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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Chapter 12: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Chapter 12: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 161–70

During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith

Men should have a clear understanding of the covenant they make when they receive offices in the priesthood.

I desire to call your attention to the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood. I think if we have a clear understanding of the covenant we make when we receive offices in the priesthood, and of the promise the Lord gives if we magnify our callings, then we shall have a greater incentive to do all the things we must do to gain eternal life.

It is through the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods that men in the Mormon Church have authority. Smith said that by having a “clear understanding of the covenant” they make, “then we shall have a greater incentive to do all the things we must do to gain eternal life.” When a Mormon man makes his covenant, does he realize how much it requires to attain eternal life?

Nothing has changed over the past half century. In a talk titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty” at the April 2013 general conference, Apostle L. Tom Perry stated,

“We must not pick and choose which commandments we think are important to keep but acknowledge all of God’s commandments.” (Ensign (May 2013): 88.)

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated in that same general conference, “From modern revelation, unique to the restored gospel, we know that the commandment to seek perfection is part of God the Father’s plan for the salvation of His children.” (Ibid., 98.) Seventy Bruce C. Hafen taught, “If we must give all that we have, then our giving only almost everything is not enough. If we almost keep the commandments, we almost receive the blessings.” (Ensign (May 2004): 98. Italics in original.)

May I say further that everything connected with this higher priesthood is designed and intended to prepare us to gain eternal life in the kingdom of God.

The problem is that all people—male and female—have access to the royal priesthood (see 1 Peter 2:9-10 and Hebrews 4:14). While the Aaronic priesthood from the Old Testament could be helf by very few people whose primary function was to sacrifice animals on behalf of the sins of the people, the Royal Priesthood is open to all believers. Its function is to offer spirtiutal sacrifices acceptable to God through Jeus Christ. This office gives believers the right or authority to become the sons of God (John 1:12). Jesus has attained the “higher priesthood” and holds it forever.

In the revelation on priesthood, given to Joseph Smith in September 1832, the Lord says that the Melchizedek Priesthood is everlasting; that it administers the gospel, is found in the true church in all generations, and holds the keys of the knowledge of God. He says that it enables the Lord’s people to be sanctified, to see the face of God, and to enter into the rest of the Lord, “which rest is the fulness of his glory.” (See D&C 84:17–24.)

Then, speaking of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, the Lord says: “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

“They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

“And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

“And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

“Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.”

The penalty for breaking the covenant and altogether turning therefrom is then given, together with this commandment: “… beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.

“For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:33–44.)

The Mormon is required to trust Joseph Smith in order to believe the words from D&C 84 to be true. If Smith is not trustworthy, then how do we know the Lord told him anything?

Let’s talk about the Aaronic Priesthood. The Old Testament teaches that the Aaronic Priesthood could be held only by certain men who came from the Levite tribe, which had its roots in Aaron, the brother of Moses. It was a hereditary priesthood, one which would invalidate the non-Jewish Smith and Cowdery as well as all subsequent non-Jewish Mormons. Consider what Hebrews 7:11-14 says,

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

According to the author of Hebrews, the Aaronic Priesthood was inadequate to bring salvation to men and therefore was no longer necessary due to the Great Sacrifice of Christ. This is why New Testament Christian have never had to utilize the temple and sacrifice lambs and bulls. All of the sacrifices in the Old Testament merely foreshadowed the blood, which was to be paid by Christ, the lamb of God. Therefore, the Mormon idea that the Aaronic Priesthood is necessary becomes a moot point.

Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim noted that the duties of the Levites included keeping the sanctuary clean, guarding the temple, and making sure the gates were either opened or closed at their proper times. It was also the duty of the Levites to prevent those who were defiled from entering the sanctuary.

Though a Levite did not have to necessarily be a priest, a priest had to be a Levite. The hereditary line had to be proven in order for a candidate to be approved. Dr. Edersheim noted that should a candidate for the office of priest fail to prove his legitimacy, “the candidate was dressed and veiled in black, and permanently removed.” The function of the priest was to officiate in the sacrifices and to also offer counsel ranging from military advice to interpretation of Israelite custom and law. The priesthood in Mormonism is not an identical counterpart.

Priesthood holders promise to magnify their callings in the priesthood and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

As all of us know, a covenant is a contract and an agreement between at least two parties. In the case of gospel covenants, the parties are the Lord in heaven and men on earth. Men agree to keep the commandments and the Lord promises to reward them accordingly. The gospel itself is the new and everlasting covenant and embraces all of the agreements, promises, and rewards which the Lord offers to his people.

Keeping, not making, covenants is the command given by LDS leader. Listen to some additional quotes on this topic:

“Latter-day Saints are Abraham’s seed of the latter days. Their exaltation or eternal life depends on their obedience to the covenants they have made and kept with God” (Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis – 2 Samuel, p. 62).

“The Lord keeps His promises: ‘I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise’ (D&C 82:10). We must do our part to qualify for the blessings (see D&C 130:20–22). We should also remember that God determines the then part according to His wisdom and not according to our expectations” (Building An Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual: Religion 235, p. v. Italics in original).

