Thursday, September 3, 2009

Keys of the Priesthood

The Presiding Keys of Authority

On May 4, 1842, in a meeting above his store in Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph instructed his brethren

. . . in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. (TPJS, 237, emphasis added).

Even though Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had been ordained by angelic ministrants in the persons of John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, to the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods before the Church was organized, a new day had dawned upon the world in 1842. The knowledge of the use of the keys of the priesthood had been restored to give us the access to the power of God and the authority (or order) of God, as neither would prove a blessing without the other. Where there is power there must be order to direct it, and where there is order there must be power to preserve it.

Every member of the Church should understand this grand set of priesthood keys operates in two dimensions -- the administrative (authority) and the spiritual (power). In this post (and the next) we will examine each dimension. This much is clear. When used administratively priesthood keys are the exclusive domain of those ordained to the priesthood and set apart to positions of authority in the vertical organization of the Church. When used to access the spiritual powers of heaven, known as the gifts of the spirit, however, these keys are the domain of all the saints who have equal claim upon them with or without priesthood ordination.

The ideal, of course, would be to live in a world where every priesthood holder in the Church appreciates and values the administrative and the spiritual aspects of the keys they hold. Confusion ensues in the implementation of priesthood-directed initiatives whenever priesthood holders are focused to extreme on either one or the other aspect of these keys. A hyper-spiritual leader with no concept of his administrative responsibilities could be just as damaging in his ministry as the hyper-manager who has never had a spiritual experience in his ministry. The truth is there is always something of the leader and the manager in each of us, and this is as it should be -- Brigham Young is a good example. This prophet leader was a spiritual giant and a consummate detail manager. The challenge is to remember which is which, and to apply the appropriate dosage of each in our duties and opportunities.

The authority dimension of the presiding keys is referred to as “the right of presidency.” (See D&C 107:8). This is the authority God gives his servants to act within certain bounds according to their positions in the Church. Only the authorized ministrations by priesthood holders operating in proper channels are legally binding and acceptable before him. (D&C 132:8-10). These keys are variously referred to in the scriptures as “the keys of the priesthood,” (see D&C 132:7; 124:34, 123), “the keys of the kingdom,” (see D&C 81:2; 128:14), and “the keys of the oracles of God,” (see D&C 90: 4-5; 124:39, 124).

The Keys of the Priesthood

These presiding keys are often called “the keys of the priesthood” for at least two reasons: First, these presiding keys of authority are exclusive to the priesthood, and are handled and controlled only by those ordained to the priesthood; secondly, the keys pertain to offices or positions in the priesthood. (D&C 107:9).

The Keys of the Kingdom

The presiding keys are also called “the keys of the kingdom.” (D&C 81:2). By virtue of these keys God’s servants preside in his kingdom on earth, have authority to officiate in all the offices or positions and perform or administer all the ordinances thereof. Because of these rights, his servants may also enjoy the wherewithal to discern all the spiritual gifts or powers operative in the lives of the members of the kingdom to ensure they are of God. (See D&C 46:27).

The Keys of the Oracles of God

Sometimes these keys of presidency are called “the keys of the oracles of God,” because they give God’s servants the right to ask and receive revelation pertaining to the direction of his Church upon the earth. (D&C 90:1-6). They also give his servants the authority to speak for God. Anciently, the holy of holies in Solomon’s Temple was called “the oracle,” or the place where conversations with God took place. (See 1 Kings 6:16, 10-23).

The full scope of these presiding priesthood keys is the absolute and exclusive right given of God to preside in the priesthood, direct the kingdom, access the mind of God and speak for him in accomplishing his will in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on earth. These keys are shared (delegated) down through priesthood offices according to the various positions in the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “. . .the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which. . .” God is pleased. (D&C 1:30). While he always respects and holds inviolate the eternal principle of free agency, his Church is not a democracy. It is, rather, a perfect theocracy where all things must be done in order according to the order of the priesthood he has restored.

Only those holding the presiding keys of authority can direct the affairs of the kingdom. We are required to have humility like John the Baptist to never transcend our bounds and respect the order of the priesthood. (See TPJS, 336).

The presiding keys of authority contemplate the breadth, the depth and the height of all priesthood offices. Only one man at a time on the earth holds these keys in the fullness of their ecclesiastical scope. (D&C 132:7). This man, of course, is the President of the High Priesthood, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prophet, Seer and Revelator. Since the keys reside collectively among the Twelve Apostles, after being duly ordained to his position usually by the next senior Apostle among the Twelve Apostles, the President of the High Priesthood can then activate all the priesthood keys in directing the affairs of the entire kingdom under the direction of his head, the Lord Jesus Christ. He carries out his administration in council with his brethren of The Council of the First Presidency. This council, comprised of three high priests, represents the highest ecclesiastical authority of the priesthood on earth.

