Many years ago, a missionary son asked, “How is it that women can officiate in temple ordinances, inasmuch as they do not have the priesthood? By what authority do they do those things?”
That’s an excellent question, and this one does have an answer! The handout (see attached - click to enlarge, download it or print it to read the small print, or ask me for a pdf version) from today’s lesson outlines the priesthood holders (men only) who hold priesthood keys in the hierarchical structure of the organization (those on the right side of the handout). I have written for years about this topic.
The presiding keys of authority within the Church are very specific, and are held only by those who preside at the various levels of the Church. The President of the High Priesthood, the President of the Church, holds all the priesthood keys (see D&C 132:7). There is only one man on the earth at a time who holds all the keys of the priesthood. In actuality, however, he receives those keys through ordination by all the Apostles, since the keys reside in The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Until an Apostle rises to the first position in seniority (based on his ordination date), those keys remain dormant with each individual Apostle. If two Apostles are ordained on the same day, the one who is older by age is senior in the Quorum.
The authority dimension of the presiding keys is referred to as “the right of presidency.” (See D&C 107:8). According to their positions in the Church, God gives his servants authority to act within certain bounds. 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 and proper name of the priesthood is “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” (See D&C 107:1-4). We learn by revelation that the name of the priesthood was changed to avoid the too frequent reference to the name of the Supreme Being. The priesthood became known as the Melchizedek Priesthood, named after the great high priest Melchizedek. Two “divisions or grand heads,” consisting of the Melchizedek and the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood operate within the Church.
These priesthood keys are the exclusive domain of men only in the Church. These are the keys that some aspiring women in the Church who do not understand the doctrine are seeking to acquire – they want to be on an equal footing with men, and they want the priesthood. However, only men preside in this Church with priesthood keys of authority. Women who preside in the auxiliary organizations (the Young Women, Primary, Relief Society) do so at the invitation of priesthood leaders who hold the keys of authority, so that there may be order in the Church.
All that said, now to your question, Joe: “Do women who preside over the women’s organizations in the Church or work in the temple performing ordinances also hold presiding keys of the priesthood?” The answer is that women, like their male counterparts in the priesthood, are “set apart” to preside or officiate when called by their leaders who hold the priesthood keys to preside. Presiding keys of the priesthood are conferred upon men who are called to preside, but women do not receive the keys of the priesthood to preside.
Do not misunderstand, however, there are priesthood keys of power held by men and women, but within the organization of the Church presiding keys of priesthood authority is a male-only domain. One can hold the priesthood, yet not have the authority to do particular things.
Conversely, one can have authority to do particular things and not hold the priesthood. For instance, to preside in one of the Church's auxiliary programs, a person must be properly called, receive the sustaining vote of those over whom he or she presides, and be set apart by the same authority by which he or she was called. In this manner, the men who hold the priesthood keys give authority (but not keys) to women to preside over auxiliary organizations and to officiate in the temples.
Specifically, the priesthood’s presiding keys are held by stake presidents, mission presidents, bishops, elders’ quorum presidents, but not by presidents of the Young Men’s organization, the Young Women, the Primary, or the Relief Society. Those without keys, including counselors and secretaries in the various organizations when they are set apart, are entitled to “blessings, privileges, authority to act,” etc., but there are no keys of the priesthood conveyed. Nevertheless, in each of the Church’s organizations that touch our lives through their ministrations, we may be blessed by the service of others if we will sustain them and pray for their inspiration on our behalf.
The Priesthood Keys of Personal Revelation
Now, on the left-hand side of the handout you will see something called “Priesthood Keys of Personal Revelation” – a complete contrivance on my part to illustrate the most important dimension of priesthood power. These keys are given without the necessity of priesthood ordination, since women and men can access their use to unlock the heavens, either in their Church calling or in their personal lives.
The presiding keys of authority are what everyone – men and women – seem to be most interested in obtaining for some reason. You witness it first in the mission field – everyone clamoring for positions of authority – district leaders, zone leaders, APs – you know the drill. It most often goes under the heading of “mission politics.” Rich just mentioned it last week in his journal pages. What missionaries don’t realize (and they are in good company along with about 99% of the whole Church) is that these presiding keys are highly over-rated.
