even non-LDS members?”

  6. And, in answer to the follow up, it is not implied that the prophet is not merely the prophet to the Church, it is explicit. The president of the Church and the apostles have a prophetic mission to proclaim the gospel to all the world, not just to preach to the choir.

  7. Thanks Michael. I’m changing the wording a bit to not use the word “implies” based on your feedback.

  8. Q1: “Does the LDS Church’s magisterium (i.e. what LDS members call “The Brethren”) teach that the collection of all religious or priesthood authorities (or equivalent) of all religions in the world can be split into two broad categories?:

    1. A single priesthood authority that is Divine, namely that of the LDS Church.
    2. All other religious authorities of all other religions, which are man-made.”


    And this should be an immediate follow-on: Many prophets, including as recently as Pres Hinckley have said religious leaders, and many people in other faiths have been “inspired” of the Lord to carry out the Lord’s will. If God does indeed inspire someone, they implicitly have authority to do the thing commanded, even if no more than in the sense “God told me to.” This may be what previous commenters meant as a “lesser authority.” But, I would not call it priesthood.

    This also makes sense in that God gives people as much light as they can handle, so if they are not ready for the full gospel, they can be given parts that they can handle.

    Q2: “Does this mean that the LDS Church’s magisterium teaches that there is a sense in which the President of the LDS Church (i.e. what they call “The Prophet”) is not only the prophet over all LDS church members in the world, but even non-LDS members?”

    Yes. And a congruent thing applies to a sitting bishop. He’s “the bishop” to all who reside in the ward boundaries. Ditto for the Stake Pres.

  9. Ah, but language means there is ambiguity…

    Does the LDS Church’s magisterium… teach that… all religions in the world can be split into two broad categories?:

    1. A single priesthood authority that is Divine, namely that of the LDS Church.
    2. All other religious authorities of all other religions, which are man-made.

    I’ll first object and say I don’t like the answer as written. I would prefer:

    1. That religion possessing the Divine priesthood authority to validly perform salvific ordinances, namely that of the LDS Church.
    2. All other religious authorities of all other religions, which fall short of the Divine authority to validly perform salvific ordinances.

    To this second phrasing, I would answer ‘YES’ to the first question.

    I would also answer ‘YES’ to the follow-on question: Does this mean that the LDS Church’s magisterium teaches that there is a sense in which the President of the LDS Church (i.e. what they call “The Prophet”) is not only the prophet over all LDS church members in the world, but even non-LDS members?

  10. Q1: Yes
    Q2: Yes

    I would note that the LDS concept of priesthood is highly nuanced and differs significantly from the authority concept proffered by other faiths.

  11. 1. No.
    2. No.

    1. The Church claims to hold valid Priesthood authority from God, and invites all to come unto Christ. The Church does not pass judgment on the internal workings or faith claims of other faith organizations. Let them worship how, where, or what they may.

    2. The Church has never claimed that Priesthood holders are infallible.

  12. I cannot answer the question as written. Here’s why:

    If the question implies that all aspects of all other religions are man made, the Brethren have never taught this. There may be many aspects of other religions inspired by God, and hence constructed in partnership with God (e.g., not merely man-made).

    If the question is only asking about authority to perform ordinances, that is exclusive to the LDS Church. The Brethren have clearly taught that.

    But the ordinances and traditions of other fathers are not “man-made”, for the same reason above. There may be vestiges of divine teaching that formed those traditions. Nothing the brethren have taught precludes this.

    If the question is about priesthood authority in the sense of authority to speak in God’s name, I think that the answer is actually blurry. I think that God does speak to people outside of our faith and guide them in their ecclesiastical stewardships, which conveys a *sense* of divine authority. Just not the same sense.

  13. LDSP, the question does NOT implying that all aspects of all other religions are man made. The wording was more careful than that. That is why it only ask about if you ‘can’ split it into two broad categories. With some careful thought, I have no doubt that you can answer these question either way by carefully imagining there is more to the question than actually stated or to take words to mean less common (but still valid) meanings.

  14. The President of the Church has no authority over non-members. Non-members have not sustained him as their leader and are under no obligation to follow his counsel. As a prophet, he shares his message with anyone who will listen.

