Letter VII. If you are LDS (Mormon) and haven't read Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, you need to read it during 2021 to understand Church history and the Book of Mormon. This blog discusses the role the letter has played in our understanding of Church history.
Adapted from an October 1974 Regional Representatives seminar address.
As you prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood, consider this: Every elder in the Church holds as much priesthood as the President of the Church.
Someone asks: “What office do you hold in the Church? What is your priesthood position?” An answer comes: “Oh, I’m only an elder.”
Only an elder! Only the title by which a member of the Council of the Twelve is proud to be addressed; only the title which honors the President of the Church, who is designated by revelation as the first elder (see D&C 20:2); only the office to which millions of persons are ordained in the vicarious ordinances of the holy temples.
Only an elder! Only the office which enables a man to enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and to have his wife and children bound to him with an everlasting tie; only the office which prepares a man to be a natural patriarch to his posterity and to hold dominion in the house of Israel forever; only the office required for the receipt of the fulness of the blessings in the house of the Lord; only the office which opens the door to eternal exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world, where man becomes as God is.
Only an elder! Only a person ordained to preach the gospel, build up the kingdom, and perfect the Saints.
Every elder in the Church holds as much priesthood as the President of the Church. No Apostle can or will rise higher in eternity than the faithful elder who lives the fullness of the gospel law.
Ministers of Jesus Christ
What is an elder? An elder is a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. He holds the holy Melchizedek Priesthood. He is commissioned to stand in the place and stead of his Master—who is the Chief Elder—in ministering to his fellowmen. He is the Lord’s agent. His appointment is to preach the gospel and perfect the Saints.
What is an elder? He is a shepherd, a shepherd serving in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd. It is written: “And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 34:31). It is also written, and that by Peter, the first elder in his day: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, …
“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
“Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:1–4). Know this: elders, who are standing ministers in the Lord’s kingdom, are appointed to feed the flock of God, to take the oversight of the flock, to be examples to the flock.
The Lord’s representative
What is an elder? “And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, …
“Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
“To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth” (D&C 50:10, 13–14).
An elder is the Lord’s representative sent forth to teach His gospel for the salvation of men.
Who can measure the worth, the infinite worth, of a soul, a soul for whom Christ died?
Every elder is needed
The Church has need of every elder. None can be spared. The Church must be perfected and the gospel taught to every creature. There is no way to teach the gospel to more than 6 billion people without more missionaries.
“Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
“Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap, let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God” (D&C 6:3).
“And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 15:6).
An eternal office
Let us now, however, return to our theme, which is: “Brethren, what think ye of the office of an elder?” Only an elder! Only the office held by apostles and prophets in this life; only the office that they will have when they come forth in immortal glory and enter into their exaltation; only the open door to peace in this life and a crown of glory in the life to come.
Only an elder! Only an elder in time and in eternity! What are we to understand by the four and twenty elders, spoken of by John? The revealed answer: “We are to understand that these elders whom John saw, were elders who had been faithful in the work of the ministry and were dead” (D&C 77:5). Now, let us hear the words which John wrote relative to those who were faithful elders while in this life and who are exalted elders in the realms ahead:
“Behold, a door was opened in heaven: … “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold” (Rev. 4:1–2, 4).
Only an elder! “They had on their heads crowns of gold.” Moses prayed, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). Well might we pray: “Would God that all the elders among the Lord’s people would be faithful, that they would feed the flock of God, that they would take the oversight of the flock, that they would be examples to the flock—all to the honor and glory of that God whose ministers they are.”