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.