Struggling to Understand How the Priesthood Works? Here’s a Crash Course

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A young man is ordained to an office in the Aaronic priesthood.

As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I know what the priesthood is. The simple answer is that the priesthood is the power and authority of God given for the salvation and blessing of all His children on the earth. But trying to explain how it works can be a challenge. Not long ago I had an experience with my dog that gave me a visual perspective on it. Our hound dog loves but destroys her toys. There was one square puzzle toy that you put treats in through a hole in the top and then twist it to make the treat harder to get out. It was tough for me to figure out how to get the treats in, and she struggled to get them out. Some got stuck inside.

Eventually she chewed enough of the housing that the central tube came out of the toy. And she kept chewing until the whole thing came apart. Then I saw how it worked. There was one way for the treat to go in, and one way for it to come out. In order to get the treats out, the dog had to get them through the proper channels in the maze. The priesthood of God works in a similar fashion (but without the maze). God is the source, and the power and authority of the priesthood must come through the proper channels in order to be efficacious. Let me explain.

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God is the Source

Jesus Christ ordaining His Twelve Apostles during His earthly ministry.The priesthood is the power and authority of God. According to the scriptures, it is “without beginning of days or end of years” (Doctrine & Covenants 84:17-18). This priesthood is the power that Christ used to create the earth under the direction of Heavenly Father. It is through the priesthood that our Heavenly Father accomplishes His work to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) by granting authority and power to His sons and daughters on earth to help carry out His work. And it’s the same power that He has used to direct His work from the beginning. 

While only males can be ordained to the priesthood, the blessings are available to all equally—men, women, and children. Some people ask if God is no respecter of persons and loves each one of us equally, why would He only allow men to be ordained to the priesthood? Elder Neil L. Andersen answered,

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know.

Although women are not ordained to the priesthood, they have equal access to the blessings. 

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Priesthood Keys and Authority

Just as my dog couldn’t get her treat out unless she got it through the proper channels, the blessings of the priesthood must come through the proper channels. Priesthood authority is the “authorization to represent God and act in His name” and, in the Church, is exercised under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. President Dallin H. Oaks taught,

Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function.

Priesthood keys both enlarge and limit the exercise of the priesthood. President Oaks explained,

“It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred. For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another unless authorized by one who holds the keys. Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid. This explains why a priesthood holder—regardless of office—cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.”

During the pandemic, our family has been able to administer the sacrament in our home because the bishop expressly stated that ward members who could not attend church in person could administer the sacrament at home. However, the sacrament must be administered by proper priesthood authority. So my 13-year-old son, who holds the office of a teacher in the Aaronic priesthood, can pass the sacrament but not bless it. My husband, who is a Melchizedek priesthood holder, can both bless and pass. 

Offices of the Priesthood

In the Church of Jesus Christ, the priesthood has two parts: the Aaronic and Melchizedek. The Aaronic priesthood is the preparatory priesthood and includes the keys of ministering of angels and administering in outward ordinances. I have gained a greater appreciation of the preparatory nature of the Aaronic priesthood as I’ve watched first my oldest and now my youngest son learn and advance in their responsibilities. First in passing the sacrament and picking up fast offerings as a deacon, then helping to set up the sacrament as a teacher and then blessing as a priest. Last Sunday I watched my youngest help the incoming deacons learn the ropes of passing the sacrament. As a mother, I loved seeing my 13-year-old son show a confused deacon where to go. That is what the priesthood is all about…blessing the lives of others through service. 

The Melchizedek priesthood holds the rights of the presidency and has power and authority over all the offices in the Church to administer in spiritual things. (See Doctrine & Covenants 107:8.) It is through this authority that Church leaders direct and administer all the spiritual work of the Church, including ordinances and covenants. (See Doctrine & Covenants 107:18.) 

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Blessings of the Priesthood

A group of people prepare to be baptized by proper priesthood authority in the Congo.Like my dog’s treats, the blessings of the priesthood are something we desire and need. And we have to go through the proper channels to get them. Elder Robert D. Hales taught,

The priesthood of God gives light to his children in this dark and troubled world. Through priesthood power we can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to lead us to truth, testimony, and revelation. This gift is available on an equal basis to men, women, and children. Through the blessings of the priesthood, we can be equipped with “the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (see Ephesians 6:11–18). This protection is available to every one of us.

The priesthood of God, exercised through the proper channels, blesses not only our lives but the lives of those around us. The power in the priesthood comes through making covenants and obedience to the commandments of God. Some of the blessings of the priesthood include baptism and confirmation in The Church of Jesus Christ, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, partaking of the sacrament, authority and power to serve in Church callings and assignment, temple covenants, and receiving patriarchal blessings and blessings of healing, comfort, and guidance. Partaking of these blessings and participating in ordinances is how we protect ourselves and our families. Each one of us has access to the power and blessings of the priesthood through our obedience to the covenants that we make. Though my dog’s puzzle toy gave me a greater perspective on how the priesthood blesses our lives, it is through our daily efforts to keep our covenants, made through the power of the priesthood, that we grow closer to God.  

Lisa Montague is a staff writer for the More Good Foundation. She graduated from Brigham Young University. And is currently raising four great kids with her husband in the mountains of Idaho. She loves spending time with her family, writing, skiing, and making quilts.