Lesson 2: The Keys of the Priesthood

Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, (2000), 8–18


The purpose of this lesson is to improve our understanding of the meaning and use of the priesthood keys.

Introduction

A key unlocks the door to a house. We cannot appropriately enter a house unless we receive the key or the owner’s permission. Likewise, except for the right that husbands and fathers have to bless their families, a man who holds the priesthood can use it only when he receives proper permission. A priest, for example, has the authority to ordain another to an office in the Aaronic Priesthood, but he cannot do it without receiving permission to do so from his bishop or branch president. This power to give permission is called the keys of the priesthood.

“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” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 136).

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained: “These keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth. Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood. All of us may hold the priesthood, but we can only use it as authorized and directed so to do by those who hold the keys” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 98; or Ensign, July 1972, 87).

  • What is the difference between the priesthood and the keys of the priesthood? (The priesthood is the power or authority of God. The keys are the right to use this power or authority in specific ways.)

Who Holds the Keys of the Priesthood?

Jesus Christ has always held all of the keys of the priesthood. When He first called His twelve Apostles, Jesus gave all of them the priesthood (see John 15:16).

  • Show visual 2-a, “Christ ordained His Apostles and gave them the keys of the priesthood.”

Before He was crucified, Christ gave the keys of the priesthood to Peter, James, and John. This was done on the Mount of Transfiguration. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 158; Matthew 17:1–9.) However, in the centuries that followed the death of the Apostles, these keys were lost; and before men could exercise the priesthood again, these keys had to be restored. For this reason the Lord sent Peter, James, and John to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of that priesthood (see D&C 27:12–13).

These sacred keys have been given to all the Apostles and prophets of the Church and are held by the prophet and Apostles of the Church today.

Although each Apostle holds all the keys of the priesthood, it is the Lord’s plan that only one man at a time exercise these keys on behalf of the Church. For this reason the senior living Apostle (by date of ordination, not by age) is ordained President of the Church by the Quorum of the Twelve and given the right to exercise all the keys of the priesthood. When he dies, the remaining Apostles ordain the next senior living Apostle (the President of the Quorum of the Twelve) to use his apostolic keys in their fulness as President of the Church.

The President of the Church, therefore, is the only man on earth who has the power to exercise all of the keys of the priesthood (see D&C 132:7). However, he delegates certain keys to the leaders who preside in the Church. These men include mission presidents, branch presidents, temple presidents, stake presidents, bishops, and Melchizedek Priesthood quorum presidents. They in turn delegate a portion of their authority (but not their keys) to men and women in their units by setting them apart to different offices and callings.

President Joseph F. Smith explained: “In their fulness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor. Thus, the president of a temple, the president of a stake, the bishop of a ward, the president of a mission, the president of a quorum, each holds the keys of the labors performed in that particular body or locality. His Priesthood is not increased by this special appointment” (Gospel Doctrine, 136).

Some rights are given to a man automatically when he is given the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. For instance, when a man receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, he is given the authority to give father’s blessings, to give blessings of comfort, and to administer to the sick. He will hold these rights as long as he bears that priesthood. Even death cannot take this authority from him.

However, there are certain rights that one can be given that are only temporary. A branch president, for example, holds the keys of his branch only for the time he remains branch president. When he is released from that position, he no longer holds these keys.

Importance of Priesthood Keys

When a person is called to a temporary Church assignment as an officer or teacher, he is set apart to that calling. The Church officer holding the keys to that calling gives the individual the right to act in that calling in the setting-apart blessing. Thereafter, no one else can act in his calling—just as he cannot assume the duties of someone else’s job. The individual retains this right until he is released from the position. This release is given by the presiding officer; afterward the individual no longer holds the right to act in that position. Church members may be set apart to serve in positions of Church service for a period of weeks, months, or years. The length of service is according to need, individual performance, and the Lord’s guidance to the presiding officer.

