Modern Elijah

Well, we’ve had a long and fun day discussing this topic on our back channel group email. But I guess it’s time to cut bait or fish. We may yet be reduced to contemplating FHL’s timely question, “Where am I going and why am I in this hand basket?” but at least we’ve had a good time with it. The errors are, of course, all mine.

Talking about modern Elijah theology in public fora presents some obvious challenges. First, there’s the matter of what to say, or more precisely, the matter of what NOT to say. Second, it seems that there’s quite a wide range of pre-existing knowledge of Elijah in his modern role. Sometimes the dazzling array of seldom-used terms that is suddenly in play does more harm than good.

I like to handle both issues by teaching mostly from President (then President of the Twelve) Ezra Taft Benson’s Ensign (Aug 85) article entitled “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children About the Temple.” This article has a good synopsis of LDS thought expressed in a lexical stock appropriate for dissemination. In addition, folks naturally read it as relatively authoritative. It’s on LDS.org, natcherly.

For these reasons I’m going to summarize some of President Benson’s talk and lift a number of paragraphs in bodily. There are some places where President Benson probably glosses some details. I’ll also note those as I pass, but without much elaboration. And Dave of DMI fame is just going to have to choose which three paragraphs he wants to read.

President Benson opens by noting that we do a poor job of preparing folks to go to the temple because we are not frank about what the temple really provides. Using Adam and Eve in their role as Everyman and Everywoman, President Benson says that they were taught the plan of salvation, that they received the ordinances, and that they were “commanded to enter into the order of the Son of God.” Concerning this order, President Benson writes:

To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.

Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, “Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moses 6:67.)

Leaving aside that the scripture citation quoted comes from Adam’s baptism, the beauty of this piece is that the “fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood” is set parallel to “order of the Son of God” and both are identified with Adam AND Eve and the temple. We’re getting somewhere in the terminological control department.

President Benson goes on to tell the story of the Christophany in Section 107:53-56, noting that Adam’s purpose was to bring his posterity into the presence of God in a very real and immediate sense. To do so:

Adam and his descendants entered into the priesthood order of God. Today we would say they went to the House of the Lord and received their blessings.

The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son.

But this order is otherwise described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.

Now we learn that this order of the priesthood may also be called the “patriarchal order” and that it enables folks to return to the presence of God. We also find that folks enter this order through the temple.

In this section of his explanation, President Benson has probably glossed the entire temple experience so that his expression “received their blessings” includes that final ordinance that comes after temple marriage. I hesitate to go farther, but more information on this ordinance can be found in the temple.

Where did this order come from? This is where Elijah appears:

Between Moses and Christ only certain prophets possessed the right to the higher priesthood and the blessings that could bring men into the presence of God. One of these prophets was Elijah.

Elijah held the keys of the sealing power and did many mighty miracles in his day. He had power to seal the heavens, raise the dead, relieve the drought-stricken land, and call down fire from heaven.

Now at this point, I usually digress into a discussion of what this sealing power can do. From TPJS, p. 337-338, we read that this priesthood holds the keys to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood and is “the revelations, ordinance, oracles, powers and endowments of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth.”

Think of all the things we attribute to the priesthood. Think about what “fullness” might mean in this context when it comes to God’s power. Think about Creation.

If you peruse the early chapters of Genesis, you’ll find the containment of chaos and destructive forces, the organization of everything, life, weather, and marriage. And these are just a sub-set of the Genesis event. Remember, we’re thinking about “fullness” here.

With respect to the more restricted idea of “sealing” as we commonly use it, this involves sealing men and women together, sealing the links between children and ancestors, and finally sealing individuals up to eternal life, either living or dead. The point is that by virtue of the quality of fullness this authority is equally efficacious at doing any and all of God’s work on both sides of the Veil and in either Time or Eternity.

HP has, I think, more on this for later this week.

One final section from President Benson comes from his account of the explicit relationship between the Aaronic and Melchizedek orders and this patriarchal order we’ve been talking about. After recounting the promise of Elijah’s return to restore the priesthood in Section 2, President Benson writes:

What priesthood was Elijah to reveal? John the Baptist restored the keys to the Aaronic Priesthood. Peter, James, and John restored the keys of the kingdom of God. Why send Elijah?

“Because he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood,” or the sealing power. (Teachings, p. 172; all italics reproduced from the Ensign article.) So said the Prophet Joseph Smith!

…Even though the Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood had been restored to the earth, the Lord urged the Saints to build a temple to receive the keys by which this order of priesthood could be administered on the earth again, “for there [was] not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost … even the fulness of the priesthood.” (D&C 124:28)

So yes, there are three orders of the priesthood, one of which is received only in the temple. Elijah restored it. It has the widest possible range of influence, although we normally talk about it only in terms of its origin, that is, as a function and property of the temple and marriage brought to godly culmination. When we do so, we sometimes lose a great deal as President Benson has pointed out.

