The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8; D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).
In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.
2.1 Priesthood Authority
The priesthood is divided into two parts: the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The Aaronic Priesthood is the lesser priesthood and is “an appendage to … the Melchizedek Priesthood” (see D&C 107:13–14). It is called the Aaronic Priesthood because it was conferred upon Moses’s brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons.
The Aaronic Priesthood includes the keys of the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins (see D&C 13:1; 84:26–27; 107:20). Those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood may be authorized to administer the “outward ordinances” of baptism and the sacrament (see D&C 107:14). The bishop is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward. As part of this responsibility, he administers temporal matters such as welfare and finances in the ward (see D&C 107:68).
The Melchizedek Priesthood is the higher or greater priesthood. It is present and functional whenever the Church of Jesus Christ is upon the earth in its fulness. It was first called “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood” (D&C 107:3–4). Melchizedek was “a great high priest” (D&C 107:2) who lived during the time of Abraham.
Through the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Church leaders guide the Church, direct the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, and administer all the spiritual work of the Church (see D&C 84:19–22; 107:18). The President of the Church is the presiding high priest over the Melchizedek Priesthood.
When a man receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, he covenants to be faithful, to magnify his callings, and to live by every word of God and His servants (see D&C 84:33–44).
Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth. The exercise of priesthood authority is governed by those who hold its keys (see D&C 65:2; 81:2; 124:123). Those who hold priesthood keys have the right to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction.
Jesus Christ holds all the keys of the priesthood pertaining to His Church. He has conferred upon each of His Apostles all the keys that pertain to the kingdom of God on earth. The senior living Apostle, the President of the Church, is the only person on earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys (see D&C 43:1–4; 81:2; 107:64–67, 91–92; 132:7).
Seventies act by assignment and by the delegation of authority from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Area Presidents are assigned to administer areas under the authorization of the First Presidency and the Twelve. The Presidency of the Seventy are set apart and are given the keys to preside over the Quorums of Seventy.
The President of the Church delegates priesthood keys to other priesthood leaders so they can preside in their areas of responsibility. Priesthood keys are bestowed on presidents of temples, missions, stakes, and districts; bishops; branch presidents; and quorum presidents. This presiding authority is valid only for the designated responsibilities and within the geographic jurisdiction of each leader’s calling. When priesthood leaders are released from their callings, they no longer hold the associated keys.
Counselors to priesthood leaders do not receive keys. They are set apart and function in their callings by assignment and delegated authority.
All ward and stake auxiliary organizations operate under the direction of the bishop or stake president, who holds the keys to preside. Auxiliary presidents and their counselors do not receive keys. They receive delegated authority to function in their callings.
Priesthood authority is required to perform the ordinances of the gospel. An ordinance is a sacred physical act with symbolic meaning, such as baptism, confirmation, or the sacrament. Each ordinance opens the door to rich spiritual blessings. The symbolism helps the participants remember the Father’s love, the Son’s Atonement, and the Holy Ghost’s influence.
Ordinances have always been part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptism, for example, was established in the days of Adam and Eve and is practiced in the Lord’s Church today. Church members are commanded to gather together often to partake of the sacrament to remember the Savior always and to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism (see Moroni 6:6; D&C 59:8–9).
Some ordinances are required for exaltation in the celestial kingdom for all accountable persons. These ordinances include baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the temple endowment, and temple sealing. Living members of the Church receive these saving and exalting ordinances themselves. Deceased persons may receive them vicariously. Vicarious ordinances become effective only when the deceased persons for whom the ordinances were performed accept them in the spirit world and honor the related covenants.
For specific information on performing ordinances and on obtaining necessary authorizations, see chapter 20.
All the ordinances necessary for salvation and exaltation are accompanied by covenants with God. A covenant is a sacred and enduring promise between God and His children. God gives the conditions for the covenant, and His children agree to comply with those conditions. God promises blessings that are conditional on the person faithfully fulfilling the covenant.
As Church members honor and keep their covenants, they are greatly blessed in mortality and become eligible for exaltation (see Exodus 19:3–5; Judges 2:1; 3 Nephi 20:25–27; Moroni 10:33; D&C 42:78; 97:8).
To prepare an individual for participation in an ordinance, parents, other family members, priesthood and auxiliary leaders, and teachers ensure that the person understands the covenants he or she will make (see Mosiah 18:8–11). After the ordinance, they help him or her keep those covenants (see Mosiah 18:23–26).