President Kimball describes how this mantle of authority passes from one prophet to another in these words:

Then more recently, the day after [President Joseph Fielding Smith’s] funeral, in July 1972, there came to the Presidency of the Church, President Harold B. Lee, tried and true, educated in the program, spiritual, and above all, called of the Lord. The mantle changed its residence again. It fell on the newly ordained and set apart prophet and President, Harold B. Lee. We have seen this man, already trained and spiritual, grow and magnify his calling. As we see him make pronouncements and decisions, we recognize in them all the voice of the shepherd, the leader of men, a prophet of the Lord, the mantle bearer. (TSWK, 467).

These keys give the President the right of presidency over the entire Church. By them he has right to preside over and to officiate in all the offices or positions in the Church. (D&C 107:8-9). With these keys he watches over the Church and discerns all the spiritual gifts and operations active in the Church. (D&C 46:16, 27, 29).

The President of the Church also has the right through use of these presiding keys to delegate to others and to endow others with certain rights and authorities for the benefit of the kingdom. For example, while only he holds the sealing keys the authority to perform sealings for and on behalf of the saints in our temples is conferred upon many others. Likewise, while he is the head, others are called to preside over and shepherd various congregations of the saints. Many who have held these presiding positions can attest to the spiritual mantle accompanying and blessing their ministrations to others within their stewardships as they have served in these priesthood offices.

The next level of general authority holding presiding keys over the Church is The Quorum (or The Council) of the Twelve Apostles. These Twelve Apostles act as a governing body under their head, The Quorum (or The Council) of the First Presidency. The First and Second Quorums (or Councils) of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric are the other two general governing bodies holding presiding keys in the Church today. As the Church has grown numerically the Seventies (currently eight quorums) have been deployed throughout the earth in Area Presidencies, regulating the affairs of the Church in large geographical areas once covered by only the Twelve Apostles. Area Authorities likewise operate with localized general authority to assist as directed by the General Authorities in the affairs of the stakes.

Each of these governing bodies, no matter what its numerical size (3, 12, or 70), has a head. Each presiding quorum in the Church is an order, and has an order in it. This principle extends down the vertical organization chart to areas, regions, stakes, missions, wards, quorums and families. Each head at each level holds presiding keys within the scope of their callings in the kingdom. Each is limited in his authority, however, by a specific stewardship.

While we often refer to only the Prophet as “The Lord’s Anointed,” by extension all these positions of authority may constitute the Lord’s anointed. Each endowed member of the Church has covenanted not to speak evil of these servants. God has put this order in place in his kingdom for the blessing of his children, the building up of his kingdom and the establishment of Zion.

Honoring and sustaining the Lord’s anointed servants in every position from the greatest to the least is absolutely the key to the eventual perfection of God’s people. From the days of Moses and Aaron in the wilderness this has been the litmus test of Israel’s faithfulness. The test is no different today. Legions are the examples of those who could not accept counsel from the hands of the Lord’s servants.

Submitting to Priesthood Authority

Submitting to the Lord’s anointed has always been one of ancient and modern Israel’s greatest tests. Submitting requires humility and faith. It presupposes absolute trust and confidence that this order of priesthood administered through imperfect mortal men will really bless our lives.

President Kimball pled with the saints not to repeat the mistakes of the past:

Now a word of warning: Let us not make the error of the ancients. Numerous modern sectarians believe in the Abrahams, the Moseses, and the Pauls, but resist believing in today’s prophets. The ancients also could accept the prophets of an earlier day, but denounced and cursed the ones who were their contemporaries. (Ensign, May 1977, 77-8).

Each man who holds these presiding keys at whatever level in the kingdom sits in positions of leadership during mortality as an imperfect and fallen mortal. Unlike the Catholics we have no infallibility doctrine for the Prophet. Joseph said, “A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (TPJS, 278).

He never gave allusions to his perfection, nor should we put a similar expectation on our current leaders. Joseph also said:

I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities. (TPJS, 268).

There was only one perfect High Priest, the Lord himself. None of these servants is omniscient. Despite the obvious the order is not altered. Even when men dishonor their callings in the kingdom this ancient, now restored, order of priesthood continues to bless us in our imperfections. The order in God’s earthly kingdom is intended not to govern perfect men, but to facilitate our journey toward perfection. Our role is to humbly obey the Lord by sustaining the order of his anointed servants at every level despite all our imperfections.

