Monday, October 25, 2010

Elder Oaks: "Two Lines of Comunication"

I am embedding the video of Elder Oaks' talk from the last conference. Below the video I will include some of my comments about what I thought was important.

The breakdown of his talk is very simple. There are two lines of communication between us and God. One is through personal revelation, while the other is through priesthood authority. Both are essential for receiving revelation from God and neither one can function without the other.

In regards to personal revelation Elder Oaks stated,
"This personal line of communication with our Heavenly Father through His Holy Spirit is the source of our testimony of truth, of our knowledge, and of our personal guidance from a loving Heavenly Father. It is an essential feature of His marvelous gospel plan, which allows each one of His children to receive a personal witness of its truth."
If we are to learn the doctrine of salvation it is not sufficient to listen to and to memorize or accept blindly the teachings of those in authority in the Church, because the personal line of communication is the source of our testimony of truth and of our knowledge of eternal doctrine. But lest we think that this is an unrestrained endorsement of the "priesthood of all believers" he cautions us that, "in its fulness the personal line does not function independent of the priesthood line." and that, "we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line."

So while it is necessary for each individual to discover for themselves the truth and to learn the doctrine through the direct, personal line of communication from God, this line of communication does not function properly if we are separated from the priesthood line of communication.

Elder Oaks explains that unlike the personal line which has no "mortal mediator" the priesthood line, "has the additional and necessary intermediaries of our Savior, Jesus Christ; His Church; and His appointed leaders." This means that in order for the priesthood line to function there must be "mediators" through which the revelation is communicated. This means that no one can function independently in the priesthood line because the purpose of the priesthood line is to organize the Church and to allow the ordinances to be performed. As he put it,
"The priesthood line is the channel by which God has spoken to His children through the scriptures in times past. And it is this line through which He currently speaks through the teachings and counsel of living prophets and apostles and other inspired leaders. This is the way we receive the required ordinances. This is the way we receive calls to service in His Church. His Church is the way and His priesthood is the power through which we are privileged to participate in those cooperative activities that are essential to accomplishing the Lord’s work. These include preaching the gospel, building temples and chapels, and helping the poor."
So while we may learn and understand the doctrine through the personal line of communication, it is through the priesthood line that we first receive the doctrine. The priesthood line is also necessary for the performance of ordinances as they are things that, by definition, we cannot perform on ourselves.

One of the potential problems that Elder Oaks pointed out was that there are those who think that they can rely solely on the personal line of communication and disregard the priesthood line.
"Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line, they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders."
This way of thinking leads these people to criticize the leaders of the Church because in their view the Church leaders "just don't get it", or to say things like "the leadership has no special claim to inspiration or revelation" which is another way of saying, "I don't need the influence of priesthood authority". The end result is to separate the individual from the priesthood line of communication where spiritually they will wither and die (as Jesus put it, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." (see John 15:4-6)).

This way of thinking also leads individuals to assert that, "the church has gone off course and is not on the track it was meant to be." In saying this they fail to recognize that God uses the Church and the priesthood in the Church to direct its course. So to assert that the Church as a whole, or even just the Church leaders as a whole, have gone astray is to assert that God is not directing His Church and that the priesthood line of communication has become corrupted, all the while not questioning the clarity of their personal line of communication. This does not mean that all things that come from Church leaders are perfect and infallible, but because the priesthood line of communication is the method through which God disseminates his word, then it is in His best interest (i.e. our interest) to keep those channels free and clear of corruption. But as a check we have the personal line of communication. Thus we whole heartedly reject the notion of blind faith. Blindly accepting the direction and teachings of our leaders is to forget the personal line of communication which goes contrary to the very teachings being given by our priesthood leaders.

As Elder Oaks put it,
"We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny. The restored gospel teaches both, and the restored Church provides both."


Anonymous said...

Bro Oaks states in his talk that he will speak more about the "priesthood of all believers," yet he never uses the phrase again. However, to those who understand the origin of that phrase, whenever he talks about the personal line of communication he is referencing the sense of what that priesthood is, a divine channel whereby God's power in the form of the Holy Ghost directly influences the lives of all those born of the Spirit. Coincidentally, it is by this intimate divine channel of power that we are sanctified, purified, celestialized. I also noticed that as Bro Oaks compares the two lines he never mentions D&C 121, possibly because it is problematic to his narrative, because D&C 121:36-46 tells us about how priesthood is highly "personal," ineffective if the priesthood holder doesn't have the Spirit; that priesthood is "inseparably connected to the powers of heaven." (Other sections in the D&C better address the administrative aspects of the priesthood.) In that regard, the governmental channel of the priesthood should perhaps be called (I suggest) the "corporate line." For instance, the corporate channel administers the outward performance of an ordinance, but the personal line carries out (lives out) the spiritual unfolding of that ordinance. The sacrament, for example, is outwardly administered by the corporate priesthood, but the personal fulfilling our covenant promises is enabled or empowered by the Holy Ghost ("always having his Spirit to be with us") 1 Pet 2:5 is the verse used by many to assert a "priesthood of all believers," yet it is also highly relevant to the LDS understanding of priesthood. It speaks of a royal priesthood called to make "spiritual sacrifice," which contrasts the physical sacrifice of the animal done by the priesthood in the Old Testament, corporately for all Israel. As we know, the New Covenant sacrifice is no longer placing the animal upon the altar, it is placing the animal (natural man) within us upon the altar. As Neil Maxwell tells us, "such is the sacrifice of the broken heart and contrite spirit." (3 Ne 9:20) Personally yielding to the Holy Ghost is now how we "becometh a saint through the Atonement (Mosiah 3:19), an exercise of the personal "line" of priesthood. The corporate priesthood has the keys to administer church affairs and to deliver God's ordinance's, but the KEY to the mysteries of the kingdom and the KEY to the knowledge of God refers to the gift of the Holy Ghost (D&C 84), which one receives by the corporate priesthood, but which is only actualized individually as we utilize our "personal line" of communication, or priesthood. As Bro Oaks discusses in his conference talk, though both are necessary the personal line is preeminent. Clearly, at this level (in the heart) is where priesthood power most effectively works, growing God's kingdom and transforming the life of each disciple.

