On the topic of receiving the Holy Ghost, there is more said and far more claims made about the “priesthood” than the scriptures justify. As I have explained, the lowest form of priesthood was given primarily to condemn those who received it. It involves performing outward ordinances, and regulates physical conduct. I will add that because of intermarriage, there is almost no one alive today who does not have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah and Levi in their ancestry. Levitical priesthood is almost universally available to every male alive today, no matter their ethnicity. The bloodlines are there, even if the man is unaware of it. This is why declaring a lineage in LDS Patriarchal Blessings is appropriate and invariably merely selecting one out of twelve (thirteen if you separate Manasseh and Ephraim) possibilities.
If you go back far enough, there is a tradition in my family that we had a line of Rabbi’s on the German side. I’ve been back through the 1400's and so far haven’t identified any Rabbinical predecessors. WWII destroyed much of the records from the time before that. My Scottish side seems safely Ephraimite in their ancestry. There are so many mixtures in all of our ancestries that I doubt you can find someone alive who is not part-Israelite. Ironically, because of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, almost all of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan are more Israelite than the nation of Israel today, because the Diaspora put Jews into all parts of the globe. These "Arabs" and "Persians" reject and fight against their own bloodline.
Higher priesthood is a rare thing, appearing only intermittently in scripture and history; never persistent or widespread. The greatest success, from Adam to Melchizedek, involved ten generations and was the longest single perpetuation of the authority. However, those Patriarchs served among a small, righteous population overshadowed by the larger, wicked population. By time Adam came to his end of days, all the righteous could gather into a single valley.
The purpose of these Patriarch's original priesthood was (and is) to bless and protect. The temptation to use authority in ways that would offend God makes this original priesthood (belonging to the Patriarchs) something few men have ever been given and easily forfeited for the protection of the recipient and mankind generally. The original twenty-three given high priesthood in June 1831 distinguished themselves by near-uniform failure.
We must learn from this recent history. We must avoid repeating what clearly cannot work. If we take the same path, the destination will not change. Zion must be found by traveling in a different direction.
The Holy Ghost is not controlled by man. Even when the High Priesthood is given by God to a man, that man must obtain heaven’s approval before conferring any blessing. He must not ask for something based on self-will, ambition or personal glory. He must be a servant. He must be like our Lord, in that sense, or his ordination will be revoked.
Returning to the original question (in the first of these three posts):
Because the Book of Mormon was restored through Joseph Smith, I think it is necessary to respect his status as a messenger used by God to do a work. But the question "Should you have to believe in Joseph Smith to be baptized" was phrased such that I have a problem with answering “yes.” I do not think anyone needs to “believe in Joseph Smith” because that implies men are worthy of our “belief.” It is God alone who is the object of our adoration, belief and faith. Joseph was an instrument, and therefore belief in him will not yield anything of value and could well be an impediment to developing faith in God.
That having been said, God’s message through Joseph Smith is something we need to believe. There was no coherent statement of Christ’s Gospel in existence before Joseph Smith’s ministry. Therefore, to know how to obtain salvation, we need to “hear the True Shepherd’s voice” in the ministry of Joseph Smith. We are saved no faster than we gain knowledge. We cannot ignore the knowledge restored through Joseph.
Joseph was flawed. But God used him to accomplish some necessary things. It is the Lord’s message, using Joseph, we must believe.
The other question (Should you have to stop drinking coffee and tea to be baptized) involves the Word of Wisdom which was not given “by commandment or constraint.” (D&C 89: 2.) Therefore, it need not be obeyed as a condition of baptism. It would be wise to do so, but not as a mandatory condition prior to baptism. In saying this, I refer only to the scriptures and language of Section 89, not to the mandates of the LDS Church. To be baptized by a representative of the LDS Church you must stop drinking coffee and tea, because that is how they manage their organization.
I think “hot drinks” refers to “strong drink” meaning whiskey, bourbon, and similarly “hot” drinks (one time called “fire water” by Native Americans). (D&C 89: 5, 7, 9.) I do not think it refers to coffee or tea. Pioneers were expected to include coffee and tea in their supplies. Even handcarts had space for hauling coffee and tea.
I think “mild drinks” using barley and grain refers to beer, and that is approved in Section 89. (D&C 89: 17.) Likewise, “wine” refers to alcoholic wine, not grape juice. (D&C 89: 5.) In New Testament times the presence of alcohol in the drink was hygienic, and purified the water by killing unwanted organisms. Praise for the quality of the “wine” produced by Christ in John’s account of the wedding at Canan, is praise for an alcoholic drink of quality and effect. (John 2: 1-10.)
I think wine is to be used for “sacraments” (plural, see D&C 89: 5) which include wedding celebrations, an association the New Testament makes. (John 2: 3.) It makes for conviviality and joy in celebration. We are prudish about this because of our history of amending the Constitution to adopt Prohibition. LDS sermons delivered in support of the amendment and opposing its repeal are how we became prohibitionist teetotalers, not because of the scriptures.
That having been said, I also believe “wine is a mocker” (Proverbs 20: 1) and alcohol can do a great deal of damage if used improperly and in excess. The drunken fight in the Kirtland Temple, for example, was something those involved regretted. They used wine for the “sacrament” and “drank to their fill” after fasting all day beforehand. It proved to be a foolish combination and resulted in fist fighting in the newly completed temple. Therefore I conclude that if we must choose between making ourselves foolish or being a teetotaler it is best to adopt the LDS Church stance and refrain altogether. If a person can use wine and mild drinks moderately, prudently and not in excess, then there is nothing in the Word of Wisdom to condemn it. There is language which recommends it. But let me reiterate, this is what the scriptures say, not what the LDS Church says. If you belong to that organization, you ought to respect their rules and do as they expect as a condition for receiving their fellowship, Temple Recommend, etc.
I do not believe, however, the scriptures can be used to support a requirement to avoid coffee, tea (at all) or avoid alcohol in wine and beer as a pre-condition for baptism.
Understanding the scriptures sometimes requires more than just study. In my case I gained understanding by experience which then reshaped my understanding of scripture. I received the Holy Ghost immediately following baptism on September 10, 1973 as I knelt on the cold beach sand beside the Atlantic Ocean. It has departed briefly only on two occasions (when I failed to testify of the truth and was rebuked by its withdrawal).
When excommunicated forty years to the day from baptism, I wondered if the church's proceeding would have an effect on my access to the Holy Ghost. It did not. In many respects the series of talks I have given this year required a greater outpouring of the Holy Ghost. It has been given.
It took life's experiences for me to look deeper into the scriptures to understand in what way my own experiences were consistent with the pattern there. Had these experiences not been given I would not have looked and found the truth of these matters. As things unfold, they become rather self-evident.