In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon Church), the word “priesthood” has a different meaning than in other Christian churches. Latter-day Saints define “priesthood” as the power of God, and the authority to act in His name. Priesthood, then, has always existed and will always exist. From time to time, however, it has been missing from the earth and from among men. The Mormon Church has a “lay clergy.” That is, no one is trained or schooled to lead congregations or groups of congregations, or even the entire church. Men, women, youth, and children are “called” to various positions in local congregations or to larger responsibilities. Most “callings” are temporary. Only the prophet, the twelve apostles, and some seventies are called to serve for the remainder of their lives, and these receive a modest stipend. All other positions are unpaid, and members fill their responsibilities, which can be substantial, while continuing in their paid vocations, and with their family and community responsibilities still in process. All worthy male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the age of twelve may hold some office in the priesthood. Power comes with holding the priesthood, and miracles are performed through this power. Some friends of other faiths argue that priesthood ended with Jesus Christ, that He was the final priesthood-holder, but the apostles spoke of the priesthood when referring to the general membership of the Church of Christ. (See 1 Pet. 2:5; 1Peter 2:9.)
There are two priesthoods, and several offices within those two priesthoods. The Aaronic priesthood is the lesser, or preparatory priesthood, concerned with the foundational principles of the gospel – faith, repentance, baptism, and sacrifice. When Moses went up into the mount to converse with the Lord, he was absent from the tribes of Israel for a long period of time. The Lord meant for the children of Israel to “enter into His rest.” This means that God wanted them not only to receive the higher priesthood, but to be sealed up to eternal life in His presence. But the children of Israel refused. They wanted Moses to be their intermediary. The Lord took the higher priesthood, and eventually Moses, away from them, and left them with the lesser priesthood to prepare them to progress and prepare for greater responsibility and thus greater blessings. All of their prophets, however, held the higher priesthood. At age 12, a worthy young man in the LDS Church may receive the office of Deacon in the Aaronic priesthood. The duties of a deacon include watching over the Church and its members. They are also to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59). Deacons can also pass the sacrament to the congregation, collect fast offerings, assist the bishopric, serve as messengers, be baptized and confirmed for the dead in the temple, speak in meetings, and care for the meetinghouse and grounds. Deacons meet in a “quorum” every Sunday, and may serve as officers in their quorum, deliver spiritual messages, etc.
At age 14, worthy young men may be ordained as “Teachers” in the Aaronic priesthood. The duties of teachers are preparing the sacrament, watching over and strengthening the Church as well as seeing that there is “neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking (Doctrine and Covenants 20:53-55). Teachers may also serve as home teachers, reverently serve as ushers in ward meetings and stake conference, assist the bishopric, and participate in seminary, where available.
At the age of 16, worthy young men can be ordained as “Priests” in the Aaronic priesthood. Priests can bless the sacrament and they can baptize. Other duties include the responsibility to “preach, teach, expound, exhort, … and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (Doctrine and Covenants 47 20:46-47). Priests do not have the authority to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost to a newly baptized person.
The office of bishop in the LDS faith is actually an Aaronic priesthood calling, and a direct descendent of Aaron may claim the office. A bishop, however, must also hold the Melchizedek priesthood. Men who serve in “bishoprics” (a bishop and his two counselors) are ordained as High Priests. Every higher office is able to officiate in the duties of lower offices. A bishop is the leader of a congregation, similar to a rabbi or a pastor. This calling requires a huge amount of time and effort, and prayerful leadership.
Once a worthy young man is over 18, he begins to prepare to receive the higher priesthood. The formal name of this priesthood is “The Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.” To keep from using the name of the Lord casually, this priesthood is called the “Melchizedek priesthood,” after Melchizedek, King of Salem, to whom Abraham paid tithes. The higher priesthood holds all the keys of the kingdom of God on earth. A man who holds the Melchizedek priesthood may give priesthood blessings by the laying on of hands. Such blessings can heal the sick or troubled, can convey messages from God to the person receiving the blessing, and prophesy for the personal benefit of the person being blessed. A Melchizedek priesthood holder can bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon a person who has just been baptized, and give a name and a blessing to a newborn infant. “Stewardship” is a very important concept in the LDS Church. A person has stewardship over his own realm of personal responsibility. Thus, a bishop has stewardship over his congregation (called a “ward”) and may receive revelation to help him with that stewardship. A father and mother have stewardship over their family, and may exercise their God-given power over that stewardship. Thus, a priesthood holder should only exercise his priesthood within the realm of his stewardship. A man who holds the Melchizedek priesthood is called an “Elder.” Even the prophet/president of the Church and the apostles are called Elders. Mormon missionaries hold the Melchizedek priesthood and are also called Elders. Within the Melchizedek priesthood there are High Priests, Seventies, Apostles, and Patriarchs. One patriarch is called for each “stake,” a geographical group of congregations. Once in a lifetime, each member is able to receive a prophetic “patriarchal blessing” as a guide for his or her life by the laying on of hands. Patriarchs perform this function.
Blacks and the Mormon Priesthood
In the very early days of the LDS Church, Blacks were given the priesthood. First prophet Joseph Smith was a very committed advocate of equality for Blacks, and this brought upon him a great deal of persecution. When the Mormons were driven from Missouri in 1839 in the midst of winter, one of the main reasons was that Missourians wanted a slave state, and Joseph Smith had even proposed purchasing the freedom of Black slaves and bringing them to the state. For some reason, there was put into effect a ban on Blacks receiving the priesthood after the death of Joseph Smith. Such actions in the Church come about after direct revelation, but a thorough searching of the early records of the Church has failed to discover a reason for the ban. In the mid-1900’s, as racial equality became more and more feasible in the U.S., members and leaders of the Church began to more fervently pray for the priesthood to be extended to people of all races. Finally, during the summer of 1978, the revelation was received, to the joy of the Latter-day Saints. The Church is growing very fast in Africa in recent years.
