One of the biggest issues with certain denominations is authority. We have the Roman and Orthodox churches claiming direct lineage back to Peter. Then we have so-called Restoration (Joseph Smith related, not Campbellite related) churches claiming there was a fall or break in the line that had to be “restored.” Biblical verses can be cited in favor of each position.
The Lord did tell Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. (Matthew 16:18) And Paul did warn there would come a falling away first, before the coming of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:3); but in the reformation a new view emerged.
To counter the Roman view, Calvin and others proved through verse that the authority of God was successfully given through Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18) to all believers (John 16:23) saying, where two or more are gathered, or where two agree, Jesus will be there and the Father will respect it (Matthew 18:19-20).
And so the power shifted from a priesthood line to all true believers. The same was made clear during Jesus’ lifetime when his disciples demanded that he stop others (not ordained as they) from using his name to cast out devils. But Jesus warned them to “forbid him not” (Mark 9:38-40).
Likewise, the call of Paul to be an apostle came directly from the Lord without either priesthood or church authority (Galatians 1:1,11-12). In fact, when he and Barnabas were called on their first missions, they were called by God’s prophets in Antioch, not from Peter, James, or John in Jerusalem (Acts 13:1-4).
[It is important to note that most of the New Testament and early churches were written and planted by Paul.]
Therefore the case for authority through lineage by the Roman, Orthodox, and Restoration groups doesn’t even apply. The question is, what does The Book of Mormon say about authority?
In The Book of Mormon, we find both types of authority being used – the spiritual and the priestly. When it comes to the spiritual, most Book of Mormon readers have assumed that Alma, and the church that he started in the wilderness, “must have already been given authority to do so.” That was not the case however, for he was not ordained until after he and his church arrived at the land of Zarahemla:
And it came to pass that King Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. (Mosiah 25:19)
This also explains why he had to baptize himself with the first person in the wilderness – there was nobody else with authority in the area to do so. His cry to God made it clear that he was asking for authority for what his group was going to do. Upon receiving the Spirit of the Lord, Alma knew he had received authority from God:
And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit. (Mosiah 18:12-14)
To make this point absolutely clear, Jesus spoke these words to Alma when he was in Zarahemla regarding the church he started in the wilderness, near the waters of Mormon:
And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive. (Mosiah 26:14-22)
Neither Alma nor his people had authority prior to going into the wilderness to start a church or to perform baptisms, but rather, they did have faith in the words of the prophet Abinadi, and faith in the love and fairness of God. That he would hear their prayers and help their group, i.e. their church.
This confirms that the baptisms and the church performed and formed by Alma (as did Paul in the New Testament) were approved of the Lord – they being done in the name of the Lord and in the presence of witnesses—without priesthood authority.
So what was lost through the Dark Ages? Was it priesthood like the many followers of Joseph claim? Or was it something else? According to The Book of Mormon, if angels don’t appear, if miracles are not performed, it is because of the lack of one thing—FAITH, not priesthood:
33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, If these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name (not priesthood); wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has FAITH ceased also (not priesthood); and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. (Moroni 7:33-38)