Today, May 15, we celebrate the 187th anniversary of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood by John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, near Harmony, Pennsylvania. All over the Church, boys and their fathers commemorate the restoration of this Priesthood each year with a Fathers and Sons outing.
In honor of this event, (and the subsequent restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood) I want to share one thing the priesthood isn’t and three things the priesthood is.
What the priesthood is not:
“The Priesthood is not a group of men.” (Elder M. Russell Ballard)
I am fairly confident that a single week has not passed in the last 10 months (which is the amount of time I have purposely paid attention to this) that someone at church has not made a comment similar to, “We have asked the priesthood to put away the chairs.” Or—on Mother’s Day . . . “The Priesthood will be teaching the primary so all the women can go to Relief Society.” Or probably the most incorrect of all, “We would like to excuse the priesthood to go to their respective quorums.”
Although these comments are prolific and culturally accepted, they are also misleading and incorrect. Elder Dallin H. Oaks also commented, “Some of our abbreviated expressions, like “the women and the priesthood,” convey an erroneous idea. Men are not “the priesthood.” (October Conference 2005)
So if the priesthood isn’t a group of men, what then is it?
There are many official (and therefore all very similar) definitions of what the Priesthood is, but my favorite is in the missionary manual, “Preach My Gospel”. It states that the priesthood is: “the power and authority given to man to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children” (Preach My Gospel, p. 83).
With that definition in mind, here are three principles to help us better understand what the priesthood is.
1. Priesthood power and authority is directed by those who hold priesthood keys.
Elder Oaks explained, “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth. Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function.”
Although a father has the authority to give a father’s blessing to his child, he does not have the authority to baptize his child without authorization from the person in the ward who holds the keys for baptism, that person being the bishop. Likewise a father does not have the right to ordain his child, or anyone else, to an office in the priesthood without authorization from the person who holds the keys for that ordination—usually either the bishop or the stake president.
Similarly a woman does not have the authority to preside in a Relief Society organization, or any other Church organization, without the authorization of the person who holds the keys to direct the teaching in the ward or stake. Church callings for both men and women, priesthood ordinations and the entering into priesthood covenants are all directed and authorized by those who hold priesthood keys.
Therefore . . .
2. The Priesthood is the authority and power by which we receive and fulfill our Church callings
Elder Oaks also stated “ ‘all authorities [and] offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood’ (), all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.” Very simply stated, when as members of the Church, we are officially participating in the work of salvation in any way, we are doing so with priesthood authority, and priesthood authority gives us the power to accomplish our responsibility. This applies equally to both men and women.
Elder Oaks went on to say, “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
#3. The Priesthood is the authority and the power by which we both make and keep our covenants.
In the baptismal covenant we promise to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Or in other words, we covenant to love and serve God and our fellowman. Endowed members of the Church receive authority to be called as missionaries, and to perform proxy temple ordinances for those who have passed on, (endowment and sealing). When we enter into the priesthood covenant of eternal marriage, both the man and the woman receive priesthood authority and the responsibility to create a family unit, become parents through the bringing of God’s spirit children into this world, and the opportunity—if we keep our covenants—to have an eternal family.
And as we obey God’s will, we also receive God’s power, priesthood power, to accomplish, or keep our covenants. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained, “In all the ordinances, especially those of the temple, we are endowed with power from on high. This “power of godliness” comes in the person and by the influence of the Holy Ghost. . . . The gifts of the Holy Spirit are testimony, faith, knowledge, wisdom, revelations, miracles, healing, and charity, to name but a few (see D&C 46:13–26). . . . It is also the Holy Ghost, in His character as the Holy Spirit of Promise, that confirms the validity and efficacy of your covenants and seals God’s promises upon you."
He goes on to say that as we are exact in keeping our covenants we can “ . . . ask in faith, nothing wavering, according to your need, and God will answer. He will sustain you as you work and watch. In His own time and way He will stretch forth his hand to you, saying, ‘Here am I.’”
So simply put, under the direction of priesthood keys, we receive authority and power to hold and fulfill Church callings, enter into priesthood covenants, receive the authority to participate in covenant activities and the power and ability to do whatever is necessary for us to keep our covenants and accomplish our tasks, including our responsibilities as parents.
Wow!!! And all of these blessings, power and authority are available to each of us, male and female alike, simply because God restored His priesthood power to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery!!
What a wonderful day to celebrate!!
One Mormon Voice
BONUS QUESTION: Do you know when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored? Click Here to find out!