Mormonism teaches that the priesthood is the power and authority of God, the authority to act in God’s name and call upon His power. The Lord created the heavens and the earth by His priesthood power.
Mormons believe Heavenly Father shares His priesthood with worthy male members of His true Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church). The priesthood enables its holders to act in God’s name for the salvation of every child of God. They can be sanctioned to preach the gospel, administer the ordinances of salvation (such as baptism), and govern God’s kingdom on earth.
The authority of God has been entrusted to chosen individuals since the world began. Biblical prophets and apostles all possessed this power, and it was through it that they attained truth and guidance from God, performed blessings and miracles for the sake of those whom they led, and officiated in saving ordinances and rituals. The priesthood is an official connection between heaven and earth, between God and man, between Jesus Christ and His Church.
From time to time during the earth’s history, people have collectively lost the priesthood through disobedience to the Lord’s commandments. They have rejected and fallen away from the truth, leaving themselves with a decreased understanding of the work of the Lord. Mormons use the term apostasy to describe this state. The most severe apostasy was called the Great Apostasy, which occurred after Jesus Christ left his Church under the leadership of His Apostles, who were eventually murdered. After the death of the apostles, the pure doctrines of the Church were perverted, and new denominations were formed without divine sanction or authority. As a result of extreme wickedness, the world was subjected to a time of both spiritual and secular ignorance, fittingly termed by some the Dark Ages.
Each period of apostasy on earth has been followed by a restoration of divine teachings and authority. Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was chosen by God as the prophet who should restore the true Church of Jesus Christ–and the priesthood of God–in our time. In 1829, as part of the Restoration of the Church, which began with the First Vision, Joseph Smith received a limited degree of the priesthood power by the hands of a heavenly messenger who was in fact the resurrected, or immortalized, John the Baptist. Later Joseph received the higher priesthood in full from Jesus’ Apostles Peter, James, and John, also resurrected beings. Thus, Jesus Christ passed His authority on to his Apostles, and then later to Joseph Smith, who passed it on to others.
In an unbroken chain, the priesthood has been passed from the Lord Jesus Christ to members of the Mormon Church in this generation.
The priesthood is structured in several different stages and offices. The first degree of authority is called the Aaronic Priesthood, after Aaron of the Old Testament (Exodus, chapter 4). Men who hold it serve in the capacity of a deacon, teacher, and priest, progressively. The complete divine authority is bestowed in the form of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has offices including elder, high priest, seventy, and Apostle. These various offices are in place so that the individual priesthood holder can experience personal development as he performs increasing duties and service for others in an organized manner.
In the Mormon Church one special priesthood duty is blessing and distributing the sacrament. Other duties include performing baptism, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost, completing ordinances in Mormon temples such as marriage for eternity, collecting donations for the needy, and performing many other acts of responsibility and service. By virtue of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ, a Mormon male can lay his hands upon the heads of family members and others and bless them with physical healing, spiritual strength, and guidance from the Lord. Overall, the priesthood is a generous gift from God designed to touch the lives of all His children on earth. Mormons believe that acts performed by the power of the priesthood have validity on earth and in heaven, for the authority is truly heaven-sent.
From 1849 until 1978, men of African descent were not permitted to receive the priesthood, although they could still become members and serve within the LDS Church. In 1978, an official declaration of the First Presidency reported a revelation received by Church President Spencer W. Kimball, indicating that all worthy male members could receive the priesthood.
Although it is difficult to understand the workings of the Lord, we can rely on Him as a Being who is omnipotent in overseeing the proper functioning of the universe as well as in carefully guiding each individual soul to happiness. Mormons believe that as we strive to serve the Lord and obey His commandments, we will feel the blessings of His power and love.
Because of the order of the priesthood, and because every worthy male member of the Church can have priesthood power, the Church has a lay clergy. In other words, the Mormon Church has no paid clergy, except for the support paid from the Church to the Prophet/ President and the apostles, who labor full time for the Church. The brethren who use their priesthood authority and power to serve the Church do not complete college courses to prepare them for their ministries, nor are they able to spontaneously arise and decide to function as a minister in the Church. Callings and priesthood authority exercised in the Church are performed by men called by the proper authority, everything done in order.
Women partake of all the blessings of the priesthood. They participate in responsible church callings and make a necessary and greatly appreciated contributions to the function of the Church.