The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the LDS or Mormon Church) claims to be the "only true and living church on the face of the whole earth" (D&C 1:30). This claim is based on yet a further claim that it has authority through its Priesthoods which no other church has been given. For Latter-day Saints, authority is Priesthood, and Priesthood is authority. He who has authority has Priesthood, and he who has Priesthood has authority.
Actually, New Covenant Christians (members of the New Covenant Church of God) agree with Mormons -- Priesthood is authority, and authority is Priesthood. But where they disagree is in what Priesthood actually is.
Identifying the Priesthood I: The LDS View
According to the Bible there are two Priesthoods: (1) The Levitical Priesthood (also called the Aaronic Priesthood) and (2) the Melchizedek Priesthood.
New Testament Christians understood that the question of Priesthood and authority was an important one. The writer of Hebrews takes up this question, explaining to Jews and Jewish Christians the place of the old Levitical Priesthood and the place of the new Melchizedek Priesthood. He explains, in great detail, the place of the Aaronic Priesthood in the Covenant of Moses and how this Priesthood came to an end in Christ. He declares:
"...when there is a change of Priesthood, there must also be a change of Law" (Heb.7:12, NIV).
With the coming of Christ there was: (1) A change of law -- from the Old Covenant Law (Law of Moses) to the New Covenant Law (Law of Christ); (2) a change of Priesthood -- from the Levitical [Aaronic] to the Melchizedek.
This principle was understood in the earliest days of Mormonism. For many years no distinction was made between "Aaronic" and "Melchizedek" Priesthoods. Mormons called their priesthood "the Priesthood of God". Only later were two Priesthoods claimed, with an explanation that the one (Aaronic) was an "appendage" to the other (Melchizedek) (D&C 107:14). And only later did Joseph Smith claim that Peter, James and John had confirmed the Melchizedek Priesthood on him in addition to the Aaronic bestowed by John the Baptist. Even more interesting, whilst Joseph Smith recorded in his diary the appearance of John the Baptist to him, he never made any mention of a visit by Peter, James and John despite having faithfully kept a journal throughout his ministry.
Changing the Revelations: D&C 27
In 1833 a revelation was published in the first collection of LDS revelations called the Book of Commandments, subsequently destroyed by mob action in Missouri. Many copies of this book have survived, however. To this revelation over 400 words were added when the first edition of the Doctrines & Covenants was published.
The orginal revelation, written in August 1830, reads as follows [please compare it with the LDS version in D&C 27]:
"Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful. 2For behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory; 3Remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins; 4Wherefore a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine, neither strong drink of your enemies: 5Wherefore you shall partake of none, except it is made new among you, yea, in this my Father's kingdom which shall be built upon the earth. 6Behold this is wisdom in me, wherefore marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you, on the earth, and with all those whom my Father hath given me of the world: 7Wherefore lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins and be faithful until I come: - even so. Amen" (BC XXVIII, July 1830, Harmony, Pennsylvania).
Remember, that this revelation was received in 1830 and published in 1833. All the historical records confirm that no Melchizedek Priesthood was claimed at this time.
When the first edition of the Doctrine & Covenants was published in 1835 a doctored version of Book of Commandments (BC) XXVIII was printed as D&C 27. In it we find reference to Peter, James and John (v.12), giving the impression that Joseph Smith had received their ministry in 1830! David Whitmer, one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, claims that the Melchizedek Priesthood "evolved" rather than was "restored" by angelic beings, and all the historical evidence supports him.
If Peter, James, and John had appeared to you in a heavenly vision, and conferred the keys of the kingdom by the laying on of hands, would you have continued recording mundane daily events and failed to record such a fantastic heavenly manifestation?? Of course not!
Many LDS historians have concluded, rightly, that the visit of Peter, James and John never happened but that the story of their manifestation was added later by Joseph Smith to the Doctrine & Covenants to bolster LDS claims to exclusive authority. Hence its appearance in the doctored D&C 27.
Did John the Baptist Appear?
Joseph Smith's diary most certainly records the appearance of a heavenly messenger claiming to be John the Baptist. But the Mormons are not alone in claiming the ministry of John the Baptist. Two other Latter-day Saint churches, who reject the Doctrine & Covenants because it has been altered, and use the original Book of Commandments, claim that the Baptist has given them revelations. One of them has published a fat book of revelations called "The Word of the Lord Brought to Mankind by an Angel" containing 99 sections received through Otto Fetting and Wilhelm Draves.
All three churches claim that John the Baptist came in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1: "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire will come, says the Lord Almighty" (NIV).
This prophecy was fulfilled by John the Baptist two thousand years ago (Matt.11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76). John the Baptist ministered in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17; see Matt.11:13-14; 17:12-13; Mark 9:11-13). There is no evidence whatsoever that John the Baptist would return as a heavenly messenger in the latter days. Indeed, THERE IS NO NEED.
The Old Covenant and the New
If you decide to change from a black suit to a blue one, do you put the blue one on top of the black one which you are already wearing? Of course not. You remove the black suit first and then put the blue one on.
The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear that there was a change of Priesthood from Aaronic to Melchizedek (Heb.7:12). This does not mean that the Melchizedek was added to the Aaronic/Levitical but that it replaced it. The Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood belonged to the Old Covenant which was replaced by the New Covenant. The Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood is no longer needed.
