Monday, June 23, 2014

The Keys of the Priesthood Held In the Church

Introduction

Almost four years ago I wrote a post about the keys of the priesthood. Since then the post has generated a bit of traffic to my blog. But ever since the talk given by Elder Oaks in the last conference I have noticed a significant increase in visits to that post. I have continued to think about what I wrote and prompted by the increase in visitors and also by the lesson that I had in my Elder's Quorum meeting last week I thought I should expand on what I wrote several years ago.

If we are to understand priesthood keys perhaps a good place to start is what is a priesthood key. Then we must know what priesthood keys we have in the Church and finally we can look into how the keys are held and used, including who holds them and how that impacts the individual members of the Church. I will also address the question of whether or not the Church has all the priesthood keys and if not which ones we do not have and what that means for us as members.

What are Priesthood Keys?

Priesthood keys are the power, or ability, and authority to perform certain actions using the priesthood. Without the keys no actions using the priesthood can be done. All things technically can be done by the Melchizedek priesthood but without an enumeration of powers which are allowed (i.e. keys) then nothing can be done. The keys effectively enumerate what priesthood holders are allowed to do. Additionally the one who holds the keys can determine how these powers are to be used. In some cases the powers are very general, but in others the powers are specific.

In order for anyone to do anything by the power of the priesthood then the priesthood keys need to be operative. That is, there needs to be a priesthood holder somewhere who holds the keys and allows the corresponding powers to be used in order for the keys to work. As pointed out in the recent General Conference talk given by Elder Oaks those who act under the authority of the priesthood, that is, under the authority of the priesthood keys, do not necessarily have to hold the priesthood. The ability to perform a work through the priesthood needs to originate with those who have the keys but once he who holds the keys allows it then any who are commissioned may do the work whether they have the priesthood or not. As an example, the priesthood key that controls the preaching of the gospel can be exercised by any man or woman called of God to preach the gospel. There is no restriction on who can be commissioned to preach the gospel as long as they do so under the direction (that is, in the manner proscribed by) of the one who holds the keys.

There are some restrictions on the powers associated with the individual priesthood keys and this is inherent to the power associated with that key. For example, the power to baptize is a priesthood key given to the Aaronic Priesthood. While this power can be given widely it is by its nature restricted to those who men who hold the priesthood and are of the office of a priest. This means that those who hold the key of baptism can authorize any priesthood holder to baptize but they cannot authorize a non-priesthood holder to baptize. They do not have the authority to change that any more than a police officer can appoint a judge to the bench.

While many men in the Church are given the priesthood they can do nothing with it if it is not allowed by those who hold the corresponding keys. Those priesthood holders who hold the keys can commission those with the priesthood to perform the actions that are restricted to priesthood holders and they can commission anyone and everyone else to act under the power of the priesthood regardless of whether they hold the priesthood or even if they are a baptized member of the Church.

The Listed Keys

There are a few priesthood keys that are explicitly mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. I will give a listing of them below. This list is by no means exhaustive for reasons I will explain in the next section.

The Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 13 and D&C 107:20)
  • Ministering of angels
  • Ministering of the gospel of repentance
  • Administer baptism by immersion for the remission of sins
  • Administer in outward ordinances
  • Administer the letter of the gospel
The Keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 107:18-19)

  • The sealing and binding power (D&C 128:14, D&C 110:13-16)
  • The keys of the kingdom (D&C 81:2)
  • Spiritual blessings
  • The privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
  • To have the heavens opened
  • To commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn
  • To enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant
  • The keys of the Book of Mormon (D&C 27:5)
  • The keys of Elias, which are the keys of the restoration of all things (D&C 27:6, D&C 110:12)
  • The keys of the gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)
  • The key of knowledge

Some of these are just different names for the same thing. While there is a definite difference in some of these keys, and as such they required different prophets to return to restore the keys (see D&C 110), there are others that are simply different aspects of the same power and authority. Before we even try to break down the keys categorically we should first seek a healthy dose of divine inspiration and understanding. In the end I think the distinction between the different keys will be less important than the actual working of the keys.

Keys Not Mentioned

There are a few keys that are not mentioned but are mentioned in passing in the Doctrine and Covenants as having been received from specific people yet what those keys are was not spelled out in the Doctrine and Covenants. I am not enough of a scholar of the writings of Joseph Smith to know if he added a few more keys to the list of priesthood keys that we know he received. If anyone has any information on that that they are willing to share with me I would be greatly appreciative.

