Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—
For behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.
You know what a power of attorney is, don’t you?
In its simplest form, it’s a document authorizing someone to speak or act for someone else. The one so authorized is legally called an “agent” for the other, who is called the “grantor.” Such documents can be brief or lengthy, general or limited in scope, and called by various names. They are commonly used in personal and business affairs; for example, here’s one signed by President Monson, giving Robert Cantwell financial control over the LDS church:
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An agent, authorized in this way, can act in the name of the grantor, even to the point of speaking, entering into contracts, issuing instructions, and signing legal documents in behalf of the grantor. This is serious business, because the agent could even act against the wishes of the grantor, and still legally bind the grantor to the outcome. This is why most powers of attorney are limited in scope and specify the sorts of actions an agent can take.
Obviously, power of attorney is not automatic, but must be specifically granted. One who presumes to act in the name of another, but without authorization, commits the crime of fraud.
I think you can see where this is headed, so let’s discuss speaking in Christ’s name.
What does it actually mean when you speak, teach, or act “In the Name of Jesus Christ?” There’s no shortage of people in the world who claim to do so—ranging from popes and presidents to pastors and pedophiles. The use of Christ’s name is so common, in fact, and associated with so many contradictory teachings, that it’s no wonder Christianity in general is a hodgepodge of confusion. Such was the case in Joseph Smith’s day, as well:
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? (JSH 1:10)
The Lord’s response to Joseph Smith’s inquiry is telling:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JSH 1:19)
And there it is. Through 1,800 years of Christianity, and millions professing to speak in Christ’s name, the Lord claimed exactly none of them. They were all frauds.
When you get right down to it, if you claim to speak in the name of Jesus Christ, you are asserting the following:
—that He authorized you to speak for Him,
—that you are accurately representing Him,
—that He gave you the words to speak,
—and therefore, that your words are, in fact, His words.
If the above items are true, then the one speaking is indeed the Lord’s servant, delivering the Lord’s word. Such is a worthy goal for us all, and is exactly how the Lord operates:
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D&C 1:38)
Note that in the above verse, the Lord honors HIS word. If HE has spoken it, then it will be fulfilled, even if it is delivered by the mouth of His agent.
On the other hand, if one presumes to speak or act in the name of the Lord, without receiving His word and authorization, that person commits fraud. Anyone who does so will be rejected by Him:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
It’s pretty clear that the use of Christ’s name is reserved only for those He authorizes (and “knows.”) Furthermore, whether you’re authorized or not, if you speak in Christ’s name, you will be accountable to Him for what you say. Those who claim to speak Christ’s words, but do not, bring shame upon his name and damnation upon themselves.
It Ain’t Priesthood, Folks.
So who is authorized? Well, the common belief in LDS circles is that priesthood is the authorization to act and speak in Christ’s name. Therefore, anyone ordained to priesthood is automatically authorized, and anyone else is not. Or so the story goes.
Trouble is, ordaining someone to priesthood doesn’t automatically put him in touch with the Lord’s voice, or give understanding of the Lord’s will. I’ve witnessed many priesthood holders teaching utter falsehoods “in the name of Jesus Christ” out of sheer ignorance.
Similarly, holding an office in the church doesn’t convey the automatic authorization to speak for Jesus. Whether that office is deacon, seventy, patriarch, apostle, or church president, the duty to first obtain the Lord’s word is the same. It is, and always has been, exactly as the Lord told Hyrum:
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. (D&C 11:21)
The Lord will authorize and send whomever he chooses. But it’s never automatic with an office, position, or ordination. Even the president of the church can speak falsehoods, and the Lord is not in any way bound to honor what he says. The fact that the LDS church now openly accuses past presidents of teaching falsehoods only drives home the point.
God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen. In the beginning God called Adam by His own voice. “And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.” (See Genesis 3:9-10.) Adam received commandments and instructions from God: this was the order from the beginning. TPJS 168
Look at the third commandment:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
Isn’t it interesting that the verb used is to TAKE the Lord’s name in vain? To “take” implies to lay hold on, or seize, rather than to simply receive what is offered. To claim Christ’s name without His authorization is to take what isn’t yours. It’s deceptive. It’s stealing. And it has powerful potential to mislead others. Is it any wonder the Lord put this sin on His top ten list?
Christ is the lamb of God—so the wolves will always be willing to clothe themselves in His name, attempting to appear as something they’re not. Of course this isn’t unique to Christ. Fraudsters and deceivers clothe themselves with false titles, credentials, and names—even impersonating doctors or apostles to get some respect or make a buck. It seems that when some people find they aren’t convincing enough on their own, they’ll lay hold on the identity of someone more convincing. Whether it’s innocent name dropping, or outright criminal impersonation, the purpose of the ruse is always the same.
People don the sheep’s clothing to get what they want—whether it’s acceptance, money, power, fame, or sex, the unscrupulous find Christ’s name profitable.
Speaking of Name Dropping...
The correct name for the Melchizedek Priesthood is “the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (D&C 107:3-4)
Our Lord’s name was so respected and reverenced that early saints hesitated to even use it when it was proper to do so. Those who knew the Lord best were the most hesitant to cheapen His name by making it common. I notice the same pattern today. Those who know Him best reverence Him most, and generally refer to Him by one of his many, honorific titles, rather than his personal name. Therefore, isn’t it ironic when mortal men who lead religious institutions try to imitate God in their insistence on being called by honorific titles?
At the other end of the spectrum are those who use the name of Jesus as a sort of calling card, almost intentionally trying to see how frequently they can use His name in casual conversation, or in association with their own good works—as if using it in such a familiar manner will somehow lend authority to their statements, or convince others (or themselves) they’re intimate and familiar with the Ruler of Heaven. Thus, they not only take His name in vain, but seem to relish doing so as frequently as possible. Throw in a pitch for donations, and you’re ready for the high-dollar world of selling Him for money. Those who know Him least drop His name the most.
Don’t believe me? Go watch a TV preacher sometime.
The message taught most often, by those who name drop most often, is a message of reassurance. In an effort to make the gospel palatable, easy, and popular, the emphasis shifts from repentance and humility to prosperity, rejoicing and celebration. Whether among LDS people, or other types of Christians, there’s a growing shift toward a gospel of ease, enjoyment, comfort and endless blessings. Sacrifice is for suckers.
Those who teach such messages doubly dishonor our Lord by both stealing his name, and claiming He said something he never did. They bear false witness against Him, lie about Him, and in essence, join the throngs in Jerusalem, shouting “crucify him!” in preference of a false Christ. We’ll go further into this idea next time.
What Should we Do?
In my opinion, we ought to be much more careful with the name of Christ. Teaching vain, idle or foolish words in His name condemns both the teacher, and those who believe what is taught. There IS NO blanket authorization for just anyone to step up and use Christ’s name when teaching. Those who do so without His permission take His name in vain.
It’s a grave responsibility to claim to speak in His name. We ought not mislead others by claiming to speak Christ’s words if they weren’t received from him. We ought not desecrate the God of truth by associating his name with falsehood.
On the other hand, truth needs to be taught. We therefore ought to do just as the Lord advised Hyrum Smith: Seek to obtain His word, then declare it.
Christ does, in fact, give power of attorney. He does send servants. We can, and should seek to become those servants—to properly speak and act in His name:
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.