  15. 1. No (almost yes)
    2. No

    1. It is taught that only the authority through the Church can provide the saving ordinances. But the ‘man-made’ part of other religions may not be entirely true. I suspect that there has been divine guiding direction in some cases.

    2. Prophets of the restoration have been so blunt in pronouncing their fallibility that it strikes me as very odd that this might even be an issue.

  16. I have added additional nuance to the original question so that people will not over reading it as meaning that other religions have no truth, or God doesn’t recognize their authority in any way, or God never inspires their leaders, etc.

    This is a question about if the LDS Church (or rather its leaders) teaches there is a qualitative difference about how they view the nature of their priesthood vs that of other religions that isn’t split solely by the boundary lines of the LDS Church.

  17. Bruce,

    Are you falling into the trap that so many Latter-day Saints seem to fall into? In order for us to be right, must we loudly insist that everyone else is wrong? I think your first question implies a push in this direction, but I played along and answered it as written.

  18. ji, I think your answer is fine as is and I thought your nuanced explanation afterward did a good job of explaining your views.

    The simple truth is that its very hard to word this question in such a way that it can’t be reinterpreted. I tried numerous approaches and this was the hardest to reinterpret. That forced me to ask it a bit more bluntly than I would have preferred. But making it as clear as possible was necessary to the experiment.

    But even as worded, it is possible — if you desire — to decide it means many different things. I think we can see right here that people are taking such a straight forward and probably as clearly worded as possible (even Meg’s rewrites are more ambiguous than the way I asked it) question and interpreting it in vastly different ways before answering it. But that is part of the experiment too.

    But on the other hand, it is not a tricky question as worded, nor unclear, and I do believe it has a single objective ‘best answer’ of either yes or no if you don’t choose to over read it and just go with what it seems to be asking.

    However, I also believe that either of those answers (yes or not) would probably warrant additional nuance and explanation — and that is why I am offering to allow that. (To say nothing of the fact that additional explanation and nuance is part of what I am interested in.) This is also a way of making sure it’s clear that it is not a trap question. A trap question is one where you can’t nuance the answer.

    That you are reading into it the idea that I might be ‘loudly insisting that everyone else is wrong’ is in and of itself part of what I want to find out. I am after your perception of the question as much as your answer.

    The one problem is that I might have made mistakes in wording and not noticed — clearly that is the case that I did. So I’m keeping the audience small at first to see what misunderstandings come up and if I can fairly make myself more clear without either leading the question or making it so ambiguous that you can answer any way you want and we’ll never know what you really meant.

  19. I think ji and eeek misunderstood the demarcation of the 2nd question.

    Ldsp made a couple good points about vestiges and inspiration still being in other churches.

    I think ji misses a point about the president of the church having authority over non-lds. If someone has not heard the gospel preached by the spirit, they are not going to be held responsible to the same degree as someone who has. But when looking at scriptural examples of prophets interacting with non-believers, the prophets still had divine authority when acting or speaking under divine direction.

    Our modern prophets don’t appear to _exercise_ their divine authority over non-LDS. But my take on the scriptures is that they do have that authority, though more or less dormant at this time.

    Well, one exception, Pres Hinckley’s Proclamation on the family. That was given by authority of the FP + Q12 to the whole world.

    However, I don’t see that as a thing with which to punish people at Judgement Day. I see it more as a warning to let people know that God tried to reach and warn them.

    In my view, the visible exercise of modern prophets’ authority is in their public exhortations. Though I assume there is plenty of executive/administrative action by prophets that is mostly not in public view.

  20. Question #1:

    That is what church authorities (or the church magisterium) teach.

    I would only clarify that all other religious authorities are man-made OR initiated by false spirits that deceive. Man-made would include those that are apostate imitations of real authority.

    Question #2:

    The way in which church authorities teach about priesthood authority and keys requires the corollary that the President of the Church is therefore God’s representative to the entire world and that his authority and his power to bind and loose in heaven extends to everyone, including those who are not members of the church and who belong to other religions or churches.

  21. At this one more time.

    “Does the LDS Church’s magisterium… teach that… all religions in the world can be split into two broad categories?:

    1) A single priesthood authority that is Divine, namely that of the LDS Church.
    2) All other religious authorities of all other religions, which are man-made.

