Date: March 26, 2014 04:08PM
(Latest in a series)
D&C 121:35-37 says that the priesthood can only be used in "righteousness" - that any man who uses his priesthood "in any degree of unrighteousness," such as to "exercise control, dominion or compulsion" over others' souls, loses his priesthood and his authority - "the heavens withdraw."
It would seem that this doctrine (as logical and just as it seems) poses a serious problem for Mormons, in two ways.
Mormons believe that gospel ordinances (baptism, laying on of hands, blessing the sacrament, ordaining others to the priesthood) are not valid unless performed by someone who actually holds the appropriate priesthood authority. If someone performs such an ordinance but doesn't hold the priesthood, the ordinance is not valid.
First, how would anyone know that an elder performing a baptism or ordination has not lost his priesthood because of some previous, generally unknown, attempt to use it unrighteously, to exercise "dominion" over someone? The passage implies that the mere act of using the priesthood authority unrighteously causes it to be lost; no church court or process or announcement is necessary. The "heavens withdraw." God knows that the man has lost his authority, but nobody else necessarily knows. In fact, even Mormons who know of his unrighteous use of the priesthood will probably comment "It's not for us to judge," and "Nobody's perfect; we are all human and make mistakes." But those comments would nullify what D&C 121 actually says, and make it meaningless.
And yet the concept of "authority" is fundamental to Mormonism. If you were baptized by a Methodist minister or a Baptist preacher (who in Mormon eyes have no authority because they don't hold the Mormon priesthood - the only valid priesthood), you simply have not been baptized at all. But how is that different from being baptized by a Mormon elder who has invisibly lost his authority because of using it in "unrighteous dominion"? (I'm recalling the Mormon husband who forced his unwilling wife to have sex every night because he held the priesthood and was an authority over her, for example. That is certainly "unrighteous dominion." Or Joseph Smith's promising Helen Mar Kimball that her parents' salvation would be guaranteed if she would submit to becoming his wife - that certainly is not doctrinal, and would thus constitute using his priesthood authority in "unrighteous dominion.") Is that baptism or ordination valid, from an elder who has lost his priesthood authority?
I have asked this question of Mormons, and their responses are pretty lame.
One Mormon said that the offender retains his authority until officially removed by a church court. But that is not what D&C 121 says. It mentions nothing about any action by church authorities. "The heavens withdraw."
Another Mormon said that the validity of the baptism or ordination depended on the faith and belief of the recipient, not the priesthood holder. If the baptizee BELIEVES that the baptizer has authority, the baptism is valid. Yet that contradicts the entire idea that ordinances are only valid when performed by someone with valid authority. This argument would also validate the baptism by the Methodist minister or the Baptist preacher, since their baptizee obviously believes that the baptizer has the authority to perform a valid baptism.
The second problem is that Mormons HAVE to believe that unrighteousness by priesthood holders causes the loss of authority, since that belief underlies their entire theory that the early church fell into apostasy: Mormons claim that the leaders after the original apostles died were unrighteous, and THEREFORE they lost their authority. And that produced the "great apostasy" and the need for a restoration. And that argument negates the explanations given by Mormons for the loss of authority, since the Christian church can point to a clear line of priesthood authority from Peter to the present day, whether "righteous" or not. And there is no record that those unrighteous early Christian priesthood holders - from whom the present Christian churches trace their authority - were deprived of their priesthood by any valid church court. And clearly all the Christians who have been baptized in the last 2000 years believed that the priest had the authority. So, according to that particular Mormon argument, their baptisms are all valid, right?
Can anyone come up with a better Mormon solution to what appears to be a fundamental problem for Mormonism? Ask your Mormon friends.
Previous posts in the series:
#1: Baptism wording: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1013735
#2: "sun" vs. "son": http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1089659
#3: Name of church 1834-1838: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1102694
#4: Bible prophecies: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1121855
#5: Languages in the pre-existence: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1127558
#6: What is doctrine? http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1135995
#7: Worshiping Jesus: http://exmormon.org/phorum/read.php?2,1187412