The Priesthood Is on the Earth Today
Tremendous resources for this lesson, as was true for Chapter 13, “The Priesthood” 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, chapters 18 & 20, John Taylor, Chapters 13 & 14, 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:
Brigham Young expanded on the extent of the priesthood:
If anybody wants to know what the Priesthood of the Son of God is, it is the law by which the worlds are, were, and will continue for ever and ever. It is that system which brings worlds into existence and peoples them, gives them their revolutions… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 125)
Wilford Woodruff clarified the power of the priesthood:
By the power of [the] Priesthood, God, our Eternal Father, has organized all worlds, and redeemed all worlds that have ever been redeemed. By that same Priesthood men have administered on the earth in the ordinances of the Gospel of Christ. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 38)
Two Divisions of Priesthood
It may be important to note that, according to the Bible Dictionary, “The Aaronic Priesthood is not a different priesthood, it is the lesser portion of the true priesthood” (p. 730).
Bishop Keith B. McMullin, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, well stated:
The first contains a lesser portion which prepares; thereafter comes the greater portion which fulfills. (Ensign, Nov 1997, 40)
In this section is explained the reason for the higher priesthood to be named Melchizedek. An interesting question has been asked by scholars, “Is it possible that Shem and Melchizedek are the same person?” An Ensign article by that name appeared in the “I Have a Question” installment, answered by Alma E. Gygi in Ensign, Nov. 1973, 15–16. It is possible. If this is used in teaching, you may want to examine two verses in Moses 8. Verse 12 lists the order of birth for Noah’s sons, Japeth, Shem, then Ham. Later, verse 27 lists Noah’s “three sons” as “Shem, Ham, and Japeth.” It appears that like with Jacob, Ephriam, and Nephi, Shem may have inherited the birthright after his older brother lost it, even though we are not given the reason for this.
Since Noah was the second Adam of this earth, his son Shem, who carries on the birthright lineage, was also an important individual in the kingdom.
President John Taylor proclaimed:
When both of these Priesthoods are carried out and united in their purity, the glory of the Lord will be manifested upon Mount Zion, in the Lord’s house, both operating according to their callings, position and authority. (quoted by Bishop Keith B. McMullin, Ensign, Nov 1997, 40)
Keys of the Priesthood
This section discusses the difference between priesthood and keys of the priesthood. President Brigham Young taught:
The keys of the eternal priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God, is comprehended by being an apostle. All the priesthood, all the keys, all the gifts, all the endowments and everything preparatory to entering back into the presence of the Father and of the Son, is composed of, circumscribed by, or I might say incorporated within the circumference of the apostleship. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 138)
The last paragraph in this section discusses the various priesthood offices which need keys for presiding. Elder Russell M. Nelson summarizes this nicely:
Temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, district presidents, bishops, branch presidents, and quorum presidents hold priesthood keys of presidency. Their keys control the power of their unit of the Church. (Ensign, Oct 2005, 40)
The concept of keys was forcefully and wonderfully developed near the end of Joseph’s death. First, Joseph Smith understood the importance of these keys:
One of the most pointed and poignant of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom prophecies was made to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the spring of 1844. Orson Hyde remembered the account: “We were in council with Brother Joseph almost every day for weeks. Says Brother Joseph in one of those councils, there is something going to happen; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord bids me to hasten and give you your endowment before the temple is finished. He conducted us through every ordinance of the holy priesthood, and when he had gone through with all the ordinances he rejoiced very much, and said, now if they kill me you have got all the keys and all the ordinances and you can confer them upon others, and the hosts of Satan will not be able to tear down the kingdom as fast as you will be able to build it up.” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Institute Student Manual, 273-4)
Then Brigham Young came to understand the importance of these keys:
In Boston rumors of Joseph Smith’s death began on 9 July. During the week before confirmation came from family letters and more complete newspaper accounts, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Pratt struggled within themselves about what the terrible news meant. Brigham recorded in his journal, “The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth; brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were both leaning back on our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Institute Student Manual, 289)
President Brigham Young later wrote about the importance of apostles holding all of the keys when the president of the Church dies:
The Priesthood is given to the people and the keys thereof, and, when properly understood, they may actually unlock the treasury of the Lord…
Did they destroy it when they took the life of Joseph? No. “Mormonism” is here, the Priesthood is here, the keys of the Kingdom are here on the earth; and when Joseph went, they did not go. And if the wicked should succeed in taking my life, the keys of the Kingdom will remain with the Church (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 126-7)
The Offices and Duties of the Aaronic Priesthood
Joseph Smith taught that a priest has a role comparable to that of the prophets:
If a Priest understands his duty, his calling, and ministry, and preaches by the Holy Ghost, his enjoyment is as great as if he were one of the Presidency; and his services are necessary in the body, as are also those of Teachers and Deacons. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 111)
Indeed, both priesthoods are crucial to Our Heavenly Father’s plan. The Aaronic Priesthood holds the keys to baptism and the sacrament. The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys to the Gift of the Holy Ghost and temple ordinances.
