Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Orderly Transmission of Priesthood Keys

In this political season on Fathers Day, it is refreshing to witness the changing of the guard for leaders in a contrasting system.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands in stark comparison to the political system we witness in America. Running for the presidency in this country involves billions of dollars, millions of volunteers, thousands of events and years of effort to attract enough attention and voters to win the nomination of your party.

Defenders of the system will tell you it should be this way. The POTUS, after all, is universally viewed as the most powerful office in the world. It should be hard, it should be complex and it should be an endurance test. Mission accomplished. It is.

This weekend we have been in Vancouver, Washington, to participate with one of our families in a sacrament meeting where a son-in-law, Jay Warnick, has been sustained by his congregation as the new bishop of the ward. The process is much simpler, and there has been no lobbying for the position. There are no votes cast, no campaigning for the job, and no popularity contests involved. Rather, a stake president fasts and prays, interviews, carefully ponders and seeks revelation.

Once he has settled on a candidate, he submits his name to the Office of the First Presidency. Often, weeks are involved between the time he submits the name and he receives confirmation back that his choice has been approved, the calling is issued and the congregation learns who the new bishop will be. When all the paperwork, interviews and callings have been completed, the ward is told the bishopric will be reorganized, usually a week in advance. Many members of the Church do not realize that when they finally hear the official announcement that the change is upcoming, all the pieces are already in place.

The names of bishops are all ratified by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve before the calls are issued to the individuals. Once the stake president receives confirmation of his nomination, he is given specific instructions about the questions he is to ask the prospective new bishop. There is little question this process conforms to the requirements of the 5th Article of Faith:

"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." 

Following the sustaining vote by the congregation, hands were laid on Jay's head today. His father ordained him to the office of high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Under assignment from the First Presidency, the stake president then laid his hands on his head and bestowed upon him all the "keys" of the priesthood necessary for him to be authorized to do his duty as the bishop of the ward.

Jay will serve for an undetermined period of time without compensation from the Church. He will continue to work at his profession, be a father and now assume additional duties as the "father of the ward." After he is released at some point in the future, he will be called "bishop" throughout his life because of the love and respect that ward members have for him.

A bishop has overall responsibility for all functions of the ward, which are designed to lead each individual member to Christ and eternal life. Jay is admonished by revelation to "watch over the Church" (D&C 46:27). With other ward leaders, he will be concerned for the daily physical needs of each ward member, especially the sick, elderly, and handicapped. In every sense he will be like a father to the ward.

As the presiding high priest, the bishop presides at Sacrament, priesthood, and ward council meetings, and at all other ward services or activities. By these and other means he watches over both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the ward and its individual members and organizes the activities for preaching the gospel, serving in the temple, and helping ward members become more Christlike.

Jay will be the common judge of his ward. He will spend much of his free time visiting with or interviewing ward members. He will be called upon to determine their worthiness to participate in sacred ordinances, to receive the priesthood, to receive calls to serve in the ward and on missions, and to do temple work.

He will spend many hours interviewing and counseling youth as they become prospective missionaries. Besides determining worthiness, the bishop must see that all Church ordinances are performed and recorded correctly. His direction or approval is necessary for baptism, confirmation, administration of the Sacrament, blessing and naming of babies, priesthood ordinations, and all temple ordinances for members of his ward. 

Where there is need, the bishop may be involved in counseling on a regular basis. He may help ward members establish goals for improvement, or he may impose appropriate discipline. In cases of serious transgression, he may initiate formal disciplinary procedures, which can affect membership, and may be necessary to bring some back to full fellowship.

As the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward, a bishop has a specific responsibility to the young men and young women of the ward, ages twelve to eighteen. He is to see that all youth are instructed not only in scriptures and doctrine but also in the principles of charity and honesty, with special training of the young men in the duties of the priesthood, including administration of the Sacrament, home teaching, baptizing, and missionary work.

The bishop is automatically president of the quorum of priests in his ward, which generally consists of young men ages sixteen through eighteen. Bishops have similar responsibility for the young women of the ward. He meets monthly with a Bishop's Youth Committee, composed of adult and youth leaders for the young men and women.

Other duties of the bishop include receiving and accounting for the financial contributions of ward members and caring of the needy through the bishop's storehouse and the fast offering fund. Little Spencer, when he learned of his father's new calling beamed when he said, "Now I can just give my tithing to my Dad." He sees that all necessary supplies are at hand for ward functions. He arranges for and conducts funeral services. When it is appropriate and civil laws permit, he may perform marriages.

The bishop, as a father in his own home, as a family provider with a normal occupation, and as a member of the community in which he lives, has many time demands beyond his ecclesiastical calling. He must organize well and delegate and supervise effectively to accomplish all his duties. The bishop's Sunday schedule usually involves a twelve or more hour day, including attending and conducting organizational meetings, worship services, training sessions; counseling and interviewing ward members; extending invitations or calls to participate in Church service in the ward; visiting the sick in hospitals; and visiting ward members in their homes as needed. He spends many additional hours during the week in meeting ward needs. His counselors and priesthood and auxiliary leaders also spend many hours helping him with these ward responsibilities.

However, the overall responsibility for ward members is his completely. Certain specific duties, such as interviews for first-time temple recommends and tithing settlement are not delegated. However, bi-annual interviewing of individuals for renewal temple recommends have been delegated to the bishop's counselors. Ward members believe that a man called of God, as the bishop is, will be endowed with wisdom, understanding, and spiritual discernment (D&C 46:27). Thus they frequently seek and greatly appreciate his advice and assistance. I know from personal experiences on both sides, as a former bishop and as a congregant, just how true it is.

Bishops come from among the congregations, and when released they return to anonymity within the congregation once again. It is done with very little fanfare in an orderly fashion, and there is no politicking involved. The key to understanding a Mitt Romney presidency is to know that he did all these volunteer services for many years as a bishop and later as a stake president.

It is the way of priesthood keys of authority and true leadership devoted to service to others without compensation. By exercising the priesthood keys of power available to bishops if they control and operate their keys of authority in righteousness, bishops are enabled to unlock the prison doors that enslave the sinners through repentance.

If you're going to understand Mitt Romney, you need to understand from whence he came, and this is one dimension of his life and personality that rarely gets mentioned.

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