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The authority I give to prophets

Now that may seem like a strange title of an essay. What authority could I possibly give to a prophet? We believe and teach in our church that prophets get their authority from God. In fact, the whole concept of authority to speak in the name of the Lord is a big deal in the LDS Church. I mean, if our claim to authority is bogus, as some say it is, then the Mormon Church is a fraud.

I have written previously about our claim of authority to act in the name of God. We teach that Joseph Smith received multiple visits in his day from resurrected beings who ordained him and gave him priesthood authority. That’s an amazing claim in itself that has been contested since the day he made it but that’s not the type of authority I would like to address in this short essay.

We all have the type of authority I would like to discuss. It is not gender specific. Both men and women and even children possess this authority. We are born with it and we will take it with us into the next life. It is a great gift and one that I cherish dearly. I have used it for both good and bad throughout my life. So why would I agree to give it willingly to someone I have never met?

My authority is my agency

The more I learn about this church, the more and more impressed I have become with this gift of authority that is mine. If there is anything that I know more than anything else, it is that I can choose to believe whatever I want. Nobody can take that away from me. I don’t think anybody can form an argument that could convince me that I do not possess this ability. It is a part of me.

This authority to choose my own beliefs is something about which I feel very passionate. When I was younger I would do all kinds of stupid things in an effort to assert my authority and prove to others, mostly my parents, that this power was mine and mine alone. It is an amazing power. It can bring me great happiness or it can bring me great sorrow and it is all based on my beliefs.

In other words, I can choose to believe what I want to believe about what brings me happiness. I do not need some philosophical explanation to define happiness. I know when I feel happy and I think I am getting pretty good after all these years of identifying which beliefs and actions are the cause and effect of my happiness. My power of choice is the authority I have over myself.

Giving my authority to another

Whenever I choose to believe something that someone else tells me, I give away a part of my authority or control over myself. That’s especially true if I can’t prove what they have told me. That may seem like a crazy thing to do. I guess it all has to do with the reliability of the source. We all do it. There are things we believe that we haven’t been able to prove and never will.

For example, in relation to my membership in the LDS Church, I believe things about our history for which I will never be able to obtain or provide empirical evidence. I was not there when Joseph received the visit from the Father and the Son, nor was I there when he received the visit from the angel Moroni. There were no witnesses to these events. Yet, I choose to believe them.

I have given away a part of me – my intrinsic authority or agency – when I accept what I have been taught about these historical events while growing up. I believed what I was told because I trusted the source – my parents, my Primary teacher, my Sunday school teacher, my priesthood advisor, my Seminary and Institute teachers and just about anyone who taught me the gospel.

The transfer of that authority

When I became an adult, I had to decide if I still intended to give my authority to others who represented the source of that knowledge. In particular, I had to decide if I would transfer that authority from teachers and parents, many of whom were now dead, to leaders of this church. I felt comfortable about that transfer of authority and have now placed it in apostles and prophets.

Most of the men who were the leaders of this church when I became an adult are now dead. So of course, that authority simply slid down the line with each new prophet until today, I place my trust in President Thomas S. Monson and in the other fourteen men who lead this church. I am no different from millions of others who have had to go through this same logical process.

Last night I sat in my stake center with hundreds of my fellow brethren of the church and watched the broadcast of the priesthood session of General Conference. I listened very closely as each of these priesthood leaders spoke and weighed very carefully in my mind if what I was hearing was inspired of God and worthy of acceptance. As always, I was not disappointed. I was impressed.

The current repository of my trust

Of course, all men are fallible and so are prophets. Individually, some of the early apostles left the church and some even fought against it, denying many things that they had previously taught as facts, or truth, to be falsehoods and lies. Hmmm…that presents a bit of a dilemma. Now who do I believe – those who remained or those who left and claimed the original leaders were liars?

Fortunately, that hasn’t happened in my day so I haven’t had to make this choice among living apostles and prophets. But what if it did – what would I do then? One of the teachings of our church is that the authority for doctrine is comprised in two quorums – the quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I don’t have to rely on just one leader.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed a prophet of the church fail in mental health until he was simply incapacitated and could not act as the living mouthpiece or oracle of the Lord. That’s OK. I have written about this previously and explained there why I had no problem with this. I am convinced that this church can survive even when the prophet has Alzheimer’s. That’s amazing!

The ultimate placement of my faith

A prophet wouldn’t be a prophet to me unless he leads me to Christ. I look to these men to teach me about the Savior and how I can draw closer to Him. We have a saying in our church that we repeat often - follow the Brethren. We teach our children to sing the song – follow the Prophet. We do this because we have a tradition of confidence that these men will lead us unto Christ.

So ultimately, I give my authority and my agency to the Savior Jesus Christ as these men teach me to do. I like that. Of course, I haven’t seen the Savior or been personally visited or taught by Him. Although I believe it is possible if it were necessary, I don’t believe that I need to have to receive such a visit to exercise faith in Him. In fact, it wouldn’t be faith if I had such a visit.

That’s why I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I think I would be lost without this special gift that teaches me truth and leads me to God. Now this is something with which I have personal experience and personal knowledge. It is not empirical and never will be. That’s OK. It is very real to me and makes perfect sense. I know things in my heart that I can never prove.

Summary and conclusion

We all have a kind of personal power and authority that can only be used by giving it away to someone else. We call it agency. In particular, we have the right, power and ability to choose to believe what we want. It is very important that we find trustworthy sources to whom we can look to teach us about God and Christ. God must be revealed to someone or remain unknown.

Since I haven’t seen God, I must rely on those who claim to have seen Him to teach me about Him. Of course, it is critical to my salvation to be certain that my sources are authorized to speak on behalf of God. We call these men prophets and I have been listening to them all weekend. God knows that this is a leap of faith to trust a prophet so he has given us a way to be certain.

There is one wonderful piece of empirical evidence that God gave the prophet who brought forth the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That evidence is the Book of Mormon. To me, the whole process and procedure of knowing for myself is so logical. I am confident that I have given my authority to a trustworthy source and am grateful for the power this knowledge brings.


S.Faux said…

You are a "thinking" Mormon. When we submit to other's authority, we must do so willingly and with a strong sense of responsibility for the decision we have made. It is the difference between true obedience and blind obedience.

Thanks for some great thoughts.
Stephen said…
Interesting perspective.

I really enjoyed the priesthood session as well, so we share that.

I'm thinking of watching more of conference at church rather than at home on TV.
Papa D said…
This was a wonderfully thoughtful post, Tim. I wish all discussions of authority and the Priesthood were this deeply considered.

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