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RS/MP Chapter 11: Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored through Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on June 4, 2014

See here for the lesson material at lds.org.

From the life

I think this lesson is occurring at an interesting time, given that there has been a fair bit of controversy (at least on some prominent Mormon blogs) regarding the Ordain Women movement. I suspect that, in most wards, actively fueling that controversy when teaching this lesson would be a mistake. At the same time, I also would think that discouraging or suppressing discussion of controversial topics or opinions would be counterproductive. Teachers and class members should prepare so as to facilitate discussion aimed at mutually edification and improved understanding for everyone in the class.

With that in mind, I think President Tanner’s comment to Pres. Smith is noteworthy (penultimate paragraph in this section):

“When I was called to the First Presidency, though he was the senior member of the Twelve and had been in office for over fifty years, he showed great respect for me in that position and gave me full support and confidence.

Question: How do leaders benefit from members showing them “support and confidence” like Pres. Smith showed to Pres. Tanner?

Without support and confidence, leaders are impotent. And without good leadership, anarchy and chaos are usually found.

1. Priesthood keys

From the third paragraph of this lesson:

[Priesthood] keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood.

Question: Why are keys important in Church governance?

Reflecting on some of the more ugly aspects of modern political bickering might help us appreciate the wisdom of having priesthood keys, rather than resorting to the governance methods used in secular politics.

2. Restoration of the keys

The part about Elijah strikes me as most interesting in this section (9th paragraph in this section):

Then Elijah, the last of the prophets who held the keys of the sealing power in old Israel, came and bestowed that power, the power of sealing [see D&C 110:13–16]. Some members of the Church have been confused in thinking that Elijah came with the keys of baptism for the dead or of salvation for the dead. Elijah’s keys were greater than that. They were keys of sealing, and those keys of sealing pertain to the living and embrace the dead who are willing to repent.

Question: How is the sealing power greater than the keys of baptism for the dead?

I’d be inclined to answer this question by discussing my feelings of gratitude for my own temple marriage, and the sense in which this has made our family stronger and my commitment to my wife and children deeper than it otherwise would be.

3. The President holds the keys over all the Church

The final sentence of this section is striking:

All the keys of former dispensations which have been revealed, are vested in him.

Question: In what sense does this, the fullness of times, fulfill ancient prophecy? What responsibilities does knowledge of this entail?

If we are living in the fulness of times, it behooves us to make the most of what we have been given, and to have a sense of urgency about consecrating our lives to the building of Zion. (This is what Joseph Spencer’s new book, For Hope is all about—I highly recommend it!)

4. Honoring our Priesthood leaders

This section has several great quotes pertaining to what I’m inclined to think of in terms of the chain of command.

Question: What are the benefits of a chain of command structure to Church administration? Are there any differences in the way that the chain of command works in a Church setting vs. in other, non-Church settings? What are they?

Since I work in an academic environment where decisions are often made by committee and group consensus, rather than via hierarchical chain-of-command ways, I often see firsthand how inefficient and ineffective these more egalitarian modes of governance can be—even though it does have many benefits also (benefits that I think can be seen at work in Church councils where a less hierarchical mode of decision making is at work[*]).

One danger is that sometimes we tend to follow leaders in a way that ultimately fosters a kind of laziness with regard to being anxiously engaged in a good cause without being told what to do (D&C 58:27). Nevertheless, most people who have any experience in the military or other hierarchical organizations (including the Church) can attest to many ways that having a chain of command can be extremely effective.

5. Those who hold the keys will guide us

Frankly, some of the quotes in this section take on a tone of infallibility that makes me nervous. Because of this, the following quote from the 2nd paragraph in this section strikes me:

An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be.

Question: Is Pres. Smith saying our leaders are infallible? Why or why not?

My own view is that Pres. Smith is saying, importantly, that sometimes leaders make mistakes. However the First Presidency and the Church leaders overall are not apt to make mistakes—so, we can follow our leaders with confidence that, as the final sentence of the lesson says, “no power on earth can stay or change our course as a church, and as individuals we shall gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal glory in the world to come.”


[*] I think it’s worth considering the ways that the Church’s leadership is hierarchical, but also the ways that it is not. Generally speaking, I would say that, as a practical matter, Church governance is high decentralized. Families, after all, are the main unit of focus in the Church. The second most important units would be wards or groups within the ward (viz., Relief Society, priesthood quorums, Sunday school classes, etc.). True, we have Stake Conference and General Conference every so many months, but this means that the overwhelming majority of our Church experience is within relatively local groups. Now, Church hierarchy and Priesthood keys ensure that these decentralized groups are all roughly on the same page, administratively and doctrinally speaking, but I would argue that there is a rather large amount of local flexibility under the light hierarchical hand of authority exercised by the First Presidency, Quorum of the 12, and other General Authorities. Also, the Church is distinct in having a lay, rotating leadership that provides many opportunities to a very wide group of members for participating in various aspects of Church governance and administration (even though, of course, there are limits to who is eligible for certain roles…).

2 Responses to “RS/MP Chapter 11: Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored through Joseph Smith (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)”

  1. Robert C. said

    (I just added a footnote about the ways the Church is and isn’t hierarchical, since I think this lesson is usefully framed and counterbalanced by some thoughts about the decentralized aspects of Church governance and administration.)

  2. kiasa said

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and preparation on this lesson. I frequently visit your blog as I prepare my Relief Society lessons and gain new insights. Thanks!

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