(find the talk here)
I always enjoy Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ talks. I think I have enjoyed listening to him speak since I was a little child. He is definitely the Apostle I most distinctly remember, which may be why I enjoy his talks so much. That or I just really like the way he speaks – always very rational, to the point, and authoritative. He tells it like it is. And I like that.
This particular talk is very important to me, because I have such a strong testimony in this topic, and I see confusion about this principle everywhere around me – in and out of the Church.
Elder Oaks points out the two lines of communication with God – there is a personal line, and there is a priesthood line. The problem with most people is that they either believe and rely disproportionately on one or the other, or they completely discredit the one. More often in the Church, members simply rely too much on the one or the other, and fail to recognize the importance of the other.
For example, we have some LDS friends recently who underwent surgical sterilization for personal reasons (i.e., they didn’t want any more kids). The Church Handbook explicitly says in what conditions surgical sterilization should be considered, and personal preference is not one of them. At all. Our friends are righteous, active members of the Church. They are not apostate, they are not deliberately trying to ignore what the brethren have instructed us to do. Honestly I believe that they didn’t even know about this policy. Even if they did consult their bishop, he may not have known about the Church policy. However, in many cases, couples make decisions like this and will say that it was a personal decision between them and the Lord. In his talk, Elder Oak describes it this way, “Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose.” Many people will suppose that they can receive inspiration and make decisions for their family which are contrary to the laws of God. Not so. This is a serious misunderstanding of the personal line of communication – God will never inspire us to do something that is contrary to the laws He has given to us through His prophets.
On the other hand, though, some people misunderstand the place of the Priesthood line. I learned a good lesson about this when I was preparing to go to college as a youth. I had some great opportunities to attend a very good in-state university in Arkansas. I also had been accepted to BYU with a one year full tuition scholarship. I knew that I could get more than a full tuition scholarship to the University of Arkansas, and the school was just as good as BYU, as far as academics. Stuck in what decision to make, I went to my bishop, who basically turned me back to the personal line and said that both schools were great, and both would give me wonderful opportunities, and that I should attend which ever school I wanted to. At the time I was disappointed, because I thought for sure my bishop would know better than me which school I should attend – but it taught me a great lesson in the places of the Priesthood and personal lines of communication. If my bishop had weighed in on the matter (and he did give me some good counsel about general decision making), I would have gone back to my bishop to ask which boy in the ward I should marry, which classes I should take, what major I should pursue, when I should start having children, whether or not I should work outside the home – I could keep going. Instead, I had a great bishop who reminded me that these kinds of decisions are mine to make with the Lord, and that if He had a particular place for me to be, He would let me know. Sometimes the Lord does give us personal instruction through Priesthood authorities, but more often than not, it is up to use to make those personal decision for ourselves – as long as the decisions we make are in harmony with the Priesthood line.
Similarly, we are not expected to blindly follow what the Priesthood authorities tell us. I am always reminded of the book reviews from Reading Rainbow (remember, that PBS show about reading and books? Take a look, it’s in a book?). The host of the show says something about how you can learn about the topic in a book, but you don’t have to take his word for it, and then a bunch of kids give book reviews. The prophets and apostles do the same thing. When we listen to them speak in General Conference, or on any matter, they expect us to receive our own confirmation of their testimony. They don’t want us to take their word for it – they want us to receive our own testimony, our own revelation that what they say is the truth.
We must use both the personal line and the priesthood line in proper balance to achieve the growth that is the purpose of mortal life. If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line,individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers.
I am grateful for the priesthood line of communication, and for the personal line of communication, and I am so grateful for my knowledge of the two, and the place each has in my life. I hope that I can keep them in balance so that I can live the life Heavenly Father would have me live.
How do you balance the personal and priesthood lines? Do you sometimes find yourself using them out of place? Do rely more on one line than another? How can you grow in your personal testimony?