They are the most visible positions in the mission field and in the Church, true enough, but the keys of personal righteousness are the where the power in the priesthood resides.
Think about this for a moment. In the next life, how will we be organized? Two choices: A) as a church; B) as a family.
In this life, we are routinely deceived. We value what we can discern through our physical senses, and visible priesthood positions seem most desirable, so we aspire (naturally – since we are dealing with the “natural man” here) to obtain that which is highly visible. Our peers in the Church generally honor people who hold prominent Church positions.
We even go so far in our thinking to assume that because God has bestowed this position upon us that we are somehow better than, or more blessed than, or more acceptable before God. We equate position with God’s approval. We think this is God’s way of patting us on the back by rewarding our good efforts by bestowing upon us a visible and prominent position. Members of some families agonize for years sometimes because they haven't obtained some desirable office in the Church when other siblings have.
Lewis H. DeYoung Obtained Priesthood Keys of Power
It's sad to observe this wrong-headed fixation with postions in the Church, because the real truth is these things are comparatively trivial in God's eyes.
Like the workings of the Spirit in our lives, the real treasures lie hidden beneath the trappings of outward appearances. It is in the domain of the personal revelations of the Holy Ghost that God whispers his approval of our lives day by day, until that crowning day when we part the veil, and “the Father teacheth [us] of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.” (D&C 84:48).
Real power in the priesthood lies in personal righteousness (the byproduct of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and true repentance). One can have authority to act in a position in the Church, but ordination or setting apart to a position in the Church never guarantees God’s acceptance of our lives, personal purity or power in the priesthood.
Remember, "power in the priesthood" is what we desire most for ourselves and our posterity throughout all eternity! Everything else pales into a trivial pursuit.
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I have always appreciated these inspired insights from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, as reported by his son in The Bruce R. McConkie Story, 330-31:
There is an inherent danger in centering undue attention on the importance of offices and callings. Salvation is not found in offices, and a preoccupation with them can be self-destructive. Dad was very sensitive to this danger and took great pains to warn his family against such a danger. He recalled that when President J. Reuben Clark was changed from first counselor in the First Presidency to second counselor, President Clark reminded the Church as a whole that what matters is not "where one serves, but how." (J. Reuben Clark Jr., Improvement Era, June 1951, 412).
The great lesson is that it does not matter what position we have in life. What does matter is how we keep the commandments. "The family unit and working in the cause of righteousness are more important than any position. Service is essential to salvation, but the place where we serve is not."
Years before, Dad was assigned to attend a quarterly conference in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. In one of the meetings, Dad spoke about magnifying one's calling in the priesthood and thereby working out an inheritance of exaltation and receiving all that the Father hath — this in accordance with the statements in Doctrine and Covenants 84 on the oath and covenant of the priesthood. George F. Richards, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, followed Dad and spoke on the same general theme. One of the things that President Richards said was, in substance, there are many in the Church who hold no position at all who in eternity will have higher positions than many of the Council of the Twelve. Furthermore, he said that he did not have the slightest doubt that there would be a realignment of Church positions and responsibilities in the life to come. People who were not called to leadership positions in this life could well be called to such positions in the spirit world. He also foresaw a future day when the organization we now have will no longer exist. The only promise that we have about apostles and prophets in the scriptures, for instance, is that they are going to continue until there is a unity of the faith, meaning that some time during the millennial era, apostles and prophets will no longer be needed. That is because every man will be converted, and there will no longer be a need for special witnesses to bring them to the truth. This will also be because everyone will know all of the doctrines, including all of the future, and there will be no occasion for prophets to foretell it.
Elder McConkie held that what was of eternal moment was the family organization, the patriarchal system, which goes from father to son. The thing that counts will not be what position someone held in the Church in any dispensation but, rather, how he lived and whether he is entitled to exaltation and his place in the patriarchal order.
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This past week, I was eyewitness to just such a man, Lewis H. DeYoung. I am grateful to Uncle Lewis for the reminder of the things that routinely matter most. The world took little notice of his passing, but among his family, those who knew him best, we have the assurance he is not only entitled to exaltation, but he has now taken his de facto place in the patriarchal order of the priesthood beyond our sight and charted the course for all the rest of us.
And it had nothing to do with the positions he held in the Church.
It had everything to do with his obtaining the priesthood keys of power through his faithfulness.