For today’s post-LDS gospel dispensation, the servant of the Lord instructed: “How does the authority to baptize come? Because John the Baptist laid his hand on Joseph and Oliver, we have continued the practice to lay hands to confer Aaronic Priesthood. We should continue to respect that tradition. No one should baptize until they have had Aaronic priesthood conferred on them by someone who can trace their authority back to John the Baptist, through Joseph and Oliver.” (Denver Snuffer, “Preserving the Restoration,” p. 508).

The LDS Church doesn’t keep a record of Aaronic Priesthood lines of authority; nor does it keep a record of the date of the conferral of a particular priesthood, only the record of significant ordinations to office, which are subsequently traced as their version of a line of authority (see https://www.lds.org/help/support/request-a-priesthood-line-of-authority?lang=eng). An ordination to an office often occurs on the same day and at the same time as the conferral of priesthood. As the LDS typically ordain men first to the office of “elder” when conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, the line of authority for an elder will be the one closest to their priesthood conferral date, as opposed to an ordaining as a seventy, high priest, apostle, or patriarch. If you have record of a pre-April 2014 LDS priesthood conferral for Aaronic Priesthood and want to use that for your entry in the line, then that would seem sufficient. You will likely have trouble obtaining the dates for all of your prior line members for the same, however, because of what was mentioned above about the lack of records for Aaronic Priesthood lines.

However, in beautiful parallelism and in somewhat of a chiasmus, the LDS temple ceremony used to call the Aaronic Priesthood the “lower level of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” at the same time as calling their Melchizedek Priesthood the “higher level of the Aaronic Priesthood” (see Anderson, Devery Scott, “Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History,” p. xxxiii). This is, of course, in a different context than Denver Snuffer’s descriptions of priesthood categories in chapter 5 of “Preserving the Restoration” titled “Priesthood,” but it is fitting for the context of this post. Therefore, the date when one obtained what the LDS call “Melchizedek Priesthood,” (again, provided this is before April 2014 general conference), could be considered the culmination of their receipt of the Aaronic Priesthood (and, of course, only in terms of it being an authoritative invitation to obtain power from God to perform service in his name). The notes in our post here describe how to confer the priesthood with authority subsequent to the LDS Church’s apostasy, and won’t be repeated here.

But, as far as passing on a line of authority goes, if someone in the line was ordained legitimately in the LDS Church, one could reckon their date from their latest office ordination (as the LDS Church does), or choose the date for their ordination as an elder to tie it closer to the latest conferral of priesthood, or choose the date of the Aaronic Priesthood office, if that is all that is available (or, if that is what is considered preferable). Then, at Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s level in the line, tie the line to the conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood through John the Baptist, or to the date at which the voice of God conferred on them the Melchizedek Priesthood in the chamber of old Father Whitmer in June 1829 (see D&C 128:20-21 and History, 1838-1856, volume A-1 [23 Dec 1805 – 30 Aug 1834], pp. 26-29), or mention both.

Such a line would look something like this:

 

LINE OF AUTHORITY

BRIAN ZANG received the Melchizedek Priesthood and was ordained an elder February 22, 1998.

[Full name] was ordained an elder …1977.

[Full name] was ordained an elder …1967.

[Full name] was ordained a high priest …1952.

LE GRAND RICHARDS was ordained an apostle April 10, 1952.

DAVID O. McKAY was ordained an apostle April 9, 1906.

JOSEPH F. SMITH was ordained an apostle July 1, 1866.

BRIGHAM YOUNG was ordained an apostle February 14, 1835.

THE THREE WITNESSES, OLIVER COWDERY, DAVID WHITMER, and MARTIN HARRIS were called by revelation to choose the twelve apostles February 14, 1835 (D&C 18http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minute-book-1/153).

JOSEPH SMITH, JR. and OLIVER COWDERY received the Aaronic Priesthood on the banks of the Susquehanna River on May 15, 1829 from John the Baptist (JS-History 1:68-72).

