Power in the Priesthood
Everything done in the name of the priesthood must be done by the power of the spirit or it is nothing. The priesthood authorizes us to preach the gospel. However, we also believe a person must be called by the spirit of prophecy to preach the gospel. (5th Article of Faith).
We know we have authority to teach the gospel if we are “set apart” by the priesthood to teach, but we learn from the scriptures we must teach by the spirit or not at all:
And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if you receive not the spirit ye shall not teach. (D&C 42:14).
All are to preach the Gospel, by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost; and no man can preach the Gospel without the Holy Ghost. (TPJS, p. 112).
Having authority to teach is one thing, having power to teach is another. Righteous and wise men like the sons of Mosiah will always desire both the authority and the power to teach. These valiant priesthood brethren had the spirit of prophecy and revelation. “When they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:3).
Another dimension of priesthood authority is to preside and conduct meetings. Even in this elementary priesthood duty we are admonished to conduct them by the spirit:
But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. (D&C 46:2).
We always need the power of the spirit to fully effectuate the authority of the priesthood. We administer ordinances and callings by the authority of the priesthood. These also must be performed under the direction of the Holy Spirit:
Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him. (D&C 20:60).
The pattern should be self-evident. There must be authority delegated by those in positions to sanction what is done in the Church, but if all things are not done by the power of the spirit these hollow administrative works done in the spirit of men’s wisdom are ultimately consumed on the bonfire of the works of men “from whence there is no return.” (3 Nephi 27:10-11).
Power and Authority
Priesthood, then, consists of two dimensions -- power and authority. Authority is a function of position, whereas power is a function of person. A person’s power comes from whatever portion of the spirit dwells within him. The degree of spirit a person possesses can be traced directly to personal righteousness, which is always a direct result of his faith: The more faith, the more righteousness; the more righteousness, the more spirit; the more spirit, the more power. Neither men nor women need authority to have this power. The Holy Ghost bestows portions or endowments, gifts or fruits of the spirit to men and women according to this law of the gospel.
Authority comes through calling and ordination to a position. It is a designation of vertical ecclesiastical domain. A man’s priesthood defines the bounds of his jurisdiction and authority in the kingdom. It designates what he can do, when he can do it, where he can do it, how he can do it and to whom he can do it.
All things must be done in order. No one, not even God, may transcend his bounds and remain justified. (D&C 88:36-39; Alma 42:25; TPJS, 336). Some people have authority and some people have power. Some have neither and others have both. Those who have one or the other, or both, have them in varying degrees.
A priest has authority to baptize by water. A deacon does not. A priest cannot overstep his bounds and confirm someone by the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. He does not have that authority. An elders quorum president has less dominion (his quorum only) than a stake president (the whole stake), though both have authority to preside.
The person with the most power (not authority) in that stake (an arbitrary geographical Church boundary) might be someone who has no authority to preside over stake or quorum at all. Power is a function of the portion of spirit a man or woman possesses, which is a function of their personal righteousness, which is a function of their faith. This is according to the law of the gospel. The most successful and happy priesthood leaders in our experience have been the ones who have learned how to combine their spiritual power through the gifts of the spirit with the authority of their positions in the Church. Not surprisingly, they are also the ones most loved by those they serve.
Stewardship, Not Ownership
The priesthood does not give us the right to do whatever we want. The priesthood only gives us the right to do what we want when it is what God wants. This is an important clarification. We do not own our priesthood. Priesthood is given freely as a stewardship. It is God’s to give as he wills. We are entrusted with this stewardship to do his will, not ours. There is no power in our will, because we are fallen mortal people. God’s priesthood power will not work contrary to his will.
We must have the spirit to guide us, to reveal his will to us so our will harmonizes with his. “Not my will, but thine, be done,” is the key. (Luke 22:42). Please do not misunderstand this point. We can do our will in using the priesthood, but only if our will is brought into subjection to God’s will. Sometimes this means our will as his children will be swallowed up in his will as our Father. (Mosiah 15:7). Because we are still little children, we must learn to submit “to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us].” (Mosiah 3:19). Father always knows best.
