Guest Post: Stewards and Kings
Once, not terribly long ago, I was reading through the story of Alma and Abinadai. Mosiah 18:13 & 18 stuck out to me:
13 And when [Alma] had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
When I read this section this time I could almost hear the record scratch sound as I hit the word “authority.” This is the same Alma that, mere days before, was happily(?) numbered among Noah’s Wicked Priests, the same guys Abinadi came to condemn and call to repentance. Where the heck did he get the authority to perform saving ordinances, ordain others to priesthood office, and organize people into church structures?
I’m not the first person to ask this question. The writers of the Book of Mormon report these actions without editorial commentary, leaving us to assume that his authority was valid. There’s no mention of a visiting general authority ordaining Alma. There’s no angelic messengers to lay hands upon him. There’s practically no chance that he snuck into the prison to have Abinadi ordain him, so what gives?
The only answer we’re left with is that Alma’s authority is derived from his time as one of King Noah’s Priests. Wicked though he may have been, the authority he held was real. Of course there are all sorts of potential mitigating factors that the story does not explicitly rule out: Perhaps he wasn’t ever *as* wicked as the rest of them—that’s why he repented. Perhaps it was a rapid fall from grace, so fast that the person who ordained Alma was still being righteous enough for it to stick. Whether those things are true or not, the startling takeaway from this is that priesthood authority is remarkably resilient; resilient enough to survive being a wicked priest.
The next question then is “Why not Abinadi?” Or rather “Why did Abinadi have to die?”
Consider this: Abinadi was a prophet sent from God to call the people to repentance (Mosiah 11:20, 12:1). He was brought before the king, where he prophesied (17:15), miraculously preserved himself until he could deliver his message (13:3-5), interpreted scripture, and called the wicked to repentance. Then he was martyred. He’s the real deal, a capital-P Prophet. Alma was touched by his message, recorded Abinadi’s words and taught them to the people—many of whom received it and were baptized. If the people received the message from Alma, why wouldn’t they receive that same message directly from Abinadi? It sure looks like Abinadi died just so Alma could repent. 
I think the answer comes from King Noah in Mosiah 11:27: “ Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him[?]” Abinadi was nobody to the people running the kingdom. He may have been a capital-P Prophet, but he never claimed any priesthood authority. He was not a priest.
A pattern I see in the scriptures is God sending a Prophet to the people. The Prophet is a wild man, possessed by the spirit of God. The Prophet shakes things up and makes people uncomfortable. He often points to the people in power and condemns them. Some believe the Prophet and repent and are blessed for it. The Prophet often dies, or is killed in the process of crying repentance and the believers are left to muddle through with their own quiet inspiration, and interpretations of the words the Prophets have left behind.
It seems like, outside those brief moments of conflict and course correction, the standard state of affairs for humans and God’s church on earth is just good people doing their best to do the right thing. Capital-P Prophets are an exception rather than the rule.
Surely some people will condemn me and see my thoughts on this subject as calling the current leaders of the church false prophets. I want to assure you that I am not. In my eyes they are undeniably the people with the authority to govern the church. That authority is no small thing, and I do not regard it lightly. Abinadi *died* for the sake of getting someone with authority to do what Alma did.
In many ways I see my understanding of them as a relief. They are no longer under the burden of every word from their mouths being the Word of God. They can disagree with previous leaders. They can disagree with each other. They can be deeply good people, earnestly seeking the will of God. I can disagree with them even while still firmly believing in their authority to preside over the church.
I also firmly believe that if another capital-P Prophet comes around that person will either be someone with authority, or there will be an “Alma” to validate the teachings of said Prophet.
 This wouldn’t be terribly out of line from other calculations made in the BoM—sacrificing an earthly life for the sake of leading people to Christ is kind of a ~thing~ throughout the Book of Mormon.