Priesthood Power and Authority

At first glance, this might appear to be a GQ topic; however, I’m sure there will be some differences of opinion on the answer, which in turn will rise to a GD. So, onto the topic!

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as “Mormons”), there is a very extensive lay ministry. These priests (at various levels within the two divisions of the priesthood) perform various ordinances, among which are baptisms, confirmations, blessing of the sacrament, marriages (both “for time only” and “for time and eternity”), sealings, and endowments. Now, to get ordained to any particular office within that priesthood, one is queried as to his support of the Gospel, the Church, if he’s living a wholesome life, and a few other questions.

My big question is: What happens when it’s discovered that someone has not been forthcoming in his answers to those questions? This is especially important for such questions which would bar that person from performing any ordinances whatsoever. What actions does the LDS Church take regarding the ordinances those who went through? Do those individuals have to repeat the ordinances? How exactly is this handled by the Church?

Monty, I’m looking forward to seeing one of the other learned LDS members digging up and posting the proper answer to your questions, and I’m, for obvious reasons, not qualified to respond.

I will comment that to the best of my knowledge, the CoJCoLDS holds to the same theory of the efficacy of ordinances as does any other Christian church – that it is God, not the human being performing the ordinance, who conveys the spiritual blessing received through the ordinance, and that therefore the virtues or lack thereof of the person who does the performing is no bar to the efficacy of the act, which is conveyed by God to the sincere believer through the ministry of the minister – even if he should have reservations, doubts, or falsehoods about the act he is performing.

From my experience, the ordinances are still valid. I’ve known some men who were discovered to have lied about things when they were baptized. In all situations, they would not have been baptized if the truth had been told. However, since the people who were baptized, etc. by these men did so in good faith, there was no need to redo the ordinance.

As for what happened to the man, that is determined on an individual basis as when any other church action is taken. I’ve known men who have been disfellowshipped and others have been excommunicated.

Is that what you are asking or is there more to your question Monty?

Yeah, what Polycarp said… he said it much better then I did :slight_smile:


I’m also concerned about the efficacy of those ordinance performed by someone who believes he is authorized to do so, but in reality is not.

Every time I’ve seen an LDS baptism or a blessing of a baby, the priest peforming the ordinance mentions that he holds the holy priesthood. Now, there are things, such as being an apostate, that, IIRC, automatically removes that authority.

I think I understand what you are asking, Monty and I thought I had answered it and I thought Polycarp answered it very well, but I’ll give it another try by telling you the story of the first experience I had with this type of situation…

When I was 12-13ish, my best friend’s step father joined the church. He went on to baptize one of the girls in our Mutual class. Awhile later, it was discovered that he had lied about many things.

One of the things he lied about was he was married to another person in addition to my friend’s mother. Bigamy certainly would have made his baptism not happen had he been honest about it and he was excommunicated as a result of his lies.

As you can see, although we all thought he held the priesthood authority, he was not at all worthy to be ordained so he didn’t actually hold the office he would have had everyone, including himself, believe he did.

I remember very clearly we (all the girls in our Mutual class) were all wondering if our new friend would have to be rebaptized since he wasn’t worthy to hold the priesthood. The The bishop came to our class and explained to everyone that wasn’t necessary for the very reason that Polycarp answered.

Normally, a Bishop doesn’t discuss another member, and IIRC, he didn’t this time either. I think what I said makes it sound like he did so I wanted to clarify that. He instructed us from a general point of view…not specifically mentioning the man. He taught us the church doctrine regarding situations where ordinances are performed by a man who is performing them without the proper authority.

I just talked myself into a tailspin. I’m confused now so I’m not at all sure this will answer your question. I hope someone else comes along who can explain it better, or when Rico wakes up, I’ll ask him to help me word it in another way so it’s clear.

Once it’s disclosed they are generally prohibited from performing those ordinances, sometimes only for a time during the repentance process and sometimes for a longer time or if warranted by the specific “sin” then disfellowship or excommunication. (I should note that there are those who repent after disfellowship or excommunication and have their priesthood blessings restored. Some do, some don’t, it’s up to the individual to decide for themselves.)

Usually none. Polycarp is right, and he explained it better than I could. The priesthood is the power and authority of God (not of an individual). It is His authority that blesses the ordinance or covenant, not the individual person.

