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The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


President Joseph F. Smith described the priesthood as “the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family.” Other leaders have taught us that the priesthood “is the consummate power on this earth. It is the power by which the earth was created.” The scriptures teach that “this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also” (Moses 6:7). Thus, the priesthood is the power by which we will be resurrected and proceed to eternal life.

The understanding we seek begins with an understanding of the keys of the priesthood. “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood holders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direction or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function. As Elder M. Russell Ballard has explained, “Those who have priesthood keys…literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.”

In controlling 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. For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another, unless authorized by one who holds the keys. Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid. This explains why a priesthood holder-regardless of office-cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.

With the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple under the keys held by the temple president, which I will describe hereafter, only one who holds a priesthood office can officiate in a priesthood ordinance. And all authorized priesthood ordinances are recorded on the records of the Church.

Ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals, and how those keys will be used. We are accustomed to thinking that all keys of the priesthood were conferred on Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple, but the scripture states that all that was conferred there were “the keys of this dispensation” (D&C 110:16). At General Conference many years ago President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection.

The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures-matters such as the location of church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the Divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.

I come now to the subject of priesthood authority. I begin with the three principles just discussed: (1) priesthood is the power of God delegated to man to act for the salvation of the human family, (2) priesthood authority is governed by priesthood holders who hold priesthood keys, and (3) since the scriptures state that “all other authorities and offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood (D&C 107:5), all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.

How does this apply to women? In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this:

“[W]hile the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority…A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by men who hold the Priesthood.”

In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, “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,” And of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the ward or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. Thus, speaking of the Relief society, President Smith explained:

“[The Lord] has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the direction of the bishops of the wards…looking after the interests of our people both spiritually and temporarily.” Thus, it is truly said that for women Relief Society is not just a class, but something they belong to-a divinely established appendage to the priesthood.

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 of 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.

Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities. That is a principle needed in society at large. The famous Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is quoted as saying, “It is time…to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.” Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights, but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities.


What Manner of Men?

Elder Donald L.Hallstrom

Of the Presidency of the Seventy


What is expected of a holder of the priesthood of God? What changes are required of us to become the manner of men we ought to be? I make three suggestions:

  1. We need to be priesthood men! Whether we are young men holding the Aaronic Priesthood or men bearing the Melchizedek Priesthood, we need to be priesthood men showing spiritual maturity because we have made covenants. As Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). We should be different because we hold the priesthood-not arrogant or prideful or patronizing-but humble and teachable and meek. Receiving the priesthood and its various offices should mean something to us. It should not be a perfunctory “rite of passage” that automatically happens at certain ages, but a sacred act of covenant thoughtfully made. We should feel so privileged and so grateful that our every action shows it. If we seldom even think about the priesthood, we need to change.
  2. We need to serve! The essence of holding the priesthood is to “magnify [our] calling” by serving others. Avoiding our most important duty to serve our wives ad children, not accepting or passively fulfilling callings in the Church, or not caring about others unless it is convenient, is not who we should be. The Savior declared, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37) and later added: “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me: (D&C 42:29). Selfishness is the antithesis of priesthood responsibility, and if it is a trait of our character, we need to change.
  3. We need to be worthy! I may not have the ability of Elder Holland, when he spoke in a priesthood session a few years ago, to “get in your face…nose to nose, with just enough fire..to singe your eyebrows” (Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2011 General Conference); but, dear brethren, we need to wake up to how commonly accepted practices in the world choke our power in the priesthood. If we think we can even flirt with pornography or violations of chastity or dishonesty in any form and not have it negatively affect us and our families we are deceived. Moroni stated, “See that ye do all things in worthiness” (Mormon 9:29) The Lord powerfully directed: “And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life” (D&C 84:43). If there are any unresolved sins preventing our worthiness, we need to change.

The only complete response to the question posed by Jesus Christ, “What manner of men ought ye to be,” is the one He succinctly and profoundly gave, “Even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).


The Choice Generation

Brother Randall L. Ridd

Young Men General Presidency


I would like to address you as the “choice generation”, because never before in history have individuals been blessed with so many choices. More choices mean more opportunities, and more opportunities mean more potential to do good and, unfortunately, evil. I believe God sent you here at this time because He trusts you to successfully discern among the mind-boggling choices available.

In 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “I believe that the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse.”

And He has! You are growing up with one of the greatest tools for good in the history of man: The Internet. With it comes an elaborate buffet of choices. This abundance of choice, however, carried with it an equal portion of accountability. It facilitates your access to both the very best and the very worst the world has to offer. With it you can accomplish great things in a short period of time, or you can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential. With the click of a button, you can access whatever your heart desires. That’s the key-what does your heart desire? What do you gravitate toward? Where will your desires lead?

