We believe that a man must be popular and good at speaking, and have a large following of people, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Why did Joseph Smith need to specify that a man must be called of God?
For many other churches, leadership and authority is a controversial issue that divides congregations and splits churches. In 1984 a local minister said:
‘Authority’ is a vital subject for churches today, and one that has become controversial among Bible believers. A proper understanding and practice of authority is absolutely vital for the Lord's testimony. Many churches have been torn apart over this issue.[i]
It has been a long time since there has been any man called of God by prophecy to be a leader. Corruption began within the Early Christian church, and eventually led to an apostasy when all the apostles, and the authority they held, were no longer on the earth.
The problem of authority did not die with the apostles, however. Issues with authority were rampant all through the Middle Ages. After the death of the apostles the churches of different cities floundered, and many subgroups evolved, because they lost contact as one large church. Divisions and political tensions eventually led to the creation of the Catholic Church, then its split into the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches, then the reformation and creation of Protestant churches. The root of the word protestant is “protest”, which is what the people were doing as they saw the corruption in leadership. Because of the corruption they saw, people did not believe their leaders were called of God, and the result was that they broke away to create a more “pure” religion. This led to the wars of religion all across Europe as neighbor persecuted neighbor and city persecuted city for differing religious beliefs. This was a time of great confusion, and a fulfillment of the prophecy by the prophet Amos in the Old Testament:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.[ii]
The people will run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
All of Europe struggled with the wars of religion, seeing many of their people die. The way England dealt with it was by creating a state religion. This state religion was enforced upon all citizens and actively persecuted other religions. Having only one religion makes sense from a political view, and, coming out of the wars of religion the century before, the last thing the crown wanted to be involved in were more religious disputes. So they created one church for everyone, and allowed no exceptions. This stopped neighbors from attacking neighbors over religious differences, but it also spawned religious complacency. It was almost as though since people didn’t have to defend their religion any more, they didn’t have to care about their religion any more. Thus began religious reformations anew, a ‘calling to repentance’, calling people to be passionate about their belief in God, and to break away from the Government-run religion. By doing this, they were challenging the political powers which were controlling religion, and the governing authority thereof. Because England directly affected anything that happened in the American colonies, the religious revolution became hugely popular there, and it is called the 2nd Great Awakening.
Before the Second Great Awakening, ministers often gained the mantle of authority as a result of their education and the elite status that ordination within a mainstream denomination afforded them. During the revivals of the 2nd Great Awakening, however, the preachers who became most influential and popular were those who appealed directly to the people in plain language anyone could understand. Often these preachers were not highly educated.[iii]
Thus the “Article of their Faith”: A man must be popular and good at speaking, and have a large following of people, to preach the Gospel.
As a result of the 2nd Great Awakening, religion became very diversified, and a general lack of respect for authority abounded. People attended a church if they liked the preacher or his doctrine. If they did not, they found another church, or started their own. There was no sense of the idea of finding a church that had the ‘proper authority’. That idea had all but died.
Joseph Smith’s account of the Great Awakening:
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; …but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?[iv]
One day as Joseph Smith was reading the bible he read a scripture in James which instructed him to pray and ask God his question. After pondering that advice for a time, he found a place in the woods to be alone and try. As he did so, a miraculous thing happened, the heavens were opened and God the Father and his son Jesus Christ appeared to him. Joseph Smith says:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, …for…“they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”[v]
Now, we as Latter Day Saints believe that the church of Jesus Christ must have leaders who have been called and ordained by Christ, to direct the church, or in other words: We believe that a man must be called of God, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof. Joseph Smith was reaffirming that belief in this article of faith, that not just anyone can preach religion or run a church, but that that man must be called of God, not only by revelation (which anyone might claim,) but also by the laying on of hands of one who has the authority to do so. At the time of Joseph Smith’s first vision, there was no man on the earth who held that authority. This is yet another reason why that vision was so crucial to religion. With the words from Heavenly Father: this is my Beloved Son, hear him; all authoritative questions were put to an end. Christ is the ultimate authority. Any Christian will agree with that. At the end of the day, if Christ says one thing and men another, Christ is the authoritative voice. The main problem with that is, that most Christians haven’t heard Christ speak. In fact, in the time of Joseph Smith many didn’t believe Christ ever would speak again. After Joseph Smith had the vision, he shared it with one of the preachers:
I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.[vi]
But we believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever[vii], and that he will reach out to his children here on earth, and speak to them through a prophet[viii] as he has done in all past dispensations of the world. That is what he did with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Melchezidek, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Job, Isaiah, Jeramiah, and Daniel. When Christ lived upon the earth he set up his church by calling and ordaining apostles and prophets, and then continued to direct his church through revelation to those leaders after his death and resurrection. In the 1800’s Christ again reached out to the people of the earth and called and ordained a prophet, and it is through a prophet that he continues to guide his church today. Christ is the head of this church, he is the ultimate authority, and no man has any real authority except he has received it from Christ, either directly or through a line of worthy men beginning with Christ.
