“Chapter 14: Priesthood Organization,” Gospel Principles, 85
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is governed by the priesthood. The priesthood, which is always associated with God’s work, “continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years” (D&C 84:17). It is upon the earth today. Men young and old are baptized into the Church, and when they are judged worthy they are ordained to the priesthood. They are given the authority to act for the Lord and do his work on the earth.
Two Divisions of Priesthood
The priesthood is divided into two parts: the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Aaronic Priesthood (see D&C 107:1). The greater priesthood is the Melchizedek Priesthood. Long ago it was called “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” But the name was changed so the name of the Lord would not be used so often. The Church in ancient days called the priesthood “the Melchizedek Priesthood” after a great high priest who lived during the time of Abraham. (See D&C 107:2–4.)
The lesser priesthood is an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is called the Aaronic Priesthood because it was conferred on Aaron and his sons throughout all their generations. Those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood have authority to administer the outward ordinances of repentance and baptism. (See D&C 107:13–14, 20.)
Those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood have the power and authority to lead the Church and direct the preaching of the gospel in all parts of the world. They are in charge of all the spiritual work of the Church (see D&C 84:19–22). They direct the work done in the temples; they preside over wards, branches, stakes, and missions; they heal the sick, bless babies, and give special blessings to Church members. The Lord’s chosen prophet, the President of the Church, is the presiding high priest over the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 107:65–67).
• Read Doctrine and Covenants 107:1–4. What are the two divisions of the priesthood? How did the Melchizedek Priesthood get its name?
Keys of the Priesthood
“There is a difference between priesthood and the ‘keys’ of the priesthood. A priest in a ward has power sufficient to baptize, yet he has not the right to perform this ordinance until he has been authorized by the bishop. The bishop has the ‘keys’ to administer to the affairs belonging under his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Therefore, he is the person who can tell a priest to baptize.
“The president and prophet of the Church has the ‘keys’ of the priesthood to administer in all spiritual and temporal affairs of the Church. It is his right to delegate stake presidents, bishops, patriarchs and others, as holders of the ‘keys’ pertaining to specific offices in certain geographical areas.
“President Joseph F. Smith taught on this subject:
“ ‘Every man ordained to any degree of the priesthood has this authority delegated to him. But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the priesthood’ (Gospel Doctrine, p. 136)” (Melvin R. Brooks, L.D.S. Reference Encyclopedia, p. 393).
The Offices and Duties of the Aaronic Priesthood
When the Aaronic Priesthood is conferred on a man or boy, he is ordained to an office in that priesthood. The offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. Each office carries duties and responsibilities. Each group or quorum is presided over by a group leader or quorum president who teaches the members their duties and asks them to fill assignments.
Some men join the Church or become active after they have passed the usual age to receive the offices of this priesthood. They are usually ordained to an office in the Aaronic Priesthood and can soon be advanced to higher offices if they are worthy.
A boy who has been baptized and confirmed a member of the Church and is worthy may be ordained to the office of deacon when he is twelve years old. The deacons are usually assigned to pass the sacrament to members of the Church, act as ushers, keep Church buildings and grounds in good order, act as messengers for priesthood leaders, and fulfill special assignments such as collecting fast offerings.
A worthy boy may be ordained a teacher when he is fourteen years old or older. Teachers have all the duties, rights, and powers of the office of deacon plus additional ones. Teachers in the Aaronic Priesthood are to help Church members live the commandments (see D&C 20:53–59). To help fulfill this responsibility, they are usually called as home teachers. They visit the homes of Church members and encourage them to live the principles of the gospel. They have been commanded to teach the truths of the gospel from the scriptures (see D&C 42:12). Teachers also prepare the bread and water for the sacrament service.
A worthy boy may be ordained a priest when he is sixteen years old or older. Priests have all the duties, rights, and powers of the offices of deacon and teacher plus some additional ones (see D&C 20:46–51). A priest may baptize. He may also administer the sacrament. He may ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons. A priest may take charge of meetings when there is no Melchizedek Priesthood holder present. He is to preach the gospel to those around him.
A bishop is ordained and set apart to preside over the Aaronic Priesthood in a ward. He is the president of the priests quorum (see D&C 107:87–88). When he is acting in his Aaronic Priesthood office, a bishop deals primarily with temporal matters, such as administering finances and records and directing care for the poor and needy (see D&C 107:68).
