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.
Second, they needed to teach and be committed to the truth: “And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets. Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.” (vs 19-20). In order to attain true power in teaching, the priests had to, and by extension we must, remain in line with the revelations of the prophets and the Gospel of Christ in those teachings. There shouldnot be any expanding into areas of unknowns outside of stewardships, no speculation, or propagation of faith promoting rumors. This does not seem to imply that they cannot ask questions or seek more revelation about hard issues. Rather, Alma’s rule of thumb is that they must adhere to teaching only the Gospel of Christ while in their official capacities. If they do this, and third, add unto it by not being puffed up in pride of their positions and/or resorting to priestcrafts for their support, but rather “labor with their own hands for their support,” (vs 24), then can they receive the grace of God, which imparts strength of spirit, and brings knowledge. All of which is seen here as a prerequisite for attaining power and authority from God. This model is similarly applicable to the modern Church. It is only when we rely upon the Grace of Christ fully, depending on the enabling power of His atonement, that we can gain the knowledge and experience requisite to stand as types of Him, correctly using his priesthood, endowed with his power, in the service of others.
Similarly, Alma placed other important prerequisites upon the community, necessary for all to adhere to, in order for the priesthood leadership to be blessed with power and authority. These include: being unified, without contentions, in faith and love (vs 21), observing the Sabbath day and being grateful to God every day (vs 23), to gather themselves together at least one day a week, perhaps more often, to teach, learn and worship (vs 25), and to care for each other temporally and spiritually as well (vs 27-29). Thus, we see that the power and authority of priesthood leadership is directly connected to communal righteousness and the love and support that we give to our leaders and our fellow saints and neighbors.
What is the outcome? This community established righteousness and saw itself delivered by the Lord out of the hands of King Noah and later Amulon. Likewise, we can see the deliverance of the Lord from our trials, burdens, and bondages, both as a people and as individuals, if we will follow the guidelines and prerequisites set for power and authority from God.
Connected to the previous verse (Mosiah 18:24) discussing individual knowledge and power, we see a similar case with the sons of Mosiah (Alma 17:2-4). They “had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God,” (vs 2) which led them to true power in the priesthood. Priesthood power can only truly come when one is immersed diligently and consistently in the words of the prophets of God, whether ancient or modern. True prayer and faithful use of fasting (vs 3) must accompany this, leading to having “the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (vs 3)
How do they apply this? Through strong missionary work. The power of the priesthood, accompanying its true authority, brings great results when applied to teaching and bringing souls to Christ, whether in teaching new converts, reactivation efforts, or inspiring those already on the path. It will solidify the faith and testimony for all of us. Just as with the sons of Mosiah, we will see miracles of deliverance and conversion when we put in the required time and energy to study, learn, and act.
Helaman 5:18, 11:18
In the Book of Helaman, both Nephi and Lehi are also described as having great power and authority in their missionary efforts. (Helaman 5:18-19, 11:18). How were Nephi and Lehi endowed with such power and authority? First, “they did remember the words” (5:14) of their father: to build themselves firmly upon the Rock of our Redeemer (vs 12), to keep his commandments (vs 6), to do good without boasting or pride (vs 7), and to remember Christ always (vs 9), relying upon his mercies through repentance (vs 11). Carefully learning from those who have gone before is a powerful way to establish connections with former priesthood power and learn how to use that power properly.
Following Nephi and Lehi’s example, many of the Lamanites, once converted, attained this gift and power (Helaman 6:1-5). How did they qualify for such a bestowal? By “their firmness and steadiness in the faith” (vs 1)and because of their communal strength of “fellowship one with another,” “rejoicing one with another,” (vs 3), and undoubtedly mourning with those who mourned and caring for those in need. (seeMosiah 18:9) It may also be inferred that we must be “the humble followers of God and the Lamb” (vs 5) in order to qualify for their power in our communities and homes.
3 Nephi 7:17
In 3 Nephi 7, Nephi, the son of Nephi and grandson of Helaman, also “ministered with power and with great authority.” (vs 15) He qualified for this gift by his own personal righteousness, but also because he cared for and loved the people- “being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds.” (vs 16) He sticks to the admonition of Alma the Elder, testifying of Christ and declaring repentance and remission of sins through his name (vs 15). His own personal righteousness had granted him visitations of angels and the hearing of the voice of the Lord, and thus “had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ” (vs 15). This combined with his endowment of power and authority in the priesthood to make his word so powerful that “it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words.” (vs 18) and enabled him to do many works and miracles-raising the dead, casting out spirits-among the people, all in the name of Christ.
In the modern Church, our leaders have taught that having both power and authority, usually in the context of the priesthood, are necessary for us to truly keep ourselves and our families protected from the influences of the world and to help build the kingdom of God upon the earth. Those leaders have made clear the difference that should be made between the power and the authority of the priesthood.
In the Book of Mormon, the formulaic phrase “power and authority” seems to relate mainly to priesthood service, prophetic and missionary work, and to community preparation in combating encroaching evil influences.
Mormon clearly testified that his work of compiling the record to become the Book of Mormon was meant to teach the people of the later days: “Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you. Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Mormon 8:34-35) Clearly, the use of this phrase throughout the record should stand out to us in the context of its usage among current Church leadership. Very likely, it has informed the intent of our leaders to encourage and define the power and authority of the priesthood.
What does the Book of Mormon then teach us of power and authority? In order to ensure peace and prosperity for our families and our societies, it will be necessary to exercise both, as did King Benjamin and his prophets. In order to qualify for this power, we must continue to strive to keep the commandments and repent as necessary. We must act in all diligence to fulfill and magnify any and all responsibilities, stewardships, and callings we may have in accordance with the revealed will of God. We must stay in line with His will in our teaching and our exhortations. We must rely upon Christ and the words and wisdom of His prophets (both past and present) through constant and continuous study. Lastly, we must see the interconnection between individual and community, realizing that, while the actions of the individual are perhaps paramount in determining his or her power in the priesthood, we are all interconnected in one community. Our actions and individual endowments of power can build exponentially as we see ourselves as part of a Zion community and not just individual believers: loving and grieving for those who have gone astray, rejoicing with those who return, and lovingly extending hands of fellowship to all around us.
These verses from the Book of Mormon also point out clearly that both the power and authority are something that must be given and received. They are not something one may demand. They are not something that one possesses innately. Nor are they something that can be fully earned. Rather, they are in part spiritual endowments to be given by God to those who qualify by obedience to the commandments upon which they are predicated. (seeD&C 121: 34-38, and D&C 130:20-21)
President Monson has also spoken of the priesthood as “not so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.”[iv]As we strive to live up to this commission, adhering to the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (see D&C 84:33-43), we will see deliverance from trials, strength in adversity, greater conversion, and more miracles. Most importantly, we will see our priesthood covenants and promised blessings abound in our lives and the lives of those we serve.
Andrew C. Smith completed a BA in Middle East Studies at BYU and a MA in Israeli Politics and Society at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is beginning Ph.D work at Claremont Graduate University in Critical Comparative Scripture and Islamic Studies. He has taught for the last year as an Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at BYU.
[i]Boyd K. Packer, “The Power of the Priesthood,” April Conference, 2010, emphasis in original.
[ii]David A. Bednar, “The Powers of Heaven,” April Conference, 2012.
[iii] David A. Bednar, “The Powers of Heaven,” April Conference, 2012.
[iv]Thomas S. Monson, “Willing and Worthy to Serve,” April Conference, 2012.