In every dispensation of the gospel, Jesus Christ has shared his priesthood authority with his people. When he was on the earth he called and ordained twelve apostles by the laying on of hands to help him lead the church:
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. John 15:16
John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, laid his hands on their heads, and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829:
1 UPON you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness. Doctrine and Covenants 13:1
As resurrected, glorified beings Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek priesthood to Joseph Smith by the laying on of hands some time later.
Joseph Smith revealed that anyone who preaches the gospel or builds up the church must be "ordained" by someone who has authority:
11 Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church. Doctrine and Covenants 42:11
We usually think of the word "ordain" in terms of priesthood offices like Deacon, Teacher, Priest, Elder, High Priest, and so on. In the 5th Article of Faith Joseph Smith taught in more general terms that we "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."
In this short statement Joseph used a different word. Instead of "ordained" he said "called". In several priesthood-focused sections of the Doctrine and Covenants the usage of words like "office", "ordination", and "calling" seem to be somewhat synonymous. Another term begins to appear in the Doctrine and Covenants that is very relevant to this topic: to be "set apart" to serve in a calling in the church.
Whether a young or not-so-young man is ordained to an office in the priesthood, or any member of the church is set apart to serve in a church calling, what is important in all cases is that we are "called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority". The laying on of hands is a key pattern in delegating priesthood authority!
At stake conference President Edgington shared the thought that the general handbook is what we've learned from almost 200 years of experience (ie. making mistakes) in the church. The handbook is very strong evidence that the church is in a continual state of restoration, guided by the Savior through living prophets.
Would you like to receive priesthood authority to help build the church?
Priesthood authority to serve in the Church is delegated to members in the following ways:
- By setting apart to a Church calling
- By assignment from presiding Church leaders
When men and women are set apart under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys, they are given authority from God to act in that calling. When they are released from a calling, they no longer have the authority associated with it.
...all Church members who are set apart to serve are given divine authority and responsibility to act in their callings. For example:
- A woman who is called and set apart by the bishop as ward Relief Society president is given authority to direct the work of Relief Society in the ward.
- A man or woman who is called and set apart by a member of the bishopric as a Primary teacher is given authority to teach Primary children in the ward.
All who are called and set apart serve under the direction of those who preside over them.
What if we accept a calling but are not set apart by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority? Are we any better off serving in that calling than the person who was just released from it?
(Awkward pause to let the implications sink in...)
We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This restored church is the only organization on earth with priesthood authority! (Handbook Chapter 3) It would seem that without having been set apart to serve in our callings we live well beneath our great privilege of receiving delegated priesthood authority to help us receive revelation in our stewardship to build up the church, to participate in the gathering of Israel, to labor in the Lord's vineyard in preparation for His coming. Coincidentally, when we say that the Aaronic priesthood is a preparatory priesthood, this is the true meaning!
In our wonderful ward there are currently just over 200 callings being held by approximately 165 individual ward members. This list includes 16 members currently serving as temple workers and 12 missionaries serving in various locations inside and outside our ward. Each of these 200+ callings is an incredible showing of faith and consecration! Thank you for being willing to serve!
According to our records, many of those callings have been accepted without having recorded that the member was set apart. This is somewhat concerning to me, but on the bright side, if we are already doing this well, how much better could we be with an added portion of delegated priesthood authority?
At stake conference we heard from the stake presidency about the importance of preparation, especially personal spiritual preparation. One way we spiritually prepare to fulfill a calling is by being set apart. Would you like to receive and exercise priesthood authority to build up the kingdom of God, right here and now?
"God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability." ―Elder Neal A. Maxwell
I'd like to share a personal story that illustrates how being set apart had a meaningful impact on me in a previous calling. In the Spring Creek stake in Springville, Utah I was set apart to serve as the president of the elders quorum of our ward. The stake president gave me the following challenge as he set me apart:
Do not let the quorum be dysfunctional.
This seemed an odd choice of words and I almost chuckled during the blessing. My counselors and I had a laugh about the stake president's advice, but the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. Back then, elders quorums were separate from high priest groups and often lacked the wisdom and experience of older, faithful brethren. It happened all too often that priesthood opening exercises was followed by the unfortunate discovery that no one had prepared a lesson for the elders quorum that day, or had even been assigned! Talk about dysfunction!
After being set apart that day, the phrase
"Don't be dysfunctional!"
...became our quorum's rallying battle-cry. We sought to route out any form of dysfunction in how we operated. Of course we weren't perfect, but our service was shaped and influenced by our having been "called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands by those who [were] in authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."