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D&C 13: Ministry of Angels

"Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels..." D&C 13:1

I feel like there's a lot I don't understand about the ministering of angels. But a friend of mine reached out to me, asking if I had any thoughts. And since my Come Follow Me study recently focussed on the restoration of the keys to that ministry, it seems like a good time to seek a better understanding.

First off, I think it's safe to say that the ministry of heavenly beings to mortals does not depend on mortals holding those keys. We know that because angels ministered to Joseph Smith on multiple occasions before the keys to the ministering of angels were restored. It seems that priesthood keys are not about giving God permission to do His work. He has all the keys to open the door from His side to whatever outpourings of His power He sees fit, (except that He has bound Himself not to overpower our agency and so He waits upon our faith). Priesthood keys, I believe, confer upon mortals an invitation to open the door to a particular gift from our side. Conditional, of course, on our preparing ourselves to receive it.

I don't think that means that the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood have the right to call down angels to instruct them in their bedrooms, like Moroni instructed Joseph Smith. When I was a teenager, I longed for such an experience (which I did not associate with Priesthood ordination). I thought it would prove that I was worthy...maybe worthier than others (eep!). Then I was struck by D&C 67:13-14: "Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected. Let not your minds turn back; and when ye are worthy, in mine own due time, ye shall see and know...."

The message I got was not to seek for sensational spiritual experiences but to trust in the Lord's due time, and to be patient with myself in the process. I'm still being patient. I have learned that God is not an acrobat. He doesn't display spiritual manifestations for show. Nor does He send an angel to reveal what has already been revealed and recorded by ancient and modern prophets. His ways are still and small and sacred. They are seldom sensational.

By contrast, the Adversary is greatly interested in sensation and is a master counterfeiter. One area where we know he has expertise is in mimicking angels of light (2 Nephi 9:9; 2 Corinthians 11:14). So I think that seeking after angelic visitations is a dangerous game. I think it's an invitation to be deceived.

I believe that safety can be found by connecting our understanding of the keys of the ministering of angels with the other keys John the Baptist restored: "of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins." Those are vital and transformative but not sensational topics. Is it possible for the ministering of angels to be similarly transformative and unsensational?

I'm reminded of 2 Nephi 32:1-3. Nephi has just outlined the doctrine of repentance and baptism as the gate by which we enter the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life. Now, he senses the confusion of his audience over what comes next and he clarifies:

"Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

"Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ."

I am struck by the meaning of the word "angel". We associate it with heavenly beings, but it comes from the Latin angelus and it literally means "messenger." What's more, it's a translation of the Hebrew mal'akh which has the same meaning. In Biblical times, it applied equally to mortal and heavenly beings (see the Etymology section of this Wikipedia article).

Is it possible that the keys to the ministry of angels are about the right to serve as messengers of God? Messengers of His gospel of repentance? And messengers of His love, expressed in service?

Does baptism - entering into a covenant relationship with God that allows for a remission of our sins - invite us into such ministry, as directed by the promptings of the Holy Ghost? In other words, might the restoration of the keys of the ministering of angels mean that we, by virtue of our baptism, are commissioned as angels (witnesses or messengers of God) and called to minister?

I love the idea. It gives me a powerful perspective on my role in relation to others.

I also want to note that such an idea is not to minimize the importance of the ministry of heavenly beings. I am confident that our departed loved ones are very much active in furthering the kingdom of God on the Earth, and to some people, they are also sometimes visible. But I don't think mortals get to direct them.

I think what we can do is ask the Father to send angels to help in our ministry and to strengthen and protect our loved ones who are in difficulty. And I think that the Father sends angels of both the heavenly and the mortal variety.

That happened for me when one of my children developed a tendency to disappear on lengthy runs during a prolonged crisis in which he wearied of his life. Sometimes, he ran through the night. Often, he didn't wear appropriate clothing for the weather or light conditions. Many times I drove along both the highway and the back roads, worried and searching for him. When I couldn't find him, I would eventually come home, fall on my knees, and plead with God to send angels to protect him.

Once, after such a prayer, I got a phone call from my son. He called to tell me that he'd just been picked up by a friend's mother and he was safe in her car. Later, that mother called and related to me how she had been working in her basement when she received a call from another mother who had seen my son running toward her town and had been worried about him. She said, "I couldn't get out of the house fast enough." She got in her car, quickly found my son, and had him call me.

She was an angel.

What does the ministry of angels mean to you? Does de-sensationalizing it and grounding it in the doctrines of baptism and repentance feel protective against deception?

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