Priesthood in Mormonism
Mormonism teaches that the priesthood is the power and authority of God. The Lord created the heavens and the earth—indeed, the very universe is kept in perfect order—by His priesthood power.
Our Father in Heaven shares His priesthood with worthy male members of His true Church, believed by Mormons to be none other than the Church of Jesus Christ. The words, ”of Latter-day Saints” are added to the name of the Church by commandment from God to distinguish it as His kingdom on earth leading up to His Second Coming. The priesthood enables its holders to act in God’s name for the salvation of the human family. Worthy priesthood holders are endowed with the power to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation (such as baptism), and govern God’s kingdom on earth.
The authority of God has been entrusted to chosen individuals since the world began. Biblical prophets and Apostles all possessed this power, and it was through it that they attained truth and guidance from God, they performed blessings and miracles for the sake of those whom they led, and, of course, they officiated in saving ordinances and rituals. The priesthood, therefore, is a special, official connection between heaven and earth, between God and man, between Christ and His Church.
From time to time during the earth’s history, people have collectively lost the priesthood through disobedience to the Lord’s commandments. They have rejected and fallen away from the truth, and by so doing have been left with a severely decreased understanding of the workings of God. Mormons use the term apostasy to describe this state. The worst of such periods was called the Great Apostasy, appearing in fulfillment of prophesy after Jesus Christ left his Church under the leadership of his Apostles, who, along with many other faithful followers of Christ, were eventually martyred. The pure doctrines of the Church were perverted, and many new denominations were formed without divine sanction or authority. As a result of wickedness, the world was subjected to a time of both spiritual and secular ignorance, tellingly called the Dark Ages.
Thankfully, each period of apostasy has been followed by a restoration of divine teachings and authority to the earth. Joseph Smith was chosen by God as the prophet who should restore the true Church of Jesus Christ, and the priesthood, in our time. So it was that in 1829 he received a limited degree of the priesthood—the Aaronic Priesthood—power by the hands of a heavenly messenger who was in fact the resurrected, or immortalized, John the Baptist. Later Joseph received the higher priesthood—the Melchizedek Priesthood—from Jesus’ Apostles Peter, James, and John, also resurrected. Thus, Jesus Christ passed his authority on to his Apostles, and they later to Joseph Smith, who conferred it on others. In an unbroken chain, the priesthood has been passed from the Lord Jesus Christ to members of the Mormon church in this generation.
The priesthood is structured in several different stages and offices. The first degree of authority is called the Aaronic Priesthood, after Aaron of the Old Testament. Men who hold it serve in the capacity of a deacon, teacher, and priest, progressively. The completeness of divine authority is bestowed in the form of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has offices including elder, high priest, seventy, and Apostle. These various offices are in place so that the individual priesthood holder can experience personal development as he performs increasing duties and service for others in an organized manner.
Mormons believe that one special priesthood duty is blessing and distributing the sacrament (sanctified bread and water that symbolize the body and blood of Christ). Other duties include performing baptism by water, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost, completing yet other special ordinances in Mormon temples such as marriage for eternity, collecting donations for the needy, and doing many other special acts of responsibility and service. By virtue of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ, a Mormon male can lay his hands upon the heads of family members and others and bless them with physical healing, spiritual strength, and guidance from the Lord. Overall, the priesthood is a generous gift from God designed to touch the lives of all his children on earth. Acts that are performed by the priesthood have validity on earth and in heaven, for the authority is truly heaven-sent.
From 1849 until 1978, men of African descent were not permitted to receive the priesthood, although they could still become members and serve within the Church. In 1978, an official declaration of the First Presidency reported a revelation received by Church President Spencer W. Kimball, indicating that all worthy male members could now receive the priesthood. Our loving Heavenly Father had decided that the time was right, and many Africans were extremely happy to be partakers of this special privilege.
Although it is difficult to understand the workings of the Lord, we can rely on him as a Being who is omnipotent in overseeing the proper functioning of the universe as well as in carefully guiding each individual soul to a perfect betterment and an everlasting inheritance. If we use our divinely given freedom of choice to follow his guidance, we will feel of His power and we will understand how much He, the Master of all things, loves us.