Chapter 17 – Priesthood – ‘for the Salvation of the Human Family’
As we approach the end of the book, we have seen many trends in Snow’s theology such as specific Mormon theology being wrapped around orthodox Christian theology. This can be seen in our discussions on salvation by works and the Trinity. This trend is still prevalent in chapter 17 but this time we shall be exploring a different topic, priesthood, godliness and the theology of generations and godliness. In terms of priesthood and godliness, we shall be exploring the difference that Snow makes between ‘conferring’ godliness and ‘acquiring’ godliness and the importance within Mormonism of priesthood authority. In terms of generations, we shall be exploring the responsibilities of priesthood with regards to generations past, present and future and what the Bible has to say regarding the topic of generation.
On page 212, we find a very interesting couple of sentences:
‘We expect in the resurrection to exercise the powers of the priesthood – we can exercise them only in proportion as we secure its righteousness and perfections; these qualifications can be had only as they are sought and obtained, so that in the morning of the resurrection we will possess those acquisitions only which we secured in this world! Godliness cannot be conferred but must be acquired, a fact of which the religious world seems[s] strangely and lamentably unconscious.’
What makes this section interesting is this difference that Snow makes between ‘conferred’ and ‘acquired’. These terms are very different when we consider the actions of God and behaving in a godly manner. When a person is conferred with something, the implication is that the person being conferred in essence sits and receives whatever is being conferred upon them. There is no agency on the part of the ‘conferee’. The entire agency is with the ‘conferer’ as the one conferring the gift, in this case godliness. ‘Acquired’ has an entirely inference and meaning. Let us look at an example, when I acquire food; it means that I have worked to earn the money to go and buy the food. In essence, to acquire, one must work for it. Another relevant example, using the referenced section as a guide, would be qualifications. When one acquires a qualification, one has worked towards one and spent the money on course fees. There is work and effort to attain and acquire the qualification. The agency is all with the ‘acquirer’ not the one who ‘confers’ what has been ‘acquired’. When we look at this through the eyes of godliness, Snow is arguing that we can acquire godliness through the ‘proper spiritual qualifications’ not that God confers the godliness on us.
There are some New Testament scriptures that may prove helpful in investigating Snow’s argument.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; (2 Peter 1:3-6)
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:1-2)
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:11)
The idea that links these verses together is the ‘mystery of godliness’ and that this mystery is something that comes from God himself. It is from God that the gifts of godliness come from God himself. If there is any ‘qualification’, these qualifications flow from God. There are no ‘proper spiritual qualifications’ such as priesthood that to be obtained by humanity in their own strength. Faith alone is the only ‘qualification’ (Titus 1:1-2).
The next interesting aspect when we look for unique Mormon theology is the idea of priesthood as a vehicle for the salvation of generations that Snow discusses in this chapter. The particular quotation that we shall be referencing is:
‘Upon you rest high and sacred responsibilities, which relate not only to the salvation of this generation, but of many past generations, and many to come’.
This idea of salvation for past generations is linked to the idea of baptizing the dead, an idea that we can find in Doctrines and Covenants 128 with links to Joseph Smith’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29. Mormonism teaches that if a living member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is baptized by proxy on behalf of somebody who is deceased properly in a temple, then that person can be saved despite his or her death. The title of this chapter therefore is incredibly pertinent. In Mormon theology, priesthood does actually bring salvation for the whole human family as that extends into the past and the deceased. This can be linked with an idea that Bruce McConkie terms as the Patriarchal Chain that binds us all faithful humanity to Adam. By fulfilling the responsibilities that Snow states that all those who are members of the priesthood have towards the past generations, this must include baptisms for the dead to bring them salvation.
There are a number of verses from the Bible that raise questions about this doctrine. One particular verse of interest is 1 Timothy 4:18.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
Not only does this verse state that works (bodily exercise) do not profit us in terms of salvation, but this verse also speaks of the biblical pattern on generations. We can see that the present is mentioned in this verse. We can also see that the future generations are also mentioned. What is not mentioned in this verse is the past and the past generations. This pattern is seen in other biblical texts. An example of this is the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 when God speaks of punishing to the fourth generation those who indulge in idolatry but blessing of those who worshipped the name of the Lord to the thousandth generation. What is not mentioned is the past and any punishment or blessing for those who have already died. The idea of baptism for the dead and using godliness and godly authority as a way to achieve salvation for the deceased past generations that will not be in the present or the future does not stand side by side with 1 Timothy 4:18 and Exodus 20. It also does not stand with Hebrews 9:27 which states that we shall be judged according to our acceptance of Christ. It also goes against Romans 2:3 which states that we cannot escape the judgment of our God. One could argue that the doctrine of the baptism of the dead is a potential ‘escape’ from the truth of Romans by attempting to change the judgments of God after death.
What can we say in conclusion? We can say that we can see two distinctive Mormon doctrines through the medium of the priesthood. We can see that Snow argues that there are certain qualifications needed for godliness, therefore salvation and these are achieved through holding the priesthood offices. We can also see that it is the responsibility of the priesthood holder to ‘save’ the past generations through the baptism of the dead. What links these two areas together is the act of the human. The human being has to ‘acquire’ the spiritual qualifications for godliness. The human being has to act by baptizing the dead to save those who have already died and met their God. The human actions are emphasized and not the actions of God. This emphasis on the human and not God, something we see repeatedly with Snow, is something that is not in line with the pattern of scripture and where Mormonism and Christianity differ.