The Discussion and Application section of this lesson opens with the following sentence. “The priesthood is one of the main themes in the Doctrine and Covenants.” This article talks specifically about the priesthood and how it makes a difference in our lives. But keep in mind that the topic of priesthood will pop up over and over again this year. One of our goals here is to get a bigger picture of what the priesthood is and how it works.
We know that the priesthood is the authority of God, given to man, to perform His ordinances and do His work on earth. We know that by the use of His priesthood the worlds were made and the universe is governed. Just as the Aaronic priesthood is an appendage, a small side part of the Melchizedek priesthood, so too is the Melchizedek priesthood only a small portion of God’s actual power. He has granted us only what power and authority we need to be able to play our part in the salvation of his children in mortality.
How the priesthood power works and what it is, exactly, we have no idea. All we know is that its use and usefulness is based on covenants, personal faith, and righteous living. When we live the laws God has given us, and demonstrate our faith in God, we are able to exercise or use the priesthood to work wonders in our personal lives, and the lives of all those around us. We do not possess the power. The power in the priesthood belongs to God. But when we live worthily, having been duly ordained to the priesthood as the Lord has required, or having made covenants in the Lord’s own way, He honors us and demonstrates his power in our lives in the form of healings, spiritual gifts, revelations, etc.
Much can be accomplished through raw faith alone. But to conduct the Lord’s business among his children requires that one be called of Him to do His work. This requires the laying on of hands by those in authority who have already been called of God and hold the keys, or rights of administration, of the Lord’s priesthood. The current living prophet is the only person on earth who is able to use all the priesthood keys currently in possession by the children of God in this dispensation. He authorizes and delegates his authority to others, such as the apostles, Stake Presidents, Bishops, quorum Presidents, and so forth.
Using the priesthood
One of the main reasons for the priesthood is to perform the ordinances the Lord has specified are required as part of the covenants we make with Him. Our Father in Heaven is meticulous in his organization of the universe. He has to be. The use of His power is no less organized. The prophet holds the rights of Presidency and the rights to administer God’s plan of salvation on earth. From him authorization is given to others to conduct specific portions of the Lord’s work. No one but the prophet and the Quorum of the First Presidency can perform any ordinance and transact any business needed in mortality for the welfare of God’s children.
Even at the ward level, the Bishop holds the keys for conducting only the work of the lord within the boundaries of his ward area. And even then, he administers mostly on an Aaronic priesthood level (though he, himself must be a high priest), since it is the Stake President who administers on the Melchizedek level. All Melchizedek quorum presidents are called and released by the Stake President, all final temple recommends are authorized through the Stake President, and all Bishops answer to their Stake President because he is the one who calls and ordains them to be a Bishop.
Every worthy male member of the Church should hold the priesthood. If I want to use my priesthood to perform any ordinance I must go to the one who holds the keys or the right to administer that ordinance for permission. I cannot just go out and baptize someone. I must first get clearance from my Bishop, who holds the keys in my ward over the ordinance of Baptism. But I don’t have to ask permission to give a priesthood blessing to my family or to someone who asks for a blessing. Blessings are not ordinances. They are a general blessing for all of God’s children who seek them.
There have been very few times throughout history when all of God’s sons could have the priesthood almost for the asking. During most of history the privileges and responsibilities of the priesthood have been held mainly by the prophets. Down through history after the Great Apostasy the priesthood was lost to mankind, but the exercise of the duties of the priesthood remained, though they changed significantly through the centuries. Today Christians receive the priesthood either by going to a university, with the priesthood appointment being the result of years of study, or you can simply apply online and receive a certificate in the mail that makes you legal to perform weddings and baptize people into your own church.
The difference between the modern view of priesthood and the Lord’s view of priesthood is pretty vast. In Doctrine and Covenants 84:19–22 the Lord spells out for Joseph Smith the power behind the Melchizedek priesthood.
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
It is important to remember that when the Lord describes something what He describes is that thing in its truest and fullest form. He doesn’t describe the priesthood as experienced by a new convert to the Church. This description is all about the end game, what the priesthood can do for someone who is faithful and has done the work necessary to obtain these blessings.
Each of us is probably somewhere between the stage of the new convert and the one who is enjoying the administration of angels and seeing the face of God. I’m too far away from that last part to even entertain it for now. But what about the middle part? What about the manifesting unto men the power of godliness? That is something I can begin to grasp.
Power of godliness
In trying to describe the kinds of things that are included in the power of godliness, I ended up verbally painting myself into a corner, so I will back up and dance around the question for a moment, and perhaps you will be able to see what I see.
How is the power of God made manifest or visible? What has to happen in our lives to see that the power of God is working in our lives and changing us? This is a process, not an event. Sometimes when I hear someone say that the Melchizedek priesthood holds the “key of the knowledge of God” I feel like it is supposed to be something simple, like a password or something. If I could just figure out that password it would all be opened to me. I really don’t believe it works that way.
Let’s look at the baptism of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. I believe they experienced the power of “Godliness made manifest” after their baptism. They didn’t have the priesthood yet, but the principle works the same for the investigator as well as the life-long member. Here is Joseph Smith—History 1:74. This is the first half of the verse. He and Oliver had just been baptized and had been influenced by the Holy Ghost. They did not currently possess the gift of the Holy Ghost, but what happens in this verse explains what every person experiences when they come to understand any part of the gospel plan.
74 Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.
Did you catch that? Both of them had studied the scriptures. Both of them had tried to grasp spiritual things, but it wasn’t until they interacted and participated in the act of covenant making with the Lord that they had their minds opened to spiritual things. Joseph says that they saw things in a different way than they did before. They had thoughts about spiritual things they never had thought of before.
This is the power of godliness made manifest. How do we learn and grow in the gospel? We obey the commandments and make covenants. The result is a change of heart, an opening of our minds to truths we had never considered before, and the understanding of truths someone outside the gospel plan cannot comprehend. These are the attributes of godliness being made manifest or revealing themselves to us in our lives.
This is what having the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood offers to each and every member of the Church. Through the Holy Ghost, which is available to us only through the priesthood we hold and use, we come to grasp the grand scale of our Father’s plan. We come to appreciate the value of each and every child of God. Our love for mankind increases. Our ability to grasp spiritual concepts and live righteous lives increases, and little by little we become more holy, more like God.
Remember that when the Lord describes something it is the fullest version of that thing, not the infantile version of the newby. His description may sound foreign and way over our heads, but if we can learn to see that we are already engaged in the process of having the “power of God made manifest” in our lives, we can take courage that we are on the right path.
These blessings of the priesthood are available to every member of the Church through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We have even more opportunities for growth once we go to the temple.
The purpose of this lesson is “to increase class members’ appreciation for the restoration of the priesthood, to encourage brethren to magnify their offices and callings in the priesthood, and to help all members enjoy more fully the blessings of the priesthood.” Try to see how different your life would be without the blessings the priesthood personally brings into your life.
When you look at those who attend other churches, do you see these opportunities available to them? Do they have prophets? Do they have the gift of the Holy Ghost to reveal the things of eternity? Do they have covenants that will open their minds to the things of God? Do they have the priesthood power in their lives to show them the power of godliness in their own life? We are most certainly blessed beyond measure.