Melchizedek Priesthood (Latter-day Saint)

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The Melchizedek Priesthood, to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authority and power to act in the name of God including the authority to perform ordinances and to preside over and direct the affairs of his Church and Kingdom. The full title of the Priesthood is the "Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God," but is usually referred to in the shortened form, named for Melchizedek, king of Salem.

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Authority

According to the Church all legitimate Priesthood authority and power originates with God. Only God and those to whom He has delegated His authority have the privilege to carry out Priesthood responsibilities, such as performing ordinances and conducting the affairs of his Church and Kingdom. No person can take upon himself God's Priesthood—regardless of education, revelation or other circumstances—unless that person is specifically called and ordained to the Priesthood by someone who has authority to confer it upon others. Hebrews 5:1,4-6,10 (http://scriptures.lds.org/heb/5) states:

"For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God...And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec...Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec."

In regards to Priesthood ordination, the 5th Article of Faith of the Church states that:

"[A] man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."

The Priesthood is conferred on male church-members beginning at age twelve by the laying on of hands of men previously ordained to the Priesthood. Ordination to the Priesthood is based on the recipient's personal moral worthiness without regard to education or other socio-economic status, and, since 1978, without regard to race. Thus, every worthy male Church member is typically ordained to be a priest (in a general sense of minister, not necessarily as the office of priest below) and the Church is led by a lay clergy who are not paid for their services; the Priesthood is not a profession nor restricted to privileged persons. Not including employees who run the Church's global business affairs from its offices in Salt Lake City, only Apostles in the Church—having left their (usually lucrative) careers to serve for life in that capacity—receive compensation: a living stipend.

Priesthood Branches

There are two branches of the Priesthood, known as the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood is a preparatory Priesthood and is given to men from age 12 onward, and the Melchizedek Priesthood is the "full" Priesthood which is reserved for men age 18 and over. In the Church, the Aaronic Priesthood, being named after Aaron in the Old Testament, is the successor of the Levitical Priesthood. The Priesthood authorizes an ordained male to perform responsibilities particular to his Priesthood office and calling. Each branch of the Priesthood, Aaronic and Melchizedek, has different offices with different functions and age groups associated with that office as set out by the table below.

Offices of the Latter-day Saint Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood

Melchizedek Priesthood
OFFICEAGETYPICAL DUTIES
Apostle18 and olderSpecial Witnesses of Jesus Christ who hold all the keys of the kingdom to officiate in all responsibilities and duties of the Priesthood including the sealing power and the power to act as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.
Seventy18 and olderMen who assist the Apostles to serve as General or Area Authorities. Seventies may also have other 'special assignments' as directed by the First Presidency or Twelve Apostles. When a Seventy becomes 70 years old, he is typically granted 'emeritus status' and retires from his special assignments and assumes the role of a high priest (although still officially a seventy).
Patriarch18 and olderA local man that is ordained to give Patriarchal Blessings to members within his stake.
High Priest18 and olderMay serve in leadership callings such as a Bishop, ordain other High Priests and all duties of an Elder.
Elder18 and olderConfer the Gift of the Holy Ghost, ordain other Elders, bless the sick by the laying on of hands, and all the duties of a Priest.
Aaronic Priesthood
Bishop18 and olderPreside over local wards (congregations), administer temporal and spiritual welfare to their wards, and officiate as a common judge in Israel. A Bishop is also President of the Aaronic Priesthood in his ward; a literal descendant of Aaron is entitled to this office, but it may be filled by a High Priest if no Aaronic descendant is present in the ward. The Bishop is typically the presiding High Priest in a congregation.
Priest16 and olderPrepare and Bless the Sacrament, Baptize, ordain other Priests, Teachers, and Deacons, and all the duties of a Teacher.
Teacher14 and olderPrepare the Sacrament, home teach, and all the duties of a Deacon.
Deacon12 and olderKeys of the ministering of angels, pass the Sacrament, and collect Fast Offerings.

