What Is the Priesthood?
Teachers who teach this lesson need to review the next chapter, “Priesthood Organization - - Chapter 14” to make sure material from that one is not taught in this lesson.
Tremendous resources for this lesson can be found in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:... (the old Priesthood/Relief Society manuals). Especially helpful will be the manuals for Joseph Smith, Chapter 8, Brigham Young, chapter 18, John Taylor, Chapter 13, Wilford Woodruff, Chapter 4, Joseph F. Smith, Chapter 16, Heber J. Grant, Chapter 11, David O. McKay, Chapter 12, and Harold B. Lee, Chapter 10. Remember, these can all be found on “lds.org” by clicking on “Gospel Library” then “Lessons” then “Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society.” All of the manuals are listed at the bottom of this page. Following are some ideas on “What is the Priesthood?” from these sources:
Joseph Smith explained the eternal nature of the priesthood:
The Priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years [see Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 7:3]. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 105)
Brigham Young also elucidated the duration of priesthood:
When the faithful Elders, holding this Priesthood, go into the spirit world they carry with them the same power and Priesthood that they had while in the mortal tabernacle. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 126)
Joseph F. Smith detailed the Godliness of the priesthood:
…when a man who holds the Priesthood does that which is righteous, God is bound to acknowledge it as though He had done it Himself. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 139
David O. McKay enlightened the source of the priesthood:
Priesthood is inherent in the Godhead. It is authority and power which has its source only in the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 115)
As Joseph Smith taught concerning the concept of receiving revelation:
One great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God. It is also the privilege of the Melchizedek Priesthood to reprove, rebuke, and admonish, as well as to receive revelation. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 109)
Why do we need the Priesthood on the Earth?
John Taylor discussed some of the reasons we need priesthood on earth:
The priesthood is placed in the church for this purpose, to dig, to plant, to nourish, to teach correct principles, and to develop the order of the kingdom of God, to fight the devils, and maintain and support the authorities of the church of Christ upon the earth. It is our duty all to act together to form one great unit—one great united phalanx [or organized body], having sworn allegiance to the kingdom of God; then everything will move on quietly, peaceably, and easily, and then there will be very little trouble. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 123)
President Harold B. Lee tells a wonderful story about how encompassing is the priesthood:
I had a lesson years ago as to the greatness of priesthood. It had to do with the call of the First Presidency for me to come to their office on a day that I shall never forget—April 20, 1935. I was city commissioner in Salt Lake City. I was a stake president.
We had been wrestling with this question of welfare. There were few government work programs; the finances of the Church were low; we were told that there wasn’t much that could be done so far as the finances of the Church were concerned. And here we were with 4,800 of our 7,300 people who were wholly or partially dependent. We had only one place to go, and that was to apply the Lord’s program as set forth in the revelations.
It was from our humble efforts that the First Presidency, knowing that we had had some experience, called me one morning asking if I would come to their office. It was Saturday morning; there were no calls on their calendar, and for hours in that forenoon they talked with me and told me that they wanted me to resign from the city commission, and they would release me from being stake president; that they wished me now to head up the welfare movement to turn the tide from government relief, direct relief, and help to put the Church in a position where it could take care of its own needy.
After that morning I rode in my car (spring was just breaking) up to the head of City Creek Canyon into what was then called Rotary Park; and there, all by myself, I offered one of the most humble prayers of my life.
There I was, just a young man in my thirties. My experience had been limited. I was born in a little country town in Idaho. I had hardly been outside the boundaries of the states of Utah and Idaho. And now to put me in a position where I was to reach out to the entire membership of the Church, worldwide, was one of the most staggering contemplations that I could imagine. How could I do it with my limited understanding?