Now I’ve had my say, so I’m interested in your thoughts. I’m particularly interested in a rumor, an FPR, so to speak, that the this power was invoked to end the St. George drought. Or any other instances of its invocation. And I’m also interested in ways to teach this topic in places like GD, or in the elements you find important that I’ve left out.

That said, we must also politely insist on some restraint. HP’s wisdom suggests that we avoid saying anything we wouldn’t want to hear on the evening news. If we work within these parameters, I won’t have to become Mogget the World’s Most Lovable Fascist by turning on comment moderation. If I do turn it on, I’ll put a note in the comments and get to it as quickly as I can.

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8 Comments

Filed under Marginalia, Speculation

8 responses to “Modern Elijah

  1. Julie M. Smith

    I want to thank you for this post: most people don’t show the restraint that you do, and I think we are all the worse for it. At the same time, you have approached the topic well. Good job!

  2. There are a couple of other good correlatable references:

    President Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1970, General Priesthood Meeting 58:

    There is no exaltation in the kingdom of God without the fullness of the priesthood…

    There is also a couple of Sections in Doctrines of Salvation (3:132)that are kinda fun:

    FULNESS OF PRIESTHOOD REQUIRED FOR EXALTATION

    &

    FULNESS OF PRIESTHOOD FOR LIVING AND DEAD

    I’m curious as to why you defered to the the TPJS over of Words of Joseph Smith. The WoJS is tasty.

    I think that it is important that Joseph taught that the Spirit of Elijah refers to the Fullness and it wasn’t until the 20th century that the the idea that it meant a desire to do genealogy took hold.

    Here of some of my posts that have touched on the Fullness:

    http://www.splendidsun.com/wp/index.php/2005/08/09/149
    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2005/10/women-and-the-priesthood-part-i/
    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2006/03/theodemocracy/
    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2006/05/the-anointed-quorum/

  3. Mark Butler

    Well the sealing power to do things like shut up the heavens, or comparable things described in Helaman 11 or JST Genesis 14 is pretty dramatic, but not anywhere near as impressive as the feat of sanctifying the vast majority of mankind to the degree that they are worthy of an inheritance in the kingdom of God at the last day. Indeed the kingdom of God is a miracle in motion.

  4. Mogget

    J.,

    defered to the the TPJS over of Words of Joseph Smith.

    No mystery there. I can’t find my copy of WoJS right now. I know I used it when I was teaching D&C…

    Thanks for the links, and especially for the info about Elijah’s association with genealogical work. I had hoped you knew and would appear with the info.

    Mark,

    Thanks for the modern citations. A friend had mentioned references in the NT and BoM in an email and as I was just falling asleep last night, I recall trying to remember the BoM reference.

    sanctifying the vast majority of mankind

    I confess, I’ve never heard the priesthood described as a sanctifying agent. This could, of course, be because my grasp of modern ideas is mainly limited to the location of the chapel and a general sense that tithing settlement comes around Christmas time.

  5. I’m particularly interested in a rumor, an FPR, so to speak, that this power was invoked to end the St. George drought.

    If you’re referring to the “Windows of Heaven” story, it’s doubtful. Jay Bell wrote an article for the Journal of Mormon History that suggested that President Snow did not actually make the “pay tithing->end drought” promise. (President Snow’s son began telling the story decades later.) Contemporary evidence seems to indicate that President Snow promised certain blessings for paying tithing, but an end to the drought was not one of them.

  6. Mogget

    You mean…that’s not true? First, I find out that David J. doesn’t believe the Ten Tribes are on Polaris, and now this?! 😉

    Thanks Justin. I’m always interested in finding out whether these stories have some historical standing.

    The precise FPR I heard had to do with President Snow invoking his authority to end the drought and in so doing, giving up his own life.

  7. Hmm, that’s a pretty good story. Things I do know:

    President Snow visited St. George in spring 1899.

    He died from pneumonia in October 1901.

    The drought cycle ended in 1902 (although 1900 had more rain than 1899 and 1901 had more rain than 1900).

    Bell’s article is available here.

  8. That is interesting, Justin. I’m going to peruse that article. The last couple of days I have been trying to figure out where I had read what I considered a realiable account of that. I finally found it in the opening pages of Mormonism in Transition:

    These efforts to promote increased financial stability had their spiritual side as well. In May 1899 Lorenzo Snow and a large party of general authorities went to St. George, where he promised the Saints that if they would pay their tithing—a full tenth of their incomes—the Lord would “open the windows of heaven” and bless them. On the way home he witnessed to his associates that the Lord had given him a revelation. He admonished them, under covenant, to obey the law of tithing. On June 12 and again on July 2, 1899, in special meetings President Snow and other general authorities emphasized the need for church members to pay a tenth. Brigham Young, Jr., a member of the Council of the Twelve, recorded in his journal that “the spirit of the Lord testified that all this was His mind.” (pg. 5-6)

    His citations: