Power and Authority


power-and-authorityThere was a deacon in the Church some years ago who observed one family member abusing another family member. He commanded the abuser to repent and cited his Aaronic priesthood as authority for the order. The abuser declined to acquiesce to his request.

Question: What lesson should the deacon have learned from this?

Consider the account of the two prophets in JST 1 Kings 13.

Question: What lesson should we take from the example of the prophet from Judah?

Question: For what purposes do people cite authority for their words or actions?

Question: Which of those purposes pass the Golden Rule test?

Question: What exercises of power or authority are compatible with the Golden Rule?

Question: What is the power of God?

Question: What is the authority of God?

Question: What is the significance of a commandment from God?

power-and-authority-illustratedD&C 121, as well as Jesus’s teachings to his disciples about authority and power, are good places to start on these things. (Handy keywords to search Jesus’s teachings for: rabbi, master, benefactors, greatest, servant, younger)

My answers will probably be different than yours, but that doesn’t necessarily make me “right” and you “wrong.”

45 Responses

  1. Someone is bound to bring it up, so I will share what I hope everyone already understands about appeals to authority: If someone makes a statement and declares it to be true because an authority thinks or says something, it must therefore be true.

    This is a logical fallacy. It’s important to note this fallacy should not be used to dismiss the claims of experts, or scientific consensus. I am not claiming there is any appeal to authority at work in this post. But I see it all the time in online discussions.

    Appeals to authority are not valid arguments, nor is it reasonable to disregard the claims of experts who have a demonstrated depth of knowledge unless one has a similar level of understanding and/or access to empirical evidence.

    It is entirely possible the opinion of a person or institution of authority is wrong; therefore the authority that such a person or institution holds does not have any intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims are true or not.

    Example: Not able to defend his position that evolution ‘isn’t true’ Bob says that he knows a scientist who also questions evolution (and presumably isn’t a primate).

    For more information on the logical fallacy of an appeal to authority, also known as an argument from authority, Wikipedia has a nice article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

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    • Please note that “nor is it reasonable to disregard the claims of experts…” is a value judgement (the same class of statements as “Taco Bell is the BEST Mexican food evar!”) and, as such, may be dismissed out of hand.

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      • Kind of goes along the lines of the Lord’s declaration He is no respecter of persons, meaning He is willing to reveal to us what He has revealed to others if it suits His purposes and meets His needs AND if we ask in sufficient faith.

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  2. So the deacon may have learnt the lesson that even though you might claim to have authority, if there is no power to back it up then no one will be that keen to listen to you.
    Maybe when he is a priest and has growen a little larger in stature, he will be able to demonstrate his power by the “laying on of hands”? That should do the trick.

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  3. The deacon, having no ability to enforce his command, should’ve tried instead to persuade the abuser in the direction of repentance. Even if he was a deacon large in stature, he could only use force to protect the abused, (possibly with some sort of electric shock), but not to drive a man to repentance, since it is truly impossible to force a man to repent.

    I’m not sure how this fits with 1 Kings 13. That story seems to say to me that, even if a prophet commands you do something against what God asks of you, even if that prophet says it with a twinkle in his eye, and even if an angel has commanded that prophet, you should follow God over man.

    It is also possible from that story that a prophet who asks you to follow him instead of God is in on the joke, and God and that prophet are testing you.

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    • I imagine it’s even possible that God could have Denver, or Tim, or log, play the role of the prophet who is testing us.

      There really is no substitute for hearing the word of God directly.

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    • The relationship between the deacon and the prophets in 1 Kings 13 is thematic – power and authority, and the nature thereof. It’s actually not a strong relationship, but the questions tie it all together.

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    • Why, for example, did the deacon cite his priesthood authoritah?

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      • In the hopes that the abuser would cower before his authority?

        Because he is doing what he has seen others with priesthood doing?

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        • Probably both.

          If priesthood power / authority isn’t for getting what you want out of people – and we can take a very liberal view of what constitutes a person – what’s it for?

          Or, better, what is priesthood power / authority?

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        • For example, does a Melchizedek priesthood holder have a right to command the powers of heaven? (I suppose this one is easily tested – we could ask a volunteer Melchizedek priesthood holder to command an angel to appear to him. If an angel declines to acquiesce to his request, then I suppose that demonstrates that the Melchizedek priesthood holder does NOT have a right to command the powers of heaven. And if he hasn’t got that right, then what rights does he have?)

