Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often exercise their faith in a way that corresponds to Bible history and Bible language. For example, when Latter-day Saints sing #31, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, from their own hymnal, they confess Isaac Watts’s reflections on Psalms 48, 90, and 91. Here, they employ a biblical practice using biblical words rich in biblical history.
At key points, however, LDS teaching uses biblical words, but divorces those words from their biblical history. One such example is the doctrine of the “restored Aaronic priesthood.”
Clearly, the Aaronic priesthood is a biblical concept. But, by claiming to restore that priesthood, the LDS Church ignores who Aaronic priests were, what they did, where they fit in God’s redemption story, and how Jesus rendered their priesthood obsolete. A restored Aaronic priesthood re-writes huge swaths of the Old Testament and reverses the central message of the New.
According to LDS Scripture (Joseph Smith – History 1:68–72), on May 15, 1829, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were in the woods praying about the subject of baptism when John the Baptist appeared in “a cloud of light.”
On John’s command, these men baptized each other into this office and thereby received, among other things, “the keys of the ministering angels” (JS–H 1:69). The Aaronic priesthood is a necessary step toward a greater priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood, which is required for the office of elder (JS–H 1:72).
Today, the Aaronic priesthood remains the first office for male members who wish to take part in Temple worship, mission service, leadership, and more. Boys as young as 12 can enter this “lesser priesthood” (D&C 107:14) and take up duties like preparing the sacrament, collecting offerings, and serving the bishop in a variety of helpful ways. Serving is an honor for these young men and a basic requirement for greater responsibility.
The modern LDS practice, unfortunately, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the biblical version. First, Aaronic priests were not consecrated by baptism, but by smearing ram’s blood on one’s right ear, right thumb, and right big toe (Leviticus 8:22–23).
Second, Aaronic priestly duties centered almost exclusively on the sacrificial system (for example, read Leviticus 1–14). Old Testament temples were slaughterhouses; at certain points of the year local streams ran red with the blood of thousands of slain animals.
Aaronic priests bore the unenviable task of killing large animals, muscling them onto altars, and burning the carcasses (see Leviticus 1:1–17). Their work was physically arduous and never ending. Third, the Aaronic priesthood was limited to a very specific family lineage — from the tribe of Levi through the family of Aaron (Exodus 30:30–33). And even though this same passage strictly forbids any Aaronic priests coming from any other tribe, most Latter-day Saints claim to have descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Yet, as substantial as the three problems listed above may be, they’re small potatoes when compared to the gospel. The biggest problem facing a restored Aaronic priesthood is that it undermines Jesus’s one-time sacrifice for sins forevermore (Hebrews 9:26).
The New Testament unanimously declares that Jesus ended the law’s sacrificial system along with the priesthood that maintained it (Colossians 2:14; Galatians 2:15–21). When Jesus died, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51), thus symbolizing how He rendered the Aaronic priesthood obsolete (Hebrews 7:11–12).
Furthermore, by instituting the New Covenant (Luke 22:20), Jesus inaugurated one of the chief promises of the New Covenant, the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26ff; Acts 2:4).
Every born-again Christian has the Holy Spirit living inside of them (Galatians 4:6). Therefore, no matter one’s gender, age, or race, born-again Christians are already priests of the highest order (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10).
What’s more, these are hardly obscure biblical points. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians, Romans 8, Acts 15, and lengthy sections of the book of Hebrews (among many others) all render the same judgment – Jesus fulfilled every point of the Old Testament law, of which the Aaronic priesthood plays a chief role.
Some might argue that it does no harm to let 12-year-old boys have a priesthood all their own. It is, after all, a biblical concept. The Spirit of God vehemently disagrees. The law tutored us until Christ arrived (Galatians 3:22–26).
And now that Christ has come, to retain any part of the law as necessary for salvation not only enslaves people spiritually (Galatians 4:1–5) but outright opposes the central message of Christianity (see Galatians 5:1–6). Paul says that anybody who adds any part of the law to the gospel of grace deserves to be accursed (Galatians 1:8–9).
When confronted with the biblical information covered above, some Latter-day Saints will recognize the existential threat immediately and respond in some powerful way.
Most, however, will shrug their shoulders and move on with life. Latter-day Saints, by and large, are vaguely aware of the chasm between Mormonism and biblical Christianity. It’s not that they’re totally ignorant; it’s that they’re unprepared to deal with differences of great consequence. Like the seed that falls on the thorny soil, the cares of this world choke out the word before it bears fruit.
Yet, herein lies the central mission of the Sego Lily Foundation — born-again Christians must be armed with biblical information and a gracious spirit. Both are indispensable. Latter-day Saints require mercy, love, empathy, and most of all, patience. One day, life for your LDS friend is going to break down.
Perhaps in the wake of a death or a divorce, your friend will want the truth no matter the consequences. The way that you speak the truth in love now, even about topics like the Aaronic priesthood, qualifies you to be the person your LDS friend turns to when life fails.