As I kneeled down, my petition was, “What kind of an organization should be set up in order to accomplish what the Presidency has assigned?” And there came to me on that glorious morning one of the most heavenly realizations of the power of the priesthood of God. It was as though something were saying to me, “There is no new organization necessary to take care of the needs of this people. All that is necessary is to put the priesthood of God to work. There is nothing else that you need as a substitute.” (Ensign, Jan 1973, 104)
What President Lee found out for himself was what President John Taylor had stated many years before:
What is priesthood? … it is the government of God, whether on the earth or in the heavens, for it is by that power, agency, or principle that all things are governed on the earth and in the heavens, and by that power that all things are upheld and sustained. It governs all things—it directs all things—it sustains all things (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 119)
Harold B. Lee focuses on a main purpose of the priesthood:
In all our priesthood callings we must never forget that the business of the church and kingdom of God is to save souls, and that all over whom we preside are our Father’s children, and He will aid us in our endeavors to save every one. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 91)
How Do Men Receive the Priesthood?
In this section there is a story from the New Testament about Simon and money and priesthood. President Harold B. Lee taught a powerful lesson utilizing another New Testament story concerning money and priesthood:
There is a classic example of how our Lord would have us minister to those who need our aid. When Peter and John, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, approached a man who had never walked and who was at the gates of the temple begging alms, instead of giving him money, the apostle Peter, you will remember, said to him, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)
Then followed a significant statement in the record of that incident. Peter took him by the right hand and lifted him up. [See Acts 3:7] Remember that it wasn’t enough for Peter to command him to walk; he then took him by the hand and lifted him up.
So must we, in dealing with our faltering saints, not be merely priesthood holders who criticize, scold, and condemn. We must, like the apostle Peter, take them by the arm, encourage them, and give them a sense of security and respect for themselves until they can rise above their difficulties and can stand on their own feet.
That is the way the priesthood of God can bring salvation and fellowship to those who are weak, that they may become strong.
Our success … will be measured in part by our capacity to love those whom we seek to lead and to serve. When we truly love others it can eliminate the bad motives that often prevail in human relationships. When we truly love others we will act in their eternal interests and not to meet our own ego needs. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 91-2)
How Do Men Properly Use the Priesthood?
The first paragraph of this section refers to D&C 121:36 and states:
“…the power of the priesthood cannot be controlled except in righteousness” 9p. 70)
Concerning this, President Gordon B. Hinckley emphatically pronounced:
Any man in this Church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood. Though he may have been ordained, the heavens will withdraw, the Spirit of the Lord will be grieved, and it will be amen to the authority of the priesthood of that man. (Ensign, May 2002, 52)
Brigham Young also encouraged:
Men who are vessels of the holy Priesthood, who are charged with words of eternal life to the world, should strive continually in their words and actions and daily deportment to do honor to the great dignity of their calling and office as ministers and representatives of the Most High. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 125)
David O. McKay expanded on this idea:
No member of this Church, no husband or father, has the right to utter an oath in his home, or ever to express a cross word to his wife or to his children. By your ordination and your responsibility, you cannot do it as a man who holds the priesthood and be true to the spirit within you. You contribute to an ideal home by your character, controlling your passion, your temper, guarding your speech, because those things will make your home what it is, and what it will radiate to the neighborhood. You do what you can to produce peace and harmony, no matter what you may suffer. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 119)
Two talks in the past April conference beautifully dealt with this section concerning the giving of priesthood blessings. The first was by President Boyd K. Packer entitled, “The Power of the Priesthood” (especially concerning fathers), Saturday morning, and the second by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Healing the Sick,” Priesthood session. Another terrific resource is Elder John H. Groberg, “Priesthood Power” in Ensign, May 2001, 43. This story was portrayed in the film, Other Side of Heaven.
Heber J. Grant related the following about a priesthood blessing:
“I shall never forget the occasion,” said President Heber J. Grant, “when a friend appealed to me, upon learning that the doctor had announced that his daughter, stricken with diphtheria, would die before morning. He asked me to pray for that daughter, and after leaving his office I prayed with all the earnestness of my soul that God would heal that girl. While praying, the inspiration came to me: ‘The power of the living God is here on the earth. The Priesthood is here. Hurry! Hurry! … Go and rebuke the power of the destroyer, and the girl shall live.’
