There’s something about the way many members of the Church (at least in my experience) habitually speak about the priesthood, which is similar to how they speak about the Holy Ghost. It contracts those things into something more ordinary or restricted than what they are; and I don’t like it! Haha. I don’t like many things… and these two are so large and essential that I think they deserve clarity. Today, I’m tackling how the priesthood is often spoken of, mostly by individuals, and sometimes by local leaders.
So, how does it get contracted in people’s conceptions? Quite often, people at church, especially women – but not only them – speak of “having the priesthood in the home”, which they connect with having a man being able to give priesthood blessings to their family members, and sometimes with that man having authority to act as the head of the family, under God. It can also be implied that they understand this to confer security on the household, including protection from spiritual dangers. All of these are nice things, and not so much untrue as misleading, because the picture is incomplete – and it really restricts a lot of people from apparently enjoying these conditions. I think that “having the priesthood in the home” has become a phrase people use without recognising what they mean, or what it means, or what the priesthood itself is.
The priesthood, as it’s generally meant, is the power and authority to act in the name of God on the earth. It’s God’s power, to which access is given to a certain group of people, to do His will – which means blessing His children, who are separated from His presence. There’s actually more to it than that – it’s a much larger thing than just this definition. But this is how it relates to us on earth. This authority, through which access to the power is given, is accorded to a particular group of people – the priests, chosen of God to teach and lead His people. It’s highly regulated because it’s a sacred responsibility; not just anyone can be given authority to use it. Even those given the authority aren’t always able to access the power; there are conditions, of day-to-day worthiness, faith, and humility, which have to be met. For us, this means men who are ordained to hold this authority, and given keys for its use, depending on what it’s needed for.
Part of the problem is the words we use, and what people mean by them. “The priesthood” is used to mean the authority, but also the power, and the blessings it brings. It would help if different terms were used for each, instead of just the one. The other part is remembering what the purpose of it is. We have access to the priesthood because it is what renders things on earth eternally lawful. It’s how people are connected with God and eternal life through the saving ordinances of the Gospel. Without the authority, the power, and the ordinances, none of the rest of what happens at church would be of much use. Properly performed, these ordinances fulfill the promise God made to Abraham – that through him (meaning, through the priesthood), all the earth would be blessed.
Having someone living in your family who holds priesthood keys and can give you blessings by the laying on of hands is really nice – but such a small part of what the priesthood is and is meant for. I am blessed by the priesthood through the ordinances I’ve received, of baptism, confirmation, and temple endowment. As the gospel spreads to the peoples of the earth and they receive its saving ordinances, the world is blessed. My access to heavenly power, once I’ve received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, is through Him. I also have lines of access through my participation in General Conference (where prophetic counsel is given, by all the leaders), church callings, and supporting local leaders. If I need a blessing by the laying on of hands, I can seek that specially. But priesthood power, in the sense of its goodness and blessings, is within me, because I’ve received those ordinances. Its power does not reside in the men who hold keys for its jurisdictions. They seek it, gain access, and use it for the good of God’s children. The point of the priesthood is the saving and blessing of everyone who will accept it. In this way, it doesn’t really matter who holds the authority* – they are not blessed or recognised more by God because they do. What they have is a sacred responsibility, a burden, like Levi’s tribe. In the kingdom of God, everyone has a gift, a duty, something to do. Holding priesthood authority is ‘just’ one (an essential, very important one, but ‘just’ one nonetheless). Others have other duties, other gifts and responsibilities. We need them all, just like Paul taught.
* In this sense – whether it’s men or women. It’s the results that matter. However, obviously, it does matter who holds it, individually, in the sense that such authority is highly regulated, and so a specific subset of people has been chosen to do that on the earth.
In a family household, the man holding priesthood authority isn’t holding it because he’s more important, more worthy, or more blessed than his wife and children. He’s holding it because someone needs to, and the group chosen on earth to do that is men (those who’ve met the requirements). The man in a family has that authority so that the whole family can be supported by the power. Just as men in the Church have it so that the whole Church, and the rest of the world, can be supported by its power. They’re conduits for the official acts that must be done on earth to secure that heavenly confirmation. The husband and wife together exercise the power that comes to them through the husband’s authority/office/keys for the good of their family, just as all members of the Church exercise the power of God that comes to them through the righteous application of the men who hold its authority.
The point of the priesthood is its ordinances. This is what enables our access to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and thence to the evolution of our souls. This is how God blesses us, making us able to enjoy His power – specifically his salvation – despite being separated from His presence. Thus, the priesthood is for everyone.