One of the distinctive features of Mormonism is our claim that the authority to preach, bless, speak, and otherwise act in the name of God comes from an exactly traceable pathway from John the Baptist (in the case of the Aaronic priesthood) and Christ’s ordination of the apostles (in the case of the higher priesthood), the ordination of Joseph Smith by certain of those resurrected bearers of priesthood, and through an unbroken and precisely definable chain from Joseph Smith down to the rawest young deacon ordained this week in the farthest corner of the church.
That is to me to me something special, something definable and different and demonstrable, that all Mormon priesthood bearers should be humbled by yet proud of, something you all should be aware of and ready to demonstrate when asked. One of the bits of Mormon ephemera for which I have a great deal of affection is the little business card-size chart that many LDS men carry which traces their personal priesthood line of authority – the man’s own name is at the bottom, and usually within six or eight steps that ordination arrives at the Lord himself.
Do you know your own line of authority?
It used to be quite easy to trace. The church was much smaller, church membership records used to record the names of the men who had blessed, baptized, confirmed and ordained to each priesthood office, and a small group of general authorities did much of the Melchizedek priesthood ordaining throughout the church. It has gotten more difficult, but no less important, with the growth of the church, and especially with a development – or devolution – in church record keeping during the 1970s, when a decision was made to record on membership records only the dates, and not the names, associated with priesthood ordinations. The complexity of tracing a priesthood line of authority became so onerous on the staff of the Historical Department that for years they stopped providing that service, although you could still come in yourself or hire someone to sift through mountains of ward and stake records to trace an individual line.
For the past few years, and in part due to the miracles of digitization, the church, through the membership department, has again assumed the work of tracing lines of authority. The easiest way, of course, is to ask the man who ordained you to your current office – he may have the information at his fingertips. If that is not an option, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “PLA” (minus the quotation marks) in the subject line. (You could also telephone, but you’re likely to wait on hold for a very long time – if you’re reading this online, email is no doubt a far easier way to do it.) Back will come a form for you to provide as much of the following information as you can provide to assist the staff in their search:
- Your full name, and current ward and stake
- Your date of birth, address, and telephone number
- Your current priesthood office, and the (approximate) date of ordination, the ward and stake where you were living then, and the name of the ordainer, if known
- The names and approximate dates of any Melchizedek priesthood ordinations you may have performed since holding your current office (if you ordained an outgoing missionary, for instance, they may already have traced the line for that missionary; knowing of this ordination can save them the effort of retracing the same line)
Remember that you have only one valid line of authority – that of your current office (unless you are a bishop or patriarch, in which case you trace your high priest’s line). Please don’t ask that they trace multiple lines for your earlier ordinations to lesser offices – they won’t, and it’s irrelevant.
Remember, too, that your line of authority passes through the office a man held at the time he ordained you – if you were ordained an elder by an elder, and that elder later became a high priest, you still trace your authority through his ordination as an elder.
They may contact you for further information. When they have traced the line, they will mail or fax it to you (they do not email the line, at present).
I’d like to hear your thoughts about the priesthood line of authority, and especially of any occasions where knowing your own line, or someone else’s, has resulted in a story. Or anything else remotely related.