Yesterday's release of the annual statistical report of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prompted me to update the numbers in my Priesthood Keys illustration (see above). It's already out of date. Since the end of last year, the Church now has 65,000 missionaries in 58 new missions scattered around the globe.
Much has already been said in this 183th Annual General Conference about the priesthood, the keys and how priesthood blesses both men and women. While it is true the priesthood keys of authority operate in a very hierarchical linear fashion emanating from the Godhood down through the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles to the newest Deacons Quorum President, and is very male-dominated, there is a rarely discussed dimension in which this grand set of priesthood keys operates. It the spiritual realm of personal power.
We will call these “the spiritual keys of power,” because they are the keys to all the spiritual blessings of the Church. (D&C 107:18-19). These keys give all the children of God access to the things of the spirit. Our Father in Heaven is not pleased when women who foment for priesthood keys of authority are confused about their supposed need to preside, when that dimension of the use of priesthood is completely unnecessary and inappropriate. They participate with their husbands in this more important dimension of the use of the priesthood keys.
There is no competition involved for priesthood power between men and women. Understanding the appropriate use of the priesthood keys is the purpose of the book Scott Strong and I wrote, way back in 1996, entitled Power and Covenants: Men, Women and Priesthood. We've been giving it away to anyone who asks for it ever since. The complete unpublished manuscript is available here, and has risen to the number two slot in all-time popularity on this blog page. I suspect that is because confusion over gender roles in our society and among members of the Church has never been more pronounced than it is now.
The English language sometimes uses the two terms “power” and “authority” interchangeably or synonymously, but the two terms are not true synonyms in the gospel context. Though the keys of the priesthood are the same, their use in Church administration (authority) and personal revelation (power) are very different in the scope of their influence. On the general administrative level they provide inspiration and revelation to direct, organize, call, ordain, set apart and administer. On a personal level, however, they operate only within the purview of an individual’s personal life and family stewardships. While revelation is (or should be) the common denominator in the use of priesthood keys, the scope of personal revelation does not extend into another’s stewardship, one who is called to a position of authority in the Church we do not hold.
We are rather loose in our usage of the names of these priesthood keys, because we have never thought how the simple principles and ordinances of the gospel might be considered priesthood keys. What follows lies at the heart of the matter with respect to women and the professed need by some to ordain them to the various offices in the priesthood men hold. These keys of spiritual power are administered only by the authority of the priesthood to the sons and daughters of God. Men and women receive these keys only from the priesthood, and nowhere else.
These spiritual keys of power are used to obtain access to the mysteries of the kingdom of God in heaven. One will profit from a thorough review of these principles by studying the manuscript cited above. The keys of the oracles of God also redound to the benefit of each individual son and daughter of God. Personal revelation is a hallmark of Mormonism. We believe we are guided by the Holy Spirit and we champion the quest for personal revelation in our Church callings and our personal lives. “Oracles” are simply personal conversations with God. No one, male or female, can commune with God, receive knowledge of the mysteries of Godliness and know God except through these sacred spiritual keys.
Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood Keys
Because there are “two divisions or grand heads,” Melchizedek and Aaronic (see D&C 107:6), it will not be surprising to learn each priesthood has two specific priesthood keys associated with it. The scriptures reveal four spiritual keys of power in the priesthood: The first and second Aaronic Priesthood keys (so-called because they are administered by the Aaronic Priesthood), and the first and second Melchizedek Priesthood keys (so-called because they are administered by the Melchizedek Priesthood). These spiritual keys of power are administered to all worthy persons, male and female, in the Church regardless of position just as Joseph promised they would be. To this day we witness the keys being routinely given to even the “weakest” of saints.
The Aaronic Priesthood’s First Key
Section 13 of The Doctrine and Covenants consists of the words John the Baptist spoke, as he conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels. . .”