To submit to the position in the order is not to submit to the person. The authority of God is what the position represents. The person is our imperfect equal. Submitting to the position does not make us inferior to the person serving in the position. In humbly submitting to the position we manifest charity, our love and allegiance to God and our love and respect for his called servant who fills it. This is a fundamental principle in God’s kingdom. In sustaining or rejecting the one sent we sustain or reject the One who sent them.

The Gospel of John shows Christ to be the paragon of one who is sent. Emphasis throughout the following citations is added. Christ said:

If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. (John 8:42).

I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38).

My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (John 7:16).

The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. (John 14:24).

He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which sent him. (John 5:23).

John demonstrates the extension of this same principle to all whom Christ sends. The Savior said:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. (John 13:20).

As my father hath sent me, even so send I you. (John 20:21).

In our dispensation the Lord said it this way:

For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father. (D&C 84:36-37).

To speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, the servants he has sent to us, is to speak evil of the Lord who sent them. To reject the Lord’s anointed is to reject the Lord. While the Lord’s servants are our peers as persons, they represent him in their positions. When we interact with one of his authorized servants, for instance a quorum president, we are in a very real sense interacting with the Lord who sent them despite their mortal imperfections.

President Joseph Fielding Smith made this bold declaration and invitation to people in and out of the Church:

We are the servants of the Lord. We have received light and truth and revelation from him. He has commanded us to proclaim his truths and live his laws. And so now, in harmony with his mind and will, and as guided by his Holy Spirit, we give counsel and direction to the Saints and to the world. . .
We invite all our Father’s children, everywhere, to believe in Christ, to receive him as he is revealed by living prophets, and to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(“Counsel to the Saints and to the World,” Ensign, 2:27 [July 1972], emphasis added).

We need two essential gifts if we are to righteously interact with each other in the order of the priesthood God has given us: 1) A testimony we are submitting to true representatives sent of the Lord; and 2) the charity to humbly sustain each other as imperfect peers in these vertical positions of authority.

The Church’s stated threefold mission is to build the kingdom and establish Zion by preaching the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming our dead. It is the work of gathering all things in heaven and earth together in one. If we are not one, we are not his. (D&C 38:27). If we do not become one, there will be no Zion, where all are of one heart and one mind. (Moses 7:18).

The only way imperfect, ignorant mortal people like us will ever become a Zion society is to come together under our heads and submit our will to God’s will humbly and meekly at the hands of his anointed representatives. As families and couples we must become one, as quorums and wards we must become one, as stakes and missions we must become one under our heads, the Lord’s anointed.

According to President Harold B. Lee, accepting and sustaining the leaders of the Church is a valid test of our true conversion:

Now I want to impress this upon you. Someone has said it this way, and I believe it to be absolutely true: “That person is not truly converted until he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church, and until it goes down into his heart like fire.” Until the members of this church have that conviction that they are being led in the right way, and they have a conviction that these men of God are men who are inspired and have been properly appointed by the hand of God, they are not truly converted. (“The Strength of the Priesthood,” Ensign, 2:102-3 [July 1972]).

President Lee also admitted that to humbly accept and follow counsel from our leaders in the Church often requires great patience and faith:

We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, “as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” (D&C 21:4-5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and “the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”
. . . Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church. (CR, October 1970, 152-3, emphasis added).

This test of followership is the grand key of true discipleship. Disciples are followers of their Master. Many profess to be disciples of Christ, but some are “selective” disciples. Some really do follow, while others cannot. Some will have the humility and meekness to submit, while others will be too proud to yield. These scriptural terms submit and yield recur throughout The Book of Mormon. In the mission field, in wards and stakes of the Church, some members can submit, others never will. Obedience has always required the meekness of humility.

Most members in the Church are aware of these presiding keys of the priesthood. They touch our lives at least as often as every Sunday in our ward meetings. Fewer are conversant with how priesthood keys operate as the spiritual keys of power within the dimension of personal revelation. We can learn much about these precious priesthood keys in the scriptures and in the temple.

In the same meeting cited at the opening of this post, Joseph said:

. . . there was nothing made know to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints. (TPJS, 237, emphasis added).

The temple is the “proper place” Joseph referred to above. If the temple is the classroom, the scriptures are the textbooks. Our knowledge of one supplements the other. We learn about these precious spiritual keys line upon line, precept upon precept. In the next post we will discuss the spiritual use of priesthood keys.

This post is essentially Chapter 11 of Power and Covenants: Men, Women and Priesthood. You may obtain a complete free manuscript by requesting one at

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