Usually no. The one insistance I am aware of (and it is extremely rare), is if a person claims to be a bishop and performs a wedding and it’s later shown that he was not a bishop when he performed the wedding. The marriage would have to be performed over by a “real” bishop.

Once it’s disclosed they are generally prohibited from performing those ordinances, sometimes only for a time during the repentance process and sometimes for a longer time or if warranted by the specific “sin” then disfellowship or excommunication. In the case of most ordinance work, nothing is re-done. It individual wasn’t worthy of his priesthood, that does not make the priesthood (the power and authority of God) any less valid.

The question of Monty reminds me of my theology classes in the Catholic university where I studied. So, if anyone is interested here are the teachings of the Catholic Church on the efficacy of the sacraments.

There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction.

Now, the Catholic Church also had this problem of how can there be certainty that a person did receive effectively a sacrament. Sometimes this problem plagues the recipient of the sacrament that he was not worthy to receive; or the officiating minister that he was not worthy to confer; or the community which doubts about the worthiness of either or both recipient and administrating minister.

Certain concepts were thought up by Catholic theologians from the very early centuries and later got very well defined, to solve these doubts. Here are the concepts which apply to Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Order, and Eucharist (I will leave aside for the time being the sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction):

Physical causality as against moral causality, meaning if the recipient subject and the conferring minister know what the sacrament is which they are involved with, and both the one at least consents to receive and the other consents to confer, even if he is coerced, then the sacrament will be realized, it will come into existence; notwithstanding however unworthy in moral disposition and in the intention of the receiving subject or the conferring minister.

Valid reception as against fruitful reception, meaning the above sacraments can be received substantially though not fruitfully; so that you could be baptized but still be deserving of going to hell should you die right away. But the fruitful efficacy can and will come about when you acquire the right disposition and intention.

Power of orders as against power of jurisdiction, applied to the conferring minister, it means something like you have a gun (power of orders), but you must have the license to use it (power of jurisdiction); yet if you do shoot at someone, he will get killed just the same, even without the license to use.
Wherefore, if you as a Catholic are wondering whether you were baptized at all, you just have to examine yourself whether you did consent to be baptized; if so you are baptized whatever its unfruitful trait in terms of making you holy and saving you from hell. If the doubt is on the conferring minister, as long as he has the power of orders and he at least consents to officiate however much under duress and however unworthy his disposition and his intention, the sacrament will be delivered by him.

There are other details to be explained; if you bring them up, I will explain them.

Susma Rio Sep

Well, does the LDS church subscribe to the Donatist heresy? :wink:

(That is, sacrements performed by those who were in a state of sin or whatever are not valid).

Exactly the question, Guin!

I have to tell you that although I told you how the Church leadership handles these situations a couple weeks ago… well, there’s just no nice way to say this. I don’t agree with how it’s handled.

Granted my gray matter is rather emaciated these days, and there have always been things I don’t understand, when I try to follow a logistical line of thought from priesthood authority + not being worthy to have that same priesthood = as you said, Monty,

I just can’t make the big leap from that point to where the ordinances performed while in that situation are valid and don’t have to be redone.

Although I’ve been taught and understand the concept Polycarp so nicely explained (and I know that is exactly what the leaders teach):

The LDS Church vehemently teaches the necessity to be worthy to hold the Priesthood authority which has been bestowed upon a man, and teaches how very, very important it is for all members to maintain a level of worthiness. For example, to be worthy to take the sacrament. I’m to lazy to look up the exact quote but IIRC it goes pretty much like this: it’s better not to take the sacrament then to partake of it unworthily. All the ordinances in the church require a level of worthiness.

I grew up knowing that when a man was caught, or fessed up, he went through a repentance process (probation, disfellowship, excommunication) like anyone else who breaks major commandments, but that the ordinances performed by him, during the time he was unworthy, were recognized by the powers that be, as being valid. I’ve always wondered about that line of reasoning,

I guess I might as well go there since I’m dancing around it.

The biggie: an unworthy temple worker.