A testimony of our prophets, “The Living Christ” reaffirms these truths:
“As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.
Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. 'All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made' (John 1:3). ”He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised 'dispensation of the fulness of times'
”We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.
Of Him the Prophet Joseph Smith declared: 'And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“We declare in words of solemnity that His priesthood and His Church have been restored upon the earth—'built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone' (Ephesians 2:20).
“We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles, that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”[ix]
“We honour Him, we worship Him, we love Him as our Redeemer, the great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament.”[x] The leader of Christianity and the living head of our Church today. The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not the church of Joseph Smith, it is not the church of Mormon, it is not the church of Thomas S. Monson. It IS the church of Jesus Christ.
I have a testimony that he lives. Christ is the ultimate authority. He is at the head of this church and the great work that we do in all the world, to aid in disasters, to spread love and brotherhood, to save lives, and most importantly to save souls. As a missionary I felt poignantly the reality of the Living Christ. Without that testimony I could not have been an effective missionary, for I would not have believed in the message I was sharing. But I Do believe that Jesus Christ has called a prophet by revelation, and that it was through the prophet and apostles that revelation was received to call me as a missionary. One day in my personal studies as a missionary I was reading in the Book of Mormon, and came across a passage where Mormon gives a statement that sort of justifies everything he was doing. He gave so much time and effort to the Lord, being a prophet-historian, reading through centuries of records, making compilations that was a long, slow process, leading his people in wars he knew they could not win, preaching the doctrines of Christ to an uninterested crowd, and raising his son to be a righteous, moral man in a world of utter moral depravity. His justification for all of this is:
“Behold, I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have Everlasting Life.”[xi]
This statement gave meaning to everything he did, and I felt strongly that it was the same for me. I know that Christ leads this church, that he and our Heavenly Father are intimately aware of our lives, our needs, our hopes and our dreams, and I know that they communicate with the children of men. Personally, for our personal needs, and through the prophet, for the needs of the church. I have a testimony of the importance of priesthood authority, that we are called by prophecy, to labor in our little corner of the world and in building the kingdom of God. And even through all the pitfalls, potholes, scrapes, and wounds, Life is a glorious and beautiful thing. It is made so by love, and by knowing about the Plan of Salvation, and the Atonement of Christ, our living Lord.
[i] Ray, Rudy. Spring, 1984. “Authority and Ministry in the Local Church.” Searching Together Magazine.
[ii] Amos 8:11-12
[iii] Hankins, Barry. “The Second Great Awakening and the Trancendentalists.” Page 188. http://books.google.com/books?id=YiizPosnwzcC&pg=PA188&lpg=PA188&dq=second+great+awakening,+authority&source=bl&ots=qkyTissUtt&sig=2yHKTvW1a2MeOoqgziN2fWz1AF0&hl=en&ei=GjxoTrqfMMSTtwf0vczCDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAzgK#v=onepage&q=second%20great%20awakening%2C%20authority&f=false
[iv](Pearl of Great Price | Joseph Smith—History 1:5–10)
[v] (Pearl of Great Price | Joseph Smith—History 1:18–19)
[vi] (Pearl of Great Price | Joseph Smith—History 1:21)
[vii] Hebrews 13:8
[viii] Amos 3:7
[ix] (Ensign, Apr. 2000, 2-3)
[x] President Gordan B. Hinckley. December 2002. “A testimony of the Son of God.” Ensign.
[xi] 3 Ne 5:13