    No. Because this question articulates the division in a way that is offensive and divisive as written. That is why I offered my alternate wording, which I felt captured the intent of the LDS magisterium position.

    If I had a Divine key to a Salvific car, but it had become slightly bent such that it no longer opens or operates the Salvific vehicle/car, it is not to say that the key has suddenly become man-made. It just has been sufficiently altered that it can’t make the Salvific vehicle work.

    To further the metaphor, let’s say that the Salvific car passes through a gate to Salvation, which can also be opened with the Divine key to provide foot traffic access to Salvation. I would suggest that the other religions and non-religions can provide advancement towards the gate, even if unable by themselves to open the gate.

    Likewise, there are those who are given entry to the Salvific vehicle who jump off the back of the wagon, rendering the validity of the Divine key in their own lives of less value. But even these can eventually start hiking towards the gate and eventually obtain benefit of the Divine key opening the gate.

    Then there are those who don’t want to get anywhere near the gate, whether or not they ever were aboard the Salvific vehicle. So the Divine key opening the gate or operating the Salvific vehicle doesn’t do them any “good” because they do not wish to have any part in the Salvation on the other side of the gate.

    Since I’ve been forced to answer “NO” to the first question for purely semantic reasons, you ask me to answer the follow-on question:

    Has the LDS Church (or rather the magisterium of the LDS Church, or “The Brethren”) ever in its history taught that their Prophets are infallible?

    To this I repeat a variation of what I said above. Individuals representing the magisterium of the LDS Church (e.g., me) might have at some point said or written something that could have been misinterpreted as suggesting Prophets are infallible. But such an utterance or writing would be inconsistent with Canon, so would be incorrect if taught/conveyed.

  22. Thanks, Bruce.

    It is interesting that some Latter-day Saints will answer your first question with a YES and some will answer with a NO. It illustrates what has been said elsewhere that one Saint’s doctrine is another Saint’s folklore. I’m comfortable with my NO answer, and appreciate Meg’s NO answer. I think that a nuanced NO is a right answer to a right way to approach your first question (another nuance). The apostle Paul cautioned the early-day Saints about difficult questions exactly for these reasons.

    More nuance: A prophet has no “authority” over anyone. A prophet teaches and exhorts and invites. Any “authority” that Thomas S. Monson holds over others comes by virtue of his President of the Church office, which he holds because he has been sustained and which gives “authority” only over the assembly that has so sustained. He has no “authority” over non-members. That’s why Joseph Smith thought sustaining was so very important. Any person with the testimony of Jesus is a prophet, right?

    I don’t offer this to be argumentative with anyone here, just to show that there is another way of looking at these things.

  23. Hi ji,

    Looking at prophets circa 600 BC, they were called to preach repentance to King Manasseh and those erring in a gross way. Clearly the folks erring in a gross way hadn’t sustained them. So to suggest that a prophet is only for those who already recognize the prophet’s authority doesn’t fit the situation for the prophets circa 600 BC. Noah comes to mind as another prophet called to a people who did not recognize his authority.

  24. As a way to alternatively word the questions.

    1. Does any organization other than the LDS Church have the power Christ describes in Matthew 16:19 to be able to bind things on earth which will be bond in Heaven?

    If Yes: Does the LDS Church’s authority to bind on earth and in Heaven apply only to LDS members, or is it a universal authority?

    If No: Does the LDS Church teach (or has it ever taught) its Prophets are infallible?

  25. John, I like your wording. It is less ambiguous than some of the other ones offered. (Within this context, I mean, which admitted I intentionally haven’t explained.) I should have probably used that wording.

    Also, I wish I had used a different question than for the “No” path. The problem is that now that people have started answering, I don’t feel free to change the questions beyond offering clarifications.

  26. JL, I’m curious if I had used the wording JSW suggests if it would have changed your answer?

    And would it change it for anyone else if I went with his wording?

