Our series continues by looking at Priesthood Principles, the second of three foundational chapters found in the recently published Handbook 2 (“H2”). I’ll first touch on the status of H2, then discuss some of the topics covered in the three pages of Chapter Two.
H2 is the handbook for administering the Church. The focus of the handbook is organization, procedures, and leadership at the local level. H2 is accessible at LDS.org and therefore available to anyone on the planet with an Internet connection. I assume that publicly posting H2 at LDS.org means that public discussion of H2 is approved, even encouraged, by LDS leaders. I have noticed that it is increasingly cited in LDS meetings (Ward Council, PEC, etc.) and in LDS talks over the pulpit. All of this seems like a very positive development.
However, within H2 itself is the following directive: “This handbook has been prepared solely for use by general and local Church officers to administer the affairs of the Church. It should not be duplicated or given to other persons.” This suggests that public discussion of H2 is not approved or encouraged, which seems inconsistent with publicly posting H2 at LDS.org. What the Church is saying (in H2) and doing (by posting H2 at LDS.org) seem to be out of sync. I thought Correlation was supposed to correct this sort of problem. Anyway, I am proceeding on the assumption that public discussion is permissible. If I am mistaken, the good folks at Correlation can contact me directly.
Section 2.1, Priesthood Authority, reviews the dual Aaronic and Mechizedek priesthoods, then discusses priesthood keys, ordinances, and covenants. One of the very positive things about the LDS lay priesthood is that it is described not just as a power but also as a covenant. As noted in section 2.1:
When a man receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, he covenants to be faithful, to magnify his callings, and to live by every word of God and His servants (see D&C 84:33-44).
Let’s face it, men generally need a little extra encouragement to “live by every word of God.” Giving that encouragement in the context of the priesthood as covenant, a calling to serve, is an effective and uplifting approach.There are six paragraphs in 2.1.1, Priesthood Keys. When reading these paragraphs, it is easy to forget that the keys are just a metaphor: there aren’t really any keys. The term is simply a way to talk about authority and responsibility within the dual LDS priesthoods, or more particularly “the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” Telling a young president of the deacon’s quorum or teacher’s quorum that he holds keys helps him take that responsibility seriously. That is helpful.
But metaphors can be misused. One unintended consequence of the keys metaphor is what might be called the plight of the keyless — the counselors, auxiliary presidents, and priesthood leaders who are certainly given authority and responsibility but who are told they do not hold keys. Contrast the local elder’s quorum president (keyholder) with the local high priests group leader (no keys). The fact that each ward has an independent quorum of elders with a key-holding president, whereas there is only one high priests quorum for each stake and the key-holding president for that quorum is the stake president, seems like an incidental feature of the historical development of LDS governance structures rather than an independent, preordained arrangement of authority at the local level. That does not seem like the basis for a distinction between the ward’s EQP (you are important, you hold keys) and the HPGL (you don’t hold keys, figure it out). Here is H2’s short list of local leaders who hold keys: “Priesthood keys are bestowed on presidents of temples, missions, stakes, and districts; bishops; branch presidents; and quorum presidents.”
So I see overemphasizing the keys metaphor as having two drawbacks: (1) it tends to disparage the authority and responsibility of non-key-holding persons; and (2) it creates confusion between reality (people and the authority and responsibility that is given) and metaphor (keys).
Section 2.2, The Purpose of the Church, is just three short but helpful paragraphs. The Church assists God in bringing to pass “the salvation and exaltation of His children,” a gentle reminder that LDS doctrine distinguishes between the terms salvation and exaltation. The last paragraph reflects the expansion of the traditional threefold mission of the Church (proclaim, perfect, and redeem) to include a reference to the poor and the needy. The divinely appointed responsibilities of the Church
include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.
Section 2.3, The Priesthood and the Family, and 2.4, Use of Priesthood Authority, wind up the chapter. I know that some readers take offense at the following description of ideal LDS family life: “With his wife as an equal partner, he [husband and father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood] presides in righteousness and love, serving as the family’s spiritual leader.” Maybe that is best read as encouraging men to be righteous and loving, another example of the priesthood as covenant concept discussed above.
What Is the Priesthood?I will throw out a final topic as sort of a discussion question that probably merits its own extended post at some point. The first paragraph of the chapter states very succinctly, “The priesthood is the power and authority of God.” This seems like a reference to power as an attribute of God, just as love or compassion are held to be attributes of God. Those who exercise priesthood power on earth are (somehow) accessing or exercising a small portion of God’s power.
Yet the balance of that first paragraph takes a different approach, describing the priesthood as an independent entity, a thing existing independently of God, what one might term a cosmic priesthood:
It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8; D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).
These appear to be two distinct concepts of what priesthood is and how it can be said to exist. As in the first paragraph of Chapter Two, both concepts are often reflected in LDS doctrinal discussions of priesthood.
Prior posts in this series: