On Priesthood and Priesthood Organization

I taught a lesson last Sunday in the Gospel Principles class on Priesthood Organization and it was great to study and think about how to teach about the organization of the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially at a time when there seems to be a lot of discussion about the Priesthood in various LDS circles, mostly focused on the question of whether or not women in the Church should receive the Priesthood.  After I taught that lesson, I found a very fascinating blog post written by a young LDS woman titled, 9 Wrong Ideas about Women and the Priesthood, which talks about her take on this question. I highly recommend reading that post because she takes an honest approach to both sides of the debate, not dismissing one side for being nigh-apostate, or the other side for being backward and sexist.

I was also discussing this with my wife and I would just like to take a moment to write a few of my thoughts on what the Priesthood is and why I draw strength from my knowledge and understanding of Priesthood organization.

First: Priesthood is given to men from God, it is not given to men by man.  If you believe that principle that the Priesthood is from God and that those who use and exercise their Priesthood righteously are acting for God, then you know that God is at the heart of this Church, that he is watching over it, and that he is in charge.  If and when he decides that women should be ordained to the Priesthood, then it will happen, but it will not happen before God decides it is time.  That is not to say that you should not talk about women getting the Priesthood, that you should not hope for it, but I do not believe that you should petition Church leaders to change the Priesthood policy according to your time frame.

If God is at the head of this Church, then he is aware of your desires and he will reveal his will when it is right.  A lot of people do not understand why it took until 1978 for worthy male members who were not white to receive the Priesthood, and I cannot claim to have any answer to that question, but I do know that the decision was not made because President Kimball was feeling pressure from external sources or because of protests or petitions that he had received.  The revelation came from God.  But, the revelation came to the President of the Church because he and his counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had long pondered and prayed about the matter.  So, perhaps there is some good to come out of writing letters, respectfully, to the General Authorities asking them to consider matters such as this, asking them to pray about it and seek the Lord’s will.  Reading the Doctrine and Covenants one sees that most of the revelations that Joseph Smith received regarding the organization of the church came in response to some member asking him a question and asking him to inquire of the Lord.

Second: The Priesthood is not organized as the world would organize it, nor is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a business or corporation.  Advancement in the Priesthood and ordination to different offices does not come when one has simply put in enough time, has paid their dues, or because they are liked by their ‘superiors’ in the Priesthood.  Again, this Priesthood is given to men by God.  When he decides that a man is worthy to receive the Priesthood or ordination to a new office or a specific calling within the Church, then he will inspire the appropriate Priesthood leaders to make that happen.  All who serve in the Priesthood serve knowing that their time of service in any particular position is limited and that they are not ‘working their way up the corporate ladder’ of the Church.  A man who serves as a Bishop is not necessarily then called to a Stake President, though that can and does happen, it is also likely that he is then called to teach in the Sunday School or to work with the Boy Scouts or in any other position where he is needed.

Third:  The Priesthood exists to serve and be a blessing for others, it cannot be used for self-aggrandizement or for prideful purposes.  As Joseph Smith taught,

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

If I am not using my Priesthood to bless the live of my family and others, then I do not have the right to the Priesthood.  We discussed this in my lesson when we talked about Priesthood Keys.  Basically, the difference between Priesthood and Priesthood Keys is the difference between having the ability to do something and having the responsibility or the right to do that thing.  All men who are ordained to the Priesthood have the ability to serve in any calling they may be called to, but only those who are called to those position and receive the Keys to officiate in those positions have the right to revelation and guidance in that realm of responsibility.

I love this principle because it means that we have a perfect organization in the Church of Jesus Christ.  We do not have different people standing up with different ideas and confusion as to who has the right to make certain decisions.  Now, we are all human, we are all imperfect so you may run into people who either do not understand this or are choosing to use their Priesthood unrighteously.  If anyone claims to have a revelation regarding what you should do, all you have to do is ask yourself if that person has a position where they are entitled to receive revelation for you.  Are they your parents, Priesthood Quorum leader, Bishop, Stake President? If not, then you can politely thank them for their thoughts and proceed to ignore them, if you wish.  I had an experience like this when I was about to leave for my mission.  I had submitted my papers but not yet received the call, and a lady at church came up to me one Sunday and told me that she sometimes sees things and knows things about other people and she knew that I was going to serve in a place where the Church was young and growing and I would have the opportunity to be a great leader in the Church.  I was called to Hamburg, Germany, one of the oldest missions of the Church, missionaries have been in Germany since 1840.  I was a little weirded out by what she said, but I realized that she had no responsibility to be receiving revelation for me, and so I smiled politely, thanked her, and walked away.

God is a God of order and his Church is a Church of order.  It will always be clear who should be receiving the revelation to make certain decisions.  One of the members of my class described it as being similar to umbrellas.  When a person is given a calling or a Priesthood responsibility, they are given an umbrella and everything that is under their umbrella they have responsibility over, but anything outside of their umbrellas belongs to someone else, falls under someone else’s umbrella.

I am also impressed that this Church is so well organized that every square foot of this earth is delegated to some Priesthood authority.  I used to work technical support for the Church, and we worked somewhat with the Local Unit Support and saw their maps of each ward’s boundaries.  Every square foot of this earth belongs to some Local unit, has some Bishop or Branch President responsible for it.  Some ward boundaries are a little odd as they include miles and miles of desert or wilderness forest, but it is comforting to know that no matter where you are in the world, there is a Priesthood leader who has responsibility.

And there is also incredible redundancy in this Church when it comes to responsibility and caring for each person.  Every individual in this Church has several members of the ward who are to look out for them, each family has several organizations that have responsibility for different members, from Primary, to Young Women and Young Men organizations, to Priesthood Quorums and Relief Society.  And even a single sister who only belongs to the Relief Society has a Relief Society president and Visiting Teachers who care for her, as well as either and Elder’s Quorum President or High Priest Group Leader and Home Teachers who come and care and bring the Priesthood into her home to bless and serve her.

I am glad that I belong to a Church that has a Priesthood called of God, where the organization is clearly defined to avoid confusion and conflict, and where each member and family is looked after individually.  That is the purpose of the Priesthood of God, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants,

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.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

The Priesthood exists to ‘sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God’, and it can only be used for that purpose.  As we come together and discuss these principles honestly and without preconceived notions or the intent to argue or put another down, then we will come to a ‘knowledge of God’, we will know his will and he will reveal himself to us, collectively as a Church, and individually in our personal lives and in our families.  This I believe, that the Priesthood is a gift given to me for the benefit of others and to teach me how to become more like my Father in Heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ.

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2 thoughts on “On Priesthood and Priesthood Organization

  1. First of all, thanks for the recommendation! I’m g;ad you found my post and thank you appreciated it. I appreciate yours as well.

    You did a good job of articulating a point that I couldn’t quite get down in words- that this is God’s church and it’s not a democracy. When I joined the church, I was under the impression that God made decisions in the church, and whatever he said, went. So it’s odd for me to see people trying to petition to adjust what is happening in the church. I think it is important that we are open and honest with our leaders in regards to how the practices of the church are affecting us, but I think it needs to end there.

  2. Thanks for the post. It’s hard, because half the time if one states the above, they are called bigoted and old-fashioned. But God leads the Church, and he takes it were it is to go. Petitioning leaders for this kind of change is fruitless…even were the prophet to go and ordain a woman, that woman would not have the priesthood unless God so decreed. Somewhat related is a post I read here:

    http://www.sixteensmallstones.org/rules-for-feminist-mormon-radicals-moving-the-overton-window/

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