Just what exactly is it about that that doesn’t negate the ordinances??? I’d feel “funny” if I found out I’d gone through a temple session and one of the temple workers hadn’t been worthy to be there. And this is just my selfishness, but if I’m going to live the way I should to be worthy to attend the temple, I expect everyone else who is there to be doing the same thing. If I were not worthy, I simple wouldn’t go until I was worthy again. It’s very clear, simple and as black/white as you can get.

The Church is so passionate about how important it is for all members of the church, not just the Priesthood holders, all members, to live worthily. But that it’s imperative for a Priesthood holder to live up to his commitments.

I don’t know if I’d have ever even questioned this doctrine if the importance isn’t stressed so much. But since the one teaching is so clear (the responsibility to live up to a higher standing once you become a Priesthood holder), it just seems to me that the ordinances wouldn’t be valid… no matter how faithful the individual was, if the Priesthood was being used unworthily. It ties back into what Monty said about the automatic removal of the Priesthood once a saint has sinned.

I think about things and try to understand them, and the Church is so very clear on the importance of being worthy when engaging in any ordinances.

Take for example my sweet husband Rico. He don’t consider himself a member of the LDS church any longer although his name is still on the Church rolls. He went on a mission when he was younger so he was ordained to the office of Elder. He still remembers the ordinances he practiced.

A hypothetical here:

Let’s say I got sick and there wasn’t anyone else around to give me a priesthood blessing. What would happen if he gave me one? Would God recognize it any less then if a worthy priesthood holder did the honors? Or is it solely contingent upon my faith?

Did that make any sense :confused:


I don’t propose to teach LDS doctrine – I’m barely aware of what it is, to begin with. But in the other Christian churches that recognize the Apostolic Succession (and not all of them do), the following are the case:

  1. The ordinary minister of baptism is the priest/elder/presbyter, for only he can minister the baptism which accompanies it, or administer chrismation (the anointing of the newly baptized with chrism, oil blessed by the bishop) – which is done in the Anglican churches and in the Orthodox churches is equivalent to Confirmation. The bishop when present at the service presides, baptizes, and chrismates, but normally the parish’s priest will conduct the baptism. However, a deacon or layman can baptize in case of need – devout nurses, doctors, and EMT responders will be prepared to do so in emergency situations.

  2. Only a priest (or bishop) may celebrate the Eucharist/Mass/ Lord’s Supper/Divine Liturgy/Holy Communion. He may draft laymen to help distribute the consecrated elements (bread and wine). In the absence of a priest, a deacon may conduct the communion service without the prayer of consecration, distributing previously consecrated elements held in reserve for such situations.

  3. Again only a priest or bishop may pronounce absolution in the context of a confession of sins. But any baptized Christian may hear a confession and declare God’s forgiveness of them so long as he/she does not claim to be absolving the sins.

  4. In the Anglican, Old Catholic, and Roman Rite Catholic churches, only a bishop may confirm. However, in the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches, the priest is the normal minister of confirmation – and a Roman Rite priest may confirm an Eastern Rite Catholic if no Eastern Rite priest is available.

  5. The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the two persons who marry each other. It is ordinarily presided over by a bishop or priest, who alone may pronounce the church’s blessing on the marriage. But a valid sacramental marriage may be vowed in the absence of clergy – only three witnesses are required, though why a couple who believed in sacramental marriage might choose to do so is a good question.

  6. A priest is the normal minister of the anointing of the sick, again using chrism – oil blessed by the bishop. However, in case of need, a deacon or layman is entitled to perform such anointing provided that he has oil blessed by the bishop. (This is in keeping with the rulings of Pope Gregory the Great.)

  7. Only a bishop may ordain to the diaconate, the priesthood, or the episcopacy. Ordinarily a bishop will lay on hands for the diaconate, a bishop accompanied by all priests in attendance for the priesthood, and the chief bishop of the province or church along with at least two other bishops for the episcopacy.

As for the reason that in the LDS church marriages alone are invalid when performed by a non-valid elder/bishop and must be redone, I suspect that the reason here has less to do with church doctrine than the fact that in a marriage the clergyperson (of any church) has the dual role of officiating at a religious service and serving as the authorized presider of a marriage recognized by the state – whose laws normally provide that a marriage conducted by a minister in good standing in his/her church is a legal marriage. Since the church has discovered the invalidity of Elder X’s right to conduct a marriage, the marriages he conducts may well be valid in the eyes of God, whose blessing he is supposed to bestow – but the state, being legalistic, may have a quite different perspective on the matter: Since Elder X had no right under the laws of the LDS to conduct that marriage, he is not an “authorized minister” under the state’s laws. Would this make sense?

