YMF Sunday School is a series where members of the yMf community prepare Gospel Doctrine lessons and present them on this blog. Readers are encouraged to discuss lessons in the comments section. This week’s lesson is lesson 25 in the Doctrine and Covenants & Church History manual: Priesthood: “The Power of Godliness” (link provided). The lesson was prepared by David Pearson and Michaela Peringer.
Typically there are two different ways to look at the Priesthood. First, we will look at it briefly as the governing body of the church. Then, we will look at it in a more abstract sense, that it is the power of God, unto the salvation of man.
Organization of the Priesthood and its Offices
As a governing body, the priesthood organization is fairly simple. There are two divisions, Aaronic and Melchizedek.
- The Aaronic Priesthood contains Deacons, Teachers, and Priests with the Bishop as the head.
- The Melchizedek Priesthood contains (at the local level) Elders, Patriarchs, and High Priests with the Stake President as the head and (at the general level) Seventies, Apostles, and Prophets with the President of the Church as the head. All quorums and auxiliaries report to their Priesthood leader for accountability and guidance.
The Power of God on Earth Today
The Priesthood is often defined as the power given to men to act in God’s name. In order to more fully understand this definition, we must consider and define God. The Hebrew word for God, Elohim, can be read as a plural noun. We see Elohim referred to several times throughout the scriptures, sometimes in unmistakable plural grammatical contexts (ex. 1 Samuel 28:13). It should be noted that while there are many instances of God in the Old Testament are plural, there are many cases in which the word used is El, which is a singular noun.
God the Father, God the Mother
One avenue for understanding the Priesthood is considering the role that Heavenly Mother plays in eternity. In October 1991, Gordon B. Hinckley stated in General Conference, “Logic and reason would certainly suggest if we have a Father in heaven, we have a Mother in heaven. That doctrine sits well with me.”
While little definitive information has been shared about Heavenly Mother, accepting the ‘logic and reason’ of Her existence is important in developing a full understanding of the Priesthood. As the power of God on Earth, the Priesthood functions as a way to represent the will and power of both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Logic and reason informs us that Heavenly Mother, being One with the Father, is equally omnipotent, equally omniscient, and equally sharing in knowledge and power of the Priesthood.
Because we know so little of Heavenly Mother, whatever conclusions we come to, other than the fact that She exists, can only be accomplished through speculation, educated guesses, and revelation on a personal level. The Priesthood, representing the power of both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, can therefore only be understood in part.
Women and the Restored Priesthood
There is speculation and some evidence that suggests women in the ancient Church (before, during, AND after the Savior’s ministry) were ordained in a number of priesthood callings. While these claims are disputed among scholars and theologians, more recent history regarding the restored Priesthood contains clear evidence of women taking part in Priesthood leadership positions and practices.
The Relief Society was organized in 1842. Joseph Smith oversaw the first meeting of the Relief Society, where he discussed the ability of women to provide healing blessings by the laying on of hands, which had become common practice among female members of the Church:
Respecting the female laying on hands, he further remark’d, there could be no devils in it if God gave his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water— that it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration. (Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book)
Chapter 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants records a blessing in which Joseph Smith ordains his wife Emma and calls her to perform specific duties within the church
D&C 25:7 – And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound the scriptures and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.
In 1880, the Church initiated a number of organizational reforms that have now come to be known as the Correlation. Under these changes, all auxiliaries in the Church were reorganized under supervision of Priesthood leaders. The Relief Society’s autonomy became restricted by the First Presidency. Over time, traces of female Priesthood practices were done away with, culminating with the declaration by Joseph Fielding Smith in 1946 that women were to cease performing spiritual ordinances and from then on ought to call on the Elders for such things. Recently, the Ordain Women movement has organized a response to these bans on all female Priesthood practices by conducting a public call to the current leadership of the Church to revisit the issue.
The Priesthood Today
While the Priesthood is a perfect power, man, in his fallen state, is imperfect. Even the Prophet, the most revered Priesthood holder in the Church, is inherently fallible.
-D&C 10:35-37, God tells Joseph Smith that the revelations he received would have to be limited and expounded upon little by little due to Joseph’s human inability to perceive perfect righteousness.
God does not automatically grant perfection to members of the Church who hold the Priesthood. Heavenly Father is aware of man’s imperfection, and He is willing to accept man’s fallibility in exchange for faithful obedience to His will.
As agents of the power of God on earth, those who act in righteous Priesthood authority are charged with a great amount of responsibility in the Church. Virtually every facet of Church doctrine and organization relies on the Priesthood in some capacity. It is very important, then, that members of the Church respect and revere the source of Priesthood power, as well as the power itself. This respect and reverence can be exhibited in a number of ways, including obedience, sincere questioning, appropriate admonition of Priesthood leaders, etc.
References and Resources:
- History of Priesthood Correlation
- LDS Doctrine: Heavenly Mother
- LDS Women and the Performance of Spiritual Ordinances (1, 2)
- Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book
- Ordain Women Movement