In the late 1700s, a man by the name of John Wesley ordained Thomas Coke as the first Methodist bishop. John had risen to some prominence as the originator of the Methodist movement, but he was not above the chiding of his younger brother, Charles. On the event of the ordination, Charles wrote,
How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim:
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?
I have with me a small piece of paper. My father gave it to me when I left on my mission. It records what President David O. McKay has called “the most distinguishing feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:” divine authority (David O. McKay - General Conference April 1937). It is a record of who laid hands on me, and who laid hands on him.
My father laid hands on me and conferred the Melchizedek priesthood. My father was ordained by his father, who was ordained by Frank Doell, by John Edmunds, by Heber J. Grant, by George Q. Cannon, by Brigham Young, by Oliver Cowdery, by Joseph Smith, who was ordained by Peter, who was ordained by Jesus Christ.
“We believe that a man 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” (Articles of Faith 1:6).
Of Peter’s ordination Jesus declared, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16). At another time, the same promised Peter, “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
In the simple act of ordination by laying on of hands, we observe that Jesus conferred his full authority upon Peter. But from what we know of Peter, it is clear that full knowledge did not accompany full authority. Direction, revelation, and knowledge distilled upon him gradually. “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little...for unto him that receiveth I will give more” (2 Nephi 28:30).
At the time of Peter’s ordination, the Lord communicated this initial charge: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7). Even following the Lord’s resurrection, when he reminded Peter thrice to “feed my sheep,” the Lord referred to the Jews (John 21:15-17).
Peter, and the church he stood at the head of, fulfilled this duty faithfully for many years before receiving a change in policy from the Lord. Long after Jesus conferred the priesthood on, walked with, and taught Peter daily, long after Jesus had personally established the foundation of his church, long after some may have considered the church doctrine and policies to be henceforth immutable, Peter had a vision.
Three times, a bit of a theme with Peter, an angel appeared to communicate the change to the presiding officer of the church. Of that repeated message, Peter said, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean...Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:28-35).
And, curiously, the church’s reaction is also recorded. We read, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And [the Jews] which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10:44-45).
Those who heard Peter’s words, that is those who accepted the revelation through the prophet of God, had manifest to them by the power of the Holy Ghost that the revelation was the mind and will of God, despite any of God’s previously communicated church policy.
The more inclusive policy, to take the gospel to all the world, seems natural to us today, but, as we read, it was astonishing to the exclusively Jewish membership of the church in the day it was received. They had lived those many years under the old policy, and not a few of the members could have heard it directly from the Lord while he was yet with them. One can hear the question that might have surfaced in their minds: “If this was what the Lord wanted, why wasn’t this the policy in the first place?”
I don’t know that I have a satisfactory answer for them, or for you, but what I do know is what we’ve already noticed from those that heard: those that receive revelation and pray to prove its provenance, secure the Spirit.
I recall encountering a similar church missionary policy issue that gave me reason to pause while serving among the people of the Philippines. Many of those that I taught were of humble circumstance, living in bamboo huts with dirt floors. Though they had little to their name, they were good people. While serving among them, I learned that it was only recently that missionaries were permitted to teach them. As I understood, a prior area policy had prohibited teaching anyone without a concrete foundation to their home. While today I cannot verify the previous policy, as a missionary, it gave me reason to wonder, “if the Lord loves all equally, why would he deny his message to any?”
Various explanations were offered, such as the church temporarily needing a greater infusion of those temporally self-reliant who would be able to lift others while serving as Bishops or Relief Society Presidents. But these explanations were ultimately unsatisfactory. I wasn’t hearing what I needed to hear. What I needed to hear was that the Lord delivered an appropriate policy then and that he continues to deliver appropriate policies now. But I could not hear that from man. Following careful study and prayer, I heard that from the Holy Ghost.
“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9).
I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is restored. I know that the ancient church was living and directed by ongoing revelation to its presiding authority, Peter, and that the restored Church is living and led by continuing revelation to President Russell M. Nelson.
Under the direction of President Nelson, we were recently invited to adopt a change: to attend to individual and family home study. The first lesson of the year should have made it unequivocally clear that, while President Nelson receives revelation for the church, we are individually responsible for obtaining personal revelation. I’d like to relate to you something that my six year-old, Bryton, took away from that lesson.
Each week, during the passing of the sacrament, I turn to my children and individually remind them to think about Jesus, think about what they did well in the previous week, and to think about one thing that they could do better in the coming week to be more like Jesus. The week of the lesson on personal responsibility for revelation, as I turned to Bryton during the passing of the sacrament and reminded him to think of what he wanted to change, Bryton replied, “I’m asking Heavenly Father what He would like me to change.”
Brothers and sisters, that is why the restored church and any of its policies exist or adjust over time, to affect the individual changes that He would have us make. Allow the restored church to change. Allow individuals to change. Allow yourself to change.
I feel to ask, like the church, have you been restored? Do you know the truth of your relationship to God, that you are his child? Do you know of his plan of happiness for you? Do you know your Savior and his redeeming role in your plan? Do you know the Holy Ghost and his comforting, assuring, and sanctifying effects in your life? Are you spiritually alive, seeking and responding to individualized invitations to change? Paraphrasing Alma, “if ye have [been restored], and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
I testify that the church has been restored and is led by a prophet today. I know that individuals can be restored through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and his Atonement. I am one of those individuals. I receive plenty of invitations to change, and fumble through them at my own pace. I feel the Lord’s comfort and approval as I do, and pray that you do as well.
I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.