Oops – in #1 on Apostolic Succession churches above, that was supposed to be “…for only he can administer the blessing which accompanies it…”

For the record, I did check my response above with a High Priest, serving in the office of Bishop, before posting, to make sure that I was posting an accurate answer to Monty’s question. I wasn’t shooting from the hip.

Poly’s outline of the duties and offices of priesthood in his faith are interesting reading. For comparision I have listed the duties and responsibilities of the priesthood in the LDS church below.

Priesthood Duties and Standards

Aaronic Priesthood (Deacon, Teacher, Priest)
Deacon (can be as young as 12 & 13 years old)
Remain worthy to represent the Savior by doing all of the following regularly:

  1. Keep the commandments.

  2. Live the standards in For the Strength of Youth.

  3. Have daily personal prayer.

  4. Read the scriptures.

  5. Attend sacrament meeting, priesthood meeting, and other Church meetings.

  6. Keep the Word of Wisdom.

  7. Pay a full tithe.

  8. Pass the sacrament.

  9. Gather fast offerings.

  10. Perform other assigned priesthood duties.
    (Other assigned duties in our congregation amounts to things like, setting up chairs in the overflow when needed before and stacking them after a meeting, laying out or picking up hymnals, helping with cleaning the church and yardwork on saturday. Doing minor repairs and lawn care for the widows and infirm.

Teacher (can be as young as 14 & 15 years old)
A teacher can do all that a deacon does, plus:
Remain worthy to represent the Savior by doing all of the following regularly:

  1. Keep the commandments.

  2. Live the standards in For the Strength of Youth.

  3. Have daily personal prayer.

  4. Read the scriptures.

  5. Attend seminary, where available; otherwise, enroll in the appropriate seminary home-study course.

  6. Attend sacrament meeting, priesthood meeting, and other Church meetings.

  7. Keep the Word of Wisdom.

  8. Pay a full tithe.

  9. Prepare the sacrament.

  10. Serve as a home teacher as assigned by your priesthood leaders.

  11. Perform other assigned priesthood duties.

Priest (can be as young as 16 & 17 years old or could be an adult relatively new member)
A priest can do all that a deacon and teacher do, plus:
Remain worthy to represent the Savior by doing all of the following regularly:

  1. Keep the commandments.

  2. Live the standards in For the Strength of Youth.

  3. Have daily personal prayer.

  4. Read the scriptures.

  5. Attend seminary, where available; otherwise, enroll in the appropriate seminary home-study course.

  6. Attend sacrament meeting, priesthood meeting, and other Church meetings.

  7. Keep the Word of Wisdom.

  8. Pay a full tithe.

  9. Administer the sacrament.

  10. Serve as a home teacher, as assigned by your priesthood leaders.

  11. Perform other assigned priesthood duties.
    Melchizedek Priesthood (Elder, High Priest, Bishop, Stake President, Mission President, General Authority)
    The following are some responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood:

[li]We should be personally converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and be thoroughly committed to living its principles.[/li]
[li]We should teach our families the principles of the gospel and treat them with love and understanding.[/li]
[li]We should be worthy to hold a temple recommend, obtain the blessings of the temple for ourselves and our families, find the names of our ancestors, and perform temple ordinances for them. We should promote “[the turning of] the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” by keeping family records (such as personal journals, family group records, and family histories) and by maintaining family organizations.[/li]
[li]We should provide for ourselves and our families and help those in need through the welfare program of the Church.[/li]
[li]We should engage in appropriate missionary activities, such as helping family members prepare for and serve full-time missions, friendshipping nonmembers, providing referrals for the missionaries, serving full-time missions, and financially supporting missionary work.[/li]
[li]We should understand our full responsibilities as home teachers and diligently “watch over … and be with and strengthen” those we are called to serve (see D&C 20:53).[/li]
[li]We should serve diligently in our Church callings, perform other Church and quorum duties, and participate in appropriate Church meetings and activities, thereby building the kingdom of God.[/li]
[li]We should “honor, obey, and sustain the law; be loyal citizens and good neighbors; and improve the community in which [we] live” .[/li]
When we are given the Melchizedek Priesthood, we are given the power to bless the spiritual lives of others. The Melchizedek Priesthood “administereth the gospel and holdeth the key … of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest” (see D&C 84:19-21). Through the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood, we can consecrate oil, bless the sick, confer the priesthood and the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordain others to priesthood offices, dedicate graves, give blessings of comfort, bestow father’s blessings on our children, and participate in the higher temple ordinances.