Nor, for that matter, is any latter-day visit of John the Baptist. John the Baptist belonged to the Old Covenant and announced the New. When Jesus came John stepped aside to allow Jesus to take His rightful place. They did not minister side by side. This was a prophetic witnesses that the old Covenant and Priesthood was at an end.
Read the Epistle to the Hebrews very carefully several times, removing all pre-conceptions about LDS claims, and you will see that this is true. Let the Word of God speak for itself.
Identifying the Priesthood II: The New Covenant Perspective
As we have seen, the writer of Hebrews identifies the priesthood of the New Covenant as the Melchizedek Priesthood which replaced the now redundant Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood. How was that Priesthood received by the first Christians, and who received it?
The apostle Peter explains very clearly how this Priesthood is received and by whom. He starts his first letter thus: "...To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bythnia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, for obedience to Jesus Christ by the sprinkling of His blood..." (v.1-2).
Peter is here talking to both Jewish and Gentile Christians -- men and women -- in Asia Minor. He is addressing all believers in Jesus Christ who have accepted the Messiah by faith and his redeeming blood and who are being obedient to His commandments.
Speaking of all these believers, He continues: "As you come to Him [Jesus], the living Stone -- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him -- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (2:4-5).
Confirming that he is speaking to all believers, Peter then quotes Isaiah 28:6: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him [i.e. anyone, male or female] will never be put to shame" (v.6).
If you are in any doubt as to who holds the Priesthood, you have only to read on as Peter continues speaking to all the believers in Asia Minor: "For you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, a people [men and women] belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (v.9).
Beloved Latter-day Saints...
Beloved Latter-day Saints, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, male or female, young or old, and are striving to be obedient to the commandments, you automatically hold the Royal Priesthood of God, which is the Melchizedek Priesthood.
What Joseph Smith received from the angel calling himself "John the Baptist" (assuming it happened) is unknown, but it cannot have been the Melchizedek Priesthood (because he didn't have it) and it couldn't have been the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood (because Joseph Smith didn't need it). And if he did, why didn't he get it from the three Nephite apostles, or from John the Apostle who, according to LDS doctrine, are still alive on the earth??
And we know that Joseph Smith did not obtain the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James and John when he claimed he did -- we know that he lied and tried to trick the people by changing the Doctrine & Covenants. And the historical evidence suggests that no such visit occurred anyway.
The Bible declares that the Aaronic Priesthood is not required in the New Covenant Dispensation and that the Melchizedek Priesthood is received inwardly without any kind of ordination whatsoever. That means that every believer holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to one degree or another.
Making Sense of the Truth
To think in this way means a radical reorientation of the thinking process for Latter-day Saints. As a former LDS myself who learned the Biblical truth gradually, learning to think the New Testament way took time. At first it seemed chaotic -- who, then, I asked myself, could claim to represent God?
Mormons are accustomed to looking upon authority as something conferred externally by the laying on of hands. It is easy to comprehend and comfortable to one who does not wish to think too deeply about spiritual matters. But as you read the New Testament carefully you will see that Jesus Himself never claimed any authority on the basis of some Priesthood ordination, even though He was a regularly ordained Rabbi. He claimed authority on the basis of what He said and what He did.
That is the authority of Christianity whose crowning virtue and advertisement to the world is not outer priesthood authority (an idea that comes from Catholicism) but on "faith expressing itself through love" (Gal.5:6b, NIV). These are the fruits of the Spirit, which dwells in the souls of true believers, who are members of the Royal (Melchizedek) Priesthood of God:
"...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. AGAINST SUCH THINGS THERE IS NO LAW [OUTER PRIESTHOOD AUTHORITY]" (Gal.5:22-23, NIV).
As you read the New Testament you will find that the concept of "outer authority" or "outer Priesthood" is rarely mentioned, because the focus of the New Covenant is not on outer authority and "church" but on the graces of the Spirit.
Priesthood and the New Covenant Church
The New Covenant Church of God is a restoration Church but its claims do not rest on any outer authority such as that which might have been conferred by angels. Its authority is the one claimed by Jesus and the first apostles -- a life in God. As a Church or Body of Believers it is no more true than its people are, because the Church is the People.
The first Christians had no Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price or even a complete New Testament for that matter. They advertised no priesthood authority. Their authority was based on the authentic witness of the apostles, who received instruction from Jesus' own mouth, and on changed lives.
The New Covenant Church of God ordains men and women to the Melchizedek Priesthood and sets them apart to various callings, by revelation. This ordination is a confirmation of what is already within and what God has already done supernaturally through the power of the Holy Spirit. Officers in this Priesthood include patriarchs, matriarchs, elders, eldresses, pastors, teachers, deacons, deaconesses, evangelists, and many others.
The Mormons, we feel, are right in many things -- they understand the need for Priesthood order and structure. But they are wrong in their claims to exclusive authority because the New Testament nowhere gives them such a license.
God is in the process of restoring a genuine apostolic New Testament Church today. It has received over 1,000 modern revelations since 1988 part of which, containing 470 revelations, is now published as the Olive Branch. The rest, containing meaterier things, are made available to those who become members of the Chavurat Bekorot, or Holy Order. You are invited to investigate it seriously and receive of the grace that the Lord has liberally bestowed upon us.