Alright, so if you’re unfamiliar with what the priesthood is and why it’s important, please for the love of all that is good, go watch these episodes. But in a nutshell, the priesthood is the power and authority of God that he gives to mortals to act in his name as they run the Church and perform important ordinances like baptism. In Old Testament times, only Levite men could hold the priesthood. Today, all worthy men may hold the priesthood. But you don’t receive the priesthood by reading the Bible, or by studying theology, or even by sincerely believing in God, and as per Acts chapter 8, it’s certainly not something you can buy. In order to receive the priesthood, you have to be ordained by someone who already holds that priesthood, thus creating a priesthood chain of authority from you directly back to Jesus Christ.
You’ll remember in the New Testament, Christ chose 12 apostles. He ordained them, giving them the priesthood. And in turn, the apostles later ordained bishops and other leaders to help them run a quickly-expanding church. It’s very clear that there is a hierarchy of leadership in the early church. And part of the structure of that hierarchy is founded upon what we call priesthood keys (or as I like to call them, priesthood permissions).
For example, I am an ordained priesthood holder. As such, I have the power and authority to do certain things, like giving priesthood blessings to family members. But there are other activities that I can only do when authorized by the priesthood leader who holds the priesthood keys or permissions over that activity.
President Russell M. Nelson and I hold the same priesthood. But he’s authorized to run the Church because he holds those priesthood keys. He has that priesthood permission. I do not. It’s important to understand what the priesthood is, but it’s also vital that we understand this chain of priesthood keys as well. So that’s what we’re going to dig into in this episode.
Alright so let’s start with what the Church’s website has to say: “Priesthood keys are the right to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction. Keys usually apply to a geographic area, like a ward, stake, or mission. They also usually include authority over specific ordinances and activities (for instance, baptism, the sacrament, missionary work, and temple work).”
With different offices and assignments within the Church come different priesthood keys or permissions. “Jesus Christ holds all the keys of the priesthood pertaining to His Church. He has conferred upon each of His Apostles all the keys that pertain to the kingdom of God on earth. The President of the Church is the only person authorized to exercise all of those priesthood keys.”
After Christ’s death, Peter became the president of the Church and held all of the necessary priesthood keys to run the entire Church. He was promised those keys in Matthew 16. Christ said, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
But of course, Peter and the apostles couldn’t be everywhere at once, so some priesthood keys were delegated to bishops and other leaders.
But after the death of the apostles, the early church had to deal with the question: Who’s in charge here? Who has the authority to govern the whole church? Originally, ancient bishops were given authority to preside over and lead only their local congregation or local “church,” similar to bishops in our faith today.
Over time, bishops of churches founded by the apostles gained some authority over bishops of non-apostolic churches until eventually (long story short) you had the bishop of Rome claiming authority over the whole Church, which was what partially caused the Great Schism. The eastern bishops rejected the notion that the Roman bishop had ultimate authority, and thus emerged the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. But I’m getting side-tracked, we’ll talk more about this in the next episode.
Back to priesthood keys and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The only priesthood leaders in our faith who hold priesthood keys are— The apostles (including the president of the Church), temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, district presidents, bishops, branch presidents, along with Elders, Teachers, and Deacons quorum presidents. Their keys are only valid within their respective jurisdictions. For example, the Deacons Quorum president does not preside over any deacons’ quorum other than his own.
But what about everybody else who holds a calling in the Church? For example, what about the Sunday School presidency? Or primary teachers? Do they hold priesthood keys? No. I don’t hold priesthood keys right now. Very few members hold priesthood keys, but a great many members are delegated priesthood authority to fulfill their calling. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
Latter-day Saints believe that the priesthood keys necessary to run the Church were lost after the death of the apostles, and the Church spiraled into apostasy. We believe that the priesthood itself and priesthood keys were restored to the prophet Joseph Smith in the 1800s by a series of angelic messengers. Priesthood keys are essentially the framework for the priesthood chain of command (for lack of a better phrase). The keys keep the administration of the ordinances of the gospel organized, and the keys help keep members organized in their units, quorums, and callings.
Hopefully, this has been helpful to you. Check out the resources in the YouTube description for more info on this topic. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
- “Keys of the Priesthood” via Encyclopedia of Mormonism: https://bit.ly/3iH5zCt
- “Priesthood Keys” from the Church’s website (New Era magazine): https://bit.ly/3infk8n
- “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood” by Elder Dallin H. Oaks: https://bit.ly/36hfOdZ
- “The Keys of the Priesthood” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3qpAgjw
- “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3imKBII
- “What Happened to Christ’s Church?” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3N7IVks
- “Priesthood Keys” via Church’s YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/3wvqD73
- “The Priesthood and Priesthood Keys” via Church’s website (youth topic): https://bit.ly/3wq2DSO Doctrine and Covenants Section 28 (an instance of where priesthood keys came into play): https://bit.ly/3qqdA2Q
- “Restoration of the Priesthood” via the Church’s website: https://bit.ly/3ybANIS