Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wife Rule #132: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Eight: Prophets, Priesthood, and Dispensations

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone...
--Ephesians 2:19-20

Since the initial placement of man in this world, our Heavenly Father has provided means to give His children here as much truth as "he seeth fit that they should have" (see Alma 29:8). These truths encompass all religious, secular, scientific, artistic, and other types of knowledge. While learning any of these truths enhances our ability to exercise agency and grow, the most important truth of all is the living reality of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, the only One with grace sufficient to enable us to fulfill God's plan of happiness.

As the prophet Nephi said, "we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins" (2 Nephi 25:26). So important is this knowledge that "all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began...[have] spoken more or less concerning these things" (Mosiah 13:33). To ensure that these prophetic teachings endure, they have been written down in the scriptures. In the Holy Bible we have a compilation of thousands of years of precious prophecies about Christ and stories of His people, showing the consequences of obeying or rejecting Him.

A vital part of our knowledge of the Savior--and ultimately what allows us to use our agency to either accept or reject Him--is an understanding of His divine laws. These laws have been carefully crafted for our progression and ultimate happiness. Joseph Smith taught that "[God] never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances" (History of the Church, 5:135).

Among the most important of God's laws for us to obey, and certainly among those that promote our greatest happiness, are the ordinances that God has appointed for our progression. Baptism is the gateway ordinance, initiating a new life as a follower of Christ. Celestial marriage is the crowning ordinance--the one that binds husband and wife together for eternity and makes it possible for God's children to fulfill His plan of happiness for them.

But just knowing about the ordinances isn't enough; God's children must receive them. In order to provide these ordinances, divine authority, or priesthood, is necessary. Divine ordinances have always been administered under one holding the keys of this priesthood authority.

As we saw with Adam and Eve, knowledge of the Savior, knowledge of divine law, and priesthood authority were all available on the earth in the beginning. Their marriage ordinance was performed and their first commandments were given by God himself. Even after they partook of the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the Garden of Eden and shut out from God's presence, God's authority and revelation of truth continued:

4 And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
(Moses 5:4-9)

This passage illustrates the pattern that God has used throughout the history of the world for dispensing divine truth: He communicates to chosen prophets through angels, through the power of the Holy Ghost, and occasionally, directly in person. God bestows upon His prophets divine priesthood authority, often through angelic ministration. Then the prophets are charged with disseminating truth and administering the sacred ordinances of the priesthood to the rest of us. Through this pattern, God reveals His Son, His laws, and His plan regarding the whole human family, as illustrated in the next verses:

10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
(Moses 5:10-12)

Adam, as the first prophet in this world, taught the truths he learned to his posterity and held the keys of priesthood authority, being authorized to stand in the place of God in performing ordinances (see Moses 6:53-66), including celestial marriage. Thus even in a fallen state, every child of God was given the same opportunities for growth and progression that Adam and Eve had--nothing was withheld from those who would listen to and obey God's representative on earth, the prophet.

Unfortunately, the separation from God and the veil of forgetfulness that are such a vital part of our growth here on earth also mean that many of us will reject the prophets and their teachings and authority. The faith required to accept a living, breathing, imperfect prophet--and especially one that we know well, as Adam's children knew him so well--is simply more than some of us want to swallow. And there is also that ever-present opposing voice to the prophet's:

13 And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.
(Moses 5:13)

So it is that the epic struggle continues, with God's children choosing between the truth--as taught by prophets and confirmed by the Holy Ghost--and the false teachings of the devil. At times when the majority of us listen to the prophets, we enjoy tremendous blessings, including relative peace on the earth, and we progress rapidly towards becoming what God intends us to be. At times when most of us reject the prophets, confusion, contention, and wars erupt, and eternal progression is stymied.

And from time to time, the teachings of the prophets have become so unpopular and rejection of the prophets so widespread that they have been murdered or taken from the earth, and mankind has been left without divine authority or revelation of truth for a time. During these times of rebellion and spiritual drought, mankind has rapidly moved away from God's truths and ordinances. As Isaiah described such times, "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 24:5).

But killing a prophet does not destroy the Lord who sent him, and rejecting the truth does not change God's word. Even during the dark times when the Lord's divine representatives were not on the earth, scriptures they left behind have served as a guiding light to prepare the faithful for their return, when priesthood authority, laws, and ordinances would be restored. And eventually, when the time was right according to the God's wisdom, each period of darkness and apostasy has ended with the sending of new prophets to the earth. Each new revelation of truth and restoration of priesthood authority is called a dispensation, and a special prophet stands at the head of each major dispensation. Among them are Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ himself, the greatest Prophet to ever grace the earth.

Each prophet who begins a new dispensation of truth and authority faces a common challenge: convincing a fallen and corrupt world to listen to his message. Each faces the hurdle of overcoming generations of incorrect teachings and traditions, of refuting those who have set themselves up in illegitimate positions of religious authority during the absence of true divine representatives, and must deal with whatever political circumstances are present.

The Savior spent a good portion of His earthly ministry dealing with the problems posed by the various sects in Palestine. Each of them had claimed to have divine authority, but none of them carried the Savior's stamp of approval. Each of them had developed their own unique teachings, growing increasingly distant from the Lord's truth over time.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He called new prophets and apostles to assist Him, such as John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John, and organized His church anew, marking the beginning of another dispensation. Jesus and His authorized disciples taught the truth in purity and used divine priesthood authority to administer ordinances such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost. And even after Jesus was crucified, His church continued through the leadership of his divinely authorized disciples, Christ having conferred the "keys of the kingdom" (see Matthew 16:19), or the priesthood keys for leading the Church and administering ordinances, upon Peter. Paul explained the way that Jesus organized His church in order to provide for the perfecting of His saints, for the spreading of His gospel, and for avoiding doctrinal deception:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11-15)

This divine pattern of church organization, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (see Ephesians 2:20), was to continue until all of God's children were in the "unity of the faith." This of course will not happen until Christ comes to reign on earth again, and the earth is cleansed of the wicked and unbelieving. The need for prophets began with Adam and Eve and continues to this day.

After Jesus accomplished all He was sent here to do, in proclaiming the truth and conquering sin and death, He returned to heaven, leaving His church in the care of His apostolic prophets. But the church dealt with unrelenting persecution from the other Jewish sects of the time and constant political and cultural pressure from Rome. Many of His disciples were killed by those whose positions of authority they threatened. Many members of Christ's church buckled under the pressure, and others strayed from pure teachings into various mixtures of worldly philosophy and true doctrines. Eventually, with the loss of the last of the apostles who were authorized to perpetuate priesthood keys to succeeding generations, the church lost authority and prophetic revelation completely and drifted into apostasy. Thus began one of the longest "spiritual famines" in the world's history, as prophesied by Amos, Isaiah, Paul, and others.

But thankfully, this drift into apostasy was not the final end of God's authority or truth on the earth. It was not the last time mankind would receive the life-giving laws and ordinances of Christ's church, including baptism and eternal marriage. It did not mark the end of God's plan of salvation, the blessings of which include a life of joy and eternal life filled with divine love that is only available because of Christ--including the love which I have for you children and your mother.

Those same prophets who foretold this great apostasy also foretold the coming of a new gospel dispensation in the latter days. This great and final dispensation in the world's history would bring the restoration of the all the truths and priesthood keys and ordinances that have ever been available since the world began, ushering in a new age of hope. On that hope hinges the salvation of a ruined world, and the power that gives meaning to my love for your mother.

Part eight of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

No comments: