The Authority to Act in God’s Name
All of us know that if we act without the proper authority, we can get in trouble. If we try to drive a car or practice medicine without a license, we will get arrested. It does not matter whether or not we are skilled, we must recognize that there is a proper order and law we must follow. Without the authority to do something, we have no right to do it. This is true in religion just as in the rest of our lives. Certain things, like baptism, require the proper authority to perform, or else God will not recognize the performance of the ordinance as legitimate. In his epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul says that priests cannot choose to be priests, but must be “called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4). This proper authority is called the priesthood.
In Mormonism, priesthood does not usually refer to the people with authority, but to the authority itself. Priesthood represents the power and authority to act in God’s name while performing ordinances like baptism or when leading the Church. Through the priesthood, which is delegated to men on earth, God brings to pass his great purpose, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39).
All worthy male members of the Mormon Church can share in the priesthood power. Through it, they are authorized to preach the gospel, administer ordinances, and lead the Church. Men are ordained to the Priesthood by the laying on of hands of worthy priesthood-holders. There are various offices and positions within the priesthood, and members holding the same priesthood office (for example, Priest, Elder, High Priest), gather in quorums. When a person receives the priesthood, we say that the priesthood was conferred upon him, and then he is ordained to a specific office in the Priesthood.
The scriptures teach us there are two divisions of the priesthood: Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood. The priesthood was held by ancient Apostles of Jesus’ time, but the authority was taken from the earth after the Church fell into apostasy. On May 15, 1829, John the Baptist (as a resurrected being) appeared to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and to Oliver Cowdery. He gave them the Aaronic Priesthood. A month or so later, Peter, James, and John visited them and gave them the Melchizedek, or higher, Priesthood.
The Aaronic Priesthood contains four offices: Deacon, Teacher, Priest, and Bishop. Those who hold this priesthood have the authority to baptize, bless and pass the Sacrament (or Lord’s Supper), and oversee Church meetings. Young men may be become deacons at age 12, teachers at 14, and priests at 16. Bishops oversee not only the priests’ quorum but the ward as well, so bishops are typically called from among worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
Men typically receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained Elders when they are 19 or 20 as part of their preparation to become Mormon missionaries, though there is no set age. The major requirements are faith in Jesus Christ, worthiness, and a willingness to serve others. The offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are Elder, High Priest, Seventy, Patriarch, Apostle, and President of the Church. There is no minimum age set on any of these offices. The Melchizedek Priesthood oversees the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, spiritual leadership in the Church, missionary work, and the rituals in the Mormon temple. In order for a man to enter a Mormon temple, he must be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood.