First Presidency Message

The Priesthood of God

By President N. Eldon Tanner

First Counselor in The First Presidency

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    It is a great privilege, blessing, and responsibility to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the priesthood and authority of God directs and administers the affairs of the Church. By and under this authority all ordinances of the Church are administered and received. It is even a greater privilege, blessing, and responsibility to hold this priesthood and authority, and it is about this divine power that I should like to write.

    It would seem that this can best be done by answering questions that have been asked of me, such as:

    1. What is the priesthood?

    2. What is the basis for your claim that your church is the only one having the priesthood or authority from God?

    3. Why do you claim that the priesthood is necessary in administering the affairs of the Church?

    4. Who holds the priesthood?

    5. What are the responsibilities of one who holds the priesthood?

    6. What are the blessings of the priesthood?

    Though I wish to deal with the priesthood as it pertains to the latter days, we must realize, as Brigham Young explained, that the priesthood is the law by which the worlds are, were, and will be brought into existence and peopled. It gives them their revolutions, their days, weeks, months, years, and seasons.

    He further declared the priesthood to be “a perfect system of government, of laws and ordinances, by which we can be prepared to pass from one gate to another, and from one sentinel to another, until we go into the presence of our Father and God.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 139.)

    The priesthood of God was delegated to Adam and passed on down to Abraham, who received it from the great high priest, Melchizedek, “Which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years.

    “And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.

    “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

    “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

    “And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.” (D&C 84:17–21.)

    Now let us refer to the priesthood and its restoration in the latter days and answer the question of why we claim that our church is the only one having the priesthood or authority from God.

    Our fifth Article of Faith states clearly: “We believe that a 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.”

    This statement is in full agreement with that of Paul to the Hebrews. He said, in referring to priesthood ordinations: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Heb. 5:4.)

    One of the distinguishing and important features of the Church is its priesthood, defined so beautifully by President Joseph F. Smith:

    “[The priesthood] is nothing more nor less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and act legitimately; not assuming that authority, nor borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God. …” (Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book Co., 1939 ed.], pp. 139–40.)

    At the time Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon, John the Baptist appeared to them; and, announcing that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the ancient apostles, who held the keys of the higher priesthood, he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph and Oliver in these words:

    “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (D&C 13.)

    Joseph Smith records that later Peter, James, and John ordained him and Oliver Cowdery to be apostles and special witnesses of Jesus Christ to bear the keys of the ministry of his kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times and for the fullness of times. (See D&C 27:12–13.)

    At the time of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lord gave the following revelation to Joseph Smith:

    “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ,

    “Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof, and to build it up unto the most holy faith.” (D&C 21:1–2.)

    The authority of the priesthood cannot be assumed or arrogated to oneself, but must be delegated by God through one having authority. One of the reasons for confusion in the churches today is that man has assumed this authority without proper delegation from the Lord. A man would have no more right to arrogate this priesthood authority unto himself than would one citizen or another decide to be a representative of the king or the parliament or the president of the United States. In fact, if one began to sign papers as their representative, without having been properly appointed, he would be accused of forgery and handled by the law.

    If the world could realize and accept this self-evident truth, it would not be difficult to agree that authority has been given or delegated by the Lord, as it was to Joseph Smith, to organize His church. But we must remember that whenever God places the true priesthood on the earth, there is always present a false priesthood, pretending the powers of the true priesthood. By faith and prayer and the witness of the Holy Spirit, we can distinguish the truth.

    We come now to the third question about the necessity of the priesthood in administering Church affairs. Only by the authority of the priesthood can the ordinances of the gospel be received or administered. Without it one cannot baptize, confirm, ordain, officiate, or hold any presiding office in the Church. In the women’s organizations those holding positions as officers or teachers are called and set apart by priesthood authority.

    In every dispensation of time there has been a leader who has held the priesthood of God. In this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, the priesthood has been restored and is now in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is thus fully authorized to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances. It is evident that the source of the priesthood is the Godhead, and the priesthood held by man is delegated authority, without which delegation our labors would have no efficacy.

    A further reason for the necessity of the priesthood is found in another Article of Faith, number nine, which states: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

    We know that God reveals his mind and will to his servants the prophets, and it is necessary for the Lord to have a priesthood representative through whom he can make known his mind and will and who can in turn serve as his mouthpiece to the members of the Church. Thus, it is necessary to have the priesthood in order to interpret and carry out the purposes of God.

    Our fourth question asks: Who holds the priesthood? We reply that any male who qualifies and is ordained may hold the priesthood and officiate in the office which he holds. However, there seems to be a tendency in the Church today to think that when a boy reaches the age of 12 he automatically is to be given the Aaronic Priesthood and be ordained a deacon, and that he should move forward according to his age in each of the offices in the priesthood, and then again when he is 18 years of age that he should be ordained an elder automatically.

