The typical Protestant denomination, as implied, protested against the Catholic Church. There is often no hierarchical structure representing Priesthood functions. Many believe in what is known as the priesthood of all believers, meaning that proper faith alone gives authority. Seminaries and colleges are set up to teach the doctrines in preparation of ministry work. Theology degrees are handed out as de-facto representations of authorized congregation leadership. Decisions of the church are determined by those who feel called to leadership duty and then voted in by the membership to a group or committee tasked with governance. Mormonism’s authority doesn’t come from the doctrine, but more like the Catholic Priesthood hierarchical structure. Men are called by others without prior training or personal desire to different offices of authority and responsibility. The biggest difference is that all men can receive the Priesthood even without any offices, but it must be a formal recognition. No one can declare they have the Priesthood (Heb. 5:4) without ordination from someone who had it before them.
Both Mormons and Catholics believe they have been given the authority of the Priesthood through Peter, although in different ways. For the Catholic it came down directly from him to others while he lived without any break. Mormonism, of course, believe that the angel John the Baptist gave the right of outward ordinances and the angels Peter, James, and John the more spiritual higher authority. The reasoning is a continuation of the belief that God must have order in His Kingdom. Permission and power must be granted in a specific way for mortals to have any authority to bless the world. Any other way, no matter how sincere the individual, is not recognized by the Heavens.
The angels that conferred the Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received their authority from others in a line of succession. Joseph Smith taught, “The Lord promised Zacharias that he should have a son who was a descendant of Aaron, the Lord having promised that the priesthood should continue with Aaron and his seed throughout their generations. Let no man take this honor upon himself, except he be called of God, as was Aaron; and Aaron received his call by revelation” (TPJS pg. 272). Zacharias received a vision while administering in the Temple that he would have a son name John who would continue that line of authority, and prepare the way for a greater officiator to come. That person was Jesus Christ who is the Son of God and Savior of the world.
Jesus Christ received his Priesthood long before coming to Earth, having been chosen as the Savior. The scriptures more than imply that each person given priesthood in mortality was foreordained (cf Alma 13) to any of its offices. Abraham chapter 3 is a mix of metaphor and lesson on the mortal governing structure that will be used to bring Salvation. Great stars represent the great intelligences that stood near the throne of God, with “Kolob” the nearest star to His presence. They were picked as “the governing ones,” to bring order, making sure each sphere of influence functions properly. The star or intelligence nearest God, “govern all those which belong to the same order as that [the Earth] upon which thou [Abraham] standest.” Of course, that nearest star is representative of Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of God in the Spirit. When he came to Earth, Jesus picked 12 Apostles, and then 70s to preach the gospel during the mortal ministry. When the priesthood was lost during the Great Apostasy, the leadership from the “Meridian of Time” came back to restore authority. Joseph Smith explained, “The Priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses, and Elias, gave keys to Peter, James, and John, on the mount, when they were transfigured before him.” He went on to say, “How have we come at the Priesthood in the last days? It came down, down, in regular succession (TPJS pg. 158).
Joseph Smith explained there are three orders of the Priesthood. The first, and greatest, is the Melchizedek that binds all of them together. All keys and blessings flow from this one named after a great King, even though its the “birthright” of Jesus Christ. The second Priesthood is Patriarchal authority that is both part of and and governed by the greater. The third Priesthood is the Levitical or Aaronic that prepares the way for the other two orders, “consisting of priests to administer outward ordinances” (TPJS pg. 323). There is no Exaltation without them because as D&C 84:19-22 states, “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. 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.”
President Spencer W. Kimball in the June 1975 Ensign wrote:
We commemorate the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, called “the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God” (D&C 107:3), once more this month. It is an event of supreme importance to man in this dispensation, for the priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things pertaining to the salvation of men. It is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls. Without this priesthood power, men are lost. Only through this power does man “hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church,” enabling him to receive “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened” unto him (see D&C 107:18–19), enabling him to enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and to have his wife and children bound to him in an everlasting tie, enabling him to become a patriarch to his posterity forever, and enabling him to receive a fullness of the blessings of the Lord.
No matter how many breaks in the line of Priesthood authority might happen, there is always a way for its return. It has been this way since the days of Adam and will be so long as the Earth stands, because angels of past dispensations have been ordained to pass it on to others. The Priesthood is far greater than those who hold it, because it is, “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3). No one has authority to give it. No one has authority to administer without it. Only God through angels and revelation can do with it as He wants.