Driving Out Demons

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In a bizarre but meaningful paradox, Luke 9 juxtaposes three fascinating scenes that have been on my mind this afternoon.

In the first, Jesus endows his disciples with the power and authority to act in his name. He tells them to cast out demons, cure diseases, and to preach the Kingdom of God. For Mormons, these verses come across as a validation of prophetic authority and a priesthood lineage that separates those who are appointed (or ordained) from other followers of Christ. Touting priesthood authority, I’ve heard tell of miracles minute and monumental in many meetings—from Fast and Testimony to General Conference to Girls’ Camp firesides.

Mormons talk about priesthood as an authority unique to faithful Mormon men—a power that only they can access by virtue of ordination—a permission that, for these lay clergy and other members of the church, is considered more valid than any other claim to act in God’s stead.

Which brings me to the second scene.

The disciples are gathered again. It’s been at least a week since they were sent out without purse and scrip. In the interim, sermons were preached, unclean spirits were banished, and some among the disciples stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and had a profound spiritual experience. It was an eventful, one would assume humbling, period to be a disciple. And yet, it seems the disciples got a little intoxicated with their newfound roles. They argued among themselves about who would be greatest in the Kingdom.

It probably sounded a lot like when the high priests get going in Gospel Doctrine and they all reference prior callings or name drop.

“When I was bishop…”

“Well when I was in the stake presidency…”

“My cousin was in the same ward as Elder [insert name of GA here] and once, in a sacrament meeting, he said…”

So Jesus went to the Primary and led a Sunbeam into their midst. Reminding them that childlike humility and submission to the will of God—not a high opinion of oneself or a chief seat—was the key to the Kingdom, Jesus put an end to the quarrel.

Unfortunately, the quarrel ended but the teaching didn’t stick.

Scene three:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not accompany us.”

For some reason, I can’t read this verse without hearing a whiny preschool voice whimper “He’s touching me!” And just to be clear, I’m not really talking about the original twelve here. I’ve heard a lot talk in nearly five decades of Mormonism that amounts to back patting proclamations about being the greatest in the Kingdom. Often this congratulatory chatter centers on priesthood, prophets, and temple ordinances—the Mormon mind’s coup de grace that validates Mormonism’s claim to being the one true path to God. But is that what Christ taught or is it confirmation bias with a hefty side of hubris?

“Do not stop him,” Jesus replied, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

For years, I thought Jesus was just telling the disciples to leave this unaffiliated preacher alone because he wasn’t hurting anyone. He wasn’t “against” the work of the disciples so there was no need to bother with him.

But that’s not what He said. He said the non-ordained preacher was for the Christ movement. He was part of the Kingdom. He was for Christ.

More importantly, perhaps, is what wasn’t said about this man who was driving out demons.

No one called him a false prophet. No one said he was preaching in vain or to build up his own kingdom. No one implied his power or authority was lesser. He was driving out demons.

He had power. It was undisputed.

And Christ indicated that it was God’s power. That this man was a priest as valid as any one of the twelve. He was working miracles with the approval of the Son of God and in the name of the Son of God. He was healing the hurting and blessing others.

This is the definition of priesthood.

He was doing it right alongside “the church” and church authorities, in their spiritual immaturity, wanted to shut him down. They wanted exclusive rights. They wanted to be greatest in the kingdom.

And Jesus said, “No.”

There is a world of people who are working miracles all around us without ever setting foot in the Mormon church—or any church. They are accessing a power direct from the source and it often looks a lot like charity, mercy, compassion, empathy, and a sincere inclination to see others as equals. It eschews exclusivity and claims to preeminence. It doesn’t demand recognition.

It is the power and authority of independent priests and priestesses, whose names, like the one of the priest in Luke 9, are often lost to history. It is the power and authority of priests and priestesses who are affiliated with other churches and no churches but who act in the spirit and/or name of Christ. It is the power and authority of ex-Mormons and Jack-Mormons who are every bit as connected to God and goodness as they were when they sat in the pews.

And for some reason, we just can’t leave them be. Maybe I should say—we can’t leave them alone.

We diminish them with our claims to exclusive authority. And every time we do, we reveal our own spiritual immaturity and latent insecurity. We are, essentially, quarreling over those seats on the right and left side of the Son of God. Chief seats in the Kingdom.

And if I remember correctly, Jesus spoke about those as well.

 

 

*This post is dedicated to some wonderful friends who have taken some heat for leaving the LDS church. This heat usually comes in the form of “but you’ll lose all access to special privileges and blessings that only come through priesthood authority.” To which I say “Phooey!” It’s also dedicated to Shelli G. who encouraged me to get back to writing and who inspires me in a million ways.

 

His Hand by Jlhopgood licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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