Have you ever attended a Sunday service with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons? If you have, chances are you have noticed those young boys ages 12 to 17 donned in white shirt and tie, kneeling in front of an altar and reciting a formal prayer. You also must have noticed others carrying and passing trays of communion or sacramental bread and water to members of the congregation.
These young men are representatives of the Mormon Priesthood along with missionaries and church leaders. From their youth, they are taught gospel principles that are necessary for their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. They are given responsibilities and are trained to become effective missionaries, fathers, and church leaders.
So, what is Priesthood and why is it important?
Priesthood is the power and authority of God. It is the power by which He created, governs, directs, and sustains all things. God delegates a portion of this authority to man to enable him to act on His behalf and to accomplish His work on earth.
Joseph Smith taught that Priesthood is an everlasting principle which existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years. (See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 101–13.) The Priesthood is also the authority which Jesus Christ held during His mortal ministry. By the power of the priesthood, He multiplied bread and fish, healed the sick, cleansed the leper, raised the dead, and did many other great and marvelous works. By the same authority, He chose and ordained apostles with a promise that whatsoever they should bind on earth should be bound in heaven; and whatsoever they should loose on earth should be loosed in heaven. (See Matthew 16:19).
Priesthood is the channel by which revelations flow. A person who holds the priesthood is entitled to receive revelations for the benefit of himself and others. By the authority of the priesthood and ordinances of the gospel, the power of Godliness is manifest. Where there is no priesthood, there are no continuous revelations and visions. And without these things, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).
Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ
There are two orders of Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ, namely the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. Aaronic, also known as the lesser or preparatory Priesthood is usually given to young men ages 12 to 17 years old and newly baptized adult male members of the Church to prepare them to receive the Higher or Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood was named after Aaron, who was given by the Lord to Moses to serve as his spokesman.
The Aaronic Priesthood is divided into three offices or “quorums”: Deacon, Teacher, and Priest. At the age of 12, male members of the Church are interviewed by the Bishop (rough equivalent of Catholic priests) and if found worthy, they are conferred with the Aaronic Priesthood and ordained to the office of the Deacon. Members of this quorum have the privilege to participate in sacred ordinances such as passing the sacrament emblems (bread and water) to the congregation to prepare them for ordination to higher offices. When they reach the age of 14, they go through the same interview and are ordained to the office of the Teacher where they are responsible for preparing the sacrament. Teachers may also pass the sacrament in the absence of Deacons.
Priests are ordained when they reach the age of 16. Members of the Priest’s Quorum participate in the sacrament by blessing the bread and water. They may also prepare and pass the sacrament in the absence of teachers and deacons. Under the direction of the bishop, priests can perform the ordinance of baptism, confer the Aaronic Priesthood and ordain teachers, deacons, and other priests to their respective offices. (See Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B.)
The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys to the revelations of God and is the presiding authority in The Church of Jesus Christ. This higher priesthood was named after Melchizedek, King of Salem, and the great High Priest unto whom Abraham paid tithes and from whom he received his ordination in the priesthood. The scriptures say that Jesus Christ was a High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (See Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 6:20; 5:6-10).
At the age of 18, male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ordained “Elders”, the lowest office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Elders can perform all functions of the Aaronic Priesthood offices and participate in higher ordinances such as conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, endowment, and temple marriage. Priesthood holders who are called to key leadership positions – such as Bishops, who preside over a congregation or ward, and Stake Presidents, who oversee several wards – are ordained “High Priests”, a higher office in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Other offices in the Melchizedek priesthood are Patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle.
The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
We believe that man must be called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof (Articles of Faith 1:5).
Just like in ancient times, priesthood authority is conferred by the laying on of hands by authorized representatives of the Lord. In addition, Joseph Smith taught that those who receive the priesthood receive it by the “oath and covenant” of the Father, and that if any man shall break this covenant, he shall not receive forgiveness in this world and in the world to come. On the other hand, those who adhere faithfully to these covenants will inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God and receive all that the Father hath. (See Doctrine and Covenants 84:33-44.)
What is the basis for Latter-Day Saints’ claim on Priesthood?
Priesthood authority in The Church of Jesus Christ can be traced back in an unbroken line to the Savior Himself. When the Lord’s original apostles were killed, priesthood authority was taken from the earth because of gross wickedness among the people. For many centuries, there was no one on earth who had the authority to act in God’s name and receive revelations for mankind. As a result, people lived in spiritual darkness and great confusion.
Because God loved all of His children, He did not leave them to perish in the dark. In May 1829, the Aaronic priesthood was restored and conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by the resurrected John the Baptist. Shortly thereafter, Peter, James, and John also appeared and conferred upon them the Melchizedek priesthood. Today, priesthood authority is being held by hundreds of thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints around the world – a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that it will never be taken away from the earth again. (See Doctrine and Covenants 13).