Although both men and women can be set apart to callings, only priesthood bearers are ordained to priesthood offices. These offices include deacon, teacher, priest, elder, high priest, bishop, patriarch, Seventy, and Apostle. Ordination to any of these offices enables a person to serve the Church in specific ways—but only, as discussed earlier, when given permission to do so by those who hold the keys of the priesthood.

The following story shows how the proper use of priesthood keys keeps order in the Church:

In the early days of the Church, Hiram Page assumed he had the authority to reveal the word of the Lord to the Church. He began telling others about his revelations, and many members of the Church believed everything he taught. The Prophet Joseph Smith prayed and asked the Lord what to do. The Lord answered him, saying, “No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 28:2). The Lord also said that Joseph should tell Hiram Page that the things Hiram had been teaching and writing were from the devil. The Lord explained that Hiram was not the one to receive revelations for the Church: “These things have not been appointed unto him. … For all things must be done in order” (see D&C 28:11–13).

The Prophet Joseph did as the Lord instructed. He met with Hiram Page and told him what the Lord had said. Humbled in spirit, Brother Page expressed his sorrow and promised to stop what he had been doing. Seeing his repentance, Joseph asked him to go on a mission. Later, at a conference, the Prophet told the members of the Church what the Lord had revealed and asked them to forget what Hiram Page had taught them. They all agreed and voted to accept Joseph as their only prophet, seer, and revelator. (See History of the Church, 1:109–15.)

  • Why is it important that only one man exercise all the keys to the priesthood?

The Lord’s Church Is a “House of Order”

Because the priesthood is sacred, we are told to use it with care. The priesthood is therefore governed in an orderly way to avoid confusion and prevent its misuse. “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (D&C 132:8).

Such order has always been a part of the Lord’s kingdom on earth. Moses, for example, learned the necessity of order soon after he was called to lead the Israelites. The Israelites needed leadership to keep them united, but Moses found it impossible to guide all the people by himself. He therefore chose “able men, such as fear God, men of truth” and called them to be rulers. He set apart some to be rulers of hundreds, some to be rulers of fifties, and others to be rulers of tens. He then taught them how to preside over their groups. (See Exodus 18:17–22.)

Today our priesthood leaders—bishops and stake, district, mission, branch, and quorum presidents—are given the keys of the priesthood so we can be led in an orderly way and receive the necessary ordinances of the gospel. Church leaders have many responsibilities because they hold keys of the priesthood. These responsibilities include:

  • Interviewing those who are to receive ordinances.

  • Explaining the importance of the ordinances.

  • Determining whether members are ready to receive the ordinances.

  • Keeping necessary records.

  • Determining the worthiness of those who are to perform the ordinances.

  • Asking someone to conduct the services of the Church.

  • Asking for a sustaining vote from the members of the Church.

A Father Has Keys to Bless His Family

By appointment of the Lord, a father is head of his home. To be effective as the spiritual head of his family, he must bear his priesthood honorably. If he does so, he will have the power to guide and bless his family in love and harmony.

  • What keys do we hold as heads of our families? What do these keys allow us to do for our family members?

The priesthood can bring many wonderful blessings into our lives. Bishop H. Burke Peterson listed some of these: “If we live [in a way which will prepare us to receive it], ours can be a power given us from our Heavenly Father that will bring peace to a troubled household. Ours can be a power that will bless and comfort little children, that will bring sleep to tear-stained eyes in the [early] hours of the morning. Ours can be the power that will … calm the unsettled nerves of a tired wife. Ours can be the power that will give direction to a confused and vulnerable teenager. Ours, the power to bless a daughter before she goes on her first date or before her temple marriage, or to bless a son before his departure for a mission or college. … Ours can be the power to heal the sick and comfort the lonely” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 50–51; or Ensign, May 1976, 33).

  • How do you feel about a worthy father having the power and authority to bless his wife and children? How would you feel if a member of your family asked you for such a blessing?

