Sometimes understanding the priesthood can be difficult, especially when you start hearing people question it and why only men hold it. I wanted to get to some fundamentals, so that's where I'm starting here. I've read three articles so far, which are the ones I'll cite today, but I'll add another two or three installments as I get the other articles read.
Let's start with the basics from my lesson:
Q: What is the priesthood?
A: The power to act as God on the earth (Primary Lesson) or Gods power and authority to man (Bateman)
Q: What are some of the blessings of the priesthood?
A: Receiving a name and a blessing; being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost; receiving a blessing when sick; partaking of the sacrament; serving a mission; being married in the temple.
Q: Who receives the blessings of the priesthood?
A: Anyone, male or female, who is worthy and properly prepared.
Q: Who holds the priesthood?
A: A male who is worthy and properly prepared.
Q: What are some of the priesthood keys? (I didn't get into this one in class.)
A: Repentance, baptism, kingdom (organizing the Church, I'm guessing), gathering (missionary work), sealing (temple) (Bateman). Also, if a person holds priesthood keys (the prophet), he can delegate them to others. (Bateman, Priesthood Manual).
So, I think you can look at it this way:
The prophet holds the keys of (there are probably more, and I could be incorrect in my assumptions as I'm drawing my own summaries from the articles):
- The gospel of repentance (JS-H 1:69)
- Baptism by immersion (JS-H 1:69)
- The kingdom (organizing the Church, I'm guessing) (Bateman)
- Gathering (missionary work) (Bateman)
- Sealing (temple work) (Bateman)
- Mission presidents
- Branch presidents
- Temple presidents
- Stake presidents
- Melchizedek Priesthood quorum presidents (Elders, High Priests, 70s, Apostles)
- Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents (Priests (Bishop), Teachers, Deacons)
So, I think you can look at it like this:
- The prophet needs to organize the women in in a certain area of the world. He delegates the "keys" to a bishop to organize them. The bishop needs help in this and calls a woman to head up the other women; she then has the authority to organize the women. I think this whole process brings clarity to me regarding the statement about the Relief Society being organized after the manner of the priesthood. Not only is one of the priesthood duties to organize the members of the church (the women in this case), but the women's organization of president and counselors follows the same pattern as the priesthood organizations/hierarchy.
- Another example: The prophet needs to give the temple ordinances to the women in the church, so he calls and gives the "keys" to a temple president, who organizes the work at the temple, and calls/delegates women to be temple workers to administer the ordinances to women. (That's always been a big question of mine of how do female temple workers get the authority to administer the ordinances, as they are so similar to priesthood blessings? It seems like they would need to hold the priesthood to do this. Under this outline, though, it's just a priesthood responsibility that has been delegated to them. You can also see this as an explanation for how women were able to give blessings in the early days of the church. They didn't hold the priesthood, but they were given the authority to carry out this priesthood responsibility. 1/15/12 update: Another reason the women were allowed to bless in the early days of the Church was that the church wasn't fully organized -- there were not yet temples (see Oaks). Once temples were built, the blessings could occur there, rather than outside. This could be compared to baptisms for the dead being performed in bodies of water; however, as soon as the temple was built, they were done in the temple.)
The revelations [concerning organizing the priesthood] said what but not always how. Implementation therefore required new approaches at times, as Apostle Orson Pratt explained it in 1877:
Based on that quote and the process of delegation mentioned above, I think it's worth looking at one more example.
To say that there will be a stated time, in the history of this Church, during its imperfections and weaknesses, when the organization will be perfect, and that there will be no further extension or addition to the organization, would be a a mistake. Organization is to go on, step after step, from one degree to another, just as the people increase and grow in the knowledge of the principles and laws of the Kingdom of God, and as their borders shall extend.
- The prophet needs to get the sacrament to the people every Sunday. There's no way he can do that personally, so he delegates those "keys" to presidents of the Aaronic Priesthood to take care of it (Deacons, Teachers, Priests (Bishop)). They in turn, administer the sacrament to the members of the Church. I don't know that there's anything stating that the Aaronic Priesthood holders HAVE to take on that duty (I'm still studying), but that is the way it is currently organized. Perhaps it's good for the young men to have this early practice of service in a formal church setting as they are training to serve in other priesthood offices someday where they'll have even greater responsibility and organizational duties. Also, I'd suppose that if the Lord wanted it another way, he could change the process. He could say, instead of giving the duties of the sacrament to the Aaronic Priesthood, why don't you delegate the duty to the young women; but, that's just not the way it's currently organized. Pratt said things can change and obviously they did change regarding women giving blessings as mentioned above.
I also read "Sacred Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood" by Gibson, but didn't use it in this post.
1/15/12: Additionally related to this is Dallin H. Oaks talk: The Relief Society and the Church. Fantastic! (See the comments below.)