Anonymous said...

McConkie makes an interesting observation on what constitutes priesthood in A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), pp. 257-258 where he states, “There is a spirit -- the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ -- that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon. As far as we know, it has no substance and is not material, at least as we measure these things. It is variously described as light and life and law and truth and power. It is the light of Christ; it is the life that is in all things; it is the law by which all things are governed; it is truth shining forth in darkness; it is the power of God who sitteth upon his throne. IT MAY BE THAT IT IS ALSO PRIESTHOOD and faith and omnipotence, for these too are the power of God.”

Quantumleap42 said...

Thank you for your comment Anonymous, it certainly has spurred me to revisit this topic. I may even use some of my material in an Elder’s Quorum lesson some Sunday. You bring up some classic misconceptions that vigorously need to be excised from our collective thoughts.

The first problem with your approach is that you start with a classic fallacy. You substitute the word “priesthood” for communication and then proceed to try to make your point. This automatically fails to grasp the concept that Elder Oaks was trying to communicate. He was very explicitly talking about how there are two lines of communication. At no point was he trying to imply that there were two lines of priesthood. Communication and priesthood are two separate things, and to confuse one with the other is to commit a classical fallacy of equivocation.

There is no such thing as a “personal” priesthood line. You are far from alone in this mistake. It is unfortunately too common in LDS thought to mistake communication from God as Authority from God. Sadly it is the influence of the Protestant dominated culture we live in in the English speaking world.

You bring up D&C 121 and imply that it undermines Elder Oaks’s point. On the contrary, it is irrelevant to his point. He was teaching about communication and how we learn truth, he was not discussing how priesthood power is obtained and used. D&C 121 is only relevant if you first mistake communication for priesthood.

While personal priesthood power is dependent on personal righteousness, personal righteousness never grants priesthood authority or power.

To differentiate what you call the personal line of priesthood from priesthood authority you chose to use the word “corporate”. Your choice of word is unfortunate at best, and malicious at worst. While you may try to argue that the word is technically correct, in the current state of debate on the internet, that word carries some negative connotations. Essentially by describing the priesthood authority in the Church as “corporate” you have unknowingly, or perhaps knowingly, associated your argument with a particular criticism of the Church. That criticism is entirely unfounded and is motivated by a strong Protestant sense of distrust of ecclesiastical authority.

The ability to exercise all spiritual gifts is not something that can be accomplished independent of the authority of the Church. You specifically mention the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom and the knowledge of God, and make the case that these are related to the (non-existent) personal priesthood line. But in D&C 107:18-19 these two keys are explicitly part of the keys of the Melchizedek priesthood. These things cannot be accessed through personal righteousness, and are only available through the operation of the priesthood in the body of the Church.

Finally you state that the personal line is preeminent, a statement that I found to be very odd because that goes against the very point that Elder Oaks was trying to make. At the very end of his talk, which I included in my post, Elder Oaks very clearly states that when it comes to communication from God, the neither the personal nor the priesthood line is preeminent. In other words, you commit the very error that Elder Oaks was warning against. By trying to declare one line to be preeminent you fail to appreciate how the priesthood is never a personal thing and is only found in the body of the Church.

Jared Mata said...

There is no personal revelation, there is only revelation. According to God'swill, any person can receive revelation on any subject. The only exception is that only the president of the high priesthood can receive commandments for the church.

Quantumleap42 said...

Jared, I find your comment textbook interesting. That is, it is a textbook example of the fallacy of suppressed correlative, or as one textbook calls it, the fallacy of lost contrast.

In your first sentence you subsume the term "personal revelation" under the term "revelation". This erases, or suppresses, the distinction between revelation to a person, and revelation given to someone who has authority in the Church.

BUT, despite insisting that there is no distinction in revelation to different persons, in your third sentence you bring up an exception, which is the very distinction that lead to the creation of the term "personal revelation" in the first place.

If we wanted to do away with the term "personal revelation" we would first have to show that the distinction between "personal revelation" and other forms of revelation are meaningless. But, as your exception shows, there is an important distinction, hence we should keep the term "personal revelation". Since we should recognize the distinction, and hence keep the term, it is expedient to understand what ideas, definitions, and connotations are packed into the term "personal revelation", and whether or not those things are warranted, or proper.

Jared Mata said...

There's no need to use the term "personal revelation", just to remember that a person who is not the president of the high priesthood can not receive commandments for the church.
Many people that hold no position in church hear "personal revelation" and believe that they are limited to know God's will only in regards to their lives' affairs, such as whom should they marry, what career should they choose, etc. Because of this they feel no need to seek for greater light adn know God's mysteries.