Remember that God “granteth unto men according to their desire and that He “will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:

“In a real though figurative sense, the book of life is the record of the acts of men as such record is written in their own bodies…That is, every thought, word, and deed has an [effect] on the human body; all these leave their marks, marks which can be read by Him who is Eternal as easily as the words in a book can be read.”

The Internet also records your desires, expressed in the form of searches and clicks. There are legions waiting to fill those desires. As you surf the Internet, you leave tracks-what you communicate, where you have been, how long you have been there, and the kinds of things that interest you. In this way, the Internet creates a cyber profile for you-in a sense, your “cyber book of life.” As in life, the Internet will give more and more of what you seek. If your desires are pure, the Internet can magnify them, making it ever easier to engage in worthy pursuits. But, the opposite is also true.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way:

“What we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity…”

Are You Sleeping Through the Restoration?

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Second Counselor in the First Presidency


Sometimes we think of the restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us-Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized.In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process: we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” He will yet reveal.

  Brethren, the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.

This is one of the most remarkable periods of the world’s history! Ancient prophets yearned to see our day.

When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might mind, and strength? Of will we have to admit that we were an observer?

…The Apostle Paul wrote, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

Dear friends, know that you are sons of light.

Don’t allow selfishness! Don’t allow habits that could lead to addiction. Don’t allow competing priorities to lull you into indifference or detachment from blessed discipleship and ennobling priesthood service!

There is too much at stake for us as individuals, as families, and as Christ’s Church to give only a half-hearted effort to this sacred work.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not an effort of once a week or once a day. It is an effort of once and for all.


The Priesthood Man

President Henry B. Eyring

Of the First Presidency


I have observed three common characteristics of the priesthood holders who are my heroes. One is a pattern of prayer, the second is a habit of service, and the third is a rock-hard decision to be honest.

We all pray, but the priesthood holder you want to be prays often and with real intent. In the evening you will get on your knees and thank God for the blessings of the day. You will thank Him for parents, for teachers, and for great examples to follow. You will describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day. That will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought. It will surprise you and change you.

As you pray for forgiveness you will find yourself forgiving others. As you thank God for His kindness you will think of others, by name, who need your kindness. Again, that experience will surprise you every day, and over time it will change you…

Some of you are already models of unselfish priesthood service. In temples across the world, priesthood holders arrive before sunrise. And some serve long after sunset. There is no recognition or public acclaim in this world for that sacrifice of time and effort. I have gone with young people as they serve those in the spirit world who are not able to claim temple blessings for themselves…

As you pray and serve others, your knowledge that you are a child of God will grow. You will become more aware that He is saddened if you are dishonest in any way. You will be more determined to keep your word to God and to others. You will be more aware of taking anything that does not belong to you. You will be more honest with your employers. You will be more determined to be on time and to complete every task you are given by the Lord that you have accepted to do.

Strong and of a Good Courage”

President Thomas S. Monson

President: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Monson 13

We are here upon the earth at a remarkable period in its history. Our opportunities are almost limitless, and yet we also face a multitude of challenges, some of them unique to our time.

We live in a world where moral values have, in great measure, been tossed aside, where sin is flagrantly on display, and where temptations to stray from the straight and narrow path surround us. We are faced with persistent pressures and insidious influences tearing down what is decent and attempting to substitute the shallow philosophies and practices of a secular society.

Because of these and other challenges, decisions are constantly before us which can determine our destiny. In order to make the correct decisions, courage is needed–the courage to say “No” when we should, the courage to say “yes” when that is appropriate, the courage to do the right thing because it is right.

Inasmuch as the trend in society today is rapidly away from the values and principles the Lord has given us, we will almost certainly be called upon to defend that which we believe. Will we have the courage to do so?

Said President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who for many years was a member of the First Presidency: “Not unknown are cases where [those]of presumed faith…have felt that, since by affirming their full faith they might call down upon themselves the ridicule of their unbelieving colleagues, they must either modify or explain away their faith or destructively dilute it, or even pretend to cast it away.  Such are hypocrites.” None of us would wish to wear such a label, and yet are we reluctant to declare our faith in some circumstances?…

The call for courage comes constantly to each of us. Every day of our lives courage is needed-not just for the momentous events, but more often as we make decisions or respond to circumstances around us. Said Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowd shouts your name.