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        • The intention of Priesthood power and authority is not to act independently of God, but to act in conjunction with God. That is the “right” and righteousness of the priesthood holder.

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        • Ok, but what is priesthood power and authority?

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  4. I have rearranged your questions a bit, Log.

    Question: What is the power of God?

    My understanding of the word “power” is the strength or the actual energy by which God creates, sustains, and directs all.

    Question: What is the authority of God?

    My understanding of the word “authority” (in this context) is the right or privilege of directing God’s power in His name. Thus, God is of course the ultimate authority. Others may be given a partial or purposeful authority, however.

    Question: What lesson should we take from the example of the prophet from Judah?

    The prophet from Judah acquiesced to a lesser authority than the command received “by the word of the Lord.” Lesson: don’t accept less than the word of the ultimate authority–God–if you don’t want to get attacked by a lion. 🙂

    Question: For what purposes do people cite authority for their words or actions? To gain favor, to persuade others to follow and/or believe them.

    Question: Which of those purposes pass the Golden Rule test?

    See below.

    Question: What exercises of power or authority are compatible with the Golden Rule?

    Any exercise given by “the word of the Lord” that seeks to influence “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:41-42) that does not “undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness” (D&C 121:37).

    Question: What is the significance of a commandment from God?

    Whatever God speaks is the law by which our souls will be judged.

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    • I suppose I was asking “what is the nature of God’s power, and what is the nature of God’s authority?”

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      • I suppose the nature of God’s power and authority is that which does not abuse and that which maintains our liberty to seek after and gain greater knowledge.

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  5. Log: Ok, but what is priesthood power and authority?

    The attributes of God in action, the very same attributes required of us to maintain that power or influence.

    As you cited in D&C 121:

    41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

    43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

    I suspect priesthood power and authority is no more and no less than acting in accordance with who God is by His word.

    Therefore, if I am kind, I act by the power of God. If I am gentle . . . If I am meek . . . and on it goes. If I am contrary, “the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).

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    • D&C 29:36 And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;

      What meaneth this thing?

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  6. Is not the honor or power God possesses somehow related to the worship, respect, adoration and obedience He receives from countless billions of intelligent beings?

    Would God be a God of power independent of the honor bestowed upon Him by others, including other Gods? Surely we mere mortals cannot limit God’s power.

    Are you suggesting honor as in the synonymous form of integrity? God said honor is his power. It seems fairly important therefore to understand the meaning of honor.

    One interpretation of Jude 1:25 – “To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, let us give glory and honor and authority and power, before all time and now and for ever. So be it.”

    Therefore, are we part of the source of God’s power as we honor Him by obeying His commandments? Yet, is He not a God of power whether we choose to honor / obey Him or not, because He was given all power in Heaven and earth?

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    • Maybe God’s power is simply the honor that those things which freely obey him give him. If nothing honored (respected, trusted) him, would anything obey him? Would he still be God? If he tried to force someone to obey him, would they love him or trust him?

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      • If all the spirits turned against God, it would be hard to call God a god, since He will not use his power to force us to do anything. In this sense, God’s existence as a god depends on deontic binding–the consent of the governed. (Why do you call me Lord if you don not what I say) We give God power because we trust that he is all loving, and all wise.

        Of course, if everyone chose Lucifer as their god, Lucifer would not gain similar power, because we would quickly see that he isn’t worthy of our trust, and everyone would go his own way.

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        • The leader principle, with its necessary social binding principle, loyalty, and the motivating principle, fear, are substitutes for honor, trust, and love. With leaders, loyalty, and fear, it might take some time before people abscond or rebel, and even then they would most likely be attempting to set up competing hierarchies – more of the same (meet the new boss, same as the old boss).

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        • What power does God have aside from our willing obedience?

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    • Doctrine and Covenants 76:5
      5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.

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  7. I think that God receives the honour of those spirit/light/intelligence that obey Him after a Law is taught, understood, opposition present and through the agency of the being, the law is freely obeyed.
    When the voice of God asks His creations to do something, He will then wait until the time that He is obeyed.
    Some of us even enjoy obeying Gods words. To some of His creations, great joy is felt when they fulfil the measure of their creation and consecrate the glory back to Him.

