I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

What can we do to ensure an appropriate balance of activities in Aaronic Priesthood quorums?

Mark E. Hurst, executive secretary to the Young Men General Presidency. This is an interesting and important question, because the idea of balance goes directly to the heart of Aaronic Priesthood activities.

Next to his family, a young man’s most important association should be his Aaronic Priesthood quorum. Its organization is quorum-centered and quorum-directed, with a variety of appropriate activities that are designed to teach and train young men. The term activities refers to the things the quorum does outside the Sunday morning quorum meeting—for example, quorum-related work such as the performance of certain ordinances or assisting with priesthood programs like home teaching or activation efforts, service projects, Scouting, athletics, cultural events, recreational opportunities, combined activities with young women, and Sunday evening discussions.

Having a proper balance of wholesome, appropriate, and well-planned activities for Aaronic Priesthood-age young men is the responsibility of every ward and stake in the Church as a supplement to his training in the home.

The accompanying Aaronic Priesthood “quorum wheel,” shows the various activity areas, suggesting the kind of balance that should exist.

Note that each circle is only one part of the activity program for Aaronic Priesthood young men. Scouting, for example, is an excellent resource to Aaronic Priesthood leaders. Where we are able to form a partnership with the Scouting movement, a marvelous and mutually beneficial relationship occurs. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “The Scouting program, to an unusual degree, is educationally, socially, and spiritually sound. It builds character and spirituality and trains a boy for leadership and citizenship responsibility.” (Address to the Young Men General Presidency and board, September 19, 1979.) But as important as Scouting is, it should not dominate all activities; hence the need for balance.

There are at least four key things leaders can do to make sure Aaronic Priesthood activities have the proper balance:

Key Number 1: Keep the Priesthood at the Head

Remember, the Lord’s house is “a house of order” (D&C 132:8), and things pertaining to the priesthood should be done in his own way, according to the proper order, which is that the priesthood and priesthood authority should be at the head of all programs.

This means that every activity in the Aaronic Priesthood is a quorum activity, and that all activities are under the direction of the quorum presidency and the quorum adviser. (See Aaronic Priesthood-Young Men Handbook, p. 23.) Whenever that direction is circumvented, an inappropriate relationship will exist and quorum activities will get out of balance. That is, if any one of the activity areas dominates the proper quorum organization and leadership, then surely “the tail is wagging the dog,” and important aspects of priesthood quorum work will be overlooked.

Key Number 2: Priesthood Purposes

A second key to successfully balancing Aaronic Priesthood activities is this simple principle: “Every activity should accomplish a priesthood purpose.” (Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook, pp. 9–10.) That is, activities should be designed not just to entertain, but to accomplish the variety of priesthood purposes listed in the Aaronic Priesthood Quorum Guidebook, pages 15 and 16:

1. Learn the gospel and build testimonies of Jesus Christ.

2. Give welfare and temporal service.

3. Prepare for and give missionary service.

4. Give genealogical and temple service.

5. Strengthen families.

6. Build quorum brotherhood.

7. Activate young men of quorum age.

8. Build proper relationships with young women.

9. Prepare for eternal marriage and fatherhood.

10. Have leadership experiences.

11. Develop talents.

With these priesthood purposes at the core of all activities, the Aaronic Priesthood program is intended to help young men gain a testimony of Jesus Christ, recognize their particular gifts and the Lord’s expectations for them, and prepare for worthy receipt of the Melchizedek Priesthood, for missions, for temple marriage, for fatherhood, and for a lifetime of service in the Church. Scouting is a valuable resource for accomplishing many of the objectives outlined for Aaronic Priesthood activities, but leaders should recognize that it may not be the best vehicle for accomplishing some priesthood purposes. Hence, a healthy balance of all seven of the activity areas is not only desirable but essential.

Key Number 3: Planning

A third key to properly balancing activities is the three-month calendar of activities prepared by each quorum presidency.

The time available for quorum activities is usually limited to one night a week plus an occasional weekend. Careful planning is therefore a must if quorums are to have a variety of activities that are balanced according to priesthood purposes. Planning service and activities at least three months in advance is one of the purposes of the quorum presidency meeting, and the bishopric should regularly review each quorum’s three-month calendar of activities. (See Handbook, p. 22.)

In planning sessions, leaders and advisers should decide what the quorum’s priesthood responsibilities and needs are and plan activities that specifically meet those objectives as well as the interests of quorum members. (See Guidebook, p. 4.)

The Guidebook contains sample calendars and suggestions for focusing on the right purposes in priesthood activities. In particular, pages 19–24 contain an excellent sample of a year-long activity program involving a wide variety of activities consistent with priesthood purposes. It will be apparent from this calendar that some of the activities can be accomplished within the Scouting program—especially outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and other skill areas. Many other activities will not fall conveniently under the Scouting program.

Careful planning offers several distinct advantages:

1. It helps ensure that activities are both varied and balanced according to priesthood purposes.

2. It helps quorum leaders know what resources will be needed so that they can plan for them well in advance and call upon support groups such as the ward activities committee and ward Scouting committees as needed.

3. It also has the enormous advantage of helping adult leaders understand how they will need to budget their time. Leaders in Church Scouting units may want to take part in some helpful district and council training programs. (See Guidebook, p. 3.) It is up to the bishopric, quorum leadership, and Scout committee members to decide how the total Scout program will be useful to them in meeting their quorum objectives, and then decide exactly how to parcel out their time commitments.

