The Responsibilities and Order of the Priesthood
“Chapter 14: The Responsibilities and Order of the Priesthood,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 127
The organization of the church is … according to the principles that God has revealed. 1
From the Life of John Taylor
President Taylor felt strongly about order and organization within the priesthood, teaching that the priesthood “is a pattern of things in the heavens” and the means “through which the blessings of God flow to his people on the earth.” 2 He began the practice of weekly priesthood meetings in the wards, together with monthly stake priesthood meetings and quarterly stake conferences, to encourage priesthood holders to learn and fulfill their duties.
With the death of Brigham Young in August 1877, the First Presidency was dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with John Taylor as their President, became the presiding body of the Church. Although President Taylor knew that in such circumstances the Twelve as a quorum were then equal in authority to the First Presidency (see D&C 107:22–24), he also knew that the proper order of the priesthood provided that the Church be led by a President and his two counselors. At the same time, he humbly sought to do only the will of the Lord and did not want to take any position unto himself.
A little more than three years after the death of Brigham Young, the First Presidency was reorganized. On 10 October 1880, President John Taylor was sustained as President of the Church, with George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith as counselors. Speaking on the day of this sustaining, President Taylor said: “Had it not been our duty to have the church organized fully and completely in all its departments, I should have much preferred to have continued with the brethren of the twelve, speaking of it merely as a matter of personal feeling. But there are questions arising in regard to these matters that are not for us to say how they shall be, or what course shall be pursued. When God has given us an order and has appointed an organization in his church, with the various quorums of priesthood as presented to us by revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, I do not think that either the First Presidency, the twelve, the high priests, the seventies, the bishops, or anybody else, have a right to change or alter that plan which the Lord has introduced and established.”
He then noted that since the death of Brigham Young, the priesthood had been fully organized, with the exception of the First Presidency and that it was necessary that the quorum of the First Presidency, as well as all other quorums, should occupy the place assigned it by the Almighty.
President Taylor continued: “These were the suggestions of the Spirit of the Lord to me. I expressed my feelings to the twelve, who coincided with me, and indeed, several of them had had the same feelings as those with which I was actuated. It is not with us, or ought not to be, a matter of place, position, or honor, although it is a great honor to be a servant of God. It is a great honor to hold the priesthood of God. But while it is an honor to be God’s servants, holding his priesthood, it is not honorable for any man or any set of men to seek for position in the holy priesthood. Jesus said, Ye have not called me, but I have called you [see John 15:16]. And as I said before, had I consulted my own personal feelings, I would have said, things are going on very pleasantly, smoothly, and agreeably; and I have a number of good associates whom I respect and esteem, as my brethren, and I rejoice in their counsels. Let things remain as they are. But it is not for me to say, it is not for you to say what we would individually prefer, but it is for us holding the holy priesthood to see that all the organizations of that priesthood are preserved intact and that everything in the church and kingdom of God is organized according to the plan which he has revealed. Therefore we have taken the course which you have been called upon to sanction by your votes today.” 3
Teachings of John Taylor
There are two priesthoods, namely the Melchizedek and Aaronic.
First.—We find that there are two distinctive general priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic. … Second—That they are both conferred by the Lord; that both are everlasting, and administer in time and eternity. Third—That the Melchizedek priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church, in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things. Fourth—That the second priesthood is called the priesthood of Aaron, because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed throughout all their generations. Fifth—That the lesser [or Aaronic] priesthood is a part of, or an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances. … Sixth—That there is a presidency over each of these priesthoods, both over the Melchizedek and the Aaronic.
Seventh—That while the power of the higher, or Melchizedek, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church; to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened to them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the firstborn and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to preside over all the spiritual officers of the church, yet the presidency of the high priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, have a right to officiate in all the offices in the church, both spiritual and temporal.
“Then comes the High Priesthood, which is the greatest of all. Wherefore, it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church; Or, in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.” [D&C 107:64–66.]
It is thus evident that this priesthood presides over all presidents, all bishops, including the presiding bishop; over all councils, organizations, and authorities in the whole Church, in all the world.
