Saturday, November 22, 2008

Study of the LDS Church - 4.2 The Priesthood

A major part of the LDS faith depends on the belief that the original Christian church went into a total apostasy because the apostles, with the appropriate priesthood, died without leaving successors who were ordained within this priesthood. Understand that this is a vital part of the belief of the LDS church, as they feel that the restoration of the priesthood gives them the sole authority by which to do the work of God. This is not an issue to be skipped. Before looking further into this though, let me give you a bit of background info that both Christian and LDS members will agree to regarding the history of the priesthood.

The duties of the priesthood were first given to Aaron, Moses’ brother, as the Israelites left Egypt for the Promised Land. The sons of Aaron carried on this tradition and took their duties very seriously. When the 12 tribes of Israel were established officially, the tribe of Levi were appointed as the official priests of the nation of Israel carrying out all priestly and tabernacle (and later temple) duties for God’s people. The Aaronic priesthood and the Levitical priesthood are therefore used synonymously.

Melchizedek is a figure discussed in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:18) who was described as both a king and a high priest (a combination otherwise unheard of). In Hebrew 5:6, Jesus is described of the Order of Melchizedek, being both a king and a high priest…a position that no one else could hold due to the qualifications needed.

Okay…so now on to where the beliefs differ…

The LDS church teaches that Joseph Smith and his chief scribe Oliver Cowdery, while working on the translation of the Book of Mormon, went into the woods to pray. While there, they had an angelic encounter where a messenger from heaven (said to be John the Baptist) told them:
Unto you my fellow servants in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness. He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of the laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me." (Joseph Smith History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:69-70).
They then obeyed and ordained one another into the Aaronic priesthood. They were also told by John the Baptist that the higher Melchizedek priesthood would soon be conferred on Smith and Cowdery by Peter, James & John.

Late spring of 1829, Peter, James, and John then came down from heaven and restored the Melchizedek priesthood to Smith and the Lord told Smith “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-22).

So the LDS church maintains that since they are the only church to hold these priesthood ordinances, they are the One True Church, the only ones authorized to baptize, lay on hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and to administer the holy sacraments.

The LDS church teaches that Melchizedek was the highest of priests in the Old Testament and bestowed this eternal priesthood was conferred first upon Adam and later to Abraham by Melchizedek himself (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 474). This priesthood was taken from earth at the time of Moses due to Israel’s disobedience and the Aaronic priesthood then prevailed until the time of Christ.

The Latter-day Saints claim that because of Acts 3:20-21, which teachers, “He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” that the priesthood must be restored since “all things” must be restored.

Because of Hebrews 5:4 (And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron), the LDS church teaches that other churches have no authority by God to take on priesthoods, but that they, being the only church with apostles and a prophet, are the only ones with authority to do perform rituals, including baptisms.

So, let’s start the rebuttal with the beginning of the Mormon argument regarding the priesthood(s) to debate this issue. It seems that one must be baptized by one who has this authority. However, Joseph Smith (pre-baptism) baptized Oliver Cowdery. Since Smith was not previously baptized by someone with authority, this would mean that Cowdery was not properly baptized. He therefore had no authority by which to turn around and baptize Smith. However, this is how they claim that it all began.

Until the time of Jesus’ time on earth, the priesthood rites were practiced by the Levitical tribe of Israel. However, the priesthood of Aaron (or Levi) was no longer needed after His ministry on earth began, as seen in Hebrews 7:11-12 (If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.). Notice that there was a change in the priesthood…the Levitical was replaced with the priesthood of Jesus, who, according to Hebrews 7:24, has an unchangeable priesthood. Since Jesus is an eternal being, without death, his priesthood would not need to be passed along to anyone else…he IS then the eternal priest. You can see that the Levitical priesthood was no longer needed when the temple veil tore during the crucifixion, allowing man to have direct access to the Holy of Holies and eliminating the need for a human intercessor (see Matthew 27:51).

It is notable that Mormons actually cannot hold the Aaronic priesthood, as one of the key requirements is to be a descendant of Aaron (Numbers 3:6-12). And the priesthood of the Mormon church bears no resemblance to the priesthood of the Old Testament. In fact, since Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, even He could not hold the Aaronic priesthood (see also Hebrews 7:14). The consecration of a priest for service in the Old Testament is described in great detail in Leviticus 8 including washing, corporate prayer, slaying of a bullock, sprinkling of its blood, and burning of the sacrifice. They must also be separated from people for seven days. The LDS priesthood practices none of these rituals and therefore, bears no resemblance (and therefore no restoration) of the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood.

