One of my daughters asked me last week if Ammon had authority to baptize.
Ammon was the leader of a search party sent by King Mosiah to find a group of people who had established a colony among their enemies many years earlier. When he found them, they were in bondage, forced to pay a substantial tribute to their enemies and unable to escape. Their leader was a man named Limhi, the grandson of the man who had originally established the colony. So much time had passed since they left their homeland that they didn’t know the way back, and so they were unable to reach out for help.
The people of Limhi were overjoyed to learn from Ammon that their homeland was prospering under the political and spiritual leadership of King Mosiah. They asked Ammon to help them escape from bondage, and they had a spiritual request for him as well:
And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.
And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant (Mosiah 21:32-33).
This passage strongly implies that Ammon did in fact have authority to baptize. The reason he gave for not baptizing them was not a lack of authority but a lack of personal worthiness. He apparently did not consider his conduct to be appropriate for a person who would stand as a representative of God and administer a saving ordinance.
Why did Ammon consider himself unworthy to baptize? Mormon does not tell us what he had done which made him feel unworthy. Mormon doesn’t even say that he was unworthy, only that he didn’t consider himself worthy. As I thought about Ammon today, I considered other passages in the Book of Mormon where the word “unworthy” appears:
- King Benjamin (Mosiah’s father) taught his people that they should always remember God’s kindness toward them and remember that they were unworthy of the blessings He has given them (Mosiah 4:11).
- Alma baptized a large group of people, organized the church, and then led them into the wilderness. But he later told his people that he did not “glory” in any of these actions, “for I am unworthy to glory of myself,” he said (Mosiah 23:11).
- Alma’s son (also named Alma) taught his son Corianton that he should “acknowledge [his] unworthiness before God at all times” (Alma 38:14).
- When the brother of Jared prayed for a miracle, he began his prayer by acknowledging his unworthiness: “We know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee” (Ether 3:2).
It seems to me that we face a real quandary here. Those of us who want to contribute to the work of the Lord will always feel inadequate because we are inadequate. We will always find areas where we fall short. We will always find areas where we can improve.
Fortunately, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have the ability to avoid Ammon’s plight. Before participating in priesthood ordinances, we have the opportunity to meet with a spiritual leader to review our current state of worthiness for that activity. The purpose of the interview is not to determine whether we are perfect—we already know that we aren’t. It is to determine whether our current standard of behavior is appropriate to the religious activity we are going to participate in. Those religious activities serve the purpose of making us more holy—bringing us closer to God. But they are only effective if we approach them with a seriousness of purpose, which we demonstrate by complying with a certain minimum standard of conduct.
If we find ourselves in the situation of Ammon, considering ourselves unworthy to participate in priesthood ordinances, we can work with a church leader who will help us become worthy. Conversely that leader may help us consider our own worthiness more objectively and avoid being too hard on ourselves. Either way, these interviews prepare us to participate in ordinances with confidence, knowing that we have qualified ourselves to participate.
Today, I will be grateful for priesthood leaders, who can help me assess my worthiness to participate in priesthood ordinances. I will be grateful that I can participate in those ordinances without being perfect. I will also be grateful for guidelines which help me to participate in those ordinances effectively.