  27. 1. Yes
    2. Yes
    You could put this in a worldly context by comparing it to parts and service. For some machines and substances you can get by using the non authorised version. For other things only the authorized version works and using substitutes is either a stop gap until you can get the real thing or does active harm.
    The Priesthood of God held in and through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is way beyond the ministering efforts, no matter how well carried out and apparently effective, of other organizations, religious or secular. It is the authority to act in the name of God, the only ‘authorized’ priesthood. The Prophet has stewardship of every person on the earth today, and for purposes of proxy ordinances, throughout known history.
    This is keenly brought home to me each Monday morning when I work in the Provo Temple baptistry. I help by several means including recording names in the records, but only endowed holders of the Melchizedec priesthood may perform the ordinances that baptize and confirm the proxies as we work at a rate that sometimes exceeds 250 ordinances per hour.

  28. ji said:

    Any “authority” that Thomas S. Monson holds over others comes by virtue of his President of the Church office, which he holds because he has been sustained and which gives “authority” only over the assembly that has so sustained. He has no “authority” over non-members.


    I disagree with your construction, but I want to understand what you are saying better. Can you elaborate?

    First, in the spirit of Bruce’s original question, are you saying that this is what the church authorities actually teach or that this is what you believe is correct even if it is not what the authorities teach?

    Second, how would this work on an individual level? If the majority of the assembly sustains him, does his authority extend over those members of the assembly who did not sustain him because they are members of the assembly? Or does he only then have authority over those individuals who sustained him? In other words, is the authority over the assembly as a collective or over the individuals in the assembly who sustain him?

    Also, you say that the President of the Church holds his office “because he has been sustained” and that the sustaining is what “gives authority.” Are you saying that the authority is actually bestowed by the act of sustaining?

    Thanks in advance for your clarifications.

  29. Sorry, I now see that in my last question I misread JI. He/she? is saying that the office of president gives the authority, but that the individual only holds that office because he is sustained by the assembly. Is that right JI?

  30. First, I disagree with your use of the word “magisterium” to refer to the brethren. For one thing, the word refers to an abstraction, rather than to a group or an individual. And although I could accept such usage to refer to a group via metonymy, the term is so closely associated with the Catholic Church that it seems like a vastly unsuitable word for use with the LDS Church – i.e., if I were to call the Church Office Building or the Salt Lake Temple “the Church’s White House”.

    Second, as to the questions: 1) Yes, if I take your words at their plainest and most obvious meaning, the brethren have clearly and consistently taught that the LDS priesthood is divine. In my opinion, they have not so clearly taught that other priesthoods are not divine, but is implied not only by the emphasis placed on the divine origin of our priesthood, but by the fact that we do not accept baptisms performed by any other authority. 2) Yes, the brethren have clearly taught that the prophet is the prophet to the whole world. Others may not accept him as such, and having made no covenant, they may not be under any divine obligation to accept him as such, but his calling still includes responsibilities and duties toward them that no other holder of any priesthood can validly claim to have.

    Third, to Meg: I think your restatement in your earlier comment does capture the essence of what the brethren teach on this matter. But in your later comment, I think you are reading offense where none is intended, and it seems to me you are answering as to what you personally believe rather than what you think the brethren have taught. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it seems to me you are “looking beyond the mark” of what the question intended by reading too much into the word “man-made”. Indeed, considering your earlier comments regarding salvific ordinances, I suspect we largely agree on most of this, and the disagreement arises from the distinction between a “divine” priesthood and a “man-made” priesthood. (Of course, I may simply be perceiving your answer incorrectly; see Bruce’s clarification 1.)

    (Some of what I say from here on will be my own understandings rather than strictly what the brethren have taught, so take it with a grain of salt.)

    If a priesthood holder has sinned and not repented, he may not be able to give a proper blessing (because he is not in tune with the Spirit), but the Church will still accept ordinances performed by him until such time as his bishop or branch president (or some other authority with the proper stewardship) informs him that he may no longer perform them. The fact that an unrighteous holder of the LDS priesthood may perform a valid baptism, but a righteous holder of some other priesthood may not, indicates a clear difference between having divine authority but failing to live up to its standards, and having a non-divine authority.

    Or to put it another way, the loss of priesthood authority in the early Church occurred not because the leaders of the Church stopped being worthy of the priesthood, but because the apostles died without ordaining new apostles to replace them. (Either because the remaining apostles could find no one worthy, or because they were unable for whatever reason to get together and choose successors.) Once the general leaders (apostles and seventies) were gone, no local leaders could be ordained or set apart. Since priesthood ordinations are done under the authority of higher leaders (i.e., bishop or stake president), once those local leaders were gone, no valid priesthood ordinations could be performed. Thus, the true, divine priesthood could not be passed on, and any presumed priesthood remaining is a non-divine substitute.

