Sunday, June 22, 2014

Priesthood, its Keys, Temple Ordinances, and Family

On June 2nd, the bishop of our congregation asked my husband and I to speak in church. Our topics were assigned by the bishop and both were related to the priesthood. As one who was not unaware of the amazing amount of media attention on the subject, I was excited to be given another chance to speak about it. It was delivered on June 22nd.

At the request of many, I have posted our talks/sermons. This is my husband's talk. A link to my talk is here. Please note that it is geared for practicing members of the Church, as it was delivered in our main worship service. Thus, there may be things that are referred to that are not expounded further because we expect a majority of the congregation to understand many of these basics and regularly used vocabulary. Regardless of your experience with the Church, if you have any questions about what we have referenced in these posts or anything related to it, please feel free to ask in the comment section and I will be happy to clarify as I am able.

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Growing up, I never had any feeling of misunderstanding about the Priesthood. I saw the young men prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament. I saw my father give blessings, baptize, and stand in the circle during ordinations and settings apart. I saw Bishops give me and my friends worthiness interviews prior to attending the temple on Youth Temple trips. I also witnessed the power of Priesthood revelation in action as blessings were requested and given during my missionary service in Argentina.

I’m sure many of you have seen many of these things and heard countless stories about them. Many of you have seen and heard a lifetime’s worth or more of these things. What I have come to realize – and am still realizing – is the fact that what I witnessed and felt I understood were Priesthood keys because I saw them in action. But what about the Priesthood, as in the Priesthood itself? Keys are related, but they are not the complete Priesthood just as males are not the Priesthood. This may be one reason why Bishop Smith thanks the young men for exercising their Priesthood authority each Sunday after the sacrament, rather than ‘thanking the Priesthood’ for administering the sacrament. The point is that the Priesthood is neither defined by its keys nor by those who hold it.

What is the priesthood - not the keys - but the Priesthood? I draw from Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ recent General Conference remarks for an answer. The Priesthood is, “the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family.” He continues stating that the priesthood “is the consummate power of this earth. It is the power by which the earth was created.”

In her book, Women and the Priesthood, which I have drawn much from, Sheri Dew stated, “Priesthood keys are the ‘right to presidency,’ the right to preside over and direct the work.’ They are ‘the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth. The exercise of priesthood authority is governed by those who hold its keys’.” Dallin H. Oaks further clarified, “By definition, keys open things. ‘All priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys.” Sheri Dew later continued, “Just because a man has been ordained to the priesthood does not mean he holds priesthood keys. At any given time, a relative few hold keys. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles hold all keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” It is through these keys that the Kingdom of God on the earth is directed and governed in His place.

Notice how none of these quotes state that men are the Priesthood or its keys. “Man”, meaning mankind in the context given, is the only species referred to. Mankind, as we all know, refers to males and females of all ages, races, shapes and sizes. Together, we make up mankind.

How then does the priesthood benefit all mankind? 1 Nephi 14:14 reads, “I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God (the power of God is synonymous with the word ‘priesthood’), that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”

Sheri Dew expresses the following: “God’s power is about unity rather than control and domination. God makes His power available to His covenant-making children so that they can become one with Him and one with each other. When we enter the waters of baptism, we not only covenant to serve God and keep His commandments, we promise to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who need comfort. When we receive the Holy Ghost, we have the capacity to know all things the Lord would have us do and to gradually, increasingly become one with Him. When we are endowed, we bind ourselves more fully to the Lord, and He binds Himself to us. When we enter the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, we take an essential step to ultimately becoming like our Father and His Son -- to having no end, living from everlasting to everlasting and having all power.”

From a worldly perspective, the priesthood is often seen and defined as a power; in the world, power is usually related to domination and control. Domination and control are often used and abused for personal gain, and this is not the Lord’s way. This is evidenced by His motives and actions as we find them throughout canonized scripture. In God’s kingdom, Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it well when he expressed this, “Some sincerely wish for more power to do good, but only a few individuals are good enough to be powerful. But craving power and the spotlight sucks out the spiritual oxygen, leaving some ‘past feeling.’... Those who bestow the transitory things of the world are, themselves, transients. They cannot confer that which is lasting because they do not possess it.” (Source)

Many people think that because men are ordained to the Priesthood, they can do whatever they want. An example of how this is not true is found in a Bishop. The Bishop must be ordained to the office of a High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood to be given the keys to preside over the various Ward functions. However, the office of Bishop is an Aaronic Priesthood office, not a Melchizedek Priesthood office. In fact, the Bishop is President of the Priest’s quorum, which is an Aaronic Priesthood quorum, not the High Priest’s Group which pertains to the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Because of this, the Bishop is not authorized to extend callings that pertain specifically to the Elder’s Quorum or High Priest’s Group. Because those quorums fall under the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is the responsibility of the Stake President to extend such callings. This limitation that a Bishop has is one the Lord himself has placed within His Church. The Bishop presides over the Ward, including the Melchizedek priesthood quorums, yet when it comes to callings within those quorums, he is neither authorized to extend callings nor is he authorized to ask the congregation to sustain them. The Stake presidency has to do that. The moral of this information: When a man is ordained to a priesthood office, he cannot do whatever he wants. He may have the authority to do something, but unless he has been authorized, he can do nothing.