    This is contrary to the teachings of the Church and to the order of the priesthood. Any man, young or old, in order to receive or be advanced in the priesthood should live according to the covenants he makes when he enters the waters of baptism and should be worthy in every way.

    The priesthood is one of the greatest gifts and blessings a man can receive. Every parent, every teacher, every bishop, and every stake president should teach the applicant what the priesthood is, and the presiding authority should then satisfy himself by searching interview before the ordination that the young man is worthy in every way and that he appreciates what the priesthood means to him and what his obligations are. He must also be approved by the body of the priesthood.

    Surely when God authorizes any man to speak or act in his name, whether he be a deacon, teacher, priest, elder, seventy, or high priest, he expects that man to be a worthy representative.

    Imagine a young man 18 years of age being given the authority to teach and baptize and ordain other young men as deacons, teachers, priests, and elders, with the same efficacy as those holding higher positions in the Church. Imagine what a great responsibility, privilege, and honor comes to him. Again we cannot overemphasize the importance of being worthy of this great blessing and of being an example to the world.

    Questions five and six deal with the responsibilities and blessings of the priesthood. One who holds the priesthood is to accept any office to which he may be called, or any assignment given by his presiding officer, to magnify his priesthood and to serve his fellowmen. Remember that the Lord said:

    “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.”

    And he follows with this great promise: “… therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:33, 38.) All is conditioned upon the magnifying of the priesthood.

    We should all read, study, and understand the 84th and 107th sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, which deal with the priesthood.

    I shall never forget the importance my father placed on the responsibilities of one holding the priesthood. Though we lived on a farm and were fully occupied, he emphasized that my priesthood duties came first. I was raised with the slogan and the belief that “if you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all other things for your good will be added unto you,” which my experience and observation have proven to be right. My father also gave me opportunity in our home to function in my priesthood office and calling in blessing the sick, or other appropriate service.

    One never knows what influence he may have on those with whom he is associated or how he will affect their lives. As priesthood holders, we must set an example of uprightness; be honest in all our dealings; avoid vulgarity and profanity; demonstrate to our neighbors and all whom we meet that we live clean, honorable lives. Keep the commandments.

    We should strive for peace and harmony in our homes and let this influence spread throughout the world. It is the responsibility of priesthood holders to maintain the standards of the Church fully and at all times encourage others to do the same. We must love our neighbors as ourselves and extend a helping hand to those in need.

    The priesthood is for the blessing of all—men, women, and children. Through the priesthood we receive and administer the ordinances of the gospel, which include baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, all temple ordinances, including sealings for time and all eternity, and work for the dead. By the power of the priesthood the sick are healed, the lame made to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, according to their faith and the will of our Father in heaven. Blessings of the priesthood comfort those who mourn, and give aid to the stricken.

    Indeed, if we were to understand the full force of what all this means, probably we would feel as Oliver Cowdery expressed himself in describing the appearance of John the Baptist to restore the Aaronic Priesthood and thus commence the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth:

    “On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came clothed with glory and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance. What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld—our ears heard. As in the ‘blaze of day;’ yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature! Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory—’twas a message from the Most High, and as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were rapt in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk, no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 43.)

    In a discussion of the priesthood, President J. Reuben Clark made this observation: If civil government of any of our communities were to be suddenly wiped out, the Church organization could govern the community if it were given the necessary civil sanction. He stated that the teachers, who are to keep the Church in order, could act as a police force. Bishops would be authorized to hold courts; high councils and presidents of stakes would hold other courts, both appellate and original jurisdiction, with an appeal to the presidency of the Church from a decision. Then he says that the authority resides in the President of the Church to make all necessary rules and regulations for the government of the people.

    It is clear that the organization of the priesthood is complete and perfect and is available and ready as and when the Lord comes to rule upon the earth.

    An outstanding example of the perfect organization and power of the priesthood is the one explained by President Harold B. Lee regarding his experience when he was called in 1935 to organize the Church welfare program to turn the tide from government relief and put the Church in a position where it could care for its own needy people. He said that as he prayed fervently to the Lord for guidance as to the kind of organization that should be set up, he received the clear answer: “There is no new organization necessary to take care of the needs of this people. All that is necessary is to put the priesthood of God to work. There is nothing else you need as a substitute.” This was done, and the welfare program has gone forward and is a monument to the power of the priesthood and is a model for the world.

    Let us today each pledge our loyalty and devotion to the priesthood of God and follow the leader who is the mouthpiece of the Lord here upon the earth. As we do so we will not only contribute to the peace and happiness of ourselves and our families, but through service to our fellowmen we will be serving the Lord and preparing ourselves to dwell in his house forever.