In D&C 128:21 Joseph Smith mentions Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and "divers angels" as declaring their keys yet unlike Moses, Elias, and Elijah the powers associated with their keys are not explicitly given. If we are to know what those particular powers were we must either find out if Joseph Smith wrote anything else about the keys of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the others, and failing that it is up to the current President of the Church, who holds the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven", to explain those things. Anything anyone else says, while possibly informative, is still just their own understanding (even if it is inspired and true, it is not authoritative).

In addition to the keys alluded to, there are a few keys that we know of that we know that the Church does not have. As Elder Oaks mentioned in his talk of priesthood keys, "At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection." I might add to this the keys of Eternal Life, and the keys of Adam. Far from being a problem for the Church this is part of the pattern of heaven where all things are revealed in their season, line upon line, until we come to a perfect understanding. Any of claim that the Church is deficient or apostate due to the loss of keys indicates a severe lack of understanding regarding priesthood keys.

There is one more key that I wish to mention briefly here and will devote an entire section to it below, and that is the key of the Patriarchal priesthood. This priesthood, among other things, is mentioned in the Book of Abraham in the first four verses. It seems that this priesthood key was the key given to Adam. It is not clear that this key is in operation in the Church today for reasons which I will explain below.

Practical Explanation of Keys

Now that we have laid the ground work I think a practical explanation of priesthood keys is in order. I don't know how my Elder's Quorum President, Stake President and Bishop feel about being mentioned by name on my blog so I will just refer to them "my Bishop", "my Stake President" and "my Elder's Quorum President".

In my ward (and all other wards in the Church) there are three key people (hehe, pun) who hold all the local priesthood keys, my Stake President, my Bishop and my Elder's Quorum President. My Stake President is the local president of the High Priesthood and as such holds all the keys given to him by the general authority who set him apart. Just what keys were given to him depends on what keys the President of the Church was willing to delegate to the general authorities, who would in turn delegate to the Stake President. For example, I don't think my Stake President was given the keys of the Book of Mormon, yet he was given the keys of the kingdom* (*for the area of the world known as the Durham, North Carolina Stake). He also was not given the keys of sealing, but as presiding High Priest he was given the keys of the Aaronic priesthood.

If President Monson wanted to delegate, say, the keys of the Book of Mormon to Stake Presidents then he could do that, though I see no evidence of that having been done in an active way (see the section on passive vs. active use of keys below for further discussion on this). So some keys, particularly the keys of the kingdom were given to my Stake President to hold and to exercise within the bounds of his Stake. It is his stewardship in the Kingdom. As the presiding High Priest he has the keys to call, ordain and set apart Bishops. There was a time when Bishops had to be called, ordained and set apart by a general authority, that is that aspect of the keys of the kingdom were not delegated to stake presidents, but as the Church grew it became impractical for general authorities to ordain all Bishops so that power was delegated to the local presiding High Priest (though Bishops must still be approved by a general authority). The prerogative to extend that power or key rests solely on the President of the Church. He can extend that decision making ability and he can rescind it.

Because my Stake President has the keys of the kingdom that means that he can personally run every part of the Church, or he can choose to delegate that power to others. The extent that he delegates or keeps that power is up to him. It would be wise to delegate that power to others, but it technically is not required. As previously mentioned there are some powers that he cannot delegate to just anyone, but there are others that he can. What ever power he delegates carries with it the full power of the priesthood regardless of whether or not the person receiving the power holds the priesthood.

My Bishop receives his keys from the Stake President and as Bishop holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood listed above. This means that he sets the terms for all the outward ordinances of the gospel. As an example I once had to miss sacrament meeting for another meeting with my Stake President. Because I still felt a desire to partake of the sacrament I approached my Bishop and asked if I could have that done outside of Church. As the holder of the keys he could determine when and where the sacrament would be administered. He quite rightly explained that he felt that he could not authorize me partaking of the sacrament just for having missed it for a meeting with the Stake President. He explained that he did not want to provide an exception to the rule because he did not want anyone to get the idea that they could miss sacrament meeting and then just take it later. But what he did do was authorize me to go over the sacramental covenants in my mind and reaffirm them. That act, because it was authorized by one who held the keys, was of as much efficacy as if I had partaken of the sacrament during sacrament meeting. The key is it was authorized (as a side note, if anyone tries to abuse this power then He who holds all the keys will not take kindly to it).

My Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom pertaining to my part in the quorum. These keys he receives from the Stake President, not the Bishop. The Bishop only holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood an as such cannot give or rescind the keys associated with the Melchizedek priesthood. Only my Elder's Quorum President has the authority to exercise the relevant priesthood keys. He has the authority to extend those powers to his quorum or restrict them. Because I am an active member of the Elder's quorum I have access to the keys of the priesthood if I were not an active member then my access to the power of the priesthood keys would be restricted. Because my Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom I am allowed to give priesthood blessings to my family. I cannot give them by virtue of my being the father and husband in the home.

The keys of the priesthood delegated to the local Church leaders do not include the patriarchal keys, nor were they conferred on me when I got married. I was sealed by the sealing power but I was not given the patriarchal keys. So my ability to give priesthood blessings to my family is entirely predicated on the fact that my Elder's Quorum President (or Stake President if I were a high priest) holds the keys of the kingdom as part of his stewardship. Generally the exercise of the keys governing priesthood blessings is not restricted, except for disfellowshiping or excommunication, but in theory it could be restricted. This means that my Elder's Quorum President could restrict the members of his quorum in giving priesthood blessings either entirely or without his express permission. But because he doesn't want to get a phone call every time one of his elders needs to give a blessing that power or key is delegated passively to his quorum.

This brings us to the concept of passive vs. active use of priesthood keys.

Passive vs. Active Use of Keys

Some priesthood keys are held actively while others are held passively. I could also phrase it as the keys are held tightly vs. loosely. Keys that are held actively are restricted to certain people. In some instances those keys are only delegated personally by the one who holds the keys. The keys of the sealing power are one example of this. They are only delegated from the Church president to individual sealers, and even then the power to use them is only given to temple presidents. In this case is anyone wanted to use the sealing power they would actively need to seek out someone who held those keys and get them to actively take part in the use of those keys. This is why I refer to it as the active use of the keys. If anything is to be done with the keys then the one who holds them must act.

On the other hand there are some priesthood keys that are held passively. The power to give priesthood blessings is a priesthood key that is help passively by either the Elder's Quorum President or Stake President. It is passive in the sense that they do not need to do anything or even be aware of the fact that the key is operative in order for priesthood holders to exercise it. It is possible for them to change the key from being passive to being active, or change it from loose control to tight control. If this were to happen then all the members of an Elder's quorum or a Stake would need to seek out the permission of whomever held the keys in order to give a blessing. But generally we do not do this in the Church.

Then there are keys which are mixed. For example, the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" are passive and are held loosely by local leaders. As long as my Elder's Quorum President is still breathing that key is still operative for me. I can receive whatever revelation God is willing to give me. My Elder's Quorum President does not even have to be aware of the fact that he holds that key for me to allow it to be operative. Just like other keys he can restrict it or actively extend it. This includes the keys of enjoying the "presence of God the Father, and Jesus". In the temple this is possible but in order for it to happen my Elder's Quorum President, or Stake President depending, needs to hold those keys. They can restrict them or even extend them (to you Elder's Quorum Presidents and Stake Presidents, think of that! You can extend the power to others to see God and Jesus Christ! Granted you can only do that as long as the power is held passively by the Church President. If he chooses to restrict it then there is nothing you can do, but as far as I know he has not done that.). But without any restriction on that key then it remains operative to the individual members and they can enjoy that blessing while attending the temple.

But these keys are mixed, which means that while the ability to receive the mysteries of the kingdom is passive and open to anyone who has the gift of the Holy Ghost, they cannot teach those things understood by the Spirit as authoritative without the express permission of the presiding High Priest. In almost all cases the presiding High Priest holds that particular power very tightly but there are a few instances where it has been delegated to others. So while you or I could receive all sorts of understanding and revelation, if it is not taught by the presiding High Priest then we do not have the authority to teach it as doctrine and in many cases we cannot teach it at all (see D&C 28:2-7 and  D&C 43).

Another example of a mixed key is the key of baptism. In the wards the key is held tightly, and is actively delegated. Anyone looking to baptize their eight year old child must first receive the permission of the Bishop. On the other had missionaries are under no such restriction except when their Mission President instructs them otherwise. Missionaries have the power to do many things, from baptizing and giving the Holy Ghost, to organizing branches and districts and all of this is held loosely. Generally the Mission President will restrict these powers to some degree but the control is loose and missionaries have passive access to many of the keys normally held by Bishops and Elder's Quorum Presidents. So while some keys are tightly held in the wards the missionaries are given loose control of the same keys.