JOHN THE BAPTIST (D&C 84:27-28).

or

JOSEPH SMITH, JR. and OLIVER COWDERY received the Melchizedek Priesthood in the chamber of Old Father Whitmer and were ordained apostles by the voice of God in June, 1829 (JST, Genesis 14:25-29History, 1838-1856, volume A-1 [23 Dec 1805 – 30 Aug 1834], pp. 26-29; D&C 18D&C 128:20-21).

GOD THE FATHER.

 

You can also include places if you want, and each line above has unique elements that can be adjusted for each member of the line given the information you have (such as conferred priesthood, or ordained office, or date and place, who each person was ordained by as opposed to just listing the officiator on the next line, etc.). In the above example, it is not known which of the Three Witnesses were voice in ordaining Brigham Young, although it appears all three had a hand in ordaining him. If your priesthood line goes through another apostle, the reference above may include more details for them. At this point, there is no uniformity in describing priesthood lines of authority besides what the LDS Church has inherited through their traditions, so all lines will of necessity reflect that tradition to some extent, seeing that they maintained an authoritative commission for a period of time. Given the new dispensations’ emphasis on a few principles, such as the durability of the Aaronic Priesthood, the different categorization of Melchizedek Priesthood to align more closely with the scriptural teachings about its receipt by the voice of God alone (see JST, Genesis 14:25-29), and new ordinations being conferrals to the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God (with God deciding which degree of priesthood power is conferred in each case), the preceding recommendations have been made as suggestions for language that hopefully begins to move towards a new standard. This is a minor procedural matter and could be rightly taken up as a short topic of discussion for common consent in a future general conference of the fellowships, if diversity in opinion ever becomes problematic. Hopefully, though, the principles involved here will be self-evident and the lines of authority produced and passed on in current ordinations sufficient to defend our claims to priesthood conferral. If there is any room for doubt about your full line of authority back to John the Baptist or God Himself, you can always get re-ordained in the fellowships and receive a new line from the authorized administrator.

During my LDS mission, a line of reasoning was advanced from an experience of Orson F. Whitney that was quoted in LeGrand Richard’s book, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,”

“Many years ago a learned man, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, came to Utah and spoke from the stand of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. I became well-acquainted with him, and we conversed freely and frankly. A great scholar, with perhaps a dozen languages at his tongue’s end, he seemed to know all about theology, law, literature, science and philosophy. One day he said to me: ‘You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between Catholicism and Mormonism. If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg to stand on. For, if we are wrong, they are wrong with us, since they were a part of us and went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. If we have the apostolic succession from St. Peter, as we claim, there is no need of Joseph Smith and Mormonism; but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was necessary, and Mormonism’s attitude is the only consistent one. It is either the perpetuation of the gospel from ancient times, or the restoration of the gospel in latter days.’” (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder [Deseret Book Co., 1950], pp. 3–4.)

This line of reasoning tries to prove a valid point about the need for a gospel restoration with a false premise. The so-called learned Catholic here assumes that their church has the authority to remove priesthood when they excommunicate someone. The LDS Church assumes the same power. However, God has not given such power, only the right of churches to remove individuals from offices particular to their organization. Even if their church had a hand in conferring priesthood on an individual, the relationship that is established thereafter is between the individual and God alone. If a church deems it necessary to cut off a priest, for instance, then that priest may lose membership in that church, as well as the right to serve as a priest in their congregations, but their priesthood continues. If the church cut them off for good reason, meaning the priest was wicked, then the only thing that would follow them as a result of the church’s decision would be “the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption” (D&C 104:9), which, when duly considered, includes the rightful shame they would have acquired from being out of favor with their fellow man (which is likely what Satan will mock them about). If, however, the church cut them off unjustly, then they would be merely suffering persecution, and their priesthood would continue even if they were unrighteously denied membership and/or priestly status. The only way priesthood is lost is as explained in D&C 121:36-44: that is, according to principles of righteousness, as an individual departs therefrom, and God alone judges it to be so, which maintains a proper balance of power, or else mankind could use priesthood removal to threaten the righteous into submission.

