Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Understanding An LDS Bishop's "Power Of Discernment"; Callings Not Always Extended Merely To Fill Positions

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe a bishop has the power of discernment. A basic explanation replete with numerous scriptural references is provided by LightPlanet. In a May 1999 Ensign article entitled "The Bishop and His Counselors", Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles states, "Inherent in the ordination to be bishop is both the right and the obligation to be directed by inspiration. The bishop has the power to discern by the Spirit what he is to do. Revelation is the one credential that all bishops have in common. Bishops come from many cultures, many occupations. They vary in experience, personality, and age, but they do not differ in their right to be guided spiritually".

In a May 1997 Ensign article entitled "Bishop, Help!", Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve also states, "Brothers and sisters, the offices of bishop and branch president and counselors are sacred in this Church. The men who hold those offices are respected by the Lord, inspired by His Spirit, and given the powers of discernment necessary to their office. We honor and love them, and we show this by our consideration for them".

But just what is the "power of discernment"? Is it a crystal ball by which a bishop can visualize your entire life and ferret out every sin you've ever committed? If this was so, then why would we need disciplinary councils and Church courts to try people for their membership? The power of discernment is simply the power, granted through the Holy Spirit to a bishop, to provide leadership and guidance to his ward in keeping with his stewardship. But the gift of discernment is not always premonitory.

Nonetheless, anti-Mormons like to point to failed callings as evidence that a bishop doesn't have the power of discernment. But what they don't understand is that when a bishop calls a member to a position, and the person fails in that calling, the calling may also have been extended in order to expose another issue. An example is if a latent child molester is called to work with youth. He's subsequently caught attempting to molest one of his charges.

Perhaps the purpose of the Holy Spirit in prompting the calling was to identify and expose the individual to the world before he could do more damage.

This issue is addressed in the Mormon Curtain blog, an anti-Mormon resource that couches their stories in civil terminology. In a August 11th, 2010 post entitled "The Bishop Has The Mantle Of Discernment", Mormon Curtain questions whether or not bishops have the power of discernment, citing a variety of failed callings. But were they really failures? Let's examine some of their claims:

MC: "The Bishop thought that assigning the new member to the Primary would be a good idea since he [according to him] had prayed for confirmation. The gentleman was soon released from Primary after several complaints about making girls sit in his lap".

Response: Perhaps the purpose of the calling was to identify and expose a prospective child molester before he could inflict damage.

MC: The...Bishop was called by a grieving family to give a deathbed blessing to their loved one who was given only a few days to live after succumbing to a lengthy illness. He blessed the woman saying that she had led a good life and that there was nothing to fear, among other things. With tears in his eyes he shook hands with the family and left to make arrangements. Not long after the doctor arrived to say that they were going to begin dialysis as an emergency procedure...three weeks later she was released from the hospital and lived another four years".

Response: The bishop did not promise that the woman would either live or die; he merely promised that she had nothing to fear. The Lord obviously manifested His will for the woman to live through the process of dialysis. Or perhaps the woman's life was also lengthened by fervent prayers from other people.

MC: "The new Bishop approached me after had been recently been released from the Bishopric, and said that he had submitted my name to the SP for a calling to be High Priest Group Leader, assuring me that they needed someone of my spiritual strength, and steadfastness. At that point it became necessary to tell my Bishop that I was struggling with my testimony and that it would have to be assigned to someone else".

Response: The fact that a member might be struggling with his testimony does not disqualify him from being offered a calling if he's otherwise compliant in all the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. Perhaps our Heavenly Father wanted to offer the calling as a means to strengthen his testimony; a person still has the free agency to decline the calling.

Callings can be extended under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for a host of reasons; to exploit existing talent, to uncover hidden talent, to recharge flagging testimonies, and even to uncover latent problems requiring exposure and confrontation. Bishops aren't huddled behind crystal balls on their desks like Miss Cleo taking shots in the dark; they pray over prospective callings before extending them. Read this previous post to find out how General Authorities extend missionary callings. Only scoffers walking after their own lusts minimize or ridicule the entitlement of a bishop to the power of discernment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am just a bit curious as to whether Bishops and Stake Presidents really have the mantle of discernment and do they really feel the spirit? I am wondering how 3 Bishops and 2 Stake President can interview an Aaronic priesthood holder and approve the ordination to Elder, restore priesthood authority and approve temple reccomends and patriarchal blessing interviews; if the gift of discernment does not allow the spirit to talk to these interviewers about the morality and chastity of the person being interviwed. How can an individual become reinstated to priesthood authority, after being disfellowshipped, that does not conform to the laws of chastity, word of wisdom, law of tithing and is morally unclean during the interviews?