    To go back to your “bent key”: an unworthy priesthood holder who has not been instructed to stop performing ordinances may have a bent key, but it still works. A priesthood holder who has been instructed to stop performing ordinances has a key so bent it will no longer work. An excommunicated priesthood holder has had his key taken away. A non-priesthood holder may have something that looks like the key, or he may have a jimmy, or he may have a key to a completely different vehicle, but he never had the proper key to begin with.

    All of this is not to say that other religious authorities are not divinely mandated in some sense; as has been pointed out, the brethren have taught that past religious leaders were divinely inspired. My point is that, whether any given leader was inspired or not, no such leader (as far as the brethren have ever taught) was ever authorized to perform priesthood ordinations, so any priesthood he or she established was necessarily *not* the divine priesthood.

    If we’re talking about spiritual power, then yes, holders of other priesthoods may have it and holders of the LDS priesthood may not, on an individual basis. But if we’re talking about the keys of the priesthood, only the LDS Church has those, and in that sense, only the LDS priesthood is truly divine; all other priesthoods are man-made substitutes. And I think this point has been clearly and consistently taught by the brethren, although they may not have used the terms “divine” and “man-made”.

  31. Okay, I posed to my friend both sets of questions. My original and JSH revision. It turns out mine is still better. Apparently even JSH’s aren’t as clear as needed. Particularly the lack of a second Yes/No question makes it easy to give highly ambiguous answers that ruin what I’m trying to find out. However, honestly, to me the questions mean the same thing.

  32. 1. Yes
    2. Yes

    I thought this was commonly understood/taught. In fact, it applies to every priesthood leader, not just the prophet (e.g., the Bishop is the Bishop of non-members, as well as members.)

  33. Sometimes I do work with computer systems that require validation. So the idea of keys and altered/corrupted keys may mean something more specific to me than it means to others.

    If JSH’s question included “bound” rather than “bond” I would agree.

    I think your friend is imputing meaning to the stark manner of the original question statement that I would like to know before answering without “over think”ing.

  34. In a regional priesthood meeting many years ago, shortly after Gordon B. Hinckley became President of the Church, he spoke at length on his understanding of his office. He thought that Latter-day Saints at all levels much overused the prophet label in referring to him, and he wished to see emphasis on and references to prophet reduced. He said his authority to lead and direct the affairs of the Church comes from his President of the Church role, and he wished people would rely on that label instead. He said he might receive inspiration in his prophet role, but he can only effect it in the Church in his President role. He was far away from Salt Lake City, and he was speaking without notes. I don’t know if he ever shared those thoughts with others of the Brethren, and I noted afterwards that his counselors were among the worst offenders in honoring him with the Prophet label. He taught that without sustaining, he has no authority to act as President — he could still be a prophet even if no one sustains him (anyone with a testimony of Jesus is a prophet) so he could still teach and encourage and warn and invite and so forth, but he couldn’t direct the affairs of the Church or the men of the priesthood without sustaining as President of the Church.

    J. Max,
    He holds authority over the assembly that sustains him. An individual member is part of the assembly.

    I witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds the true priesthood of God, with power to bind on earth and in heaven, and salvific ordinances, and I support others who also so testify. I see no necessity in analyzing and judging other faith communities. I do not find it necessary to support my claim that we are right by insisting that they are wrong. Let them worship how, where, or what they may. I want to look charitably on my non-member neighbors. So I won’t answer JSH’s first question. As a church, I think we would be better served by more witnessing, more rejoicing, more inviting, and so forth, rather than trying to prove anything.

  35. Meg, I meant to type “bound” not “bond” – my fingers obviously did not cooperate (they do that to me frequently).


  36. Thanks, JI.

    Your anecdote about President Hinckley is interesting. I am assuming that you were present at this meeting and you are related it from memory. If not, I would be interested in your source.

    I am hesitant to give much weight to it because:

    1. it is extremely common for the words of general authorities to be misquoted and misconstrued. Elder McConkie said that often when he would speak at a session of a stake conference, the stake president would get up in the subsequent session and in an attempt to relate a little of what Elder McConkie had said in the other session, completely misconstrue his message. So second hand accounts of meetings that were not meant for the whole church simply shouldn’t carry as much weight in what we consider the teachings of the church.

