The priesthood is a big topic and much has been said and written about it throughout time. It seems to me that there are a lot of misunderstandings out there about what the priesthood is.
I think there is some wisdom found in exploring some words spoken by, then President of the quorum of the twelve, Russell M. Nelson about the atonement of Jesus Christ:
It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.Russell M. Nelson
Under the Father’s great eternal plan, it is the Savior who suffered. It is the Savior who broke the bands of death. It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance. It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.
There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him.
I think that similarly, we make the same error in how we talk about the priesthood. Both ‘the atonement’ and ‘the priesthood’ are not in and of themselves some amorphous entities that we ‘draw upon’ for power.
The atonement was an event, and the priesthood is, as Alma explains, God’s “holy order.” (Alma 13:18) All power is a product of faith as is explained in Lecture First:
Faith, then, is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things: by it they exist, by it they are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeably to the will of God. Without it, there is no power, and without power there could be no creation, nor existence!Lecture 1:24
God ordains priests “to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.” (Alma 13:6) The priesthood consists of those priests that have been ordained according to God’s holy order.
This order is a structure that faith can operate within to accomplish specific ends. Power in the priesthood is accomplished by the faith of individuals acting individually or collectively; the priesthood is not some amorphous entity that has power within itself.
When the power of faith is channeled into God’s holy order, he can do his work through us to accomplish his desires for the salvation and exaltation of the human family.
There is no power that exists other than that of faith, yet we talk of “accessing priesthood power” so what is that exactly? A revelation to Joseph Smith teaches:
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.D&C 121:36
Here we see that priesthood rights are inseparably connected to what is called “the powers of heaven” which are mentioned in various places throughout mostly restoration scripture.
I have spent much time meditating on the meaning of that phase and I believe that it refers to the source of God’s power which are all intelligences that honor him. Satan demanded that God give him his honor, which God says is his power. (D&C 29:36)
All the power in the universe consists of intelligent beings acting in faith; the power of God and the powers of heaven are composed of the same. God speaks, intelligences honor him by responding in faith and his will is done.
It is God’s holy order that exists to save and exalt mankind. Those that enter into this order take that same mission upon themselves and seek to enter into the rest of God and guide others to the same destination.
God’s holy order is organized into various priesthoods and referred to by certain names such as Melchizedek, Aaronic, and Patriarchal. These refer to how the order functions and applies in various contexts.
There are what we call “keys” and various offices, ordinances, callings, etc. that all pertain to the ultimate goal of the immortality and eternal life of man.
While there is a lot of debate currently about “the priesthood” and how men and women differ in their relationship to it in the church, I think that it is important to remember that only power there is, is faith.
With faith and through God’s holy order, it is the saved and exalted man and woman together as one that the church exists to create and sustain.
This is why I am so happy that the church has shifted focus to exalt the home to make sure that this truth is obvious and unmistakable. Did we focus too much on the church while losing sight of the end goal, the reason why the church exists in the first place?
What we see right now in the church and our lives may look to some more like chaos than a holy order, but order out of chaos is what God is in the business of and he is perfect at it.
Our faith must be in more than just what we think we see. It must rise beyond the static of imperfect souls that surround us and reach high into the heavens where a wise and loving God presides over a perfect plan.
The priesthood is key to God’s plan, powered by our faith.