Melchizedek Priesthood

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

This entry consists of two articles: Melchizedek Priesthood: Powers and Offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood is a general discussion of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Melchizedek Priesthood: Restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood is a historical treatment of the restoring of this priesthood in this dispensation.

Melchizedek Priesthood: Powers and Offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood

Author: BALLIF, JAE R.

The Melchizedek Priesthood is the authority, responsibility, and power to act in the name of Jesus Christ and to organize and direct part of his work. Through the opportunities of this priesthood, men and women in partnership with God can conduct the work of the family and the Church. "It is the duty of this vast body of men holding the holy Priesthood…to exert their influence and exercise their power for good among the people of Israel and the people of the world…to preach and to work righteousness, both at home and abroad" (Smith, p. 157).

In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, "All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it" (TPJS, p. 180). Most often, however, the name Melchizedek Priesthood is used in the Church to describe the higher priesthood and its offices. "There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic…. The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things" (D&C 107:1, 8). The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys to the kingdom, and "in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest" (D&C 84:20).

ORDINATION TO THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD. Every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. As with the aaronic priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood is conferred on those who have qualified themselves and have been called by those in authority.

Specific standards of worthiness to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood include personal integrity, chastity, obedience to the divine laws of health, and faithful contribution of tithes to the Church. Beyond these traits, it is expected that men will progress in developing attributes of godliness. Like all followers of Christ, they should be faithful, diligent, and amenable to righteous change, learning, and loving: "We can make advancement only upon the principles of eternal truth. In proportion as we become established upon the foundation of these principles which have been revealed from the heavens in the latter days, and determine to accomplish the purposes of the Lord, will we progress, and the Lord will all the more exalt and magnify us" (Smith, p. 141).

The prophet and president of the church holds and exercises all of the authority and keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. He delegates to stake presidents and bishops and others the authority to ordain others to priesthood offices. Conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood by the laying on of hands must also be approved by the common consent of the priesthood bearers or general membership of the candidate's stake or district.

After the Melchizedek Priesthood is conferred upon them, all priesthood holders are ordained to an office within the priesthood, usually elder. They may later be ordained to the office of high priest or patriarch as their Church callings require. Those called to be General Authorities for the whole Church will be ordained seventies or apostles. Ordination to an office within the priesthood gives specific responsibilities within the Church.

Finally, a man may be set apart to carry out an assignment, such as to be president of a quorum of elders, a stake president, or a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. As appropriate, he will be given the keys of authority necessary to carry out that assignment. This procedure makes it possible for every act performed under priesthood authority to be done at the proper time and place and in the proper way. The authority to direct those specific activities constitutes the keys of the priesthood.

An individual accepts his ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood by making a covenant in his mind and heart with God (TPJS, p. 323; see also Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood). He covenants to honor, dignify, and learn the duties of his priesthood, to keep the commandments of God, to live by God's counsel, and to walk uprightly and virtuously as he carries out his responsibilities. God promises that if the man keeps his commitments, he will be given eternal life and be exalted in a godly state, inheriting all that the Father has, and will participate with God and the Savior in their continued work (D&C 84:39).

FUNCTIONING OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD. All who hold the priesthood can use it to benefit others, regardless of their particular Church assignment or priesthood office. For example, in working with their families, men are authorized to carry out their patriarchal responsibilities (see Fatherhood), including blessing family members. In addition, they are authorized to heal the sick, seek personal knowledge, and give general help and comfort to those whom they contact.

To supervise and carry out priesthood ordinances within the Church, it is necessary to have both the Melchizedek Priesthood and the appropriate keys. For example, to confirm baptized members and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon them, it is necessary to have the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood and to be authorized to use it. In this way, there is order, and the work done on earth is acceptable to the Savior in mortality and in the hereafter (see Sealing).

In addition to providing the authority to represent Christ on earth, the Melchizedek Priesthood provides a revelatory channel through which instructions and doctrine from Christ can be made known. Every individual has access to God and the right to receive personal revelation pertaining to his or her life and callings, but when revelation concerning principles or the implementation of principles is required for the Church or a priesthood unit of it, God gives this revelation only through appropriate priesthood leaders. The prophet and President of the Church receives revelation for the entire Church. A bishop receives the revelation necessary for leading the ward. This way of making truth known underscores the right and responsibility of each individual to seek and obtain revelation and at the same time preserves order and harmony by working through the priesthood structure that Christ has set in place.