A bishop is also ordained a high priest so he can preside over all members in the ward (see D&C 107:71–73; 68:15). A bishop is a judge in Israel (see D&C 107:74) and interviews members for temple recommends, priesthood ordinations, and other needs. It is his right to have the gift of discernment.
The Offices and Duties of the Melchizedek Priesthood
The offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and Apostle.
Elders are called to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the Church (see D&C 20:42). All Melchizedek Priesthood holders are elders. They have the authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (see D&C 20:43). Elders should conduct meetings of the Church as they are led by the Holy Ghost (see D&C 20:45; 46:2). Elders may administer to the sick (see D&C 42:44). They are commanded to bless little children (see D&C 20:70). Elders may preside over Church meetings when there is no high priest present (D&C 107:11).
A high priest may be given the authority to officiate in the Church and be in charge of spiritual things (see D&C 107:10, 12). He may also officiate in all lesser offices (see D&C 68:19). Stake presidents, mission presidents, high councilors, bishoprics, and other leaders of the Church are ordained high priests.
Patriarchs are ordained by General Authorities, or by stake presidents when they are authorized by the Council of the Twelve, to give special patriarchal blessings to members of the Church. These blessings give us some understanding of our callings on earth. They are the word of the Lord personally to us. Patriarchs are also ordained high priests (see D&C 107:39–56).
Seventies are special witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world and assist in building up and regulating the Church (see D&C 107:25, 34, 38, 93–97).
An Apostle is a special witness of Jesus Christ in all the world (see D&C 107:23). The Apostles administer the affairs of the Church throughout the world. Those who are ordained to the office of Apostle in the Melchizedek Priesthood are usually set apart as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each one is given all the keys of the kingdom of God on earth, but only the senior Apostle, who is President of the Church, actively exercises all of the keys. The others act under his direction.
The Quorums of the Aaronic Priesthood
The Lord has instructed that the holders of the priesthood be organized into quorums. A quorum is a body of brethren holding the same priesthood office.
There are three quorums of the Aaronic Priesthood:
1. The deacons quorum, which consists of up to twelve deacons (see D&C 107:85). The presidency of the deacons quorum is called by the bishop from among the quorum members.
2. The teachers quorum, which consists of up to twenty-four teachers (see D&C 107:86). The presidency of the teachers quorum is called by the bishop from among the quorum members.
3. The priests quorum, which consists of up to forty-eight priests (see D&C 107:87–88). It is presided over by the bishop of the ward to which the quorum belongs. The bishop is a high priest and thus also belongs to the high priests quorum.
Whenever the number specified for a quorum is exceeded, the quorum may be divided.
The Quorums of the Melchizedek Priesthood
There are in the stakes of Zion the following Melchizedek Priesthood quorums:
Each elders quorum “is instituted for standing ministers; nevertheless they may travel, yet they are ordained to be standing ministers” (D&C 124:137). They do most of their work near their homes. The quorum is to consist of up to ninety-six elders, presided over by a quorum presidency that is called by the stake president.
High Priests Quorum
Each quorum includes all high priests residing within the boundaries of a stake, including patriarchs and bishops. The stake president and his counselors are the presidency of this quorum. The high priests in each ward are organized into a group with a group leader.
Importance of Priesthood Quorums
When ordained to the priesthood, a man or boy automatically becomes a member of a priesthood quorum. From then on through life, it is expected that he will hold membership in a quorum of the priesthood according to his office. (See Boyd K. Packer, “The Quorum,” in Strengthen Your Brethren [Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 4, 1991], pp. 142–48.)
If a priesthood quorum functions properly, the members of the quorum are encouraged, blessed, fellowshipped, and taught the gospel by their leaders. Even though a man may be called and released from Church assignments such as teacher, officer, bishop, high councilor, or stake president, his membership in his quorum does not change. Membership in a quorum of the priesthood should be regarded as a sacred privilege.
• What is a quorum? How does a quorum help strengthen individual members?
• How many members make up a quorum of elders, high priests, deacons, teachers, priests?
• Alma 13:1–19 (manner in which men were ordained to the priesthood)
• Hebrews 7:11–13 (Melchizedek Priesthood restored at the coming of Christ)
• D&C 20:38–67 (duties of elders, priests, teachers, deacons)
• 1 Corinthians 12:14–31 (all offices of the priesthood are important)
The Church of Jesus Christ can be compared to a building with Christ as the chief cornerstone and the Apostles and prophets as the foundation.