I have heard this quoted so many times. I don’t think I have ever understood it. Using the contrapositive of D&C 84:20-21 we have: if the power of godliness is manifest, then there must have been ordinances and priesthood authority. How does that work? For example, if a young boy exercises faith sufficient to see God, is that not sufficient manifestation of his righteousness and the power of his faith? Does he then have priesthood? Is his prayer an ordinance?
Okay, so what is the power of godliness? How is it manifest? How is the power of godliness different from the power of God and Powers of God? How does this differ from D&C 121:36? What is the relationship between the principles of righteousness and godliness? Is the latter the embodiment of the former? Are the Powers of Heaven the embodiment of the power of God?
In a different example, how is blessing the sacrament or baptizing someone a manifestation of godliness? Because these are ordinances performed by a person authorized to do so, is the manifestation of godliness therefore greater than the former example?
And, what exactly is an ordinance? In the LDS tradition, the definition is very narrow. Is there any room for a women, a boy, or even a priesthood holder not performing an ordinance to manifest the power of godliness?
I’ve been praying to understand all this for a while. Today, during conference, I received an insight I had never before considered (no, no speaker said or implied anything like this). The atonement was an ordinance. Through that ordinance, the power of godliness was truly made manifest. If there was ever a “saving ordinance….” If our definition of ordinance excludes the ultimate expression of priesthood, authority, and the power of godliness, we are probably limiting our understanding of ordinances in general. Do we not have other examples of the power of godliness in the raising of Lazarus, healings, rebuking evil spirits, walking on water, etc. Are all those things ordinances?
Perhaps we are similarly misunderstanding priesthood authority.