What is the Priesthood?

Having not been to Relief Society in a long time, I don’t know if this is how every lesson about the priesthood starts there. I can assure you that every lesson I have ever been to in EQ about the priesthood starts with this question. A few answers get tossed around until the teacher settles on the one that they like the most. Having been to dozens of these lessons in my life, I still am not really sure of the answer. I don’t mean to imply that the priesthood is nothing, only that it seems to be so many things which overlap each other, I have a hard time giving any definition that is comprehensive enough. As I see it, there are several options:

1. The priesthood is an organized body of individuals whose job is to perform the administrative duties of the church, like passing the sacrament, starting meetings on-time, etc.

2. The priesthood is the procedural authorization to perform ordinances and administer spiritual blessings.

3. The priesthood is a covenant between the individual and God.

4. The priesthood is a body of esoteric knowledge and teachings.

5. The priesthood is another name for the mysterious power that God holds to perform such tasks as creation and the resurrection, or, the power over the elements.

6. The priesthood is a temporal tool for socializing men to obtain more Christ-like attributes.

7. The priesthood is the ordering principle of the universe and the church and our families that we should model in our own lives (I have never quite understood what this meant).

Are there others that you can think of? I am trying to figure out what relationship all of these definitions have to one another. Then, I would like to know the history of these ideas, how they developed in Joseph Smith’s life and experience, and how they have continued to develop in the history of the church. Is it something which we have, or that we acquire throughout our lives? What is the relationship between the priesthood as a power to effectuate and the priesthood as an authority to perform (does that make sense)? Seriously, how do we make sense of these overlapping definitions? What work is the priesthood doing?

3 Replies to “What is the Priesthood?”

  1. The priesthood is the power of Godhood, it grows within us as we become more Godlike. It is bestowed by oath and covenant. It is controlled and handled only upon principles of righteousness. I think it is the method by which we become one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father. I think definition 1 is the least important of all of its functions, although order does have its place.

  2. I worry about the idea that the priesthood gets bigger as you grow. Joseph Smith said repeatedly that if the saints understood the priesthood they would accept any Melchizedek Priesthood holder as the President of the Church, not be so concerned that he was a “spiritual” man. (This is why I usually refer to the President of the Church as the President of the Church rather than “the prophet.” “The prophet” implies that he is the only one–but all GA’s are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and even the newest member of the church or even non members can be prophets, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.)Certainly your ability to exercise the power of the priesthood (i.e. healings, miracles, etc.) will increase with faith and righteousness but there have been many who held no priesthood (women performing healing blessings in the early church, for example) who experienced these spiritual gifts.In my mind, the priesthood is primarily the authorization to perform ordinances that make open the door for grace to take effect in our lives. The greater or lesser degree to which that actually happens is more due to the gifts of spirit, I think, than to the fact that the priesthood gets bigger or more powerful.

  3. I see priesthood as a general name for a divinely appointed mantle of leadership or ministry, a mantle that includes in its fulness a spiritual acquaintance with those one is appointed to preside over or minister unto.In the general sense of the term, all divinely appointed ministries are comparable. In my humble opinion, the Relief Society is indeed at the very least a prototype for an order of the priesthood. Marriage is also an order of the priesthood, namely the patriarchal or family authority. We might also extend this to civil authorities, who serve with divine authorization in offices comparable to that of the priesthood, even when they do not fill them very well.That is all authority. Power in the priesthood, or in a divinely appointed ministry generally speaking is more subtle – generally dependent on righteousness.

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