It may be beneficial at this point to discuss the idea of how the Lord prepares priests for the Melchizedek priesthood. A priest is given the exact words to say, directly from revelation for the baptismal and sacramental prayers. This hopefully prepares them for when they receive the Melchizedek priesthood and are required to add words “as the spirit directs” to blessings and healing ordinances.
The Offices and Duties of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Concerning the office of elder:
In the October 1904 General Conference, President Joseph F. Smith said that the elders are to be “standing ministers at home; to be ready at the call of the presiding officers of the Church and the stakes, to labor in the ministry at home, and to officiate in any calling that may be required of them, whether it be to work in the temples, or to labor in the ministry at home, or whether it be to go out into the world, along with the Seventies to preach the Gospel” (CR [Oct. 1904]:4). (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 447)
You may want to ask: “What is the most common assignment for all priesthood holders?” (If you want to give a hint, you could add, “except for deacons”)
Among the duties under the heading of “Teacher” is “help Church members live the commandments” (p.75). Among the duties under the heading of “Elder” is “teach, expound, exhort” (p. 76). Teachers and elders (priests are still teachers and all other offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are still elders) are assigned as Home Teachers.
This may be an excellent time to ask, “How important is Home Teaching in the Church?” The Prophet Joseph Smith gave high priority to home teaching. President James E. Faust illustrated this in a conference address:
A Brother Oakley was the Prophet’s home teacher, and whenever Brother Oakley went home teaching to the Smith home, “the Prophet called his family together and gave his own chair to Oakley, telling his family” to listen carefully to Brother Oakley. (Ensign, May 2006, 50)
President David O. McKay added his evaluation of home teaching:
… Some of [the home teachers] feel that their calling is of little importance, that there is not much dignity attached to it, when the fact is, that there is no more important work in the Church. We can not say of any one calling in the Church, that it is of more importance than another, because all are devoted to the development, to the instruction, to the salvation of God’s children. So it is with the calling of teacher; but if there be any preference given, because of superior advantages in winning these people to salvation, it will go to those men holding the priesthood of God, who come in direct contact with the individual members of the Church. … (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 121)
President David O. McKay also added:
I believe that in [home] teaching there is one of the greatest opportunities in all the world to awaken in those who are negligent, discouraged, downhearted, and sad, renewed life and a desire to re-enter into activity in the Church of Jesus Christ. By such activity they will be led back into the spiritual atmosphere which will lift their souls and give them power to overcome weaknesses which are now shackling them.
To give help, encouragement, and inspiration to every individual is the great responsibility and privilege of [home] teachers. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 122)
From the old priesthood/relief society manual on President John Taylor:
President Taylor also recognized and appreciated the authority of those who used their priesthood to serve him and his family. His humble respect for priesthood authority was exemplified by a story that his son Moses W. Taylor once related regarding an evening in the Taylor home when the family was visited by the home teachers. “One of the two was a boy sixteen years of age,” the younger Taylor recalled, “and that night it was his turn to preside. Father called the family together and informed the teachers that we were all there and said: ‘We are in your hands and await your instructions.’ ”
The boy then asked President Taylor if they prayed as a family and privately, if they treated their neighbors well, attended church regularly, and supported the authorities of the Church. “These questions were answered one after another by my father just as humbly as the youngest member of the family would have answered them. After the teachers had concluded their labors, they then requested my father to give them some instructions.
“He told them that he was pleased with them for their faithfulness and thanked them for calling and urged them to call on the family as often as they could for he realized the great good that a man holding the priesthood—which is the power of God—could do his family, and told them that there was no office in the church where greater good could be done than in that of a teacher. He told them to pay particular attention to his children and counsel them as a father.
“ ‘I am not often home,’ said he, ‘for my church duties call me away so much and I fear if my children do not frequently get good counsel, they may be led astray.’ (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 117-8)
The Quorums of the Aaronic Priesthood
I love this story told by President Henry B. Eyring about a deacons quorum presidency:
It is painful to imagine a shepherd feeding himself and letting the sheep go hungry. Yet I have seen many shepherds who feed their flocks. One was the president of a deacons quorum. One of his quorum members lived near my home. That neighbor boy had never attended a quorum meeting nor done anything with the members of his quorum. His stepfather was not a member, and his mother did not attend church.
The presidency of his deacons quorum met in council one Sunday morning. Each week they were fed the good word of God by the fine adviser and teacher. In their presidency meeting, those 13-year-old shepherds remembered the boy who never came. They talked about how much he needed what they received. The president assigned his counselor to go after that wandering sheep.
I knew the counselor, and I knew he was shy, and I knew the difficulty of the assignment, so I watched with wonder through my front window as the counselor trudged by my house, going up the road to the home of the boy who never came to church. The shepherd had his hands in his pockets. His eyes were on the ground. He walked slowly, the way you would if you weren’t sure you wanted to get where you were headed. In 20 minutes or so, he came back down the road with the lost deacon walking by his side. That scene was repeated for a few more Sundays. Then the boy who had been lost and was found moved away.
