Thursday, December 1, 2011

Can we have the priesthood without the church?

In my post on Monday, I suggested that the church is what allows us to have the ordinances of salvation. Commenter Michael suggested with a finer point that the priesthood allows those ordinances, not the church organization.

For me the two – the priesthood and the church -- are inextricably linked. Here’s why:

It’s true the priesthood came first, with the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood in May 1829 (see D&C 13) and the Melchizedek Priesthood following in the same year (confirmed in D&C 27:12).

Section 84 reaffirms that the priesthood is the means by which ordinances are performed and have validity:

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live (D&C 84:19-22).
I understand “this” in the final line of those verses to refer to the power of godliness, which is derived from the authority of the priesthood used in performing the ordinances of the priesthood.

Those verses alone would suggest that Michael may be right: the priesthood is all that is required, not the church itself.

But D&C 20 makes clear that the priesthood is a part of the church:

No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church (v. 65, emphasis mine).

And so is the ordinance of baptism:

And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church (v. 37, emphasis mine).
And so is the sacrament:

It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus (v. 75, emphasis mine).
The Lord not only revealed these organizational matters, but also the name of the church:

For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (D&C 115:4, emphasis mine).
Of course this pattern is not new. We read similarly in the Book of Mormon about the establishment of the church and its ordinances in the time of Alma and the naming of the church as well.

Elder Oaks reaffirmed the relationship between the priesthood and the church in his talk in the October 2010 conference:

During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ conferred the authority of the priesthood that bears His name and He established a church that also bears His name. In this last dispensation, His priesthood authority was restored and His Church was reestablished through heavenly ministrations to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This restored priesthood and this reestablished Church are at the heart of the priesthood line (“Two Lines of Communication,” emphasis mine).
I accept that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encompasses the restored priesthood of God, restored and revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith and that that priesthood authority and power are present in the church today. I have personally benefitted from that priesthood power, both in the ordinances of the gospel and the organization of the church and the blessings each has brought into my life.


  1. Paul,

    Thank you for this post. It explains your previous post very well. I accept the verses you provided as linking the restored gospel, priesthood authority, and the church together. I also understand how you have connected them together. I am not yet certain if I agree with your interpretation. You mention the church as encompassing the gospel and priesthood. I would argue it is the opposite way around.

    I still interpret the scriptures as drawing a firm line line between the everlasting priesthood and the temporal nature of the church.

    But I appreciate the good discussion we are having on this subject.

  2. "The priesthood is essential to the church, but the church is not essential to the priesthood. " (J. Rueben Clark, Conference Report, March, 1936, p. 134)

  3. In the New Testament, Christ often referred to "the kingdom of God" as opposed to "the church of God." I have a feeling that once the final trump sounds, the name and organizational makeup of the church will have very little use. I agree they are woven together tightly for now. It seems like one of the older church handbooks used to define the church as God's government on earth. I assume once the earth is celestialized, the "church" will no longer be of any use, and the priesthood is what will keep everything in place.

  4. Thanks for these comments.

    Michael, I agree: the priesthood is everlasting; the church is for our dispensation. In that way, the church is temporal and the priesthood is not.

    But for us in our day, it seems the two are linked.

    Anon (2), I think generally you are correct: the church orgainization in place today is for this dispensation. We have certainly been taught that there will not exist the same organization of the church in the Celestial Kingdom, but that the family structure will be the key organization there.
    Anon (1) -- thanks for that great quotation from President Clark. A great addition to the discussion.

  5. I like the Clark quote. Here's how I see it -- even if I move far away from the organized Church, I take my priesthood with me. The organized Church could perish, but I would still have my priesthood. My prieshood exists independent of the Church organization.

    The Church, however, is the priesthood organized. Aaronic Priesthood holders are organized into quorums in wards under the direction of the bishop, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders are prganized into quorums in stakes under the direction of the stake president.

    This framework works fo rme.

  6. ji, I agree with you. Theoretically you could be like Alma the elder in the Book of Mormon who held priesthood even though he was not faithful to it for a time.

    But in the revealed canon, our use of priesthood for saving ordinances (and that is its purpose according to Section 84) is to be within the church.

    Further, our righteous exercise of priesthood has certain limits, as outlined in section 121.

  7. Paul,

    You keep mentioning that the priesthood must be exercised within the confines of the church but you are not providingvany scriptural references for this persistence.

    Remember that this issue was fought extensively in the early 1900s in conjunction with suspension of polygamy due to Edmunds Tucker. In fact, an Apostle was excommunicated over it. After the polygamy issue (as well as the unrelated revolt by the Mexican Saints) the Brethren starting conflating the church with the priesthood in conference talks and speeches. Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant were the main forces behind this emphasis. However, there is little scriptural support for it. The church leaders in the pre-manifesto period did not conflate the two in the same manner.

    Brother Daymon Smith has provided an incredible history of this issue which eventually resulted in church-wide correlation. It is a fascinating read.

  8. The scriptures cited in the OP make clear that in our dispensation, priesthood is exercised within the structure of the church -- that is, ordinations, baptism, confirmation and temple ordinances.

  9. Paul: Kudos for taking this on and for your clear explanation. I agree that the ordinances of salvation - and thusly salvation itself - cannot exist at this current time without the priesthood as currently administered through the church.

  10. Michael,

    I should also add that I've also read Daymon Smith's series at By Common Consent. I recommend it to others as fascinating reading. (I have not read his disseration, however.)

    That said, the tone of the OP and my "About Me" section at the upper right hand corner of this blog should make clear where I've come out.

  11. Paul: I had the privilege of ordaining a young man to the office of Elder today, and it gave me pause to think again about what you are discussing here. God has said "My house is a house of order". Imagine the chaos if there was no structure and system behind priesthood ordinations. That right there is reason enough to have a church to administer the priesthood. Can you imagine if we just ran around and ordained people because we felt it was the thing to do? My guess is that there will always be a system of "order", even when the church as we know it morphs into its next incarnation.