"The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven; …[this power] cannot be controlled nor handled [except] upon the principles of righteousness" (D&C 121:36). One can officiate for God only when administering the work in wisdom and love, in a way consistent with the ways of God. Assignments must be pursued with long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, kindness, love unfeigned, pure knowledge, and charity toward all. In this way, God promises that the "doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven" (D&C 121:41-45).

Priesthood can be lost as a result of a disciplinary procedure for serious sin. When a man is excommunicated, he loses his priesthood. Disfellowshipment or probation may restrict a man from using his priesthood until the repentance process is complete. In addition, "when we undertake to cover our sins, or gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness…Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (D&C 121:37).

ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD. The Melchizedek Priesthood is an eternal priesthood. Before mortality, God delegated authority and responsibility to worthy individuals. This holy priesthood was the means by which that action was taken. After this life, those who have been valiant and have honored their priesthood will continue to bear it and to have the responsibility to use it in serving others.

Adam, the first of the spirit children of God to live on earth, received the holy priesthood, with all its power, authority, and keys. "And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance" (Moses 5:59). This authority was delegated to others in an unbroken chain from one prophet to another. "All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood" (TPJS, p. 181).

Abraham sought the blessings of his fathers and the right to be ordained to the priesthood. Because he had qualified himself for the priesthood, even though his own father had not, Abraham obtained the priesthood from Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God (Abr. 1:2-5). Melchizedek met Abraham and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth part of all he had (Heb. 7:1-3). Melchizedek exercised mighty faith and used his priesthood to bring a people practicing iniquity to repentance. None was greater than he (Alma 13:17-19). Originally, the priesthood was known as the "Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God" (D&C 107:3). To avoid too frequent use of God's name, the Church in ancient days called the priesthood by the name of this noted priesthood leader, Melchizedek (D&C 107:2-4).

Moses received the Melchizedek Priesthood from his father-in-law, Jethro (D&C 84:6). Moses held the Melchizedek Priesthood until he was translated, at which time the keys of the greater priesthood went with him, and what remained with the people was an appendage to the Melchizedek Priesthood called the Aaronic Priesthood, a priesthood with limited authority. After the time of Moses, individual prophets were given the holy priesthood at various times by God, but it was restricted from the general populace.

The Book of Mormon reports that Nephite prophets held the priesthood called after the order of the Son of God, the Melchizedek Priesthood (Alma 13:10). Those who had the authority directed the work of God among the people (Alma 29:13).

The apostles were given the Melchizedek Priesthood by Jesus Christ while he ministered on earth. He gave them authority and responsibility to direct his Church. After Christ left, the apostles continued to officiate for him and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood on others when it was appropriate (Eph. 4:11-13; Acts 1:22-26; see also Organization of the Church in New Testament Times). Over time, both the principles and the priesthood authority and keys were lost through apostasy.

MODERN HISTORY OF THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD. The Melchizedek Priesthood was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see below ). As directed, they ordained one another first and second elders of the Church on April 6, 1830 (see Elder, Melchizedek Priesthood). In turn, they conferred the priesthood upon, ordained, and set apart others to offices and callings in the priesthood (see Organization of the Church, 1830). The first bishop was ordained in 1831 to care for the poor and needy and to govern the temporal affairs of the Church. On June 3, 1831, Joseph Smith directed more than twenty men to be ordained to the "high priesthood," as the president of this high priesthood. High priest councils governed the Church until 1834.

In 1835 the Church structure was adjusted to accommodate the additional revelation and increased numbers; priesthood quorums made up of men ordained to particular offices were in operation (see Doctrine and Covenants: Section 107). Three presiding high priests were established as the quorum of the First Presidency. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was a traveling high council directed by the First Presidency. The Seventy were to travel internationally to preach. Stake high councils were established to govern within their stakes, and bishops cared for the temporal concerns of the Church.