This is why we must learn to counsel with him in all our doings, so he will be directing us. (Alma 37:37). We will then have confidence and power in the priesthood, knowing what we do is according to his will as the Holy Ghost becomes our constant guide. (D&C 121:46). As we ask in the spirit, it will be done. (D&C 46:30).
Only by the fruits of the spirit can we maintain power or influence with our priesthood. (See D&C 88:41-42; Galatians 5:22). No power can be maintained by the priesthood except by the spirit. We can only do that which is according to God’s will with the priesthood, and we must have the spirit to know God’s will.
Well-meaning people sometimes try to do their own will with the priesthood, not realizing it might be contrary to God’s will. They get no results and wonder why. The answer is they are still learning how to control the power. Priesthood ordinations only confer the right to control power subject to doing what God wants. Ordination is not a license for the setting and achieving of self-willed goals.
Let the husband and father learn to bend his will to the will of his God, and then instruct his wives and children in this lesson of self-government by his example as well as by precept, and his neighbors also, showing them how to be brave and steadfast, in subduing the rebellious and sinful disposition. Such a course as this will eventually subdue that unhallowed influence which works upon the human heart. (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widstoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], 198).
A good example of how we learn this lesson is the story of Amulek and Alma. (See Alma 14). Amulek is a junior companion. He is new in the ministry and is still learning. He and Alma have been bound and brought to the place of martyrdom, where they are forced to watch the women and children being burned. Amulek says in effect, “Let’s stretch forth our hands and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save these people.” (See verse 10). He did not yet understand using the priesthood to do God’s will. If he had stretched forth his hand, nothing would have happened.
Alma, the senior companion, knew more. He said, “The spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth my hand.” He understood only the Holy Spirit gave him power in the priesthood, and that power only came by doing the will of God.
The authors have been asked to give many priesthood blessings. We have come to learn we have no power in and of ourselves. We can only promise and bless people according to the will of God revealed to us through the power of the spirit. One of the authors was asked by his friend to bless his baby. The spirit constrained him from promising the baby anything. He simply blessed the baby that he and his parents would be comforted. He could do no more, because he had not been directed to anything more. The baby died soon thereafter.
On another occasion, he was called to give a blessing to a woman who had been unable to bear children. After 18 years of fervent prayer she and her husband finally conceived a child. Her pregnancy was threatened, however, with a premature miscarriage. The doctors said, “There is no way the fetus will survive,” but when he blessed her the spirit said to her through him, “You will have this baby.”
This woman was promised in the name of Jesus Christ by the spirit of revelation within this priesthood brother that she would fulfill her mission of bringing that baby into the world. It was given to him to say God would wrap the baby in his light, and keep it safe until the time of its birth (still about six months away). The priesthood holder said nothing of his own accord. He recognized and spoke the Lord’s will. We do not have any power. We are not the giver and taker of life. By the power of the spirit we are God’s mouth, we are not acting on our own. We are only the humble steward, always seeking to do the will of the master. That is the way of the priesthood. The baby was born as promised.
Blessing, Not Asking
We always have the right to petition God regarding our own wills. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Any loving father is always interested in his beloved children’s hopes and desires. Our Father in Heaven is no different. This is called prayer when we ask certain things at his hands.
Priesthood blessings, however, are not prayers. By the authority of the Holy Priesthood and in the power of the Holy Spirit we have the right to handle and control upon the principles of righteousness, we are acting as God’s agents. It is our responsibility to perform his will, pronouncing authoritative blessings, bestowing specific gifts, and commanding various elements by the spirit of prophecy and revelation according to the faith and worthiness of his children. We must be in tune with the spirit.
If we have a personal desire to do something by the power of the priesthood, we must first petition him for permission to use the priesthood in that way. Otherwise, when requests for blessings are made we simply listen to the spirit and perform the blessings as the spirit dictates. Then the blessings are not of men but of God.