That the bishopric is the presidency of the Aaronic priesthood, which is an appendage to the greater or Melchizedek priesthood [see D&C 107:14], and that no man has a legal right to hold the keys of the Aaronic priesthood, which presides over all bishops and all the lesser priesthood, except he be a literal descendant of Aaron. But, that as a high priest of the Melchizedek priesthood has authority to officiate in all the lesser offices, he may officiate in the office of bishop … if called, set apart, and ordained unto this power by the hands of the presidency of the Melchizedek priesthood. [See D&C 107:17.] 4
This high [or Melchizedek] priesthood, we are told, has held the right of presidency in all ages of the world [see D&C 107:8]. But there is a difference between the general powers of the priesthood, and the particular office and calling to which men are set apart. … Because a man is a high priest, is he an apostle? No. Because a man is a high priest, is he the president of a stake, or the counselor to the president of a stake? No. Because he is a high priest, is he a bishop? No, not by any means. And so on, in all the various offices. The high priesthood holds the authority to administer in those ordinances, offices, and places, when they are appointed by the proper authorities, and at no other time; and while they are sustained also by the people. … It is not because a man holds a certain class of priesthood that he is to administer in all the offices of that priesthood. He administers in them only as he is called and set apart for that purpose. 5
Priesthood offices have been given for the perfecting of the Saints.
The Lord has placed in his church apostles and prophets, high priests, seventies, elders, etc. What for? For the perfecting of the Saints. [See Ephesians 4:11–12.] Are we all perfect to begin with? No. These various officers are for perfecting of the Saints. What else? For the work of the ministry, that men might be qualified and informed and be full of intelligence, wisdom, and light, and learn to proclaim the principles of eternal truth and to bring out from the treasury of God things new and old, things calculated to promote the welfare of the people. Now, then, these offices having been placed in the church, every man ought to be respected in his office. 6
God has communicated to the Latter-day Saints principles that the world are ignorant of, and being ignorant of them they know not how to appreciate our feelings. They call good evil, light darkness, error truth, and truth error, because they have not the means of seeing the difference between one and the other. “But you are a chosen people, a royal generation, a holy priesthood,” [see 1 Peter 2:9] separate and set apart by the Almighty for the accomplishment of his purposes. God has ordained among you presidents, apostles, prophets, high priests, seventies, bishops and other authorities; they are of his appointment, empowered and directed by him, under his influence, teaching his law, unfolding the principles of life, and are organized and ordained expressly to lead the people in the path of exaltation and eternal glory. 7
Oh, if we could comprehend the glory, the intelligence, the power, the majesty and dominion of our heavenly Father! If we could contemplate the exaltation, the glory, the happiness that awaits the righteous, the pure and the virtuous of those that fear God, even the Saints of the Most High! If we could comprehend the great blessings that God has in store for those people that fear Him and observe His laws and keep His commandments, we should feel very different from what we do. But then, we do not. The Lord has brought us from among the different nations, that we may be educated in the things of the kingdom of God. He has conferred the Holy Priesthood for that purpose. And the very organizations that we have, of Stakes and Wards, with their Presidency and Bishops, High Councils, High Priests, Seventies, Elders, Priests, Teachers and Deacons, etc., are placed in the Church by the Almighty to educate and elevate us. 8
We are organized with apostles and prophets: with presidents and their counselors, with bishops and their counselors, with elders, priests, teachers and deacons. We are organized according to the order of God, and these very principles that look small to us emanate from God. We have seventies and high priests, and all these men hold certain positions which it is expected of them that they will fulfil and magnify, here in the flesh, in the interests of truth and righteousness; in the interests of the kingdom of God and in the establishment of correct principles among the Saints of the most High. We are here to cooperate with God in the salvation of the living, in the redemption of the dead, in the blessings of our ancestors, in the pouring out blessings upon our children; we are here for the purpose of redeeming and regenerating the earth on which we live, and God has placed his authority and his counsels here upon the earth for that purpose, that men may learn to do the will of God on the earth as it is done in heaven. This is the object of our existence. And it is for us to comprehend the position. 9
The priesthood has been organized according to the order of God.
[The priesthood] is an order, as I understand it, that is introduced by the Almighty, and by Him alone. It is not of man, nor did it proceed from man; and as it did not proceed from man, neither can it progress nor be perfected by man without the direction of the Almighty. In fact, with all these helps, with all these organizations, with all these principles, owing to the weakness and infirmities of man, we find it difficult to preserve in purity those sacred institutions that God has given unto us, and we continually need the greatest care, humility, self-denial, perseverance, watchfulness and reliance upon God. 10
If we have received any office, or calling, or authority, or any power to administer in any of the ordinances, we have received that from the hand of God, and we can only perform these ordinances according to the priesthood we are permitted to possess. … If we perform our duties, each one of us in our proper position, God gives us power to accomplish the object we have in view, no matter what it is, or what priesthood we hold, no matter whether it is the President of the Church, or the President of the stake, a Bishop, a High Councilor, a High Priest, a Seventy, or an Elder, Priest, Teacher or Deacon; no matter what, if they perform duties with an eye single to the glory of God, he will sustain them in their operations and administrations. 11
You and I may violate our covenants; you and I may trample upon the principles of the Gospel and violate the order of the Priesthood and the commands of God; but among the hosts of Israel there will be thousands and tens of thousands who will be true to the principles of truth, and God in the heavens, the holy angels and the ancient Priesthood that now live where God lives are all united together for the accomplishment of this purpose. The Lord will roll forth His purposes in His own way and in His own time. And having thus organized, as I before stated, it is not for us to act as we may think individually, but as God shall dictate.
