By Andrew C. Smith
In the last few years, there have been a number of reminders to the members of the Church that we must all strive to be worthy of the priesthood blessings that can and will come to us as true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, President Boyd K. Packer has spoken and written about the need for both the authority and power of the priesthood to have place in our lives. He has also made a vast distinction between them.
“We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be.”[i]
More recently, Elder David A. Bednar also spoke in the Priesthood Session of last General Conference(April, 2012) on the same issue. “One of the defining features of the Church of Jesus Christ, both anciently and today, is His authority. There can be no true Church without divine authority. Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood. Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.”[ii] He also clearly stated the difference between authority and power when it comes to the Priesthood: “The power of the priesthood is God’s power operating through men and boys like us and requires personal righteousness, faithfulness, obedience, and diligence. A boy or a man may receive priesthood authority by the laying on of hands but will have no priesthood power if he is disobedient, unworthy, or unwilling to serve.”[iii]
In relation to these statements then, it is our responsibility to study and act to strengthen ourselves in order not just to be worthy of the authority and responsibility of holding the priesthood, but also to maximize our obedience and faith in order to bear ever greater power of the priesthood to the fallen and troubled world in which we live, especially within our own families and homes.
How then do we go about doing this? What will it mean for us? Some distinct clues are contained in the Book of Mormon, a record of scripture intended for us, to teach us in our day how we can serve in the Lord’s Kingdom and bring to pass His works and goals.
The phrase “power and authority” appears eight times in the Book of Mormon (Words of Mormon 1:17, Mosiah 13:6, 18:26, Alma 17:3, Helaman 5:18, 6:5, 11:18, and 3 Nephi 7:17). What lessons, insights, and teachings can we glean from these instances? Here, we will take a detailed look at these instances to see what we can discern about preparation, action, and outcomes related to these ideas and their application in our lives.
Words of Mormon 1: 17
With the help of “holy prophets who were among the people” and “many holy men in the land [who spoke] the word of God with power and with authority” (vs 16-17), King Benjamin was able to establish peace in the land. This was the necessary action in his day to stop the spread of false prophets and teachers (vs 14-16) and to bring harmony socially and politically to his people. Likewise, in our homes and in our day, speaking and teaching with the power and the authority of God will be necessary to create areas and places of peace. But how do we gain this power?
Mosiah 13:1-9 describes Abinadi, one of the most bold and beloved prophets of the Book of Mormon, exerting powerful force over his listeners and captors, as “he spake with power and authority from God” (vs 6) during his trial by King Noah and his corrupt priests. What lessons are presented to us about power and authority?
First, the power and authority of the priesthood and of righteousness can grant unto us protection. In this case, physical protection: “after Abinadi had spoken these words that the people of king Noah durst not lay their hands on him, for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him” (vs 5).In our day we have been promised, if we stay true to our covenants and exercise our faith and priesthood, we will be granted, commensurate with the will of God, spiritual and physical protection from the onslaughts of Satan.
Second, this power and protection come to Abinadi while he is on the Lord’s errand:“I must fulfill the commandments wherewith God has commanded me.” (vs 4)He was completing the mission, or fulfilling the responsibility, that the Lord had given him. We cannot expect the power of the priesthood to reside with us if we are not actively pursuing the Lord’s will, no matter what the cost.
We must actively fulfill and magnify the callings and responsibilities he has given us (either explicit callings in the Church, or implicit callings as disciples of Christ, mothers, fathers, etc), keeping all of His commandments, and repenting when we fall short, despite whatever opposition the world will throw at us. We, like Abinadi, must be courageous and committed to the Truth, no matter the anger, disappointment, or condescension of those around or in power over us. In accomplishing this, it helps to retain and keep an eternal perspective- all else pales in comparison to the need for salvation, or in Abinadi’s words, “I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved.” (vs 9) Accepting and keeping covenants of consecration and sacrifice prepares us for greater power in the priesthood by helping us define our lives by our commitment to the Lord’s purposes, even and especially if we are required to live for the Gospel rather than to die for it.
In the context of Alma the Elder establishing the Church of God in the area of Mormon (Mosiah 18:18-26), Alma set some very strict guidelines for how the community was to live for the Gospel, and more specifically, how those who would lead must comport themselves “that they might teach with power and authority from God.” (vs 26). What were they required to do?
First, they had to be ordained, having conferred upon them the authority in the first place, from someone else with that authority, in this case Alma (vs 18). Gaining the authority of the priesthood necessarily precedes gaining its power. More generally, we may say that joining the Church by baptism and confirmation by someone with that authority may grant that the blessings of that authority will be present in our lives.