It was necessary for additional Melchizedek Priesthood keys to be restored to carry out the higher temple ordinances. Messengers from God brought these keys and instructions on April 3, 1836 (see Doctrine and Covenants: Sections 109-110).

On July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith recorded the revelation concerning eternal marriage relationships, wherein Christ said he would "give unto thee the law of my Holy Priesthood, as was ordained by me and my Father before the world was" (D&C 132:28). He conferred upon Joseph "the keys and power of the priesthood" (D&C 132:45; see also Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood).

The First Presidency presides over the Melchizedek Priesthood and directs the work of the Church. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shares this responsibility according to the keys given to the apostles. In turn, stake presidents supervise the wards and branches of the Church by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the specific keys given them.

All men who have the Melchizedek Priesthood are members of a priesthood quorum. These quorums are established within geographic boundaries and are made up of a group of men who hold the same office in the priesthood or who are of the same age group and may come to hold that office. Quorums administer the work of the Church assigned to them, train members in their priesthood responsibility, and provide opportunities for service and brotherhood for those working toward common goals.

In each stake there is one high priests quorum. The stake president and his counselors serve as the quorum presidency. A high priests group functions in each ward, presided over by a group leader, one or more assistants, and a secretary. An elders quorum, presided over by a president, two counselors, and a secretary, is organized in every ward and independent branch. The stake presidency and high councilors oversee all Melchizedek Priesthood quorum activities in the stake.

Melchizedek Priesthood: Restoration of Melchizedek Priesthood

Author: BALLIF, JAE R.

To act for God in organizing his Church and administering all the ordinances, Joseph Smith received the Melchizedek Priesthood in the divinely established way. Authority and responsibility for specific assignments are essential (D&C 18:9, 27-32, 35-37;27:12; see Keys of the Priesthood). In addition, Joseph Smith and others received and taught the significance of each ordinance and key. Since no one on earth possessed that authority at the time, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery received both instruction and ordination from God and from his messengers.

The Prophet and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829, under the hands of John the Baptist. He informed them that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that that priesthood would be given to them (JS-H 1:72). Although the precise date of this restoration is not known, it is certain that it occurred after May 15, 1829, and before August 1830 (D&C 27:12). The documents available and the date of the formal organization of the Church give support to a time of restoration before April 6, 1830. Many students have concluded that late May or early June 1829 is the most probable time frame (HC 1:40n-42n; Porter, pp. 5-10).

Sometime before June 14, 1829, the Lord instructed Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery concerning their ordination as elders, which is a Melchizedek Priesthood office (HC 1:60-61). Furthermore, when Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph and Oliver, they ordained them also as apostles (D&C 27:12) and committed to them "the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times" (D&C 128:20; cf. 27:13).

Several records document the occurrence and significance of this visitation. An early confirmation of the receipt of apostolic powers is evidenced in an 1829 revelation recorded in the hand of Oliver Cowdery in which the Lord stated, "I command all men every where to repent & I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called" (Cowdery, 1829; cf. D&C 18:9). In his 1832 History of the Church the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that he had received "the holy Priesthood by the ministering Angels to administer the letter of the Gospel" and that he had been given "a confirmation and reception of the high Priesthood after the holy order of the son of the living God power and ordinance from on high to preach the Gospel in the administration and demonstration of the spirit the Keys of the Kingdom of God conferred upon him and the continuation of the blessings of God to him" (Jessee, p. 3).

Oliver Cowdery on many occasions bore witness that he "was present with Joseph when an holy angel from God came down from heaven and conferred, or restored, the Aaronic Priesthood and…was also present with Joseph when the Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred on each other, by the will and commandment of God" (Anderson, p. 22).

Joseph Smith said that Peter, James, and John made their visit "in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river" (D&C 128:20).

On April 3, 1836, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knelt in prayer in the Kirtland Temple and received another profoundly important vision in which certain Melchizedek Priesthood keys were restored. Moses appeared and committed the keys of the gathering of Israel. Elias gave to them keys of the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham. Finally, Elijah stood before them as promised by Malachi and Moroni and bestowed the keys of sealing families together (D&C 110:11-16;2:1-3).

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