The Order of the Priesthood – Theology Essay
From the dawn of creation and the genesis of the first man, Adam, Jehovah has repeatedly organized His Church on this Earth when we have been prepared for it. Because this Church is for us and for our happiness, God has seen to it that the organization of the Church is highly ordered, and is done according to His methods and His wisdom.
A fundamental principle of this godly organization is the establishment of the order of the priesthood. Because God loves us, he has given us the priesthood, which complex and perfect organization allows man to act in the name of God while he is yet mortal—thus allowing him to help lead the children of Zion in tune with a perfect organization while at the same time existing as an imperfect being; God has established His priesthood as a principle of authority and order to save us from chaos and thus further our happiness.
The priesthood can be defined as “the ability of man to act in the name and authority of God.” Originally, there was one order of the priesthood and before the days of Melchizedek this was called “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” (D&C 107:3). However, the revelation continues, telling us why this was changed— “out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood” (D&C 107:4). This order still exists today, and it is still called the Melchizedek priesthood. However, there is also another order of the priesthood, called the Aaronic Priesthood, which is actually an “appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood” (D&C 107:14), and was given to the children of Israel (specifically those of the tribe of Levi) after the Melchizedek priesthood was taken away because of disobedience. It has “power in administering outward ordinances” (Ibid). The Aaronic Priesthood is called an appendage to the greater priesthood because, as Joseph Smith teaches, “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 180-181). Thus, although the Aaronic priesthood is often referred to as another “priesthood” or “order,” in actuality it is just a lesser part of the same priesthood that has existed since the beginning as the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. The Patriarchal Order is often mentioned in the Church, but this is not an actual order in the sense that the Melchizedek and Aaronic are orders. It simply refers to the method in which the priesthood was passed from father to son, from the time of Adam, and is the order under which we will be governed in the Celestial Kingdom (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 559).
The authority and powers of the two orders of the priesthood are detailed in Doctrine and Covenants 107, verses 18-20. The Aaronic order holds “the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (D&C 107:20). It is fundamentally a preparatory priesthood. It functions to allow its bearers to perform—and thus understand—the basic outward ordinances of the church, such as baptism and the sacrament. In the days of ancient Israel, priests—those who were directly descended from Aaron and held the Aaronic Priesthood by right—performed the sacrifices and the ordinances that represented outwardly the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Basically, the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood is comprehensive. It allows the bearer, along with all the rights and privileges of the Aaronic or preparatory priesthood, the rest of the rights in the Gospel and the privilege of “[holding] the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (D&C 107:18). These wonderful blessings include the rights to “[receive] the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father and Jesus…” (D&C 107:19). The term “rights” here is literal; once a man has received the Melchizedek priesthood, it doesn’t necessarily make him immediately able to perform all the functions of the Church, but gives him the right to receive the ability to do so at any time in the future under proper direction and authority.
An office is a position within the priesthood upon which certain responsibilities are bestowed; it is an appendage to the Priesthood as a whole. The office of a high priest is the highest office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. The other office in this priesthood is that of an elder. The central characteristic of the offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood is that they are ordained to administer in primarily spiritual things, such as blessings of comfort and healing and the spiritual direction of the body over which they have authority. They are also able to officiate in any other office when there are no higher authorities present. Both an elder and a high priest have the authority to lay their hands upon someone and bestow the Gift of the Holy Ghost upon them. There are really four offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. The lowest is that of a deacon, and it is the office to which one is ordained upon first receiving this lesser priesthood. A deacon can participate in distributing the sacrament and collecting fast offerings; it is the first and most preparatory office in the entire Priesthood. The next office is a teacher, which primarily holds the responsibility of watching over the Church and strengthen its members (D&C 20:53). A priest, the next highest office, has the authority to baptize for the remission of sins, and has the responsibility to administer the sacrament (D&C 20:46). Every office of the Aaronic Priesthood has a duty to “expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59), and each of the aforementioned offices may take the lead of a meeting if no member of a higher office is present. The fourth office, that of bishop, is technically an office in the Aaronic Priesthood as the bishop’s purpose is “administering all temporal things” (D&C 107:68). However, although it is an office in the lower priesthood, a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood, unless he is a direct literal descendant of Aaron (D&C 107:69).
Within each office in the Church, however, there are certain officers that are set apart to perform certain duties. The officers in these positions have keys to perform these duties. The most common officer in the church is that of quorum president. Each quorum, be it of deacons, teachers, priests, elders, or high priests, has a president. “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods” (D&C 107:21). These presidents are set apart to direct the labors of the members of their quorum, and are given “keys” to do so. The word “keys” is a very fitting metaphorical term to explain the role of these officers. For example, take a quorum of elders. Each member of the quorum holds the same office, that of elder. They all have the spiritual authority or right to perform the duties of a president, but only one holds the actual keys to act as president. In the same manner, in a police station, there could be ten officers that all hold the rank of sergeant. However, only one sergeant, the one who has been entrusted with the keys to the holding cell, can open the cell. Each officer is certainly physically able to hold the keys to the cell, but only one actually holds the keys at one time and thus only he can open the cell. The deacons and teachers quorums have a president chosen out of their own numbers to act as president. As the priests quorum is the highest quorum of the Aaronic Order, the quorum president is not just a priest, but the President of the Aaronic Priesthood, or the bishop. There may be several ordained bishops in a ward, but only that bishop who has been set apart as bishop, i.e. the holder of the bishop’s keys, can act as bishop of that ward, and thus, president of the Priesthood of Aaron (D&C 107:87-88). Elders quorums have an elder chosen from their midst to act as elders quorum president. A high priests quorum, however, as it represents the highest office in the Priesthood of Melchizedek, has a presiding high priest as its president—the president of the Melchizedek Priesthood in a stake, or the stake president. Each of the aforementioned presidents chooses two counselors to assist in making decisions. However, the counselors in this case do not hold keys. They simply act under the keys of the president they counsel. Only the counselors to the Presiding High Priest of the Church actually hold keys.
The Presiding High Priest of the Church and his counselors form a First Presidency of the Church. Their responsibility is to govern the labors of all the members of the Church and they have the “right to officiate in all offices of the church” (D&C 107:9). The President of the Church thus holds all the keys of the Church; his counselors do also. There are also twelve high priests chosen from the body of the Church. They form the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, equal in power and authority to the First Presidency. They are called to be special witnesses of Christ to the world, and their calling differs from all other officers in the church (D&C 107:23-24). They also hold keys pertaining to their peculiar calling. The Quorum of the Seventy likewise consists of officers called to be special witnesses unto the Gentiles of the world (D&C 107:25). The Seventy are also equal in power and authority to the Twelve, but they do not possess keys—they act only under the keys of the Twelve Apostles. Just like in any quorum, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorum of the Seventy have presidents that direct the affairs of their respective quorums.
As is plainly evident, the Church of Jesus Christ is extremely well organized. This organization is different from and greater than any other organization on the Earth; it is certainly the Order of the Son of God. The wonderful thing is, not only does God give us a perfect godly organization, He lets us take part in it; we are given a responsibility to act in His name as His agents and have been given the privilege to play a role in the building of His kingdom. As can be witnessed by the complexity and beauty of this organization, we as servants of God are much more able to progress ourselves and help the members of the kingdom progress and be happy. A man gets a small amount of authority, and if he proves himself worthy and able, he is able to progress a small bit more. Without the ordinances and order of the Priesthood, we would not be able to do this at all. Truly, God, with the gift of this perfect institution, cares about us and sincerely desires our progression and eventual eternal happiness and perfection.