Those who have the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon them, we are frequently taught in the Church, thereby have right to the ministering of angels. The implication is those who do not hold this priesthood have no right to the ministering of angels. We have misunderstood, and obtaining a proper knowledge of these things is absolutely fundamental to the establishment of the latter-day Zion if we will ever be enabled to come into the presence of an “innumerable company of angels.” (See TPJS, 325).
John said the Aaronic Priesthood holds the key of the ministering of angels. However, John did not say what that key was. What is the key of the ministering of angels?
The Prophet Mormon revealed this first Aaronic Priesthood key:
. . . it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men. . . (Moroni 7:37).
The key is faith, specifically faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the key by which angels appear and minister unto men and women. It is the first spiritual key of power. Like “the Hebrew Church [we must come] to an innumerable company of angels, unto God the Father of all, and to Jesus Christ the Mediator of the new covenant.” (TPJS, 325).
Upon reflection, this makes perfect sense. Acting in his editorial role in the compilation of the records comprising The Book of Mormon, Moroni reflected on the faith of his forefathers:
I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers. . .
Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith. . .
It was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God. . .
By faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.
For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth.
Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites.
Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after.
And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith.
And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.
And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. . . (Ether 12:6-22).
All the mighty works recorded in holy writ have come by faith without exception. Without faith nothing happens. Of course it is the first key of power! No other possibility qualifies. From the “Lectures on Faith” in Joseph’s School of the Prophets, we learn:
Faith, then, is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion and authority over all things; by it they exist, by it they are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeable to the will of God. Without it there is no power, and without power there could be no creation, nor existence! (Lectures On Faith, 1:24).
[Faith] is the principle of power in the Deity as well as in man. . . and without it there is no power, and without power there could be no creation nor existence! (Lectures on Faith, Questions & Answers, Lecture First; also see Hebrews 11:3).
We may be given authority to act in positions in the Church, but without faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we really have no power in the priesthood because without faith we can do nothing. (D&C 8:10).
The Aaronic Priesthood’s Second Key
Returning to the reference of John the Baptist’s ordination of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, we see that he spoke of two Aaronic keys:
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of  the ministering of angels, and  of the [preparatory] gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. . . (D&C 13).
The Aaronic Priesthood’s second key is the preparatory gospel:
And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins. . . (D&C 84:26).
The preparatory gospel of repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins is the second Aaronic Priesthood key. Our tendency, after dutifully memorizing the 4th Article of Faith in our Primary days, is to separate repentance and baptism in our minds. A thoughtful reading of all the scriptures on this subject, however, indicates the second principle of the gospel, repentance, is linked inseparably to the first ordinance of the gospel, baptism by immersion. Only repentance and baptism produce the remission of sins. It takes both to prepare a person to be born of the spirit. Hence, the reason both together comprise “the preparatory gospel.”
Baptism, the next natural step following sincere repentance, is an Aaronic Priesthood ordinance, confirmed by D&C 107:20:
The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.
Whether we say “the baptism of repentance” (D&C 107:20), or “baptized unto repentance” (Alma 7:14), it is the same. The scriptures confirm that only the effectual combination of both repentance and baptism by immersion comprises the Aaronic Priesthood’s second key known as the preparatory gospel.
The Melchizedek Priesthood’s First Key
What is the Melchizedek Priesthood’s first key of spiritual power? D&C 84:19 provides our answer:
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
How do we learn our first lessons in knowing God? What is the first key that gives a person access to the mysteries of godliness? Nephi answers:
For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. (1 Nephi. 10:19).
The Melchizedek Priesthood’s first key is the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is perfectly consistent with the two Aaronic Priesthood keys we have already examined. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the next ordinance of the gospel following baptism. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the first ordinance of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the scriptures offer numerous examples to support the spirit as the medium whereby men and women begin to know the mysteries our physical eyes cannot see, nor ears hear. As Paul said:
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things [mysteries] of God.
For what man knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, except he has the Spirit of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (JST 1 Corinthians 2:9-14).