Sister Kyuln Lee of Korea received the comfort of a priesthood blessing in her home. She told the following story:

“It happened about seven years ago, when my first baby was only ten months old. My husband, a member of the Korea District presidency, had to travel long distances almost every weekend to carry out his assignments for the Church, leaving me alone with our daughter, Po Hee. On this particular weekend, he had traveled 270 miles to Pusan on Saturday (a seven-hour train ride each way) and then returned to Seoul that night to attend conference in the Seoul East Branch on Sunday. It was tiring, and I felt sorry for him.

“Po Hee was in normal health Saturday and Sunday, and, though she was a bit noisy at sacrament meeting, after we returned home she drank her bottle and went to sleep. About 9:30 P.M. she began to cry. She was crying louder than usual, and when I picked her up, I discovered she had a high fever. I didn’t know what to do. I found out that the only hospital near our home had closed for the day. Her cries continued for some time, and when my husband finally walked in the door, I started crying, too.

“My husband embraced the baby and me together and asked what was wrong. Po Hee looked miserable. When I told him what had happened, he put down his coat and briefcase and took out his consecrated oil. Then he administered to our daughter. I don’t remember all the words but after saying the formal words of administration he went on: ‘Heavenly Father, I’m grateful for life, for my wife and baby. I’m grateful for this restored gospel and the opportunity to serve. You sent me down to Pusan and Seoul East Branch to handle some Church affairs. I have fulfilled my given responsibility yesterday and today, and now I find my baby very ill. You have helped me all the time. Please help me tonight.’

“Before he concluded the prayer, the baby was asleep, and when I looked up, my husband stood there with tears in his eyes.

“Our little girl is now in the second grade and is healthy and happy, but I can still remember very clearly the part of my husband’s prayer where he told the Lord, ‘I have fulfilled my given responsibility yesterday and today.’ I hope I will continue to support him so that he can always tell the Lord he has been obedient. What a blessing to have a husband who honors the priesthood!” (“Our Baby, My Husband, and the Priesthood,” Ensign, Aug. 1975, 65).

Special priesthood blessings are available to all family members. A child with a problem or a wife in need of comfort or guidance can request a special blessing and thereby receive the help she or he needs from the Lord. In receiving such blessings, we need to remember that many trials are for our experience. We should work them out as best we can ourselves. But when we find that we need extra help, we can turn to a priesthood holder in our family, our home teachers, or another priesthood leader and ask for a special priesthood blessing.

  • Invite a few class members to share briefly some of the blessings their families have received through the priesthood.

“The father must hunger and thirst and yearn to bless his family, go to the Lord, ponder the words of God, and live by the Spirit to know the mind and will of the Lord and what he must do to lead his family” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties [1974], 185).

“[In addition to providing this kind of leadership,] a worthy father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood should be encouraged to name and bless his children. He should administer to the sick in his home. … He may give a father’s blessing.

“As the Patriarch of his home, a father is also a revelator to his family … and … in this sense stands in line to receive the revelations from the Lord for the good and blessing of that family (see Doctrines of Salvation, 3:172)” (A. Theodore Tuttle, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 86; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 66–67). Worthy fathers should also baptize their children, confirm upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and ordain them to the priesthood. However, unlike the rights associated with his fatherhood, a father can perform these ordinances only after receiving permission from the priesthood leaders who hold the keys in his Church unit.

Conclusion

Although we have the authority to perform certain ordinances as priesthood holders, we cannot perform some of them until we have received permission from our Church leaders to do so. The power to give this permission is called the keys of the priesthood. The prophet is the only man on earth who holds all the priesthood keys, but he has given some of these keys to the leaders who preside over the units of the Church; they in turn grant us permission to use our priesthood to bless Heavenly Father’s children.

Also, when we are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, we receive certain keys for use as fathers. With these keys we can use the priesthood to bless our families.

Challenge

Prayerfully consider how you can use your priesthood to bless your family members.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Study 1 Corinthians 12:12–28.

  2. 2.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.