The Keys of the Patriarchal Priesthood

Now I wish to address one final priesthood key that is occasionally mentioned in the Church but is at best poorly understood. What is perhaps so interesting about this particular key is that many men assume they have it even though I know of no evidence to indicate that the men in the Church hold this key. I certainly have never received this key through the laying on of hands. The key I am referring to I shall call the Patriarchal key of the Patriarchal priesthood.

Generally speaking the patriarchal priesthood is like all the other keys of the priesthood except that it extends the power of the priesthood out of the Church and into the home. "But wait!" you may reply. "Don't we teach that the priesthood should be in the home?" Well, yes we do, but the difference is that the priesthood should be in the home to bless those members of the family who are also members of the Church. This is part of the passive keys that I talked about above. The ability to bless the sick and to give blessings of counsel and comfort are all done by the priesthood, and as such need the authority of priesthood keys to be operative, yet there is no special authority given to the father or any other priesthood holder in the family that gives them additional authority or power in the family.

In a General Conference talk given in 2005 Elder Oaks told a story about how he thought that holding the priesthood mean that he had authority in his family, including authority over his mother. He relates his experience like this:
"My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But Mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. I was puzzled. I had been taught that the priesthood presided in the family. There must be something I didn't know about how that principle worked."
Elder Oaks then went on to explain how the priesthood, and priesthood keys operate differently in the Church than they do in the family.

"When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family. At the same time, she was always totally respectful of the priesthood authority of our bishop and other Church leaders. She presided over her family, but they presided over the Church...." 
"There are many similarities and some differences in the way priesthood authority functions in the family and in the Church. If we fail to recognize and honor the differences, we encounter difficulties.
"One important difference between its function in the Church and in the family is the fact that all priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys. In contrast, the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys...." 
"However, priesthood keys are necessary to authorize the ordaining or setting apart of family members. This is because the organization the Lord has made responsible for the performance and recording of priesthood ordinances is the Church, not the family."
The keys of the priesthood, and hence all the power and authority of the priesthood, that is the power to act, direct, counsel, and bless, only are operative in the Church according to the rules, laws, policies and procedures of the Church. The authority to direct the family is not derived from the priesthood, nor does the priesthood or priesthood keys give additional authority to any priesthood holders in the home. While the priesthood keys may contain the authority to seal a family for eternity, it does not have the power to give the father or any other priesthood holder additional authority than that which they have by virtue of being the father.

There is a mistaken idea among some Church members that because the hold the priesthood, and because we teach that the priesthood should preside in the home, they have additional power and authority given to them not available to other fathers. This idea is patently false. Neither I nor any other priesthood holder I know has ever had hands laid upon their head and given the keys of the patriarchal priesthood (if you have, well let me know! But make sure you have the priesthood through the proper channels!). The idea that because men have the priesthood they have an additional measure of authority in their family is something that I call "Big Man" priesthood.

The image that comes to my mind when I refer to the Big Man priesthood is the family of someone I once knew. One time his family came to visit our ward and instantly I could tell that his father practiced the doctrine of Big Man priesthood. He sat in the middle of his large family, flanked by his priesthood holding sons. While the father was there his family moved together as a unit under his direction. I suspected that he considered himself to be like the patriarchs of old who commanded their children, and he could do it because he had the priesthood.

While it is admirable and desirable for a father to direct and keep his children in the way of truth, he should never conflate the power and authority derived through the keys of the priesthood with the innate authority he has as father to his children. The keys of the priesthood that are operative in the Church only extend to matters dealing with the Church, its ordinances, and spiritual blessings, and does not provide additional authority to a father in his family.

Passing the Keys

The final item I feel I should address is how priesthood keys are transmitted, and whether or not the previous key holder continues to hold the keys. All keys, as are all callings, blessings and gifts in the Church, are given by the key holder laying his hands on the head of the one receiving the keys. Generally specific keys are not mentioned when this is done, but rather a blanket statement of "All the keys, authority, privilege and power pertaining to this office and calling". If specific keys are given, such as when a temple sealer or temple president is set apart, then those keys would be specifically mentioned.

It should be noted that when keys are passed to another priesthood holder they are not given up by the one passing them, though their ability to exercise those keys may fall dormant. For example, when a Stake President sets apart a Bishop all the keys of the Aaronic priesthood for that ward pass to the Bishop and the Stake President will no longer exercise those keys, but he will not relinquish them. The Bishop can exercise those keys and administer the outward ordinances for the ward or empower others to do so. The Stake P
President still holds those same keys but they are dormant, which means he does not exercise them while the Bishop is still acting as Bishop. This is done because the Lord and the Church respects the stewardships of those who are given the keys and also so that there is order and not confusion in how things are done.