Joseph Smith said:
No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator. (TPJS, 328). We never can comprehend the things of God and of heaven, but by revelation. (TPJS, 292).
The scriptural definition of a “mystery” is something that can only be known by the spirit through revelation:
Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God. (Jacob 4:8).
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. . .
Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.
Ask that you may know the mysteries of God. . . (D&C 8:2-3, 10-11).
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things -- that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42:61).
But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion;
Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter;
Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him;
To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves. (D&C 76:116).
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26).
Not surprisingly, then, the scriptures clearly confirm the Holy Ghost, the first Comforter from whom we begin to learn the mysteries of godliness in mortality, is the Melchizedek Priesthood’s first key of spiritual power.
The Melchizedek Priesthood’s Second Key
Just as John the Baptist provided us with both Aaronic Priesthood keys, Joseph Smith gives us both keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood:
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth  the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even  the key of the knowledge of God. (D&C 84:19).
One is tempted to interpret the words “even the key of the knowledge of God” as merely referring to the first key of the mysteries of the kingdom, but a careful reading of these words in context reveals this is a separate second key.
And this greater [Melchizedek] priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of  the mysteries of the kingdom [by the power of the First Comforter],  even the key of the knowledge of God [by the power of the Second Comforter].
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God. (D&C 84:19-23).
This second Melchizedek Priesthood key of spiritual power goes far beyond merely beginning to know the mysteries of the kingdom by the power of the Holy Ghost. Joseph learns in this revelation there is a key by which we may see the face of God by being sanctified and entering his rest, “which rest is the fulness of his glory.” This second key has reference to Jesus Christ, who is the Second Comforter. “The rest of God” is a scriptural allusion to those saints who are received into the church of the Firstborn as heirs to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. (D&C 76:54, 58). If in mortality these have their “calling and election made sure,” have received “the more sure word of prophecy,” and been “sealed up to eternal life through the oath and covenant of the priesthood,” they receive this priesthood key.
The second Melchizedek Priesthood key is the “Second Comforter,” the final and grand spiritual key of power in the priesthood on the earth.
In his inspired doctrinal commentary on John 14, Joseph Smith said:
There are two Comforters spoken of. One is the Holy Ghost. . .
After a person has faith in Christ, [the first Aaronic key], repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins [the second Aaronic key] and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, [the first Melchizedek key], then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter [the second Melchizedek key], which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John in the 14th chapter.
. . . Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man [or woman] obtains this last Comforter, he [she] will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him [her], or appear unto him [her] from time to time, and even He will reveal the Father unto him [her], and they will take up their abode with him [her], and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him [her] face to face. . . (TPJS, 149-151).
All of us have been called and elected. We are all called to God’s kingdom and the invitation excludes none of God’s children. We are all elected to become the children of Abraham through the covenant he made with God. President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the calling and election of women in these words:
Before the world was created, in heavenly councils the pattern and role of women were prescribed. You were elected by God to be wives and mothers in Zion. Exaltation in the celestial kingdom is predicated upon faithfulness to that calling. (Ensign, November 1981, 105).
By priesthood ordinance a man and woman may have their calling and election made sure. This is the “more sure word of prophecy” referred to in D&C 131:5:
The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s [woman’s] knowing that he [she] is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood. It is impossible for man [woman] to be saved in ignorance.
In his equally inspired commentary on 2 Peter 1 Joseph said:
The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be damned. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. (TPJS, 297).
The knowledge spoken of in these passages is not merely knowing Christ because we have obtained his presence and his company. It means knowing what Christ knows -- that we are sealed up to eternal life because Christ communicates that knowledge to us personally, face to face.
Joseph Smith also said:
There are three grand secrets lying in this chapter, [II Peter i.] which no man can dig out, unless by the light of revelation, and which unlocks the whole chapter as the things that are written are only hints of things which existed in the prophet's mind, which are not written concerning eternal glory. I am going to take up this subject by virtue of the knowledge of God in me, which I have received from heaven. (TPJS, 304).