Now, that story seems unremarkable. It was just three boys sitting in a room around a small table. Then it was a boy walking up a road and coming back with another boy. But years later, I was in a stake conference, a continent away from the room in which that presidency had met in council. A gray-haired man came up to me and said quietly, “My grandson lived in your ward years ago.” With tenderness, he told me of that boy’s life. And then he asked if I could find that deacon who walked slowly up that road. And he wondered if I could thank him and tell him that his grandson, now grown to be a man, still remembered.
He remembered because in those few weeks he had been, for the first time in his life that he recognized, watched over by the shepherds of Israel. He had been warned by hearing eternal truth from people who cared about him. He had been offered the bread of life. And young shepherds had been true to their trust from the Lord. (Ensign, May 2001, 38)
President Monson relates his experience in a deacons quorum presidency:
I recall that when I was the second counselor in our deacons quorum presidency, I was considered a ward officer. At ward conference, when we sat on the front row of our ward officer’s meeting, I remember the stake president saying, “We will now call on Thomas Monson, the second counselor in the presidency of the deacons quorum of this ward, to give an account of his stewardship before the priesthood leadership of this ward.” Twelve years old, shaking like a leaf, I had to go forward to the same pulpit and give an account of my stewardship as the second counselor in the deacons quorum. We were taught responsibility, dependability, and accountability. We have not tapped that resource to a sufficient degree. Let us harness the energy of the deacons quorum presidency, the teachers quorum presidency, and the priests quorum youth leadership. (Ensign, Feb 1985, 22)
The Quorums of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The Ensign ran a series of articles about “priesthood quorums and their purposes.” In the fourth article, President Stephen L Richards, of the First Presidency, was quoted:
A quorum is three things: first, a class; second, a fraternity; and third, a service unit. Within it the men of the Priesthood learn of the principles of the Gospel, establish true brotherhood, and carry forward the work of Christ. It is a God-given association from which they derive more of lasting advantage than from any other fraternal organization in our society. Its prime purpose is to encourage and safeguard the individual. (Ensign, Apr 2005, 30)
President David O. McKay also added:
These groups meet together, first, to instruct and to edify, to improve in knowledge generally, and particularly to instruct in moral and religious knowledge, in faith, in holiness, but also to obtain mutual strength, to act uprightly. These groups supply a need that is felt among mankind generally. … Priesthood quorums … will supply every yearning for fellowship, fraternity, and service if men will but do their duty. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 116)
Importance of Priesthood Quorums
Concerning the importance of quorums, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained:
It will be a marvelous day, my brethren … when our priesthood quorums become an anchor of strength to every man belonging thereto, when each such man may appropriately be able to say, ‘I am a member of a priesthood quorum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I stand ready to assist my brethren in all of their needs, as I am confident they stand ready to assist me in mine. Working together, we shall grow spiritually as covenant sons of God. Working together, we can stand, without embarrassment and without fear, against every wind of adversity that might blow, be it economic, social, or spiritual.’ (Ensign, Nov. 1977, 86)
President David O. McKay also added:
Strictly speaking, priesthood as delegated power is an individual acquirement. However, by divine decree men who are appointed to serve in particular offices in the priesthood unite in quorums. Thus, this power finds expression through groups as well as in individuals. The quorum is the opportunity for men of like aspirations to know, to love, and to aid one another.
If priesthood meant only personal honor, blessing, or individual elevation, there would be no need of groups or quorums. The very existence of such groups established by divine authorization proclaims our dependence upon one another, the indispensable need of mutual help and assistance. We are, by divine right, social beings. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 116)
Auxiliaries to the Priesthood
Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a wonderful conference talk entitled “Strength in Counsel.” In it, he explained how stake and ward councils utilize auxiliaries to help individuals and the family:
God called a grand council in the premortal world to present His glorious plan for our eternal welfare. The Lord’s church is organized with councils at every level, beginning with the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and extending to stake, ward, quorum, auxiliary, and family councils.
In many respects, general Church councils function much the same as stake and ward councils. All councils in the Church should encourage free and open discussion by conferring with one another and striving to have clear, concise communication. Councils should discuss objectives and concerns, with mutual understanding being the ultimate goal. Stake and ward councils are ideal settings for leaders of all organizations to converse together and strengthen one another. The primary focus of stake and ward council meetings should be coordinating activities and stewardship, not calendaring. In these meetings, priesthood and auxiliary leaders should review together their responsibilities and find ways for Church programs to help members live the gospel in the home. Today, individuals and families need wise and inspired help from the Church to combat the evils of the world. (Ensign, Nov. 1993, 76)
Later, Elder M. Russell Ballard also reminded us how auxiliaries are not only auxiliary to the priesthood, but to something even more important:
Teach the gospel and basic values in your home. Establish a love for reading the scriptures together. Too many of our parents are abdicating this responsibility to the Church. While seminary, auxiliaries, and priesthood quorums are important as a supplement to parental gospel instruction, the main responsibility rests in the home. (Ensign, Nov 2005, 41)