If an adult man joins the Church, he may be called and ordained to hold the Aaronic Priesthood (if he is morally worthy) by those in the Church with authority to do so. After a period of time (usually one year) the man may be called and ordained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood (again based upon moral worthiness) by those in the Church with authority. In addition to being ordained to a certain office in the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood, a male may also be set apart and ordained to a Priesthood leadership office. For example, men are usually not ordained to the office of High Priest unless they are also set apart to an office which requires that ordination, such as Bishop or High Councilor. However, older men are also ordained to the office of High Priest although they may have never been set apart to serve in a leadership office. Each person who holds an office of the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood also belong to a local Priesthood quorum. Although the age limits set forth in this article are almost always followed, they remain malleable and applied at the discretion of the correct Priesthood authority.

Quorums

Priesthood bearers are organized into quorums to fulfill their priesthood responsibilities. The quorums are a brotherhood where members of the quorum assist each other, teach one another, and delegate particular responsibilities to individuals or committees. Oftentimes members of the church who do not maintain the standards and people who are not members of the church are invited to participate in the quorum to enjoy the brotherhood and support, although they may not be given responsibilities.

OfficeQuorum Organization
ApostleQuorum of the Twelve Apostles
SeventyQuorums of the Seventy
High PriestThe high priests in a stake are a quorum, but each ward has a High Priests Group organized.
ElderEach ward and branch has one or more Elders Quorum of up to 96 members.
PriestEach ward and branch has one or more Priests Quorum of up to 48 members.
TeacherEach ward and branch has one or more Teachers Quorum of up to 24 members.
DeaconEach ward and branch has one or more Deacons Quorum of up to 12 members.

Presidencies

Each quorum and organizational unit in the church has a presidency attached to it. A presidency is composed of three members: the president and two counselors. Typically, a president is selected and he chooses the two counselors who he would like to serve with him. On very rare occasions there may be only one counselor or three counselors. Usually, a secretary is also called by the president to serve, but he is not considered a part of the presidency by authority. Each of the counselors is given a precedence, for instance, "first counselor" and "second counselor".

The counselors serve under the direction of the president and share in his responsibilities. The president may assign each counselor to handle certain areas of responsibility. The president shares the sole burden of being the final arbiter of decisions, but he is advised to counsel with his advisors and pay close attention to their advice and insight.

When the president is released, the counselors are released as well.

A bishopric is organized much like a presidency, except the president is the bishop.

Priesthood Leadership Callings

In addition to the regular offices of the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood referred to in the chart above, there are other leadership callings within the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. The table below lists these other Priesthood leadership callings and the table below it shows how the various callings are organized within the hierarchy of the Church.


Priesthood Leadership Callings
OFFICETYPICAL DUTIES
President (Prophet) or Counselor of the First Presidency of the ChurchHigh Priests who direct the affairs of the entire Church
President of the Quorum of the Twelve ApostlesHigh Priests who assist the First Presidency
Area President or CounselorSeventies assigned to preside over stakes and missions within a certain geographical area
Mission President or CounselorHigh Priests who preside over a particular mission
Stake/District President or Counselorlocal High Priests who preside over the wards within their stake
High Councilorlocal High Priests who assist the Stake Presidency
Temple President or Counselorlocal High Priests who preside over a local temple
Branch President or Counselorlocal High Priests over local branches (congregations) and administer temporal and spiritual welfare to their congregations

Hierarchy

General Authorities
The First Presidency:
The President and Prophet of the Church, 1st Counselor and 2nd Counselor
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and eleven other Apostles
Quorums of the Seventy
The Seven Presidents of the Seventy and several dozen Seventies
First Quorum of the SeventySecond Quorum of the Seventy
Area Presidencies:
Presidents and 1st and 2nd Counselors are filled by Seventies
Local Authorities
Third, Fourth and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy (Area Authority Seventies)Temple Presidencies
Stake Presidencies and High CouncilsMission Presidencies
Ward Bishoprics or Branch PresidenciesElder QuorumsHigh Priest Groups
Deacon QuorumsTeacher QuorumsPriest Quorums

