When working with people who have left the Mormon church, one of the biggest issues for them to work through is that of God’s priesthood. The Mormon church does a superb job of teaching its members about their two divisions of the priesthood, the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. They claim that the priesthood is the authority to act for God on the earth. (Gospel Principles, p. 81) They assert that in order for any church to be led of God, they must hold this priesthood in order to perform any ordinances properly. Of course, they also assert that their church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the only church on the face of the earth that holds this priesthood and so is the only one to be able to wield God’s authority or power on the earth. Quite a bold claim! The struggle that ex-Mormons face when they leave the LDS church and start attending another church is they wonder if somehow they are settling for “second best” by not having that umbrella of leadership to function under. To sort through this issue, there is no better place to turn than the book of Hebrews.
The book of Hebrews was written to a congregation of Jewish believers who were wondering if they should go back to some of their Jewish religious roots and abandon the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Because of this fact, Old Testament quotes and topics abound. Fortunately for the ex-Mormon, the writer covers the topic of the priesthood of Jesus quite extensively in chapters 7-10. He assumes that the believer already understands the function of the Old Testament priesthood. In Judaism, the ONLY purpose for the priesthood was to offer the required blood sacrifices to God in an orderly fashion. This is a totally different purpose than the LDS priesthood. The chapter in the LDS teaching manual quoted above (Gospel Principles) says nothing about performing sacrifices to God. They are using the Old Testament terms and claiming to be the same, but ignoring almost everything the Bible says about those priesthoods.
Discussing this topic with an ex-LDS friend revealed some interesting things. As we’ve discussed this issue together, she has noticed that the “LDS priesthood doesn’t relate at all to the OT priesthood.” This was surprising to her, as it is to most ex-LDS new Christians, because they have it so ingrained in them that their church holds the restoration of God’s priesthood as described in the Old Testament. The LDS believe that it is passed onto “worthy LDS men” through the laying on of hands. It is very shocking to learn, however, that Hebrews 7:24 describes Jesus’ priesthood as being permanent. The greek word used there [aparabatos] literally means inviolate, perpetual and UNTRANSFERABLE!! This ensures that the priesthood cannot be passed on to other people, as the LDS assert.
Another issue raised in the book of Hebrews that was particularly striking to my ex-LDS friend was whether we still need the priesthood after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Chapter 9 goes into great detail to explain that Jesus’ sacrifice was complete, “But now he has appeared once for all, at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.….so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people….etc.” (Heb. 9:26-28) It’s obvious from these verses that Jesus’ sacrifice was complete. Earlier in Hebrews 7:18-19 we learn about the Old Testament priesthood: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” We obviously no longer need the services of the priesthood, because Jesus was the final and perfect sacrifice. He has now become our high priest, so why would we want to go back to a priesthood that is “weak and useless?”
The sad truth about all of this, according to my ex-LDS friend, is that the LDS people have no idea about what the Old Testament priesthood was about and the freedom that they can have in Christ through Jesus’ perfect priesthood. They believe that they cannot ever hope to gain access into God’s presence apart from their priesthood. Referring to the LDS priesthood, she says, “The LDS-lifers (like herself) have no idea that everything is artificial and un-Biblical.” This is what every Christian should want to share with their LDS friends and family.
Another liberating thought for my friend stems out of Hebrews 4:15-16. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” For her to think about being able to go to God with confidence was liberating, to say the least. We discussed about how the High Priest used to have a rope tied around his ankle before he went into God’s presence on the day of Atonement in case he still was not cleansed from some sin, so that if God struck him dead, he could be pulled out. She remarked that learning that we can approach God with confidence and not “with a rope around our ankle” was amazing to her. “Because he has accepted me, I can approach with confidence. He offers that to everyone. I just did not know the context and background before.” It’s wonderful how the Word of God comes alive when we truly study!
On a daily basis, these truths (in contrast to the false teaching of Mormonism) make a huge difference in the life of an ex-Mormon, as they should for all of us. She writes, “The LDS have taken something upon themselves that was never given to them and belongs to Christ alone.” Also, “When LDS men made decisions about me, they were serving as mediators between myself and God. It’s very freeing to think that I don’t have to go to a fallible human being who will decide whether I am worthy or not before God. Jesus is all of it: high priest, mediator, the one I go to, etc. He’s all I need.” Hallelujah, what a Savior!