    I wonder how successful the deacon would have been if he had asked the water like the saviour did to please become wine? Would have those little water molecules been as willing to change into wine molecules if someone with less power asked them to oblige?

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    • Remember – we like what we are designed to like.

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  8. So, if anyone wants to journey with me on these issues, Wikipedia has an informative article on what power is. If we compare with D&C 121 and the teachings of Jesus, we can see a lot of interesting things pop up.

    Light and knowledge come by one’s own diligence and efforts. We must leave the nest and Mother’s pre-digested worms at some point, right?

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  9. Question: For what purposes do people cite authority for their words or actions? To gain favor, to persuade others to follow and/or believe them.

    That’s about what I think too. In fact, I can’t think of any other reason – and I would have said it with a lot more negativity than that.

    I wonder if God goes around telling people they have to believe him because, you know, he’s God, the ultimate authority on everything?

    Or does God do something else? (John 6)

    The one thing I know of that the scriptures say God cannot do – hey, a limitation on power! – is lie. People lie for the same reasons they cite authority. I wonder if citing authority is related to lying, then? They both serve as shortcuts to persuasion.

    Of course, not being able to lie is not the same thing as being straightforward and open. With information and perception control, as well as using languages which themselves are designed in part to facilitate making false seem true and true seem false by use of labels and ambiguities (for religious, political, or financial purposes, natch), does one really need to lie?

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  10. I believe that satan has pulled another fast one on a lot of people and lead them to believe that there can be some kind of authority in the priesthood without power.
    By the time doctrine and covenants 121 was introduced people were well into the idolatry of the “follow the prophet” mode which early church leaders perpetuated.
    Please think what operation of the priesthood can be done without power. Is there any? The “authority” of the priesthood is “power” power=authority.
    Any ordinance, blessing, word, operation of any kind that is not being done with power, is also not being done with authority.
    If I bless someone to be healed, without the power to heal them given from God (whether God is the light within me in operation, or from the light of a higher being flowing through me it doesn’t matter) then I spoke the words with zero authority.
    When it comes to priesthood, power is authority. Power only comes by faith in Christ.
    The reason God has authority in all subjects is because when He speaks every word is propelled by the power and operation of light and truth. Gods authority is His power. If God lacked power, there would be no authority.
    God is Light.

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    • I cannot say what lesson the deacon should have learned, but I know what lesson he in fact did learn – he learned that he had no power. He never tried that again.

      Power is the ability to conform reality to one’s will. God’s power is persuasion, broadly construed – and it must be so if he is to have eternal, coequal, coexisting, autonomous, self-defining beings. Anything more and we would be to God as our appendages are to us; is it not so?

      On another but related subject, wouldn’t it be interesting if God is living (or, really, has lived) out all of our lives with us, and this is part of the atonement and the function of the light of Christ? Wouldn’t it be interesting if that is how Christ suffered for our sins – everything we ever did to anyone, we did it to him, and he himself suffered everything he did to us (in the form of what philosophers call “natural evils”)? Just musing out loud, there…

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      • That is exactly what the atonement is in my understanding.
        As far as the power being persuasion it seems to be that if the core of people’s being was light, that the light within them would always and forever be persuading them to return to the source, to become one with the source.
        At times God may command the tabernacle of a spirit to do something that the spirit does not wish the tabernacle to do, such as commanding a body to be silent, or to die, but He will always and forever respect the agency of the being within the tabernacle.
        Of course God knows that by the power of light (love, truth etc) His sheep will be persuaded when the time is right, therefore there is never a need for compulsion, and never even a temptation to use it.
        Satan’s desire to use compulsion implies a lack of understanding of what power and authority are.

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  11. There is a “reality” called Group Agreement. Most of what we believe or adhere to comes by way of group agreement. Example: The color blue. We have all agreed that that the way that the light shines on a certain object is called the color blue. We don’t who named it… but as a group, we accept it’s name is Blue.

    Other things don’t have as concrete agreement as colors or other phrases that we use to identify things for easier communication.

    So large group agreement can be broken down to smaller group agreements. If you think it or believe it… you can generally find someone out there that will join you in that agreement. Groups can be as small as a unit of two. Unless you are a lone reed.

