Monday, June 20, 2011

The Difference between a Prophet and "a Prophet"

In my last post, I explained how I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a pair of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries at my home. It’s been four weeks since they last visited and subsequently left a DVD about the history of their Church and the life of Charles Taze Russell, the founder and first leader of their church. I was honestly looking forward to discussing the DVD with them and furthering our discussion about priesthood authority. But it now is beginning to look like I inherited a free Jehovah’s Witness DVD.

One thing that I didn’t include in my last post is that I also discussed with these missionaries the importance of prophets and their role in God’s plan. The Jehovah’s Witnesses generally do not regard Charles Russell as a prophet, per se, but more as a man inspired by God. I fully agree with their assessment and believe many individuals throughout history have been inspired of God to do many wonderful things. For instantce, Reformers like Luther, Wesley, and Tyndale were certainly inspired of God to do what they did. But I don’t believe they were prophets in the strictest sense of the word (e.g., someone called by God to lead his people). They were, nevertheless, prophets in a more loose interpretation of the word (e.g., someone inspired of God). The Bible provides a vivid example of the differences between a prophet and “a prophet,” and the following is how I explained this to my missionary friends.

During the exodus, Moses became extremely frustrated with the Israelites and their constant murmuring. The complaining was also a source of frustration for the Lord (Num. 11:10-15) who allowed Moses to call 70 Israelite elders upon whom an increased portion of the Spirit was given so that they prophesied and served as a sign of God’s power to assist Moses (Num. 11:24-30).

Of these 70 elders, Eldad (Hebrew: “God is/has love”) and Medad (Hebrew: “God’s loving arms reaching out”) proceeded to prophesy not just in the Tabernacle, but also in the Camp of Israel. Upon hearing this, Joshua protested saying, “My lord Moses, forbid them” (Num. 11:28). Moses responded with one of my favorite scriptures, “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). In other words, Moses understood that all members of the Church can be prophets simply by receipt of the gift of prophecy.

This principle is also taught in Revelation 19:10, where the angel of the Lord declares that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Commenting on this verse, Joseph Smith stated that “[i]f any person should ask me if I were a prophet, I should not deny it, as that would give me the lie; for, according to John, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy; therefore, if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet; and any man who says he is a teacher or a preacher of righteousness, and denies the spirit of prophecy, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.269). Accordingly, anyone who can testify that they know Jesus to be the Christ is technically a prophet since the spirit of prophecy is made manifest through a valid testimony of the Savior.

And yet, having a testimony of Christ does not by itself qualify an individual to speak on behalf of the Lord, as was the case with Moses in the prophetic office. This distinction was apparently not fully understood by Moses’ older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, who exhibited pride and jealousy in view of Moses’ unique calling: “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?"(Num. 12:2). The Lord responded by explaining the difference between a prophet and “a prophet.”

He called Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the tabernacle and proceeded to describe the first category of prophet: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num. 12:6). In other words, the first type of prophet is provided with direct revelation from the Lord through his Spirit. This is the same type described in Revelation 19:10, and the type which most true followers of the Christ qualify as.

The Lord continued, however, by explaining that Moses was not this type of prophet: “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold” (Num. 12:7-8). The category of prophet that Moses belonged to included one on one interaction with the Lord himself, where the individual is able to behold and speak with the Lord on a personal basis. This is the Lord’s spokesperson through whom timely instruction is given to the Lord’s people. Through this direct interaction with the Lord, this type of prophet receives all the keys necessary for the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.

I’m not sure if this distinction between prophets sunk in with the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries, but it gave me the opportunity to testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet in the strict sense of the word, someone called of God to lead His people today, and that his successor today is Thomas S. Monson. The Spirit was present during our conversation and I trust they felt it also. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been back to see me in a month...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Priesthood of All Believers

For the last 9 months I taught early morning seminary and couldn’t find much spare time to add additional posts here. During the upcoming summer break, and an influx of significantly more time, I hope to post more regularly now on topics of interest.