Women and the Mormon Priesthood
Some women outside and within the Mormon Church feel that women are discriminated against, because they do not “hold” or administer in the priesthood. However, women share the priesthood with their husbands, and may call on that power in dealing with their stewardships. They also administer priesthood ordinances in the holy temples of the Church. They hold many positions of responsibility within the Church and may be extremely busy with family, work, community, and church responsibilities. Married women often help their husbands with their callings, too. Women are also “general authorities” in the Church, leading the Primary (organization for young children), Young Women, and Relief Society organizations. The Relief Society is the largest and oldest women’s organization in the world, at over 5 million members. The Lord’s house is a house of order. With its system of stewardships, priesthood offices, and auxiliary organizations, plus a system (home teaching and visiting teaching) for ministering personally to each and every member, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can assure that everyone has a seat at the table of Christ, that members can receive comfort, assurance, and healing when needed. (Note that Mormons also believe in modern medicine, and the Lord often urges them to seek medical help in priesthood blessings, while providing miraculous relief, guidance, and events along the way.)
The Holy Temple
When members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked what they think the mission of the Mormon Church is, perhaps the most frequent answer is “Bringing all unto Christ by perfecting the Saints.” To fully understand this goal, one must remember that in the LDS Church all of the members are referred to as “saints.” In other words, one purpose of the LDS church is to help its members in their struggle to follow the perfect example set by Jesus Christ.
So how do Mormon temples help in this mission? There are two important answers. The first is on a personal level, in that temples are places set apart from the world allowing increased influence of the Holy Ghost. Only members of the Mormon Church who are keeping certain minimum standards of conduct and have a strong faith in Jesus Christ are allowed to enter the temple. While this may be disappointing to some, both inside and outside of the Church, it serves an important purpose. Each of us is entitled to feel the Spirit of the Lord in our lives as we are prompted by it to be righteous, or change our lives when we are not; but the further one is from the Lord’s path, and the more he or she ignores the promptings of the Spirit, the less he or she is able to feel that Spirit. By only allowing people into the temple who are meeting certain standards and who are firm in their faith in the Lord, the temple becomes a place where the Spirit of the Lord can freely dwell. In this way LDS temples serve as a kind of sanctuary to those who attend them, providing a place that has been kept more pure than the average home or even chapel. They are places for prayer, thought, reflection, and revelation.
Ceremonies and Rituals of the Temple
The second purpose that Mormon temples serve in helping the members of the LDS Church is that special ceremonies take place inside the temple. These are holy and sacred ceremonies that are called ordinances. Ordinances are symbolic rituals that are performed as a way to signify covenants made with God. In Old Testament times the ordinance of sacrificing of an animal to God in the temple was often performed. The actual sacrificing of the animal did nothing for the people, but was a symbolic reminder of the sacrifice that would one day come through the Lord Jesus Christ. While animal sacrifice was done away with after the death and resurrection of the Eternal Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, the New Testament indicates that ordinances, and the covenants they represented, did not cease. Matthew 26:26-28 gives us the following account:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matt 26:26-28)
The apostles ate bread and drank water that was symbolic of the sacrifice which Christ was about to make for them. This same ritual, or ordinance, is practiced by many Christians to this day. The ordinance goes by many different names, such as the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, but it is essentially the same ordinance that was instituted in New Testament times.
As was mentioned before, ordinances are not only to remind us of an event, but additionally are a sign of covenants made with the Lord. A covenant is a two way promise. When we are baptized we make a covenant with the Lord that we will strive to follow the example of Christ, and repent of our sins. In return, the Lord promises that if we keep our part of the covenant, he will forgive us when we come to him with our mistakes and a sincere heart, with a real desire to change.
Sealings and Endowments
Inside the temple there are primarily two ordinances that are performed for the members of the Mormon Church. These ordinances are very sacred and holy, so we do not discuss their details outside of the temple, even with other members of the Church. It is important, however, to know what they are and why they are done.
The first of these ordinances is often called, “sealing.” This is where faithful Mormons are sealed together in a special type of marriage ceremony. A sealing is different from a typical marriage, though, primarily because it is performed by a different authority than a civil marriage. When a couple is married civilly, they are married by authority of their government. A representative of the State tells them that in the eyes of the State, they are married until their death. This is all that the government can promise, since it is all they have jurisdiction over. In the temple, however, people are married by the authority of God (Link to restoration of the priesthood). The Lord promises them that if they keep their vows to each other and to him they can be together, not just in this life, but for “time and all eternity.” Children are also sealed to their parents through this authority.
The second of these ordinances tends to be less well known or understood, even by some members of the Mormon Church. It is the Temple Endowment. An “endowment” is a gift, generally given by a higher power. Indeed, the Endowment in the temple is a gift from God to help us understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It also helps us understand what we should do in our lives to prepare to meet God, and how Jesus Christ offers each of us ft of salvation. This information is taught in the Temple Endowment in a highly symbolic way. Because of the sacred nature of these symbols, we will not discuss them directly, but the information is contained almost completely in the Mormon book of scripture known as the “Pearl of Great Price.” In fact, the best way to prepare for the Endowment is to read the Pearl of Great Price and pray to understand it as fully as possible.
During the Endowment we also make covenants with the Lord to obey his commandments, however these covenants are more specific then the ones that are made at baptism (to keep God’s commandments). The Endowment is a gift, because it gives us knowledge and the promise of blessings to come. Ultimately, all of these blessings are available to us only through the salvation offered by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These ordinances are necessary for us, but it is Jesus Christ who brings salvation, and through faith in Him alone can we be saved.