Priesthood Offices

The next chapter in the manual is titled, ‘Priesthood Organization.’ It deals mainly with the governance side of the priesthood. In my last post, I talked about how this focus doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So in lieu of rehashing a lot of that same argument here, I thought I would focus on examining the duties of the first office in the priesthood: the deacon.

Modern scripture actually doesn’t give a lot of guidance about the duties of a deacon. In section 2o, where the different offices of the priesthood are enumerated, we read:

57 And [the teacher] is to be assisted always, in all his duties in the church, by the adeacons, if occasion requires.

58 But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the asacrament, or lay on bhands;

59 They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.

The revelation seems to tell us more about what a Deacon is not to do than explain what it is they do. Since the mission of the modern church is ‘to invite all to come unto Christ,’ I don’t think we can lay that all at the feet of our 12 year olds. Interestingly, the one thing that we usually associate with Deacons (passing the sacrament) is not mentioned. In fact, verse 58 specifically prohibits deacons from ‘administering’ the sacrament.

The manual has this to say,

A young man who has been baptized and confirmed a member of the Church and is worthy may be ordained to the office of deacon when he is 12 years old. The deacons are usually assigned to pass the sacrament to members of the Church, keep Church buildings and grounds in good order, act as messengers for priesthood leaders, and fulfill special assignments such as collecting fast offerings.

The manual seems to make clear that these aren’t officially prescribed duties that may only be carried out by those ordained to the office of a deacon. Deacons are ‘assigned to pass the sacrament,’ and they may be asked to fill other ‘special assignments.’ However, in none of these assignments is the boy performing them actually exercising priesthood in the manner we usually think about it in the Church.

If passing the sacrament is not ‘administering’ it, is the passing of the sacrament trays a priesthood responsibility at all? In LDS worship services, we don’t require that the sacrament tray always be in control of priesthood hands. Women, girls, and boys who haven’t been ordained to some office of the priesthood pass the trays down their pews.

(Interestingly, this is not the case in certain conservative branches of the reorganized church. These restoration branch members stick to a more literal reading of the duties of the priesthood. Only ordained priests pass the sacrament trays and they take it to each member of the congregation from what I understand.)

It is interesting to consider the changes that have been made to priesthood organization. From what I understand, it wasn’t until 1908 that boys were regularly ordained to be deacons, and the idea that young men would ‘automatically’ progress through priesthood offices came around the same time. Again, the restoration branches handle this differently. Priesthood offices are not seen as a rigid hierarchy, and men are said to be called into different positions according to their different gifts and talents.

In living memory, men in stakes were called as ‘seventies,’ and stakes had quorums of seventy that served in a missionary outreach capacity.

In the last ten years or so, the Church created additional quorums of the seventy to preside over different regions of the church.

The revelations leave plenty of room for creative adaptation. It is interesting to consider how we might interpret them in the future.

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About Brad

I am a rather typical — or perhaps just not atypical — example of a 21st century, “uncorrelated” Mormon. My “Mormon Story” is (I have learned) rather cliche. I was raised by goodly parents, we went to church, followed the letter of the word of wisdom, abstained from the baser elements of the culture, etc. I served an honorable mission, enrolled at BYU, got married in the temple, and never seriously doubted until beginning a PhD program far beyond the Mormon corridor.

One response to “Priesthood Offices”

  1. Timothy Kay Browning says :

    Even when I was little, I wondered about the rigidity of priesthood duties when they didn’t seem to really be in the scriptures. At the same time, I loved moving up the ranks and being in charge of specific and important things from a young age.

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