Today is the 185th anniversary of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. The introduction to Doctrine & Covenants 13 states:
“The ordination was done by the hands of an angel who announced himself as John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament. The angel explained that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the ancient Apostles, who held the keys of the higher priesthood, which was called the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The promise was given to Joseph and Oliver that in due time this higher priesthood would be conferred upon them.”
John the Baptist pronounced the following blessing:
”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 gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”
With the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and a short time later, the Melchizedek Priesthood, the world was changed forever. Man again had the authority to perform ordinances essential for salvation for all mankind, and the door was open for the further restoration of priesthood keys.
A few years ago, my husband and I had the chance to visit the Church Historical sites in the eastern United States. We pulled off the highway and stopped at the Aaronic Priesthood Restoration Site. It was not a big place, nor was there a visitor center or name-tagged missionaries there to greet us. There were just some signs explaining what had happened there, and the foundation stones of the Smith cabin. Nearby was the cemetery where Emma Smith’s parents and Emma and Joseph’s first baby are buried. Despite the simple setting, the spirit at this site was very powerful. My husband and I hopped a fence and crossed a rail road track and managed to make our way down to the banks of the Susquehanna River. It was beautiful, reverent and the perfect setting for such an important event. The Holy Ghost testified to both of us of the power and importance of the priesthood and of vital importance of its restoration.
These days there is much chatter and discussion about the priesthood in the Church. The leaders of our church have taught us many times over the years about what the priesthood is, about who may exercise its keys and how all members of the church are entitled to access its power.
In his most recent General Conference address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the 12 spoke about The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood. In this talk he made some key points that clear up the confusion and contention that cloud discussions on the priesthood.
First, Elder Oaks defined what the priesthood is by quoting Pres. Joseph F. Smith, “ [The Priesthood is] the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family.” As John the Baptist revealed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry, bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood hold the keys to the ministering of angels, the gospel of repentance and most importantly the authority to baptize. Baptism is essential for our salvation and is the first step we make on the covenant path back to God. Under the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, other ordinances, including temple ordinances, can be performed for those who are living and by proxy for those who have passed away. The Lord loves ALL of His children, and extends the blessings of the priesthood to everyone.
Second, the subject of priesthood keys was addressed. “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” This is an important point as well. Priesthood keys give direction as to who is authorized to perform the duties of the priesthood. Without this authority our actions lack legitimacy. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be present as the new bishop for our ward was set apart. As the Stake President set him apart, he gave our bishop the keys of authority for all of the areas of responsibility in our ward, specifically, and by name, as well. It was very thorough and complete. And as I have seen our bishop work over the past year, I have seen how he has exercised those specific keys in our ward to bless the lives of our ward members. He has the authority to lead our ward. It is amazing to watch the priesthood in action.
Elder Oaks went on to say, “In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits. It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred” The priesthood is not chaotic or random, it is ordered and organized. When we understand that the salvation of people is at stake with proper exercise and function of the priesthood, we understand the need for the proper use of priesthood keys. Without these keys priesthood authority cannot be used properly to bless the lives of people.
Third, Elder Oaks stressed that Christ is the one that holds ALL the keys of the priesthood and that it is He who determines how they are delegated and used. He boldly declared, ”[the presiding authorities of the Church] are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.” I know this particular fact is a sticking point with some women. If Elder Oaks ended his talk there I might have issues too, but he didn’t end his talk there. He went on to describe how the women of the LDS Church have access to, and are able to use priesthood authority:
“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
If you apply this principle to our families, and in our homes, we do have authority given to us via our temple covenants to use the priesthood to bless the lives of our families. We have the authority to make decisions and to participate in the creation of life. What is more important than that?
Elder Oaks addressed women further by quoting Pres. Smith again, “You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.” He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.” It saddens me, and frustrates me, when I read and hear LDS women claim that we do not have authority to work in the Church, or that somehow we are second class citizens because we do not hold the priesthood. We are told clearly here, by Pres. Smith and witnessed to, by Elder Oaks that we have been given authority. As long as we have been given the proper authority to act, by one who holds priesthood keys, we have power and we have equal footing. In the end, as Elder Oaks articulated, Christ holds ALL the keys for every dispensation and for everything that has happened, and that will happen on this earth. All paths of authority lead back to Him. In end everyone will answer to Jesus Christ, even the men. It should not matter where we are in the line-up, but that we are there, and willing to be a disciple of Christ.
In his fourth point, Elder Oaks, said, “In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.” One of the definitions which is given in the dictionary for the word ‘equal’ is BALANCE. I like to think of a scale with two sides. If one side holds a pound of apples, and the other side holds a pound of oranges the scale is in balance. The fruit is different, but the same weight and both sides are important. Men and women are different, but equal and important in the eyes of the Lord, as Elder Oaks has testified. Men and women have been given specific, important and vital roles in The Plan of Salvation. If one side is missing, there is imbalance and chaos in the Plan of our Heavenly Father. Are we going to let ourselves be tricked into thinking that we somehow don’t matter, because we have been given different responsibilities than the men?
Finally, Elder Oaks finished this talk with some words from Elder Ballard, “When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power. … Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.” This brings to mind the theme scripture of this year’s BYU Women’s Conference, Psalms 84: 11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” As we walk uprightly, by participating in the ordinances of the Church, and by fulfilling our callings in our wards and stakes as well as those in our families we will have the grace and glory of God to attend us. I know that the promise given in this scripture, that he will give us the good things that He has to offer, can and will happen.
Because the priesthood was restored, men as well as women have access to all the good things of God. He has promised us that. The Lord has organized the priesthood, in a way which is ordered and organized, and which allows both women and men to access priesthood authority via the proper use of priesthood keys. The Lord loves ALL of his children and is waiting to bless all of us. I am profoundly thankful that the priesthood was restored. I have seen it bless my life, and the lives of my family members time and time again. I see it used in my ward as people serve each other and bless each other’s lives. I saw it as a missionary as we taught people, and as they changed their lives to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The priesthood power is real and available to all who are willing to come to Christ and follow Him. Sisters, especially, do not doubt the power you have given to you via your covenants and by those who hold the keys of the priesthood. As sisters in Zion we have an important and vital work to do, without which, the work of God cannot move forward.