When we say power…

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Just a random thought I had…

In Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood, B, it states the following with respect to performing priesthood ordinances and blessings:

All ordinances must be performed by the authority of the priesthood. Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy should perform or stand in the circle for an ordinance.

As an example, to bless a child, one should:

  1. Addresses Heavenly Father.
  2. States that the blessing is performed by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
  3. Gives the child a name.
  4. Gives a priesthood blessing as the Spirit directs.
  5. Closes in the name of Jesus Christ.

So I wonder why priesthood holders (almost universally) substitute the word power for authority?

Reading dictionary definitions for power, I can see where the confusion might come from. Some definitions given are:

  • ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something
  • great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force
  • delegated authority; authority granted to a person or persons in a particular office or capacity: the powers of the president
  • a person or thing that possesses or exercises authority or influence

However, I don’t think those fit with a gospel definition of power. In a gospel context, I think we use the word power with its physics definition:

The amount of work per unit of time

I don’t see priesthood power as being the ability to act in behalf of God. I think that is why they specifically mention that blessings, etc.. are to be done by stating the authority. Priesthood power comes from the work accomplished in a given amount of time.

If we continue to break down the definition of power using physics definitions, we will see that work is defined as

Force producing movement in the direction force is applied

I really like this definition. In order for there to be “work” you need movement in the direction that force is applied. I often think of this definition in opening exercises in priesthood meeting. The following happens often:

Ward Mission Leader: “Does anyone have a missionary moment that they’d like to share?”

Peter Priesthood raises his hand. WML motions for PP to share his ‘moment’

PP: “Last week I was talking to a less active friend of mine…..”

Good old Peter Priesthood feels good that he did some ‘missionary work’, but by definition, he didn’t. Missionary work is defined as “Bringing souls to Christ through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation.” To do missionary work, you would need to have movement in the direction force was applied. But since Peter’s less active friend was already baptized, this falls under Perfect the Saints. So what we end up having is a ward thinking that they are doing Missionary Work when in fact they are ignoring it and mistaking what they do for perfect the saints (is it any wonder our church wide missionary program is struggling?).

Anyway, back on topic…

There is no ‘Priesthood Power’ unless we are actually doing something and getting a result. Performing an ordinance or blessing really doesn’t involve any power at all on behalf of the person giving the blessing or performing the ordinance. When I have given healing blessings, and the one being blessed is healed, I didn’t actually do anything. There was no part of me that healed this person. That was God’s power at work. All I did was say a few words for Him because He wasn’t there to say them himself. I acted in his name, by his authority.

Power from me would perhaps be in the form of providing service (shovelling snow, etc…) or getting something accomplished. Such acts really don’t require the priesthood to perform. True priesthood power comes from God, not man. I may be wrong on that, but it seems to fit the definition and context.

For those who think you have the power in and of yourself, I think you share a little something in common with the fella’ mentioned in D&C 29: 36 and Moses 4:1. Not really the best company to be in methinks.

So, next time you’re getting ready to give that blessing, remember that you really aren’t doing anything except saying a few words for someone who isn’t there to do it themselves. Your just an understudy, a proxy, a stand-in for the guy with the real power. You might want to show respect and honour to Him who’s power it really is by properly stating the authority you are acting under.

20 thoughts on “When we say power…

  1. First of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed the physics definitions applied to gospel principles. That was cool.

    Secondly, when I was in the MTC, our branch president sat all of the elders down in our district and we practised the ordinances. We received explicit instructions regarding the difference between saying “power” and “authority”. I have used “authority” ever since then.

    Finally, I think you’re right on the mark. I should point out, however, that I do not think we can rule out our potential to use priesthood power.

    For example, in Helaman 10, the Lord tells Nephi that has all power to do what he wills, and what he wills woudl eb done

    And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

    Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.

    Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. (vv. 5–7)

  2. I think we are so lax in so many things. I am sure the list is long. In a previous ward our Bishop taught the Specific Word Authority to the Priesthood, many of whom used power simply because it’s the way they had heard it for so many years. But as soon as they realized the difference they made sure to use Authority.

  3. That Helaman reference is a good one. I would agree that we can receive his power, but it still comes from God.

    As mortals, we are dependant on God for his power. He is independantly powerful. A slight difference, but still important. And even if we do receive the sealing power referenced above, we only have the ability to excercise it under authority from God. That authority can still be taken away.

    But yes, I would agree that some could obtain the ability to use priesthood power in and of themselves. I just don’t think most priesthood holders are there yet.

  4. Also Kim, I have found applying physics definitions to gospel doctrine quite elinghtening. For instance, regarding God’s power:

    If power = amount of work / unit of time

    and time = eternity

    then all things can be done

    therefore God is all powerful or omnipotent because he has eternity to do all things he is capable of doing (which is everything).