Church Leadership, Quorum Organization and Filling Vacant Callings

In the Church, Apostles are a council of fifteen ordained men who are called to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ, to govern and administer to the entire Church and to hold the highest Priesthood authority in the Church for life. Each of these Apostles is also ordained as a "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" and each Apostle holds all the "keys of the Priesthood". However, these keys and callings are dormant until the Apostle is entitled to exercise them. Thus, only the President and Prophet of the Church is entitled to receive revelation for the entire Church. Typically, the most senior member of the group (in years served as an Apostle) is also ordained as the President and Prophet of the Church. The President is generally supported by two Apostles who he selects as his counselors, although certain Presidents—generally with health problems—have chosen to select additional counselors. The Prophet and his counselors compose the First Presidency. The remaining Apostles compose the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the most senior member of that quorum typically being the President of that quorum. The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are called to their positions for life and serve until death. As vacancies arise in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, all of the Apostles meet to pray and to come to a unanimous decision by revelation as to whom among the rank and file of the Church will be called to fill the vacancy. The Apostles then ordain the appointed man called.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was instituted on February 14, 1835, (Doctrine and Covenants 107:23-24) and is equal in authority to The First Presidency in absentia. The First Presidency dissolves whenever the President of the First Presidency is no longer serving in that capacity—so far only because of death. When the First Presidency dissolves, the counselors of the First Presidency become part of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until a new First Presidency is organized. The First Quorum of the Seventy was set up February 28, 1835, (Documentary History of the Church 2:201-2) and these quorums are equal in authority to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in absentia. In Mormon theology when Jesus Christ comes again to personally reign on the earth, He will personally take the place of the office of the First Presidency as he did during his earthly ministry in the New Testament.

All vacant positions in the church are filled by prayer and revelation, by those who are in authority over that position, usually with much consultation. Stake, temple, and mission presidents are called by the general authorities of the church. Bishops callings are approved by the First Predidency in consultation with Stake and area leaders. Elders quorums and high priest group leaders are selected by the stake president over that ward with the help of the bishop. Deacons and teachers quorum presidents are selected by the bishopric, with the assistance of his counselors and the advisors to those quorums. The president of the priests quorum is the bishop, and he selects two "assistants" to aid with the quorum responsibilities. These assistants are not to be confused with his counselors (who are also the Priests quorum counselors), but are still quorum leaders in a similar way as high priest group leaders represent the stake president. The other auxilliaries of the church, such as Relief Society, Primary, Sunday School, etc, all have leadership called by the person to preside over that organization. Only quorum presidents hold keys "to direct the affairs of the Church" and oversee the direction of the quorums and corresponding auxilliarlies they oversee.

Just like other callings, priesthood callings are done with the consent of the called, and with the consent of the church or the organizational unit of those they preside over.

Priesthood Succession

Latter-day Saints believe that ancient prophets and apostles conferred the Priesthood directly upon Joseph Smith and other early members of the Church. The conferral of the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery is recorded in Joseph Smith - History as follows:

Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood

"[W]e. . . went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates[, The Book of Mormon]. . . . While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:

"Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.

"He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.

"Accordingly we went and were baptized. . . .

"The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second. . . .

"Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation."

Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

Not all of the revelations which Joseph Smith received have been fully recorded in public. The restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is one instance of this. However, this event and many others is alluded to in Doctrine and Covenants section 128:20-21 (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/128):

And again, what do we hear?...The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times! And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!

Restoration of other Priesthood Keys (Authority and Power)

In addition to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, additional Priesthood authority and power (sometimes referred to as "keys") were conferred on Joseph Smith and others. In Doctrine and Covenants 110:11-16 (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/110) Joseph dictated the following passage as a revelation at the dedication of the first Latter-day Saint temple, the Kirtland Temple:

After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi?testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come ? To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse ? Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.

The Priesthood key conferred from Elijah on Joseph Smith is particularly important. This Priesthood is the "sealing" power that Latter-day Saints use in their temples to "seal" husband and wife and parents to children as families in this life and the afterlife.

Restoration of Priesthood needed because of the Great Apostasy

While other Christian denominations assert legitimate Priesthood authority, the LDS Church claims the exclusive succession of the Priesthood. The Church believes Priesthood succession was broken during the Great Apostasy and later restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In defending the validity of their priesthoods, Catholic and Orthodox Christians deny that such a complete apostasy ever took place.

See also: Restoration (Mormonism)

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