If an LDS missionary asks you where your pastor or you get the authority to work for the Lord, please point them to the following verses that indicate that all of those who put their faith in Jesus are called “priests” unto God:
Revelation 1:5-6: Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 2:5: Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

There is one additional problem with lineage as associated with the priesthood(s). In the Book of Abraham (Pearl of Great Price) there is evidence that all Egyptians were cursed and could therefore not hold the priesthood. Joseph Smith claims to be of the tribe of Ephraim and the people from the Book of Mormon were from Manasseh. The problem here lies in the fact that Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons of Joseph via an Egyptian wife. They were therefore disqualified from holding the priesthood via the LDS church’s own teachings. Some Mormons will claim that Joseph’s wife Asenath was not Egyptian, but of Hyksos lineage, who were a Semitic people. However, her name is an Egyptian name and her father’s name (Potiphera) is an Egyptian name.

So by the teaching of the LDS church itself, it is not possible that it was established by people who were qualified to hold these positions.


This gets pretty in depth to me and is a hard argument to make just because I have a tough time understanding the Melchizedek priesthood itself. Some scholars teach that Melchizedek was not the literal name of a particular priest/king, but was more of a prophecy or representation of the Messiah that was to come. Others feel that he was Jesus incarnate before the time of the Messiah. Still others believe he was a literal king and priest who held a position unlike any before, and the only predecessor to Jesus in this rite. I personally do not really know, so it is hard for me to argue about this one way or another.

However, I can argue the points that we as believers were given the holy priesthood as believers, as stated in both 1 Peter and Revelation, as seen above. I can also argue that neither Smith nor Cowdery had the authority to baptize one another and the people of the Book of Mormon also did not qualify for the Aaronic Priesthood. That being said, I'm not sure how members of the LDS faith who are not of Jewish origin claim to be able to hold the Aaronic priesthood either.

In addition to this, there was a change from the Levitical priesthood to the Melchizedek priesthood at the time of Christ, and there is no need to transfer it again since Jesus is everlasting.

I can also pose the following questions to my LDS friends:

  1. If neither Smith nor Cowdery previously had the authority to baptize one another, weren’t they improperly baptized? If the ministry came from two improperly baptized men, how can the priesthood be restored?

  2. Can you show me where in the Bible that anyone was conferred the priesthood of Melchizedek other than Jesus Christ? There is no indication that Adam or Abraham (or anyone else) received this ordination.

  3. Since “Melchizedek” means “righteous King/Priest of peace", we must conclude that anyone who holds it must be a righteous king/Priest of peace as Jesus was (see Hebrews 7). Do you think that you are a righteous King/Priest of peace? Are you “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens," as required by Hebrews 7:26 to hold the Melchizedek priesthood?

  4. Where in the New Testament do you see Peter, James & John holding the Melchizedek priesthood? John 15:16 tells us that Jesus “ordained,” (aka appointed) his disciples, but there is no mention that he laid His hands on them. All of the laying on of hands in the book of Acts are for service and not for priesthood.

  5. If John the Apostle was still living, having never gone to heaven, how did he appear in this vision with James and Peter?

  6. Can you please read Hebrews 7:23-24? Did you know that the Greek word for “unchangeable” literally means “without successors” and “untransferrable”? Does this support the idea that anyone in the LDS church could hold this position? Does it support the idea that anyone on earth could hold this position?

  7. Doesn’t Hebrews 7:11-12 note that the Aaronic priesthood was changed at the time of Christ? Wasn’t it superseded?

  8. Did you know that those of the Aaronic priesthood had to be physical descendants of Aaron? Since you are not of this lineage, how can you hold up to this standard set by God in Numbers 3:6-12?

  9. If the LDS church has restored the Aaronic priesthood, why do you not do any of the ceremonial washings, sacrifices, and separation from the people for 7 days during service as the Leviticus chapter 8 requirements demand? Does this sound like a restoration to you?

  10. Where you aware that the Book of Abraham notes that Egyptians were cursed and could not hold the priesthood (Abraham 1:21-22, 27)? Since Joseph Smith claimed to be of the line of Ephraim, who was half-Egyptian, was he not disqualified to hold this priesthood himself? If the people from the Book of Mormon are from the tribe of Manasseh (Alma 10:3), aren’t they too, as a half-Egyptian son of Joseph—also disqualified under this rule?

Study of the LDS Church - 4.3 Baptism of the Dead

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