 “A covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return. When we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the great blessing God can give us—eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Because keeping our covenants is essential to our happiness now and to eventually receiving eternal life, it is important to understand what we have promised our Heavenly Father” (“Understanding our Covenants with God,” Ensign, July 2012, p. 22).

“When you renew your covenants each week by partaking of the sacrament, you covenant that you will always remember the Savior and keep His commandments” (Elaine S. Dalton, “At All Times, in All Things, and in All Places,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2008, p.117).

“Within the gospel, a covenant means a sacred agreement or mutual promise between God and a person or a group of people. In making a covenant, God promises a blessing for obedience to particular commandments. He sets the terms of His covenants, and He reveals these terms to His prophets. If we choose to obey the terms of the covenant, we receive promised blessings. If we choose not to obey, He withholds the blessings, and in some instances a penalty also is given” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 81).

“We promise to keep His commandments. We take these obligations upon ourselves when we are baptized (see D&C 20:37; Mosiah 18:6–10). Thus, when we partake of the sacrament, we renew the covenants we made when we were baptized. Jesus gave us the pattern for partaking of the sacrament (see 3 Nephi 18:1–12) and said that when we follow this pattern, repenting of our sins and believing on His name, we will gain a remission of our sins (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 26:24). The Lord promises that if we keep our covenants, we will always have His Spirit to be with us. A person guide by the Spirit will have the knowledge, faith, power, and righteousness to gain eternal life” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 136).

 “Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a ‘covenant people.’ The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants” (The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, p. 98).

“Have class members find and read Moroni 10:32. [It reads: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in no wise deny the power of God.”] According to this verse, what must we do to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him? (‘Deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind and strength.’) Explain that ‘deny yourselves of all ungodliness’ means ‘give up your sins.’ We must strive to give up our sins and demonstrate that we love God with all our might, mind, and strength. If we do this throughout our lives, then Jesus Christ, through his Atonement, will help us become perfect.” (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 123. Brackets ours.)

With all of this said, I can only wonde if you are a Latter-day Saint: Just how are you doing at denying yourselves of all ungodliness?

And so when we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood we do so by covenant. We solemnly promise to receive the priesthood, to magnify our callings in it, and to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. The Lord on his part promises us that if we keep the covenant, we shall receive all that the Father hath, which is life eternal. Can any of us conceive of a greater or more glorious agreement than this?

But if there is no way for sinful human beings to keep their end of the bargain, what kind of deal is this? The message given in Christianity is so much different. When people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, a miraculous event occurs. They become justified before the living God and are thereby declared guiltless, allowing them to be identified with Christ from the point of conversion to eternity future. It comes not by a person’s own works but by God’s working in that person.

Acts 13:39 says, “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” In Philippians 3:9, Paul stated that it was possible to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (ESV) Romans 5:1 adds, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The onus of our sin is on the back of Jesus, not ourselves. Without this, there is no other way to receive eternal life.

The promise of exaltation is offered to every Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is true to the oath and covenant of the priesthood.

Once again, Mormonism’s justificaiton is completely based on the faithfulness of the individual, not the faithfulness of Jesus.

Now may I say a few words about the oath which accompanies the reception of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

To swear with an oath is the most solemn and binding form of speech known to the human tongue; and it was this type of language which the Father chose to have used in the great Messianic prophecy about Christ and the priesthood. Of him it says: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4.)

In explaining this Messianic prophecy, Paul says that Jesus had “an unchangeable priesthood,” and that through it came “the power of an endless life.” (See Heb. 7:24, 16.) Joseph Smith said that “all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually,” that is, if they are faithful and true [see Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 7:3].

And so Christ is the great prototype where priesthood is concerned, as he is with reference to baptism and all other things. And so, even as the Father swears with an oath that his Son shall inherit all things through the priesthood, so he swears with an oath that all of us who magnify our callings in that same priesthood shall receive all that the Father hath.

Let’s understand something: The office of the Melchizedek Priesthood is held by only one person. His name? Jesus Christ. Thus, Smith is correct that Jesus possessed “an unchangeable priesthood.” Listen to the context of Hebrews 7:

but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.

Regarding verse 24, one LDS Bible printed years ago even provides a note concerning this “Melichizedek Priesthood” that states “or, changeth not from one to another.”

Although a priest named Melchizedek is talked about in Genesis 14, there is little information on the background. Like Christ, there is no evidence of is priestly succession or of his priestly parentage. There is no evidence in the entire Bible of anyone but Jesus being called a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Mormon leaders may continue to assume that men like Peter, James, and John held this office, but such claims are completely without biblical support.

This is the promise of exaltation offered to every man who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood, but it is a conditional promise, a promise conditioned upon our magnifying our callings in the priesthood and living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.

It is perfectly clear that there are no more glorious promises that have or could be made than those that came to us when we accepted the privilege and assumed the responsibility of holding the holy priesthood and of standing as ministers of Christ.

This is the saddest part of Mormonism, as has been described earlier in this review. A “conditional promise” based on achieving the impossible sounds like a raw deal indeed.

For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.

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