Sunday, January 8, 2012

Understanding the Priesthood

I'm beginning a little quest, finally.  I started gathering some articles regarding the priesthood, it's organization, and history a while back, but was finally driven to actually start reading them because I had to teach a lesson on the priesthood to the 11 year old girls in our ward today (I didn't teach any 11 year old boys because there are none).

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)
However, because the prophet can't possibly personally oversee all of that for an entire worldwide church, he delegates the keys to others through the organization of the priesthood:

  • Mission presidents
  • Branch presidents
  • Temple presidents
  • Stake presidents
  • Bishops
  • Melchizedek Priesthood quorum presidents (Elders, High Priests, 70s, Apostles)
  • Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidents (Priests (Bishop), Teachers, Deacons)
Because those listed above still can't oversee all the duties associated with all the keys for every person, they then delegate a portion of their authority to others to help them, but they do not pass on the actual "keys"(Bateman, Priesthood Manual).

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.)
I started reading "The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877:  Brigham Young's Last Achievement," by William Hartley.  In it, Hartley states:

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:

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.
Based on that quote and the process of delegation mentioned above, I think it's worth looking at one more example.

  • 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.
So, that's what I've concluded for now.  I probably have some errors in there, and I'm sorry I didn't cite everything perfectly, but to me, it helped the priesthood make the most sense that it's ever made.  If you've had any great insight regarding the priesthood and its organization, be sure and let me know.


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.)


Coach Kelly said...

I like the definition of the power of God given to man...I used to read the man as mankind...but for priesthood it makes sense both ways. I have long felt Owen have power given to I have wondered what makes the priesthood is used in administration and ordinances and I both of these cases the power of God is rarely used by women in those ways..yet it is presiedents administer, and as you say temple workers take part in ordinances. It isn't as clear as it was for me as a child. .

Emily said...

I've always thought of it as "mankind" too, but it's unclear as to if it means man or mankind in this context, but like you said, it goes either way.

Emily said...

Related posts:

As to why women don't hold the priesthood, the best explanation I can find is:

Amanda said...

Well done Emily :)

Mormon Women: Who We Are said...

Here are a few other quotes that I think reinforce what you have discussed here (in such an awesome, clear way):

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Prophet’s action opened to women the possibility of exercising “some measure of divine authority, particularly in the direction of government and instruction in behalf of the women of the Church.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.) President Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)

This quote, I think, gives an interesting explanation for the healing blessings that are no longer performed...or, better said, that are just performed in a different context:

"The Prophet Joseph Smith told the early sisters that he had something better for them than a written constitution. Being organized under priesthood authority, they were to reject worldly concepts of power and seek the power that flows down from heaven for those functions and to those individuals who are using their time and talents in the Lord’s way.

"In considering the Prophet’s instructions to the first Relief Society, we should remember that in those earliest days in Church history more revelation was to come. Thus, when he spoke to the sisters about the appropriateness of their laying on hands to bless one another, the Prophet cautioned “that the time had not been before that these things could be in their proper order—that the Church is not now organized in its proper order, and cannot be until the Temple is completed.” (Minutes, 28 Apr. 1842, p. 36.) During the century that followed, as temples became accessible to most members, “proper order” required that these and other sacred practices be confined within those temples."

all from this talk/article by Elder Oaks