The Specific Duties of Elders and High Priests
The word elder has two meanings in the Church. It can refer in a general way to a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood. For example, missionaries and many General Authorities have the title of Elder. Elder also refers to a specific office in the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Elders baptize, ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; administer bread and wine, and to confirm those who are baptized into the church, and to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; and to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost; and to take the alead of all meetings. An elder has a right to officiate in his stead when the high priest is not present. The high priest and elder are to administer in spiritual things, agreeable to the covenants and commandments of the church; and they have a right to officiate in all these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present. (From D&C 20:38-45, D&C 42:44, D&C 46:2, and D&C 107:11-12.)

In addition to the responsibilities mentioned in these scriptures, elders are to officiate in any calling that may be required of them. President Joseph F. Smith explained that elders may be asked to work in the temples, labor in the ministry at home, and assist in preaching the gospel to the world (see Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 184-85).

High Priest
The rights and responsibilities of high priests are to preside and to hold all the authority of elders (see D&C 107:10). The calling to preside includes, among others, the offices of General Authority, mission president, stake president, and bishop. As high priests preside in their various callings, they have the power to administer the spiritual blessings of their particular calling.

Above Duties and Responsibilities excerpted from Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood, Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I’m afraid I don’t understand. Is it the Catholic churches position that there are people on earth who are entirely without sin?

In the LDS church we believe all sin except Christ.

AbbySthrnAccent: I think Guin meant those who are unrepentant about their sin.

Does this mean that the baptisms, blessings, masses, marriages and sacraments performed by the priests involved abuse of children over the course of years are all invalid and have to be redone?

Are people who thought they were married not? or thought their infants baptised wrong? Does this mean that an infant that died after one of these baptisms but died before being re-baptised goes to hell?

OK Monty thanks. News reports here make it appear as through at least some of these perpetrators are not repentant, so my other question remains.

Abby, I’m pretty sure the Catholic Church doesn’t subscribe to the Donatist heresy, so rites perfomed by the priests in question are still valid. Because the heresy is to think that they aren’t valid. (There are too many double negatives in my head. Ow.)

Anyway, I think a lot of the reason that the LDS Church emphasizes personal worthiness is not so much to ensure the validity of ordinances performed, but for personal salvation. We have made very specific covenants (especially priesthood holders) that have important responsibilities attached. Deliberately and unrepentantly breaking those covenants invites certain consequences; where much is given, much is expected.

However, there is no reason for those consequences to attach to another blameless person who accepted an ordinance in good faith, believing the priesthood holder to be worthy. If it were otherwise, we would always be second-guessing everyone, wondering if they had some secret sin that would rebound on us. Or what if even the tiniest sin rendered the ordinance invalid? Luckily, with the way things are, only God has to know our hearts, and we can participate in ordinances without fear.

Donatism is heresy that was around in the 300s, I believe. Basically, you had a lot of people converting who weren’t entirely “perfect” Christians-in other words, it was more about keeping up appearances.

And the Donatists stated that if a priest performed a sacrement on someone, if that priest was a heretic (suppose he was an Arian, who denied Christ’s Divinity), or what have you, then the sacrement was invalid. The Catholic Church declares this a heresy, and I would imagine the LDS would as well. So if you had someone baptise your child, say, and you found out two years later that he was a con artist, posing as a priest/minister, whatever, then the Donatists would say that the child was never properly baptised. The Catholic church would say otherwise.

It also accused those who were in a state of sin-like you said, if you found out that the priest who married you was living in sin with a woman, or molesting little kids, the Donatist heresy says you weren’t properly married. Again, Catholic church says that ain’t so.

Does that make sense?