“The doctor waiting upon that girl, said she could not live till morning; but when morning came he explained that he could not comprehend it, and that he believed the girl was going to get well. He could not refrain from expressing his surprise at the change in the girl’s condition over night. The power of the living God rebuked the destroyer.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 101)
To prepare for giving such blessings, Harold B. Lee counseled:
Brethren, in your hands is given a sacred trust not only to have the authority to act in the name of the Lord, but to so prepare yourselves as clean and pure vessels so that the power of Almighty God may be manifested through you as you officiate in the sacred ordinances of the priesthood. Never take your priesthood into places where you would be ashamed to have the President of the Church see you. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 95)
Elder Thomas S. Monson beautifully illustrated the principle of service by the priesthood:
At a nursing home in our valley, two young men prepared the sacrament. While doing so, an elderly patient in a wheelchair spoke aloud the words, “I’m cold.” Without a moment’s hesitation, one of the young men walked over to her, removed his own jacket, placed it about the patient’s shoulders, gave her a loving pat on the arm, and then returned to the sacrament table. The sacred emblems were then blessed and passed to the assembled patients.
Following the meeting, I said to the young man, “What you did here today I shall long remember.”
He replied, “I worried that without my jacket I would not be properly dressed to bless the sacrament.”
I responded, “Never was one more properly dressed for such an occasion than were you.” (Ensign, May 1983, 55)
President Thomas S. Monson also expressed:
The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others. (Ensign, May 2006, 54)
What Blessings Come When We Use the Priesthood Properly?
There is a wonderful story about a priesthood blessing which miraculously restored David O. McKay’s face after an accident in Ogden Canyon in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, pp. 114-115.
Brigham Young discussed a powerful blessing of properly ministered priesthood:
The Priesthood of the Son of God, which we have in our midst, is a perfect order and system of government, and this alone can deliver the human family from all the evils which now afflict its members, and insure them happiness and felicity hereafter. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 125)
Wilford Woodruff also explained extended the time of priesthood blessings:
When an apostle or president, bishop or any man holding the priesthood officiates, he administers by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ; then that priesthood has effect, and all the blessings that a servant of God bestows upon the children of men, will take effect both in this life and in that which is to come. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 42-3)
Wilford Woodruff taught God’s goals for priesthood:
[after quoting D&C 84:33-40] Now, I sometimes ask myself the question, Do we comprehend these things? Do we comprehend that if we abide the laws of the Priesthood we shall become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ? (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 43)
Joseph F. Smith taught a powerful principle of men and women and the priesthood:
Whatever honors, privileges, or glory are attained by the man through the Priesthood, are those shared with and enjoyed by the wife. She being one with him in Christ, all his honors are her honors, his blessings are her blessings, his glory is her glory, for they are one—inseparably. … As Paul said, “The man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.” [See 1 Corinthians 11:11] In other words, the man cannot attain to glory, honor or exaltation without the woman, nor the woman without the man. They are but two complements of one whole. … The Priesthood of the Son of God is bestowed upon the man, that attaining to the same eminence and perfection, he may act as Christ and God act. … While man … is the direct object on whom the power and honor of the Priesthood are bestowed, and he is the active medium of its operations, she partakes of its benefits, its blessings, its powers, its rights and privileges, with him as the complement of himself. … The power is not given to the woman to act independent of the man, nor is it given to the man to act independent of Christ.
Furthermore, when we speak of the men, we speak of the women, too, for the women are included with the men and are an inseparable part of mankind. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 140)
David O. McKay declared wonderful blessings of priesthood:
We can conceive of the power of the priesthood as being potentially existent as an impounded reservoir of water. Such power becomes dynamic and productive of good only when the liberated force becomes active in valleys, fields, gardens, and happy homes. So the priesthood, as related to humanity, is a principle of power only as it becomes active in the lives of men, turning their hearts and desires toward God and prompting service to their fellowmen.
Our lives are wrapped up with the lives of others. We are happiest as we contribute to the lives of others. I say that because the priesthood you hold means that you are to serve others. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 120)