In addition, no priesthood bearer has authority to act outside of his calling or responsibilities. For example, the bishop is only the bishop at church and when someone needs the bishop during the week. At home, he is Jim Smith: Husband, Father, and happily retired. Although his wife is in the ward over which he presides, he is her equal when he is not acting in his calling as bishop. For him to act as bishop toward her at home would be a misuse of his calling and the keys that come with it. His place in the family is at her side.

However, a worthy man who has been ordained to an office in the Melchizedek Priesthood can provide blessings of comfort, healing, and things of that nature to those who request one of him. He cannot inform someone that ‘he is going to give them a blessing’. This is because blessings are contingent upon the faith of the individual seeking them. There may be times that the person is unable to ask, for example: an infant or someone in critical condition in the hospital. But generally speaking, both the asker and the one giving the blessing should follow the Lord’s command and admonition to “ask and ye shall receive.”

Within the home, husband and wife preside and function only as co-equals. Their relationship with one another and the Lord is comparable to a triangle. At the top is the Lord. On the bottom two corners, equal with each other, are the man and woman. As they constantly seek the Lord together, they not only come closer to the Lord, but to each other as well. This is only obtainable through the priesthood in which both take an equal responsibility and role through the temple ordinances to be “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, that we may be glorified together” (Romans 8:17).

Being heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ is not an easy task. Sheri Dew noted that “Wrestling with spiritual questions is a fundamental element of a religious life. It is an exercise that not only increases knowledge but strengthens faith.” Elder Maxwell said, “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, “Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. . . .then let me come and dwell with thee and fully share thy joy!”

Working towards being heirs and co-heirs with Deity is no easy task, but would the Lord give us an opportunity to gain something that He knew was unattainable? While Pres. Uchtdorf has stated that we are a question asking people, struggling and pain are mandatory components of the learning and conversion process. Thus, we must remember that even our leaders are still taking part in the learning process. We do not have all the answers and we should not expect them to, either. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated that we are to, “Be kind regarding human frailty--your own as well as those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women.”

Are we so accustomed to living in a world catered to us through microwave dinners, Smart phones, and NetFlix that we expect the Gospel to provide us with the same self-catered, easy user experience? The Lord works “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” and he gives as we are willing to receive. This requires that we “search, ponder, and pray” to find out what we don’t know. This was the experience of Joseph Smith and it lead him to ask God about which religion to join. He was told to join none of them, but the Lord gave revelation “line upon line and precept upon precept” as the prophet did his part to be ready and worthy for it.

God expects us all to receive revelation as we progress. Because we have all been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost by one who has been authorized to do so, we are all entitled to receive personal revelation as we righteously seek it. This is not a privilege afforded only to those who hold the priesthood. God expects all of us to seek and receive revelation.

Doctrine andCovenants 84, which contains the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood says, “And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” Sheri Dew noted that the phrase “also all they” refers to more than just those who are ordained to the priesthood. She also reflected on the word “receive”, which is commonly thought to mean “to acquire something”. However, to “receive” also means “to believe” or “to accept as true”.

Therefore, as we receive or believe and accept as true God’s revelation and inspiration to us, we can draw nearer to Him. Recognizing revelation is a topic expounded upon in the scriptures. When we receive revelation, we can choose to believe and accept as true that revelation. This applies as we seek and are given revelation for ourselves, for our families, and to operate in our callings in the Church. It is important to remember that we cannot receive personal revelation for anyone other than ourselves, but we can be prompted to actions that would benefit someone for whom we have been given stewardship over, like our children or our home or visiting teachees.

In temples around the world, sealings take place. The sealers who officiate at these ordinances are authorized directly by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to officiate in their office. While many couples make the good decision to marry civilly (as opposed to cohabiting), no state, province, or national government can confer priesthood authority upon its officials. As a result, regardless of the words in the ceremony, civil marriages are not binding ‘for time and for all eternity’. Were it not for the proxy work in the temple that priesthood keys allow, all civil marriages that are not taken to the temple in this life would be null and void in the hereafter.

The Temple Sealing is the crowning ordinance of the temple. Regarding the sealing, the ordinance is short and easy to understand. As they kneel across the altar, neither the woman nor the man is higher than the other. As they take hands across the altar, the sealer uses the authority delegated to him to make them an eternal family unit, for “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom can only be reached by a man and woman together, because the fullness of the priesthood can only be attained by a man and woman together.

Sheri Dew quoted  Elder Talmage as he further explained: “In the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co-operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom….Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God.” President Harold B. Lee provided further insight: “Pure womanhood plus priesthood means exaltation. But womanhood without priesthood, or priesthood without womanhood, doesn't spell exaltation.”

I testify that the priesthood is the power of God. I testify that through it men, and women can become co-heirs with Christ and heirs to all God has. I also testify that through it, the necessary ordinances that can lead us back to His presence are realized for both men and women.

All quotations from Sheri Dew are found in chapter six of her book “Women and the Priesthood

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