DC-Lesson 8

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The Restoration of the Priesthood

Church Cirriculum

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Melchizedek Priesthood Restoration

We know with precision when and how the Aaronic Priesthood was restored. It happened on May 15, 1829 when John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the banks of the Susequehanna River. The Melchizedek Priesthood? Well, that’s a different story.

We do not really know when it was restored. We know that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery say that they were visited by Peter, James and John. We know these three restored to Joseph and Oliver the keys of the apostleship. But unlike John the Baptist, Peter, James and John do not get their own section of the Doctrine & Covenants with a handy date.

Putting a date on this appearance has been difficult. “Ben” at The Juvenile Instructor wrote a very interesting post a while ago on dating the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, fleshes out his opinion (referred to in the JI post) that the three apostles may have appeared to Joseph and Oliver when they were fleeing a mob near Colesville, Ohio in June 1830. Does it matter when it happened? If so, why? Why the specificity with respect to some important visions and manifestations, but not this one?

To add to the uncertainty, Bushman suggests that it is not entirely clear that the Melchizedek Priesthood, per se, was restored by Peter, James and John in that original vision. Bushman notes that at a June 1831 conference, Joseph ordained several men to the “high priesthood.” At least in some sources, Joseph and others state that this was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in this dispensation. In fact, Bushman says Joseph himself was ordained to the “high priesthood” that day by Lyman Wight.

If Peter, James and John had restored the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829 or 1830, why was Joseph ordained to the “high priesthood” by Lyman Wight in 1831? And what about those statements that the 1831 conference was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in the last dispensation?

The Power of Godliness

The reading material for Lesson 8 contains one of my favorite passages from the Doctrine & Covenants, D&C 84:19-21. This passage explains that in the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the “power of godliness is manifest.”

This passage is interesting for a number of reasons. At its most basic level, I like the idea that the power of godliness is manifest in priesthood ordinances. For those of us who have been in the Church for a while, it is easy to take the sacrament, see a child baptized or attend a wedding and think it is pretty routine, ordinary stuff. This passage reminds me that it is not. Priesthood ordinances show us God’s power and bind us to him as we covenant to obey, receive remission of sins, and renew promises to always have His spirit to be with us. And what greater manifestation of God’s power can we see than the creation of a family that will continue into beyond death?

I think it is interesting, though that this passage does not refer to the power of God, but the power of godliness. As mentioned above, the power of God is manifest in priesthood ordinances that save us and bless our lives. But I think the power of godliness is also manifest in priesthood ordinances in at least a couple of ways. First, there is an obvious synergy between a priesthood-holder’s righteousness and discipleship, and the priesthood power he is able to exercise. This connection between worthiness or godliness and priesthood power is pretty clear. See, e.g., D&C 121:36-42.

Second, I think that each individual achieves greater levels of godliness as they receive priesthood ordinances and enter into covenants with God. Our own personal power of righteousness grows as we progress and come closer to God, assisted by ordinances like baptism, confirmation, the endowment and marriage.

Finally, I think it is pretty intriguing that Joseph received this revelation in 1832, relatively early in the restoration timeline. This was well before the sealing power was restored or temple ordinances were understood. In fact, although I am no historian, I do not believe that the Church at this time was really performing any Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances, unless you count ordinations to offices in that priesthood. I wonder what Joseph thought that phrase meant. Did he understand this as a foreshadowing of additional knowledge and ordinances?

How do you think the power of godliness is manifest in the ordinances of the priesthood? Is there a difference between the power of God and the power of godliness? And what (if anything) does Section 84 say about Joseph’s understanding of the restoration process?

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