    We mortals are not omnipotent, simply because in our probationary state, we would simply run out of time to do everything that needs to be done.

    Maybe not the best example, but you can see what I mean.

    I use to always get confused regarding scriptures that spoke of power and light (the light of the body is the eye…) and glory. When we define these words according to how they are defined in physics, we take away some of the mystery and magic and substitute a more clear vision of what the scriptures are trying to teach us.

  5. Considering one must declare the word with “unwearyingness”, not seek one’s own life, seek God’s will, and keep his commandments, I’m certainly not there. And it will probably be a long time if I ever do.

  6. Hey JM, I don’t mean to malign your good name, but you better check your maths.

    Anything over infinity is exceedingly small.

    Given your previous example, God’s power is nearly zero.

    As a matter of fact, it approaches zero exponentially as the accuracy of the measurement increases…

  7. Ya, I know what you are saying Rick. I’m not saying that it takes him forever to do all things. I’m saying he can do all things and is not restricted by time in doing them. Does that make sense?

    Still, I must admit that the average 4th grader probably knows more about physics than I do. But when I read the definitions and fit them into a gospel context, it all seems to fit to me.

  8. Interesting topic, glad there are more people conscious of the words used in blessings. I noted when I was 19 that the instructions for blessings said the word Authority and make sure that is what I use. We do designate it “Melchizedek” priesthood to avoid unnecessary repetition of God’s name, but it is essentially Christ’s priesthood and if there is power in the blessing it comes through faith in Jesus Christ as he is the source of that power — indeed we do simply have authority to act and perform ordinances in His name, inasmuch as we are worthy. We are instrument’s in His hands — the power is His.

    I would challenge the application of the word “force” when it comes to the power of God (“Force producing movement in the direction force is applied”). This is likely just me being picky about words and not how you intended the word to be used, but force destroys freedom/agency and agency is essential for anyone to be saved.

    When our friend does “missionary work” he is not applying force, so to speak, to move someone a certain direction, though wouldn’t we love to do that? Christ’s invitation is for us to come unto him, and as members of the church, having been baptized, it is then our calling to invite others unto Christ. We do want to live in such a way as to be a positive example, teach, and carry the Spirit such that others can be influenced by it, but force is in alignment with Satan’s plan. I wouldn’t associate power too closely with “force applied”, but perhaps another meaning of the word force (as in forces of good). Maybe my thoughts just boil down to semantics :) We might do everything we can to bring others to Christ and they might not move in the direction we’d like. Does this mean we’ve done no work?

    I would also challenge your application of the terms “missionary work” and “perfect the saints”. I think the term used, as far as the three missions of the church go, is “proclaim the gospel”, though perhaps many people view the two as being synonymous. “Proclaim the Gospel” seems to specifically entail bringing new members into the fold, as you described. In that respect you would be right — Peter Priesthood did not proclaim the Gospel as much as he reached out to invite a stray member unto Christ, which is God’s work. None of us can make it on our own nor would we be happy if we tried.

    I digress, the distinction may not be that important except as much as it is useful in organizing members to accomplish specific tasks– it is all God’s work of building His kingdom. We can call each area of focus whatever want, what is important is that we are following the Savior and inviting others to come to him– be they active, less active, or non-member, and not just because its a duty but because there is joy to be had in the work of building up the Kingdom of God.

    Keep up the thoughtful blogging!

  9. p.s. as I continue to think of it I can find applications of the word “force” that I agree with. Initially I thought in terms of “forcing someone” (like pushing in a direction, etc) but attraction can be a force — magnetic, gravity, etc. These are considered forces in the world of physics that seem more natural and less artificial; maybe they are not so forceful as to destroy our freedom but powerful enough to entice us to make choices to go a certain direction. Hmmm. Definitely food for thought!

  10. Welcome to Our Thoughts, Mike. We hope you enjoy your stay and look forward to more thoughts from you.

    When JM mentioned force, I thought of it much in the same as what you mention in your second comment. I did no think of it as the context of making someone do something they do not choose to do.

  11. Thus the problem with using common words that have many interpretations and meanings. As you outlined, Mike, force can have many meanings.

    Keeping in line with using physics definitions, I would define force as “An infuence that causes a mass to accellerate”. In putting a gospel spin on it, I see “mass” as being a person, group, program, teaching, etc… So, having a forceful effect would be one that causes movement, action, learning, progression, etc…

    It really makes more sense if you start from Moses 1:39 like I did when I started to explore the whole thing. Doing do will cause you to explore two paths, the “Work” path and the “Glory” path.

    If God’s “Work” is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, we need to understand what he means by work. I think the physics definition helps explain this the clearest.

