The Mormon Priesthood
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly misnamed the Mormon Church, is centered on Jesus Christ and authority. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the earth which has the authority to act in God’s name, because it was organized and is headed by the Savior Himself.
Mormon doctrine teaches that the period of falling away which Jesus and His apostles prophesied of in the New Testament came when the apostles were killed. Latter-day Saints (often nicknamed Mormons) call this period the Great Apostasy. Because the apostles were killed, the authority they had died with them when the priesthood power was lost with them. With their deaths, there was no one definitively in charge in the church anymore, and the result was men coming together to reason things out (take for example the Councils at Nicaea and Constantinople, among others). There was no revelation, because God’s servants had been murdered under the direction of evil men.
With the loss of a clear authority, men came together to council and to decide what it was the church believed, rather than preaching the doctrine revealed from Jesus Christ and His apostles. Over centuries, many doctrines were made quite complicated.
This loss of authority resulted in the creation of several churches over two thousand years, each claiming to be the only one with the truth. It was clear that no church could be purged and cleansed to be the true church again; a restoration was needed, but this restoration had to be authorized.
In 1820, a young farm boy named Joseph Smith prayed to know which church among all the sects was true so he knew which to join. He received a remarkable vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. They revealed to him that no church had the fulness of the truth, nor the authority to act in God’s name. Over the next ten years, Joseph was trained and taught by heavenly messengers to be the one through whom the full restoration would take place.
About a year before the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were visited by those who last held the keys of the priesthood on the earth: John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John. John the Baptist conferred the keys of the Aaronic (or lesser) Priesthood on them, and later, Peter, James, and John conferred the keys of the Melchizedek (or higher) Priesthood on them.
The Aaronic Priesthood is the priesthood that was conferred upon Aaron, brother of Moses, when he and the Levites were called to serve in the Tabernacle. Mormon doctrine teaches that the Israelites were called to live a higher law after leaving Egypt, but they were not ready, so God took mercy upon them and gave them a lesser, or preparatory, law. This was the Mosaic Law. Every commandment in it pointed towards the coming of the Messiah, and when Jesus Christ came and fulfilled the Law of Moses, the higher law was restored.
The Melchizedek Priesthood contains all the keys of the power of God. It was named after the patriarch Melchizedek to whom Abraham paid tithes. First called the Holy Priesthood, after the order of the Son of God, it was later called after Melchizedek to avoid the too frequent repetition of the Lord’s name.
These two priesthoods had to be restored to the earth in order for the church to have the authority to act in God’s name and to administer the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the first of which is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.
The Aaronic Priesthood is for outward ordinances and the ministering of angels. It holds the keys of blessing and passing the Sacrament (or the Eucharist), collecting fast offerings from ward (congregation) members, and baptism, among others. Offices in the Aaronic Priesthood include deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Young men of age 12 who are found worthy by their bishop are ordained to the office of a deacon. Worthiness includes living the commandments and being chaste and honest. Young men ages 14 to 16 typically hold the office of teacher, while young men ages 16 to 18 hold the office of priest. These offices do not necessarily directly correlate with age. An older man may hold an office in the Aaronic Priesthood, particularly if he was baptized later in life, but for worthy young men, they typically advance at the above ages.
Only one ward member at a time acts as bishop of a ward, but if a man is ordained to be a bishop, he will hold that office as long as he is worthy of his priesthood. A bishop leads his ward in many temporal matters, which is why the office of bishop is of the Aaronic Priesthood, even though a bishop must hold the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is for spiritual ordinances, which is everything beyond baptism and the Sacrament. Offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood include Elder, Seventy, High Priest, Patriarch, Apostle, and President. Men in these offices are responsible for the running of the church and performing all ordinances for its members, but always under direction of the president of the church. There is a clear hierarchy and line of authority for priesthood power.
President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “The priesthood is greater than the office, and all offices in the priesthood, we are taught, are appendages to the priesthood [see Doctrine and Covenants 107:5]. . . The priesthood with its keys existed before the Church organization, but not the offices in the Church, which belong to the Church and are held by the consent of the same” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:96, 99).
One of the most wonderful things about the priesthood is that its power can only be used to bless others. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sometimes criticized for not allowing women to hold the priesthood power. While the rest of the world is changing and “progressing,” the Latter-day Saints are accused of being sexist. This is simply untrue. Ask any woman in the Mormon Church her feelings about the priesthood, and you will find an overwhelming response that they are grateful for the priesthood power in their lives, but they have no desire to have more power in the church. If a man tries to exercise his priesthood power in anything other than the spirit of God, and he loses that power.
In addition, no blessing can be performed on oneself; thus, all blessings benefit others. The priesthood is not only the manner by which Jesus Christ governs His church and manifests His will, it is also an order based entirely on service, as was the Savior’s ministry. The priesthood is used to give blessings to the sick, to give blessing of comfort and guidance, to ordain men and women to callings to serve in the church, and many more things. It blesses Latter-day Saints’ lives every day.