1. Authority is an important issue among the LDS (Mormons). They believe that they are the only true and authorized church of Jesus Christ. They contend that the church started by Jesus went into apostasy and had to finally be ‘restored’ by God himself in 1830.
They believe that they have the only ministry & priesthood which has any authority to officially administer the ordinances and the sacraments of Jesus Christ. The LDS question the authority of all the other different Christian denominations and churches.
According to LDS history, Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in June 1829 and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood. They became the first Elders when the church was organized on April 6, 1830. Priesthood members in the Mormon Church today trace their lineage back to one of those first Elders.
2. For Evangelical Christians, authority ultimately resides in the Bible and the Holy Spirit. When one first believes the gospel and accepts Christ, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within you and makes you part of a Royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) that can enter the holy of holies so to speak, and commune directly with God (Heb. 10:19-23).
Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and even Anglican churches take their episcopal and apostolic traditions and heritage seriously. Church polity and organizational authority resides in the Bishops for these churches. However, it is my contention that real authority has always resided in the Holy Spirit, Apostolic tradition, and the Bible. Even when the Bishops get together to confer, historically and in the present, they always appeal to the Spirit to guide their decisions and Biblical scriptures as the foundation of beliefs and theology.
Among the many protestant denominations and independent Christian churches, authority resides in the written ‘Word of God’ -the Bible along with inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Most pastors look back to a call of the Holy Spirit for them to serve. Most churches trace their beginnings to their understanding of Biblical scriptures along with inspiration from the Spirit. Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit continues to direct the Church of Jesus Christ in all of its forms. There is also a sense among many that the Holy Spirit continues to lead and direct changes in the ‘wine skins’ (church organizations) to meet the current needs of the church in different lands, cultures, and generations. However, all ‘changes’ still need to be tested and secured in the ‘Word of God’ in the Bible, particularly in New Testament Scriptures and teaching.
Conclusions: The LDS (Mormons) view real authority from God as resident only in their church and an important part of their church identity, and a unique characteristic of their Priesthood leadership. They do not believe that other churches have direct authority from God in the same way, even though they may be divinely inspired occasionally.
Evangelical Christians on the other hand, believe that their authority comes directly from the Holy Spirit which guides the path and direction of every Christian and continues to guide the church today. They also believe that the Holy Spirit confirms the authority of the Bible as the standard of truth and the basis for all the traditional doctrines of the Christian faith.
When Evangelical Christians look at the LDS (Mormon) claims of authority, they look at what they consider to be the aberrant doctrines of the Mormons. Then they are convinced that the Mormon Church doesn’t have any real authority as a ‘Christian Church’ since it has departed from traditional Biblical Christian teaching and therefore question whether the Holy Spirit is really active among their leaders. Many Christian leaders conclude that their authority and power must come from a different source. From the LDS perspective this is an outrageous and hurtful conclusion.
Anecdotally, I have personally known a number of LDS who have lifestyles that reflect Christ and exhibit love and concern for others that can only come from the Holy Spirit working in their lives.
Do the LDS have the authority that they claim to have? I don’t believe so.
Nevertheless, Evangelicals need to be very careful with any claims that God is not working in the lives of individual members of the Mormon Church regardless of the false doctrines and teachings that most Christians consider heretical or aberrant.