    I ended up using the following definitions:

    • Work: Force producing movement in the direction force is applied
    • Force: An infuence that causes a mass to accellerate
    • Energy: The capacity to do work
    • Power: Amount of work per unit of time
    • Influence: To move or impell to some action

    When we keep these definitions in mind, it becomes clear that to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, everything God does must be to that end. Any variation is something less than his ‘work’ (work being a noun and not a verb in this case I think).

    To be work (or the correct result), the forces applied (temple work, missionary work, home teaching, sunday school, etc…) must produce movement in the direction they were applied. For instance, if the end result of sunday school is participants learning less about the gospel rather than more, that is not God’s work. It’s moving people in the wrong direction.

    If our efforts, or influence do not bring us to action (cause mass to accellerate) we remain at rest and the force being applied is insufficient.

    If we are unable to produce the work, we lack energy….

    This is why I made the comment about missionary work. To be clear, I should have made the distinction between Missionary Work and Proclaiming the Gospel. Proclaiming I think of more like the act of sharing gospel knowledge, regardless of the audience. The old Missionary Guide specifically defined missionary work as “bringing souls to Christ through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation”. Still, when we use the term in out conversations / talks / story sharing time, we should use the term correctly. Missionary work means a very specific thing. If we are really doing something else (reactivation of less active members) then our force is not producing movement in the direction that force is being applied. An end result of missionary work, by definition, cannot be re-activation.

    “Glory” is a whole other topic for a whole other thread. But I will say that when you mingle the physics definitions with the gospel definitions, it brings to ‘light’ (pun intended) a great amount of meaning and insight into God’s glory and where we fit in.

    Some members become very casual in how they choose to define gospel terms. It usually ends up putting us off course by a couple of degrees and for me, that’s hard to be a part of. If our force is not producing movement in the direction force is applied, I really don’t want any part of it. I guess that’s why I have become so critical of lazy leadership. Something I still don’t know the correct response to. Like Elder Oaks said “when going about the Lord’s work and accomplishing His purposes, it is not enough that we get a good result, it must be done in the correct way”.

  12. Ahh thanks for clarifying a bit. It’s more clear now what your issue would be with Peter Priesthood– changing a definition to avoid looking bad or to justify himself rather than actually doing the task he should be doing.

    Your idea of energy is interesting. Quantum physicists seem to say that all matter is energy when you break it down to it’s most basic levels. (Interesting that light is energy and truth is light…Reminds me of something Richard G. Scott said in a talk about truth– that “truth is of little value in our lives if we do not apply it.” If we don’t apply that energy or capacity to do work, that energy is of little value.

    Now you’ve got me thinking about potential energy and kinetic energy in terms of “the work”, our divine nature and how we both influence others through work and how we ourselves our influenceable (since we cannot be influenced by the Spirit if we are not conductive to the Spirit).

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking topic. :)

  13. “Quantum physicists seem to say that all matter is energy when you break it down to it’s most basic levels.”

    I don’t mean to quibble too much again, but that’s the Theory of Relativity and not Quantum Physics.

    There are forces at a distance which affect matter and energy which are a characteristic rather than a product of matter. (the strong, weak, and electromagnetic fundamental forces)

    It’s within these basic forces that the ‘work’ gets done.

    Perhaps JM can assign gospel principals to each of the fundamental forces as well … just for kicks. =)

  14. You may be right (I haven’t yet gotten into my own study of quantum physics– those who reference that idea though usually are coming from that angle). I’m not saying that those forces *are* energy, it’s just interesting to consider everything as some form of energy or other (not forces, but energy). Looks like I need to study physics more :D

    You bring up an interesting idea though– how opposing forces make work possible. (ie the necessity of opposition in order for there to be progression/growth).

  15. I don’t subsitute “authority” for “power.” Instead, I usually say both “power and authority” because I’m talking about two different things. They’re like a driver’s license and gasoline: one authorizes the use of something and the other makes the thing actually accomplish something. Priesthood authority comes through ordination. Priesthood power is heavenly power. It comes from the Lord through his will, and through righteousness that allows that power to work through the Priesthood holder.

    Doctrine & Covenants 121:36-38 uses “rights of the Priesthood” to mean Priesthood authority, and “powers of Heaven” to mean Priesthood power. Those verses make it clear that although one may possess Priesthood authority—that the rights of the Priesthood may conferred upon him—Priesthood POWER may still be withdrawn from him as he seeks to misuse it. Thus, “the heavens withdraw themselves” and “he is left unto himself.”

  16. Rick,

    Any finite thing over infinity is exceedingly small, but that assumes the amount work to do is finite.

    If the amount of work, too, is infinite, wouldn’t that mean God has one unit of power and the rest of us have less than one unit of power?

  17. Not to geek out on you or anything, but the energy in a closed system (like our Universe) may be large, but it is definitely finite.

    I’ll leave you to suss out the details…

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