    2. Even if the account is completely accurate as you have stated it, the teachings of the church are found in the aggregate teachings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. A singular or idiosyncratic statement by one or two of the brethren simply does not carry as much weight as the repeated teachings by many modern apostles and presidents over time.

    3. Even if accurate, the statement must be evaluated in the context of all of President Hinckley’s teachings on the same subject, and not in isolation.

    4. Based purely on your retelling, most of what you relate is simply a clarification that the authority rests specifically in the office of the President of the High Priesthood after the Order of Melchizedek and not in the role of Prophet. To me that makes perfect sense without contradicting the notion that his authority extends to even those who are not members.

    The idea that without sustaining he would have no authority seems like it would need more context and explanation before we draw any wide ranging conclusions from it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I can see the logical consistency in your interpretation. But I still disagree.

    I still hope you will clarify whether you believe that this interpretation is actually what church authorities have taught, or if it is what you believe is correct even if it is not what they have taught. (This example from President Hinckley is a potential data point, but alone it does not seem to answer that question. )

  37. #1 Yes.
    #2 Yes.
    #1, I would prefer the words. “man-made, or wordly corruptions of what was once divine” to replace man-made. It is clear that many Christian, Jewish and other religious bodies are corruptions of what was once a divinely inspired order of God.

  38. Yes and Yes, although I find the wording “magisterium” and “in a sense” out of place with common church vernacular. From a social science point of view, however, I will consent.

    To ji’s point: For me, a prophet is a prophet with authority over every man and woman on the earth. Did Joseph Smith need our sustaining vote to translate the plates, or to receive priesthood keys? Of course not, but these actions bless the entire world. Recall Parley P. Pratt’s oft-repeated narrative of Joseph silencing the blasphemous guards at a Missouri prison. He clearly wielded authority and they, non-members, obeyed until a changing of the guard. Going a little bit further, did Jesus have authority only over the House of Israel or only those who believed in Him? Of course not. Everything He did and does–whether they be a blessing or a cursing–is for the benefit of the world. The objective was and is for us mortals to implement faith to believe in Him, but that does not diminish His authority if we choose not to. Similarly, our ministry and work is for others to believe both in Him and in His prophet.

    Merely sustaining the prophet does not grant him authority over us. He has it already. I think it’s safe to say in every conference since April 6, 1830, 99.9% of the membership has sustained the prophet. So it’s a given. The act of sustaining is a formality that is more us and not a act to soothe the egos of the leading church body. We do this at least five times a year–two General Conferences, two stake conferences, and ward conference–to affirm our discipleship and to remind us whose work this is.

    I’m not discounting ji’s memory of what Pres. Hinckley said. But it sounds to me like Hinckley was expressing his feelings that he felt more like a President of a worldwide church than a Prophet.

    And even if less than 99.9% or even 50%, of the membership fails to sustain him, he is still the President/Prophet of the church. Only the Lord can remove him or take away his authority.

  39. Jon and Ji,

    Stake presidents must be sustained by vote of the stake before being set apart, and their authority to act as such is limited to those in their stake. Any prospective Melchizedek priesthood holder must be sustained by the Melchizedek priesthood holders in the stake before being ordained, but their authority to act as such is not limited to that assembly, or to their stake, or even to members of the Church.

    (I should clarify here that certain ordinances fall under a particular stewardship, and require the approval of the holder of that stewardship, and a Melchizedek priesthood holder is not free to perform such ordinances at his own will. But he needs no outside approval to perform other ordinances, and he does not need to be sustained again if he moves to a new stake.)

    When a man is called to be a bishop, he is both ordained to the priesthood office of bishop and set apart in the ecclesiastical office of bishop. When he is released, he no longer holds the ecclesiastical calling, but he retains the priesthood office. If he is later called to serve as bishop a second time, he is not ordained again, but he is set apart again.

    Similarly, emeritus seventies and released members of the second through eighth quorums of the seventy no longer have the ecclesiastical calling of seventy, but retain the priesthood office. (For that matter, local seventies called before 1986 retain the priesthood office of seventy, although they now meet with their local high priests group.)