So while the priesthood holder who is currently authorized to hold the keys may use them that does not mean that the one who gave them the keys has lost them. This also means that the one who gave the keys can revoke them because they still hold them, even if they are dormant. What this means is that a Stake President can release a Bishop, but to call a new one he still needs permission from a higher authority. So there may be a situation where there is no Bishop and they can't call a new one, but the ward will still function since High Priests can function as Bishops, hence the High Priest group leader in the ward will act as the Bishop without being set apart and given the keys, but the scriptures make it clear that they should be set apart to do this. So the High Priest group leader acting as Bishop should only be temporary.

For the most part someone who holds the keys to a certain calling cannot pass those keys onto another priesthood holder. Hence a Bishop cannot ordain another Bishop, a Stake President cannot set apart another Stake President etc. This is because their keys do not come by virtue of their office but are given to them temporarily. Also when they are released they no longer hold the keys. Hence a Bishop who is released will remain a Bishop in his priesthood, but he will hold no keys. If he is called again to be a Bishop he must be set apart and given the keys but does not need to be ordained again.

But in the case of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Quorum of the Seventy as a group each one forms a body that holds all the keys that the others do. Thus an unanimous decision by the First Presidency can be taken to ordain another Apostle. If there is no First Presidency then the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles can ordain other Apostles. If there is no Quorum of the Twelve Apostles then the First Quorum of the Seventy can ordain Apostles. The decisions of these quorums must be unanimous, so no single member can ordain another to a position in the quorum nor give them the keys. These three quorums hold all of the keys given to the Church, though the President of the Church is the only one who can exercise, delegate or restrict the keys at any given time.

There is also a curious case where technically the counselors in the First Presidency do not have to be Apostles, which means that when the President dies and the First Presidency is dissolved the remaining members of the First Presidency no longer hold any priesthood keys, unless they are Apostles. If they are not Apostles and are just High Priests then on the death of the Church President they no longer can use the priesthood keys, nor can they join the Apostles in ordaining new Apostles or organizing a new First Presidency. This is an important point to know in order to understand some episodes in Church history.

So to sum up, local Church leaders cannot pass keys to someone of equal authority (i.e. Bishop to Bishop), only to those who are under them in authority (Stake President to Bishop). General Authorities cannot individually pass keys to another but only when the decision is made unanimously as a quorum. Also a a quorum they all hold the same keys that the other quorums hold. When keys are delegated to another they do not give them up, but they no longer will use them (hence the whole point of delegation).

Conclusion

When I started writing this I did not intend it to become so long, but I just kept writing and it turned into this. There were a few things that motivated me to write this (no I will not link to them since they are a bit contentious or apostate), and it is also something that Elder Oaks recently addressed in General Conference. So while this part is labeled "Conclusion" in this section I will now explain what priesthood keys are and it (hopefully) will now make sense. It just takes a lot of preparation and background to set it up. So here goes.

Priesthood keys are the authority from God to do certain things (see list above). For any given point in time and any one place there is always one person and only one person authorized to use the keys since all things must be done in order. Others may hold the keys but they act under the direction of the one who uses them. All keys can be delegated and those keys can be used generally by either the priesthood or all members (passive keys) while other keys are held tightly and require the permission of the one who holds the keys (active keys). Whether or not a certain key is passive or active depends of the decision of the key hold since he is the steward of those keys.

Some keys are restricted to priesthood holders since they involve the ordinances of the Church, while others have no such restriction. When someone is given a commission through the priesthood keys their actions, work and calling carry with it the full weight of priesthood authority even if they do not hold the priesthood. This means that both women and men can act with the authority of the priesthood, but neither women nor men can do so without permission from the one who holds the keys.

The Church is authorized through the keys to do many things (see list above) but there are a few things that we do not hold the keys for, such as resurrection and eternal life. We also should not confuse priesthood keys with familial authority. The Church may seal families but it does not give authority to family members in their respective positions in the family.

There is no divine authority outside of the priesthood. Without the keys of the priesthood we cannot do the work of God. We must have the keys and they must be exercised in the proper manner under the direction and authority of the one who holds the keys.

Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

Jared said...

Great post. I want to clarify that the 1st quorum of the seventy do not individually hold keys. Collectively, they do but all they do for the church individually is through the authority of the President's keys. The apostles, of course, do have keys.