The concept of priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique and perhaps confusing for those who are unfamiliar with it. Even many members of the Church who accept, love, and appreciate the priesthood may find themselves “fuzzy” on the doctrine and principles. Perhaps that is because the term priesthood is used in at least two ways. First, priesthood is the term used to describe the total power and authority of God. Second, priesthood is also the term used to describe the power and authority that God gives to ordained priesthood holders on earth to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. 1 This second usage is the widely accepted definition of the priesthood. For example, Preach My Gospel defines priesthood as the authority and power that God gives to man to act in the name of Jesus Christ in all things for the salvation of mankind. 2 Thus, the same word, priesthood, refers both to God’s total power and authority and to that portion of His power and authority that He delegates to man on earth.
Linguistically, some terms can be used to refer to a larger whole as well as to a part. Consider the term earth, which can mean both the planet on which we reside and the topsoil we push around in gardens. Certainly, the planet Earth encompasses garden topsoil, but garden topsoil does not encompass the planet Earth. Context usually makes the meaning clear.
Similarly, context usually makes the meaning of the word priesthood clear. However, misunderstandings can arise when people in and out of the Church equate priesthood ordination with the total priesthood power and authority of God.
Ordinances We Can Not Receive on Earth
God holds unlimited, unbounded, and unending power and authority. He has delegated some of His authority and power to ordained priesthood holders on earth—specifically, that which is necessary to bring about the salvation of mankind. The offices of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood do not constitute all of God’s priesthood, His total power and authority. Brigham Young taught that there are many aspects of God’s total priesthood power and authority that are not delegated to men on earth. He said:
It is supposed . . . that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in those ordinances. This is not the case. We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would like to ask what they are. I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of resurrection. . . . This is one of the ordinances we can not receive here [on the earth], and there are many more.3
Indeed, we may wish that Brother Brigham mentioned other things besides the keys of resurrection. He does, however, allude to other authority and power retained by God—the authority and power to produce bodies and spirits, create kingdoms, and organize matter [see note 3]. Referring to these statements by Brigham Young, President Spencer W. Kimball said that “we talk about the gospel in its fulness; yet we realize that a large part is still available to us as we prepare, as we perfect our lives, and as we become more like our God.”4
We must, therefore, recognize that God has conferred only a portion of His total priesthood power and authority.
Christ Ordaining the Twelve Apostles, by Harry Anderson. Image retrieved from lds.org.
1.Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010); section 2.0.
2.Preach My Gospel (2004), 44.
3.Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (1854–86), 15:137. Other statements by Brigham Young in this reference include:
“And when our spirits receive our bodies, and through our faithfulness we are worthy to be crowned, we will then receive authority to produce both spirit and body. But these keys we cannot receive in the flesh.
“We have not the power in the flesh to create and bring forth or produce a spirit [with all the vaunted knowledge of the experts in the world, this has not been given to man]; but we have the power to produce [with the help of God] a temporal body [for our children]. The germ of this, God has placed within us. . . . Herein, brethren, you can perceive that we have not finished, and cannot finish our work, while we live here [on the earth], no more than Jesus did while he was in the flesh.
“. . . fashion kingdoms [or] organize matter, for [that is] beyond our capacity and calling, beyond this world. In the resurrection, men who have been faithful and diligent in all things in the flesh, [who] have kept their first and second estate, and [are] worthy to be crowned Gods, even the sons of God, will be ordained to organize matter. How much matter do you suppose there is between here and some of the fixed stars which we can see? Enough to frame many, very many millions of such earths as this, yet it is now so diffused, clear and pure, that we look through it and behold the stars. Yet the matter is there. Can you form any conception of this? Can you form any idea of the minuteness of matter?”
4. Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Great Potential,” Ensign, May 1977.
For more in-depth insights into the priesthood, check out Elder and Sister Renlund's new book, The Melchizedek Priesthood.
This insightful book by Elder Dale G. and Sister Ruth Lybbert Renlund helps men better understand the principles and doctrine of the Melchizedek Priesthood and learn how to properly exercise it in their daily lives. Section One presents the foundations of the priesthood, explaining basics about what it is, what it is for, and the commandments that govern its use. Section two gives fifteen principles that act as a "primer" for using the priesthood more effectively. A few of these principles include "A Priesthood Holder Must Be Willing to Be Presided Over," "A Priesthood Holders Uses Councils Effectively," and "A Priesthood Holder Judges Righteously." Elder and Sister Renlund's joint quest in studying the priesthood and its application offers a model for how men and women can work together in their understanding and teaching about the priesthood.