    When it comes to Power and Authority, WE as INDIVIDUALS, (many lone reeds) come together and give power to authority. Example: As a group, we give Authority to the Police. An average person puts on a “badge” and we, as a group, acknowledge he has the power to arrest and take control etc. And that person who puts on the “badge” and get’s in his car knows he has power and can use it justly or abuse it. Look at the power the “badge” called” judge” has. The power of his word can be a matter of life or death.

    In the case of the Deacon… he had the “badge” of authority given to him… but it was not recognized by the individual as one having authority… perhaps because of his age… who knows. The young Deacon could not exercise his authority to make the abuser stop because the “badge” was not recognized. There may not have been enough group agreement to make the “badge” appear valid.

    We, in the LDS church, have joined a group that gives authority and power to a Prophet. When he speak… many in the group jump. Others in the group that don’t believe he has all of the authority he claims don’t pay much attention, thus forming a new group of those who feel the same way.

    HOWEVER, no one is given authority and power unless WE, as individuals, give it to them through our agency. We join groups that support our point of view. But we individually choose to join the group or not.

    At the time of the restoration, Joseph stood as a lone reed. What courage! But soon, others acknowledged him as having the authority to make the claims he did, and a
    new group was born.

    There is no doubt, that those who have been give a “Badge” of authority have a great responsibility not to abuse the stewardship or power it allows.

    As in the case of the example in 1Kings, The “Man of God” obviously believed that if an angel appeared to a Prophet and gave a contrary message than what he had received from God, the other prophet had the right to usurp the higher authority.

    The offending Prophet, who lied, certainly did not follow the Golden Rule, as he used his “badge” to deceive and abused his position of trust. I’m sure he would not want to be treated the same way… thus breaking the Golden Rule.

    The question is… who do “I” give authority too? In some cases, do “I” acknowledge God as being the final authority? If so, do “I” allow others, who have a Badge, to usurp God’s word to me?

    Am I willing to stand as a lone reed as Joseph did, and not get sucked in to group agreement which I know to be wrong?

    Do “I” individually, unwittingly give my agreement to a Badge because “I” have been too lazy to investigate whether it is good for me.. or the group?

    Do “I” wait for those with a “badge” of authority to speak, then follow without further investigation, even if I’m aware that the Badge is taking advantage of my trust, whether the abuse is in my home, community or church?

    Can I even identify whether the Badge is being abused? Do I have the gift of discernment?

    Am “I” afraid of being a lone reed?

    If I have been given a “badge,” do “I” apply power righteously or do I deceive or abuse the trust and authority given to “me” by an individual (child) or a group (citizens) or membership (church).

    Bottom line is…. Who do “I” give “Authority and Power” to? And how do I manage power when given a “badge” of authority?

    Do I do unto others as I would have them do unto me?

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    • The reason I cited the JST version is twofold – firstly, I trust Joseph, and secondly, the JST has a materially relevant difference with the KJV – the “offending” prophet didn’t lie to the prophet from Judah.

      The lesson stands, though – never permit any man, no matter his claims, to come between us and God.

      I asked my daughter what one should do if a man asks us to do something, and claims he was told to ask it of us by the Spirit, but the Spirit doesn’t witness to us that the man is telling the truth.

      She said, “I’m calling bullshit on that one.”

      I said, “Ah, but you know what, the man could even be telling the truth about the Spirit telling him to ask us. But we don’t know that – do we do as he asks?”

      She said, “It’s still BS.”

      I agreed.

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  12. Log your daughter was very wise in her answers. No would only suggest that to call bs on something that there spirit has not told you is bs can be nearly as treacherous as following bs without a confirmation. Most people who read the bible or Book of Mormon, some even very thoughtfully do not feel the spirit reading any of it. Most just call it bs and toss it to the side.

    Consider that all the things that joseph smith ever wrote or said are the same as a man standing in front of you claiming that he received all that he is sharing by the spirit.

    Kathryn you are pointing out some things that are vital to our spiritual progression.
    Once a man or woman recognizes zero spiritual authority in any being besides God, then they have reached a spiritual life altering shift. Most who make the claim they have reached this milestone still unknowingly place trust in a man or in beings other than God, and truly have not fully yielded to God. There is not one mortal, past or present, that ought to be trusted when it comes to spirit and truth. So please, don’t trust this comment:)

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    • Nate, how would you respond to the perpetual suggestion, or accusation, that you were either a knowing hypocrite or else an unwitting one?

