Lines of Authority

That title sounds a bit pompous, but it will suit. Anyhow, here’s another of those occasional non-geekery related posts that crop up on here. Come to think of it, it will actually seem pretty geeky to some, but it’s geekery of an altogether different order than the fare that usually makes its way onto my WordPress.

There’s a curious little card in my wallet that’s been there since the Clinton administration, one which I obtained from my late father. Upon this card is the following information about myself and the men that have gone before:

Line of authority
Hal A. Case was ordained an Elder by E. Neil Case April 21, 1996.
E. Neil Case was ordained a High Priest June 7, 1959 by William J. Critchlow, Jr.
William J. Critchlow, Jr was ordained a High Priest December 16, 1934 by George F. Richards.
George F. Richards was ordained an Apostle April 9, 1906 by Joseph F. Smith.
Joseph F. Smith was ordained an Apostle July 1, 1866 by Brigham Young.
Brigham Young was ordained an Apostle February 14, 1835 under the hands of the Three Witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris.
The Three Witnesses were called by revelation to choose the Twelve Apostles and on February 14, 1835 were “blessed by the laying on of the hands of the Presidency,” Joseph Smith, Jr., Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, to ordain the Twelve Apostles (History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 187-188)
Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829 under the hands of Peter, James and John (D&C 27:12)
Peter, James and John were ordained Apostles by the Lord Jesus Christ (John 15:16)

This is the succession of priesthood holders and from whom they received their authority in sequence from myself back to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The LDS people track this information in order to verify unbroken succession of priesthood, since the priesthood is Christ’s authority delegated to man and not our own. We don’t own it, and in many ways the reverse is true. This is a lineage of service, you might say, and while it’s not meant to be used for bragging rights based on the prominence of the names on the list or anything so arrogant, crass and foolish, it is valuable for a brother to know from whence his authority comes. Since the Priesthood’s restoration some 188 years ago, millions of men over many generations have received the Priesthood. Each man whom I have myself ordained in the past 21 years has received a copy of this information, with their own ordination date included. While we’re counseled to avoid pride, I have long looked back with satisfaction and reassurance knowing an unbroken chain exists from myself back to the Savior, and that my own father, one of the best and kindest of men, was a link in that chain.

Receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood and being ordained an elder was a profound shift in my identity, though one that I did not fully understand at the time. While I was excited to hold the higher priesthood and to serve as an instrument in the Lord’s hands during my then-upcoming mission, during which I even stopped going by my given name and was known simply as “Elder Case”, I was much more dimly aware of what that actually means than I am today. I’ve still got a ways to go of course, but that’s a discussion for another day. Here in the US, people tend to identify themselves by their profession. “I’m a lawyer,” they might say, or “I’m an auto mechanic” or whatever. Over the past 21 years, it has gotten to the point that I don’t really self-identify in that way. I make a decent living working at a fine company, but I’m honestly a bit hard pressed to really think of my vocation as a defining element of who and what I am. While my avocations of being an artist and a writer are important to me, even these things have fallen behind my self-identification as a husband to my beloved wife, as a child of God, as a volunteer early morning seminary teacher and as an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

That changed today. No, I haven’t left the Church or anything nearly so melodramatic. Today, in order to be qualified to fulfill a new church assignment (what we Mormons refer to as “callings”) I was ordained a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. While some might see it as a promotion since this is a higher office within the Priesthood, I don’t much like that line of thinking. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant,” the Savior memorably told his disciples and the hypocritical, honor-seeking Pharisees (Matthew 23:11), and elsewhere elaborated on the pattern of Priesthood service: “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42-45). There’s no room here for seeking after positions of authority, but simply for seeking to be of use and of service to others. In fact, if we do seek after positions of authority then we are completely missing the point.

So what does it mean to me to be a high priest rather than an elder? Well, while I intellectually know the scriptural definition and what the General Handbook of Instructions say on the subject, I’m still working my way through what it means personally and spiritually. I don’t fully know yet. Technically, the office of elder is still contained within the office of high priest, just as elders are still priests, teachers and deacons, but still… this major facet of my very identity is in flux as I step permanently into this new office. While I think it’s foolish and counterproductive to aspire to positions of authority in the church, I’ll admit that a small and possibly selfish part of myself had once hoped that, should the time ever come for me to be ordained a high priest, that time would come while my dear father still lived so that he could be the one to perform the ordinance and my line of authority would remain the same.

Dad’s passing some seven years ago having plainly ruled out that option, I am deeply blessed to have had another wonderful choice available in the person of my father-in-law, a good, decent and faithful man whom I both love and admire. This morning, July 2 2017, the line of authority above was overwritten in a necessary and natural progression. Since the line was shared above for illustrative purposes more than anything else, I won’t post the full new line of authority that shows the link between myself (now as a high priest) to my father-in-law back through a different set of priesthood holders. These men (including my wife’s late grandfather in addition to John Taylor, Francis M. Lyman and a couple of others) are no less worthy of honor and respect than my original line, but I’ve come to understand that it’s never really been about either list of names. It’s about the authority itself and its ultimate source; It’s about Jesus Christ. It’s about acting on His commission to selfless service. It’s about honoring the oath and covenant of the priesthood. While the title and the office have changed, that core of service, sacrifice and faith remains constant.

May I walk up to the measure of that heritage, that lineage of faith and the measure of Him in whom that faith is invested. That’s my prayer and my hope. Whoever and whatever I am, may that ever so remain.

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