We have a regular order in the Church. You brethren, who hold the holy Priesthood, understand these things. Has God not given to every man a portion of His Spirit to profit withal? Yes. Has He not done more than this to the saints who are true and faithful? Has He not given to them the gift of the Holy Ghost? He has, and they know it and realize it. They are brought into communion with each other, and into communion with God and the heavenly hosts. But having this Spirit do we need others to guide us? Yes, all the time. Why? Because of the powers of darkness, the influence of Satan and the weakness of human nature. We need watchmen upon the towers of Zion, who are on the alert to look after the interests of Israel, and to see that God’s people do not go astray. … All the officers necessary for the work of the ministry are to be found in the Church, and everything has been organized according to the order of God. 12
Priesthood should be exercised in kindness, with fidelity to God.
We should have a common sympathy one for another, and feel a kindly regard for the lowest of God’s creations, and especially for the Saints of God, no matter what position they occupy. If any are in error, try to reclaim them by kindness; if they have a bad spirit, show them a better one; if any do not do right, do right yourselves and say, “Come, follow me, as I follow Christ.” Would not that be the right course to pursue? I think it would; that is the way I understand the Gospel. We do not, any of us, have the priesthood for self aggrandizement, or to be used to oppress or take advantage of anybody, or to use improper language; but with all kindness and long suffering and forbearance and with love unfeigned. I will read from the Doctrine and Covenants. …
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, and they do not learn this one lesson—” just the very thing I have been talking about—“That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” Do you think that God will give power to any man only to carry out his own contracted or selfish purposes? I tell you he never will, never, no never. “That they may be conferred on us it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control, or dominion or compulsion, upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold the heavens withdraw themselves, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood of that man.” [See D&C 121:34–37.]
We think sometimes, we are standing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and so we are. But there is no priesthood of the Son of God that authorizes one man to oppress another or to intrude upon his rights in any way. There is no such thing in the category; it does not exist; as it is said—“Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.” [D&C 121:38.] 13
There is no authority associated with the Holy Priesthood except on the principle of persuasion, and no man has a right to plume himself upon any position he occupies in this Church, for he is simply a servant of God, and a servant of the people, and if any man attempts to use any kind of arbitrary authority and act with any degree of unrighteousness God will hold that man to an account for it, and we all of us have to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. We are here as saviors of men, and not as tyrants and oppressors. …
… It is for us who hold the Holy Priesthood to be pure. “Be ye pure that bear the vessels of the Lord.” [See Isaiah 52:11.] It is for each of us to be pure, and then say to others, “follow me, as I follow Jesus.” It is for us to live our religion and obey the laws of God, and perform the duties that devolve upon us. 14
I do not believe in any kind of tyranny. I believe in long-suffering, in mercy, in kindness, in gentleness, and in the love and fear of God. I do not believe that the Priesthood was given to man to exercise dominion and authority over the souls of other men. Everything ought to be done with kindness and long-suffering, yet with fidelity to God. 15
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• Why is it important that order exist within the priesthood? How can this order assist each of us in meeting the needs of those for whom we have responsibility?
• Why are there various offices in the priesthood? (See also Ephesians 4:11–12.) How have you seen that the different priesthood offices assist in “perfecting the Saints”?
• What experiences have you had in which you were blessed for following the counsel of priesthood leaders, even when you didn’t understand or agree with the counsel at first?
• In discussing Christlike leadership, President Taylor encouraged priesthood bearers to live by the words “Come, follow me, as I follow Christ.” How can this counsel bless our relationships with our families and with others? How does honoring women help men honor the priesthood?
• Why does pride diminish or destroy one’s priesthood power? How can we develop the character traits of kindness, long-suffering, forbearance, and love unfeigned? In what ways can we encourage these traits among those with whom we serve in the Church?
• In what ways can you help the Aaronic Priesthood holders in your family and ward prepare for the privilege of holding the Melchizedek Priesthood?