I would like to spend some time on the expectations the Lord has put upon those who are called lead His church. By what authority do I speak of these things? None, other than the promptings of the spirit and the word of God as recorded in the scriptures. Based on my own study and the comments of others, I seek to understand what one must do to be chosen. We find this in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121:
34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we 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degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
If I were to summarize one of the key points of these verses, I would say that the ‘rights’ of the priesthood can only be maintained by exercising the ‘principles of righteousness.’ I find it interesting that right is the root word for righteousness so we have somewhat a circular statement. Our rights represent our legitimate claim or privilege, in this case, to exercise the priesthood. Our ability to do so is based on righteousness, which represents adherence to a code of conduct defined as righteous. Said another way, if we want to have the right (claim or privilege), we must be right.(operate in a correct manner).
We read here that there are specific items that are not ‘right’ or correct which inhibit our ‘right’ or privilege. The existence of these traits in our personal behavior can block our ability the exercise the rights of the priesthood.
If our hearts are set upon the things of this world, we will not be chosen. I believe that there are at least two aspects of this idea that we should consider. The first is associated with the desire for material possessions. Are our hearts set upon the acquisition of worldly things like homes, cars, big screen televisions and the like? If so, we should consider that these desires may inhibit our ability to exercise the priesthood. This is quite a blow to me, and perhaps many others, who have enjoyed the ‘gospel of wealth’ that hovers over our activities inside and outside the chapel. The second aspect one should consider is the dependence on the things of the world as a demonstration of our correctness. I speak specifically to our apparent need to build magnificent buildings, such as the conference center, the renovation of downtown Salt Lake City, and other fine structures to exhibit our righteousness. These works of man, as cited in 3 Nephi 27:11, will bring us joy for a season but are of no value.
A second aspect of this focus on the things of the world deals with the more personal and intangible aspects of our lives. Do we assume that being anxiously engaged is necessary and sufficient for our claim on righteousness? Do we toil in our callings, in our home/visiting teaching, in priesthood assignments and other physical activities and assume these are sufficient to demonstrate our righteousness? In ancient Israel, the people were required to do many things in order to be considered as righteous. Have we adopted a modern version of Israel’s 615 do’s and don’ts and hope that this proves our correctness? Could this be considered having our hearts set upon the physical things of this world?
These verses tell us that seeking the honors of men inhibits our ability to exercise the priesthood. Do we aspire to the honors of men? We are told repeatedly that we are not to seek positions in the church but is this sufficient? How much of what we do in the church is done for the benefit of being seen by others? We may tell ourselves that we are doing things for the glory of God but how easy is it to acquire a little personal benefit along the way? Do we assume that our calling, whatever it may be, brings with it privileges and perks? Any amount of pride or ambition can turn off our priesthood rights. Who has not been drawn to this irresistible flame of positions of power and prestige; and, in the process, lost their power to lead?
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
What is this ‘disease’ called unrighteous dominion that ‘almost all men’ have? What is this trait intrinsic to most of us that causes us to lose our ability to act in God’s name? In the middle ages, the Holy Roman Church placed themselves between man and God. The pope had assumed the authority to dispense forgiveness of sins and used this to enrich the coffers of the church. This, to me, is as example of unrighteous dominion. Do we have some flavor of this in the modern church? Do we establish man-made rules of conduct that insert the church between man and God?
In the above reference from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121, we read that in order to have a legitimate claim to the authority of God or to the priesthood, a man must be righteous, and must also demonstrate that righteousness through the traits of persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and must be without guile.
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;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
When Christ called the twelve disciples during His visit to the Nephites after His resurrection, he instructed them to be ministers and servants. Have we lost something in the modern church due to our near adoration of the general authorities? Do these men truly act as servants or have they assumed ‘star’ status among the members of the church? Could it be that, as Joseph Smith indicated, almost all men have lost the ability to exercise the priesthood through pride, vanity, and the need to feel important?
Those that are not chosen have fallen victim to the needs of the things of the world – possession, wealth, and power. Those who are chosen will be those who shed themselves of a focus on material possessions, shun all pride and vanity; who humble themselves as servants and who dismiss the trappings of position and rank.
What think ye?