    “The Prophet” is really two separate roles. One is President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in that role, his authority is indeed limited to the Church, and if the Church did not sustain him, he would no longer have that calling. (Although given the whole Samuel/Saul thing, I would hate to see what the Lord would provide instead if we rejected his chosen leader.) The other role is senior apostle / presiding high priest / big-P Prophet / whatever you want to call it, and in that role his authority is not limited to members of the Church, and indeed, failure to sustain him would not cause the loss of that authority.

    (Clarification: the speculations about what failure to sustain would mean are strictly that – my own speculations.)

  40. Sean, you do a good job of explaining why I used the word “prophet” in the second question where I did in the word order rather than “president.” It’s specifically to remove a certain type of possible misunderstanding or ambiguity.

  41. Yes, and yes.

    Recently the brethren have discussed priesthood authority and priesthood power separately and our understanding is increasing. Anything not built with authority from God is built on sand and has no power out of this world, i.e., has no binding effect in the next world (Others like to say salvific). But that is not to say it is of none effect in this one IF it points people to Christ (and a Christ-like life) and ultimately to the ordinances available only in the one church of Christ, (and for those whether in this world or the world to come). See Luke 9:49-50

    The Prophet stands at the head of Christ’s church in the world, in the place of Christ, till Christ comes to stand for himself. And we don’t bandy about perfection in the prophets because all are made perfect in Christ–through priesthood power (because there is no other, paraphrasing Elder Oaks).

    This train of thought has led me to consider my understanding of apostles being judges in Israel, rather than judges of the whole world. So, thank you. But if the world is not judged by the apostles then who? Christ himself? And rejecting Christ then what, the powers that be in the universe which clamor only for justice? D&C 19:17-18. I think I would rather be judged by the apostles and Christ.

  42. Oh, the judges of Israel discussion is in 1 Nephi 12:9-10. Took my a while to remember

  43. Sean,

    Good points. I’m not certain that the distinction between the “President of the High Priesthood” and the “President of the Church” is as strong as you suggest. You may be right. D&C 107:9 speaks of the Presidency of the High Priesthood. D&C 107:22 talks about 3 presiding high priests who form the Presidency of the Church. However, D&C 107:91-92 seems to indicate the “President of the High Priesthood” and “President of the Church” are synonymous– that the Presiding High Priest IS the President of the Church.

    In either case, I’m not convinced that the requirement that the President be sustained by the church necessarily implies that he does not have any authority outside of the church.

  44. JL, I was only asking about JSH’s wording in case it was better. Sounds like it was actually worse. I went with my wording anyhow.

  45. Yes-Indeed the primary differentiator (Revelation not so much since JS)
    Yes-The Church president is a prophet with a message for the whole world. (carried on from JS)

  46. J. Max,

    In light of your comment in response to mine about a meeting I attended with President Hinckley, should I withdraw my comment? Did I tell a lie?

    It is not necessary for you to prove that I am wrong in order to justify your own position. You can hold your opinion without trashing mine. This is another manifestation of the trap I spoke of which is so common among Latter-day Saints — we seem to feel we have to prove that everyone else is wrong in order for us to be right. But I don’t think it has to be that way.

  47. I apologize, ji. I did not mean to imply that you were lying and I was not trying to get you to withdraw your comment. I appreciate you sharing your recollection. If it came across as insinuating that you were purposefully misconstruing what had been said, then I am very sorry. That is not what I meant at all.

    However, I think most people here can make the distinction between trashing and challenging. At worst I was suggesting that you may have misinterpreted what President Hinckley meant, and that even if you haven’t, church teachings are not based in singular instances but an aggregation of repeated teachings. That seems like a fair point in trying to determine what the church’s teaching actually is.

    I think we can disagree, even strongly, and challenge each other’s claims, without impugning each other’s intentions.

  48. 1. No

    The magisterium as you will has the keys to the celestial kingdom. Many others have teaching guiding and moral authority even keys to the lower kingdoms.

  49. I encourage everyone to click the link to visit Agellius’ blog. In addition to him being a true good-guy, his blog’s masthead, both the text and the graphic, has got to be the best I’ve ever seen for a religious blog, and maybe for any blog.

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