Key Number 4: Leadership

A fourth key to success in Aaronic Priesthood work is calling the right kind of adult leaders for each quorum.

The best leader, of course, is a man who loves young men, wants to see them succeed, and will dedicate himself to helping in that process. He is a man who has high spiritual and moral ideals, yet has not forgotten what it is like to be young and growing up. He is a man who can treat young men as equals and expect to be treated like an equal in return. He is a man who is mature and responsible, yet he can also be a friend and a confidant, someone who can be trusted, and someone who cares.

The right leader will also have another important qualification: he will be a man who is willing and able to train quorum leaders to plan their activities and see that priesthood purposes are incorporated. This isn’t so very hard to do, but it takes ability and commitment—“anything but the casualness we sometimes see on the part of some fathers and adult leaders,” as President Kimball put it. (Ensign, May 1976, p. 45; Handbook, p. 18.)

Perhaps the worst result of an unbalanced program that takes the focus of activities off the priesthood itself is that young men can lose sight of the breadth of their priesthood calling. Bishop Victor L. Brown said in the October 1984 general conference: “I feel sometimes we consider the preparation and handling of the sacrament and the collecting of fast offerings and so forth as almost the sum and substance of the Aaronic Priesthood responsibility. This is not true. These activities, of course, are very important, but there is so much more.” He expressed his desire that every young man “enlarge his vision of what the Aaronic Priesthood means and what a great blessing it is to be entrusted with its power.” (Ensign, November 1984, pp. 38–39.)

When a young man thinks of himself as a member of a quorum, with the broad scope of duties and activities that are involved in quorum work, a new understanding of what it means to hold the priesthood opens to his view.

And if leaders of Aaronic Priesthood young men will take time to evaluate the needs of the boys for whom they have responsibility and then set about their task with an eye to careful planning, wise leadership, and keeping priesthood matters in their proper order, it will be hard for an imbalance to occur.

Are there things we are learning or can learn from contemporary biblical criticism?

Victor L. Ludlow, president of the Germany Frankfurt Mission; on leave from the Brigham Young University Department of Ancient Scriptures. The term biblical criticism means different things to different persons. A standard explanation of the term is that it refers to certain techniques used to examine the texts from which the Bible has been “translated.” Such studies are done to establish, as far as possible, the original wording of the texts, their authorship, sources, manner and date of composition, and so on. Such studies may create theological problems for those who hold the belief that the Hebrew and Greek portions of the Bible have been transmitted unchanged through the centuries. Latter-day Saints, however, are usually untroubled by evidence of textual change since we do not believe that the Bible has necessarily been transmitted in its original form. Indeed, the Book of Mormon indicates that many “plain and precious truths” have been taken from at least some of the books of the Bible from the time they were originally written. Thus, as Latter-day Saints, we can maintain an open and searching mind toward these new discoveries as they are announced, being careful, of course, that the evidence is complete and accurate before accepting conclusions about some of the changes that the Bible seems to have undergone.

To clarify the term biblical criticism, it would help to delineate two major forms of biblical criticism: textual criticism and the historical-critical method.

Textual criticism is sometimes called “lower criticism” because it deals with basic questions about sources, who wrote the document, how the text has been transmitted, what changes appear in the text between early and late versions, and similar concerns.

LDS scholars use many of the tools of textual criticism in, for example, analyzing the differences between the handwritten manuscript and the various printed versions of the Book of Mormon, what may have caused the changes, and when and how chapters and verses were established. LDS historians also use forms of textual criticism in studying the Doctrine and Covenants. The inspired nature and divine authority of the books is not questioned; the critic or scholar is simply trying to establish the manuscript’s background.

In contrast, the historical-critical method of biblical criticism is a type of “higher criticism,” which deals with more philosophical and subjective issues: the teachings, prophecies, and purpose of a particular book, for example, especially as they relate to authorship. These critics generally approach the scripture as a literary record or national history reflecting the author’s understanding rather than as inspiration.

This method assumes that historical reality is uniform and that what is true today can be objective criteria for evaluating the biblical past. For example, such criticism assumes that if we today cannot know who our government leaders will be ten years from now, the ancient prophets could not either. These scholars view the prophets as political commentators, social activists, or writers recording God’s works “after the fact” and maintain that it is impossible for anyone to foretell the future. Such critics rule out the Lord’s role in history and deny the possibility of prophecy.

Thus, although many tools of biblical criticism can be helpful, the rationalistic attitudes of some critics can greatly detract from the spiritual power of the Bible.

Even so, the extremes of biblical criticism which developed from 1850 to 1950 have been moderated in the past few decades by such archaeological findings as the Dead Sea Scrolls and by the emergence of new techniques of biblical study. In fact, as more evidence gathers, the validity of the Bible is being strengthened.

As we follow the Lord’s admonition to seek “out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; italics added), we can combine the study of the scholars’ positive, constructive critical evaluations with the faith of the scriptural writers and the promptings of the Spirit to understand more fully the written word of God.

For us, the work of the critics can, at times, demonstrate scholastically what we know by revelation. Unfortunately, however, many critics have gone beyond discovering the nature of the original texts to deny the work of inspiration in nearly all of the books of the Bible. For us, this view is unacceptable. The Bible, though imperfect, is still the guidance of God as revealed to and expressed by his prophets.