Notwithstanding the apostle [Peter] exhorts them to add to their faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, etc., yet he exhorts them to make their calling and election sure. And though they had heard an audible voice from heaven bearing testimony that Jesus was the Son of God, yet he says we have a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light shining in a dark place. Now, wherein could they have a more sure word of prophecy than to hear the voice of God saying, This is my beloved Son.
Now for the secret and grand key. Though they might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure, that they had part with Christ, and were joint heirs with Him. They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge [through this Second Comforter] would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then [this] knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [the Second Comforter telling us we are sealed] is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. (TPJS, 298).
Many who discover this doctrine for the first time are troubled by it because it is seldom taught publicly in the Church. However, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, spoke of it constantly and wrote of it repeatedly. (For example, see fourth verses of Hymns, nos. 21; 134). He gives this added insight:
To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is to receive the assurance of Godhood; it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced, so that an inheritance of all the glory and honor of the Father’s kingdom is assured prior to the day when the faithful actually enter into the divine presence to sit with Christ in his throne, even as he is “set down” with his “Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21). (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:330-31).
When we take upon ourselves all the ordinances of salvation including the blessings of the temple endowment and eternal marriage covenants then live our lives in harmony with the gospel, we may press forward with faith and mature patience waiting upon the Lord for the day when our lives will be crowned with celestial glory. In terms of our eternal opportunities it does not really matter if our calling and election is made sure here or hereafter. “But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.” (D&C 50:5). Once again, Elder McConkie:
If we die in the faith, that is the same thing as saying that our calling and election has been made sure and that we will go on to eternal reward hereafter. As far as faithful members of the Church are concerned, they have charted a course leading to eternal life. This life is the time that is appointed as a probationary estate for men to prepare to meet God, and as far as faithful people are concerned, if they are in the line of their duty, if they are doing what they ought to do, although they may not have been perfect in this sphere, their probation is ended. Now there will be some probation for some other people hereafter. But for the faithful saints of God, now is the time and the day, and their probation is ended with their death. (Funeral Service for Elder S. Dilworth Young, July 13, 1981, typescript, 5).
Summarizing, then, the four keys of the priesthood, “the spiritual keys of power,” are: Faith (in the Lord Jesus Christ); the preparatory gospel (repentance and baptism); the First Comforter (the Holy Ghost, key to the mysteries of godliness); and the Second Comforter (Jesus Christ, key to the knowledge of God). Notice how specifically the scriptures describe these keys that have been exercised by the inhabitants of the highest celestial realm:
And again we bear record -- for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just --
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given.
That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 76:50-54).
When used in the administrative domains of authority in the kingdom, the keys of the priesthood are for the exclusive use of the presiding priesthood as they govern in their various positions. However, each person in the Church (male and female) accesses these priesthood keys of spiritual power in their individual lives for the purpose of growing in the gifts and powers of the spirit. In this sense the keys are inclusive regardless of position.
One common element that pertains to these keys, either administratively or individually, is they are all administered to the members of the Church by the priesthood. To preserve the order in his kingdom God does not authorize the dissemination of these keys except through the priesthood.
The priesthood holds the exclusive right to administer these keys to mankind. All four keys are obtained only from the priesthood. Every worthy man and woman of record in the Church may enjoy the blessings of these priesthood keys.
Studying the talks of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, including President Boyd K. Packer, Elder David A. Bednar, Elder M. Russell Ballard, and Sister Elaine S. Dalton's talk, who was just released as the General Young Women's President yesterday, will reveal how consistent all these principles are. Undoubtedly, we'll hear more in today's sessions.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks summarizes this topic in this presentation in one of the videos of the recent Worldwide Leadership Training program. Says he, "Priesthood authority in the Church is a matter of calling, but priesthood power is a matter of choice in the home."