A few months ago a couple of Jehovah’s Witness missionaries knocked on our door and my wife accepted their literature but asked that they return when I was home to present their message. I always make it a point to be gracious to missionaries of other faiths since my own mission taught me how disappointing tracting and proselytizing can be at times.

The missionaries returned the following Saturday and we enjoyed a two hour conversation about their church. Our discussion was interesting, to say the least, and we agreed on several points of doctrine. I eventually asked about priesthood authority in their church and was surprised to learn that neither of them really knew much about it or hadn’t given it much thought. I took this opportunity to share a brief history of the LDS church and its authoritative foundations, along with my testimony of a living prophet. I even pointed to a picture of the First Presidency I have on my wall in my office to show them who I was talking about.

They eventually returned the following Saturday with a DVD documentary about Charles Russell, the “Joseph Smith” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they said may help answer my authority question. It did…sort of. I concluded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, like many modern Protestant churches, believe somewhat in the priesthood of all believers. In preparation for their next visit, I studied priesthood authority again and decided to post a few of my notes here for reference. Many of my thoughts are derived from John Tvedtnes’ article entitled, “Is There a ‘Priesthood of All Believers’?” I recommend his short article for further reference.

Briefly, the priesthood of all believers is the concept that all true believers in Christ are inherently authorized to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. This idea first surfaced during the Reformation when Reformers, such as Martin Luther, realized that they had cut themselves off from the priesthood lineage of the Catholic Church and needed to provide an explanation that would authorize them in their ecclesiastical acts.

Proponents of the priesthood of all believers cite to 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Peter, however, was referring to Exodus 19:5-6 where the Lord told the Israelites through Moses that if they would “obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." Of the Israelites present at that time, only the Levites were chosen to receive the priesthood. Moreover, none of the Israelites in Moses’ day acknowledged Christ as Savior, so it appears even they would not have met the criteria set forth by Martin Luther to receive the priesthood of all believers.

In advancing his claim of priesthood for all believers, Luther wrote, "in fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2 says." Peter, however, says nothing about baptism to become a priest and in fact doesn’t mention baptism in the passage in question.

In contrast, the Bible teaches that baptism is not enough to receive priesthood authority. This was made evident in the story of Simon the Sorcerer who attempted to purchase the “power” to “lay hands” on people from Peter and John after witnessing the Holy Ghost bestowed on several in Samaria. See Acts 8:5-20. Although Simon believed and had already been baptized (Acts 8:13), this did not provide him with any priesthood authority, nor was he able to purchase the priesthood from Peter or John.

In John 15:16, Christ told his apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you." Their ordination did not stem from their baptism but because they had chosen to follow Christ. See Luke 6:13; Mark 3:13-15. The chosen 12 received "power" from Christ that the other disciples of Christ did not have, and he later bestowed that same priesthood power on seventy others, as discussed in Luke 10.

In ordaining high priests, Hebrews 5:4 declares, "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." And how was Aaron ordained? The Lord told Moses to "anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office." See Exodus 30:30; see also Exodus 28:41; 40:13; Numbers 3:3. In other words, there was a specific ceremonial ordination that took place which included the anointing and consecration of Aaron to his calling. Later, certain Levites were ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands. See Numbers 8:10-11.

Today many Christians feel duly authorized to preach the gospel and baptize people stemming from Christ’s commission found in Matthew 28:19. They fail to realize, however, that Christ was speaking only to his ordained apostles at the time. See Matt. 28:16 and Mark 16:14-16.

Priesthood authority does not come from knowledge of the Bible, a degree in theology bestowed by some man-made university, or even an apparent call from God in some vision or dream or while contemplating the Bible. In Matthew 7:21-24 Christ said that “[n]ot every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” When all is said and done, “many” will have claimed to acted in the Lord’s name, using his authority, but the Savior declared that he would cast out those whom he did not know, or those whom he did not authorize to act.

It’s been a few weeks since the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries last visited me, and I’m beginning to wonder if they intend on not returning. If they do return, however, I plan on sharing with them a few of these notes and hope to have the opportunity to share my testimony of priesthood authority with them.