(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”. Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Core to Mormon Doctrine is the notion of divine authority, the priesthood of God. For something to be binding in heaven it must be done by the proper authority. No man can simply declare himself an authority and conduct the eternally binding business of the Lord on the earth. A man cannot simply aspire to an office, calling, or ministry, or declare any authority of himself or through his education or accomplishments (“And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that was called of God, as was Aaron” Hebrews 5:4)
But rather we believe that a man must be called of God by divine inspiration and revelation by those who are in authority, and then given the keys, or the rights, to administer in specific and limited ways.
So, you might ask, wherein do “those who are in authority” claim their authority? The answer is the same now as it was in the days of Christ – from the Lord. For the priesthood and the keys to administer thereof must be passed directly, by the laying on of hands, in an unbroken chain.
When Christ was crucified, there began a great apostasy, where truth diminished, the gospel became polluted with the teachings man, and the rights of the priesthood were removed from the earth, for those who held it were killed, or died. Because of that great falling away, it became crucial for a complete restoration, not only of truth, but of authority, for the work of God must continue today as it did in Christ’s time (“he is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8).
So Mormons believe that there was a great restoration, where the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, along with the priesthood authority to administer the gospel and the affairs of the church were brought back to the earth in their totality, through the prophet Joseph Smith. And that since that time, those keys have been passed in an unbroken chain, by the laying on of hands, down through the generations to our present day, at all times overseen by a prophet of God, just as in times of old (“for surely the Lord God will do nothing except he reveal his secret to his servants, the prophets” Amos 3:7).
What’s even more interesting is that in practice, it creates a dynamic within the church that is indeed very unique.
For since all who serve are called of God, and don’t “graduate” or “earn” a position, you have no idea who might be called, or when. Consequently, the people that lead the church today, even the very apostles and prophet, all come from different walks of life. None of them aspired to their position. And since the general “clergy” of the church are unpaid (very unique indeed), they all continue to work, serving the Lord in their various capacities in an entirely volunteer manner.
None of these are professional “clergymen”, but rather ordinary people, called to do extraordinary things and make extraordinary sacrifices, enabled and empowered by the extraordinary power and priesthood of God. Because he whom the Lord calls, he qualifies. Through divine assistance, they’re able to conduct the Lords work on the earth, far beyond what would is befitting their native capacities.
How wonderful it is to know that we are led by men who have been called of God, chosen and called up to do his work, and who are given the authority and rights to function in ways that make the ordinances for our salvation official, binding, and eternal.
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