Therefore, the above story is a compelling set of logical arguments, but wrong in its assumptions of jurisdiction and authority. There is a third option to the learned man’s propositions: if the Protestants in question lived during a time when the Roman Catholic Church had a commission from God to confer authority (if it ever did), then the Roman Catholic Church could’ve cut off righteous Protestants, and their right to claim the priesthood would’ve continued outside of the Catholic Church, because a false excommunication would not be recognized by God against a righteous priesthood holder. The only thing God would honor is the Catholic Church’s wishes that those priesthood holders no longer minister in their church, and they would likely be called to minister elsewhere where they were accepted.

 

Members for years have sustained General Authorities without question. It makes you wonder sometimes if the alternative is too scary to consider: living during an apostasy. We have all heard the horror stories of the Catholic Church and the Inquisition, and as Americans, our blood boils when we think of the American Revolution and what might have been were we not successful in casting off the shackles of kingdoms and their oppressors, but when it comes to the LDS Church, ironically we are often like lemmings walking off of the cliff as we follow the leader.

Is it possible to live to God if there is no formal Church institution that God recognizes as His own? That is the very question righteous souls would’ve faced during what the LDS have called “The Great Apostasy”, defined roughly as some period after the death of Christ’s apostles all the way until Joseph Smith was called on the scene to restore the Gospel. “The Great Apostasy” is a theme that is central to the concept of the Restoration, since there would be nothing to restore had there not first been an apostasy from the truth. We are very keen to not want something like that to reoccur.

However, in our fervor to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again, have we added teachings to the Gospel that actually come from evil (3 Nephi 11:40)? Have we assured ourselves that such a terrible event is impossible this time around; especially since we are now so painfully aware of the great one that we think we’ve fully recovered from? In our franticness, have we resurrected the very beast we have feared (Rev. 13:3)?

As painful as it might seem, the natural man always has been and always will be an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19), and his addictions resurface time and again. We are not immune from the problems of the past.

So, assuming that an apostasy is possible again, and hypothetically accepting the idea that one has happened again (and that it’s the Church that is doing the apostatizing this time, and not individuals, just like in the Great Apostasy), how does one live in such circumstances? How does one cope with realizing that all chapels, temples, programs, leaders, and efforts, on the large scale are vain and slated for being discarded by the Lord, if not already rejected by Him? (In contrast, the “small scale” would be defined as limited usefulness to programs where virtue is still to be found…some of the Reformers actually remained Catholic, for instance). What about all of that effort building those pyramids today, if they are destined to be ancient artifacts tomorrow? How does one get married for time and eternity, and not just until death do you part, if there is no sealing commission in the LDS Church anymore? How does one receive or perform any authoritative ordinances? How does one worship God? Some of these posts have or will tackle these issues, but in general, what do you do?

What has John the Beloved, who has tarried since Christ’s time, done all these years (see D&C 7)? Especially when there were no congregations for him to attend?

The Lord gave the answer to John when he said his mission would be sweet to his taste (free from the pains and sicknesses of this life), but bitter in his belly (sorrow for the sins of the world; anciently the belly was considered the area from which compassion sprung, because we all can relate to the pangs of hunger) (Rev. 10:9-10). In this description lies the key and answer: it is to mourn for the sins of the world. That is all we can do sometimes. Let it break your heart, and don’t harden your heart (Alma 12:10-13). Cry a little, unto the Lord (Ether 1:37). (Maybe they should make that into a t-shirt at Deseret Book).

In all candor, we hope you will see a pattern throughout these posts, that all of these answers are found within the scriptures. And, not just in catch-phrases from them, but in the real context to be found from diligent labor and searching. We can’t provide all of the answers, and don’t intend to try, but we intend to at least point to the Lord’s words and call attention to some important questions and the fact that there are answers and there is hope.