      What then does the Golden Rule say about making such suggestions or accusations?

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  13. Log

    Thank you for the OP you wrote. I have appreciated your insights and have contemplated and learned by the spirit because of some things you have said. I appreciate your love of the gospel and the thought provoking questions you have asked in many posts. I hope you will forgive me for any suggestions or insinuations that may have lead you to believe I have anything but love for you.
    I do not know of any hypocrites that I have communicated with on this site or any other. You least of all. I admire you being forthright with your convictions and willing to share the truth as you know it.

    As for your questions I do not believe the perpetual suggestion that people are hypocrites would be very useful, or very kind. The golden rule would suggest that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I believe that it is a good rule.

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    • I’m a hypocrite.

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    • It is good that we agree such accusations would not be very useful, or very kind.

      That having been said, may I ask of you to cease from implying that there is something wrong, even self-contradictory, with my trusting Joseph, including using the JST? Will you honor my request?

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  14. Log,

    I understand that you feel your trust has been placed correctly and I respect you as much as any human being, and really do not value one person over any other, no matter where their beliefs are founded. We each must trust the voice of God and stay true to the light we have been given.
    My spiritual understanding of trusting in no man is something I will not agree to stay silent on because it is part of the pearl of great price that I would rather not give up. If I asked you to stop quoting the JST translation or certain verses of scripture I do not think that would be a fair request. Each time you quote the JST or a quote from Joseph Smith you are voicing a belief. Each time I express the idea of not trusting any man, including Joseph, and only trusting the Spirit of Truth, I am expressing my own understanding and conviction, out of love and concern for the spiritual welfare of my brothers and sisters.
    As for not directing any comments to you concerning this, I will honor that, and if I do ever say such things in comments they will not be directed at you, but rather the readers in general.

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    • May I also request that you not use my comments as a springboard for such preachments?

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      • Only if God tells me to will I bring any such things up again in the comment sections of your articles, so as far as I can discern I will also honor that request.

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        • Thank you. I cannot ask for more.

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  15. Question: Which of [the purposes of citing authority] pass the Golden Rule test?

    Among those who need or would respond positively to authority, citing authority may be the best way to reach them. But for spiritual matters, it seems to me that authority should only be cited if the authority in question so instructs; otherwise it is a matter of manipulation. I don’t like being manipulated into things. I tend to reject all appeals to authority. If a man waves credentials in my face and orders my assent to his declarations, I may test his consistency.

    Question: What exercises of power or authority are compatible with the Golden Rule?

    Those exercises which are what you would want done to yourself. If you despise arguments from authority, for example, you shouldn’t use them. It goes without saying nobody likes nagging, threats, punishment, “I know better than you,” and so on. If you like being peaceably persuaded with full respect given your intelligence and integrity and autonomy, that’s the way you should treat others. Which leads to the next question…

    Question: What is the power of God?

    D&C 121:41-46

    Question: What is the authority of God?

    Knowledge – the record of firsthand experience.

    Question: What is the significance of a commandment from God?

    His commandments are given to protect his servants. We are justified to him as his servants in honoring his requests over others’ requests. Since the Golden Rule implies all requests should be granted, there can be conflicting requests, so the commandments give us an out if someone requests something of us that violates the Golden Rule. We are free to grant the others’ requests, remembering that we receive our wages from whom we obey.

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  16. As for the metaphysical question of God’s authority and/or power I must say that I don’t have a clue. From our perspective as mortals, then from the perspective of fallen, natural man I would say that Power=Authority. In the fallen world, force rules the world, and whatsoever a man does is “no crime,” everyman faring according to the management of the creature (ala Korihor). But from the point of view of the gospel and priesthood, it is clear that one may have authority (ie., authorization) and yet be devoid of any real priesthood power. Since priesthood power is completely dependent upon the anti-thesis of Force (kindness, charity, love unfeigned), then to try to exercise priesthood power in any degree of unrighteousness, voids that power.
    So I suppose a man may lose priesthood in two ways: through passive neglect, and through active unrighteous behavior.

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    • That’s just it tho. Is kindness, charity, love unfeigned, persuasion, pure knowledge, long-suffering in any way, at all, related to what we call “priesthood?”

      Doesn’t this sound like stuff anyone can do?

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